Friday, December 29, 2006

Taking a break, good night. Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Guess this is a sort of fixation of interest lately, but here’s some more about the Iranian nuclear threat, except one could say it’s less of a threat than what’s otherwise imagined.

For instance, in a March 2006 address to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Generals, director-general Mohamed ElBaradei declared that “the Agency has not seen indications of diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Regrettably, however, after three years of intensive verification, there remain uncertainties with regard to both the scope and the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme” (my emphasis). That’s a big qualifier, but my suspicion is it won’t be changed by threatening war.

According to a November 2005 report entitled Implementation of the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran, “The Agency has continued to monitor installations related to the uranium gas centrifuge and laser enrichment programmes, and has not observed any inconsistency with Iran’s voluntary undertaking not to carry out any enrichment activities” (my emphasis once again).

John Chipman, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies explained in a 6 September 2005 report, “Iran has submitted to extensive investigations by the [IAEA] since 2003 to verify Iran’s acknowledgement of undeclared nuclear activities extending back over nearly 20 years. … Although a number of uncertainties remain about past and current activities, including the history of Iran’s enrichment and reprocessing efforts, we judge it is unlikely that Iran is hiding significant stocks of fissile material or production facilities for such material.” According to the Chipman dossier, “Public estimates for how long it would take Iran to acquire nuclear weapons range from only a few years to at least a decade.”

Ten years would put us in 2016, very close to the time when Iranian “revenue from its oil exports” might “virtually disappear” and another energy source would be needed — as “economic geographer” Roger Stern of the National Academy of Sciences just reported, according to an AP wire in today’s Washington Post (“Iran Oil Revenue Quickly Drying Up, Analysis Says,” A9). One finding from the Stern report declares that “there could be merit to Iran’s assertion that it needs nuclear power for civilian purposes.”

Without going on a limb, one could argue somewhat forcefully that canceling the economic sanctions we’re enforcing, at great peril to the Iranian people, would strip the regime ruling roughshod over them of any plausible reason to continue developing nuclear energy — much less any potential for acquiring weapons.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

(from my [poorly-written] post on a recent openDemocracy forum)

The Iranian elections signal a good measure of hope for the country and the region. Ahmadinejad campaigned (to a narrow win in 2005) on a populist platform and spent it all on embarrassing Iranians with his belligerent rhetoric and antics that, I think, draw instant parallels vis-à-vis the United States and Bush.

It is clear that the Iranian people want to defang their renegade president and hopefully steer their future toward a more moderate standing viz. the U.S., if not outright reform. There is still room for good-faith negotiations; there is also still plenty of time. If they have no (perceived) reason to acquire a nuclear deterrent, they probably won’t have one.

Iran, to be sure, is not a free country. But the youth there are said to be quite pro-Western and pro-American, and that’s very good. A crucial mistake would be to further isolate the country, including signs like that as well as the now-defunct reformist movements that can be jump-started, by screwing this up with further steps of aggressive threat and covert war-plans. Iraq is a basket-case next to this.

Monday, December 18, 2006


At least there’s some sanity in Tehran. (From a recent anti-Ahmadinejad demonstration at Amir Kabir University, courtesy Hasan Sarbakhshian of the Associated Press.) DEATH TO THE DICTATOR indeed. So I guess “death” is another way of saying “down with”? Not “down” as in “cool with,” but… nevermind.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


From the Old Master himself.

Monday, December 11, 2006

WAR OF CIVILIZATIONS UPDATE:

Well, not really, according to Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist whose admonitions to stop the Darfur slaughter have gone totally unheeded. But he’s talking about Muslims this time. No, not Arabs, he is quick to add. (Not all Arabs are Muslim, not all Muslims are Arab; in fact, most are not.)

Here’s a passage — or, borrowing from Sullivan’s lexicon, the ‘money quote’:

“The Koran and Bible alike have passages that make 21st-century readers flinch; most Christians just ignore sections on slavery or admonitions to kill a disobedient child. Likewise, some Muslims are reinterpreting Koranic passages on polygamy and amputations, saying they were restricted to particular circumstances that no longer apply. [For great analysis from an avowed Islamic humanist going by the moniker Ali Eteraz, check out the archives of his now-defunct site which is listed under my links.]

“Frankly, I don’t see that any religion’s influence is intrinsically peaceful or violent. Christianity inspired both Mother Teresa and pogroms. Hinduism nurtured Gandhi and also the pioneers of suicide bombings. [True, true, although I didn’t know about the Hindu suicide bombers thing; and Hitchens has some questions about Teresa’s saintliness.]

“These days, ferocious anti-Semitism thrives in some Muslim countries, but in the Dreyfus affair a century ago Muslims sided with a Jew persecuted by anti-Semitic Christians. And the biggest sectarian slaughter in Europe in modern times involved Christians massacring Muslims at Srebrenica. [Um, if we’re counting “modern times” … oh, sectarian slaughter; regardless, the Holocaust should be included in that category.]

“The plain fact is that some Muslim societies [point of confusion: when is it Muslim, versus Islamic or Islamist? These have almost become interchangeable] do have a real problem with violence, with the subjugation of women, with tolerance. But the mosaic of Islam is vast and contains many more hopeful glimpses of the future.

“There is a historic dichotomy between desert Islam — the austere fundamentalism of countries like Saudi Arabia — and riverine or coastal Islam, more outward-looking, flexible and tolerant. Desert Muslims grab the headlines, but my bet is that in the struggle for the soul of Islam, maritime Muslims have the edge.”

Ah, okay. Those damn desert A-rabs are the ones getting us in a pinch, Mr. Kristof; I see. Of course that is just irony. What’s interesting here is that he takes pains to differentiate the Muslim populations but has no problem grouping the ‘sand monkeys’ together as one homogenous, threatening group. Subtly racist of that distinction, no?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

I don’t pretend to any expertise or field experience, so this is just from what’s been reported and the situation as I’ve followed it. But enough with the disclaimers; they’re redundant and therefore unnecessary, and perhaps annoying and … I guess that’s disclaiming the disclaimer.

The need to express an opinion on things of pressing importance and consequence seems high for a lot of people, especially for those (myself included) who are neither directly involved nor actually knowledgeable. Sometimes things are better left unsaid, as they may simply add nothing new to the dialogue. But this blogger is not here to determine that, because for someone to say “That’s nothing new” smacks of elitist presupposition.

Yet that’s exactly the problem. An elite of commentators and analysts digests reality for us nearly constantly, too rapidly to either absorb or reflect on what we see and hear, enforcing some memes and throwing out others. The idea of being overabundantly interconnected with the world and yet so disconnected from it emerges, no longer so paradoxically. We want the real-world picture, with the fuzzy ambiguities sharpened, the murky subtext dredged out onto the microscope slide for powerful focus, all and everything chopped up, packed away and sold en masse.

What about the cynical, absolutist and simplistic lenses wielded at times by our self-appointed opinionists? I’ll of course admit my membership in the “blogosphere,” something that remains unclear in what it is or what it’s doing, or contributing to. It certainly cannot be a coherent whole, and therefore not any kind of sphere. (Maybe, instead, it’s a sphere in the sense of a gaseous ball of fire, which has no real surface but is rather pulled into its shape by the force of gravity.) Whatever it is, the blogs themselves form a sort of disjointed group that has plenty of opinionists, commentating aggregators, etc.

The world may be totally insane, but I think a lot of promise exists in many places. One hope of mine is that the collective power of human thought (in any medium) will eventually break apart the forces of evil that the surface of these media keep reflecting, masking that hope with overwhelmed notes of resignation and pretensions of understanding.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I give thanks for this too...

(from the 1956 Defense Dept. Coolidge Committee Report on Classified Information, via the Memory Hole)

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Even if he got out of his bizarre denial, as The Onion imagines, Ahmadi-Nejad would still be an asshole for having denied it. (Death to Iran?)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

“While some on principles baptized to strict party platform ties, social clubs in drag disguise outsiders they can freely criticize/Tell nothing except who to idolize and then say God bless him …

“My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards/False gods, I scuff, at pettiness which plays so rough/Walk upside-down inside handcuffs, kick my legs to crash it off/Say okay, I have had enough, What else can you show me?”

(R. Zimmerman, 1965)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Borat is not going to be released in Russia (except by bootleg), which seems odd because if the Kremlin were so concerned about offending religious and ethnic minorities, why the wars on Chechnya and the economic battering of Georgia?

Just a thought.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I’d hate to pontificate, so instead an old chestnut from a simpler, bloodier time is in order. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” That house, as it was then, is the United States. Civil war no longer greets us here, but the climate feels somewhat similar, if something in the old history books bears truth. It seems that elections are a form of parlor game, so the only mention of this week’s will go in the way of instrumental, passing remarks that — without resort to cynicism — illustrate the larger state in which I think we’ve become entrapped. Tuesday should give Americans pause for hope, as it does represent a small step forward, or at least a step backward from the abyss. The ideological chasms must be bridged and we have to stop putting the worst of our nature into our politics.

In some circles a pundit or two observed that a Senate split right down the middle, with the Vice President enabled to cast the tie-breaking vote, was a possibility. Currently at about 52 percent, the House (as was expected) has a slight majority for the opposition party. Either way, the dominant party can plausibly claim victory. The President can veto whatever he likes and, regardless, can resort to a signing statement that absolves him of enforcing any law as he has done hundreds of times before. It took the collosal failure of their policy, and not much else, to propel the former minority back into the lower chamber. Victory is also to be credited to the entrenched system of patronage and gerrymandering, which may have held off much of the popular will.

Andrea Cukor, in a letter printed in the Times, says that the American people have “got to stop the political tribalism that has taken over the democratic process of our Republic!” It is indeed something to exclaim and proclaim, but unlike her I wouldn’t understate it. That tribal mentality, which appeals only to emotion and superficially-important matters, is tearing apart our nation. A political science professor explained in my freshman year that we are headed in a “fascist” direction, with the focus less on governing the country and more on electioneering that toys with the citizenry on the bases of “fear, anger and division,” to borrow the characterization of the supposed Newspaper of Record last week. I hope the professor’s prediction is wrong, but it looks like we have not had a government for some time now and will not have one regardless of what happened this week.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Sunday that our “political structure … seems impervious to big partisan swings — thanks to a 50/50 electorate, the advantages of incumbency and the scarcity of competitive congressional districts.” In October, econopolitical analyst Paul Krugman wondered whether the oppositional “wave” — however great — could actually “overtop the levee” that the dominant party has built, given that “in close elections many Democratic votes … simply add to huge majorities in a small number of districts, while the more widely spread Republican vote allows the G.O.P. to win by narrower margins in a larger number of districts.” Roll Call opinionator Morton Kondracke agreed, writing on Nov. 2 that the vote was shaping up to be “tempered by some Republican structural advantages.”

National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru commented back in September that a loss for the then reigning partisans could be a net gain. “Freed from the obligation of cobbling together thin majorities for watered-down legislation,” Ponnuru wrote, “Republicans would be able to stand for something attractive.” That is preferable to the mess of things with which Americans have been surrounded. Upon seizing the mantle again, the Democrats’ “left-leaning ‘net-roots’ may grow more enraged still,” as the newly ascendant party “would … have the illusion of power without its reality.” These musings reflect on the longer-term picture, in which it can soon enough be claimed that nothing is going to get done and the corrosive polarization will maybe intensify.

The party that lost its dominance, at least its majority by narrow margins, has appeared to be riven over tactical disagreements about how to most effectively secure our rapidly fading hegemon status. However, the party that just ascended to power, more of a splinter association than anything else, lacks an overarching vision or strategy. This is a problem if Americans want their representatives to roll back the damage wrought to our country, in all of the anti-constitutional and anti-republican forms inflicted. There are no guarantees, nor do any quick fixes pretend to appear; whatever does unfold holds some confident measure of promise. That hope, however, is not up to the political system that has wholly failed the people for whom it purports to speak and, more absurdly, to lead.

Monday, October 30, 2006

“The politicians, special interests and the media are in a spate of high excitement over next week’s elections,” writes Bob Herbert (New York Times, “The System’s Broken,” 30 October 2006, A27). On the other side, there is “an increasing sense of disenchantment and unease … Big money and gerrymandering have placed government out of the reach of most Americans. … It’s time to bring the intelligence, creativity and energy of the broader population into the quest for constructive change.”

Amen.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Chopstick Instruction!

[As printed exactly on the sleeve of Bamboo Chopsticks(tm) ...]

Welcome to Chinese Restaurant.
Please try your Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks
the traditional and typical of Chinese glonous history and cultual.

Opposite side

Tuk under tnurnb and held firmly

Learn how to use your chopsticks
Add second chcostick hold it as you hold a pencil

Hold tirst chopstick in originai position move the second one up and down
Now you can pick up anything:

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sometime this Tuesday, Oct. 17 (7:45 in the morning or thereabout is my guess), the U.S. population will hit 300 million. According to figures reported in the Wall Street Journal, it will reach 400 million in about 35 years. I think everything is gonna be fine. No worries, demographers. Honest. (From the ranting fellow who has no idea what he is talking about.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Grim Numbers

Bulletin: (Maybe) 600,000 Iraqi dead from the war we launched three years ago, out of their population of roughly 27 million, according to a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study as reported in today’s New York Times.

600,000 is the mean estimate, and said to be by no means exact. Our “coalition forces,” it is sad to say, are to blame for much of the carnage though not all.

Taking the very mininum count — which is reported to be 426,369 — as a percentage of the Iraqi population, the equivalent American count would be 4,651,299. Would you put that on page 16?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Note on a Great Betrayal

From a letter to the editor; the New York Times, printed 29 September 2006 (A22):

The Rev. Connell Maguire, Navy cpt (ret.), puts the recent shameful repudiation of the bedrock legal principle on which the U.S. stands (English Common Law, of which a major part is the right to habeas corpus) in a solemnly eloquent way:

“The day the detainee bill is signed will be a day that will live in dishonor in our history. The practices that appalled us in the past when used by sleazy regimes will be incorporated into our legal heritage.

“If we do not reject the responsible party in power, we will indict ourselves as accomplices before decent world opinion.”

Americans are a good, decent people. We must demonstrate this in a few weeks and throw out the outlaws dominating — and destroying — the principles for which our patriot ancestors bled and died.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Happy New Year/Shana Tova - 5767

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

When it comes to politics, there seems to be a fine line between urgency and hysteria. The WORLD CAN’T WAIT! campaign promises October 5 to be a “day of mass resistance” against the reviled “Bush regime.” I do not know whether to say right on or slow down. Honestly, it seems like a tough pick.

Sure, these fuckers need to be driven out of office as soon as possible, for the good of the nation — if not for the good of the Nation. Even if the November elections don’t prove a watershed for the (nominal) opposition party, the hope still remains with the American people who, I think, have put up with much more than anyone ought to deserve, faced with a government that seems to care little about their interests or, at least, campaigns on solid contempt for them.

All said, if this ‘mass resistance’ turns out to be some misguided, ineffectual protests at whatever designated ‘centers of power’, to hell with it! Too lame. What kind of mass resistance would that be? Not that I at all recommend this, but they’re not talking about storming the White House for God’s sake, which would never work anyway. These people intend to keep it nonviolent, and that’s good; but with a logo of the Earth on fire, that … um, fiery urgency could well turn into hysteria, which is no good for anybody.

P.S.: I wrote the above about one month ago, though I think the planned uprising is still planned to go underway. Whether it will be reported in the mainstream press is of course another issue, but I am going to try to keep hope about it. You know, we really shouldn’t keep waiting any longer. Five years is far too long; much of America has probably been destroyed. But not by al Qaeda, which did take thousands of our people from us five years ago last week.

Monday, September 11, 2006

We are five years, unbelievably half a decade, past the morning in our history when a horrific trauma impacted our collective psyche; the public discourse has yet to fully heal, though we’ve moved on. Also we’ve moved forward to a state of affairs (it pains me to say, so deeply I regret this) that has left our country in a nearly unrecognizable shape.

Albeit for a brief, clear moment, the skeletal carcass of the monuments to our financial prowess, the grevious damage upon the nerve center of our military might and a smouldering hole in a Pennsylvania field were immediately packaged like a commercial brand and spoken with a cynical tongue to the end of dividing a united citizenry.

Truthfully, I fear we have begun to forget how September 11 has long since been stripped of any physical meaning, its shocking and terrible immediacy supplanted by a slogan for perpetuating the atrocious violence of that autumn day, indeed a GOP trademark stamped onto the embers of nearly 3,000 of our countrymen. It demonstrated a remarkable contempt for the American people, bearing witness to such eager politicization of the tragedy.

This has been pointed out elsewhere, but it is important to mention that Bin Laden’s scythe killed 2,973 Americans (CNN’s statistic), and our President’s led to the deaths (by the Washington Post’s count as of August 29) of 2,944 Americans in Iraq, 330 in Afghanistan and 1,836 in the Gulf states (cit. Wikipedia).* This toll exceeds bin Laden’s 1.7 times, nearly by a factor of two.

So much has changed, and there are positive developments. It is never all gloom and doom; that way lies pessimism, one of the worst of humanity’s inclinations. Look at Lebanon: its people just recently suffered the equivalent of an Sept. 11 attack every day for one month. That is inconceivable. Of course, the Lebanese have their own problems to deal with, namely their (rough) equivalent to our Klan.**

I keep hope that we Americans will stay fast to hope, that not only will we someday heal ourselves but also that we start fighting the jihadis and cease strengthening them. For the sake of the victims we remember today, in fact for the sake of my beloved country and the world, may justice yet be done for them.

*I do not of course blame Katrina on President Bush, as that would be ludicrous; I do point out that his administrative response, that is the lack thereof, of his subordinate executive agencies magnified and amplified what was the natural consequence of the hurricane’s impact, as is amply documented.

**Naturally that is speculation; I think it is legitimate to draw an analogy between their Hizb’ullah and our Ku Klux Klan, which until it was largely marginalized by the victories of the civil rights movement had an impressive pull on our southern territories, viz. Lebanon’s south, championing similarly racist terrorism.

NOTE: The maximum toll posted as of today from Iraq Body Count is roughly 46,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. As a percentage of the U.S. population, this is about 552,000 Americans; the toll from the Civil War, by comparison, was 558,052 (the Louisiana State University Civil War Center).

That figure is roughly 235 greater than what befell us five years ago today. It is, to make a crude estimate, the equivalent of a September 11 attack every week for the entire span of time that has passed between then and now.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Enterprising blogger Beep Beep tagged (remarks), who in turn tagged the Center. So here it all is, keeping to the format. [Even the part about the crying, as in books that make you do so. Not shyin away. Not here.]

A Book That Changed My Life

Handily, this goes to Nineteen Eighty-Four by the venerable George Orwell (Eric Blair). My God, what an unthinkable dystopian picture of the future. None of it ever came true.

A Book I’ve Read More Than Once

Probably Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, but I’m sure there are others. Have to dig it.

The One Book That Would be Goin’ to a Desert Island

’Tuff question. How about Paul Johnson’s A History of the Jews. Not to pass the time per se, but rather to reflect on familial heritage going back to ancient times. And, yes, incidentally it would pass the time. Big ’ol book.

A Book that Made Me Laugh

Nothing recently, but if The Onion’s “Complete News Archives Volume 16” (or Embedded In America) counts as a book, most definitely.

A Book that Made Me Cry

Well, I’m no sentimental windbag, but several years ago there was a book that at the end of it left me with, say, a raindrop a-fallen on my head. It goes to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, an integral part of literary Americana. Or, on the other hand, I was so tired of the book that, as I closed its last page, was just so happy it was over. But that was a long time ago.

A Book that I Wish had been Written

Richard B. Cheney’s classic, comprehensive tome Iraq: Its People, History, and Customs. Not a best-seller.

A Book I Wish had Never Been Written

Mein Kampf does rank high in this category, but I’d pick Jayson Blair’s scheme to get-rich-off-my-shame-of-plagiarism that his publisher titled Burning Down My Master’s House. To add insult to the injury of staining the reputation of one of the world’s finest newspapers (the New York Times, that’s right), it seems he played the race card. Sure, no one died, and I do not intend to compare him with the former in any way, as it is obvious that Mr. Blair’s book did not lead to the unconscionable horrors of human history. And to be fair to the disgraced journalist, I did not read his book. Nor do I intend to.

A Book I Have Been Meaning to Read

The Knights Templar by Stephen Howarth. My father recommended it highly.

Currently Reading...

A few books right now, first of which is Karen Armstrong’s Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World. Then, shifting gears, America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy (Gar Alperovitz).

TAGALONG

Ali Eteraz

David Masciotra

Jane Holland

Andy Dunn

Jill Stevenson

Friday, September 01, 2006

End of the Generation

Confidently not a dystopian forecast after all, but simply an evolution of social fabric into technotribalism, along with increasing isolation between people and pixelated stratification and fragmentation of human thought. Less things to talk about, but more to destroy. Nothing to buy; everything to sell.

In fact I see a generation aching for purpose in a seemingly nihilistic world where nothing appears to matter. But this assumes that generations still exist, and they do not. It is clear enough, in the midst of such opacity and madness, that they no longer do; no one understands the past while events of the present cripple the future.

This whole world is just hanging in limbo. Everyone is afraid to judge, and when they do it is often hysterical. We have left Utopia, and we will always fear Hell. The mission may prove to be whether we have the will to do what is best for the common good, or even ourselves. Until that proving ground is struck, may there be no decision. Only indifference, perhaps a conclusive shrug, then silence.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Slow Death of an American City

New Orleans, one year out, remains largely unrebuilt. The lower-income areas, for example, seem to have stayed devastated. The negligence, corruption and indeed the criminality that have been associated with this tragedy have gone unanswered.

Judging by relevant reports I have come across, the massive levee failure that wrecked a home to millions, and a monument to our culture, was not only systemic but preventable. Eminently preventable.

No one person deserves sole blame for the entire chronicle of horror; rather, it is distributed among several actors, whose actions — and, crucially, inactions — magnified the scale of what Mother Nature wrought twelve months ago.

“Katrina,” not Hurricane Katrina, has become a political slogan, a rallying cry of the militant anti-Bush organizers, even “REMEMBER KATRINA!” — as if it were the Maine. But the event cannot be dissociated from the causal chain of events, and the context out of which they happened.

Yet the basic fact remains that our government failed the people of New Orleans, therefore all Americans; last year millions solemnly watched the city’s poor without means of escape packed into shelters, among the dead and scavenging for food. Last year we bore witness to the televised accounts of refugees in our own country.

The American people did a hell of a lot to help, immensely more than the government, which proved sickeningly dysfunctional.* The whole episode did indeed go a long way to show just how good and decent Americans are. In spite of it all, one year removed, an American city had been left to die.

Rebuild; Restore; Renew. That is the way, and that is the hope. No idea when it will happen, but until it does this will be a shame on our national conscience, for which someday we will eventually forgive. But not forget. May a dead city be reborn.

(Note: Do not know why I am feeling so personally affected here, as the above words suggest. But then I think about, as I have before, my father’s ancestors who came to Louisiana from Sicily and the Old Country back in the 1820s; and of my distant relatives living in Baton Rouge, thankfully far from the brunt of the damage. Never got to meet ‘em, though.)

An ugly myth has apparently circulated for awhile, in which the dastardly Army Corps of Engineers purposefully flooded the black Lower Ninth Ward, among other tall tales; I think that mirrors the story about the Maine’s sinking at the dastardly hands of wicked Spainards.

*Indeed the New York Times described the inaptly named Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as “an international symbol of dysfunction and incompetence,” and since the Katrina disaster “little has fundamentally changed” within its bureaucratic structure.

UPDATE: CNN reports, “Nationally, 67 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush’s handling of the Katrina disaster, according to an AP-Ipsos poll earlier this month.” This seems to match past poll results ever since the very beginning of the crisis. It adds, “The death toll in Louisiana from Katrina is close to 1,600, including nearly 300 who died in other states after fleeing from the hurricane” (Aug. 29, 2006). If I may, on top of the 2,600 brave souls who have perished in Iraq, the criminality and negligence of our government has topped bin Laden’s murder of 3,000 of our people by over one-third, whose fifth-year anniversary arrives soon.

(Re-post from July 5)

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
And let us destroy the Enlightenment together ...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In light of ever-present ‘media overload’ (or M.O.), Wikipedia has long been an interest of mine, ever since it launched into my consciousness a couple of years ago. Science has rated it exceptionally accurate, regarding its scientific articles at least.* The attacks this self-described public encyclopedia has undergone are conclusively baseless.

To a large extent, as a previous post echoes, Wikipedia is a fundamentally democratic medium and is pointedly populist in its form. The content, to which my contributions have been few and far-in-between — given that, minor changes/fixes, does not deserve the overly critical reception it gets, for instance, from CNN — which once sarcastically described the Wiki as a source that “anyone can edit,” ignoring the stringent filtering process.

[Anyone can edit, true, but edits are peer-reviewed — P2P — by hundreds, indeed thousands, of people: fellow contributors, observers, etc.]

Marshall Poe, in the September issue of the Atlantic Monthly, notes that Wikipedia “has the potential to be the greatest effort in collaborative knowledge gathering the world has ever known,” while in its origins the collaborative ethic was jump-started with so-dubbed “‘wiki magic,’” which Poe writes is “the mysterious process by which communities with common interests work to improve wiki pages by incremental contributions” (p. 91), so the serial additions became parallel.

The number of Wikipedia articles increased from 100- to 500-thousand, from January 2003 to March 2005; by March 2006, it had doubled, as the Monthly explains (pp. 90, 91). Founders Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales set up a framework in which “authors were enjoined to present the conventionally acknowledged ‘facts’ in an unbiased way, and, where arguments occurred, to accord spaces to both sides,” Poe writes, lest the entire project “slide into a morass of unproductive invective” (p. 91).

He opines that “Wikipedia suggests a different theory of truth” from the standard, objective… encyclopedic one. Continues: “The community [of dedicated Wikipedians and fellow path-takers] decides that two plus two equals four … by consensus. Yes,” Poe exclaims, “that means that if the community changes its mind and decides that two plus two equals five, then two plus two does equal five.

“The community isn’t likely to do such an absurd or useless thing,” he adds, “but it has the ability” (p. 93). Sure, true enough, as Merriam-Webster has the same “ability” to define democracy as an empty slogan, or a commodity for export (preferably at gun-point).

Mr. Poe concludes that the network “is well ordered and … very useful” and “is laying claim to … a territory we might call ‘common knowledge,’ … the place where all nominal information about objects of widely shared experience will be negotiated, stored, and renegotiated” (p. 94). Oh, almost forgot; it’s all for free, as any decent store of information ought to be.

*As is typical, I am mistaken; the journal Nature, we read, “compared [Encyclopedia] Britannica and Wikipedia science articles and suggested that the former are usually only marginally more accurate than the latter” (ibid, my emphasis), not Science.

Also, Poe refers to an IBM “study [which] suggests that although vandalism does occur … watchful members of the huge Wikipedia community usually swoop down to stop the malfeasance shortly after it begins” (ibid). Very true. In fact, the day after satirical troublemaker Stephen Colbert — while riffing on “Wikiality” — called on people to edit the ‘Elephants’ page to read that the number of elephants has “tripled in the last three months,” sure enough someone (out of who know’s how many) added in caps at the top, THE NUMBER OF ELEPHANTS HAS TRIPLED IN THE LAST SIX MONTHS! It was gone a few minutes later. (I was kind of disappointed that I hadn’t had the chance to write it myself.)

To be sure, I am not a committed ‘Wikipedian’ by any possible measure, but I am thoroughly committed to the idea of such an open-source, democratic body of knowledge. As I’ve said before, keep it alive. And I fuckin’ meant it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

MEDIA OVERLOAD?

Cannot think of a better way to describe it, but it definitely seems like we are not only looking at information overload but media overload. Whole blocs of overwhelming, instantly-analytical-perpetually-updated chunks of posts, bulletins, comments, diggs (patent pending, right?), et cetera. Not only can one not keep up, but a clear picture of the world, or of anything, is denied. How can any decisions be made in an environment like this?

Further, we have a really self-conscious media culture. People talk about ‘self-parody,’ and that is part of it but there’s more to the mix than the reflections at the surface. Granted that this culture has become increasingly complex and accelerated, and in the interests of simplicity and clarity (but not oversimplification and hypercoherence), we need to either break away from it or break it down. I am not talking about destruction; there is too much of that already.

Some dissonance is good. But I think too much is out there, anyways. For instance, How can the world’s most feared nation (and its most necessary) understand the world it has come to dominate? It may be an insane question, but it is posed here nonetheless. By this I do not mean the media cultures, and subcultures, that both connect and divide Americans have a purely political outlet. But how we perceive the world, much less each other, is undoubtedly important in any sphere; what we do to act on it moreso.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Zapped!

“Well I’m about to get upset from watchin’ my TV, been checkin’ out the news until my eyeballs fail to see/

“I mean to say that every day is just another rotten mess, and when it’s gonna change my friend is anybody’s guess/

“So I’m watching and I’m waiting, hopin’ for the best/

“Even think I’ll go prayin’, every time I hear ‘em sayin’ that there’s no way to delay that trouble comin’ every day ...”

(THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION, 1966)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Snakes-a-Comin' (Real Soon)


Re-postage (from January 13), with different words and different picture ... but same spirit:

Snnnaaaakes! 3-Day Weekend $100 mil blockbuster? Can Jackson get those motherfuckin snakes off his motherfuckin plane??
Rumble-Jumble, Parte Trois...

The Post’s Metro section printed up a piece on “freegans”, or “free vegans”, who dumpster-dive but don’t actually need to. These kids have a point, if they’re not also sort of insane. Indeed there’s a lot of overconsumption and waste in our society when it comes to food.

But they’re running a risk, at least health-wise. And it is naïve to attack a system from the waste end — you’re working backwards.

Besides, to make a last (but not least) point, what about the people who actually have to bum food out of the dump to survive? It is selfish on principle, and we read that such freegans seem to be principally-motivated at some level, to act in such a self-illusory (and likely pointless) way — especially if it deprives ... panhandlers. You know, homeless.

(The people most often ignored, or best simply invisible; more often than not, they don’t get the front-page of a major newspaper’s Metro pages.)

Crunchy Cons: Sounds like something I’d want to be a part of at first look, at least to be a kind of honorary observer. They’re a motley sort of freewheeling, unconventional right-wingers. To be clear, not an orthodoxical Right, but probably conservative in disposition instead of an ideological sense, a tricky stand to which I have much sympathy — and some attachment.

I’ve often been styled, cast or even pigeonholed into a number of ideo-set designations, be they “ultra-liberal” by those who really don’t know who I am, even “reactionary” — by people who really have no idea. (Although I’m not comfortable with such place-markers and ideological thinking in general, and for the most part ideology as a practice is bullshit, ‘left-wing conservative’ seems comfortable.*)

*Then again, social libertarian seems fitting, too; essentially, anything that isn’t extreme, intolerant or irrational — if it blossoms within those bounds, chances are I might go along with it.

ISRAEL/LEBANON update: The fire has largely ceased for now, as far as I can tell from the far-outside, so at month’s end it looks like this...

If the guns were reversed, with the proportions kept, the Israeli and Lebanese civilian deaths (respectively) are 1,840 and 24. To deny the obvious tragedy that has befallen Lebanon, from within and without and with the help of several actors, is to deny the equal moral weight between Israelis and Lebanese.

The Post published an op-ed by the Secretary of State, who writes (“A Path To Lasting Peace”, A13) that “we have increased our immediate humanitarian assistance to $50 million” (my italics). Increased to 50 million dollars? The paper, on page 10, reads that “Losses to infrastructure” in Lebanon have thus far totaled $2,400,000,000. The 50 mil is 1/48th of that; in proportion to the Israeli infrastructure damage, that comes out to 27 mil.

“For our part, the United States is helping to lead relief efforts for the people of Israel, ... we have increased our immediate humanitarian assistance to $27 million.” You would not see that sentence, especially by our State Secretary, and for good reason. The idea is simply insulting to Israel; such little funds for so much damage.

For the U.S., again keeping the proportions, if we take the place of Israel, is 1,860; if the place of Lebanon is taken, 87,630 ... which is about 29 9/11s (over the course of a month, roughly one every day), whose fifth anniversary looms quite soon. [Suppose a far greater power promised financial aid for our reconstruction? It would be (by my count) a transparently paltry $3,947,305 for our $1,894,736,832 in damages. Maybe my math is wrong. But it would be a start.]

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Realist Decries 'Unrealism', Delusional Idiocy


I’ve had, and continue to have, plenty of respect (and occasional disagreement) with conservative commentator George Will, who in today’s Washington Post (“The Triumph of Unrealism”, A13) is right on the money about the recent MI-5 disrupt of the liquid-bomb plot.

He writes:

“Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement ... has validated John Kerry’s belief ... that ‘many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror.’”

Will adds that “a ‘senior administration official’ ... denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point,” informing the radical Weekly Standard that, with a straight face,

The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, loveable, God-fearing people if it weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It’s like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn’t work.”

As the staid, reasonable columnist concludes, “This farrago [wtf?] of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike ‘the law enforcement approach,’ does ‘work.’

“The official is correct that it is wrong ‘to think that somehow we are responsible - that the actions of the jihadists are justified by U.S. policies.’ But few outside the fog of paranoia that is the blogosphere [hey!] think like that. It is more dismaying that someone at the center of government considers it clever to talk like that. It is the language of foreign policy — and domestic politics — unrealism.”

(I don’t appreciate the cheap swipe at bloggers, but then again some among us can reach heights of paranoid fantasy at times, on any range of topics. We’re not robots, Bow-tie.)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Crazy Thought (Again)


Ummm... should we actually negotiate with these people? Lookat the salute for God's sakes! Why are we even thinking about doing that? Look at them! Just fucking dangerous.

God forbid I demonize the official enemy, in this case Hizb'ullah (the Party of God). God forbid I choose to demonize demons. God forbid I react negatively to what appears to be a Nazi salute.

But, go ahead, hammer out a negotiated settlement with these folks. (I am talking to you, Kofi!) Of course I want this war to stop, do not get me wrong. (I often get myself wrong.) But do not lose your heads. I am trying not to lose mine. A wise man said, Do not cut what you cannot untie. That implies the Lebanese government, at a last option, must cut it off with these so-called Holy Partisans or whatever the else these murderous thugs want to name themselves. If it cannot, sorry Mr. Siniora, but the bullshit has got to end.

Both states must respect the territorial sovereignty of the other; as I have consistently advocated, a cease-fire must be enforced by the relevant multinationals or what-have-you, and by the by such a call to lay down arms has begun as of a few hours ago; reparations by Israel and Lebanon must be paid immediately for their respective collateral damage; and the political structure of Lebanon must be re-made from within, toward the effect of leaving a disarmed Hizbollah and, instead, a political party without recourse to violence, a choice that is entirely up to the Lebanese (at that an acceptable one for Israel, as top Israeli officials have in fact indicated).

No more for now. On a personal note, may this ceasefire have lasting value, indeed a semblance of permanence; may Israel and Lebanon find the peace their people both seek; and may rogues like Hezbollah and their thuggish minions be stamped out once and, hopefully, for all.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

What?!

The enemies of free people are the temptations to be naïve, embrace cynicism to suffice for a lack of spirit or common energy and turn ourselves into fatalists only trusting an invisible predetermined Higher Plan.

These are not abstract words, nor are they slogans in the hope of rallying some deeper cause, a target hidden from the piercing light of day that drives out the fog of contradiction and confused, interpretive talking-head shout-match referees who radiate from lofty perches of assumed expertise.

What am I talking about, hell, if I only knew. Power is out of the hands of people like me, we’re just left to comment and rant and ceaselessly opine, presuming there’s anything useful to say that hasn’t already been said. Lacking qualities in our collective experience, maybe to simplify and generalize beyond the scope of which is surely legit, are Honesty, Trust and Respect. These are taken for granted to not exist practically anywere outside the realm of the imagined or aspired.

There’s your summer reading. (Goodnight.)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Re-posting (from May 26), with some updates...

A team of UCLA researchers under the direction of one Donald Taskin is
reported to have found, contrary to malicious Drug War agitprop, that inhaling the haze of Mary-Jane, “even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer.”

Intaking the toke, according to Tashkin’s work, may — perhaps — even have “‘some protective effect’” on the lungs.

The Post adds that past studies Tashkin conducted had pointed to toxic agents in marijuana akin to those which are understood to be cancerous in tobacco. However, “the chemical THC [TetraHydroCannabinol] … may kill aging cells and keep them from becoming cancerous,” Tashkin asserts.

Unlike the wacky tobacke, the other leaf is highly addictive thanks to nicotine; likely, there’s the greater health threat — with the accepted, massively subsidized cash crop and not the demon-plant sown into the black market.

NOTES: (Researchers of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, in 1997, tentatively “
concluded that … marijuana use and cancer were not associated in overall analyses” in their study.

(Ahmedin Jemal and Kenneth Chu of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute write that “a contribution” to overall trends of “lung cancer mortality” post-1950 among people under the age of 45 “from marijuana smoking cannot be ruled out.”


(L.E. Hollister of Pharmacological Reviews, however, pointed out in 1986 that cases of “emphysema or lung cancer have not yet been documented.”

(Yet according to a 1998 Lancet study, “chronic” smokers — and this is portrayed as by no means certain — may suffer “bronchitis and histopathological changes that may be precursors to the development of malignant disease” [p. 3].)

Who knows? I don’t, certainly.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

ON HIATUS (in case I haven't noticed).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Almost Beside the Point

The issue of “disproportion” re Israel/Lebanon is almost beside the point.

15 Israeli civilians are already dead. According to Lebanese Health Ministry figures cited in Ha’aretz, the number of civilian casualties in Lebanon is 342 as of the latest count.

To put this horrifying tragedy (for Israel and Lebanon) into a proportion-wise perspective, the respective populations of Israel and Lebanon are roughly 6.3 and 3.8 million.

If we reversed the guns, this is the picture (again, keeping the proportions) that emerges: 9 Lebanese civilian dead, 567 Israeli civilian dead. Every life is of equal worth; a Lebanese civilian is of the same moral weight as an Israeli civilian. I shouldn’t have to say that.

For the U.S., the picture is wickedly frightening, lest we not pay attention to the events as they unfold: 720 dead (if we take the place of Israel) or 27,000 (if we take Lebanon’s place).

[The latter number is, then, about equivalent to nine September 11ths.]

I continue to pray for the people of Israel and Lebanon, hoping that the bloodshed will end, that the forces of extremism and the blinded, hating souls it holds hostage will be defeated forever.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

NEW DELHI: UNBLOCK THE BLOG.

India, the largest democracy in the world, did not suffer such an atrocity in Bombay to deserve this outrage against free people.

The latest bulletin reads that some ISPs in the country "began restoring access to some Web sites", though the government ban has "remained in place despite protests" there and abroad.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006



Washington Post foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid reports that in Beirut, “politics are conflating with identity” — singularly troublesome when looked at in relation to the phenomenon of terrorist-militant-group-turned-political-factions like the so-named Party of God (Hizb’ollah).

In his survey of the common population’s outlook (“Barrage Reopens Wounds of a Fractured Beirut,” 16 July 2006), Shadid writes that Hizbollah “provided schools, hospitals, pharmacies and dental clinics, spending millions of dollars — made possible by Iran” and its theocratic machinations.

[Such ‘social services’ were allegedly key to the political ascendancy of Hamas — euphemistically dubbed the Islamic Resistance Movement — as opposed to the weak and reportedly corrupt Fatah.]

Personally, it is very interesting how Lebanon can be so deftly transformed from a supposed bastion of democratic heroism (as in the beloved Cedar Revolution) pitted against sinister Syrian occupiers, into an existential enemy of a fundamentally embattled Israel — which, in turn, is portrayed in Arab news media as a monstrous aggressor.

Thomas O’Dwyer, a former Jerusalem Post foreign editor and current contributor to openDemocracy, asks whether Hizbollah fatally “miscalculated” by abducting Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers. O’Dwyer quotes Tel Aviv University political science professor Shaul Mishal as registering his own surprise that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — reportedly something of a politico-military novice — “was ready to take such a risk, (in) account of the fact that Israel was going to suffer from missile attacks against its population”, perhaps a predictable result coming from a roguish set of militants hell-bent on ‘resisting’ foreign ‘domination’ as Hizbollah.

The reactions abroad seem instructive. Israel is engaging in “disproportionate” use of force, says the European Union. Hizbollah, for its part, is roundly condemned by the Arab League for “irresponsibly” dooming the Lebanese to the might of the IDF. And only very recently has the U.S. sent out a State Department delegation to the region, though has so far rejected talk of any ceasefire, which ought to be mutual, unequivocal and immediate.

Ari Shavit, in an opinion piece from the premier Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, explains that laying down arms “would serve to redefine what is now mistakenly perceived as a savage war between two savage and bloodthirsty tribes” (“Start Over,” 17 July 2006). Shavit adds, without a hint of doubt, “We are killing and being killed for our border. We are killing and being killed for our liberty … for our very existence as a free society.”

The words of Knesset member Yossi Sarid are worth heeding:

Deterring capability [with which to fight terrorism] consists not only of military might, but also of moral might. After all, Bush himself, and not the defeatist bleeding hearts, often talks in the name of the Moral Majority and world morality and cites it as the culmination of his vision. … The president himself is violating human and civil rights by ordering mass wiretapping, by the wholesale penetration of private bank accounts and by unrestrained assaults on journalists who are faithfully doing their job. Most of these phenomena are of course not foreign to Israel, which encountered difficulties when, in the biblical metaphor, it did the deed of Zimri and demanded the reward of Pinhas.[*] This is … joining the evildoers and strengthening them and their arguments.”

As Yigal Sarena notes in Yedioth Ahronoth, “‘A cat pushed into a corner becomes a panther,’ goes the Arab saying.” From the first front, “The miserable Gaza panther fires its annoying tin-can Qassams as a call of poverty from those choking, those who lack answers.”

*This story (to the best of my understanding, anyway) refers to violent moments of zealotry, to which the antidote is clear, calm thinking. Scholarly, rabbinical commentary from Oz Veshalom-Netivot Shalom, a humanistic religious Zionist group, provides this interpretation. In “The Deed of Pinhas and the Breaking of the Tablets,” Pinchas Leiser puts it this way: “Even though Pinhas’s intentions were pure,” Israel protecting its people in Sarid’s analogue, “there is no guarantee that the zealot’s soul will emerge unscathed by zealous killing, even if that killing appears to be justified.”

Thursday, July 13, 2006


GOD SAVE ISRAEL, GOD SAVE LEBANON

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

UPDATE: Professor Juan R.I. Cole, an Orientalist scholar at the University of Michigan fluent in Arabic, had written,

“People often ... ask me about this verse:

“[5:51] ‘O you who believe, do not take Jews and Christians as friends; these are friends of one another. Those among you who ally themselves with these belong with them.’

“This is actually not a good translation of the original, which has a very specific context. In the Arabia of Muhammad’s time, it was possible for an individual to become an honorary member or ‘client’ of a powerful tribe. But of course, if you did that you would be subordinating yourself politically to that tribe. The word used in Arabic here does not mean ‘friend.’ It means ‘political patron’ (wali). What the Quran is trying to do is to discourage stray Muslims from subordinating themselves to Christian or Jewish tribes that might in turn ally with pagan Mecca, or in any case might have interests at odds with those of the general Muslim community.

“So the verse actually says:

“[5:51] ‘O you who believe, do not take Jews and Christians as tribal patrons; these are tribal patrons of one another. Those among you who become clients of these belong with them.’ ...”

Thanks for clearing that up.
But who is responsible?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Prayers for Bombay, and our solidarity with Indian resistance to such barbaric atrocities as we have seen today.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Rumble-Jumble (part 2):

Kofi
warns of “humanitarian disaster” in Gaza, forgets he laid a wreath for a guy who was a really big “humanitarian disaster” for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Harper’s reports that President Bush has added so-called “‘signing statements’” claiming Executive “exemption … from provisions of new laws” to Congressional legislation — such as the one instantly nullifying Sen. McCain’s absurd DON’T TORTURE PEOPLE ACT — 750 times.

(Continues: “… since Washington”, “all other presidents” up until Bush have done this 568 times.)

Why is the website for the Korean Central News Agency (
KCNA), the Pyongyang propaganda organ, hosted by the Japanese? Don’t they hate each other? The site even has an English mirror, so you can catch up with all the wacky bulletins yourself.

Dave Chappelle has returned. Well, no, he hasn’t, but we all would like to think so.

[Banana muffins are really not that bad, seriously.]

So psyched for A Scanner Darkly.

According to a couple forums (those of the New York Times and Foreign Policy magazine, respectively), my “ignorant and superficial” observations consumed with “delusional” “prejudice” are not worthy of civilized company… so, my apologies for brainwashing all of you.

LONG CHAIN OF RAMBLES TO FOLLOW

Interesting things about the Koran (Qur’an?), maybe this is a matter of translation, interpretation or whatever, but it sheds some light. Now, the enemy of Western civilization is Islamic fundamentalism, right? Or, in more modern parlance, radical Islamism; nonetheless, not Islam itself, as a religion, as a body of holy laws, precepts, etc. That’s the moderate consensus. Yes?

Yet according to The Bible of the World (eds. Robert Ballou, Friedrich Spiegelberg & Horace Friess, 1939), an impressive anthology of all major holy texts, the central “Mohammedan” verses (suras) are riddled with calls toward respecting Jews and Christians as “readers of the Book” (p. 1313), therefore only God (Allah) can “judge between them as to that in which they have differed” (ibid.), as all three are originally rooted in Abraham’s covenant — that is at least my read of it.

But then there’s this passage, under the title ‘The Holy War’:

“And fight for the cause of God against those who fight against you … kill them wherever ye shall find them … for seduction from the truth is worse than slaughter … War is prescribed to you” (p. 1317). [Then again, preemptive attacks are strictly forbidden; they strike you, strike back but never strike first.]

More worrisome, there’s this:

“O believers! take not the Jews or Christians as friends. They are but friends to one another [what?!]; and if any one of you taketh them for his friends, then surely he is one of them! Verily God will not guide the evil-doers” (p. 1322). What happened to the benign “people of the book” stuff? I’m confused. Then again, mirroring the contradictions of the Judeo-Christian testaments, “God loveth not the abettors of violence” (p. 1324).

[Mohammad(ed?), historically, was a great warrior, who lead the charge of wiping out the Arabian pagans and conquering the surrounding lands by the sword; this contradicts the ‘peaceful prophet’ theme we often hear. Then again, God delivered the Israelites from the Canaanites, Jebusites and others, all the idolaters, which is often interpreted as a literal succession of genocidal battles against polytheistic tribes by the early Hebrews. So, if Islam was in fact established through violence, that’s hardly unique.]

Clearly, if not less obscurely, there is the bloody window of fanatical interpretations and demagoguery one could take away. To do so is to sully and corrupt the inner truths, the spirit of this and any religious text — not simply the letters that stride its thin surface. The letters are important, sure, but literalism is dangerous.

Like any religious text, I think, the Koran reflects the mental schism within all humanity, that is good and evil, right and wrong, the light and the darkness, viz. the wrath in the Old Testament and the compassion in the New — with the obvious exceptions of the Roman crucifixion and the Apocalypse.

Enough of my sermonizing. Afraid of EURABIA? In al Hayat, an Arabic daily printed in London, Elias Harfouch writes, “Unlike the theories expounded and exported to European cities by extremist ideologists in the Muslim world who consider the ‘other’ as an enemy, the facts confirm that the majority of Europe’s Muslims has the option of opening up and integrating the community, as well as embracing its cultural values.

“The
poll which covered a wide segment of Muslims and that was published by ‘The [London] Times’ showed that 13% of those surveyed considered the London bombers martyrs. However, it is noteworthy that 87% deemed the bombings offensive to Muslims, and highly condemned the perpetrators” (6 July 2006, “The Responsibility to Fight Extremism”).

RAMBLES A SHAMBLES, HAS CONCLUDED

Gotta kick the cynicism and paranoia, though it’s mostly the former. And the naïve fatalism. (Am I this crazy?) “Trust your instincts,” I hear. “If something appears suspicious, or out of the ordinary, please report it immediately ...” Until next time.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
And let us destroy the Enlightenment together ...

Friday, June 30, 2006

Have a happy Independence Day weekend. See you when I see you.

Monday, June 26, 2006

UPDATES: Jonathan Cohen, blogger of the excellent Business Watch and specialist in ‘socially-responsible business’, explains that net-neutral “is a complicated” matter “evolving as we speak,” but essentially “relates to whether the Internet highway stays the same or charges tolls.”

He adds: “The Internet highway is to democracy as the paved highway is to commerce.”

The Post’s position is to let things run their course; if things go wrong, Congress can step in — but not “pre-empt” the process.

The Examiner, a local Washington-metro daily, editorializes that protecting net neutrality is important, but should not be legislated; otherwise, such state control would be as destructive as any corporate takeover. So, if we “suppress an open and democratic flow of information”, either through state or corporate control, we lose out (“Congress should keep its hands off the Internet,” 22 June 2006, p. 18).

Jeffrey Birnbaum, author of the “K Street Confidential” column at the Post, writes that the advocacy propaganda from both pro- and anti-neutrality is muddying the public conception of what it all really means.

But what does it mean? I asked him, on a Post chatroom:

My understanding of this net neutrality issue is not exactly clear, but does it break down to whether telecom corporations can effectively monopolize broadband service through higher so-called access barriers? If so, would enacting a preservation of net-neutral law signal a move to state control of the Internet?

Birnbaum:

I personally don’t see anything as drastic at stake here as ‘state control.’ The state doesn’t want control and no one wants to give it to the state. What is at stake is a little loosening of rules that would allow broader pricing authority. I did get a call this morning from an Internet veteran who did assert that companies could be allowed to meddle in content, but I doubt that the government would permit much of that.”

Mr. Cohen had referred me to an Associated Press wire, in which we read that advocates at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) oppose the “‘wait and see’” approach called for by the editors at the Post.

From the CDT report:

As a preliminary matter,” we read, “CDT believes the term ‘network neutrality’ is imprecise and has come to mean different things to different stakeholders in the debate. For some, network neutrality means creating a full common carriage regime for broadband networks; for others, the focus is on interconnection. …”

It continues: “… the focus of the debate today should be squarely on preserving the openness of the Internet — as opposed to other, non-Internet services that also may be carried over broadband networks. … ‘Internet’ neutrality better reflects the proper scope of the issue than does ‘network’ neutrality” (p. 1).

Whether this is simply semantics, I can’t say, but the CDT does clarify. “… the Internet has always been a ‘neutral’ network,” it reads, adding that it “was developed within the academic world, relying on funding from the U.S. government, as a means of supporting research and education in the sciences and engineering. Commercial interests were not initially involved” (p. 4).

In conclusion, the CDT does not support “binding rules” but, rather, seeks to “require careful monitoring and reporting” to prevent any “favorable treatment” in the public, “neutral Internet” (p. 11). That appears to be something of a consensus; that is, do not let the grid runners get tied up, but also do not let those people (within their rational self-interests) choke off and close avenues of opportunity and growth in the system.

(S. 2686 remains under hearing and committee revision. On June 22, Sen. Stevens [the bill’s principal author] explained, in plain English, “Various provisions in the bill have been endorsed by nearly every segment of the communications industry”, such as “the US Telephone Association, the National Cable Telecommunications Association, the Cellular Association, the Satellite Association, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, all of the rural telephone associations, and the National Association of Broadcasters. …” And others.)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A lot of talk on ‘net neutrality’ (NN). Before I take a position either which way, it may be useful to first take some time and figure out what it is, how attractive the alternatives are. And also, on balance, whether what it all amounts to in the end run is a good thing.

Owing much of the discussion to the Center for Internet and Society (CIS) and Free Press (respectively Lawrence Lessig and Robert McChesney), ought the “network owners … become content gatekeepers”? Clearly, no, if by that we mean that the enablers for the Web intend to control it. Conversely, yes, if we mean that these enablers intend to improve and broaden access, etc. (To borrow a phrase out of a certain college paper’s office, my “indecision is final”.)

But am I being sucked into alarmism? I hope not, if I keep a cool, level head about things; or, I hope so, if that gets me to the truth. But the connection to the business of blogging seems somewhat clear enough, specifically this ‘netroots’ movement as inspired by DailyKos and the like, which are attempting — quite successfully, by fits and starts — to be on par with ‘mainstream’ media in terms of influencing public policy, the party system, etc.

My concern regards one of access and resource, which not even the largest blogging entities possess. As the so-called blogosphere has grown, perhaps matured, into a patently self-styled forum for ideologues and partisans, I have only become more concerned. I’ve been blogging for over three years, but I have yet to take full scope of what it amounts to, that is what I’ve stumbled into.

The intention was never partisan hackery; the aim is, and was, to keep a running tally, initially out of boredom and, later, out of misdirected rage or amusement, of whatever felt noteworthy at the time. I cannot claim that my vision here was lost, for there was none to begin with.

[Some final comments for now on the Netroots concept and how it looks to be panning out, this Digital New Left (DNL) — whose target is not simply the Republican establishment but, more significantly, the Democratic. But the DNL is not radically democratic enough: Either end the two-party system entirely, or try to work around it. As long as politics (in effect) means money, to generalize, people — most people, not the psychotically pressure-cooked politicos à la the Washington set — won’t be drawn to it.]

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, “All the sides [in the NN debate] say they are fighting on behalf of consumers, innovation and free speech” (19 June 2006). I asked the author of the story, Miriam Hill, about why — in the words of the much under-rated Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) — this issue has involved such “‘sharply contrasting’ views”.

Ms. Hill wrote back to me, reflecting that she, as well, felt the “need to understand it better. … The ‘sharply contrasting’ views stem from broadband providers' desire to be able to charge business customers whatever they want.” Adding: “Those customers (Google, eBay, etc.) want everyone to have to pay the same freight.”

Steve Forbes (“Ominous Neutrality”, Wall Street Journal, 12 June) writes that malevolent “well-financed lobbyists … want Congress to pass innovation-stifling restrictions” on the telecoms’ embryonic broadbands, such as “premature, unnecessary regulations” such as, well, whatever they are, he won’t specify. Having them charge higher fees for effectively monopolized “super-high-speed services that gobble extra bandwidth on the network,” somehow, “sounds like the free market at work”. [My hypocrisy cannot be overstated; I am a beneficiary of the cable monopoly Comcast and its broadband service.]

A Washington Post editorial (“The Internet’s Future”, 11 June 2006, sec. A, p. 20) elaborated on the issue, spelling out some of the misconceptions surrounding it. NN-supporters’ arguments are “absurd” because “the market for Internet connections … is competitive” versus that for cable television; and, “Thanks to technology, the Internet will always be a relatively democratic medium with low barriers to entry.” So, Congress ought not “burden the Internet with pre-emptive regulation” that may only prove “speculative.” This is essentially Mr. Forbes’ argument, with the calls against thwarting “innovators” and the like. Whether it is all speculation, and that we really have no idea what will happen here, is beyond discussion.

Editors at the Washington Times (“Free-market telecom”, 12 June) spouted that NN legislation would be “a solution to a non-existent problem” and completely abhorrent to the free-market-information-super-highway, originally developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — and is currently under no one’s control, though its ‘gatekeepers’ represent the major telecom interests, i.e. Verizon, Comcast, etc.

This picture may change relatively soon, either for good or bad. The Times, in light of this, sees — dare I say it — a powerfully anti-capitalist subsidy for what may amount to Internet control as “free-market common sense”.

Not much has been so far conclusively been done in the Senate of late, where efforts “to impose ‘net neutrality’ provisions” are yet to be compromised with the G.O.P. drive to block any perceived “interfer[ence] with commercial deals among phone and cable companies and the content providers” (Arshad Mohammed, Washington Post, 13 June, sec. D, p. 4).

I usually do not write up something like this. But it is important, for (as has been thus far hinted) the very future of the Internet as we now know it might be at stake. Or may not. Judging by the mess of bills up for committee debate and revision, it seems that there is quite a lot of confusion over the issue. But to get to the heart of the matter, it is necessary to strip away the rhetorical gimmicks and “findings”.

On May 1, Senators Ted Stevens (R-AR) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI) put forward a bill, entitled the ‘Communications, Consumer’s Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act’ (S. 2686), now in committee. The next day, Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA-7) et al introduced their ‘Network Neutrality Act’ (H.R. 5273) and, to top it off, on May 19 Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-NH) and others proposed an ‘Internet Freedom Preservation Act’ (S. 2917).

All of the bills under the microscope address bringing the 1934 Communications Act into the new century. The relevant questions, I think, are how we are intending to do this and what are we looking at.

Stevens’ bill is the longest and most regulatory/confusing of the three. The relevant part of it — and there are many detours, including provisions regarding the War on Terror, etc. — is §901: if, one year from now, “the developments in Internet traffic processing, routing, peering, transport, and interconnection” are found by both the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Cmte. and the House Cmte. on Energy and Commerce to have any “significant problems” in that and some other respects, then those committees will in their power “ensure that consumers can access lawful content and run Internet applications and services over the public Internet subject to the bandwidth purchased and the needs of law enforcement agencies” (pp. 131, 132).

Markey and Snowe, respectively, would charge the telecoms to have enforced certain “safeguards” so as to “not block, impair, degrade, discriminate against, or interfere with the ability of any person to utilize their broadband service” (pp. 5, 6) and, so, make sure the Internet remains free; and makes sure that it would not interfere with “certain management and business-related practices” that, for instance, protect consumers and data (pp. 3, 4). Sure, both of these assume that the motives of the telecoms are indeed to discriminate on the basis of bandwidth, accessibility, etc.; even so, it may be a good step in what is hopefully the right direction.

Mssrs. Lessig and McChesney, respectively of CIS and Free Press, point at “a real grass-roots coalition of more than 700 groups, 5,000 bloggers and 750,000 individual Americans” opposing the select group of telecommunications interests who disingenuously wave banners that shout COMPETITION and CHOICE.

May the righteous win.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

UPDATE: Ok, it's all together now.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What happened to the Memory Hole? Say it ain't so!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Zarqawi is finally dead.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

“666 Watch Your Back”

— Wyclef Jean

Friday, May 26, 2006

A team of UCLA researchers under the direction of one Donald Taskin reports, contrary to drug-war agitprop, that inhaling the haze of Mary-Jane, “even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer” (Marc Kaufman, “Study Finds No Cancer-Marijuana Connection,” Washington Post, 26 May 2006, p. A3, my emphasis).

Intaking the toke, according to Tashkin’s work, may — perhaps — even have “‘some protective effect’” on the lungs.

The Post adds that past studies Tashkin conducted had pointed to toxic agents in marijuana akin to those which are understood to be cancerous in tobacco. However, “the chemical THC [TetraHydroCannabinol] … may kill aging cells and keep them from becoming cancerous,” Tashkin asserts.

Unlike the wacky tobacke, the other leaf is highly addictive thanks to nicotine; likely, there’s the greater health threat — with the accepted, massively subsidized cash crop and not the demon-plant sown into the black market.

(Researchers of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, in 1997, tentatively “concluded that … marijuana use and cancer were not associated in overall analyses” in their study.)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Saw this on a digital, scrolling marquee at the Providence Baptist Church in Tyson's Corner, Virginia:

WHAT WOULD JESUS SAY ABOUT ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION?

Let's ask Him:

"'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of God" (Gospel of Mark, 10:14)

Oh, never mind.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Random Rumble-Jumble

Chávez’s Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) owns Citgo. PASS IT ON, JOIN THE BOYCOTT.

Is The Simpsons Dead Yet?

Pick up Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy. SAVE THE REPUBLIC.

I shudder at the prospect of someday becoming some wonk at a think tank.

Or a — gasp — politician. Bloody hell.

Harper’s just printed the Muhammed cartoons. The blood has been shed; time to heal. Stand up for free speech.

And Voltaire (?): “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Are you prepared … for the Rapture? (Kudos to Mr. Phillips.)

Name-change ideas: the Daily Infidel (Weekly?), Another Raving Lunatic — or ARL, Obvious Commentary?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

No More Random Rantage?

Is this over? Do I need revisit the reason of being for this depository of all things useless and inflammatory?

What am I thinking?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

USA Today - Government, Major Telecommunications Listening

According to "people with direct knowledge of the arrangement", the National Security Agency (NSA) has also been "secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth," except for Qwest, which turned the NSA down on the basis of "the legal implications", so say "multiple sources".

The article quotes NSA spokesman Don Weber as saying that his agency has "'no information to provide'" and that nothing illegal is being done, while the White House maintains that only calls placed out-of-country are being monitored.

CNN reports that the Department of Justice "has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program" by attorneys to Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), citing their denial of "security clearance" from the NSA.

Okay, okay. If this is all true, that is if our government is spying on the American people en masse, what is happening to us? No doubt it is important to do all that is necessary to prevent terrorism, but at this point there are two options we will face very soon.

Either we dismantle our democratic system, or we radically change the anti-terrorism policies. We cannot keep exchanging precious freedom for security; we must have both.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Issue One Thousand

Rolling Stone has released its 1,000th issue.

Money.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hiya

It seems one of the most important, and ominous, of stories in the news is imminent Iranian nuclear apocalypse. But do not despair. Either we are doomed or there’s hope, and as I think I’ll lean on the side of optimism, there is hope. Here’s the situation: we have a lunatic president and so do they, though Iran’s premier seems more overtly psychotic. So I’ll take Bush over Ahmadinejad.

By last year’s International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) estimate, we are — at most — ten years away from having to deal with Iran possessing a nuclear weapon. So we have time, and hopefully those years will not be wasted accelerating toward catastrophe.

Israel is very worried, and there is a lot of reason for that. Iran is essentially a terror state with the outright intention of wiping out the Jewish State. Our Vice President has suggested to Don Imus that Israel just might choose to do something about it, wink-wink.

Recently, renegade journalist Seymour Hersh culled from anonymous government sources that the military option is not only “on the table,” as Bush puts it, but is being actively planned — namely, to take out the subterranean uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, perhaps with a tactical nuclear weapon.

“There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community,” Hersh writes, “that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change.”

“One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter,” Hersh adds, “calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon … against underground nuclear sites.”

Let me repeat that. In order to tell the world that nuclear proliferation must be stopped, we might possibly bomb a nuclear reactor with a nuclear weapon. It is surely telling of these strange times when it becomes absurd to point out the hypocrisy of the above scenario.

An April 30 ‘news analysis’ piece from the New York Times speculates that the cat-and-mouse game between Iran and the U.S. “resembles cold-war deception and brinkmanship,” a psychological war of will that holds serious implications of global terror and a crippling energy crisis — the Times does not go so far as this, but cites Iran’s threat “to cut off oil” and its status as a terrorist state.

Whether there are any practical, constructive solutions to agonize over the next decade, before it is too late, I cannot say.

I’ve been hearing about an economic sanctions regime on Iran, which has been said to be helping Ahmadinejad by fueling his virulent rhetoric, at the least. Why would Iran need nuclear energy, anyway? is a question I’ve been hearing often. After all, it is sitting on the second (or third, not sure which) largest reserve of petroleum on the planet.

University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole reported on April 29 that a recent IAEA report “found no smoking gun” and, in fact, “can be read to say that there is no evidence that Iran is doing anything illegal.” (The report can be read here.)

Folks, I have no answers — as usual. I only hope that the level heads will prevail, and the world is spared yet more violence and terror. Hope is an essential thing to keep these days, the way things are shaping up.