Saturday, September 30, 2006

Random Flickr Blogging #4360

I had to skip Random Flickr Blogging last week, and I'll probably have to skip it next week, too, but dammit, I still have a few hours left in this week.

"Talk to the hand, 'cause Brahman the All-Knowing and All-Encompassing ain't listening."
A particular treat for tourists is the precision horsemanship of the Royal Mounted Soup Nazis.
On second thought, maybe sending the kid to a summer camp run by Nietzscheans wasn't such a great idea. "We don't try to keep the abyss at bay with technological cheats here, Billy. Now take off those water wings and get in. Remember: what does not kill you makes you stronger." "But I can't—" *kick* *splash*
"NO! Your f-stop setting displeases me!" *peals of thunder*
A balanced meal contains all seven of the basic food groups: the larval, the phallic, the garlic-infused, the squirted, the slurped, the gelatinous, and the exoskeletal.
"Mmmm, I think it's kind of sexy. When we get home we should see if Home Depot sells penis-shaped doors and windows."
Daddy's "Milton Babbit meets Sonic Youth over the corpse of Link Wray" phase was especially hard on the children.

Random Flickr Blogging explained here; photos from here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


More "News Analysis"

"Detainee Bill Shifts Power to President," proclaims the headline in today's Times. Shifts power, it says. We're just movin' power around, y'see. Just rearrangin' the power on the Titanic, is all.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 — With the final passage through Congress of the detainee treatment bill, President Bush on Friday achieved a signal victory, shoring up with legislation his determined conduct of the campaign against terrorism in the face of challenges from critics and the courts.
Mmm, "his determined conduct of the campaign against terrorism." You'd almost think he hadn't made the problem worse by invading Iraq, or that he'd taken serious steps to safeguard ports and chemical plants and nuclear facilities, or that his administration wasn't parceling out anti-terrorism funds according to completely illogical criteria, or something. But then not invading Iraq, safeguarding ports and chemical plants and nuclear facilities, and parceling out anti-terror funds logically might actually make us safer—and then there'd be less justification for the litany of anti-democratic horrors concealed within the polite language below:
Rather than reining in the formidable presidential powers Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have asserted since Sept. 11, 2001, the law gives some of those powers a solid statutory foundation. In effect it allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely and interrogate them — albeit with a ban on the harshest treatment — beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners.

Taken as a whole, the law will give the president more power over terrorism suspects than he had before the Supreme Court decision this summer in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that undercut more than four years of White House policy. It does, however, grant detainees brought before military commissions limited protections initially opposed by the White House. The bill, which cleared a final procedural hurdle in the House on Friday and is likely to be signed into law next week by Mr. Bush, does not just allow the president to determine the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions; it also strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation.

And it broadens the definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” to include not only those who fight the United States but also those who have “purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” The latter group could include those accused of providing financial or other indirect support to terrorists, human rights groups say. The designation can be made by any “competent tribunal” created by the president or secretary of defense.
In other words, it pretty much gives the president and/or his cronies the power to lock up anybody they please—as long as they claim that the detainees have some connection to terrorism. Of course, the Times waits a little bit to get to the nastier details:
Over all, the legislation reallocates power among the three branches of government, taking authority away from the judiciary and handing it to the president.

Bruce Ackerman, a critic of the administration and a professor of law and political science at Yale University, sharply criticized the bill but agreed that it strengthened the White House position. “The president walked away with a lot more than most people thought,” Mr. Ackerman said. He said the bill “further entrenches presidential power” and allows the administration to declare even an American citizen an unlawful combatant subject to indefinite detention.

“And it’s not only about these prisoners,” Mr. Ackerman said. “If Congress can strip courts of jurisdiction over cases because it fears their outcome, judicial independence is threatened.”

I guess that's what they mean by that polite "shifts power" in the headline: just forget that archaic balance of powers stuff we all learned about in school—after all, that was pre-9/11, and it's not like American democracy ever had to face anything as terrifying as 9/11 before (World War II and Mutual Assured Destruction pale in comparison, don't you know)—and shift all that power over to the executive branch. If the imbalance makes us fall, well, that'll make it even harder for the terrorists to hit us. It's a brilliant strategy! But wait—as so often before, the Times buries the best bit:
The debate over the limits of torture and the rules for military commission dominated discussion of the bill until this week. Only in the last few days has broad attention turned to its redefinition of “unlawful enemy combatant” and its ban on habeas corpus petitions, which suspects have traditionally used to challenge their incarceration.
Um, no—a fairer (but less Bush-friendly) characterization might say that a habeas corpus petition is "a legal proceeding in which an individual held in custody can challenge the propriety of that custody under the law"; in other words, habeas corpus petitions allow those who are WRONGLY IMPRISONED to demand that their imprisonment be lawfully justified. In other words, habeas corpus petitions are fundamental safeguards of the principle that since (a) governmental authorities sometimes make mistakes and (b)governmental authorities sometimes are evil and self-serving, governmental authorities should not be empowered to lock up anyone they please, whenever they please, for as long as they please. In other words, THIS is actually the most important—and the most disturbing—aspect of the soon-to-be-infamous Military Commissions Act of 2006, which, no doubt, is why the Times's "news analysis" obligingly buries it deep within the article. "Detainee Bill Shifts Power to President" is just so much politer than "Military Commissions Act Obliterates Ancient Cornerstone of Civil Liberties."

Suddenly I have a newfound appreciation for Tom Engelhardt's advice on how to read "the imperial press":

I've always claimed that, when you read articles in the imperial press, the best way -- and I'm only half-kidding -- is back to front. Your basic front-page stories, as on the TV news, usually don't differ that much from paper to paper. It's when you get toward the ends of pieces that they really get interesting. Maybe because reporters and editors sense that nobody's paying attention but the news junkies, so things get much looser. You find tidbits the reporter's slipped in that just fall outside the frame of the expectable. That's what I go looking for. Sometimes it's like glimpsing coming attractions.
Or coming abominations—take your pick.

For more perspective on just what our elected representatives have done in passing this atrocity, first, listen to or read yesterday's Democracy Now! segment featuring Senator Patrick Leahy and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights talking about the detainee bill; then, listen to or read the next segment, which features Rajiv Chandrasekaran talking about the utter mess the Bush Administration has made of its attempts to rebuild Iraq. Absorb the litany of cronyism, incompetence, and insanity that Chandrasekaran recites: the 24-year-old with no finance background (but plenty of pro-Bush sentiment) sent to restart Iraq's stock exchange; the Republican non-doctor sent to fix Iraq's health care system; the Bush apparatchik who placed loyalty to the Bush Administration above expertise and competence when selecting people to guide the rebuilding of a shattered country.

Then, contemplate how this is the administration to which so-called Democrats like Bill Nelson have just given unprecedented new powers‐and for which they have tossed aside one of the foundational principles of a free society. This administration, whose motto could well be "Incompetent At Best; Insane, At Least; Mendacious, Most Definitely." I mean, to do it all in the absence of a most serious national emergency (and please don't tell me that the "war on terror" qualifies as such) is shameful, but to do it for this administration—that's just incomprehensible.

It's Day Two in New America. Why don't I feel any safer?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Apparently Calculating

The Howler will probably be on this later, but the New York Times is mind-reading again:
WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 — The Democratic vote in the Senate on Thursday against legislation governing the treatment of terrorism suspects showed that party leaders believe that President Bush’s power to wield national security as a political issue is seriously diminished.

The most vivid example of the Democratic assessment came from the party’s many presidential hopefuls in the Senate. All of them voted against the bill, apparently calculating that Mr. Bush’s handling of Iraq has undercut the traditional Republican strength on national security and will insulate them from what are certain to be strong attacks from Republicans not only this year but also in 2008.

Democratic opponents of the legislation said their political position was driven by a substantive determination that the bill, which creates rules for interrogating and trying terrorism suspects, is fundamentally flawed and a dangerous departure from founding American principles.

Hmm. Here's what the New York Times's own editorial page had to say yesterday about why this frigging bill should have been stopped:
These are some of the bill’s biggest flaws:

Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of “illegal enemy combatant” in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret — there’s no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.

Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer. But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11. Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.

Hmm, tossing aside habeas corpus protections and the Geneva Conventions, redefining torture and the rules of evidence, giving ridiculous new powers to an administration that has shown itself to be, at best, tragically incompetent and, at worst, shamelessly mendacious—yeah, I'd call that "fundamentally flawed and a dangerous departure from founding American principles." D'ya think it's at least possible that the 34 senators who voted against this abomination were "apparently calculating" not about the upcoming election but about whether they could still look at themselves in the mirror if they signed off on legislation that trashes some of the foundational principles of a free society? Sigh. At least the Times had the decency to call that mind-reading crap above "news analysis."

The most depressing thing, for me? Both of my senators voted for "S. 3930 As Amended"—including Democrat Bill Nelson. I hate to sound "apparently calculating," but jeez, Bill—you have a "comfortable lead" over Katherine Harris. Were you worried that too many people would believe her if she started jumping up and down and screaming "terrorist-lover!" if you voted against the American Civilization Redefinition Act? Or do you just think it's appropriate to give an incompetent and/or insane and/or mendacious administration a fresh batch of powers to abuse? I have no doubt that Harris would have voted for this monstrosity—hell, I doubt that she'd have even given it a moment's thought. It's okay to agree with Katherine Harris about some things, Bill. It's okay to agree with her that lemonade is especially refreshing in the summertime, or that it's nice to see gas approaching $2.00 a gallon again, or that bowling is a pleasant leisure activity. But you're not supposed to agree with her on matters like this. I know that you've had a distinguished career as both an astronaut and a politician, but man, if you can't stand with your party against the near-lock-step Republicans on an issue like this—well, let's just say that about the only thing that will give me much motivation to vote for you at this point is heavy contemplation of the words "Senator Harris." I wonder: when you were floating in space, looking down upon this lonely globe from a perspective that only a tiny fraction of human beings will ever have the opportunity to occupy, did you think to yourself, "Sure, orbiting the Earth is great, but what I really want is to someday be the lesser of two evils"?

Earth to legislators, and Earth to America: We are not in a state of emergency—at least not one caused by terrorists. The barbarians are not at the gates. We can fight terrorism without turning our backs on the rule of law. Yes, there are people who want to hurt us. There always have been. There always will be. Hell, y'all want to keep us safe from the big bad terrorists? Actually following through on the 9/11 Commission's recommendations might be a good start. There is no sufficiently good reason at this time to give this administration these kinds of sweeping new powers. Wake the f*ck up.

(I'm sorry for going dark for a while; I've been very busy and, frankly, I feel kind of dark. Hell, now I feel like I woke up in a different country this morning. Hopefully I'll be back a little later with some Random Flickr Blogging. Maybe that'll cheer me up. Here's to the day when we can wake up in America again.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Non-Random Flickr Blogging #0911

I know that Tom said no Random Flickr Blogging this week, but contemplating the awful things that happened five years ago yesterday, and the many, many awful things that have happened since, put me in a very bad mood. To assuage my inner darkness, I searched up IMG_0911 and chose pages 9 and 11.

True story: the intellectual forefather of modern Islamic radicalism, Sayyed Qutb, was radicalized in part by watching American kids dance to the charming old big-band song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" back in 1949. We can only imagine what might have happened if instead the song had been Love Slave From The Outer Abyss's version of "Cunnilingus College."
Yes, when the Islamofascists take over, the statues will be breastless and have full, assertive arms, thank you very much.
And women won't be marrying lanterns anymore, either. And if one does, she'll take his name, thank you very much.
And only boys will be allowed to straddle cannons. No, wait—only girls will be allowed to straddle cannons. No—boys and girls will have to straddle cannons separately. No—um, get back to me on this one.
"Celebrity Duets! Make it stop!" Don't worry—that's high up on the Islamofascist wish list, my friend.
That's the spirit! If only more kids would get with the program like Osama Bin Schnookums here.


Monday, September 11, 2006

American Prod

This is from a TomDispatch interview with Ann Wright, a veteran of many tough State Department postings who resigned in 2003 over the Iraq invasion and who has since been a dedicated critic of the Bush Administration. I'm not sure why, but it gives me an odd kind of pride that I live in a country that cares about stuff like UNESCO world treasures, libraries, and museums. Or at least used to.
TD: You know a good deal about the obligations of an occupying power to protect public and private property, partially because in the 1980s you were doing planning on the Middle East, right?

AW: Yes, from 1982 to 1984, I was at Fort Bragg, North Carolina when the Army was planning for potential operations using the Rapid Deployment Force -- what ultimately became the Central Command. One of the first forces used in rapid deployment operations was the 82 Airborne at Fort Bragg. I was in the special operations end of it with civil affairs. Those are the people who write up the annexes to operations plans about how you interact with the civilian population, how you protect the facilities -- sewage, water, electrical grids, libraries. We were doing it for the whole Middle East. I mean, we have operations plans on the shelf for every country in the world, or virtually. So we did one on Iraq; we did one on Syria; on Jordan, Egypt. All of them.

We would, for instance, take the UNESCO list of treasures of the world and go through it. Okay, any in Iraq? Yep. Okay, mark ‘em, circle ‘em on a map, put ‘em in the op-plan. Whatever you do, don't bomb this. Make sure we've got enough troops to protect this. It's our obligation under the law of land warfare. We'd be circling all the electrical grids, all the oil grids, all the museums. So for us to go into Iraq and let all that looting happen. Well, Rumsfeld wanted a light, mobile force, and screw the obligations of treaties. Typical of this administration on any treaty thing. Forget ‘em.

So everything was Katy-bar-the-door. Anybody could go in and rip up anything. Many of the explosives now being used to kill our troops come from the ammo dumps we did not secure. It was a total violation of every principle we had for planning military operations and their aftermath. People in the civil affairs units, they were just shaking their heads, wondering how in the hell this could have happened. We've been doing these operations plans forever, so I can only imagine the bitchin' and moanin' about -- how come we don't have this civilian/military annex? It's in every other op-plan. And where are the troops, where are the MPs?

Well, we now know that Rummy wasn't big on all that postwar planning crap.

Mind you, Tom Englehardt is not one to miss out on a good follow-up question:

TD: If back in the early eighties you were planning to save the antiquities of every country in the Middle East, then obviously the Pentagon was also planning for a range of possible invasions in the region. Do you look back now and ask: What kind of a country has contingency plans to invade any country you can imagine?

AW: One of the things you are likely to do at a certain point in your military career is operations plans. It did not then seem abnormal to me at all that we had contingency plans for the Middle East, or for countries in the Caribbean or South America. At that stage, I was not looking at the imperialism of the United States. I just didn't equate those contingency plans with empire-building goals. However, depending on how those plans are used, they certainly can be just that. Remember as well that this was in the days of the Cold War and, by God, that camouflaged a lot of stuff. You could always say: You never can tell what those Soviets are going to do, so you better be prepared anywhere in the world to defeat them.

TD: And we're still prepared anywhere in the world…

AW: Well, we are and now, let's see, where are the Russians? [She laughs heartily.]

Hey, who needs the Russians when you've got Islamofascism and the Axis of Chavez?

I don't know about libraries and museums, but I'll bet that the op-plan for the invasion of Venezuela has precise GPS coordinates for every McDonald's, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

With Enemies Like These...

My favorite detail from today's Times story about disagreements between the spooks over how to interrogate Abu Zubaydah:
In his early interviews, Mr. Zubaydah had revealed what turned out to be important information, identifying Khalid Shaikh Mohammed—from a photo on a hand-held computer—as the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Zubaydah also identified Jose Padilla, an American citizen who has been charged with terrorism-related crimes.

But Mr. Zubaydah dismissed Mr. Padilla as a maladroit extremist whose hope to construct a dirty bomb, using conventional explosives to disperse radioactive materials, was far-fetched. He told his questioners that Mr. Padilla was ignorant on the subject of nuclear physics and believed he could separate plutonium from nuclear material by rapidly swinging over his head a bucket filled with fissionable material.

Hey, whoever out there's making yet another X-Men film: I think we found you a new mutant:

Centrifuge. I see Ron Perlman sped up to several thousand revolutions per second. You?


I knew about the coup in Chile. I knew about the re-recording of "Love Me Do." I did not know about BART, the murder of Peter Tosh, or the arrest of Fatty Arbuckle. And until last Friday's Democracy Now!, I did not know about something else that happened on September 11th:
September 11th 2006 has a special significance. It not only marks the fifth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington, it also marks 100 years to the day that Mahatma Gandhi launched the modern nonviolent resistance movement. Gandhi called it "Satyagraha."

The date was September 11th, 1906. Speaking before 3,000 Indians gathered at a theater in Johannesburg, Gandhi organized a strategy of nonviolent resistance to oppose racist policies in South Africa. Satyagraha was born and since then, it has been adopted by many around the world to resist social injustice and oppression.

Gandhi used it in India to win independence from the British. The Reverend Martin Luther King used it in the United States to oppose segregation and Nelson Mandela used it in South Africa to end apartheid.

Tomorrow, I am going to be trying like hell to think of this rather than of our own godawful path to—or especially from—9/11/01:
We must always seek to ally ourselves with that part of the enemy that knows what is right.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Random Flickr Blogging #6074: Random Labor Day Flickr Blogging

In honor of Labor Day, I thought I'd take a look back at some of the jobs I've had.

One of my first jobs was waiting tables at a Chinese restaurant frequented by bad Kennedy impersonators. "Aya, would, er, uh, like some of the, er, uh, Moo Shu Pahwk and some er, uh, Won Ton Soup, er, uh, please," they'd say. I eventually got fired for making one too many school book depository jokes. The restaurant also attracted Marilyn Monroe impersonators, but unfortunately, few of them were female.
For a while I drove the zamboni at the Aga Khan's private skating rink. Well, actually, my official title was Zambonist Curator, and I did have to spend some time negotiating the purchase and repair of classical statuary, but mostly I drove the zamboni.
One of my more unusual jobs was as an intervention coordinator for Bonsai Anonymous.
The most exhausting job I ever had, by far, was working the suicide hotline in Zelenograd.
My friend Generik once got me a job as a tour guide for Hitchcock's San Francisco, showing tourists places like where Kim Novak jumped into the bay in Vertigo. This isn't it, but hey, you can tell tourists pretty much anything.
I had a brief career as a director of political commercials, but my "Vote Republican: We're Big, We're Smelly, We're Overaccessorized, And Once We Get Going, We Crush Everything In Our Path" spot proved to be my undoing.
I also worked for a time in product placement for the American Propane Association. Here's a shot I took of my boss only moments before Anthony Minghella himself personally cussed us out and had us ejected from a location shoot for The English Patient.
My theater jobs have included a stint as a stagehand for the off-Broadway production of Missing Eyelash, Failing Mouthwash.
Now I work for ASBADL, the All Sentient Beings Anti-Defamation League. Our current project is this thing. We know it's highly offensive; we just can't figure out to which species.

Random Flickr Blogging explained here; photos from here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


Highly Recommended

The Yes Men (2003)

I moved this to the top of my Netflix queue after hearing that these guys had recently hoaxed their way into a "Gulf Coast Reconstruction and Hurricane Preparedness Summit." I knew something about The Yes Men and their antics, but I was unprepared for a film that is surprisingly low-key yet frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious. Watching these guys assume corporate-friendly personae, fake their way onto CNBC, into high-powered conferences, etc. and then proceed to say increasingly outrageous things whose logic is nonetheless close enough to that governing the conventional wisdom in these settings that many of those present don't even notice that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong—well, let's just say that when these guys commit to a premise, they commit to a premise. Guerrilla art of a high order. Nash-Bob says check it out.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I Hate to Admit It,

but this is going straight to the top of my Netflix list as soon as it becomes available.

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