Month: April 2004

WoT®’s up in Europe

‘Bin Laden’ offers Europe truce:

“Arab networks air a tape in which the al-Qaeda leader allegedly offers Europe a truce if it ‘stops attacking Muslims’.” [Note that the BBC puts ‘Bin Laden’ in quotes, hedging their bet about whether he remains alive.]

U.K. and Italy Reject Purported Bin Laden Tape’s Truce OfferBloomberg

Italian hostage is killed in Iraq:

“Italy is shocked by the killing of an Italian security contractor in Iraq – the first confirmed hostage death.” —BBC

Trust, Don’t Verify

William Saletan on Bush’s incredible definition of credibility:

One thing is for certain, though, about me, and the world has learned this: When I say something, I mean it. And the credibility of the United States is incredibly important for keeping world peace and freedom.

“That’s the summation President Bush delivered as he wrapped up his press conference Tuesday night. It’s the message he emphasized throughout: Our commitment. Our pledge. Our word. My conviction. Given the stakes in Iraq and the war against terrorism, it would be petty to poke fun at Bush for calling credibility ‘incredibly important.’ His routine misuse of the word ‘incredible,’ while illiterate, is harmless. His misunderstanding of the word ‘credible,’ however, isn’t harmless. It’s catastrophic.

To Bush, credibility means that you keep saying today what you said yesterday, and that you do today what you promised yesterday.” —Slate

And: Bush Makes Three Mistakes While Trying to Cite One: “While struggling unsuccessfully this week to think of a single mistake he has made since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President Bush committed three factual errors about weapons finds in Libya, the White House said on Wednesday.” —Yahoo! News

Also: Standing Firm: “So far, Bush has the upper hand in this argument. Even as he and John Kerry muddle toward an awkward role for the United Nations in Iraq, Bush is doing so while maintaining the appearance of certitude about his course. Meanwhile Kerry hasn’t figured out how to define a clear alternative. Unlike his bold (but all too brief) call to honor the democratic process in Haiti, Kerry is trying to have it every which way but sideways on Iraq. Unfortunately, that sliver of Americans in the confused middle on this election are more likely to be swayed by certitude than caution. And you can’t beat something with nothing.” Micah L. Sifry is a senior analyst with Public Campaign. He is the author of Spoiling For A Fight: Third-Party Politics In America, (Routledge, 2002) and the web log, and recently co-edited The Iraq War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions (Touchstone, 2003)

Pass the Wellstone Mental Health Parity Bill

End Insurance Discrimination: “Although bipartisan support for the Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act (S. 486) is strong and growing, Senate leaders have reneged on their commitment and are blocking the bill from a vote on the floor of the Senate. We must speak louder, and with greater determination, than the insurance industry! Tell our representatives to honor the promises made last year.

The Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act would close loopholes in federal law by requiring group health plans to stop using arbitrary limits on mental health parity benefits different from those used with medical and surgical benefits. With 69 co-sponsors, this legislation is sure to pass if brought to a vote.

It’s up to us to keep the pressure on those key senators that have the power to allow a vote. Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist (R-TN) need to hear from us, and they need to hear from their fellow senators.” —ActForChange

Charting the Tarantino Universe

In some ways, Kill Bill is the apotheosis of cross-fertilization between Eastern and Western popular cinema culture. New York Times reviewer Dave Kehr dissects his references and influences, some obscure and others (like his homages to Sergio Leone and John Ford) obvious. The deeper you look, the more impressed you are with Tarantino as an iconographer (much as Lucas’ Star Wars series did for a previous generation) but there is something smirking, sarcastic and arch about his references. As a longtime devotee of the samurai and spaghetti western genres (moreso than kung fu films), I would rather see the originals. Those generes have gotten stale, true, but if Tarantino is their heir, I am uncomfortable with the direction in which he is taking it. Off to rent some Sonny Chiba films…

‘The drug industry lobbying group PhRMA published a new Web site aimed at helping poor people get discounted or free drugs offered by the drug companies.

The drug companies have been under fire in the U.S. Congress and the media for fighting efforts to import low-cost prescription drugs from other countries, notably Canada.

The Internet site, at, promises “one-stop-shopping” for various patient assistance programs, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said.’

Film Rights Optioned to Clarke Bestseller

“The bestseller at the center of a national debate on America’s security, ‘Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror,’ may soon be hitting the silver screen.

Sony Pictures has optioned the film rights to former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke’s book, which questions the country’s readiness to address potential terrorist threats before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to the Hollywood Reporter.” —Yahoo! News

Homeland Security Dept.

Air Marshal Leaves Gun in Airport Restroom: “A federal air marshal accidentally left her gun in a restroom beyond the security checkpoints at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, officials say.

The weapon was discovered by a passenger who alerted an airline employee.” —Yahoo! News

Choose Your Own Savior

Jesus As You Like Him: “When Mel Gibson responded to critics of his blockbuster The Passion of the Christ by saying they had a ‘problem with the four Gospels,’ not with his film, he was staking a claim to authenticity: My Jesus is the real one, not yours.

But it’s not just Mel. Everyone claims their Jesus is the ‘real’ one, the only authentic Christ unperverted by secular society or religious institutions. The best-selling fiction book The Da Vinci Code, which posits among other things that Jesus fathered a child by Mary Magdalene, styles itself as a fact-based account of the ‘real’ Jesus, who has been covered up by a Vatican conspiracy. Academics who seek evidence for the Jesus of history attempt to peel away layers of the Gospel narratives until the genuine Jewish prophet is revealed. Nowadays, even nonbelievers assert a superior understanding of who the actual Jesus really was and what he stood for.

Why can everyone from atheists to Zoroastrians lay claim to knowledge of the real Jesus? Because there are so many of him. The New Testament itself presents multiple Jesuses, not just among the four competing Gospel accounts but within each Gospel as well: Baby Jesus, Teacher Jesus, Miracle Worker Jesus, to name only three.” —Chris Suellentrop, Slate

“We need an interpretation of the cross from another perspective, which is 100 per cent against violence"

Anti-Semitism at Easter linked to conflicting biblical messages about violence: ‘Drawing on modern psychological concepts like post-traumatic stress disorder, a Queen’s University researcher concludes that today’s religious strife may have a direct link to the violence of the Easter story and the crucifixion.

The traditional Christian interpretation of the violent death of Jesus on the cross contains an unresolved conflict that has inflamed anti-Semitism in the past, and may be contributing to religious hostility today, says Queen’s Religious Studies Professor William Morrow, a specialist in biblical literature with research interests in violence and religion.

Dr. Morrow analyzes ancient biblical texts in light of contemporary concepts about the effects of violence, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and vicarious trauma.

“There are distinct risks when the violence of the Easter story is emphasized, as it is in Mel Gibson’s new film, The Passion of the Christ,” says Dr. Morrow. “It is naïve to think that a focus on the brutality of the crucifixion will have no negative effects on a culture that is still basically shaped by the Christian myth.” In fact, some recent expressions of anti-Semitism in North America can be associated with Gibson’s film, he notes.’

Does The Sopranos accurately reflect the New Jersey mob?

In past seasons, I enjoyed the group of psychoanalysts who commented on each week’s episode. Now it’s “Mob Experts on The Sopranos, a group of crime reporters. On the latest episode:

“Can The Sopranos get any darker without turning the lights out completely? This Peter Bogdanovich-directed episode was as unremittingly depressing as anything on television (and mainstream film, for that matter). Six Feet Under seems like Three’s Company by comparison. David Chase is giving us nothing to grab hold of: For some reason, I found Carmela’s father’s silence in the face of his daughter’s despair to be one of the bleakest moments of all.” —Slate

Is anybody watching this? What do you think?

When Islam Breaks Down

Theodore Dalrymple: “Anyone who lives in a city like mine and interests himself in the fate of the world cannot help wondering whether, deeper than this immediate cultural desperation, there is anything intrinsic to Islam — beyond the devout Muslim’s instinctive understanding that secularization, once it starts, is like an unstoppable chain reaction — that renders it unable to adapt itself comfortably to the modern world. Is there an essential element that condemns the Dar al-Islam to permanent backwardness with regard to the Dar al-Harb, a backwardness that is felt as a deep humiliation, and is exemplified, though not proved, by the fact that the whole of the Arab world, minus its oil, matters less to the rest of the world economically than the Nokia telephone company of Finland?” —City Journal

Rise of the Machines

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“The press had lots of fun with the recent robot debacle in the Mojave Desert. Competing for $1 million in prize money, 15 vehicles headed off on a 142-mile course through some of the most forbidding terrain in the country. None managed to navigate even eight miles. The robots hit fences, caught fire, rolled over, or sat and did nothing.

However, the purpose of the event was not NASCAR for nerds, but a coldly calculated plan to construct a generation of killer machines.

Sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Mar. 13 “race” was part of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) plan to make one third of the military’s combat vehicles driverless by 2015. The push to replace soldiers with machines is impelled by an over-extended military searching for ways to limit U.S. casualties, a powerful circle of arms manufactures, and an empire-minded group of politicians addicted to campaign contributions by defense corporations.

This “rise of the machines” is at the heart of the Bush administration’s recent military budget. Sandwiched into outlays for aircraft, artillery, and conventional weapons, are monies for unmanned combat aircraft, robot tanks, submarines, and a supersonic bomber capable of delivering six tons of bombs and missiles to anyplace on the globe in two hours.” —Foreign Policy in Focus

Massacre in Fallujah

Over 600 Dead, 1,000 Injured, 60,000 Refugees: “The U.S. siege of Fallujah continues and reports are emerging of a massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of U.S. troops. We go to Iraq to get a report from Free Speech Radio News’ Aaron Glantz who interviews Iraqis fleeing Fallujah as well as a producer with Al-Jazeera television who says he and fellow journalists were targeted by U.S. snipers in the town.” —Democracy Now!

Following a Bright Light to a Calmer Tomorrow

“To some people, near-death experiences reported by millions of Americans in recent years, are windows to a world beyond. To others, they are simply comforting delusions.

Scientists have tended to fall into the latter group. But in several small studies, researchers are finding that the elaborate accounts of mysterious tunnels, flooded with bright golden light, may be a healthy coping mechanism that protects against traumatic stress.

People who have such experiences, one study shows, are far better at handling stress than researchers had expected. And scientists have uncovered neurological and biological differences that may lie at the core of the coping mechanisms.” —New York Times

A Glimmer of Hope for Fading Minds

“Alzheimer’s disease can seem unrelentingly grim. There is no cure, no known way to prevent the illness, and the benefits of current treatments are modest at best.

But in laboratories around the country, scientists are uncovering clues that may eventually ?4 perhaps even in the next two decades ?4 allow them to prevent, slow or even reverse the ruthless progression of the illness.

‘Things are more hopeful than perhaps people think,’ Dr. Karen Duff of the Nathan Kline Institute of New York University said. ‘We are on the cusp of having something really useful.’

That hope comes on the heels of disappointment. Aricept and other drugs to slow the disease’s progress have not lived up to the public’s high expectations.” —New York Times

Osama’s Wet Dream

“Operation Resolute Sword. That’s what the U.S. military in Iraq is calling its effort to crush rebellious Shi’ite forces. Osama bin Laden could not have chosen a more inflammatory name.

Who comes up with these things? Why not just stage a photo-op with President Bush in Richard the Lionheart regalia?

One would have thought – or at least hoped – the Pentagon would have learned its lesson after Muslims objected to Washington’s original name for the war on terror, Operation Infinite Justice, on the grounds that only God has the power to mete that out.

Or that the outrage over the president’s off-the-cuff reference to a “Crusade against terror” in the days after 9/11 would have made the administration hyper-sensitive.

But now some military scribe has coined a name right out of the Crusades – which, after all, is precisely what opponents claim the U.S. is waging in the Middle East. The invasion of the Christian armies to “liberate” the Holy Lands may have taken place a millennium ago, but it continues to live in the psyche of many Arabs.

“Wonderful sights were to be seen,” wrote Crusader Raymund of Aguiles, describing the slaughter of 40,000 Muslims as the Soldiers of Christ breached the walls of Jerusalem in 1099. “Some of our men cut off the heads of their enemies; others shot them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers; others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city.”

If you doubt the continuing impact of that event, just note al-Qaeda’s official name: The World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders.

The Pentagon is steadfast in its claim that it continues to win the military battle in Iraq. While that may be debatable, there is no doubt it is losing the PR war – in Iraq and across the Muslim world.” —Guerrilla News Network

Also: When puppets pull the strings: “Ahmed Chalabi, the neocons’ choice to run Iraq, appears to have been responsible for the disastrous decision to move against Muqtada al-Sadr.” —Salon

U.S. Targeted Fiery Cleric In Risky Move

“Several American and Iraqi officials now regard Bremer’s move to close (a tabloid newspaper run by firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr) as a profound miscalculation based on poor intelligence and inaccurate assumptions. Foremost among the errors, the officials said, was the lack of a military strategy to deal with Sadr if he chose to fight back, as he did.

‘We punched a big black bear in the eye and got him angry as hell but had no immediate plan to disable him, so of course he struck back in a very vicious way,’ said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University who has been serving as a senior adviser to the U.S.-led occupation authority in Baghdad.” The Washington Post analyzes the Iraqi Intifada, and points the finger.

A Grand Unified Theory of Filesharing

Ed Felten at Freedom to Tinker says his theory can explain the impact of filesharing on CD sales despite the seemingly disparate findings of well-publicized studies. The crux of his hypothesis is that the users of filesharing are of two types. ‘Free-riders’ are freeloaders, generally younger and morally unconflicted about downloading music as an alternative to buying CDs. ‘Samplers’ are generally older and, as Felten puts it, “highly engaged with cultural products of all sorts.” They are more ambivalent and morally conflicted about filesharing and use it to, well, sample. Felten can neatly wrap up the conclusions of studies showing that filesharing has a positive, a neutral, and a negative effect on CD sales inside his theory, but then he takes it too far and draws the unwarranted conclusion that “the net effect of filesharing on CD sales is roughly zero, because of a balance between the negative impact of the Free-riders and the positive impact of the Samplers.” Just because a theory with two groups with roughly opposite effects on CD sales accounts for so much does not mean that their effects counterbalance each other. How many fewer CDs would the ‘samplers’ have bought if they had not been filesharing? How many more would the ‘free-riders’ have bought? How many ‘samplers’ are there relative to the number of ‘free-riders’? Can an individual exhibit both freeloading and sampling behaviors? There is an interesting discussion thread in response to the article as well.

Speaking of Music Piracy ….

“Unburdened by manufacturing and distribution costs, online music was supposed to usher in a new era of inexpensive, easy-to-access music for consumers. In many cases, buying music online is still cheaper than shopping for CDs at retail outlets. But just a year after iTunes debuted with its 99-cent songs and mostly $9.99 albums, that affordable and straightforward pricing structure is already under pressure. All five major music companies are discussing ways to boost the price of single-song downloads on hot releases — to anywhere from $1.25 to as much as $2.49.” —Wired News

Practical Ecocriticism

Book Review: “What does human nature have to do with ecocriticism? This is the question at the heart of Glen Love’s book, Practical Ecocriticism. For those who aren’t familiar with this wing of academia, ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the environment. Its practitioners explore human attitudes toward the environment as expressed in nature writing (e.g., Thoreau, Leopold, Abbey, Snyder, Dillard, Lopez), literature about the American West, and literary works in general. An academic outgrowth of the environmental movement of the 1960s, this approach differs from mainstream humanism by downplaying the uniqueness and achievements of our species and highlighting our connectedness to the natural world around us. Amazingly, however, ecocriticism is conducted with little or no understanding of biology, cognition, evolution, or behavioral ecology.

Practical Ecocriticism is an attempt to rectify this situation. Aimed at humanities teachers, scholars and students, the book begins with the premise that, “human behavior is not an empty vessel whose only input will be that provided by culture, but is strongly influenced by genetic orientations that underlie and modify, or are modified by, cultural influences”. Love advocates a criticism that is based on “ecological, naturalist, scientifically grounded arguments that recognize human connection with nature and the rest of organic life and acknowledge the biological sciences as not just another cultural construction”. In so saying, Love aligns himself with the Darwinian literary critics (e.g., Carroll, Cooke, Easterlin, Scalise Sugiyama, Storey), who have been making this argument for over a decade now with what an optimist might call mixed results.” —Human Nature Review

A Left-Brain/Right-Brain Conundrum Revisited

“A prominent British psychiatrist recently revived old arguments about the origins of language and the evolution of humans. Tim Crow at Warneford Hospital in Oxford says that reports on ape brain asymmetry are distorted by observer bias. Those criticized point to ‘plenty of evidence’ that general functions and skills have gravitated to one side of the brain or the other in animals from chicks to chimps.

Crow argues that researchers are finding evidence of language precursors in apes because they want to believe in a graduated theory of evolution, rather than the leap proposed by Thomas Huxley, Stephen J. Gould, and others. Crow points to studies that have reanalyzed data and found no support for initial conclusions of asymmetry. He also asserts his support for the model proposed by neuropsychologist Marian Annett in 2002, in which she suggests that a single gene gave rise to language in the brain’s left hemisphere, and brought a shift towards right-handedness.

In 1877, Paul Broca argued that brain asymmetry distinguishes humans from other animals and gives humans the capacity for language. Then scientists started finding evidence of asymmetry in other vertebrates. ‘Many of the lateralized functions of the human are the same as those in animals,’ says Lesley Rogers of the University of New England in Australia, who with Richard Andrew coauthored the 2002 book Comparative Vertebrate Lateralization. ‘Language has a left-hemisphere location in most humans. It might rely on the evolution of some nuance of laterality, but the point is, it was superimposed on other lateralities that were already there.’

Rogers and Andrew offer examples, such as the left-footedness of parrots, the right-hand preference of toads, and the reliance of chicks on the right hemisphere for spatial cognition. Songbirds show strong lateralization for song production. But when it comes to the great apes, Rogers admits, the evidence for handedness is more controversial. Chimps at the Gombe National Park in Tanzania, for instance, showed no evidence of right- or left-hand preference at a population level according to a 1996 study.

Even in humans, says Richard Palmer at the University of Alberta, Canada, nobody really knows why handedness exists or whether it has a genetic basis. ‘The amount that we know with confidence about human handedness is so pitiful it’s almost shocking,’ he says. Indeed, no one has ever demonstrated a causal link between handedness and language.” —The Scientist

How can you tell?

“She is deaf and mute. Her family speaks only Trique, an obscure pre-Columbian language that is foreign even to other Mexicans. She communicates with her family in gestures no one else understands.

Illiterate and silent, Juliana lives in isolation made even more profound by her circumstances – traveling with her sister and father in an anonymous stream of undocumented immigrant farmworkers who tend fields across the West.

On a cold day last November, the tiny 24-year-old climbed a rusty chain link fence into a neighbor’s filthy dog pen in Livingston, Calif. Alone, she gave birth to a baby girl.

Then she stuffed several wads of paper tissue in the infant’s mouth.

California authorities arrested her on a charge of felony child endangerment.

‘I would look at her sitting there in court and wonder what was going through her mind,’ said prosecutor Larry Morse II. ‘We can only suppose as to know she understands.’

Imagine living in a world without words. Then imagine getting pregnant, perhaps as a result of rape, giving birth alone, being arrested – and not having the words to explain, or to understand what is happening.” —Monterey Herald

"12 slugs in a cop’s body before you can say NRA"

“Tell the President and Congress to renew the Assault Weapons Ban. The NRA wants to put illegal military style rapid-fire assault weapons, including AK-47s and Uzis, back on our streets. Tell President Bush no way is this going to happen. The Assault Weapons Ban must be renewed. In this day and age, why would anyone want to put these killing machines back on our streets?” —

And see all the prominent individuals and organizations on the NRA’s 19-page blacklist of those it considers “anti-gun.” You can join the blacklist.

"12 slugs in a cop’s body before you can say NRA"

“Tell the President and Congress to renew the Assault Weapons Ban. The NRA wants to put illegal military style rapid-fire assault weapons, including AK-47s and Uzis, back on our streets. Tell President Bush no way is this going to happen. The Assault Weapons Ban must be renewed. In this day and age, why would anyone want to put these killing machines back on our streets?” —

And see all the prominent individuals and organizations on the NRA’s 19-page blacklist of those it considers “anti-gun.” You can join the blacklist.

Learning to Expect the Unexpected

Hindsight Bias: “The commission itself, with its mandate, may have compromised its report before it is even delivered. That mandate is ‘to provide a `full and complete accounting’ of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and recommendations as to how to prevent such attacks in the future.’

It sounds uncontroversial, reasonable, even admirable, yet it contains at least three flaws that are common to most such inquiries into past events. To recognize those flaws, it is necessary to understand the concept of the ‘black swan.’

A black swan is an outlier, an event that lies beyond the realm of normal expectations. Most people expect all swans to be white because that’s what their experience tells them; a black swan is by definition a surprise. Nevertheless, people tend to concoct explanations for them after the fact, which makes them appear more predictable, and less random, than they are. Our minds are designed to retain, for efficient storage, past information that fits into a compressed narrative. This distortion, called the hindsight bias, prevents us from adequately learning from the past.” —Nassim Nicholas Taleb, founder of a risk research and trading firm and author of Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, New York Times op-ed

Essentially, Taleb argues that things inevitably happen when you least expect them, that a dire event will always have more specificity than could have been anticipated, that negligence in not preventing an event has to be seen in comparison to “the normal rate of negligence for all possible events at the time of the tragedy — including those events that did not take place but could have”. I cautioned essentially the same thing — about the need to avoid “20/20 hindsight” — several weeks ago when the groundswell of “Bush knew!” criticism first mounted. But Taleb’s defense of the administration two weeks later appears more disingenuous, an attempt to deflect attention from the specific evidence emerging in the interim.

Bush Fiddles While Baghdad Burns

Powell Calls U.S. Casualties ‘Disquieting’:

“Powell served as the administration’s point man while President Bush spent the second straight day out of public view on his ranch in Crawford, Tex… Bush spent the morning watching national security adviser Condoleezza Rice’s televised testimony to the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, then toured his ranch with Wayne LaPierre Jr., chief executive of the National Rifle Association, and other leaders of hunting groups and gave an interview to Ladies’ Home Journal.”

Here is the extraordinary crux of the matter:

“This is Bush’s 33rd visit to his ranch since becoming president. He has spent all or part of 233 days on his Texas ranch since taking office, according to a tally by CBS News. Adding his 78 visits to Camp David and his five visits to Kennebunkport, Maine, Bush has spent all or part of 500 days in office at one of his three retreats, or more than 40 percent of his presidency.” —Washington Post

As Rice Testifies that Bush ‘Could Not Have Done More’ to Avert 9-11:

Two Ex-CIA Analysts Blast Bush Administration on 9/11

Ray McGovern, a 27-year career analyst with the CIA who was one of Vice President George Bush daily briefer says Rice’s testimony and the events surrounding it have ‘the very strong odor of the most accomplished PR machine in White House history.’ Former CIA and State Department analyst Mel Goodman says the staff studies of the commission, which were released the same day as Richard Clarke’s testimony and were largely ignored, ‘make it clear that there was reduced urgency within the Bush administration’ on 9/11.

Two FBI Whistleblowers Accuse Bureau of Ignoring Warnings Before 9/11

We speak with FBI agent Coleen Rowley, who accused FBI headquarters in 2002 of hampering the investigation into alleged 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui and former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds who was hired shortly after 9/11 to translate intelligence related to the attacks and says the FBI had information that an attack using airplanes was being planned before Sept. 11, 2001. Rowley reveals one of her fellow FBI agents contacted FBI HQ before Sept. 11 and said Moussaoui was the type that might try to fly a plane into the World Trade Center.

9/11 Widow Blames White House for Mishandling 9/11 Threat and Hampering Investigation

Monica Gabrielle, who lost her husband Richard in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, criticizes the Bush administration for mishandling intelligence prior to 9/11 and hampering the 9/11 investigation. —Democracy Now!

Secrets of the Magic 8-Ball

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The trusted oracle of our youth is taken apart and its inner workings revealed. “We’re all familiar with its sage advice. But how is such

wisdom generated? Are you ready for the truth?” This may be too disturbing for FmH readers with enough nostalgia or faith. Others, read on. [I filched this link from somewhere and would love to give props, but I have forgotten where I saw it. Sorry.]

No Joke

More on the privacy concerns over Gmail. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s main worry is that we have to rely on trusting the benificence of the Google people’s commitment to not abusing the info-mining capabilities they will have on anyone using Gmail. One of the EFF’s points is that Google could link the data it derives from your email to your Google search history…unless you frequently delete the Google ‘cookie’ on your machine. While Google doesn’t plan to do anything with that potentiality, they would probably comply with subpoenas to do so in the case of law enforcement investigations. Does it take a privacy extremist to be worried about that aspect of the issue? If your answer is that a law-abiding citizen ought to have nothing to worry about on that account, you are living in an April Fool’s world. Google is essentially handing the Ashcroft Justice Dept. the surveillance capability they have been seeking all along with Carnivore, and none are immune to its abuses. I repeat: use this boondoggle at your own risk, law-abiding or not.

"The Constitution of the United States is extraordinary and amazing. People just don’t revere it like they used to…"

Reporters told to erase audio recordings of Scalia speech to high school students in Hattiesberg, Mississippi. Last year, Supreme Court Justice Scalia barred television and radio coverage at an Ohio ceremony giving him an award for support of free speech. Now, as he lovingly described the protections the Constitution affords to all citizens, a federal marshal forced an AP reporter in the front row to erase her recording of Scalia’s remarks, with no prior warning. And since when are there federal marshals protecting the right of the citizenry to be informed at Supreme Court justices’ speeches? —Court TV

Release The Memo!

“As Condoleezza Rice’s testimony at the 9/11 hearings becomes fodder for media pundits and begins to slide down the cavernous memory-hole of American mass consciousness, the one significant development that will emerge is the commission’s focus on the August 6 PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing). The memo is still classified, but information has been leaking out to the public about its contents since May 2002 when The New York Post screamed ‘Bush Knew’ from its garish front page. To date, it stands as the single most damning particle of evidence that President Bush had intelligence on potential internal threats by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Rice tried to fend off the implication that they had forewarning by framing the briefing as being based on ‘historical’ data. And stating that it did not contain any ‘new threat information.’

But the Democratic panelists would not let that stand. It started with Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, who drew first blood. Then came Bob Kerrey, who unilaterally declassified part of that memo and made Rice’s previous statements look something close to perjury.,,

The August 6 memo now represents the public’s sole opportunity to guage the level of prior warning the administration had before the 9/11 attacks. President Bush fought against Rice’s testimony and caved after a public outcry. Let’s see what happens as the 9/11 widows hit the circuit and present their case for full disclosure.” —Guerilla News Network

X the Box

Online voter registration: “Last election, over 100 million eligible voters didn’t show up to ‘X the Box.’ And the presidency was decided by only 537 votes…”

Eight Lords A-Leaping

Good news! A New York revival of Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers, a challenging and rewarding play I saw in London during its initial production. “First produced in London in 1972, Jumpers was Mr. Stoppard’s first major play after his breakthrough success with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967), his existential riff on two Shakespearean bit players. Jumpers is a wildly ambitious work about a charmingly verbose professor (played by Simon Russell Beale) and his increasingly unhinged wife (Essie Davis), and touching on issues from the existence of God to the aesthetic implications of the moon landing.

But as heady as the themes may be, what may be even more challenging is the staging, which required the director, David Leveaux, to create an array of reality-bending moments, including a topless woman on a swing, a cocktail party-cum-crime scene and a bedroom that assembles itself around a completely naked woman. (And that’s just in the first few minutes.)” — New York Times

Circuit Benders Unlock the Long Riffs in Short-Circuits

“Circuit bending (is) the creative alteration of electronic devices – usually toys – so they can produce new and unusual sounds. Benders delve beneath the sometimes fuzzy underbelly of talking dolls, toy instruments and basic keyboards. They rewire circuits, experimenting until they hear tones, beeps or squawks they like. Then they solder on switches, buttons and knobs to be able to recreate the novel noises on cue.” — New York Times

Ancient Body’s Buddy: An Early House Cat?

“If it can truly be said that people train cats, rather than the other way around, human-feline bonding apparently had its start at least 9,500 years ago – about 5,000 years earlier than previously thought.

French archaeologists, excavating a grave in Cyprus, have found the remains of a person, some buried offerings and the curled-up skeleton of a cat. Everything about the grave, dated at about 7500 B.C., suggested to the discoverers that the cat probably had as favored a place in the life of the departed person as that of your dear Daddles or Willie or whatever the name of the little master of the house.” — New York Times

Signs That Shiites and Sunnis Are Joining to Battle Americans

“When the United States invaded Iraq a year ago, one of its chief concerns was preventing a civil war between Shiite Muslims, who make up a majority in the country, and Sunni Muslims, who held all the power under Saddam Hussein.

Now the fear is that the growing uprising against the occupation is forging a new and previously unheard of level of cooperation between the two groups — and the common cause is killing Americans.” — New York Times

You have got to hand it to the Bush administration’s prowess at nation-building. I would never have believed it would have happened in Iraq if I weren’t seeing it with my own eyes. Fitting that this is happening on the year’s anniversary of the famous toppling of the Saddam statue. The lesson to be taken from this is not that the tide has turned against us in the ensuing year, but that it was never with us in the first place. Recall that the jubilation at the toppling of the statue was a sham, a photo-op staged for the occasion with a few carefully assembled cheering Iraqi dupes. It is only a pity that it has taken so long, and so many thousands of Iraqi lives, for the Iraqis to unite in effective opposition against the ‘coalition’ invaders.

Related: Experts Concerned:

Milt Bearden, who retired after 30 years with the CIA’s directorate of operations, notes that in the last 100 years any insurgency that has taken on a nationalist character — for instance, a shared goal of getting rid of Americans — has succeeded.

Other former intelligence officials familiar with the region caution that outside Shiite groups, acting more covertly than the Sadr militia, could prove to be formidable problems.

Bob Baer, a former CIA officer who spent 21 years in the Middle East, said he met with Islamic fighters in Lebanon just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq who told him they were preparing to fight a long-term war with the West in Iraq. They included members of Hezbollah and Hamas, he said. —SF Chronicle

So Who Wants to Be a Swan?

“The message boards of Fox’s latest reality show, ‘The Swan,’ turned into a cultural battlefield, even before the first episode was broadcast.

The very concept of this particular show seemed to strike a raw nerve among viewers, who posted several hundred messages in what turned into a surprisingly heated debate over whether television is our fairy godmother, the ultimate Big Brother, or just a boob tube.” —Holly Gail, AlterNet

Open Letter to Google to Suspend Gmail

Twenty Eight Privacy and Civil Liberties Organizations

Urge Google to Suspend Gmail

“The World Privacy Forum and 27 other privacy and civil liberties organizations have written a letter [inserted below] calling upon Google to suspend its Gmail service until the privacy issues are adequately addressed. The letter also calls upon Google to clarify its written information policies regarding data retention and data sharing among its business units.

The 28 organizations are voicing their concerns about Google’s plan to scan the text of all incoming messages for the purposes of ad placement, noting that the scanning of confidential email for inserting third party ad content violates the implicit trust of an email service provider. The scanning creates lower expectations of privacy in the email medium and may establish dangerous precedents.

Other concerns include the unlimited period for data retention that Google’s current policies allow, and the potential for unintended secondary uses of the information Gmail will collect and store. ”

I am pretty sure the call for Google to suspend its plan is not in earnest, and that this is merely a dramatic way to publicize privacy concerns. I hope so, at least. Gmail is going to be voluntary and any thinking person will know that Google is not going to be doing it so much out of the goodness of its heart as for the ad revenues the scheme can generate, and anyone who lets Google handle their email should do so knowingly. I will never use Gmail, much as I never use those supermarket chain or pharmacy “loyalty” cards, which create a database of my buying habits. On the other hand, I am not above making credit card purchases, so there is already a great big database in the sky of my spending patterns. Frugality and convenience are the loss leaders through which we are persuaded to yield up our privacy rights, unfortunately, and everyone has their own setpoint. In many senses, the battle for privacy is already lost; it is just that we ought not to freely cede the remaining vestiges without being informed of what we are doing…

Education as Enforcement

Mark Daims reviews Education as Enforcement — The Militarization and Corporatization of Schools edited by Kenneth J. Saltman and David A. Gabbard: “Education as Enforcement incorporates 21 compelling essays (including the foreword and introduction) on the subtext of the process of education in America. Whether or not a reader agrees with any particular essayist, each writer defends children passionately and should be heard. Henry Giroux’s foreword forcefully attacks the current administration’s tactics concerning education and the greater society. Alluding to a ‘tyranny of emergency’ and an inauthentic use of the country’s fear of terrorism, Giroux feels the President is changing the nature of our society — community is constructed ‘through shared fears rather than shared responsibilities.’ Giroux wants educators to act collectively to instill democratic and social values in children and move back towards a society of shared responsibilities.

The greatest struggle Americans face is not terrorism, but a struggle on behalf of justice, freedom, and democracy for all the citizens of the globe, especially youth. ” —Human Nature Review

Trumpeting Mediocrity

Trumpeting Mediocrity – Was Wynton Marsalis ever that good? Thank you, Fred Kaplan, for articulating what I have felt for a long time — that Marsalis (along with Ken Burns) has been one of the unfortunate things to happen to jazz in America in the past decade or so. The occasion of a stupifying new album after his much-ballyhooed signing with Blue Note should prompt an overall reappraisal of his overblown bandleading, writing and, yes, playing chops, Kaplan writes. —Slate

Kerry-McCain ’04?

Take a Stand on VP Choice: “There is a sound and simple reason why John McCain should not be John F. Kerry’s running mate on the Democratic ticket in November. He is a Republican.

The distinction still matters, even in an era when both major political parties are fixated on the nonpartisan, centrist, independent voters who political consultants insist determine the outcome of federal elections.

Reports that many on Kerry’s campaign staff are smitten with the idea of the Massachusetts Democrat naming his Republican colleague from Arizona as his vice presidential choice make for amusing chatter in this long lull between the presidential primaries and the party nominating conventions. It is still a fundamentally foolish idea.

Far from elevating Kerry as a bold, bipartisan thinker, the choice of McCain would enshrine forever Kerry’s reputation for political equivocation. The question his campaign has spent months sputtering to answer (what does John Kerry stand for?) would only be amplified by such a selection.” —Eileen MacNamara, Boston Globe [via CommonDreams]

Sicilian Blazes Put Science to the Test

“A series of spontaneous fires started in mid-January in the town of Canneto di Caronia in about 20 houses. After a brief respite last month, the almost daily fires have flared up again — even though electricity to the village was cut off.

An endless flow of scientists, engineers, police and even a few self-styled ‘ghostbusters’ have descended on the town searching for clues to the recent spontaneous combustion of everything from fuse boxes to microwave ovens to a car.” —Reuters [via dangerousmeta]

Spontaneous combustion and its most vexing variant, spontaneous human combustion, are a puzzling and, I am convinced, real phenomenon. Perhaps the urgency of such a prodigious clustering of these events will provide the impetus for fruitful investigation and some clues to the phenomenon’s cause.

Diet of worms protects against bowel cancer

“Regular doses of worms really do rid people of inflammatory bowel disease. The first trials of the treatment have been a success, and a drinkable concoction containing thousands of pig whipworm eggs could soon be launched in Europe.

The product will be called TSO, short for Trichuris suis ova, and will be made by a new German company called BioCure, whose sister company BioMonde sells leeches and maggots for treating wounds.” —EurekAlert [via boing boing]

For any of you who know the reference, I’m sure you’ll agree; the rest of you, ignore this — I couldn’t help thinking of how this utterly vindicates Phil ‘n’ Lil’s culinary tastes…

Hey, Mr Lingerie Man . . .

“Asked in 1965 what might tempt him to sell out, Dylan replied: ‘Ladies undergarments’. Now the the Woodstock generation has been jolted by the sight of rock’s most enigmatic performer appearing alongside model Adriana Lima as she slips into something sheer to cavort in the Palazzo of Venice.” —Telegraph.UK

Microsoft Deletes 2 Characters from Office Font

In what it is ramming down the throats of most users by calling it a ‘critical update’, Microsoft eliminated the swastika and the Star of David from its Bookshelf Symbol 7 font last month. Memory Hole comments:

“…(A) ‘Critical Update’… is supposed to mean that it is important for the stability or security of the operating system. A simple font change does not qualify, so it’s obvious that they wanted to force this update upon their users. A system set up with Automatic Windows Updates (which is most newly installed ones) will have this pushed down by default, and most users will see ‘Critical’ in the name and accept it based on that. This is an insidious form of censorship, as Microsoft decides for its users what symbols they should be allowed to have in their fonts. This should have been published in the ‘Recommended Updates’ section, where you would have to read each update and decide for yourself.”

Buffalo Bill’s

Buffalo Bill’s


who used to

ride a watersmooth-silver


and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat


he was a handsome man

and what i want to know is

how do you like your blueeyed boy

Mister Death

Best Treatment May Be No Treatment At All

“The biggest myths of modern medicine were challenged in a new guide for patients launched yesterday that sets out the best treatment for 60 of the commonest medical conditions.

Instead of claiming miracles, the guide admits that often the best treatment is no treatment. Devised by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), it is based on evidence from thousands of research studies and is being made available through the NHS Direct website, the advice service for patients.

Treatments are ranked according to effectiveness and the pros and cons of surgery are explained. In some cases the guide says it can’t recommend any treatment because there is no good evidence that anything works.” — Independent.UK

With regard to my specialty, mental health treatment, the guide casts aspersions on tranquilizers for anxiety disorders and treatments for anorexia nervosa. I certainly share the BMJ‘s skepticism about medical omnipotence, and particularly in the areas they single out.

"In my opinion, in 10 years we’ll be embarrassed by how much of this stuff we prescribed"

Nominal Benefits Seen in Drugs for Alzheimer’s: A major scientific conference reviewing the evidence for benefits from the Alzheimer’s medications on the market — Aricept, Exelon, Reminyl and Tacrine — found the benefits to be so modest as to leave most doctors unsure about prescribing them, especially given how expensive they are. In my opinion, there are two types of problems in asssessing the impact of these medications. First, statistically significant effects, which will make the case for FDA approval for a drug, are not the same as clinically significant benefit.

“You can name 11 fruits in a minute instead of 10,” said Dr. Thomas Finucane, a professor at Johns Hopkins and a geriatrician. “Is that worth 120 bucks a month?” —New York Times

More importantly, especially in a results-driven healthcare economy, it is difficult to see the benefit of medications which primarily slow an inevitable decline rather than causing improvement. The studies demonstrating that these medications have any substantial value, which I have examined carefully as the drugs were introduced, are prospective studies which follow patients and matched placebo control patients over several years. In other words, concrete benefits will not be apparent to an Alzheimer’s patient’s treating physician or family, and it takes a great leap of faith and a familiarity with the scientific literature to maintain a patient on such a medication. But surely delaying the need to place a patient in a nursing home for months or years, for example, when their decline becomes so profound that home-based care is no longer possible, is eminently desirable. Analogously, many, if not most, patients with cancer opt for far more invasive treatments to extend their lives at home wtih their loved ones for similar or lesser periods of time. It is important not to promote more magical, unrealistic hopes in either case. Moreover, these drugs are just a first iteration. More specific and more powerful medications working by different medications are in the pipeline; memantine, or Namenda, supposedly the first of these, has just arrived… and, so far, I am reserving judgment. The existing drugs, finally, may be even more useful in pre-Alzheimer’s conditions, i.e. as cognition- or memory-enhancers in more benign age-related cognitive decline (like the ‘senior moments’ I suffer…). [thanks, Jerry]

Soldiers Choose Canada

“Canada has a long tradition of providing safe haven for dissenting Americans: Loyalists during the War of Independence, refugees from the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, so-called “skedaddlers” deserting from Civil War battalions, and, most famously, some 60,000 men and women resisting the Vietnam War.

Unless there’s a draft, no one expects a flood at the northern border nowadays. But the trickle could certainly swell. According to a U.S. Army survey released last week, 72 percent of soldiers report that morale in their unit is low or very low. Meanwhile, the suicide rate among service members is at an all-time high. From April through December last year, 23 killed themselves while on duty in Iraq or Kuwait; at least seven more did so after their return home.

Thousands are seeking less dire means of escape. Calls to G.I. Rights Hotline, which answers questions from recruits trying to leave the armed forces, shot up to 28,822 in 2003, from 17,267 in 2001. Meanwhile, though the Pentagon will not confirm figures, military attorneys, activists, and the European press have estimated that 600 to 1,700 soldiers have fled to avoid service in Iraq. Most are likely living underground in the U.S.—going AWOL, even for long periods, is a far less serious offense than actually applying for refugee status in another country—which clearly demonstrates the intent to desert. Nonetheless, the peacenik grapevine in Canada began buzzing on Wednesday with news that a female deserter is on her way.

Canada itself has resisted the war in Iraq. Backed by overwhelming public sentiment, its government officially refused to join the “coalition forces.” But much has changed in the 35 years since a draft dodger or G.I. could simply present himself at Canada’s border and sign up for landed-immigrant status. “In the ’60s, we didn’t have a refugee determination system,” explains the former Immigration and Refugee Board member, Audrey Macklin, a professor of law at the University of Toronto. “The war resisters who came were not required to jump through any hoops. Now we have a rigorous one-by-one approach and more complex and narrow regimes for permitting entry.” —Alisa Solomon, The Village Voice

Discovering Dickens – A Community Reading Project

Dickens postcardStanford repeats the 2002 experience it engendered with Great Expectations; since January 2004 it has been sending out, on demand, weekly serialized mailings of facsimiles of chapters of A Tale of Two Cities, simulating the way the Dickens novel was originally released. Apparently, Stanford’s special collection includes a set of these original editions. Stanford is still accepting requests for enrollment in this program, or you can download .pdfs of the releases each week. As an inveterate fan of reading aloud with my family, their invitation to “join the world of family reading circles” is very appealing. We will wait expectantly for each week’s installment…

Half-Million Milestone

One of you yesterday logged the 500,000th page hit to FmH. Relax, the first half-million are the hardest. I look forward to your continuing reading pleasure here, and thank you all for your support. [I know, I know, boing boing posted today that they get almost 400,000 hits a month!]

Liberalism’s Lost Script

“Democrats used to thrive on Hollywood endings. Today, liberalism is more like a dark, complicated novel. It’s time to go back to making movies.

This fall’s presidential contest will turn on many things, but one of them will certainly be the parties’ contrasting aesthetics: the comforting bromides of conservative cheerfulness versus the disturbing sobriety of new liberalism’s cold glare. But while it may be foolish and even dangerous to view the world as anything but tragic, doing so isn’t a very promising way to win votes. Twenty-five years ago, conservatives stole liberal optimism, and George W. Bush, currently bumping from one disaster to another, is relying on it to pull him through this election.” —Neal Gabler, American Prospect

Tech heavyweights explain how to destroy the Internet

“A group of tech celebs gathered on Capitol Hill this week to brief Congressional aides on how Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can, and probably will, make a complete mess of the Internet in about a year’s time.

At issue are likely revisions to the 1996 Telecommunications Act and FCC regulations, which, thus far, have managed to do scant violence to the Net. Unfortunately, changes now being contemplated, urged by telecomms and media behemoths and their lobbyists, may soon alter that happy state of affairs. Broadband users are particularly at risk, because they enjoy little of the consumer choice available to dialup users.” —The Register [via Interesting People]

The Quest to Forget

Some who work with victims of trauma are defending and developing new techniques for what might be called ‘therapeutic forgetting’New York Times. We have the capacity to interfere pharmacologically with the storage or retrieval of painful memories; but should we? Bioethicists and others argue that having had nightmarish experiences is part of what makes us what we are, and that blunting the memory of painful events diminishes us and prevents us from learning from our experiences. I have previously written in horror about the efforts of the military to use immediate interventions, or even prophylaxis, into battlefield trauma to enhance soldiers’ abilities to remain efficient and dehumanized warriors in the face of the horror of what they do and see done in war. One might argue that that is a slightly different issue, as the victims of most trauma have little or no moral responsibility for their victimization as contrasted with the Pentagon’s ‘fighting machines.’ Nevertheless, I share the alarm about the ‘therapeutic forgetting’ research. If I were living in a hopeless, terminal world like that depicted in post-apocalyptic fiction, where these is essentially no future in store, I might feel differently, but the process of recovering from trauma without shortcuts provides for the future. Moreover, the researchers themselves raise the possibility that interfering with the laying down or retrieval of intense memories might not selectively screen for the alarming or painful ones, and emotionally intense pleasant memories might be blocked or dulled in the process. Finally, the use of such techniques could in all likelihood not be restricted to clinically significant traumas. In much the same way that the burgeoning use of antidepressants since Prozac has led to an age of ‘cosmetic psychopharmacology’, we could look forward to the further twisting of the human soul by unrestricted damping of the most trivially or mundanely unpleasant memories.

Fundamentally Insane?

Mother Who Stoned 2 Sons to Death Acquitted on All Charges: “A woman who claimed God ordered her to kill her sons was acquitted of murder charges by reason of insanity on Saturday, sparing her a life prison sentence and allowing the state to commit her to a psychiatric hospital.

A jury found that the woman, Deanna L. Laney, did not know right from wrong last May 9 when she killed her two older sons, 6-year-old Luke and 8-year-old Joshua, in her front yard by bashing their heads with rocks. She left her youngest son, Aaron, now 2, maimed in his crib…

Her lawyers argued that insanity was the only reason why Ms. Laney, a deeply religious mother who home-schooled her children, would kill her sons without a tear…

All five mental health experts consulted in the case concluded that a severe mental illness caused Ms. Laney to have psychotic delusions. Psychiatrists testified that Ms. Laney believed she was chosen by God to kill her children as a test of faith and then to serve as a witness after the world ended.” —New York Times

My question: should the fundamentalist preachers who filled her head full of the idiocy that could shape her vulnerabilities into such a malignant form be charged as accomplices to murder, even if she was acquitted on grounds of insanity?

Framework of Clarke’s Book Is Bolstered

“Since former White House counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke charged March 24 that the Bush White House reacted slowly to warnings of a terrorist attack, his former colleagues have poked holes in parts of his narration of the early months of 2001 and have found what they say is evidence that Clarke elevated his own importance in those events…

But the broad outline of Clarke’s criticism has been corroborated by a number of other former officials, congressional and commission investigators, and by Bush’s admission in the 2003 Bob Woodward book ‘Bush at War’ that he ‘didn’t feel that sense of urgency’ about Osama bin Laden before the attacks occurred.” —Washington Post

Violent Disturbances Wrack Iraq From Baghdad to Southern Cities

“Iraq was wracked today by its most violent civil disturbances since the occupation started, with a coordinated Shiite uprising spreading across the country, from the slums of Baghdad to several cities in the south.

By day’s end, witnesses said Shiite militiamen controlled the city of Kufa, south of Baghdad, with armed men loyal to a radical cleric occupying the town’s police stations and checkpoints. More than eight people were killed by Spanish forces in a similar uprising in the neighboring town of Najaf.

In Baghdad, American tanks battled militiamen loyal to Moqtada Al Sadr, the radical cleric who has denounced the occupation and has an army of thousands of young followers.

At nightfall today, the Sadr City neighborhood shook with explosions and tank and machine gun fire. Black smoke choked the sky. The streets were lined with armed militiamen, dressed in all black. American tanks surrounded the area. Attack helicopters thundered overhead.

‘The occupation is over!’ people on the streets yelled. ‘We are now controlled by Sadr. The Americans should stay out.'” —New York Times

So: “In post September 11 wars, the US secured rapid battlefield dominance in Afghanistan and Iraq. Do these triumphs mean victory? <a href=”; title=”

defeat”>Or, could America be defeated?

Four traits fatally obstruct a balance between threats and capacities and make defeat possible and even likely. First, ignorance is a precursor of gross policy errors that enlarge threats and squander capacities. Not knowing other cultures, histories, or socioeconomic environments is a guarantee of commitments that extend well beyond realistic expectations. From here to the horizon is scattered human debris from interventions in places we knew not at all. Vietnam’s long battle against the French was unknown in the U.S. in the early 1960s. Somalia was but an image of state collapse absent detailed on-the-ground knowledge. Iraq’s Ba’athist regime was part of an “axis of evil”. Attempts to alter local and regional political directions and traditions, however, are not the bailiwick of those without detailed preparations.

Moreover, defeat comes through arrogance. Capacity-driven behaviors are preceded by an assumption that power is deserved, and that deserved power embodies one with a mission to use such capacities for a greater goal. Such a missionary vocation is irrevocably intertwined with hubris – the conceit of power. Yet such arrogance conceals fundamental weakness. Every utterance of arrogant power generates fear, alienation and, ultimately, the development of countervailing and often asymmetric force. With each deception or evidently cosmetic spin, the power of trust and the legitimacy of just force wither. America the indispensable power, the salvation of democracies and the righteously vengeful nation after 9/11 has, in Iraq, found that creating post-war peace and reconstruction depends on far more than US Army occupation.

Distrust of friends, and dread of presumed enemy plots, join to produce the self-flagellation of paranoia. Everything is apprehension, and fright lies slightly beneath the surface. “Report suspicious behavior” flashes the sign above the Beltway – and George Orwell nods. Where one can trust no one, isolated strongholds are one plausible approach to world affairs. The alternative path taken by the Bush Administration is a foreign policy of global unilateralism – pre-empting through raw force whenever narrow national interests seem threatened, surrounding oneself with coalitions of the willing in lieu of genuine alliances. A pre-emptive strategy is one adopted by nations, groups or individuals for whom others harbor evil intentions, and whose presumed intentions warrant immediate countermeasures. It is but a short distance between such trepidation and an irrational paranoia.

Greed is also a quick route to self-defeat. Believing in nothing but today’s material interests is another way of believing in nothing. War to end a regime of one leader or party, to capture resources, or to shift a strategic balance, while ignoring justice and other paramount values is a harbinger of defeat. Lie about motives, deceitfully spin information, conceal data or events – do all of these while wars and their aftermath generate huge unaccountable profits for corporate allies of decision-makers and one is sure to lose the normative war and therefore become the victim of peace.

To the degree that ignorance, arrogance, paranoia and greed are all present, those who make decisions about war and peace will pursue a capacity-driven strategy, conflate discourses of war and peace, and incessantly strive for security through strength. Such decision-makers will, thereby, create enemies from friends, replacing mutual trust with endemic suspicion and fear.

This is George W. Bush’s America. With each pre-emptive step towards global unilateralism, enemies multiply, friendships wane, and the imbalance between threats and capacities approaches critical. The smell of defeat hangs in the air.”

—Daniel N. Nelson, Dean, College of Arts & Sciences, University of New Haven, served in the State and Defense departments (1998-2002) and was Richard Gephardt’s foreign policy advisor when he was House Majority Leader, CommonDreams

Well: Let’s Make Enemies:

US occupation chief Paul Bremer hasn’t started wearing a hijab yet, and is instead tackling the rise of anti-Americanism with his usual foresight. Baghdad is blanketed with inept psy-ops organs like Baghdad Now, filled with fawning articles about how Americans are teaching Iraqis about press freedom. “I never thought before that the Coalition could do a great thing for the Iraqi people,” one trainee is quoted saying. “Now I can see it on my eyes what they are doing good things for my country and the accomplishment they made. I wish my people can see that, the way I see it.”

Unfortunately, the Iraqi people recently saw another version of press freedom when Bremer ordered US troops to shut down a newspaper run by supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr. The militant Shiite cleric has been preaching that Americans are behind the attacks on Iraqi civilians and condemning the interim constitution as a “terrorist law.” So far, al-Sadr has refrained from calling on his supporters to join the armed resistance, but many here are predicting that the closing down of the newspaper–a nonviolent means of resisting the occupation–was just the push he needed. But then, recruiting for the resistance has always been a specialty of the Presidential Envoy to Iraq: Bremer’s first act after being tapped by Bush was to fire 400,000 Iraqi soldiers, refuse to give them their rightful pensions but allow them to hold on to their weapons–in case they needed them later.” —Naomi Klein, CommonDreams

Lost Art Form

“We try our best to avoid it, but boredom has its benefits.” I was curious about whether the article was, as advertised, going to be about the advantages of being bored. Of course, it is really about the advantages that accrue from shaking yourself out of your torpor. As someone who almost never suffers boredom, I was interested in learning if I am missing something. Now I’ll never know…and it is without resorting to most of this culture’s ever more frantic, and self-defeating, efforts to help me be less bored. [I got as far as the prescient paragraph acknowledging that some readers might be bored with the article by the time they reached that paragraph.]SF Chronicle

Liberalism’s Lost Script

“Democrats used to thrive on Hollywood endings. Today, liberalism is more like a dark, complicated novel. It’s time to go back to making movies.

This fall’s presidential contest will turn on many things, but one of them will certainly be the parties’ contrasting aesthetics: the comforting bromides of conservative cheerfulness versus the disturbing sobriety of new liberalism’s cold glare. But while it may be foolish and even dangerous to view the world as anything but tragic, doing so isn’t a very promising way to win votes. Twenty-five years ago, conservatives stole liberal optimism, and George W. Bush, currently bumping from one disaster to another, is relying on it to pull him through this election.” —Neal Gabler, American Prospect

Profile: Lucian Freud

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“Few artists attain the same respect in their lifetime as is given to the 81-year-old Freud. Respect not just from fellow artists or lovers of contemporary art, but from museums around the world who treat this violent, deliberately ugly and ungainly portrayer of the naked human body as a titan, securely established in the great tradition of Chardin, Manet and Degas, rather than a contemporary whose reputation has yet to be tried by time.” —Guardian.UK

Who’s Got the Acid?

“So what explains the LSD drought? The best explanation is a bust, a really big bust. The DEA claims it reduced the LSD supply by “95 percent” with two arrests in rural Kansas in November 2000. Clyde Apperson and William Leonard Pickard were charged with and eventually convicted of possession and conspiracy to distribute LSD. According to court testimony, the DEA seized the largest operable LSD laboratory in agency history, as well as 91 pounds of LSD and precursor compounds for the potential manufacture of nearly 27 pounds more. If you define a dose of LSD as 100 micrograms, Apperson and Pickard had around 400 million hits in stock. At the more common dosage level of 20 micrograms, the two were sitting on 2 billion hits. Apperson got 30 years in prison, and Pickard got two life sentences. The Kansas bust marked the third time in four years that the DEA had arrested Apperson and Pickard on LSD lab charges.

The LSD market took an earlier blow in 1995, when Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia died and the band stopped touring. For 30 years, Dead tours were essential in keeping many LSD users and dealers connected, a correlation confirmed by the DEA in a divisional field assessment from the mid-’90s. The spring following Garcia’s death (the season the MTF surveys are administered), annual LSD use among 12th-graders peaked at 8.8 percent and began their slide. Phish picked up part of the Dead’s fan base—and presumably vestiges of the LSD delivery system. At the end of 2000, Phish stopped touring as well, and perhaps not coincidentally, the MTF numbers for LSD began to plummet.

Where have all the acid-eaters gone? MTF records a stable interest in “hallucinogens other than LSD”—the hallucinogen usually being psychoactive mushrooms—since the 2000 decline of acid. DAWN shows the same trend under the “miscellaneous hallucinogens” category. (Over the same period, use of both ecstasy and methamphetamine dropped in the MTF survey.) In other words, the decline in LSD use doesn’t look like a demand-side phenomena: The cultural hunger for a substance that lets you hold affordable conversations with God, watch walls melt, breathe colors, and explore your psyche remains unsated. ” —Slate

Related: “Monitoring the Future is an ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American secondary school students, college students, and young adults. Each year, a total of some 50,000 8th, 10th and 12th grade students are surveyed (12th graders since 1975, and 8th and 10th graders since 1991.) In addition, annual follow-up questionnaires are mailed to a sample of each graduating class for a number of years after their initial participation.”

Quagmire Coverage

US Casualties Close to 12,000: “Although the number of U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq is rarely mentioned, previous estimates in the media have ranged between 2,000-3,000. The Pentagon now says that in the first year of war in Iraq, the military made over 18,000 medical evacuations – representing 11,700 casualties.” —Democracy Now!

Kerry Adviser Looks for Running Mate

Although Kerry’s friend, James Johnson, coordinating the vetting of Kerry’s vice presidential candidates (hopefully more effectively than hevetted Geraldine Ferraro), is characterized as discreet, there are some tidbits in the article. The first four approaches were reportedly made to Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Gov. Thomas J. Vilsack of Iowa. It appears that Edwards has several strikes against him, however; not being a governor and not being from a crucial battleground state, and possibly Kerry’s envy. There is interesting specualtion about John McCain; despite his categorical denials that he would defect from the Republican Party, he is giving out mixed signals. A Kerry-Kerrey ticket has a nice ring to it, though… —New York Times

After 17 Years, They’re Back

…and in the Mood for Love: “After more than 16 years underground, periodical cicadas will begin emerging in late May or early June, as soon as the soil warms up. While they tend to be more widespread in, say, Ohio and Indiana, the bugs – up to two inches long, with orange-veined wings and red beady eyes – should also grace yards farther east, including the New York area.

‘Grace’ is somehow not the proper word, however, to describe the onslaught that may greet the family dog as it fetches the morning newspaper next month. According to Gene Kritsky, a biology professor at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati and an expert on periodical cicadas, during the last emergence of Brood X, in 1987, concentrations of the bugs reached as high as 100 per square yard. ‘I calculated that in the greater Cincinnati area alone there were something like five billion of them,’ he said.” —New York Times

Is Fallujah Iraq’s Mogadishu?

“Pentagon officials view Wednesday’s horror in Fallujah as the Iraq war’s Mogadishu incident: a disaster that may be a turning point for American policy. We will not flee, as we did in Somalia, but Fallujah should teach even the administration’s most die-hard optimists that the mission is deeper and muddier than they’d imagined, that the country they have conquered is far uglier and far less pliant than they hoped, and that a new course of policy is necessary if we want to sustain the occupation.

Many are wondering how President Bush will retaliate for the brutal slayings of the four American contractors who were shot, beaten, dismembered, dragged down the street, and strung up on bridge poles. The universal feeling is that some response is necessary to let the insurgents know they can’t get away with this. The question is what kind of response?” —Fred Kaplan, Slate

Monster’s Ball

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Guillermo del Toro’s heavenly Hellboy: “The highest praise I can bestow on Guillermo del Toro, the 39-year-old Mexican-born director and writer, is that he’s in a class with Peter Jackson as a fan-boy who gets it—a brilliant filmmaker who has a kind of metabolic connection to horror and sci-fi that helps him transform secondhand genre material into something deep and nourishing. Del Toro reaches into himself and finds the Wagnerian grandeur in schlock.

Which brings us to the delightful Hellboy, which is based on a clever comic-book series of the same name by Mike Mignola that fuses superheroics with the sort of mythic religious demonology of H.P. Lovecraft, plus a bit of Men in Black macho cheekiness. ” —David Edelstein, Slate

Who Were the Men Killed in Fallujah?

“According to news reports, the Americans who were killed and mutilated in Fallujah were ‘private contractors.’ This is a euphemism for ‘mercenaries’: ex-military soldiers of fortune who operate outside the rules of combat.” —MemoryBlog

And: Robert Fisk: “Most Of The People Dying In Iraq Are Iraqis”: ‘Veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk reports live from Baghdad. Fisk describes the “grotesque, gruesome, terrible” attacks in Fallujah, the contracted mercenaries that have infiltrated Iraq: “They swagger in and out with heavy weapons, with automatic weapons and pistols as if they’re cowboys” and the deteriorating situation throughout the country: “The violence and the insecurity, the sense of anarchy is greater.” ‘ —Democracy Now!

The Real Question on 9-11

Where Was the Air Force?: “George W. Bush, writes former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, ‘failed to act prior to September 11 on the threat from Al Qaeda despite repeated warnings and then harvested a political windfall for taking obvious yet insufficient steps after the attacks.’ That incendiary charge, coupled with his apologetic testimony before the commission investigating the attacks, has reignited a long-simmering debate: What did Bush know when and how quickly should he have done something about it?

But both the 9/11 commission and liberal opponents of the Bush Administration are focusing on the wrong question. Nothing has surfaced from the 2001 ‘summer of threat’ beyond a bunch of vague they’re-up-to-something caveats. The specific details intelligence agencies would have needed to stop the attacks before they happened–potential hijackers’ names, dates and times, targets–were maddeningly elusive.

The really big unanswered question of September 11, 2001 is this: Once it became obvious that at least four passenger jets had been hijacked–at one point that Tuesday morning, Clarke says the FAA thought it had as many as ‘eleven aircraft off course or out of communications’–why didn’t our government intercept them?” —Ted Rall, CommonDreams

Guantánamo: Maybe None of Them are Terrorists

“Consider this theoretical possibility: if no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, is it also possible that there are no al-Qaida terrorists in Guantánamo? It seems far fetched, put so bluntly. If only by chance, it would seem likely that some of the detainees might be terrorists. The US secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, argues that the inhumane incarceration, the secrecy and the abuse of any principles of justice are all justified by the fact that these prisoners are the hardest of hard cases. But given what we know of those who have been released, the refusal of the US to open the evidence to challenge, and the secrecy that surrounds the prison and all who languish there, the proposition is worth considering. And since none of us have been allowed to know much, it is worth listening to those who know a little more.” —Isabel Hilton, Guardian.UK [via CommonDreams]

Eudaomonia, The Good Life

A conversation with Martin Seligman: “The third form of happiness, which is meaning, is again knowing what your highest strengths are and deploying those in the service of something you believe is larger than you are. There’s no shortcut to that. That’s what life is about. There will likely be a pharmacology of pleasure, and there may be a pharmacology of positive emotion generally, but it’s unlikely there’ll be an interesting pharmacology of flow. And it’s impossible that there’ll be a pharmacology of meaning.” —The Edge

Mean to Gene

Louis Menand reviews Eugene McCarthy: The Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism by Dominic Sandbrook, a young British historian:

“In 1970, McCarthy retired from the Senate and embarked on one of the weirder and (to those who had been his admirers) more distressing afterlives in American politics. He entered the 1972 Democratic primaries, intent on defeating Muskie, who was the initial front-runner. McCarthy put most of his money and energy into Illinois, and Muskie trounced him there, sixty-three per cent to thirty-six per cent. In 1973, McCarthy explored the possibility of running for Congress from Minnesota’s Sixth District, the part of the state where he was born, but he was made to understand that the Democrats of the Sixth District did not find the possibility thrilling, and he didn’t run. In 1976, he ran for President in the general election as an independent. In 1980, he endorsed Ronald Reagan, a perversity motivated by his loathing for Jimmy Carter. He ran for the Presidency in 1988, as the candidate of the Consumer Party, and again, as a Democrat, in 1992, when he was seventy-six. He received two hundred and eleven votes in the New Hampshire primary. Some of those who voted for him may have believed they were casting their ballot for Joe McCarthy (a confusion from which McCarthy probably benefitted throughout his career). McCarthy now lives in a retirement home in Washington, D.C…” —The New Yorker

University actions against high journal prices

“For at least three decades universities have struggled with the problem of rising journal prices. Prices have risen faster than inflation since the 1970’s, and four times faster since 1986. Because this rate greatly outpaced the growth of library budgets, it was obvious that it could not continue for much longer. But it was not obvious how it would end. Even though libraries had responded by selectively cancelling subscriptions and cutting into their book budgets, these incremental actions merely postponed the inevitable large-scale responses to reclaim control over their budgets and address the deeper problem. In late 2003 major universities started announcing large-scale cancellations. More, they accompanied these decisions with public statements denouncing publisher pricing practices as unsustainable and inconsistent with the mission of science and scholarship, and calling on all academic stakeholders to join in building sustainable and compatible alternatives.

We’ve all heard about the major actions, at schools like Cornell, Duke, Harvard, and Stanford. But to understand what’s been going on, we need to see a more comprehensive account. I’ve put together this list of actions by U.S. universities since the fall of 2003, with enough links for those who want to read further and enough detail for those who don’t.” —SPARC Open Access Newsletter

Dogs do resemble their owners, finds study

“The old adage that people resemble their pet dogs may really be true, suggests a new study by US scientists.

Pure-bred dogs can be matched to their owners by strangers most of the time. But the same does not hold true for mixed breed dogs, say Nicholas Christenfeld and Michael Roy, psychologists at the University of California San Diego.

When judges were shown digital photos of dog owners and given a choice of one of two dogs – they matched the correct pair 64 per cent of the time when the dog was a pure breed, showed Christenfeld and Roy.

However, their study did not pin down what factors were responsible for this resemblance. ‘We can’t tell whether it’s a physical resemblance or a stylistic resemblance…'” —New Scientist

Viagra could reduce men’s fertility

“The anti-impotence drug not only speeds sperm up, researchers found, but it also caused the vital reaction needed to penetrate an egg to occur prematurely

“Most use it for impotence and aren’t contemplating having a family, so this has no implications for them,” (one of the study’s authors) says. However, younger men are using it recreationally, and they may be trying to start a family. Furthermore, an audit of fertility clinics by the team revealed that 42 per cent use Viagra to help men produce sperm samples on demand.” —New Scientist