Saturday, March 31, 2007

Youtubin': Brick of Faith

I've discussed Joe Rivas here before, but it's been a while. Like me he's a Denton area blogger, but he also is teaching an internet-based course at an area community college and has just finished a childern's book about people with disabilities. As his blogger profile says, he's a very determined and resourceful person. This brief video was shot in part by Jason Prather, another Denton area blogger.

Joe's internet journaling mainly occurs on myspace now, as he seems to have put Blogger on the back burner. Anyway, here's

Joe Rivas's "Brick of faith":

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An end of month miscellany

photo: US Naval Observatory/Amazing Science

1.from the Guardian: an RFK conspiracy

2.Jonathan Schwarz : the U.S. and Israeli governments face a difficult challenge: how can they continue pretending they want peace, while avoiding it at all costs?

3.Mark Kleiman:
"For every one that doeth evil hateth the light":
A special treat for all you Kafka fans: the recipient of a "National Security Letter" explains how a gag order works. If there's anything nastier than a warrantless search, it's a warrantless search the victim is legally forbidden to complain about.

4.Joe Bageant: "Neurological Biocaste Blues":

As most of the world has noticed by now, very few Americans are critical thinkers. Most suffer from a collective learning disability based on the complete commodification of our consciousness by consumerism and electronic media. In this case, learning disability is a nice way of saying that we have become collectively stupid, muchless capable of insight.

Insight is scary to Americans so conditioned to rote consumption and substituting entertainment and illusion for actual involvement. When they realize something, and I mean genuine higher understanding of what the sum of the parts mean, not simply what they appear to be, their consciousness is altered and they become different inside. Suddenly the world is no longer the solid consumer state sonambulation they are accustomed to. They have no tools to deal with it. Beyond that least half of us are so conditioned we are incapable of human insight at all...

but go read the whole thing. If you've never read anything by Joe Bageant before, this piece is an excellent introduction. Bageant is a kind of southern-fried Baudrillard, only with a decidedly non Baudrillardian impatience for the apolitically ironic distancing angrier.

5.Scott Ritter: "Calling out Idiot America:"

the title is a bit misleading, insofar as this piece mainly discusses US ignorance of Islamic history. I don't entirely agree with Ritter's premises, but that's an argument for another day-- suffice to say, it's a concise overview of the history of the Sunni/Shi'a rift, and a useful read for that reason.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Dangerous Waters

Larry Johnson posted this memorandum over at No Quarter which outlines the inherent dangers posed by the capture of the fifteen British Marines.

There is real danger that this incident, and the way it plays out, may turn out to be outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s last gesture of fealty to President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and “neo-conservative” advisers who, this time, are looking for a casus belli to “justify” air and missile strikes on Iran. Bush and Cheney no doubt find encouragement in the fact that the Democrats last week refused to include in the current House bill on Iraq war funding proposed language forbidding the White House from launching war on Iran without explicit congressional approval.

If the Senate omits similar language today, or if the prohibition disappears in conference, chances increase for a “pre-emptive” U.S. and/or Israeli strike on Iran and a major war that will make the one in Iraq seem like a minor skirmish. The impression, cultivated by the White House and our domesticated media, that Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-majority states might favor a military strike on Iran is a myth. But the implications go far beyond the Middle East. With the Russians and Chinese, the U.S. has long since forfeited the ability, exploited with considerable agility in the 1970s and 1980s, to play one off against the other. In fact, U.S. policies have helped drive the two giants together. They know well that it’s about oil and strategic positioning and will not stand idly by if Washington strikes Iran.

I hope you all go to the link and read the whole memorandum. The pure insanity of Dick Cheney who was touted as a genius – despite that his intellect is mediocre at best -- during the first election of Bush II has led us down the path to a conflagration that may well end up consuming us all in its flames of destruction. Please note the reference to China and Russia in the above quoted segment of the memorandum.

Part of the blame, as is pointed out, surely lies with the spineless and dishonest machinations of the democrat congress who have mouthed their opposition to the war in Iraq only to fully fund our misadventures in Iraq allowing Bush to pursue the war to its bitter end, just how bitter only time will tell. How the democrats have played politics while shirking their duty in a game of cover your ass is described in great detail in this post by Arthur Silber I highly recommend you read the whole thing if anyone out there still believes the democrats are out to stop the war in Iraq.

This is no conspiracy rather it is an unfortunate and deadly chain of events fueled by the long history of imperialism as practiced by the United States government brought to a head by Dick Cheney as he maneuvers in the dark behind the scenes in a dark world of his own design, aided and abetted by a rather stupid and foolish news media, compounded by the rise of the religious right and their unholy influence on American foreign policy, and fanned by the right wing and hysterical faction of the Israeli government whose paranoia have left them with little wit and unable to even consider getting along with their Arab neighbors.

We are now swimming in dangerous waters, the sharks are circling ever closer and the ensuing nuclear holocaust may well not leave any future historians alive to ponder how the end of civilization as we know it came about. Indeed the violence now occurring in Iraq may be just the opening sentence in a book that will never be written.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Unclear Nuclear

I received this answer to an email I sent to Diane Feinstein.

Thank you for writing to express your position regarding the use
of military force against Iran's nuclear sites. I appreciate hearing from
you on this important matter and welcome the opportunity to respond.

I understand your concerns about this issue. I believe that the
United States should resolve its differences with Iran diplomatically,
through direct negotiations and dialogue with Iranian officials. We must
also work closely with our friends and allies in the international
community to pressure Iran to abandon its efforts to attain nuclear
weapons, cease its active support for terrorist groups, and become a
positive force for change in the Middle East.

The United States, together with its European allies, has
presented Iran with a package of incentives to halt its enrichment
program. Unfortunately, Iran did not respond positively to this offer and,
as a result, on December 23, 2006, the UN Security Council imposed
sanctions on the sale and transfer of nuclear-related materials to Iran.
Notwithstanding such measures, diplomatic efforts with Iran ought to
continue. Be assured that I will continue to monitor this situation closely,
bearing your concerns in mind.

Again, thank you for writing. If you have any further questions
or comments, please visit my website at, or
contact my office in Washington, D.C. at (202) 224-3841. Best regards.

Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

This is a good example of how our leaders just don’t get it seemingly. There is an overall assumption here that Iran is a dire threat to the entire free world what ever that may be, the free world that is. While I am glad that Feinstein believes that jawing is better than shooting I just do not see Iran as a threat nuclear armed or not. Our honorable leaders would like us to believe that Iran is a threat because that would enable them to pursue their bloody designs of empire. Need I say that we let the cat out of the bag a long time ago when we developed the atomic bomb and used it on another country? Or need I point out that so far to date we are the only country ruthless enough to use the bomb? A lot of countries have a nuclear bomb, much more powerful than the atomic bombs we used on Japan. India, Pakistan, France, Israel, Russia, China just for example yet we don’t seem to have a problem with that so why Iran? The news media and our government want us to believe that Iran consists of raving lunatics but are they? Half of America believes in UFOs, creationism and little green fairies but the Iranians are the crazies?

As I have said before you just cannot have an intelligent discussion when said discussion is based on a falsehood yet our government does this day in and day out, year after year, decade after decade, on and on it goes.

Before we get stampeded into further mindless frenzies like so many Chicken Littles I think we should stop and consider if the sky is really falling.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


T-Rex was a coconut eater, it is why it had such big, big teeth. Chris Hedges over at Truthdig explains why half of all Americans are crazier than coconut cream pie, you guessed it, it is those born again right wing Christian fruit cakes, and they are at it again.

Before Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise, museum visitors are told, all of the dinosaurs were peaceable plant-eaters. The evidence is found in Genesis 1:30, where God gives “green herb” to every creature to eat. There were no predators. T-Rex had such big teeth, the museum explains, so it could open coconuts. Only after Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of paradise did the dinosaurs start to eat flesh. And Adam’s sin is a key component of the belief system, for in the eyes of many creationists, in order for Jesus’ death to be meaningful it had to atone for Adam’s first sin.

Chris Hedges also points out that a 2004 Gallup poll revealed that 45 percent of Americans who partook of the poll believed Genesis was a true story and only 13 percent believed that life arose from natural processes. Read it and weep.

This is the saddest shit I have ever read. It is so pathetic it boggles the mind and if you think we should just laugh it off well think again. These kooky versions of Christianity travel to Israel where they dress up in Uncle Sam outfits or stick American flags in their hats and parade around Israel inflaming an already ugly situation. Why would they do this? Because they believe that Israel is the focal point of what the born agains are waiting for – the rapture. They are dedicated to bringing about Armageddon and they believe Israel is the key to their unholy mission. These folks have lots of money and they are putting it to use by supporting the right wing factions of Israel in the hopes that it will lead to a war that will engulf the entire world.


Emma-Lee, pictured here, is a singer whom I hadn't heard of until I noticed her myspace page. I think many of her photos are self-portraits, including this one, which she was kind enough to allow me to post here. (There are also a few streamable songs of Emma-Lee's at "herspace".)

Monday, March 26, 2007

assorted items

this sign appeared for several hours in NYC on November 11, 2004. I don't know if they ever found out who keyed in the prank-- whether it was done by an employee or a hack. If the powers that be decided that since it was a one-time occurence it wasn't worth looking into that would actually be kind of refreshing. I imagine it is not accurate at any rate.

Normally I don't post entire AP stories verbatim, and I don't intend to make a habit of it. But this is pretty short and unless you have a some kind of psychological hangup about terseness, I don't see how you could parse it further:

Defiant mouse steals dentures:
(also here and here)

March 24, 2007

WATERVILLE, Maine --Never underestimate a mouse's determination.
There's a mouse in Bill Exner's house that he says he has captured three times. Each time, the mouse escaped, and the last time the rodent made off with his lower dentures.

Exner, 68, said he and his wife Shirley scoured his bedroom after the dentures disappeared from his night stand.

"We moved the bed, moved the dressers and the night stand and tore the closet apart," he said. "I said, 'I knew that little stinker stole my teeth' -- I just knew it."

They found a small opening in a wall where they suspected the mouse was coming and going, and their daughter's fiance, Eric Holt, stepped in to help. "He brought a crowbar and hammer and he sawed off a section of wood and pulled up the molding and everything," Exner said. "It was quite a job." They retrieved the dentures, and Holt suggested his future father-in-law boil them in peroxide and whatever else he could find for to disinfect it.

The mouse apparently isn't done. It frequently comes out and stares at Exner, his wife said.

"He's taunting him -- I swear he's taunting him," Shirley Exner said.

image of mousey the mouse
photo:,Susan M. Keenan

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Sunday, March 25, 2007


maps of Palestine and Israel

via Xymphora. From "This explains a lot." I note that since 2005 technically all of Gaza is Palistinean green, notwithstanding frequent incursions by the IDF.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Fractured History

I was watching this BBC documentary on the bombing of Hiroshima and I could not help but notice how the first segment of the documentary was devoted to illustrating how the Japanese would never surrender with much emphasis on Japanese suicide bombers and the like. The documentary went to great pains to portray the Japanese as fanatical crazies with no regard for their own lives and how they would fight the allies tooth and nail to the bitter end. According to this America would have to fight a long and protracted war on the Japanese mainland incurring huge amounts of American and Japanese deaths but nothing could have been further from the truth and to this day people continue to rewrite history eschewing fact in favor of fiction -- The reasonable American government and the unreasonableness of the Japanese people which led to the inevitable dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by a reluctant American government who did all they could to prevent a non-humanitarian end to World War II.

However the true history paints quite a different picture via the Institute for Historical Review.

A Beaten Country

Apart from the moral questions involved, were the atomic bombings militarily necessary? By any rational yardstick, they were not. Japan already had been defeated militarily by June 1945. Almost nothing was left of the once mighty Imperial Navy, and Japan's air force had been all but totally destroyed. Against only token opposition, American war planes ranged at will over the country, and US bombers rained down devastation on her cities, steadily reducing them to rubble.

What was left of Japan's factories and workshops struggled fitfully to turn out weapons and other goods from inadequate raw materials. (Oil supplies had not been available since April.) By July about a quarter of all the houses in Japan had been destroyed, and her transportation system was near collapse. Food had become so scarce that most Japanese were subsisting on a sub-starvation diet.

A Secret Memorandum

It was only after the war that the American public learned about Japan's efforts to bring the conflict to an end. Chicago Tribune reporter Walter Trohan, for example, was obliged by wartime censorship to withhold for seven months one of the most important stories of the war.
In an article that finally appeared August 19, 1945, on the front pages of the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Times-Herald, Trohan revealed that on January 20, 1945, two days prior to his departure for the Yalta meeting with Stalin and Churchill, President Roosevelt received a 40-page memorandum from General Douglas MacArthur outlining five separate surrender overtures from high-level Japanese officials. (The complete text of Trohan's article is in the Winter 1985-86 Journal, pp. 508-512.)

This memo showed that the Japanese were offering surrender terms virtually identical to the ones ultimately accepted by the Americans at the formal surrender ceremony on September 2 -- that is, complete surrender of everything but the person of the Emperor. Specifically, the terms of these peace overtures included:

Complete surrender of all Japanese forces and arms, at home, on island possessions, and in occupied countries.

Occupation of Japan and its possessions by Allied troops under American direction.
Japanese relinquishment of all territory seized during the war, as well as Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan.

Regulation of Japanese industry to halt production of any weapons and other tools of war.

Release of all prisoners of war and internees.

Surrender of designated war criminals.

Is this memorandum authentic? It was supposedly leaked to Trohan by Admiral William D. Leahy, presidential Chief of Staff. (See: M. Rothbard in A. Goddard, ed., Harry Elmer Barnes: Learned Crusader [1968], pp. 327f.) Historian Harry Elmer Barnes has related (in "Hiroshima: Assault on a Beaten Foe," National Review, May 10, 1958):

The authenticity of the Trohan article was never challenged by the White House or the State Department, and for very good reason. After General MacArthur returned from Korea in 1951, his neighbor in the Waldorf Towers, former President Herbert Hoover, took the Trohan article to General MacArthur and the latter confirmed its accuracy in every detail and without qualification.


President Truman steadfastly defended his use of the atomic bomb, claiming that it "saved millions of lives" by bringing the war to a quick end. Justifying his decision, he went so far as to declare: "The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians."

This was a preposterous statement. In fact, almost all of the victims were civilians, and the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (issued in 1946) stated in its official report: "Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets because of their concentration of activities and population."

If the atomic bomb was dropped to impress the Japanese leaders with the immense destructive power of a new weapon, this could have been accomplished by deploying it on an isolated military base. It was not necessary to destroy a large city. And whatever the justification for the Hiroshima blast, it is much more difficult to defend the second bombing of Nagasaki.

All the same, most Americans accepted, and continue to accept, the official justifications for the bombings. Accustomed to crude propagandistic portrayals of the "Japs" as virtually subhuman beasts, most Americans in 1945 heartily welcomed any new weapon that would wipe out more of the detested Asians, and help avenge the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For the young Americans who were fighting the Japanese in bitter combat, the attitude was "Thank God for the atom bomb." Almost to a man, they were grateful for a weapon whose deployment seemed to end the war and thus allow them to return home.

After the July 1943 firestorm destruction of Hamburg, the mid-February 1945 holocaust of Dresden, and the fire-bombings of Tokyo and other Japanese cities, America's leaders -- as US Army General Leslie Groves later commented -- "were generally inured to the mass killing of civilians." For President Harry Truman, the killing of tens of thousands of Japanese civilians was simply not a consideration in his decision to use the atom bomb.

Also this.

"The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing ... I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon," Eisenhower said in 1963.

Well what can one say but go ahead and read the whole article if you are interested in the truth. Part of the truth is we had a democrat president, Truman, willing to kill vast numbers of people and a republican president who believed it was uncalled for at the time. Today we have another insane president, this time a republican, who is awash in death and people who are pinning their hopes on democrats to stop the bloodshed yet to date they have literally done nothing other than mouth platitudes. I think it should be quite clear by now that the democrats are just as much war mongers as their republican counterparts and if history is any indication one might say democrats are even bigger war mongers than the republicans. Some day it would behoove us to do away with our preconceived ideas as who knows perhaps it might save some innocent lives.

I would just like to add that I am not saying that the republican party is better than the democrat party for clearly on many issues the republicans are awful. Republicans have historically done a terrible job of handling the economy and have caused much damage to the poorer segments of the American population. But let us not forget that wars like Vietnam were quite bipartisan and death was dealt quite liberally by both democrat and republican presidents.

If we are willing to look at reality it is up to us to not be fooled by propaganda and wishful thinking and it is really up to us to find the facts if we are to judge what is right and what is wrong and what is truth and what is fiction.

Today we have several democratic hopefuls yet none of the candidates who have a serious chance of winning the election question the right of America to pursue wars that are imperial in nature rather their main criticism is how the war in Iraq was mishandled which is to say that if it had been successful rather than a disaster they would be behind this kind of aggression completely. We simply must change the whole dynamic of these attitudes to one where military aggression is morally wrong and not merely a question of competence.

There is no such thing as a good war

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Damned Proud

Ramadi,Iraq- coalition airstrike March 2007 ap-bbc

the caption: People gather at the site where coalition warplanes destroyed two houses in Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

the BBC discussed the summer 2006 war with John Bolton:

Former ambassador to the UN John Bolton told the BBC that before any ceasefire Washington wanted Israel to eliminate Hezbollah's military capability. Mr Bolton said an early ceasefire would have been "dangerous and misguided". He said the US decided to join efforts to end the conflict only when it was clear Israel's campaign wasn't working. The former envoy, who stepped down in December 2006, was interviewed for a BBC radio documentary, The Summer War in Lebanon, to be broadcast in April.
More than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and an unknown number of Hezbollah fighters were killed in the conflict. Israel lost 116 soldiers in the fighting, while 43 of its civilians were killed in Hezbollah rocket attacks.

Emphases mine. He also said he was "damned proud" of what the US did to prevent an early cease-fire.

meanwhile, also via the BBC, Shimon Perez said that Jewish settlers were making Hebron 'unbearable':

his comments came on Tuesday, a day after settlers took over a building in Hebron, claiming to have bought it. A local Palestinian family disputed this claim, saying they had purchased the property. Peres said that the settlers should be evicted if it is proved that they have acted unlawfully. A large Israeli force of police and soldiers is surrounding the three-storey building after large numbers of settlers moved in late on Monday.
Today(March 22nd) is also World Water Day which was first commemorated by the UN in '93 to raise awareness of the fact that as many as a billion people around the world don't have ready access to safe drinking water.

slovak univ of agriculture at nitra
photo via Slovak Agricultural University

The Gathering Storm

I would like to introduce you all to the next axis of evil, the next and most grave threat to freedom and democracy. The name of this grave and gathering storm is Mr. Bebe the cat who as you can see is on the verge of developing a nuclear arsenal. I ask you can we as a free people allow this threat to continue to grow?

As you can see Mr. Bebe the cat has been trained to hate America, a religious fanatic whose only goal is the absolute annihilation of freedom, indeed, he hates freedom and he hates you, he will kill you if given half a chance. I say the time is now for all good freedom loving Americans to rise to the challenge, brothers and sisters of freedom you must unite in a single goal to protect our heritage of freedom from sea to shining sea, yea and verily so.

Look at this evil and vile creation of the devil and evil incarnate. This is the great anti-Christ already he has amassed aluminum tubes of destruction and he has eaten mice in the past so what makes you believe you are safe. The time is now, we cannot wait, and we must destroy this thing now while there is still hope for a peaceful future. Is it your desire to see a catnip cloud over a city near you?

I thank you, mah fellow Merricuns.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Texana, etc

I was on vacation, having temporarily left Debton Denton to visit my family in San Antonio, leaving the mysterious Rob Payne in charge. I told him he could give people Hugo treats® if they left clever and interesting comments, but I see no one did. I'm back, and want to welcome Rob Payne, who may visit again, even when I'm here. I don't know for sure if he plans to, hence the mysterious label.

Hey Rob, Apropo of our conversation the other day:

The Texas Constitution was written (c.1845 or so) by varmints who sort of meant to do good and (quite reasonably)feared everybody else was also a bunch of varmints, which is why it's so full of specificity and contractual unwieldiness, and consequently needs to be frequently updated. Actually, Texas once had one of the strictest anti-usury laws in the country and was the last state in the nation to prohibit 2nd mortgages, because they were afraid of unscrupulous Yankee bankers(!) coming in and lending us money and taking away our land and houses. (incidentally, you-know-who was governor when (in '96) 2nd mortgages were finally legalized in Texas.)

I was one of , I don't know... 3? 4? people who voted against rescinding it. (Yes, I realize it was a paternalistic law, but it was nice to have a statute that actually discouraged people from borrowing more money than they should.)

Fast-forward to the present, when we have a governor who wants to introduce casino gambling to Dallas and maybe Houston, two cities that already have enough problems and definitely do not need that sort of thing. I miss the days when the Baptists defended us against stuff like that, instead of worrying about gay marriage and evolution.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Who is the biggest terrorist of them all? Have you ever wanted to see what a real life terrorist and murderer looks like? If you are an American just look in a mirror.

Our propensity for killing citizens of Iraq goes back to the sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990 by the UN at the urging of the American government following the Iraq invasion of Kuwait. Though the numbers of deaths, mostly very young children, are disputed UNICEF put the total at around half a million. Can you wrap your mind around half a million dead children? When Madeleine Albright was asked about the number of deaths she replied “We think the price is worth it.” What a charming woman. But the blame for these deaths lay at the feet of not only our government but us as well as our own inexcusable ignorance and complacency has made horror stories like this possible, government for the people by the people after all.

Of course today we no longer bother with sanitary sounding words like “sanctions” we just kill, kill, kill and kill some more no longer relegating it to defenseless children but rather on a wholesale all inclusive slaughter which is no doubt very democratic of us. I have little doubt we are teaching the Iraqi the true meaning of democracy. Though the number of dead Iraq citizens will probably never be known even if we take a conservative estimate the sum total of the sanctions and our illegal invasion must add up to well over a million.

The other day I was watching a documentary on war profiteering by companies like Blackwater, nice name by the way, where the family of a Blackwater soldier who was killed in Iraq were being interviewed. Their first reaction was that the blame for the death of their family member lay at the feet of Iraq “insurgents” who are “trained to hate” which the surviving family no doubt picked up from our ever honest news media whose culpability in our criminal endeavors is monumental. Later they blamed the U.S. government and Blackwater itself for gross negligence in the death of their loved one. What amazed me is that it never, ever, once crossed their minds that perhaps their dead son should not have joined an organization like Blackwater or that maybe -- just maybe, we should not be invading other countries for fun and profit. And this is really the crux of the matter that as long as Americans live with the delusion that we are the “good guys” all manner of atrocities, mayhem and murder are possible.

Blackwater itself has an interesting history which you can read about in this article called "Blackwater Rising" here are few snippets.

Blackwater was founded in 1996 by conservative Christian multimillionaire and ex-Navy SEAL Erik Prince – the scion of a wealthy Michigan family whose generous political donations helped fuel the rise of the religious right and the Republican revolution of 1994. At its founding, the company largely consisted of Prince’s private fortune and a vast 5,000-acre plot of land located near the Great Dismal Swamp in Moyock, North Carolina. Its vision was “to fulfill the anticipated demand for government outsourcing of firearms and related security training.” In the following years, Prince, his family and his political allies poured money into Republican campaign coffers, supporting the party’s takeover of Congress and the ascension of George W. Bush to the presidency.

While Blackwater won government contracts during the Clinton era, which was friendly to privatization, it was not until the “war on terror” that the company’s glory moment arrived. Almost overnight, following September 11, the company would become a central player in a global war. “I’ve been operating in the training business now for four years and was starting to get a little cynical on how seriously people took security,” Prince told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly shortly after 9/11. “The phone is ringing off the hook now.”

And this.

While much of the publicity Blackwater has received stems from Falluja, another, more recent incident is attracting new scrutiny. On Christmas Eve inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, an American Blackwater contractor allegedly shot and killed an Iraqi bodyguard protecting a senior Iraqi official. For weeks after the shooting, unconfirmed reports circulated around the Internet that alcohol may have been involved and that the Iraqi was shot ten times in the chest. The story then went that the contractor was spirited out of Iraq before he could be prosecuted. Media inquiries got nowhere—the US Embassy refused to confirm that it was a Blackwater contractor, and the company refused to comment.

So as American citizens are insulated from the death and destruction that we are responsible for by the news media, our politicians, and the hiring of private thugs and murderers to do our dirty work it is perhaps of little surprise that we are to a large extent oblivious to our own true nature, after all we were told that this would be a war without sacrifice and indeed taxes were cut even as we entered into the world of shock and awe but if you wish to sleep well at night please stay away from mirrors.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Greatest Nation on Earth

On the south western shores of the beautiful San Francisco Bay an old friend of mine opened a small café called the Diving Pelican. On the outside patio you could sit beneath the shade and watch the bay lands while you ate lunch or sipped a cup of coffee. Just across the road you could while away the hours hiking in a wildlife preserve, one of the few, which consisted of gently rolling hills and dirt pathways. As you walked along the bay a flock of pelicans flying in a vee formation might glide silently over your head so close you could hear the wind whistling in their wings or you might see them paddling along in the bay dipping their beaks in unison as they fed on fish, a kind of pelican ballet. There you could also see egrets, white wraiths still as statues, waiting for their dinner to swim by. You could also see ducks and Canadian geese, cormorants or flocks of tiny yellow feet swirling in the air flashing white and black as they wheeled in the bright sunlight.

My friend had opened the Diving Pelican when times were good in the Bay Area where it served people in nearby office buildings. Now these buildings are like a ghost town empty and forlorn, monuments to better days much like a lot of Silicon Valley when businesses took root and thrived in the boom times of the technological marvels of Silicon Valley where people worked hard and raised families dreaming dreams of even better days for their children. Of course most of that is long gone now never to return. Now it is a sea of empty office buildings and empty parking lots though of course there still are some companies but nothing even close to what it once was.

If one assumes that one of the important things in life is the quality of said life you might wonder what happened. What happened to all those jobs and small start up companies that employed so many people? Greed was the grim reaper in the form of the so-called free trade agreements those self same agreements implemented by politicians who told us that the global world was upon us, it was inevitable they told us, it would produce more jobs yet the net effect was the destruction of a healthy economy.

According to Public Citizen NAFTA is really a give away to foreign investors.

NAFTA was a radical experiment - never before had a merger of three nations with such radically different levels of development been attempted. Plus, until NAFTA, “trade” agreements only dealt with cutting tariffs and lifting quotas to set the terms of trade in goods between countries. But NAFTA contained 900 pages of one-size-fits-all rules to which each nation was required to conform all of its domestic laws - regardless of whether voters and their democratically-elected representatives had previously rejected the very same policies in Congress, state legislatures or city councils.

NAFTA requires limits on the safety and inspection of meat sold in our grocery stores; new patent rules that raised medicine prices; constraints on your local government’s ability to zone against sprawl or toxic industries; and elimination of preferences for spending your tax dollars on U.S.-made products or locally-grown food. In fact, calling NAFTA a “trade” agreement is misleading, NAFTA is really an investment agreement. Its core provisions grant foreign investors a remarkable set of new rights and privileges that promote relocation abroad of factories and jobs and the privatization and deregulation of essential services, such as water, energy and health care.

Remarkably, many of NAFTA’s most passionate boosters in Congress and among economists never read the agreement. They made their pie-in-the-sky promises of NAFTA benefits based on trade theory and ideological prejudice for anything with the term “free trade” attached to it.

And from this 2001 New York Times article entitled Powerful Little Secret--

Their meetings are secret. Their members are generally unknown. The decisions they reach need not be fully disclosed. Yet the way a small group of international tribunals handles disputes between investors and foreign governments has led to national laws being revoked, justice systems questioned and environmental regulations challenged. And it is all in the name of protecting the rights of foreign investors under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The corporations — American, Canadian and Mexican alike — that directly invest in neighboring countries are thrilled that Nafta provides some protection. But foes of the trade pact say some of their worst fears about anonymous government have become reality. And as Western economies move toward more free trade and globalization, environmentalists, consumer groups and anti-trade organizations are increasingly worried about how the tribunals influence the enforcement of laws. The groups are gearing up for a fight at the Summit of the Americas next month in Quebec, where President Bush will be pushing a vast new Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would provide for similar tribunals.

But please read the whole article as it is worth a few minutes of your time. When you think about all of this it is really rather astounding -- we went from a fairly healthy economy with the promise of a bright future to exporting jobs to China and other Asian countries to private wars in the Middle East where the true cost of profits for the energy companies and American construction companies are likely to be in the trillions leaving a bloody path of destruction in its wake, over half a million dead Iraqi, thousands of dead American soldiers and a grim future for our children who will be paying the price for the stupid and barbaric greed of our feckless politicos as their palms are greased with blood money.

Today many Americans go blithely through life paying little or no attention to the murders that have been committed in our name oblivious to the looming possibility that we are mere years from becoming a third world country with the rich and wealthy living in gated communities while the middle class becomes nothing but a fond memory as people work longer hours for less money till the economy finally gives its last gasp in a hideous death rattle. And the great patriots will sit on their garbage heaps waving their pathetic little flags as they beg for food while they tell themselves we are the greatest nation on earth.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Laura in Colombia

An admittedly glib juxtaposition from the Bushes' trip to South America. From; the rest of the photo essay is here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Louis Agassiz rejected Darwinism

statue of Louie Agassiz, scientist,after 1906 SF earthquake. USGS
photo: U.S. Geological Survey

And you can see what happened to his statue.

wikipedia sez: After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Stanford President David Starr Jordan wrote, "Somebody—Dr. Angell, perhaps—remarked that 'Agassiz was great in the abstract but not in the concrete.'"

speaking of Wikipedia, perhaps you've heard of conservapedia, a wiki knockoff. They bill themselves as a "corrective" to the supposedly P.C. tone of Wikipedia. I don't quite know what to make of it, as some of the entries seem to have a satirical undercurrent, and I mean besides the unintentional sort you might expect. Presently they're recording the number of page views at the bottom of each entry. Here are some tallies, as of approximately 11pm central time:

Kelo desicion 15 times
Joseph McCarthy 273x
Rudy Giuliani 179x
Hillary Clinton 5781x
Charlton Heston 12x
(blogger)Jon Swift 1,130x

1,130 views? Either that's his mom, or somebody's pulling a swift fast one. I wonder how many people read Jon Swift and think he's a conservo, a la Ayn Clouter. Ayn, if you're reading this, please come visit and make fun of me if you feel the urge.

Of course, given its collaborative nature(like all wikis), it may be both a sincerely conservo venture and a put on. They've just started out, and lots of things and people still don't have entries, like John Wayne. Yeah, I know.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

re TNR: perhaps th' Penquin was correct

Admiral Beaufort
National Maritime Museum(UK)

from The New Republic's odd new owner by Eric Boehlert:

CanWest promises to redesign the magazine, introduce more illustrations, and try to make TNR look like a real consumer magazine. (TNR is the only stand-alone magazine amidst the multibillion-dollar media behemoth that's brimming with more than 100 Canadian newspapers and dozens of television and radio properties worldwide.) That's the good news. The bad news for TNR staffers is that CanWest's recent history is littered with lawsuits, gag orders, and byline strikes, buffered by a steady stream of columnists, reporters, and editors who complain CanWest actively censors its employees who stray from the company's conservative, pro-war, pro-Israel blueprint...

[see previous (hasty) post and comments.-JV]

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

sundry items

BBC image Liechtenstein

The Swiss accidentally invade Liechtenstein:
The traditionally neutral Swiss army has staged an unplanned invasion after troops blundered into Liechtenstein. A 171-strong Swiss company got two kilometres into its neighbour before realising the mistake and heading back. Liechtenstein authorities made light of the intrusion, saying they only knew about it when the Swiss told them. In 1985, the Swiss had to pay Liechtenstein compensation when rockets fired by its army went astray and set a forest ablaze. The latest incident began on Wednesday night during a routine training exercise for the infantrymen in the Alpine forests close to an unmarked section of the border. The company commander led his men in the wrong direction in bad weather but gave the immediate order to return when realising the error.
Washington Post-ABC News poll: Majority in Poll Favor Deadline For Iraq Pullout

Natasha, at Pacific views:

[McCain]stands as usual with Sen. Joe Lieberman's in supporting the export of more U.S. troops into the ongoing bloodbath in Iraq, and against the majority view of the American public. Is there anything interesting about his candidacy besides the media's inexplicable fascination with his every move and his ongoing willingness to sell out every 'maverick' position he's ever held in an attempt to gain political power?