Monday, February 27, 2006

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

Michael Scheuer has an interesting piece at today. It's worth a read. An excerpt:
The Palestinian election could have been the break in the Middle East that America has needed, but so far Washington's bipartisan governing elite has kicked that gift horse squarely in the chops. The from-all-reports fair and democratic election of Hamas should have been a U.S. propaganda triumph, as well as a chance for Washington to exit the morass of Palestinian-Israeli affairs. An aged, incompetent, and putridly corrupt PLO was democratically defeated by Hamas, an organization well-versed in delivering many government services. In this scenario, the United States had a golden opportunity to show respect for a culturally compatible democratic process in the Muslim world and to detach itself from the snare of an endless war in which it has no interest. After 30-plus years of America exposing itself to steadily increasing danger and expense because of the infantile inability of Israelis and Palestinians to live together, we had a chance to walk away and let the cards fall where they may. True, it surely would not have been fair to both sides to do so; after all, the Israelis have a conventional army and a large, undocumented array of weapons of mass destruction, while the Palestinians have AK-47s, the less-than-mighty Qassim missiles, and a steady supply of martyrs and rocks. Life is always tough, however, and the elimination of one or both sides would have no discernible impact on life in North America.

Sadly, the opportunity went a-glimmering because of the three standby myths that dominate what passes for thought among America's bipartisan foreign policy, academic, and governing elites. The first holds that the survival of Israel and/or a Palestinian state is a central national-security interest for the United States. The second argues that all states have a "right" to exist. The third is that no state is "legitimate" if it refuses to accept the existence of a second state or argues that the second state should be destroyed. The three myths amount to a comprehensive attack on the common sense of the average American, as well as on U.S. national interests.
The "opportunity" that Mr. Scheuer cites may have passed. However, the U.S. could always, in principle, turn from imperial insanity and become the affiliation of meaningful states, linked loosely by a federal government whose powers were few and strictly, explicitly enumerated by a written constitution that we were all taught that America started out to be. (Maybe it did, but if so, the start didn't last long.)

I don't really expect a great dawning of humility and sanity in my country. I don't expect Iraq War II to stagger to its end any sooner than the Vietnam War did. But I do think that some basic, comprehensive change in American national life has to be coming fairly soon. For one thing, empire is a ruinously expensive game, and Uncle Sam's playing on credit extended by Asia; sooner or even-sooner-yet, the bankers of the East are bound to decline Uncle's maxed-out MasterCard. And in some more fundamental way, it seems to me that the shape of the world is changing, such that an empire like ours just won't be even temporarily workable. There is life after empire. That life may -- indeed, will -- lack the trappings of we're-number-one: the consumerism, the mythical national invincibility, the creature comforts found nowhere else in the world. But life goes on. I just hope that not too many people will be slaughtered in the transition.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Nothing to See Here, Folks ...

Regrettably, it's true. I'm spending my days all this week in an intensive short course that's supposed to enable me to make productive use of "Zemax," which is getting to be the big-time lens optimization software, and I still have my instructional duties, plus the time required to keep the mail answered and a couple of other day-job concerns going. Bottom line: probably nothing here before the weekend. Have fun, stay warm, and be sure to smile when the nice man or woman demands your papers. Hey, they're just trying to keep you free, y'know.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Thanks, Dubya (and Supporters)

From the BBC:

Iraq has launched an investigation into claims by the US military that an Iraqi interior ministry "death squad" has been targeting Sunni Arab Iraqis.

The probe comes after a US general revealed the arrest of 22 policemen allegedly on a mission to kill a Sunni.

"We have found one of the death squads. They are part of the police force," US Maj Gen Joseph Peterson said.

Sunnis have long accused Iraqi forces of operating death squads - but the claims have never been substantiated.

Iraqi deputy interior minister Maj Gen Hussein Kamal said his ministry had set up an inquiry.

I suppose it would be churlish of me to suggest that the imperial headaches involved with sponsoring one set of Iraqis among several mutually-hostile ones, or (alternatively) sorting out the "good" from the "bad" Iraqis, was terribly, terribly unnecessary from the U.S. point of view. We could always have stayed home and minded our own proper business -- of which there is lots.

But where's the fun in that?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Down the Drain

Mr. Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, is said to be a bad person, or at least a bad president. I don't know whether he is or not; my access to reliable sources of honest data is quite limited. Besides, in any sane world, I basically don't care. I don't live in Venezuela, nor do any of my relatives; I don't own any property there; I don't plan to travel there. The proper relationship between me and Venezuelan political arrangements is summed up neatly by the old phrase "none of my business." This, however, is far from being a sane world.

One of the chief sources of unfavorable opinion about Mr. Chavez is "my" president, Mr. George W. Bush; I am quite confident that he is a bad president, a spendthrift, and a foolish, wicked, and vain man as well. In today's news, one of Mr. Bush's minions (and perhaps, it's been said, his aspiring successor), Miss Condoleezza Rice, tells us:
Addressing a congressional hearing on Thursday, Ms Rice accused Mr Chavez of leading a "Latin brand of populism that has taken countries down the drain".

She described Venezuela's close relationship with Cuba as "particularly dangerous".

"Particularly dangerous" to whom, I wonder? But, more ominously:
"The international community has just got to be much more active in supporting and defending the Venezuelan people," she said.

I wonder how many of the Venezuelan people are hoping to be supported and defended in the Imperial style: the way the Iraqi people have been supported and defended, that is. I'm going to be optimistic here -- perhaps recklessly so -- and assume that the "supporting and defending" talk is just hot air. After all, a large fraction of the legions is firmly tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, and it seems likely that if Bush & Co. are stupid enough to take on a fresh project right now, it would be Iran, or maybe Syria. Our star Middle East welfare client state, after all, would probably be displeased to see its American attack dog wasting its ferocity on a target half the world away from it. So Venezuela is probably safe, for now at least, from an "Operation Venezuelan Freedom" or an "Operation Pan-Galactic Justice." For now, that is.

I am awed, though, by Miss Rice's capacity for pure nonsense. Unless, perhaps, she said many words not reported by the BBC, in which she explained exactly which countries have been "taken down the drain" by Mr. Chavez's leadership, where the drain is, and how a whole country can fit down it. Could she be referring to economic calamities? The running-up of astronomical debts for the glorification of the Leader, and his maintenance in power? Or, maybe, to the imposition of onerous government control of, and spying on, the people in these down-the-drain countries? Why, this is starting to sound like my country!

I'll have to admit it: that damnable Chavez must indeed be taking at least one country down the drain -- mine. And all this time, I thought it was Bush who was doing it. Devilishly clever, that Chavez. Dangerous. He's got to go.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Help From Our Betters

We're always best served, I think, when the news is educational. "News you can use," as they say on NewsCenter Whatever-It-Is where you live. And best of all is when our exalted leaders, our protectors, our holders of public office, provide us with helpful tips for our drab, pathetic, Little-People lives.

I'm happy to tell you, then, that our illustrious vice-president, Smilin' Dick Cheney, has some wisdom to pass along to each of us from his life experience:

“The image of him falling is something I’ll never ever be able to get out of my mind,” Cheney said. “I fired, and there’s Harry falling. It was, I’d have to say, one of the worst days of my life at that moment.”

Regarding the more than 20 hours it took for the incident to be reported to the press, Cheney told Hume, “Accuracy was enormously important. I had no press person with me.”

So, what have we learned? Well, first, we've learned that any time you go on one of these canned pseudo-hunts, if you think there's a chance you might be shotgunning some poor old geezer lawyer, always take a press person with you. There's obviously no practical way to make a timely report about how you shot your fellow hunter without the services of a press person. (I wonder what the "little people" do ... you know, the ones who don't have a press person -- not even one? Well, no doubt they muddle along somehow.)

Then, there's an interesting piece of information. At this time, when most of us have just gotten our first look at the second batch of Abu Ghraib photos, we find out what haunting image defines the "worst day" in Dick "I Had Other Priorities" Cheney's life is.

Now, I'm sure he's seen this image. In fact, as he was one of the prime movers of the Holy War against Iraq, I think we'd have to say he bears a fair amount of responsibility for how this image came about. I wonder about the person who left this pitiful gore on this horrible concrete floor. I wonder what the worst day in his or her life was?

Remember, when the next terror attack comes, to say your neocon catechism, over and over again. They hate us for our freedom. They hate us for our values. They hate us because we're so good.


Friday, February 10, 2006

"PATRIOT" Forever and Ever, Amen

So, Dubya is very likely getting his "PATRIOT" Act re-upped; this time they're admitting it's permanent. It's a commonplace that there's nothing so permanent as a temporary tax. But I'd suggest that a temporary setting-aside of our civil liberties -- for wartime purposes only, you understand! -- is at least as permanent as any tax. It's just a question of how long it takes our supervisors to admit it.

As the news story notes, Senator Feingold is upset, or at least is simulating being upset. If he or any other of our legislators is actually unhappy in any serious way, then where, I ask, is the impeachment? As a practical matter, though, Senator Feingold might as well relax. What difference does it make whether or not there's actually a PATRIOT Act on the books? El Chickenhawk Supremo has already made it abundantly clear -- has he not? -- that he's going to do whatever he wants anyway, given the godlike powers that presidents in undeclared pseudo-wars apparently have. So what's the difference?

Well, I see one difference. It's a small one, but maybe worth thinking about. If the PATRIOT Act were totally repealed, root and branch, it would maybe become clear to a few more people that Bush is running open-loop, completely out of control. Maybe another person or two would wake up. Every little bit helps -- I hope.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Saved Again!

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Check it out. I'm here to reveal that, thanks to the USA-BOT (Bartleby Over Terrorists) Act, unspeakably horrid enemy attacks have been averted. In fact, an average of 3.5 major Al-Qaeda attacks per day have thwarted by me, personally and unaided, since 9/12/01. Obviously, I can't tell you about any of them, because of the danger of those dirty Ay-rabs finding out about my secret methods, which are all legal because I do them and I am Bartleby-in-Chief, keeping all you Little Americans safe by day and by night. No, no, don't thank me; just send me your sons, your daughters, your money ... oh, and your civil liberties. Shucks, you weren't using them anyway.

In the thwarted plot that I can reveal now, diabolical fundamentalist foreigners planned to take control of a Greyhound bus, using what we call a "shoe bomb" -- you have to remember, now, these terrorists haven't so much as washed their feet or changed their socks in decades; all they have to do is slip those shoes off, and the driver would be instantly overcome -- and drive it right into a Toby Keith concert, driving right up through the capacity crowd and onto the stage, killing or at least disabling Toby himself. But, using my secret BSA (Bartleby Security Agency) wireless Universal Phone Tapper, and also the Echelon and Carnivore Super-Duper E-Mail Grab'n'Reader, I was able to stop this plot, and now the Gitmo Extreme Sports Team has dozens of new Waterboarders. Cowabunga, boys! Mission Accomplished!

Here's the thing, though ... there's still lots of terrorists out there. Lots. However many you think there are, there's more. And they're gonna be putting burquas on your grandma and your little sister and making you get on a funny rug five times a day to pray to Allah, unless the USA-BOT Act is renewed forever and ever. Go shopping, but have your papers ready to show to the nice man ... any nice man who wants to see 'em, that is. Do as you're told, support Bartleby, and there's no reason why you shouldn't stay safe from terror. Remember, there's a war on ... and Bartleby's your Wartime Leader.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Blog Stew, Tuesday Edition

Kurt Vonnegut (thanks, Craig!) said that Our Glorious Wartime Leaders treat American soldiers "like toys a rich kid got for Christmas." Sometimes rich kids aren't very careful with their toys. Sometimes you'd think they were breaking them on purpose, just for the hell of it. Have a look at this:

The last time 1st Lt. William “Eddie” Rebrook IV saw his body armor, he was lying on a stretcher in Iraq, his arm shattered and covered in blood.

A field medic tied a tourniquet around Rebrook’s right arm to stanch the bleeding from shrapnel wounds. Soldiers yanked off his blood-soaked body armor. He never saw it again.

But last week, Rebrook was forced to pay $700 for that body armor, blown up by a roadside bomb more than a year ago.

Follow the link; there's more. It isn't particularly cheerful reading, but as GloboCop Dubya never gets tired of reminding us, there's a war on.

And speaking of war, criminally optional though it is, Arthur Silber (thanks, Grace!) shows that if several prominent neocon asswipes get their way, Iran's next. Do check that one out, too. Mr. Silber seems to write good stuff faster than I can read it ... and I'm not an especially slow reader.

Finally, if The Exalted actually does decide to lay waste to Persia, he's going to need a lot of help. Where's he going to get it? Well, Doug Newman has a solution, maybe. Check it out, too!

Monday, February 06, 2006

It Could Be Worse (You Lucky Sods)

From the cute little happy-talk item portion of CNN's site today:

Message in a bottle: Don't litter

Monday, February 6, 2006; Posted: 7:14 a.m. EST (12:14 GMT)

NAPEAGUE, New York (AP) -- A boat captain who sent a message out to sea in a bottle says he received a reply from Britain -- accusing him of littering.

"I kind of felt like no good deed goes unpunished," Harvey Bennett, 55, told the East Hampton Star.

The plastic bottle was one of five that Bennett placed in the ocean off New York's Long Island in August.

Last month, he excitedly opened a letter from England, and was stunned by the reply:

"I recently found your bottle while taking a scenic walk on the beach by Poole Harbour. While you may consider this some profound experiment on the path and speed of oceanic currents, I have another name for it, litter.

"You Americans don't seem to be happy unless you are mucking about somewhere," says the letter, signed by Henry Biggelsworth of Bournemouth, in the southern county of Dorset.

Time for a programmed snicker at Mr. Biggelsworth (wasn't he a hairless cat in the first Austin Powers movie?). Ungrateful foreigner, treehugger with no sense of humor or proportion, blah blah blah.

But let's give him his due. "You Americans don't seem to be happy unless you are mucking about somewhere." Ain't it the truth. But at least the beach at Poole Harbour was subjected only to a plastic bottle, rather than the Empire's more-customary tons of precision-guided high explosives and depleted uranium. England is fortunate to be both imperially cooperative and nuclear-armed. Places that don't meet either of these criteria are apt to find themselves being "littered" rather more violently.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Good Will and Respect

Well, the Great War Leader addressed us last night. It was routine, in that he was apparently sober and refrained from biting the heads off any live kittens during his platitudinous recitation of approved abstractions: freedom, democracy, etc. But he did admonish us concerning our deteriorating manners.

In a system of two parties, two chambers, and two elected branches, there will always be differences and debate. But even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone, and our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger. To confront the great issues before us, we must act in a spirit of good will and respect for one another -- and I will do my part.

There was also some business about "responsible" criticism (the kind that doesn't question the basic goals and assumptions of the Empire) vs the Other Kind (that does), but I'm too lazy to put the clothespin back on my nose and dig it out of the transcript just now. I suppose the reason he's bothering to call for us all to be good boys and girls is that even the mighty Empire doesn't have enough jail space to give too many people the Cindy Sheehan treatment. Here you can read the responsible version of what happened to her, and here you can read what she says happened. You'll have to decide for yourself whom to believe; myself, I think Mrs. Sheehan's a much better bet, although I certainly don't know her. I do know my gummint, and they're liars until absolutely proved truthful, as far as I'm concerned.

I am curious, though ... the CNN story doesn't tell us what Mrs. Sheehan was charged with, and she reports being charged with "unlawful conduct." What is the world is "unlawful conduct," and how do I know I'm not doing some right now?