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December 04, 2004

Paging the reader...

...who recently sent me the really cool handmade sculpture of Sparky. Lost your address, want to say thank you. Email me.

Thanks, Tommy Thompson!

Just in case they hadn't already thought of it...

Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, announced Friday that he was resigning, and he expressed grave concern about the threat of a global flu epidemic and the possibility of a terrorist attack on the nation's food supply.

"For the life of me," he said, "I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do."


December 03, 2004

No comment

Speaks for itself:

CORONADO, Calif. (AP) - The U.S. military has launched a criminal investigation into photographs that appear to show Navy SEALs in Iraq sitting on hooded and handcuffed detainees, and photos of what appear to be bloodied prisoners, one with a gun to his head.

Some of the photos have date stamps suggesting they were taken in May 2003, which could make them the earliest evidence of possible abuse of prisoners in Iraq. The far more brutal practices photographed in Abu Ghraib prison occurred months later.

An Associated Press reporter found more than 40 of the pictures among hundreds in an album posted on a commercial photo-sharing Web site by a woman who said her husband brought them from Iraq after his tour of duty. It is unclear who took the pictures, which the Navy said it was investigating after the AP furnished copies to get comment for this story.

These and other photos found by the AP appear to show the immediate aftermath of raids on civilian homes. One man is lying on his back with a boot on his chest. A mug shot shows a man with an automatic weapon pointed at his head and a gloved thumb jabbed into his throat. In many photos, faces have been blacked out. What appears to be blood drips from the heads of some. A family huddles in a room in one photo and others show debris and upturned furniture.

"Hiroshima of the chemical industry"

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the Bhopal disaster. There's a good rundown here.


December 02, 2004

Ornament update

Those crazy kids at Great Lakes are now running a contest--buy a set of Sparky & Blinky ornaments and you're in the running to win one of their fabulous political marionettes. Details here.

These things are selling like hotcakes (at least if one accepts the implicit premise that hotcakes are an item which sell with great rapidity), so if you want a pair you should probably get your order in sooner rather than later. At $19 a pair, they're sure a better bargain than this President Bush ornament.

The boy's a little slow, but he catches on eventually

Friedman, in the Times today:

It is now clear to me that we have followed the dot-com bubble with the 9/11 bubble. Both bubbles made us stupid. The first was financed by reckless investors, and the second by a reckless administration and Congress. In the first case, the public was misled by Wall Street stock analysts, who told them the old rules didn't apply - that elephants can fly. In the second case, the public was misled by White House economists, peddling similar nonsense. The first ended in tears, and so will the second. Because, as the dot-com bubble proved, elephants can fly - "provided it is not very long."

Funny. Some of us had that one figured out two and a half years ago. And without the benefit of jaunting around the world to collect colorful anecdotes from local cab drivers, at that.


Peter Beinart, in the midst of one of those pieces explaining why Democrats need to be more like Republicans (registration required), makes the following assertion:

Moore is a non-totalitarian, but, like Wallace, he is not an anti-totalitarian. And, when Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and Tom Daschle flocked to the Washington premiere of Fahrenheit 9/11, and when Moore sat in Jimmy Carter's box at the Democratic convention, many Americans wondered whether the Democratic Party was anti-totalitarian either.

(As Roy notes, "I'd like to see the polling data behind that finding.")

Now, I can't speak to McAuliffe and Daschle "flocking" to the movie premiere, but as for the Carter incident--as regular readers will recall, I was hanging out with Michael that day, and I can assure you that his presence in the skybox was not a premediated strategy by Democratic Party leaders trying to signal their allegiance to a radical left agenda, or whatever it is writers like Beinart are trying to imply when they reference the anecdote. The mundane truth, if anyone's in the least interested, is that we were on the skybox level of the Fleet Center because Michael had just done O'Reilly's show in the Fox booth, and we were making our way down the hallway and Michael was getting mobbed, and one of the Carters happened to see us and invited us to take refuge in their skybox. So, if the question is, "Was a liberal/left filmmaker shown spur-of-the-moment hospitality by a once-prominent political family which has very little power or influence over the modern-day Democratic party?", then the answer is "Yes." But that's where it ends. There were no signals being sent, there was no greater meaning implied. It was a completely random event, utterly lacking the significance some people insist on reading into it.


Interesting profile in the New Yorker this week of an anti-Kinsey crusader named Judith Reisman, who is undeterred by the fact that the sex researcher's eponymous reports were published half a century ago:

The recent release of “Kinsey,” a film about the famous mid-century sex researcher, has made this a busy time for the anti-Kinsey movement. Most Americans no longer give much thought to Kinsey as a societal force, but his detractors believe that his significance can hardly be overstated. A recent newsletter of the abstinence-education group Why know? compared the publication of “The Kinsey Report,” in 1948, to the attacks of September 11th, and labelled Kinseyism “fifty years of cultural terrorism.”

* * *

A sixty-nine-year-old independent researcher with a Ph.D. in communications and a former songwriter for Captain Kangaroo, Reisman is the president of the Institute for Media Education and the lead author of “Kinsey, Sex and Fraud” and “Kinsey: Crimes and Consequences.” In one article, Reisman describes Kinsey as “a scientific and moral fraud, a certifiable sexual psychopath as well as a sadomasochistic pornography addict and a sexually harassing bully.” Though largely unknown outside social-conservative circles, Reisman has been influential within them. She has served as a consultant to the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services and was given seven hundred and thirty-four thousand dollars by Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department to study pornography. More recently, she has been active in the rise of abstinence-only education; in June, her colleagues gave her an Abstie Award for lifetime achievement. Last week, Reisman testified at a congressional hearing about the dangers of pornography addiction, saying that police should be required to collect evidence of pornography consumption at any crime scene.

* * *

To a reader of Reisman’s scholarly papers, it sometimes appears that there is little for which she does not hold Kinsey responsible. In her research on gays, for instance, she has written that the “recruitment techniques” of homosexuals rival those of the Marine Corps. The Kinsey paradigm, she holds, created the moral framework that makes such recruitment possible. Reisman also endorses a book called “The Pink Swastika,” which challenges the “myths” that gays were victimized in Nazi Germany. The Nazi Party and the Holocaust itself, she writes, were largely the creation of “the German homosexual movement.” Thanks to Alfred Kinsey, she warns, the American homosexual movement is poised to repeat those crimes. “Idealistic ‘gay youth’ groups are being formed and staffed in classrooms nationwide by recruiters too similar to those who formed the original ‘Hitler youth.’”

Easy to dismiss her as a crank, but she's the sort of crank to whom our Republican overlords give face time. And that's really the point here: if you voted for Bush, then this, too, is part of what you voted for.

End Torture Now

Let your senators know that you're perturbed by the notion of an Attorney General who spends time thinking up clever ways to legally justify the indefensible.

Let's see the receipts

August has a modestly brilliant proposal: conservatives and libertarians who write fire-breathing, liberal-bashing defenses of Wal Mart should be willing to show their own Wal Mart receipts.


December 01, 2004

The American gulag

The truth leaks out in bits and pieces. It's all so depressingly predictable.

A confidential report to Army generals in Iraq in December 2003 warned that members of an elite military and CIA task force were abusing detainees, a finding delivered more than a month before Army investigators received the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison that touched off investigations into prisoner mistreatment.

The report, which was not released publicly and was recently obtained by The Washington Post, concluded that some U.S. arrest and detention practices at the time could "technically" be illegal. It also said coalition fighters could be feeding the Iraqi insurgency by "making gratuitous enemies" as they conducted sweeps netting hundreds of detainees who probably did not belong in prison and holding them for months at a time.

The investigation, by retired Col. Stuart A. Herrington, also found that members of Task Force 121 -- a joint Special Operations and CIA mission searching for weapons of mass destruction and high-value targets including Saddam Hussein -- had been abusing detainees throughout Iraq and had been using a secret interrogation facility to hide their activities.

Herrington's findings are the latest in a series of confidential reports to come to light about detainee abuse in Iraq. Until now, U.S. military officials have characterized the problem as one largely confined to the military prison at Abu Ghraib -- a situation they first learned about in January 2004. But Herrington's report shows that U.S. military leaders in Iraq were told of such allegations even before then, and that problems were not restricted to Abu Ghraib. Herrington, a veteran of the U.S. counterinsurgency effort in Vietnam, warned that such harsh tactics could imperil U.S. efforts to quell the Iraqi insurgency -- a prediction echoed months later by a military report and other reviews of the war effort.

But they were all very bad terrorists, right? They deserved anything that happened to them, right?

Well, not exactly:

Herrington's report also noted that sweeps pulled in hundreds and even thousands of detainees who had no connection to the war. Abu Ghraib, for example, swelled to several thousand more detainees than it could handle. Herrington wrote that aggressive and indiscriminate tactics by the 4th Infantry Division, rounding up random scores of detainees and "dumping them at the door," was a glaring example.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone smart enough to understand that White House Press Secretaries often do not tell the truth. None of this should be a surprise to anyone who reads the news trying to understand the world, rather than trying to spot imaginary examples of liberal bias. In short, none of this should be a surprise to anyone whose head is not lodged firmly up their own rectum.

If you voted for Bush, this is what you voted for.


November 30, 2004

Signs of the times

Three cautionary tales, via Just a Bump in the Beltway...


In 1992, Tonya Stewart left the Army after serving 13 years in uniform, believing her service to her country was over.

Now, 12 years later, she's been recalled to active duty.

"I leave for an 18-month tour of duty in two weeks," the 43-year-old Hellam Township resident said. "And that's about all I really know."

Stewart, visiting her sister's family for Thanksgiving dinner along with her boyfriend and 9-year-old daughter, said she had received letters and phone calls from the military since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 warning her that she may be recalled.

"But to be honest, I never really thought they'd do it," Stewart, who works for Susquehanna Communications, said with a laugh. "I'm a little too old to be running around diving in the sand."

She was recalled from the Army's Individual Ready Reserve, composed of men and women who, even though they have completed their tours of duty, are still obligated to return to service if the government calls for them.


Chief Warrant Officer Margaret Murray, who describes herself as “over 50,” says her small frame and some old back pain made it difficult to fire her M-16 in a marksmanship refresher course.

“With my stature, it was a challenge,” said the 4-foot-10, 95-pound, gray-haired personnel specialist from Schenectady, N.Y. “But I can hit the target now.”

Murray is one of about 4,400 Army soldiers from the Individual Ready Reserve who completed their active-duty service but have been notified they must get back in uniform. Most likely, they are headed for Iraq or Afghanistan.

Ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s, the returning soldiers bring valuable experience to the Army. But their advanced ages, weakened eyes and expanded waistlines mean doing things a bit differently.

“Old is the operative word. I joke my contingent just came from Fort Living Room,” said Lt. Col. Douglas Snyder, commander of the training unit here. “They haven’t run in two, four, six, maybe 10 years or more. And that goes for push-ups, too.”

One lieutenant colonel with bifocals had to switch from an M-16 rifle to a 9 mm pistol to qualify. The petite Murray learned to adjust her stance to fire her weapon.

“We don’t give up on them. We haven’t failed to qualify a single person,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Calloway, a 29-year-old Army Reserve instructor. “We just give each individual a lot of time — and lots of ammunition.”


They basically told me that my Marine Corps time doesn't count as military service," Pistorius said. Faced with a threat of AWOL charges, and worried that a spotless military record was about to be stained, Pistorius headed last month to Camp McGrady in South Carolina.

"The first thing they did was thank us for showing up," Pistorius said. "They had 150 that were supposed to show up and about 75 did. Of those 75 maybe only 40 or 50 are medically fit."


Equally implausible were the men who turned up at Camp McGrady last month.

When I first spoke to Pistorius, by telephone from the camp, he said nobody had been given a physical. He told his Army commanders that he had a permanent back injury from a car crash. They were unimpressed by a letter from his chiropractor. His pre-deployment health assessment lists him in this word: "Deployable."Pistorius spoke with his captain.

"He said everybody here's going to Iraq," Pistorius said. "It's unbelievable some of the guys they're bringing down there."

One man arrived with a hospital identification band still on his wrist. He'd just had knee surgery. One 48-year-old from Alabama had a hip replacement and fused vertebrae in his back.

Not exactly a surprise
The International Committee of the Red Cross has charged in confidential reports to the United States government that the American military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion "tantamount to torture" on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The finding that the handling of prisoners detained and interrogated at Guantánamo amounted to torture came after a visit by a Red Cross inspection team that spent most of last June in Guantánamo.

Here's the story. If you voted for Bush, this is what you voted for. Of course, if you voted for Bush, you probably don't care.

David Brooks makes my head hurt

So David Broooks read a book by a guy who seems much more reasonable (to him) than Jerry Falwell, and concludes that everyone is completely misinformed about fundamentalists.

Speaking as one with considerably more experience in these matters than David Brooks (I spent a significant chunk of my adolescence in the heart of the Bible Belt attending Southern Baptist churches), I would politely suggest to Mr. Brooks that wanting a thing to be true does not actually make it true.


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