Friday, June 30, 2006

Round Up On Hamdan

Here's a great set of links by firedoglake on Hamdan.

I felt great relief at the decision. Then, of course, some people had to remind me that it doesn't matter, really. Will make no difference. Not a big deal.

When I think about the alternative decision, though, it is clear to me that it's a big deal.

Unspeak made me laugh about the dissenting opinions but they can really give you nightmares if you think about it too long.

I wonder if Bush's absolute power in emergencies is going to extend to term limits as well.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Behind the Times, As Always

I was telling someone about the mosquito ringtone. So I googled it and found a toddler wandering by to experiment upon but while I was running this nefarious experiment I realized that I could hear the damn thing. It was painful to listen to.

But I'm as old as the hills. Why can I hear it? Found another mid-thirties person. He could hear it also.

What is up with the mosquito ringtone?

It was a bit surprising since it really sounds like a high pitched electrical squealing noise and I was expecting to hear a ringtone so I almost didn't think it was what I was hearing at first.

I spent my entire youth sitting virtually inside the 8 foot speakers at punk rock shows. I have hearing loss in one ear due to a horrendous ear infection. Or so I thought.

Is it the vitamins? Am I some kind of super non-aging creature? A vampire? One of the Highlanders? Or is it some sort of emperor's new clothes type phenomenon?

I should mention that I'm actually pretty sure my eyesight is going--I can't see very small print right in front of my face anymore. I had 20/20 vision at one point, then 20/40. Alas. Death awaits after all.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Examining Camp X-Ray

I'd like to understand the specifics of the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. I have this sense that there is a type of imprisonment that amounts to torture. I think that U.S. prisons are mostly horrifying and unacceptable.

Of course, torture is notoriously hard to define in terms of its actions. Perhaps it has to be defined in terms of its goals.

The Amnesty International Statement

I am struck by Jeff Sessions claims to the effect that we cannot release these prisoners because they are prisoners of war. One doesn't release prisoners of war so that they can go back and kill your own troops. Jeff Sessions, "The Treatment of Prisoners at Guantanamo" They've 'only' been there about 3 years or so.**

The odd thing, of course, is that they are not being extended the Geneva conventions. So they are not prisoners of war. Nor are the criminals. They exist in the grey zone of the illegal combatant.

And, of course, the U.S. declared war on Afghanistan but not all the foreign nationals in Afghanistan were there to fight the U.S. Some got stuck there, some were there specifically to fight the U.S., some were there to be trained as terrorists, some were there to fight in the local struggle between Taliban and Northern Alliance. Etc. Well, we'd know more if we were allowed to know more but we are allowed to know very little about these prisoners and their circumstances.

A few others notable claims Sessions makes. (1) We've spent a lot of money on that prison. He seems to think this shows the prisoners must be getting humane treatment. That's absurd. (2) He claims the prisoners have been screened carefully so that we can be sure those left are 'the worst of the worst.' That could be true. If anyone was able to know the specific facts--if they were put on trial, for example, then we could be sure it was true. That's why we have trials. (3) 12 of those who were released were then rearrested as they attempted to engage in acts of terrorism. I've never heard that so I plan to do more research.

My own speculative view is that we put these prisoners there without much clear thinking and that it was somebody's very bad idea to refuse them the Geneva conventions. (Granted, there were some grounds for that because of the issue of illegal combatancy. But they should not have been allowed to carry the day.) Now they are a major public relations nightmare, they are in a position to become able spokespersons in their home countries for anti-U.S. sentiment. And trials are problematic because of their irregular treatment. (Which, I think, seems both cruel and demeaning.) However, I've been advised that some Afghan visitors did not find it cruel.

Afghans declare Gitmo conditions humane.

This is also interesting. These memos by the DoD about the Int'l Red Cross Visit state that the IRCC found the conditions at Guantanamo to be what the Geneva conventions require.

Memos Re: International Committee of the Red Cross. (The memos are written by Staff Judge Advocates and other Army lawyers.

I think my views of Guantanamo have been very influenced by the images of prisoners, the statements of lawyers and the fact that U.S. soldiers engaged in what is clearly cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners who really ARE under the Geneva Conventions.

Here's an example.

Lawyer for Australian citizen David Hicks.

Of all things, the U.N. report is the most damning.

U.N.: U.S. Tortures Guantanamo Detainees.

**(Irrelevant at the moment but in a few days going to explain the comfort that one can find in these statements of Republicans. They always seem to say what I wish were true.)

What Do Dick Cheney and Howard Hughes Have In Common?

One of the many strange things in the last 5 years is how certain people have influenced major events. Strange, crazy people. Or fanatics. Bin Laden, the 9-11 hijackers. Then you have Chalabi's ridiculous influence on the administration. Maybe we would have gone into Iraq the way we did without Chalabi. But perhaps not. And of course, the administration itself with its band of men-who-want-to-be-world-historical-figures. The ones with the Ph.D.s in political science especially.

I suppose it would be absurd to think that past events weren't shaped in the same way by individuals--Hitler and Mussolini. But Stalin? You have to wonder if someone Stalinish might have come out of the U.S.S.R. even if it hadn't been Stalin particularly. Maybe someone not quite so paranoid. But maybe someone worse.

There are some events where the presence of particular individuals and their personalities might not be a primary cause. Would we have had the Civil War without Lincoln? Maybe, eventually. There are many events, wars even, that seem collective in nature, the product of whole societies or of social forces beyond anyone's personal dictates.

Or maybe I only think that because I wasn't around at the time and things look fuzzier from way out. It just strikes me that the war in Iraq wasn't like this. The war on terror, that's a bit harder to say. But the war in Iraq seems very much a product of a small group of people and their very bad ideas.

This book review I link to below is somewhat terrifying in its descriptions of adminstration stupidity and wanton disregard for rights but it seems also to reveal that the particular characteristics of those in power matter very much in explaining events. The description of the torture of Abu Zubaydah shows how much a matter of happenstance this whole mess is. And how much it will remain so.

The 1% solution. This is Cheney's absurd attempt at practical rationality: "If there's a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response."

I've written about this before (on another site I wimpily abandoned). During the buildup to the Iraq war members of the administration made claims to the effect that: If one anticipates a very great harm and the probability of that harm is very low one must act as if the probability of that harm is very high. Because it's a very great harm.

Basically, if you followed this principle, you would never leave your house. This was Howard Hughes' motto. And look where it got him.

Alas, they forgot to calculate the probability of harm involved in preventing the harm.

The Shadow War, In a Surprising New Light

One example out of many comes in Ron Suskind's gripping narrative of what the White House has celebrated as one of the war's major victories: the capture of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in March 2002. Described as al-Qaeda's chief of operations even after U.S. and Pakistani forces kicked down his door in Faisalabad, the Saudi-born jihadist was the first al-Qaeda detainee to be shipped to a secret prison abroad. Suskind shatters the official story line here.

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" -- a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."

Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics -- travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques.

How could this have happened? Why are we learning about it only now? Those questions form the spine of Suskind's impressively reported book.

In interviews with intelligence officers, Suskind often finds them baffled by White House statements. "Why the hell did the President have to put us in a box like this?" one top CIA official asked about the overblown public portrait of Abu Zubaydah. But Suskind sees a deliberate management choice: Bush ensnared his director of central intelligence at the time, George J. Tenet, and many others in a new kind of war in which action and evidence were consciously divorced.

"The One Percent Doctrine" takes its title from an episode in late November 2001. Amid fears of a "second wave" attack after 9/11, Tenet laid out for Vice President Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice a stunning trove of new intelligence, much of which Suskind reveals for the first time: Two Pakistani scientists who previously offered to help Libya build a nuclear bomb were known to have met with Osama bin Laden. (Later, Suskind reports, the U.S. government would discover that bin Laden asked pointedly what his next steps should be if he already possessed enriched uranium.) Cheney, by Suskind's account, had been grappling with how to think about "a low-probability, high-impact event." By the time the briefing was over, he had his answer: "If there's a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response."

This "Cheney Doctrine" let Bush evade analytic debate, Suskind writes, and "rely on impulse and improvisation to a degree that was without precedent for a modern president." But that approach constricted the mission of the intelligence and counterterrorism professionals whose point of view dominates this book. Many of them came to believe, Suskind reports, that "their jobs were not to help shape policy, but to affirm it." (Some of them nicknamed Cheney "Edgar," as in Edgar Bergen -- casting the president as the ventriloquist's dummy.) Suskind calls those career terror-fighters "the invisibles," and he likes them. His book is full of amazing, persuasively detailed vignettes about their world. At least a dozen former intelligence officials speak frankly in public here, as did former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill in Suskind's previous book, "The Price of Loyalty."

Crooked Timber

Answers: (A) Both dated Ava Gardner. (B) Their fear of a harmful thing makes them do something more harmful than the thing they feared. (C) Leo Di Caprio played both in movies about their 'sane period.' (D) Microphobia! (E) Poor delegators.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Big Ten

After watching this Stephen Colbert clip I wondered if I knew all 10. My problem was that I forgot the graven images one--thought that would be included under 'thou shalt have no other Gods before me.' They seem a natural fit.

Stephen Colbert asks Lynne Westmoreland whether he knows all 10 of the commandments.

I don't see why this is such a big deal. NO WONDER Westmoreland sponsored the bill! He of all people knows how easy it is to forget the tricky ones.

Now lets see--seven deadly sins 1. Sloth 2. Lust 3. Greed 4. Gluttony 5. Pride 6. Anger ??? Can't remember the 7th. ENVY. How could I forget envy? Thanks google.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Conspiracy Theory

I found myself entertaining a conspiracy theory the other day. Virtually believing it. I have always ridiculed conspiracy theories. The most amusing among these are the ones about the Trilateral Commission and Standard Oil (I can't really remember how it goes). Since of course, Standard Oil doesn't really need a conspiracy to have a huge influence. I mean, no one needs a conspiracy. It's all OUTRIGHT. The scheming is right in front of you.

In fact, what is a 'conspiracy theory.' I suppose the definition would have to do something with the appearances/reality. That situation X appears to be one thing (a democracy, a complex world of nation states which have opposing interests) but turns out to be something else (run by a secret cabal/all the nation states are in the service of Group X). It also makes events which seem a bit like happenstance part of a large plan. It substitutes single human agency (or some kind of 'board of conspirators') and choice for events that probably have complex multiple causes-- the ones we can't always figure out or know or be certain of.

The reason it is silly to develop conspiracy theories about corporations ruling the world is that corporations rule the world outright. (Well, I exaggerate a bit. But only a bit.) I guess the appearance/reality thing is that they have even more influence over elections than they appear to. The whole 'election' thing is a total sham instead of just sort of a sham.

It was a long rant that got me to the conspiracy theory place. I have a lot of these rants although I'm trying to cut down. I find it hard to believe that most people who read the newspaper who are at all reasonable don't succumb to the rant urge at least weekly.

This was the rant that goes (I advise skipping the rant entirely): So what if we killed Zarqawi? SO THE F WHAT? This war is such a mess I can't believe that anyone is the least bit optimistic about it! They can't LITERALLY believe that it is going well, can they? I mean, can they? DO THEY NOT REMEMBER WHAT THEY THOUGHT BEFORE? Before the war started? Do they not remember their thoughts of several years ago about being greeted with flowers and so forth and then realize that they had false beliefs? Doesn't recollection of your past false hope become a kind of lesson for current and future false hope? Isn't that a necessary step any intelligent person takes? Come to think of it, I changed my mind after the invasion of Afghanistan. I thought it would lead to massive carnage and accomplish nothing and although it accomplished less than it could have, the carnage was not massive. And it even looked as though--if it had not been done so sloppily--it might have actually accomplished something good, like the capture of Osama Bin Laden. Less oppressive government. Possible democracy. So I was wrong about Afghanistan. Putting aside the possibility that a diplomatic solution might actually have worked if given a try and there was nothing to lose by giving it a try maybe it might have been a good idea to go to war in.... Etc. Wait, speaking of Osama Bin Laden...

Then I had this flash of a conspiracy theory. Yeah, why DIDN'T we catch Osama Bin Laden? Maybe they don't want to catch Osama Bin Laden!

The unfortunate person who was near me during this rant replied

--Yeah, it is a little weird. He's in a very remote location. It's so remote. Maybe instead we should overthrow this dictator we think has powerful weapons and a big army and then somehow create a democratic U.S.-friendly state between three groups that have despised one another for centuries. After all, that would be easier, wouldn't it than finding Bin Laden in that remote location that he is in. Can't find a needle in a haystack and that dictator is sitting RIGHT THERE. He's eeeeaaassssy to find! Like picking apples. Bin Laden--TOO HARD.

This of course finally led me to sort of kind of entertain the conspiracy theory that one of my lefty students advanced in class. (the only pacifist I've had in class. He also has a Muslim background but I doubt he is a practicing Muslim. His background may not be relevant but he has a fascinating skepticism and lots of surprising views.) This student argued that they actually GOT Osama and they didn't want anyone to know because they need him as a figurehead for this whole endless war thing they have going.

I mean, you have to wonder. How did we get here? Why have things become so surreal such that we were attacked and we went to war about the attacks and yet somehow everyone has nearly forgotten the attacks themselves and who did them? And you have to wonder: Could they screw up THIS bad? Is there some plan, after all? Maybe it's not sheer incompetence. Maybe THIS--the trillion dollar war that looks completely hopeless and has clearly made things worse-- IS ALL PART OF A MASTER PLAN!

Things are so strange sometimes conspiracy theories start to make sense. I now feel guilty for my scorn for all the people I made fun of when I lived in California. I'm worried that I'm going to be like Mel Gibson in that movie. I'll accidentally invent the conspiracy theory that is true and then they'll have to silence me.