Saturday, April 21, 2007

Reflections on the revolution in Venezuela

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Manny Lopez of The Detroit News recently returned from a trip to his native Venezuela, his first in nine years, and has given an interview to Lance of A Second Hand Conjecture and Lee of Postpolitical.

Lance and Lee are on the right, but I share with them a deep concern over the direction Venezuela is taking under Hugo Chavez. I have written frequently about Chavez's ever-encroaching tyranny -- see here for those posts -- and I consider him to be one of the world's most repugnant leaders.

So click on one of the links above and check out the transcript of the interview. Lopez's observations are fascinating. Here are a few of them:

-- "I think one of the most noticeable differences is the tension that exists. You drive through neighborhoods and there's a distinct us-versus-them atmosphere. Chávistas are boldly marking their territory and taking over the weak fringes, too... Chávez has spent millions plastering the country with propaganda. 'Socialism, patriotism or death' banners hang throughout Caracas as well as a litany of 'death to American imperialism' murals.

-- "It is going to get increasingly difficult for the opposition to have a voice because Chávez is shutting down anyone (Radio Caracas Television, for example) who questions or opposes him. And he pulls the puppet strings of his media without fail. Watch some of his 'interviews' with them and he rarely allows them to speak. No one challenges his answers or his asinine statements."

-- "The one thing about Chávez that I give him credit for is his ability to captivate people and audiences. He's an amazing marketer because he can distort any message or fact to suit his needs and when fired up, most people don't stop to think: 'hey wait a minute, that doesn't make sense.' He masterfully incites his followers by reminding them of revolutionary leaders of the past. He's absolutely corrupted the name, image and principles of Símon Bolivar."

-- "Chávez will continue to talk about his 'democratic' socialism but move faster toward communism. He'll continue telling the poor that he's helping them and plaster up the appropriate propaganda to make them think this is so. He'll also move faster to nationalize and rid the country of private industry and progress. He's already said he'll take control of the Central Bank and he recently said hospitals and grocery stores will be nationalized if they don't come in line with government demands on prices and supplies."

Again, make sure to read it in full.

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No visa for Lancet study researcher

By Libby Spencer

It's difficult to read this as anything other than suppression of relevant research.

Riyadh Lafta and his colleagues have been trying for months to get a U.S. travel visa so the doctor could speak at a medical conference at the University of Washington today.

The State Department has cited miscommunication as the reason for the visa holdup.

As an alternative, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C., invited Lafta to deliver his lecture today, which was to have been broadcast by video to the UW. But this week, the British government denied him a four-hour transit visa for a stopover between the Middle East and Canada.

Despite the State Department's protestations, it's painfully clear the co-author of the controversial Lancet study on civilian deaths in Iraq is deliberately being prevented from sharing his work with his US peers and it's no surprise that the UK would aid and abet this campaign. Both governments have a vested interest in protecting their shady statistics from challenge.

Interestingly, Dr. Lafta wasn't scheduled to speak on civilian deaths but rather was to present his findings on cancer rates, particularly among children, in southern Iraq. I suppose our governments would rather that subject not be publicly broached either. It just might get the people all worked up about DU weaponry again. I suspect there is a connection between the two that could be made.

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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Media madness

Guest post by Edward Copeland

Who would have thought I would miss the days of the blanket coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre so soon? This week has been a microcosm of media overkill (no pun intended) transforming back toward a reasoned approach before going apeshit again and then, finally, returning to the safety of the trivial and unimportant.

First came the 24/7 coverage of Virginia Tech, which was more notable for its lack of new information and banal blather than actual news coverage. (I won't repeat what I said about that again, but if interested you can read it here.) Soon though, the media (and let me be clear that my criticism really aims only at television coverage) started to regain its footing, covering the Supreme Court ruling on late-term abortion and some exceptionally violent days in Iraq, and even sparing a moment or two to note the passing of Kitty Carlisle Hart.

Then came the video tape that NBC received. The same network that decided a week or so earlier that it didn't want to have Don Imus speaking on its airwaves ruled that it was OK to run constantly the taped rantings of the Virginia Tech lunatic. The backlash was immediate, including some families of victims canceling appearances on Today because of their outrage. The network tried to backpedal a bit (after in a pure ratings ploy playing some excertps and promoting other excerpts that would come later) and said it would limit the coverage, though after other networks picked up the footage (clearly marked with the NBC logo so no one would miss it). Now, there might be something appropriate in seeing this tape, and it is decidedly news, but that's not how it was used. It was used to attract the "slow down by a car wreck" crowd. Honestly, was there something gained by seeing this? Did we not realize that Cho was a lunatic by his actions before seeing the tape? More importantly, they could have reported his comments on the tape without actually showing it and giving the dead gunman the platform he so obviously sought.

What's worse is that the arrival of the videotape pretty much shut out important news about Iraq, both over there and on Capitol Hill, and the embarrassing performance of Alberto Gonzales at the Senate hearing barely got more than cursory coverage. I never saw on TV any mention of Karl Rove's comment that Osama bin Laden was the decision maker behind our invasion of Iraq. We also missed Dubya's strange, rambling speech ("Polls just go poof") and very little coverage of Ex-Maverick McCain's "Bomb Iran" ditty to the tune of "Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys. However, most of them did find enough time to toss in coverage about John Edwards's $400 haircuts.

Still, the worst was yet to come, and that was yesterday when cable news felt they'd hit the trivial and pointless mother lode with the cell phone message from Alec Baldwin to his young daughter which they ran (and continue to run) endlessly. Yes, cable news felt safe again -- they'd found an absolutely unimportant story to drone on endlessly about, and it even had the added plus of involving a celebrity.

Wouldn't this be a great world if some philanthropist with a lot of money launched a cable news channel that actually covered news? As someone who makes his living in the media (thankfully, not television), the Fourth Estate has become an embarrassment in its abdication of its duty of covering what's important and covering it well.

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Jacek Malczewski: Melancholia (1894)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Like the Hodler painting I recently posted, this astonishing work by the Polish symbolist Jacek Malczewski seems to capture the zeitgeist of the moment, albeit on a grander scale. Although it could be argued that it also captures the human condition to the extent that it is truly universal in scope.

Here's an excellent description of the painting I found at the website of the Polish Academic Information Center at the State University of New York at Buffalo:

It is a painting of a totally fantastic vision, yet concrete and precise in its expression of that vision. Singular in the division of its coloristic areas, expressive in its use of perspective, its symbolism underscored by the linear axises and spatial vectors in the artistic composition's tensions. The interior of the painter atelier forms the scene on which is played out the drama of history, fate and artistic creativity. The subject of Malczewski's synthesis is the whole century of liberty lost. A period of ineffectual struggles for liberty, renewed over several generations, is encompassed in a parabola of human life from childhood, through maturity unto death. The tumultuous action arises on the left from the canvas on the easel in the depth of the atelier, thins out in the center, quiets down under on the right the partially open window, only to once again spiral back in a somnambulistic whirl.

There, on the far right edge of the composition, is shown a female figure darkly cloaked. The only person outside the atelier, leaning on the window's outside sill, she stands between the luminous surroundings of the garden - symbolic of the dreamt of goal and freedom -- the crowd whirling towards the partially open window and the artist lost in a daydream by the just commenced painting.

And here it is (it is incredibly complex visually -- there's a much larger image at Wikipedia Commons):


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Friday, April 20, 2007

I love Vermont

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I do, seriously. It's a beautiful place. But I also admire the audacity of its senate:

Vermont senators voted Friday to call for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, saying their actions in Iraq and the U.S. "raise serious questions of constitutionality."

The non-binding resolution was approved 16-9 without debate -- all six Republicans in the chamber at the time and three Democrats voted against it. The resolution was the latest, symbolic, effort in the state to impeach Bush. In March, 40 towns in the state known for its liberal leaning voted in favor of similar, non-binding resolutions at their annual meetings. State lawmakers in Wisconsin and Washington have also pushed for similar resolutions.

The resolution says Bush and Cheney's actions in the U.S. and abroad, including in Iraq, "raise serious questions of constitutionality, statutory legality, and abuse of the public trust."

No, nothing will come of it, and no, I'm not advocating impeachment myself (although there may be a case to be made for it), and yes, Vermont is a liberal state, and yes, its senate is dominated by Democrats, and yes, this was evidently a wholly Democratic effort. I get all that.

Still, symbols are important, and what is clear, impeachment or not, is that Bush is going down as one of the worst presidents in history. He was wildly unpopular among many people and in many parts of the country even after he "won" the 2000 election, but now, after over six years of trampling all over the Constitution and embroiling the country in a horrendous war of his own deliberate choosing, he is only getting what he deserves.

Well, no. This is actually much less than he deserves. But it's a start.

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A hard life in Darfur

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Sometimes it's good to see how other people live, particularly in places like Darfur: "A Sudanese woman with her child on her back makes mud bricks at the Abu Shouk refugee camp in the Sudan's Darfur region."


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Fool on the Hill

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I haven't said much about Gonzales's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but, then, there isn't much to say. It was a joke, a massive joke that -- despite Jon Stewart's great bit tonight on Gonzo's failure to recall anything -- wasn't really funny at all.

But there's a lot to read out there, should you be so inclined. For example, Slate's Bazelon, Dickerson, and Lithwick provided a useful Q&A in real time. Gonzo did recall some things, but his answers were, on the whole, inadequate and unconvincing. Was he lying? Or is he just a fool? Is he a puppet manipulated by his White House masters? Or was he kept out of the loop? (And, if so, why?) Whatever the answers to these questions, Stewart was right to compare him to Ken Lay.

Needless to say -- but I'll say it anyway -- Bush was apparently "pleased" with Gonzo's testimony -- so says a White House press release. Indeed: "The Attorney General has the full confidence of the President." General managers say this about their coaches all the time. Right before firing them.

If you really want to submerge yourself in Gonzo's testimony, I recommend the series at Firedoglake. It's rather comprehensive. Here's Part VIII. I'm sure you'll be able to find the others.

One Republican -- and an extremely conservative one at that -- told Gonzo to fall on his sword: "I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered, and I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation." For once I agree with you, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma -- though your views are no doubt motivated by self-serving partisanship, not the pursuit of justice. Gonzo's too much of an embarrassing liability for Bush and the GOP, so better to put the problem "behind us" than to look into it (i.e., the politicization of the Justice Dept. by the White House) more closely (which could be even more embarrassing).

Well, there's a lot more out there -- everyone's been covering it -- so amuse yourselves accordingly. (Update: See, for example, Milbank and Froomkin at WaPo.)

But here's a great photo from the NYT that says it all (who's the poor woman thinking Gonzo's thoughts, though?):

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

The day after, more of the same

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The latest: "A suicide bomber breached Baghdad's heavy security presence again Thursday, killing a dozen people in a mostly Shiite district a day after more than 230 people died in one of the Iraq war's deadliest episodes of violence... The bombing killed at least 12 people and wounded 34. Two Iraqi soldiers were among the fatalities." Plus: "The U.S. military on Thursday announced three more troop deaths – two soldiers killed Wednesday by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, and another soldier killed the same day in a small-arms-fire attack in a southwestern area of the capital."

And yet the Great Virginia Tech Media Orgy continues. I've avoided the other cable news networks this evening, but, flipping by CNN during commercial breaks of the Sens-Pens playoff game on CBC and the Braves-Cubs game on TBS, I've been able to get a good sense of just how insufferable the coverage is. (And, yes, I realize that flipping to CNN is rarely a good idea. This is especially true during the two-hour Zahn-King assault on intelligence and integrity.) And now we're being told of the investigations into the killer's every move in the months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds before the shootings, of childhood bullying and psychotic paranoia, of the plight of Koreans on campus, of... well, you get the idea.

Now let me get back to the Flames-Wings game, and the Canucks-Stars game, and Stewart and Colbert, and Iron Chef America, and...

Anything but this orgy of overkill.

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Nazi vandalism at French military cemetery

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Photo from the BBC: "Visitors survey the gravestones of 52 French Muslim soldiers which have been defaced with Nazi insignia at Notre Dame de Lorette cemetery near Arras."

The full story is here. "The military cemetery... is one of the country's biggest and is on the site of some of the war's early battles." President Jacques Chirac, as well as the two leading presidential candidates Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal (the first round of the election is on Sunday), have spoken out forcefully against this despicable act of vandalism. Chirac called it "an unspeakable act that scars the conscience".

The only positive is that sometimes it takes this sort of act to remind us that Nazism and fascist bigotry more broadly are still alive and well -- and not just in France, of course -- and must be dealt with.

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SCOTUS upholds "partial-birth abortion" ban

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Alas, I've neglected to post on this key Supreme Court decision on so-called "partial-birth" abortion. There's a lot of coverage over at Memeorandum, but make sure to check out in particular Shakesville, Pam's House Blend, Bradford Plumer, Balkinization, Hullabaloo, The Agonist, and The Moderate Voice (where one of my fellow assistant editors has a good round-up of blogospheric reaction).

Steve Benen of The Carpetbagger Report sums it up extremely well: "This is a truly awful ruling... [It] overturns recently-established Supreme Court precedent, the judgment of every federal court that considered the law, and the medical judgment of OB/GYN professionals... The consequences could be devastating for women with troubled pregnancies, many of whom have relied on the D&E procedure to save their lives... Instead, for the first time, the Supreme Court has interfered with -- and banned -- a specific medical procedure that saves women’s lives, backing a law that includes no protection for the health of pregnant women."

Partial-birth abortion is a horrible procedure -- I don't think anyone denies that -- but it is also, sadly, on rare occasions, a necessary one. And now it won't even be an option of last resort to save a woman's life.

Is this the thin end of the anti-abortion wedge? Will it lead to further restrictions on abortion, perhaps even the overturning of Roe? Perhaps. With this more conservative Supreme Court, anything is possible.

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Waiting on Fred

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Meanwhile -- switching back to the '08 race for a moment -- it looks like Fred Thompson will soon be joining the GOP field. ABC News reports here.

That is all.


"This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we'll be lucky to live through it."

-- Admiral Joshua Painter, The Hunt for Red October

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Don't forget about Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As expected -- because it is always so -- a media event has become a media orgy. I'm talking, of course, about the Virginia Tech shootings, but that hardly matters. In search of sensationalism, the media have no shame. Any story will do, pretty much -- but the media play particularly well off stories like this one. Everything about it, after all, seems so juicy. The media do so well with death and destruction, but they also like a human side to the mayhem. Hence the mainstreamization -- if I may coin a term -- of weather news. (Hurricanes are sexy.) But there's more. There is also pain and suffering. And it's all happening right at home, in English, with so much mystery to unravel -- who was he? why did he do it? -- and with so many hot-button issues lingering on the periphery -- gun control, immigration, education.

Why the media do this is beyond the scope of this post, but there are a few points to make: Obviously, the media need to fill up the empty space that follows the reporting of the facts. That was done -- the facts are known, more or less, and so all that's left is repetition and speculation. There is a fine line between journalism and exploitation, and that line has been crossed. Just turn on your media outlet of choice. You'll see what I mean.

On this, see Taylor Marsh, who asks the right questions: "Have we lost all sense of dignity? When did our pain become something we're so proud of we need to broadcast it... never mind. We are a therapy nation now, televising our grief for all to see. It's what we now do best. But did the community of Virginia Tech need our prying eyes? It likely never occurred to anyone to ask." Taylor compares this to the media's coverage of the Iraq War, which has been abysmal. But, then, an Iraqi life is hardly worth an American one, we are left to conclude from this imbalance, and Iraq is way over there, and we don't want to think too much about it, lost cause that it is, and it's not nearly as sensational as what happened in Virginia. (More on Iraq below.)

Americans -- media and media consumers alike -- need answers. They cannot imagine that what happened in Virginia was just some senseless act of violence. There must have been more to it. And so the media orgy revolves around trying to answer the existential questions as well as the factual ones -- not just the who but the why -- that is, to unravel the seeming mystery of it all. Americans do not seem to want such answers to similar questions about the Iraq War -- it is far too remote, it would seem, for there to be needed any such effort -- but we are Virginia Tech and Virginia Tech is us. Even here in Canada, the media have focused disproportionately on the one Canadian who was killed, as if that death is somehow more significant than the others, but so it goes. This isn't about them, the victims, it's about us. We need to soothe ourselves, to have our existential upsurge pacified. We cannot and will not accept meaninglessness. To stare into the abyss is one thing. To accept that the abyss is all there is would shatter our fragile shells of civilized self-understanding. There must be a God.

And so we search for answers -- through the media, which are more than happy -- for ratings, to bolster their self-importance -- to oblige with all the investigation and speculation that can fill up the empty space. In this case, for this story, this leads us to such banal topics as mental illness, alienation, antidepressant medication. Are the answers to be found in there, anywhere? Or are they to be found in the world of politics -- gun control is the hot topic. In its more extreme and repugnant form, this search demands scapegoats, an evil Other upon which our indignant blame can be heaped. This is the world of Michelle Malkin and her ilk -- a world which upon which I discoursed to much fanfare last night.

On this, see also Steven Taylor: "[W]hy do we have to find blame in places other than the fact that a truly disturbed individual simply did an unthinkable act and cracked. There is only so much that can be done in a free society to prevent such situations. This attempt to blame a general 'liberal' attitude at universities and that this somehow has led to a culture of 'conflict avoidance' that somehow, by inference, led to people not defending themselves on Monday -- that is utterly ridiculous." Our own Capt. Fogg also put it well in a comment to a post by Creature: "This guy didn't go nuts because of television or rap music or gay marriage or any of the other shibboleths -- he went nuts because he was human and going nuts is a human affliction. It's an affliction that won't go away despite lectures on personal responsibility or despite bans or laws or wiretaps appeals to family values or protests or rubber bands worn on wrists."

But the truth -- rather than the truthiness presented to willing consumers by sensation-seeking news outlets and deranged commentators -- does not go down so easily. If the truth about Iraq is being largely ignored, or avoided, the truth about the Virginia Tech shootings continues to be overwhelmed by a media orgy that, as of right now, shows no signs of letting up.


And this brings us to Iraq, forgotten Iraq, where today was just another day, as we say, of life and death:

Four car bombs killed 131 people and wounded 164 others across Baghdad Wednesday, the U.S. military said, as bloodshed spiked two months into a U.S.-led crackdown meant to pacify the Iraqi capital.

It was one of the deadliest days of the four-year-old Iraq war, and some news agencies suggested the death toll may be higher. Reuters, quoting local officials, said almost 200 people were killed Wednesday. The Associated Press put the number at 183.

The carnage underscored the profound insecurity that continues to plague the nation, where additional American soldiers are being deployed in an attempt to curb sectarian violence.

Bloodshed. Carnage. Insecurity.

Is it right to compare Iraq and Virginia Tech? Perhaps not. But the juxtaposition -- and specifically the juxtaposition of media coverage -- is nonetheless deeply troubling. (This is Taylor's point.) There has been so much concentrated coverage of what happened in Virginia (and, to an extent, rightly so), but there has been, overall, gross indifference to what is happening in Iraq each and every day. It takes a massive death toll for Iraqi violence to register -- like today's, but, even then, nothing like there should be. And not just Iraqi violence. Stuck in perpetual therapy, Americans don't want to know much about anywhere else, either.

"But this happened in our own backyard," a critic cries. Yes, yes, I know -- and I understand. That, too, was my reaction to the news. The shooting did happen close to home -- closer to home than the violence in Iraq, closer to home in terms of our ability to relate to it, to see ourselves in those we see on television. We are them, they are us. We are all Hokies now.

Fair enough.

All I am saying -- well, perhaps not all -- is that some perspective is in order. Becoming one with Virginia while detaching from Iraq is the easy way out. It allows us to cleanse our souls in yet another media-driven orgy of existential therapy even as more and more blood is spilled in some faraway place that is just too horrible even to attempt to comprehend.

And yet the media will soon move on, as they always do, to the next source of sensationalism, the next object of exploitation. The pain and suffering in Virginia will go on, but we won't care, because it was never really about them -- and because we will once again have managed to lie the ultimate lie to ourselves, to have persuaded ourselves that our questions were answered, that our fears were all dreams, that there was a point to the madness, or at least a reasonable explanation that put everything right again.

And we will follow the media, wherever they may go, from one sensation to the next.

And, media coverage or not, the blood will continue to flow... over there.

American and Iraqi alike, and others too. Whether we pay attention or not.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A jolly good fellow

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Happy birthday, Creature!

From all of us at The Reaction.

(Read him here or read him there, he's one of the best. Keep on blogging, my friend.)


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The solution to gun violence: a bunch of macho posturing on the internets

By Heraclitus

So, gentle reader, what the fuck? More specifically, what the fuck is up with my co-blogger, Michael Sticklings? At first I thought his post below was really good -- thoughtful, eloquent, forceful. But then after reading some of the comments, I realized, hell, no, it's not good. The proper response to this tragedy is to blame the liberals and, especially, the victims, those pansy-ass bitches who let themselves get all shot and killed and bullshit like that (and you know they were all liberals, because, seriously, no conservative would let that happen to him). And, above all, we need a lot more expressions of the ragingest of castration anxieties on blogs, about how I would have totally killed that little bitch because I'm such a fucking bad-ass. Like me, for instance -- if I had been there, I would have just flexed my awesome pecs and walked up to him. That little bitch's bullets would have been bouncing off my chest like little kernels of popcorn (which only chicks and liberals eat, by the way). Then I would have grabbed him with one hand, picked him up over my head, and thrown him through a blackboard or something. Then when he was stuck in the wall, his legs kicking comically, I would have said something really cool and witty, like I always do, like, I don't know, "Class dismissed," or "You fail," only something better than that (from all the adrenaline). Then I totally would have scored with like half the cheerleaders on campus.

Better yet, we could have had guns all over the place. Every seat in a lecture hall should have a Gatling gun mounted to it. Don't like that panty-waist liberal professor up there, droning on about all kinds of commie bullshit like the French Revolution and geology? Blow his bitch ass away!! What these faggotty little liberals need to realize is that when everyone's armed, there's no violence. Look at fuckin' Iraq. Everyone there's got weapons, bombs, all kinds of shit, and it's a total success story, perfectly safe, no matter how many lies the MSM tries to ram down our throats. I mean, surely we can trust the people who brought us Iraq and keep insisting it's a success to make all our policy decisions, right?

Some people don't see it that way. Not surprisingly, they're losers and, even worse, women. Like this Amanda Marcotte person, who totally killed Vince Foster but then got pardoned by Clinton. Responding to John Derbyshire's comments about how those little liberal pansies should have rushed the gunman, Marcotte says:

The whole mythology leading up to the Derb’s comment is that feminists have “feminized” the culture and softened young men so that they aren’t capable of chivalric acts any longer. And only those who reject women’s equality, like the Derb, have the huevos to sit around in their terrycloth robes writing about how they’d totally act like heroes in movies if given the chance. Luckily, such resistance fighters against feminism carefully make sure not to enlist in the military to put that to the test. Maybe if we ridded the military of the feminizing presence of women they’d join? Let’s not try that experiment and find out.

Shows what you know, feminazi. The problem isn't with women's equality (though that totally sucks and is wrong and needs to be turned back before it destroys us all). The problem is with these wimpy little scientists! They've spent all this time working on things like a cure for cancer and a polio vaccine (and, hey, we're still waiting on those, geniuses!!). More than anything, of course, they've been working on their evilution and global warming hoaxes. But all along they should have been working on turning us all into guns!!! Then everything would be safe and sound; if we were all just guns, things like this would never happen. And, don't look now, but guns don't get cancer, bitchez!!! Just goes to show you, once again, that conservative ideas are all-around better than liberal ones.

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The monster in the mirror

By Creature

I just came across this paragraph from a post on Blogs for Bush [I will not link, that's what The Google is for] regarding the "monster among us" as reason for the Virginia Tech shootings:

The monster I refer to is the monumental depravity of our society - the combination of glorified violence, socially acceptable rudeness, a sea of pornography, seeking to assign blame rather than accept responsibility, rampant greed for the things of the world, the concept of "its ok to lie" in certain mix this vile brew and you will be forced to drink it to the dregs...and what happened [Monday] was just another sip of the cup.

This Bush booster needs to take a good long look into his conservative mirror.

  • Glorified violence: the war in Iraq, a death penalty lust, torture
  • Socially acceptable rudeness: the vice president telling Senator Leahy to "go fuck himself," Bush's use of the middle finger
  • Sea of pornography: Libby's novel, Bill O'Reilly's novel, Lynne Cheney's novel
  • Assign blame rather than accept responsibility: Alberto Gonzales re AttorneyGate, Donald Rumsfeld re Abu Ghraib
  • Rampant greed: war for oil, war for Haliburton, corporate cronies
  • The concept of "it's ok to lie" in certain circumstances: Gonzales, Libby, Rove, Cheney, Bush
Of course I could go on with the examples (feel free to pile on in the comments), and I'm not dismissing the poster's assertion outright (our culture surely must take some of the blame), but the thrust of the argument here is undoubtedly that liberals, the liberal media, liberal Hollywood, etc. are responsible for creating this "monumental depravity," and I'm just saying someone needs to look under their own bed first, before projecting monsters elsewhere.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Michelle Malkin is a dangerous idiot

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I can barely bring myself to post on this, mostly because I don't want to waste my time thinking about the mad, mad ravings of Michelle Malkin, but here goes:

As Heraclitus mentioned earlier, some conservatives are already responding to the Virginia Tech shootings with their typical brand of bloodthirsty insanity, and it should come as no surprise whatsoever that Malkin is leading the way. In this grotesque piece published at RealClearPolitics, she claims, with all attendant hyperbole, that "American colleges and universities have become coddle industries". Students are being protected "from hurtful (conservative) opinions" and "vigorous intellectual debate," while "Big Nanny administrators" are "allowing mob rule for approved leftist positions".

Now, I was rather critical of speech codes and the like when I was an undergraduate at Tufts -- and I wrote extensively on how higher eduction was giving way to social engineering and therapeutic soul-searching as an op-ed columnist for The Tufts Daily -- but this is patently ridiculous. It's the same old propaganda from the right, a self-serving assault on an imaginary PC paradise that exists only in their warped minds.

But my point here isn't to defend liberal education -- and institutions of American higher education -- from such ignorance and stupidity.

Malkin argues not just that students are not being taught how "to defend their beliefs" but that, rather more generally, "our higher institutions of learning stoke passivity and conflict-avoidance". And by this she means not just intellectual passivity but physical passivity as well. Which is to say, students are neither being taught how to stand up for themselves nor being allowed to stand up for themselves.

This brings us to the Virginia Tech shootings. Malkin asks: "What if just one student in one of those classrooms had been in lawful possession of a concealed weapon for the purpose of self-defense?" Yes, that's right, Malkin's twisted argument comes down to support for the possession of concealed weapons on college campuses: "Enough is enough, indeed. Enough of intellectual disarmament. Enough of physical disarmament. You want a safer campus? It begins with renewing a culture of self-defense -- mind, spirit and body. It begins with two words: Fight back."

Malkin supports intellectual armament -- for conservatives only, of course; she is no proponent of the sort of liberal education that truly empowers us to turn our heads from the shadows on the cave walls to the light above -- but her explicit focus here is armament in the more literal sense. In response to a violent act, she wants college students to carry concealed weapons around campus and into classrooms -- and to use them. For her, as for others like her, more guns mean more safety. Do I even need to point out what's wrong with this line of thinking? Just imagine a college campus -- just imagine a society, Malkin's perfect world -- where everyone is carrying a concealed weapon. Would you trust your classmates? Would you feel safer? Would not any confrontation be occasion for a shooting?

This is truly one of the ugliest and most loathsome things I have ever read. I call Malkin a dangerous idiot, as I have others before her, but that epithet hardly does her justice. She spews reprehensible opinions into the public space, and I can only conclude from this that she herself is a reprehensible human being.

What else to call someone who advocates a culture of killing?

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I expect revolution before I count to ten

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So Kucinich -- according to WaPo's The Sleuth -- intends to file articles of impeachment against Cheney.

Uh... good luck with that.

(Although I admire the effort -- and the intent.)


Thanks to Thea Gilmore, one of my favourite singers, for the title of this post. It's a line -- one of several great ones -- from "Lip Reading," on her album Songs from the Gutter. (If you're not familiar with her music, you're missing out on one of the very best singer-songwriters out there. For a start, check out Avalanche, her finest album, and Harpo's Ghost, her latest.)

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Emily Jane Hilscher

By Heraclitus

This is a great post on the shootings in Virginia (via). Though I haven't been following the story as closely as many no doubt have, my understanding at this point is that the gunman first shot two students, a woman and a man, two hours before the much larger killing spree. But the university didn't shut down because that was just a "lover's quarrel," obviously not enough of a tragedy to shut down a university. I can't even begin to fathom how fucked that is.

See also this brilliant post by the estimable Jon Swift. Yes, some conservative bloggers, including Malkin and Reynolds, are blaming this on the fact that students aren't allowed to carry concealed weapons.

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Atomic float

By Michael J.W. Stickings

You've heard of floating houses in the Netherlands? Well, how about a floating nuclear power plant in Russia?


[Enter requisite Chernobyl quip here.]

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Regressive taxes

By Heraclitus

Okay, I swear I'm not trying to be glib or facetious by following so many posts on death with a post on taxes. It's just that time of year, and I thought this post by Jonathan Chait was worth drawing to your attention (thanks to Kaveh for drawing it to mine). It's largely a snarky demolition of an extraordinarily dishonest (and perhaps also incompetent) column in The Wall Street Journal by Air Fleischer, but it makes some good points about how regressive our tax code is generally.

If you add in state and local taxes, you get a more complete picture of the tax burden. As it happens, conservative economist Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute addressed this topic in yesterday's Washington Post. Hassett found that, in 2003, the average family of four earning $50,000 a year paid 31 percent of its income in taxes. The average family of four earning $150,000 paid 30 percent. (Note to Fleischer: 31 is greater than 30. I can explain this to you in more detail if you'd like.) These figures came from 2003, the last year for which data was available. They don't take into account the 2003 Bush tax cuts, which made the tax code even more regressive.


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News called on account of tragedy

Guest post by Edward Copeland

Yes, the events on the Virginia Tech campus are tragic and landmark, so it would be unseemly to focus on other news events (if there were any other events out there being covered) or to turn the incident into some kind of political take. Still, it's admittedly a worthier topic for wall-to-wall coverage than Anna Nicole or the Imus controversy. (Guess all it took was a lone gunman to end that "national conversation on race." I think Harry Shearer had the best line about that, asking if the national conversation was the one we started after Hurricane Katrina or the one we started after the O.J. Simpson verdict.)

Yes, I am a cynic, so even though the scope of this tragedy is mindboggling, the hyperbole of the media always gets to me. Every time one of these mass killings occur, they express shock at what has occurred. How many times do these sort of things have to happen for people to stop acting as if they've never seen it before? I'm such a cynic, I'm only shocked that with the repressed anger in this country and the availability of weaponry that it doesn't happen more frequently.

Still, as awful as yesterday's events were, do they really merit non-stop blather? I heard an anchor on one of the cable news channels ask some insta-expert wheeled out for the occasion what it meant that the shooting happened early in the day when most tend to happen in late afternoon. Gee, I don't know – does it mean the killer was an early riser? Then I heard another talking head saying that this will be one of those days where people will always remember where they were when they heard. Really? Pop quiz – how many out there can tell me where they were when the previous recordholder for massacres (the Luby restaurant slayings in Killeen, Texas) happened? Can you even guess at what month or year that happened, let alone the date?

Tragic as this event is, it's not 9/11 or JFK's assassination. (As if to prove the point about not remembering dates, David Gregory kept saying that today was the anniversary of the Columbine massace until someone finally corrected him that it happened on April 20, not April 17.)

Of course, now we will enter the next phase of coverage. I've already heard people blaming video games when there has been no evidence yet that the shooter even played video games. I guess guns don't kill people (or eliminating seven-day waiting periods and limits on the numbers of rounds that can be placed in a magazine), playing Grand Theft Auto or Doom does. I've never played either game, but they are huge sellers and these massacres are not everyday occurrences, but never let a tragedy stop people from pursuing their own agendas. I wish I could find it but I read a great mock piece about people in Verona seeking to ban Romeo and Juliet when two star-crossed teen lovers committed suicide. People always want to blame something outside instead of looking at the fact that some people are just not right. Video games, Shakespeare, movies, Judas Priest or anything else do not cause these things. Mark David Chapman sat down and read Catcher in the Rye after killing John Lennon. Should we ban it?

Whether it's bigotry or violence, people would rather try to solve a problem through bans and banishment than by actively tackling the root causes. Back when Dennis Miller was funny, he used to have a great routine about how if anything Judas Priest has to say is going to set your kid off, something was going to get them eventually, ending with the sentiment, "You can't save everyone — just try not to be living next door to them when they go off."

We also will now have to endure the endless parade of talking heads and people seeking to be professional victims, looking to find 15 minutes of fame within the pool of blood. MSNBC spoke to the stepfather of one of the Columbine victims who said he didn't realize his stepson was one of the dead until the following morning when he read it in the paper. Really? I find that hard to believe unless he lived in another town and the boy's mother had also not been notified for some reason, but let's trot him out anyway just like Elizabeth Smart's creepy father comes out every time a little girl is abducted. I've already seen about three separate interviews with two students who were in the German classroom but survived, though one was slightly wounded in the arm. Yet, the young man who was wounded was still appearing on every interview in a suit and a tie, even with his arm in a sling. Call me crazy, but if I've been shot, I'm not dressing up to talk about it.

I hope no one finds this post too cold-hearted or harsh. I do genuinely feel for the friends and families of those unfortunate souls caught in the madman's line of fire, but the media's insistence on turning into a national circus (and a formulaic one at that) cheapens the entire horrific event.

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Fair and balanced lies

By Capt. Fogg

I've long bemoaned the death of the fairness doctrine, which until the "Reagan Renaissance" allowed those defamed to defend themselves on broadcast TV and radio. The philosophy was that the spectrum belonged to everyone, so in return for being able to use it to sell us things, the broadcasters owed us the truth when it came to news reporting and editorializing. Back then; back before Reagan, it was argued that it was not in the interest of the public who owned the "airwaves" to allow monopolies on news reporting either, but since the actor who played cowboys and presidents on TV decided that such things were unfair to the tycoonery, would-be demagogues have had a field day. They can lie and lie and lie and call it fair and balanced; they can libel, invent, and smear without hindrance or consequence.

Republicans like it that way and now that there is renewed talk of having a responsible media that serves the public rather than the Republicans, we can expect lots of howling about how fairness isn't fair and responsibility is irresponsible. It has already begun. The Free Congress Foundation, another one of those right-wing advocacy groups, had an ad hoc discussion on April 13 about Don Imus and what his firing might mean for other radio personalities according to Alex Koppelman at

The fear seems to be that the FCC may be able to force people like Limbaugh and Coulter off the air for their lies and slanders, although if it's argued that allowing time for rebuttal would do that one could argue that presidential debates or campaigns would likewise be bad for the country. I don't get it.

Face it, we are not well served by having a handful of plutocrats own all the news outlets any more than we are by allowing them freedom from criticism or competition. Both parties may wish to keep the status quo for obvious reasons, but if the Rutgers basketball team had been allowed time to rebut Imus on the air, if the people and organizations maligned by right wing talk radio hit men were allowed the same right to the public ear that Clear Channel and Rupert Murdock have purchased, it might be a better and better informed world and it might reduce the power of people like Al Sharpton to grind their own axes.

The fear of course, boils down to the threat to the propaganda machines of both parties, but the Republicans stand to loose a great deal if the public is allowed to talk back to Limbaugh. It's far less likely that any form of fairness doctrine would result in the FCC taking someone off the air for political reasons, in my opinion, than the possibility that Ann and Rush, fond as they are of talking about responsibility, might have to take responsibility for their words. Wouldn't that be nice?

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

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Ferdinand Hodler: The Night (1890)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

For some reason, this shocking painting by the Swiss master seems to capture the zeitgeist of the moment.


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Monday, April 16, 2007

A day of violence, a day of mourning

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There isn't much to add to what has already been said. I learned about the Virginia Tech shootings from a colleague at work. And, as the day went on, the death toll rose. It now stands at 33. As CNN puts it, it was the "deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history".

For more, see The Washington Post -- although everyone is covering this story.

For reaction in the blogosphere, see Memeorandum, where it is currently the lead story.


Violence at home, violence abroad

I prefer not to lump stories together, but, without in any way dismissing the violence at Virginia Tech, I must report that there was yet more violence in Iraq today. Here are the details from the BBC:

At least 13 Iraqi soldiers have been killed in an ambush in the northern city of Mosul, police say.

Gunmen opened fire at a checkpoint in the Abdaiyah area of Mosul, also wounding four soldiers, police said.

In other violence, US forces killed three Iraqi policemen in a "friendly fire" incident in a raid on suspected insurgents in Ramadi, west of Baghdad...

Also in Mosul, gunmen reportedly killed a university professor near his house.

In another town north of Baghdad, Hawija, gunmen reportedly killed the imam of a Sunni mosque and three bodies were found near the town of people shot and tortured.

What a horrible day.

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Military action on global warming

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I don't have time tonight to comment on this story -- although there is some commentary below -- but check it out:

The U.S. military is increasingly focused on a potential national security threat: climate change.

Just last month the U.S. Army War College funded a two-day conference at the Triangle Institute for Security Studies titled "The National Security Implications of Global Climate Change." And tomorrow, a group of 11 retired senior generals will release a report saying that global warming "presents significant national security challenges to the United States," which it must address or face serious consequences.

The 63-page report -- which is being released a day before the U.N. Security Council holds its first-ever briefing on climate change -- lays out a detailed case for how global warming could destabilize vulnerable states in Africa and Asia and drive a flood of migrants to richer countries. It focuses on how climate change "can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world," in part by causing water shortages and damaging food production.

The study's authors, along with several other national security experts, confirmed last week that the military has begun studying possible future impacts of global warming with new intensity.

Climate change -- or global warming, or whatever one prefers to call it -- is obviously much more than just a threat to American national security. Still, what is important, what is truly essential, is that the U.S. act now not only to prepare for the consequences of climate change but -- and this is where the focus ought to be -- to halt man-made climate change altogether. If it takes a military report, and military leadership, so be it. Given that no leadership has come from the White House -- quite the reverse, Bush has aggressively hindered action on global warming -- it has fallen to other major institutions, such as the military (and Congress, which must provide the political leadership with Bush in the White House), to lead the way.

Again, though, this is about much more than "possible future impacts" with respect to national security. The military will look at climate change through a military lens, and whatever recommendations it makes will likely be military in orientation. What is needed is action on climate change to prevent it from becoming such a threat to national security. This means at its most fundamental the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. And this is where political will comes in. The military may be preparing for its own future, but, ultimately, success will require political leadership well beyond what the military can provide.

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Not especially timely...

By Heraclitus

...but still funny as hell. Or maybe it's not funny at all; I suppose it all depends on whether you think emotionally deformed windbags like Mark Steyn and Glenn Reynolds actually contributed to making the invasion of Iraq a reality, or whether you think they were as irrelevant as a Chicago Bears fan who paints his chest to watch the game at home, only to end up passed out drunk before the end of the third quarter (only to eventually wake up and spend the week talking about "our" victory). I suppose the truth is somewhere in between.

Well, whether it's howlingly funny or crushingly depressing, check out this post at Sadly, No (from, well, last August), about Instapundit's attempt to respond to Glenn Greenwald's censure of this truly breathtaking little episode of public onanism regarding the Iraq War in August of 2003. Here's how the Sadly, No post begins:

When Glenn Reynolds gets riled and writes more than one or two distracted sentences at a time, which is seldom, the effect is like dozens of clowns piling out of a Mini. Were they all crammed up in there the whole time, or is there, like, a trap door that opens from a backstage reservoir?

But the bizarre spectacle of Junior League Wingnuts like Reynolds still contorting themselves into ever more absurd postures of self-congratulation over Iraq is emblematic of much of what passes for conservatism today. I actually think that the absolute worst, worse even than Krazy Kristol, for unflagging belligerance and overt bloody-mindedness, furious self-righteousness bordering on full-blown megalomania, and unhinged tub-thumping grotesqueries meant to ape Churchill is Charles Krauthammer.

But, whoever the worst offender is, behold the spectacle of self-styled conservatives making war on reality as violently as they can to avoid admitting they were wrong and that their brave and noble posturings have been revealed as jinogist little pantomines worthy of a vaudeville routine.

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Stupid is as stupid says

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I've always liked Howard Kurtz, but come on, what the fuck: "Over the years, Imus made fun of blacks, Jews, gays, politicians. He called them lying weasels. This was part of his charm."

His charm? (I realize Kurtz was likely only applying the label "lying weasels" to politicians, not to blacks, Jews, and gays, but you'd think such a seasoned media analyst would know how to get his point across a bit more tactfully than this.)

Media Matters has more.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Friendship, Cheney-style

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Far be it from me to tell the vice president how to be a good friend. Shooting a friend in the face during a reckless quail hunt just isn't my thing. Still, you think he'd be a bit warmer to his former sidekick, Scooter Libby, the guy who's taking the fall on Plamegate.

On CBS's Face the Nation today, Cheney said that Libby is "one of the most dedicated public servants [he has] ever worked with" and that "this" -- whatever this is, perhaps Libby's conviction on perjury and obstruction charges, perhaps the whole affair -- "is a great tragedy". And yet he hasn't spoken to his friend (and former chief of staff) in the six weeks since the conviction: "Well, there hasn't been occasion to do so."


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A brief question

By Heraclitus

Am I the only one (I know like half my posts begin this way) who is a little confused by the "scandals" that are actually sticking against members of the Bush administration? First there was Alberto Gonzales, who wrote the memo which, to the extent we know what's going on inside the Bush administration, paved the way for Abu Ghraib, and more generally gave the proverbial green light to torture. More recently he was seen assuring a panel of Senators that there is no right to habeas corpus in the Constitution. What finally catches up with him? The politicized firing of eight U.S. Attorneys. Don't get me wrong, I'm not pooh-poohing the importance of this. U.S. attorneys (of which there are only ninety-three total) play an important role in the federal legal system, and firing qualified attorneys because they refuse to act as political lackeys is indeed a serious offense. But compared to being one of the architects of a regime of torture?

Likewise, Wolfowitz may now be going down for giving his partner significant pay raises. This situation is somewhat different; Wolfowitz, whatever his other faults, never did anything so bad as advocate the casual use of torture (again, at least so far as we know). But one of the leading proponents and planners of the invasion of Iraq, possibly the most disastrously incompetent adventure in the history of American foreign policy, may be forced from public life over something so banal and tawdry (although it appears he'll be staying)? Is there something I'm not getting here? Is there some reason the press and, in the case of Gonzales, the Democrats are more comfortable attacking on these mundane, almost bureaucratic grounds? I suppose it does help it all look less "political," but I can't help but find the lingering unwillingness to oppose things like torture to be inauspicious.

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He didn't do nothing

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In anticipation of his much-anticipated Congressional testimony, AG Alberto Gonzales defends himself -- lamely -- in today's WaPo.

And -- guess what? He did nothing wrong!

Well, that's it, then. We're done. Right?

Er, no. Gonzo's op-ed is so shamelessly self-serving that it barely deserves serious attention. He says the "public firestorm" is an over-reaction to what was, initially, "a well-intentioned management effort". He was just looking into "changes in leadership" that would "benefit the department". The "public controversy" was "unintended".

Gonzo accepts responsibility -- but only for "[his] role in commissioning this management review process," not for the firings. Indeed, he has "no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. attorney for an improper reason".

Yadda yadda yadda. (The last paragraph in particular is predictable bullshit: "I know the real strength of America..." Fantastic.)

Now might be a good time for a definition, though:

Definition -- "an improper reason": any reason that becomes public, arouses significant media attention and bipartisan criticism of the Bush Administration, and must be denied at all costs.

Besides, as Creature notes over at State of the Day, whether or not Gonzo ordered the firings for "an improper reason" (or for any reason) isn't the question. Rather, the question is whether his superiors did -- you know, his puppetmasters, his overlords (i.e., Karl Rove et al.).

Gonzo is "already a footnote in this story". Yet he's the one who will be out there explaining the firings to Congress. Because that's his role as puppet AG, White House fall guy, Libby-like scapegoat. There's no way he was calling the shots, and that's how he can write such sanctimonious drivel in his defence.

As a hardcore Bush loyalist, the ultimate team player, his role has always been to obey orders and protect his masters. Reading over his op-ed, there's something deeply pathetic about it, as if he doesn't really understand what's going on around him -- or how it all came to this, "an undignified Washington spectacle". And -- you know what? -- he may even believe his own drivel. Not knowing any better, or anything at all, he may actually believe it was all just some "well-intentioned management effort" that got way out of hand and is now being completely misrepresented. Which is to say, he may be more deceived than deceiver, more dupe than liar.

The key to uncovering this scandal will be to identify the political machinations behind the scapegoat's convenient ignorance.

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Sign of the Apocalypse #44: Messing with the bees

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?" asks The Independent. Perhaps so -- and there could be disaster on the way:

It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world's harvests fail.

They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world -- the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon -- which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe -- was beginning to hit Britain as well.

The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees' navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.

It's called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and it is now a serious problem in the U.S. and Europe: "The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world's crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, 'man would have only four years of life left'."

Are cell phones to blame? More research needs to be done, but it looks like a distinct (and rather troubling) possibility.

And it would serve us right. As stewards of the natural world, we suck. And in our efforts to conquer that world, as opposed to living in harmony with it, we are destroying ourselves.

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There is no Plan B

By Michael J.W. Stickings

For John McCain, the surge is all there is:

Senator John McCain said that the buildup of American forces in Iraq represented the only viable option to avoid failure in Iraq and that he had yet to identify an effective fallback if the current strategy failed.

"I have no Plan B," Mr. McCain said in an interview. "If I saw that doomsday scenario evolving, then I would try to come up with one. But I cannot give you a good alternative because if I had a good alternative, maybe we could consider it now."

In a discussion of how he would handle Iraq if elected president, Mr. McCain said that the success of the Bush administration's strategy, which seeks to protect Baghdad residents so Iraqi political leaders have an opportunity to pursue a program of political reconciliation, was essentially a precondition for a more limited American role that could follow.

The problem, of course, is that the surge isn't really much of a surge, certainly not enough of one to make much of a difference in the long term. Any "success" is merely temporary and illusory -- for more on this, see here. (McCain thinks the surge has "a good shot" of succeeding, but he offers no guarantee.)

McCain suggests that as president he would consider withdrawal if the American people "run out of patience" and "demand that we get out". What McCain doesn't seem to understand is that the American people have already turned against the Iraq War and do not support the surge. If you're going to base policy decisions on public opinion, you should at least know what that opinion is.

There is no Plan B and Plan A is a likely failure.

This is what the war has come to.

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Between Belarus and Zimbabwe

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"It is no longer a country... where the government tries to pretend it is playing by the letter and spirit of the law. We now stand somewhere between Belarus and Zimbabwe."

-- Garry Kasparov


Here's the latest from the frontlines of Putin's assault on democracy:

Riot police beat and detained protesters as thousands defied an official ban and attempted to stage a rally Saturday against President Vladimir Putin's government, which opponents accuse of rolling back freedoms Russians have enjoyed since the end of Soviet communism.

A similar march planned for Sunday in St. Petersburg has also been banned by authorities.

A coalition of opposition groups organized the ``Dissenters March'' to protest the economic and social policies of Putin as well as a series of Kremlin actions that critics say has stripped Russians of many political rights. Organizers said only about 2,000 demonstrators turned out.

Thousands of police officers massed to keep the demonstrators off landmark Pushkin Square in downtown Moscow, beating some and detaining many others, including Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion who has emerged as the most prominent leader of the opposition alliance.

Kasparov was eventually released -- and "fined $38 for participating in the rally".

But Putin's message continues to be clear: Democracy will not be tolerated in what is an increasingly authoritarian Russia.


UPDATE: For more, including Kasparov's early warnings about Putin, see The Volokh Conspiracy.

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Racism in the German military

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Germany has come so far... and yet not:

A video aired on German TV has shown an army recruit on firing practice being ordered to pretend he was in New York's Bronx facing hostile African Americans.

Needless to say, such racism does not represent the views of Germans generally, nor even, one suspects, of the German army. And, as we all know, racism is everywhere. Whatever Germany's past, it is hardly a German phenomenon -- consider how race continues to be a defining political issue in the U.S. (well beyond the Imus saga -- although this showed not just the lingering problem of racism but the admirably indignant response to such racism throughout American society).

Still, it is precisely because of Germany's past that such expressions seem so horrendous.

One hopes that the German authorities deal with them with the appropriate indignation and intolerance.

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