Nero's Fiddle
A View From The Handbasket

Thursday, March 30, 2006
Think Different, or else
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:07 PM
Forget global warming. Forget Peak Oil. Forget bird flu.

The end of the world, will be brought about by Steve Jobs, who is apparently growing enormous killer iPods in Australia.

I, for one, welcome our new click-wheel overlords.

7 comments on this post
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
The Pro-Terrorist Media
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:10 PM
One of the oldest pages in the Bush playbook is the Blame Reversal Flip-Twist. If someone brings up something inconvenient or damaging, then blame the person who brings it up. Richard Clarke criticizing pre-9/11 anti-terror policy? Well, it's Clarke's fault. Joe Wilson revealing sexed-up intelligence? Blame Wilson and blow his wife's CIA cover for good measure. The New York Times breaking the story of illegal wiretapping? Call for an investigation... of the NYT for threatening nationaal security.

The latest example of this tactic is blaming the quagmire in Iraq on the media for reporting on the quagmire. If the media would stop talking about the chaos and bloodshed, the argument goes, then Americans would think the war was going well and this would, in some way, improve the actual conditions in Iraq. The power of positive thinking.

I may be the last person in Left Blogistan to link to this, but it's well worth watching. Lara Logan of CBS offers an opinion on these accusations. Follow the link for video. Here's a taste:

Our own editors back in New York are asking us the same things. They read the same comments. You know, are there positive stories? Can't you find them? You don't think that I haven't been to the U.S. military and the State Department and the embassy and asked them over and over again, let's see the good stories, show us some of the good things that are going on? Oh, sorry, we can't take to you that school project, because if you put that on TV, they're going to be attacked about, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be victims of attack. Oh, sorry, we can't show this reconstruction project because then that's going to expose it to sabotage. And the last time we had journalists down here, the plant was attacked. I mean, security dominates every single thing that happens in this country... So how it is that security issues should not then dominate the media coverage coming out of here?

0 comments on this post
Iraq: Fighting badly? Out of our league?
Posted by Tyrone at 6:56 PM
Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly asks regarding the execution of the war: "Either we're fighting this war very badly, in which case our military leadership deserves criticism, or else the kind of large-scale counterinsurgency we're fighting in Iraq is simply impossible for a country like the United States to win. Which is it?"

Good question, and certainly not one you hear very often [or at all]. Two comments, both by Stefan, go a long way in answering Drum's question [which can be best answered with "c. Both."] The first comment:

There are several forces at work here:

(1) Ideological. Radical Republican ideology demands that any talk of a "rebellion" or "insurgency" be downplayed -- remember that it took Rumsfeld months to even acknowledge that we were in a guerilla war. Officers who fail to toe the White House line on this have their careers destroyed, a la Shinseki.

(2) Structural. The US Army is not set up to fight insurgencies. Its force structure, revolving around heavily armed and armored units, is designed to smash and shock the enemy as fast as possible, not to fight a long, grinding guerilla campaign. In boxing terms, we're the big bruising heavyweight, when what is needed is a spry and agile flyweight.

(3) Careerism. Officers don't get promoted for counter-insurgency work. Ever since Kennedy instituted Special Forces as a separate unit within the military, the conventional officer corps has had a disdain for the snake eaters. You get promoted for commanding a tank brigade, or an artillery unit, not for slogging it out in jungles or deserts where no one can see you. It's not a glamour job.

(4) Military procurement. The Pentagon works hand in glove with deep pocket defense contractors. Defense contractors, by the nature of their work, would rather sell the military fancy jets and tanks and weapons systems rather than the low-tech gear needed to fight an insurgency. This also encourages officers who want a career with the contractors after they leave the military to encourage those sorts of purchases in order to endear themselves to their future employers.

(5) Culture. To fight an insurgency well, you have to be able to live among the people, to get to know their language and customs, as Lawrence did, for example. The British and French, when fighting their colonial campaigns, had the advantage that most of their forces involved in those campaigns were already living full time in the colonies, knew the culture and language and history. US forces, by contrast, generally are ignorant of this.

The second:

Another factor at work is that US commanders are (rightly so, partially) committed to force protection, i.e. to reducing their casualties to an absolute minimum. So US troops ride around in heavily armored vehicles, wear body armor and helmets, intimidate shoot at any Iraqi that comes close to them, etc. This does a fantastic job of keeping American soldiers alive, but a terrible job of endearing them to the local populace. Insurgencies are beaten with information, but the scowling, heavily armored American pointing a rifle at your family is not the sort of figure most Iraqis want to walk up to and chat with.

The British, by contrast, who have much more experience at fighting insurgencies than we do, think this is approach is insane. They generally patrol on foot, wear berets instead of helmets, shun sunglasses so they can actually make eye contact, etc. Their calculus is that by making themselves more vulnerable in the short run they'll be safer in the long-run because the local populace will befriend and help them.

It's national character, partly. Americans want to eliminate all possibility of risk, even if it turns out to be ultimately more dangerous. Think of it this way: Americans would rather ride in the big SUV which, while it's more far more likely to get in an accident, offers more protection when the accident happens. The British, on the other hand, would rather ride in the agile little sports car which, while offering less protection, is less likely to crash at all because it has better handling.

0 comments on this post
Let me check the list for your name, sir
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:50 PM
If true, this could make the standoff with Iran even more interesting.

Saudi Arabia is working secretly on a nuclear program, with help from Pakistani experts, the German magazine Cicero reported in its latest edition, citing Western security sources.

0 comments on this post
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:48 PM
Arriving at Fiddle Global HQ today was an envelope with the following printed on the back:

Well, could you resist? I thought not. Inside was an awesome fold-out paper "prayer rug" that, the back said, was "Soaked with the Power of Prayer for you." (Yuck.) The reproduction below is from another site -- it's too big to fit in my scanner:

According to the instructions, I'm supposed to "Look into Jesus' Eyes you will see they are closed. But as you continue to look you will see His eyes opening and looking back into your eyes." Spooky! After that not-at-all-occult-like experience, I am to mail the prayer-soaked "rug" back to whence it came, along with this form:

I think I'll specify that I want the Lord to bless Elder Goble of Richmond with enhanced cognitive powers, or at least intelligence beyond that of lesser vertebrates:

I think that would qualify as giving me the desires of my heart.

1 comments on this post
Monday, March 27, 2006
The Train of Death
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:05 PM
Immigration is as complex and subtle an issue as they come. Of course, that doesn't deter people from painting it as a matter of keeping out brown people who don't speak English. One has to wonder what the popular attitude toward immigration would be if Mexico and Central America were populated with English-speaking white people.

In reality, though, we get a steady stream of invective attacking the "lazy" Hispanics who come to America to steal jobs and government services from citizens while having lots of babies. These critics have found a new rallying point in HR 4437, legislation from Rep. James Sensenbrenner (from the immigration hotspot of Wisconsin) that will ratchet up enforcement, add several new regulations to the ones that are currently being ignored, and build a literal wall at the border. Most extraordinarily, this bill would make assisting illegal aliens a felony, which will freeze out a variety of community services including ESL training (it's somewhat ironic that the people who are offended by people who don't speak English are actively trying to eliminate workplace ESL programs).

Yet all this "get tough" rhetoric and legislation misses the point (as is the case with most "get tough" measures). If the proponents of HR 4437 think that they can intimidate people from attempting to enter the country, they have no idea of the reality. Spend a few minutes and listen to this recent episode of NPR's Fresh Air, in which Sonia Nazario relates her experiences reporting on children attempting to follow their parents to the US, and the unthinkable obstacles they face before even reaching the border.

Backers of HR 4437 such as Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole claim:

Illegal immigration, however, creates an underclass of workers, creates a disadvantage for those who wish to enter our country lawfully and puts our nation's security at risk.

There will always be an underclass fueled by immigration. There is nothing we can do to stop it as long as the demand for low-cost labor exists, and the supply of people desperate to escape the Third World exists. What HR 4437 represents is the decision of what to do with that underclass. Do we allow them to stay at the margins of America, or try to push them off the edge? Though shoving them toward the cliff won't help the underlying problems, it sure seems to make a lot of people feel better, as they cower behind their blinds staring hatefully at the guy mowing their neighbor's lawn.

3 comments on this post
About face.
Posted by Tyrone at 5:04 AM

I posted in the negative several months ago to a Fiddle post regarding America’s staying the course in Iraq. Sure, we broke it, but I could no longer bear the loss of American lives in the fruitless efforts to fix it. Since then, particularly with the Feb. 22 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra and the resultant sectarian fury which has claimed the lives of scores of hundreds--many kidnapped before witnesses and tortured before murdered—it’s become more and more difficult to hold that earlier position.

Every war has its stories, its human tragedies. And with this March 26 New York Times story—coming on the heels of so many recently—I’ve come to a defining moment in this war and am prepared to do an about face.

Mohannad al-Azawi had just finished sprinkling food in his bird cages at his pet shop in south Baghdad, when three carloads of gunmen pulled up.

In front of a crowd, he was grabbed by his shirt and driven off.

Mr. Azawi's body was found the next morning at a sewage treatment plant. A slight man who raised nightingales, he had been hogtied, drilled with power tools and shot.

[. . .]

Mr. Azawi was the youngest of five brothers. He was 27 and lived with his parents. He loved birds since he was a boy. Nightingales were his favorite.

If America is to continue in Iraq, the message must be clear: We’re there not to “stay the course” or to rebuild infrastructure or create/preserve democracy. America’s immediate mission has a face: preventing a [furthering of] civil war and the horrific slaughter of innocents. Secretary of State Rice, rather than making headlines with talk of drawing down American troops, must go before the United Nations and beg other nations’ help, without which the loss of both American and Iraqi innocents will continue unabated.

3 comments on this post
Sunday, March 26, 2006
There are many copies
Posted by neros_fiddle at 11:55 PM
I should mention that Nero's Fiddle is now a "we" instead of an "I." Starting with the post below, we now have multiple posters. I've moved the "Posted By" line to the top of each post, just under the title, to make it clear(er) who wrote what.

I'll let Tyrone introduce himself if he wants, but he came highly recommended from the Blogger Placement Agency. World domination begins now.

1 comments on this post
Shhh. It's a secret.
Posted by Tyrone at 8:54 PM
It may as well be a secret given the scant press given to Black joblessness. Notable in this New York Times piece are the new eye-popping jobless statistics that, unlike official unemployment rates, include those Blacks either no longer seeking employment or incarcerated. Here's a taste:

  • By 2004, 50 percent of black men in their 20's who lacked a college education were jobless [unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated], as were 72 percent of high school dropouts.
  • By their mid-30's, 30 percent of black men with no more than a high school education have served time in prison, and 60 percent of dropouts have.
  • Among black dropouts in their late 20's, more are in prison on a given day — 34 percent — than are working — 30 percent.
  • In the inner cities, more than half of all black men do not finish high school.

Did I say eye-popping?

There can be no doubt that America has failed these people. Damned near doomed at birth, what chance do these men have? And there but for the grace of God go you or I.

So what gives? Articles like this recent Times piece, much like those dealing with inner-city schools, are almost nowhere to be found, and other than Bob Somerby’s Daily Howler, the liberal blogosphere can’t be said to champion these issues either. Republicans, of course, are big on self-reliance and “you choose, you lose” rhetoric. And Democrats have distanced themselves from their roots. Not to mention the problematic nature of spending huge sums of money on a non-voting segment of the population who, in the minds of most, are nothing but a bunch of coke-snorting gangsta rappers. But I think there’s something more at play here.

"I don't understand," said William Baker, 47. "If a man wants to change, why won't society give him a chance to prove he's a changed person?" Mr. Baker has a lot of record to overcome, he admits, not least his recent 15-year stay in the state penitentiary for armed robbery.

Mr. Baker certainly asks a reasonable question: Why not give him a second chance to prove he's changed? After all, who among us hasn't been granted more than a few second chances? But unless Mr. Baker stuck his finger in his coat pocket and politely asked for that money, he more than likely used a gun and was granted a 15-year stint.

So what accounts for the Left's apathy here? Is the Left saying: Stick a gun in my face and I no longer care about your inability to read at other than a fourth-grade level, your shit environment and all the other disadvantages you endured while growing up?

7 comments on this post
Insert blog-title-related pun here
Posted by neros_fiddle at 5:08 PM
It seems unthinkable that the President could be impeached for ignoring Peak Oil. Yet it's easy to imagine such a thing being very popular if, once the crisis hits, people understand that articles like this were being written in advance.

However, in the real world, it will be the fault of whoever's in power at the time, doubly so if they ignore it with the same enthusiasm as Bush.

0 comments on this post
Friday, March 24, 2006
There goes the neighborhood
Posted by neros_fiddle at 7:58 PM
Special guest appearance this week from my mother-in-law's German Shepherd, Hildegard. Griz is a reluctant feline ambassador.

1 comments on this post
Patriot Act fails to quench Bush thirst for power
Posted by neros_fiddle at 6:18 PM
It might have seemed facetious and obvious under any other President, but when Russ Feingold went on The Daily Show and said:

I was taught that the Congress makes the laws and the President is supposed to sign them and enforce them. He's not supposed to make them up.

he was in fact going against the standard operating procedure of the Bush White House. The latest example came as Bush signed the renewal of the Patriot Act. While those concerned with civil liberties already view the Patriot Act as (at the very least) worrisome in its expanded government powers, Bush was unsatisfied.

As is his tendency, Bush followed the actual signing with the issuance of a "signing statement," which outlines how the President intends to interpret the law (which is the job of the judicial branch, but never mind):

When President Bush signed the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act this month, he included an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act's expanded police powers.

The bill contained several oversight provisions intended to make sure the FBI did not abuse the special terrorism-related powers to search homes and secretly seize papers. The provisions require Justice Department officials to keep closer track of how often the FBI uses the new powers and in what type of situations. Under the law, the administration would have to provide the information to Congress by certain dates.

Bush signed the bill with fanfare at a White House ceremony March 9, calling it "a piece of legislation that's vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people." But after the reporters and guests had left, the White House quietly issued a "signing statement," an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law.

In the statement, Bush said that he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act powers were being used and that, despite the law's requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would "impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties."

Translation: "Hey, thanks for the expanded powers, guys. I know you say I have to tell you when I use them, but I'm an important guy and can't always be bothered with such things. I'm gonna ignore that part of the law. In fact, if you hadn't passed this I probably would have just done whatever the hell I wanted anyway. Your little laws don't apply to me. Heh heh."

0 comments on this post
Thursday, March 23, 2006
From the "Not Getting the Point" Desk
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:04 PM

This is a bit removed from the normal fare, but I couldn't let this go uncommented on. From today's Washington Post:

Antidepressants fail to cure the symptoms of major depression in half of all patients with the disease even if they receive the best possible care, according to a definitive government study released yesterday.

Significant numbers of patients continue to experience symptoms such as sadness, low energy and hopelessness after intensive treatment, even as about an equal number report an end to such problems -- a result that quickly lent itself to interpretations that the glass was either half empty or half full.

The $35 million taxpayer-funded study was the largest trial of its kind ever conducted. It provided what industry-sponsored trials have rarely captured: Rather than merely ask whether patients are getting better, the study asked what patients most care about -- whether depression can be made to disappear altogether.

In their eagerness to tap into some sort of "fight the power" anti-drug company demagogy, the Post ends up with a slant that's laughably irresponsible.

I'm no doctor, so this is merely my opinion. But depression is not a headache, or a cold, or a hangnail. It is a chronic condition, whose origins we are only beginning to understand. Much like alcoholism or other addictive behavior, it cannot be "cured."

By implying that antidepressants are a scam because they don't universally erase all symptoms of depression (the headline on the home page as I type this: Questioning Antidepressants), the Post does damage in two ways:

1) They spread the notion that depression can be (or, at least, should be) totally undone with a pill.

2) They tell people struggling with depression that the yardstick of their treatment success is whether or not they have completely erased all trace of depression from their lives.

Antidepressants are not a magic bullet -- they are simply one tool in the treatment process. Severe depression is a state that is extremely difficult to crawl out of, even to simply reach a lesser state of depression. I apologize for the painfully trite analogy, but here's how I see it:

Clinically depressed people are drowning in the deep end of a pool. Antidepressants are akin to a life jacket. They don't pull the patient out of the water and dry them off, but they give the patient a fighting chance to (with appropriate therapy) continue breathing and get to the shallow end of the pool.

Exactly what the best approach to take to successfully treat depression patients is still an area of contention. To continue with the terrible analogy, there are basically two schools of thought these days. Some argue for an active approach in which whenever it occurs to you that you're wet, you should resist that thought and focus on being dry.

Others, most famously Steven Hayes, believe that a more passive approach works better. When you find yourself distressed at being wet standing in the shallow end of the pool, the correct response is not, "Worrying about being wet is bad," it's "Yeah, I'm wet. So what? How do I respond to that?"

Hayes calls this "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy," and it's becoming the latest evolution in cognitive behavior therapy. As a depression patient (in case you hadn't guessed), I find it infinitely more effective than the previous "active" approach, which has a "deny reality" aspect to it I find unworkable.

The point of all this is that dealing with depression is a lifelong process of figuring out how to deal with the painful messages your brain insists on sending you. To expect this to be widely curable with a pill, and to minimize the considerable therapeutic value of those pills by complaining that they're *not* a 100% "cure," is missing the point on a grand scale and putting sensationalism over duty to readers.

3 comments on this post
The Iraq war just sorta happened
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:58 AM
Here's an eye-popper of a quote from the New York Times:

One person who met Mr. Rove said he attributed Mr. Bush's problems more to external events, in particular Hurricane Katrina and Iraq, than to anything the White House did wrong.

Yes, it's a third-hand quote, so it might be completely off, but it's completely in keeping with the "create your own reality" nature of the White House that Karl Rove would consider the Iraq war an "external event," rather than something the administration "did wrong."

After all, Bush's famously stubborn refusal to accept any blame or admit any mistakes is getting increasingly untenable as large majorities reject the war. So this is a classic Rovian gambit -- make the Iraq war an "external" unpleasantness that the President is manfully wrestling with, rather than a situation that he was wholly responsible for creating.

Unfortunately, Bush took that "not my fault" script a little too far in his press conference on Tuesday and pushed the problem of how to disentangle from this inconvenient "external event" onto future Presidents:

Q Will there come a day -- and I'm not asking you when, not asking for a timetable -- will there come a day when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: That, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future Presidents and future governments of Iraq.

Which resulted in big headlines in many papers the next day along the lines of "Bush: Troops to stay until at least '09," which I tend to doubt was the message the White House was hoping to get out.

1 comments on this post
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Q&A, without the A
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:01 AM

In a clear sign that the White House is concerned about the President's dropping poll numbers, the President faced unscreened questions from citizens yesterday, in all likelihood for the first time since the 2004 election. Let's watch.

Q Thank you for coming to Cleveland, Mr. President, and to the City Club. My question is that author and former Nixon administration official Kevin Phillips, in his latest book, American Theocracy, discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its growing involvement into government and politics. He makes the point that members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse. Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the apocalypse? And if not, why not?

THE PRESIDENT: The answer is -- I haven't really thought of it that way. (Laughter.) Here's how I think of it. The first I've heard of that, by the way. I guess I'm more of a practical fellow. I vowed after September the 11th, that I would do everything I could to protect the American people.

Well, *there's* a topic he clearly doesn't want to discuss. The administration's eager to embrace the kooky fringe to get votes (and doesn't mind implying that Bush is a card-carrying member), but they're not about to bring weird Uncle Jebidiah down from the attic in front of company.

After that less-than-artful dodge, he went on to beat his chest a while on the topic of 9/11, and then threaten Iran with military action under the guise of protecting Israel:

But now that I'm on Iran, the threat to Iran, of course -- (applause) -- the threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. That's a threat, a serious threat. It's a threat to world peace; it's a threat, in essence, to a strong alliance. I made it clear, I'll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally, Israel, and -- (applause.)

OK, then.

By the way, in addition to the Phillips book (discussed a few posts down), there's a good Salon piece from a few years ago on this topic.

Q On behalf of the students here from various high school student leadership programs, we thank you for speaking with us here at the City Club of Cleveland.

THE PRESIDENT: Thanks -- I hope it's a convenient excuse to skip school, but -- (laughter.)

Q Mr. President, with the war in Iraq costing $19,600 per U.S. household, how do you expect a generation of young people such as ourselves, to afford college a time like this, when we're paying for a war Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Well -- hold on for a minute. Hold on. We can do more than one thing at one time. And when you grow your economy, like we're growing our economy, there is an opportunity to not only protect ourselves, but also to provide more Pell grants than any administration in our nation's history, and increase the student loan program. So if you take a look, I think you'll find that we're robust in helping -- at the federal level, helping people go to college. And it's essential you go to college. It's essential that there be a group of youngsters coming up that are well-educated so that we can maintain our economic leadership position in the world. We've got a robust program to do just that.

But it's also essential that we keep policies in place that keep the economy growing. This economy of ours is strong, and it's -- it is, in my judgment, growing stronger. But it is possible to put policy in place that would weaken it, such as raising taxes. I think we got to keep taxes low to keep the economy moving. It's possible to put policy -- (applause) -- it's possible to put policy in place that would hurt this economy, like protectionist policy. It's possible to -- if we keep suing our people trying to risk capital, it's conceivable, we won't be the leader. That's why we need good tort reform. We got to make sure that -- (applause.)

My point to you is economic growth enables us to do more than one thing. And that's what we'll continue to do.

It's more than a little amazing that Bush can answer a question about how Iraq is sucking the federal budget dry (and leaving coming generations mired in debt) by touting tax cuts and tort reform. And get applause.

Q Could you explain why living within the legislation that allowed your administration to get a warrant from a secret court within 72 hours after putting in a wiretap wouldn't be just as effective?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I appreciate the question. He's talking about the terrorist surveillance program that was -- created quite a kerfuffle in the press, and I owe an explanation to. Because our people -- first of all, after September the 11th, I spoke to a variety of folks on the front line of protecting us, and I said, is there anything more we could be doing, given the current laws? And General Mike Hayden of the NSA said there is. The FISA law -- he's referring to the FISA law, I believe -- is -- was designed for a previous period, and is slow and cumbersome in being able to do what Mike Hayden thinks is necessarily -- called hot pursuit.

And so he designed a program that will enable us to listen from a known al Qaeda, or suspected al Qaeda person and/or affiliate, from making any phone call outside the United States in, or inside the United States out -- with the idea of being able to pick up quickly information for which to be able to respond in this environment that we're in. I was concerned about the legality of the program, and so I asked lawyers -- which you got plenty of them in Washington -- (laughter) -- to determine whether or not I could do this legally. And they came back and said, yes. That's part of the debate which you're beginning to see.

I fully understood that Congress needed to be briefed. And so I had Hayden and others brief members of the Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, House members and senators, about the program. The program is under constant review. I sign a reauthorization every -- I'm not exactly sure -- 45 days, say. It's something like that. In other words, it's constantly being reviewed. There's an IG that is very active at the NSA to make sure that the program stays within the bounds that it was designed.

I fully understand people's concerns about it, but ours is a town, by the way, in Washington, where when you don't connect the dots, you're held up to Congress, and when you do connect the dots, you're held up to Congress. I believe what I'm doing is constitutional, and I know it's necessary. And so we're going to keep doing it. (Applause.)

Kudos to the citizen for asking the question the administration can't answer. And indeed, the question was not answered. We are asked to believe that a 72-hour retroactive warrant is "slow and cumbersome."

Applause, applause, applause.

7 comments on this post
Monday, March 20, 2006
Meet the new boss
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:11 PM
It sounds like the Afghan government is up to its old Taliban-era tricks again:

The defendant, 41-yer-old Abdul Rahman, was arrested last month after his family accused him of becoming a Christian, Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada told The Associated Press in an interview. Rahman was charged with rejecting Islam and his trial started Thursday.


"We are not against any particular religion in the world. But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law," the judge said. "It is an attack on Islam."

Mawlavezada said he would rule on the case within two months.

Afghanistan's constitution is based on Shariah law, which is interpreted by many Muslims to require that any Muslim who rejects Islam be sentenced to death, said Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of the state-sponsored Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

It seems the administration has two choices: they can either stop pretending they are "spreading freedom" and admit they simply want a fundamentalist Islamist regime that will play ball (as opposed the Taliban, who wouldn't play ball), or they can invade Afghanistan again and start over.

Or, in the real world, we'll just continue pretending and no one will notice. (And then act surprised when Iraq starts condemning people to death for leaving Islam.)

2 comments on this post
Friday, March 17, 2006
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:58 PM
The damn things are everywhere.

1 comments on this post
Beyond left and right
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:46 PM
The sorts of things I've been talking about on this blog (in and around the political cheap shots, cat pictures, impenetrable psychobabble and random ranting) -- the end of cheap energy, religious mania, crushing debt -- are issues that ought to transcend political ideology. It's a measure of exactly how partisan Washington is these days that it can be otherwise, how (as an example) you can have a near-party-line vote on raising the debt ceiling -- with the "conservatives" the party voting *for* more debt!

In that spirit, here's a book by a former GOP standard-bearer that I intend to read attentively:

Salon review here.

1 comments on this post
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Censure debate reveals more of Dems' Defeat 2006 plans
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:23 PM

What we are seeing play out in the Senate is an object lesson in exactly why the Democrats are totally impotent in the face of a President with approval ratings in the mid-30s.

Read it and weep:

Many Democrats, while sympathetic to Feingold's maneuver, appeared to be distancing themselves from his resolution yesterday, wary of polls showing that a majority of Americans side with the president on wiretapping tactics.

Let's talk about those polls for a moment. It's quite difficult to make sense of them, because wording is even more important than usual in this case. (If worded right, a majority will express the desire to impeach Bush over this issue -- I consider that poll an outlier, but interesting nevertheless.) A good example is a January poll done by NYT/CBS.

First, here's the data from the question: "After 9/11, President Bush authorized government wiretaps on some phone calls in the U.S. without getting court warrants, saying this was necessary to reduce the threat of terrorism. Do you approve or disapprove of this?"

No opinion1%

Here's the fun part. Now we word the question like this: "After 9/11, George W. Bush authorized government wiretaps on some phone calls in the U.S. without getting court warrants. Do you approve or disapprove of this?"

No opinion3%

Without the "terrorism" boogeyman in the equation, the approval number goes down seven percent and disapprove goes up four. (The margin of error for this poll is +/-3%.) What does this tell us? That the message is vitally important. The electorate is ready to defend civil liberties if the issue is framed properly.

The numbers get even more interesting if you look beyond the present to the possible future. In response to the question, "Which concerns you more -- that the government will fail to enact strong anti-terrorism laws or that the government will enact new anti-terrorism laws which will excessively restrict the average person's civil liberties?"

Fail to enact40%
Enact laws that restrict48%
No opinion8%

The people want to see someone take the lead in defending basic freedoms. The margin isn't huge, but it's by no means a politically suicidal position to take, especially if it's framed as a larger issue than just the FISA case -- the public is worried that Bush is disposed to go too far, and a censure could successfully be presented as a warning not to do that.

Finally, let's look at the results of the question: "How concerned are about losing some of your civil liberties as a result of the measures enacted by the Bush Administration to fight terrorism?"

Not very17%
Not at all18%
No opinion1%

A 64% majority is concerned about their civil liberties, even when the magic words "fight terrorism" are used. Only 35% are resting easy. This suggests standing up for civil liberties would be a popular move.

So what are the Senate Democrats afraid of? It's those first two questions. The polls themselves aren't the problem, the problem is that the Dems think the Republicans are better at presenting a unified, compelling message. That the talking point "The Democrats want to censure the President for trying to protect you" is more powerful than "The President broke the law that protects your freedom," despite near-universal agreement outside the White House that the President violated FISA (even the Republicans in the Senate tacitly admit as much).

(It's not entirely out of place to mention here that if John Kerry had had the balls to vote against the Iraq war resolution instead of caving to polling strategies, he could well be President today. Is it so outrageous to suggest that voting against censure could be equally damaging to a candidate in '08?)

They're not afraid of the polls or of the Republicans. They're scared of their own inability to stand up and lead. If they're this paralyzed when the President has such terrible approval ratings, then how can they hope to regain power?

7 comments on this post
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Welcome Googlers
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:42 PM

This site doesn't get all that many hits, though it's not doing too badly and is getting some exposure out in Greater Blogistan (thanks, TBogg!).

Nevertheless, perusing the usage logs can be fun. I've discovered that, unsurprisingly, many of the visits here (apart from the "regulars") are as a result of various Google searches. Some are clearly accidental, such as the one or two hits per day I get from people trying to figure out how to use the Nero CD burning program to copy copyrighted discs. (Shame on you! Gonzales is watching!)

Others, however, are more interesting. As I type this, Nero's Fiddle is the #1 "I'm feeling lucky" result for the query trucks and manliness, #1 for french news babe and #2 (previously #1) for the query democrats unveil strategy.

And they say all the good niches are taken.

0 comments on this post
A freedom sampler
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:34 PM
I've been thinking about Dob's challenge (see below). The problem with freedom is much like what a fictional character in a movie I've never seen said about a box of chocolates -- you never know what you're going to get.

In that spirit, let's open up the box, reach inside, and see what pops out.

Freedom on the march

On the heels of his worst-ever showing in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, the President is again touring his long-running performance art spectacle Why I Went To War. Amongst the venerable set pieces (9/11 was mentioned four times, we were again reminded that "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down," and the word "freedom" was used nine times, not counting the title given to the speech on the White House web site), Bush attempted to spin the latest developments:

Immediately after the attack, I said that Iraq faced a moment of choosing -- and in the days that followed, the Iraqi people made their choice. They looked into the abyss and did not like what they saw. After the bombing, most Iraqis saw what the perpetuators [sic] of this attack were trying to do: The enemy had failed to stop the January 2005 elections, they failed to stop the constitutional referendum, they failed to stop the December elections, and now they're trying to stop the formation of a unity government. By their response over the past two weeks, Iraqis have shown the world they want a future of freedom and peace -- and they will oppose a violent minority that seeks to take that future away from them by tearing their country apart.

But while the President tried to convince us (and himself) that he was chewing on a yummy caramel confection, reports on the ground had the distinct flavor of chocolate-covered bugs:

Authorities said at least 86 bodies were found in the Iraqi capital during a 30-hour period ending midday Tuesday, sparking fears that sectarian reprisal killings are continuing at a grisly pace.


"The indications are, police won't say this, but the indications are that these are sectarian killings," CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson said. "... You talk to some people here in Baghdad and they talk in their neighborhoods, mixed neighborhoods, of tit-for-tat killings. Sunni one day, Shia the next day...

"That's the perception in the city at the moment."

Indications are that for the foreseeable future, Iraqis will enjoy their freedom, 3 years after the invasion, while negotiating checkpoints, obeying strict curfews, and dodging bullets.

Freedom in retreat

Sandra Day O'Connor has decided that someone peed in her box of chocolates:

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University, reported by National Public Radio and the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Ms O'Connor took aim at Republican leaders whose repeated denunciations of the courts for alleged liberal bias could, she said, be contributing to a climate of violence against judges.

Ms O'Connor, nominated by Ronald Reagan as the first woman supreme court justice, declared: "We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary."

She pointed to autocracies in the developing world and former Communist countries as lessons on where interference with the judiciary might lead. "It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

While I appreciate her voice, I'd rather she'd stayed on the court where she could do something about this problem, rather than clearing the way for Sam Alito.

Freedom deferred

A man I'm admiring more and more, Sen. Russ Feingold introduced a motion to censure the President for his flagrant violation of FISA. Not surprisingly, few dared to bite into that particular coconut surprise and agree that Bush should face even a slap on the wrist for breaking the law. Even those like Arlen Specter who seemed genuinely angry at Bush's hubris are now falling meekly into line:

But a leading Republican skeptic of the NSA program, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, said Feingold's censure resolution was "vastly excessive."

If administration officials like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales are correct, Specter said, "then there is no violation of law by the president."

There you have it -- if the administration says they didn't break the law, then they didn't break the law. End of story.

Even nominal Democrats like Harry Reid and the odious Joe Lieberman hung Feingold out to dry, making sympathetic noises but failing to support the motion.

And, naturally, those eager to use the threat of terror to beat the Constitution into submission happily conflated opposition to warrantless domestic wiretaps with support of terrorists, throwing the sweet, sweet candy of fear at the public from their podiums:

Frist, a Tennessee Republican, called the measure "a political stunt that is addressed at attacking the president of the United States of America when we're at war."

He criticized Feingold for introducing the censure resolution "at the same time we have terrorists right now intending to attack Western civilization and the people of our homeland."


Meanwhile, at a Republican campaign event in Feingold's home state, Vice President Dick Cheney challenged Democrats to take a stand on the Feingold resolution.

He called the resolution an "outrageous proposition" and said it "poses a key test for our Democratic leaders: Do they support the extreme and counterproductive antics of a few, or do they support a lawful program vital to the security of this nation?"

The vice president asserted that Americans "agree with the president, and our administration's position is clear -- If there are individuals inside our country talking with al Qaeda overseas, we want to know about it."

And, as always, the question of exactly how the FISA court is not sufficient to warrant wiretaps is left unanswered.

Freedom abridged retroactively

While Feingold waged a lonely battle to hold the President accountable, others in Congress decided the best way to handle the situation was to change the law to make what the President did legal:

Support was building Tuesday for a proposal from some moderate Senate Republicans that would give President Bush's surveillance program the force of law, more than four years after he secretly initiated the program.

One could easily imagine entire Congressional committees being set up to handle changing the law to match the administration's behavior.

Freedom enjoyed again and again

In case I haven't abused this poor metaphor enough, there are some people who lack the self-control and maturity to take just one chocolate from the box and insist on gorging themselves simply because they can.

While visiting a so-called "friend" recently, he forced me to watch some of a Learning Channel show devoted to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, a happy God-fearing couple from Arkansas who took the whole "be fruitful and multiply" thing to a gut-wrenching extreme:

They have 16 children, all their own. They drive around in a church bus. The Learning Channel show was about their adventures building a barn-like house for themselves. Jim Bob ran for the Senate in 2002. (The campaign poster, in the link, is a must-see. Note that apparently all the children's names begin with J.)

That's all I know, because I managed to beat my "friend" senseless with the remote and escape before seeing any more. I'm sure the Duggars would agree with many that not having children is "selfish."

Free speech

Finally, my response to Dob. I am far more inclined to err on the side of too much freedom of speech than not enough. The story he cites makes me wonder more about the motivation of the mother than the rights of the child. I think the school has the responsibility to prevent the homework assignments of a kindergarten class from becoming a contest to see who loves God more, and the principal was exactly right in rejecting the first poster. (What happened with the second seems a little fuzzier, though.) Students shouldn't be forbidden to express religious beliefs in the context of their schoolwork, but they shouldn't be allowed to use religion as a replacement for their schoolwork. Likewise, the (public) school itself should not express a religious viewpoint, since would necessarily imply an "official" religion.

The notion of "hate speech" I find incredibly suspect. There are laws on the books for harrassment, slander and threatening, and those are fine -- nothing further is needed. Trying to control speech some find "offensive" is sure to lead to a situation where practically anything is offensive. It's a bit of a cliche, but the answer to bad speech is good speech, not banning bad speech. Dragging bigotry and hate out into the light will do more good in the end than trying to legislate it away.

After all, chocolate's pretty bad for you, but they can pry it out of my cold dead fingers.

1 comments on this post
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Time to play Founding Father
Posted by neros_fiddle at 6:11 PM
Dob has a good challenge for us in the comment thread to the post immediately below. "If you had the ultimate power to make laws and were creating a country from scratch, how would you treat freedom of speech?"

I need to think on that one a bit. Any and all input, of course, is welcome.

1 comments on this post
Friday, March 10, 2006
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:45 PM
Athena has a hard life.

1 comments on this post
Yabba dabba doo
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:10 PM
I guess it's a measure of the funhouse-mirror strangeness of Peak Oil when Kenneth Deffeyes has to explain that stating "In 2025, we're going to be back in Stone Age" was a joke.

As a token of apology for causing a run on orange-and-black fur tunics, he offers a link to this fascinating ExxonMobil ad which ran on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times and tells consumers, "There's plenty of oil! Don't panic and do something stupid like explore alternative energy. But, um, we need some tax breaks from the government. And hey, don't use too much of it, OK? Just in case. Thanks!"

1 comments on this post
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Dubai calculates the cost
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:42 PM
Right now, we're just hearing the story that DP World is giving up its newly-purchased American port operations. It's a bit surprising, but not a totally unforseeable end to this tempest.

I've got what might be a somewhat unique perspective on Dubai and the UAE for the typical American. I don't want to go into a lot of detail, but suffice it to say that I was in the same building (probably no more than a hundred feet away) as the current ruler of Dubai on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Those who want to make the UAE out to be grim-faced Islamic extremists in the mold of Saudi Arabia or the Taliban are simply misinformed. The UAE, and Dubai in particular, is actually quite cosmopolitan and West-friendly (if startlingly inequitable and indulgent). While I can find plenty to criticize about the sheikhs that run the place, calling them terrorists doesn't wash.

What they're interested in, boringly enough, is wealth. They realize that their oil money isn't going to last forever, and for some time now have been diversifying into many other industries -- port operation being one of the biggest. In that way, they're no more (or less) dangerous than, say, Halliburton.

None of this is an attempt to say that I'd trust the UAE with the life of my cats or anything like that. The whole idea of putting US ports under the management of a foreign country (as opposed to a foreign company) is (at the very least) questionable. Companies owned by the governments of China and Singapore run US ports, and I'm not sure that's such a good thing, either. All I'm saying is that the UAE operating US ports isn't necessarily any worse than, say, China operating US ports (which they do).

Which is to say the port security flap really wasn't about port security (though port security is certainly an issue Bush is vulnerable on), it was more about (as Ron notes in a comment below) Bush getting bitten by the climate of fear he's created. Even though I'm dubious of the threat to national security, it's nevertheless poetically satisfying to see one of his crony deals get derailed (or at least diverted -- I wonder if Halliburton has a ports division?) by the very anti-Islam hysteria he furthered when he encouraged us to think bin Laden and Saddam were the same person, and Saddam's Iraq was the hub of Islamic terror. Live by Willie Horton, die by Willie Horton.

In the end, Dubai ran the numbers and figured that this mess would cost them more in the long run than it would gain them. I'm sure the sheikhs were very uncomfortable having their past associations with the Taliban being front-page material in the newspapers of their prospective business partners. It was, like most everything having to do with Dubai, down to dollars and cents.

1 comments on this post
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Good boy!
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:12 AM

It's yet another busy week at the day job, so I'll leave you to go read Glenn Greenwald's analysis of the Senate Intelligence Committee rolling over and playing dead for the White House. It should be interesting to see if and how readily Congress falls into line on the Dubai ports fracas.

I'll also encourage checking out the comments on the AOL thread below -- some good, thought-provoking insights there. I'll chime in myself later today.

2 comments on this post
Monday, March 06, 2006
AOL vs. Nietzsche
Posted by neros_fiddle at 6:00 PM

I was hoping they'd end with the Olympics, but no such luck. I'm still being told, over and over, that AOL "wants everybody to be fast." To illustrate their egalitarian impulses, they show me commercials in which everyday schmoes successfully compete with highly trained athletes. You get someone who looks like the world's happiest dental office receptionist strapping on skis and blasting through the slalom. You get some old guy on an ancient bike showing up the Lycra-clad poseurs on their multi-thousand dollar racing cycles. You get the nuclear family straight from Central Casting (including dog) piloting their canoe to victory against the world's best rowing teams. Etc., and so on.

Cute, and it gets the point across. It's a freaking broadband ad, and nothing more. So why does it give me indigestion? I mean, I have no problem with people getting broadband. Broadband is a wonderful thing. The more people have broadband, the happier the world is, as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps it's a residual dislike of AOL from years of trying to explain to various management types that when the AOL mail system screws up, there's nothing I can do to fix it (and that AOL tech support isn't impressed when I call and say my boss is upset).

I guess it's the implication of the ads that bugs me -- the basic message of entitlement that has nothing at all to do with broadband. It's consistent with the streak of anti-intellectualism, of anti-elitism, if you will, that seems to have settled comfortably into the zeitgeist. (It seems like just yesterday the Oscars were getting criticized for being too "commercial," for favoring big moneymakers at the expense of independent films. Now, of course, they're getting slammed for nominating "arthouse movies" instead of "common-man" blockbusters. Our President is well-liked for his semi-grammatical "straight talk.")

Because, after all, what is it these commercials are really saying? There's no reason you should have to train for years to be the best at something. Being the best is a waste of time. It's wrong to celebrate excellence. Average is just as good. Everyone should be fast.

A lot of these questions cropped up in the wake of (of all things) Pixar's The Incredibles, which sparked a lot of discussion of its barely disguised Nietzschean ethos. In many ways, that movie was the opposite of the AOL ads. It asked us to feel empathy for the superior among us, who have to contain their vibrant excellence to avoid making the rest of us feel like the sad slobs we are.

Which feels wrong as well (in much the same way as Ayn Rand's adolescent philosophy, as immortalized in the execrable Rush song "The Trees"). Both the AOL ads and The Incredibles reject the notion that greatness is (or at least can be) the result of hard work. In the ads, greatness is a matter of those who aren't great being artificially held back, waiting for a global media conglomerate to unlock their potential. In the movie, the great are born great, and the rest have no hope of greatness. (In fact, the villian in the movie is someone who tries to emulate the superheroes with technology -- he tried to rise above the station to which he was born.)

You could say I'm reading too far into mere commercials and kiddie movies. And you wouldn't be far wrong. But the next time you read about a bunch of parents demanding equal time for some faith-based cosmology in science class, consider for a moment if they might see themselves as the ordinary family in the canoe, who really know just as much as the guys on the rowing team who've devoted their whole lives to the sport.

5 comments on this post
Sunday, March 05, 2006
You can do anything with a bayonet except sit on it
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:19 AM
Ron alerted me to this excellent interview with journalist Mark Danner on TomDispatch. Danner has a hard-won perspective on human rights and out-of-control governments, and speaks authoritatively on the present situation in America.

1 comments on this post
Friday, March 03, 2006
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:54 PM
For those of you who know Athena, here's proof from the summer of 1992 that she was once small and cute. But she's always been sassy.

0 comments on this post
Kentucky update
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:01 PM
The amendment I talked about yesterday, which would eliminate judicial authority for Ten Commandments postings and gay-rights ordinances, was unexpectedly defeated in the Kentucky Senate yesterday.

Hope is a stubborn thing.

3 comments on this post
Willing to die for a lie
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:25 PM
In the runup to the last election, I thought this survey from October 2004 was enormously important. While I'm not naive or proud enough to think that everyone who disagrees with me politically is an idiot, it's not often that you get empirical proof that a candidate's support on a vital issue is predicated on misinformation:

Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. Kerry supporters hold opposite beliefs on all these points.

Similarly, 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions.

While it's hardly new or unique that people would willfully ignore facts when they conflict with their political worldview (and I have no doubt that the left is not immune to such lapses), this was a particularly striking example. It raises all sorts of interesting questions about mistrust of the media, where people get their information, and other such topics.

But for me, what hit home most was the tragedy that we had gone to war based on massive confusion. Whether or not Bush actively encouraged the impression that Saddam was connected to 9/11 (I think he did, but it's an arguable point), the entire administration most certainly expressed certainly that he had vast stocks of WMD. And having committed to sacrificing soldiers for that cause, Bush's supporters were unwilling to consider that they had been sold a bill of goods (also from the 10/2004 survey):

Remarkably, asked whether the United States should have gone to war with Iraq if U.S. intelligence had concluded Baghdad did not have a WMD programme and was not supporting al-Qaeda, 58 percent of Bush supporters said no, and 61 percent said they assumed the president would also not have gone to war under those circumstances.

"To support the president and to accept that he took the U.S. to war based on mistaken assumptions," said Kull, "likely creates substantial cognitive dissonance and leads Bush supporters to suppress awareness of unsettling information about pre-war Iraq."

If voters at home were actively "suppressing awareness" of the realities on the ground in Iraq, I wondered, then what about the soldiers who were fighting and dying there? What did they tell themselves in response to the inevitable question of "What the hell am I doing here?"

Now we know.

The respondents -- 41 percent regular Army; 25 percent Marines; and the rest National Guard and Reserves -- also showed uncertainty about their mission in Iraq.

While some 27 percent said they were "very clear" about the mission, nearly one third said they were "somewhat clear," 20 percent "somewhat unclear;" and nearly 25 percent either "very unclear," "not sure," or had "no understanding."

Asked to assess the relative importance of the different justifications for the war articulated by Bush over the last several years, three in four soldiers said "establish(ing) a democracy that could be a model for the Arab world" -- the justification most recently cited by Bush -- was neither the "main" nor even a "major reason" for the U.S. intervention.

More than 90 percent also did not accept the justification most cited by the administration before the war -- to enforce U.N. resolutions requiring the destruction or removal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from Iraq. Less than five percent of respondents cited that as the "main" or a "major reason."

Remarkably, the two justifications most frequently mentioned by the troops were those that were discredited after the invasion. Forty-one percent said stopping "Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq" was the "main reason," while another 36 percent said it was a "major reason." At the same time, 35 percent said "retaliat(ing) for Saddam's role in the 9/11 attacks" was the "main reason", and 50 percent called it a "major reason."

While the troops aren't buying what Bush was selling in the march to war -- the threat of Saddam's alleged WMD -- they appear to have swallowed whole the thing that Bush himself never said explicitly (and even occasionally explicitly denied) but hoped people would infer: that Saddam had a hand in 9/11.

Because if you take that away, what's left? They don't believe the WMD angle. They aren't getting on board with the "spreading democracy" talking points. Fighting terror and avenging 9/11 is the only thing remaining. Believing that Saddam's Iraq wasn't an al Qaeda stronghold and that Saddam didn't bring down the WTC would be too horrible to comtemplate, as you trudge through another extended tour at best, and get shot at, wounded or killed at worst. Bush's supporters at home only have their consciences to protect from inconvenient facts -- for the troops in Iraq (people largely motivated by a desire to serve and protect America, not act as instruments of foreign policy), their entire day-to-day existences are founded on those illusions.

So I can hardly blame those serving in Iraq for believing that Saddam was bin Laden. But I can blame the administration for sending them there believing that, and later acting like it was all a big joke:

During the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner this week, Bush presented a slide show of quirky photographs from inside the White House. In one, the president is looking under furniture in the Oval Office.

"Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere," Bush joked. "Nope, no weapons over there ... maybe under here?"

3 comments on this post
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Theocracy roundup addenda -- with pizza!
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:20 PM
Via AMERICAblog, two more fun news items to add to the litany in the post below. Time restricts me to brief smart-assery.

Item The First:

Olivia Shelltrack finally has her dream home. Her family moved into the five-bedroom, three-bath frame house in Black Jack last month. But now she fears she and her fiance face uprooting their children because of a city ordinance that says her household fails to meet Black Jack's definition of a family.

Shelltrack and Fondray Loving, her boyfriend of 13 years, were denied an occupancy permit because of an ordinance forbidding three or more individuals from living together if they are not related by "blood, marriage or adoption." The couple have three children, ages 8, 10 and 15, although Loving is not the biological father of the oldest child.

"I was basically told, you can have one child living in your house if you're not married, but more than that, you can't," she said.

The terrorists hate us because of our freedom.

Item The Second:

If Domino's Pizza founder Thomas S. Monaghan has his way, a new town being built in Florida will be governed according to strict Roman Catholic principles, with no place to get an abortion, pornography or birth control.

The pizza magnate is bankrolling the project with at least $250 million and calls it "God's will."


Gov. Jeb Bush, at the site's groundbreaking earlier this month, lauded the development as a new kind of town where faith and freedom will merge to create a community of like-minded citizens. Bush, a convert to Catholicism, did not speak specifically to the proposed restrictions.

Domino's pizza... tastes like ashes.

1 comments on this post
As Bush falls, theocracy rises
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:55 AM

In Tuesday's CBS News/NYT poll, the President's approval rating has fallen to a new all-time low of 34%. What's worse, the approval number for Bush's performance fighting terrorism, the lone issue on which he could get the support of a majority, rings up at 43% in this poll. Approval on his Iraq policy is a resounding 30%.

As a leaked video lays bare just how fast and loose the administration played with the truth in the aftermath of Katrina and the Dubai port deal continues to hammer away at its credibility on national security (rightly or wrongly), there's no sign that things are going to get better for George soon. Congressional Republicans up for re-election in the fall are terrified.

Unfortunately, it's far from clear that Bush's impressive lack of popularity means anything beyond the walls of the White House and the mid-term elections. Emboldened by the appointments of Roberts and Alito, state legislatures are eagerly shoveling red meat toward the conservative base, erecting the foundations of an American Taliban.

In South Dakota, the legislature has passed an abortion ban that even Bush finds excessive. (Naturally, Bush claims to not know much about it.) A similar bill is marching through the Mississippi government.

Meanwhile, in Utah, lawmakers explicitly refused to make an exception for incest in a parental consent bill, thus making it their position that a girl impregnated by her father needs her father's consent to have an abortion. A couple of charming opinions from Utah's finest:

West Jordan Republican Sen. Chris Buttars scoffed at McCoy's suggestion that the legislation might force teens to other states for abortions or into their bathrooms to attempt the procedure on themselves.

"Abortion isn't about women's rights. The rights they had were when they made the decision to have sex," Buttars said. "This is the consequences. The consequence is they should have to talk to their parents."

And Peterson said restricting access to abortion sends a message.

"I'm not sure we should run away from the morals we have," he said. "We're told we can't teach abstinence in our schools. We're told to keep our religion out of our schools. I'm not sure we shouldn't stand on our morals and yell them from the mountaintops."

And finally, in Kentucky, Republicans in the Senate are floating a constitutional amendment to explicitly prevent courts from ruling on the issues of gay-rights ordinances and Ten Commandments displays. If the pesky courts won't let the legislature pass unconstitutional laws, then take the courts out of the loop and let the majority rule. Unfettered democracy! Jefferson would weep.

So even if Bush has finally blundered his way into irrelevance, it's far too late. Time will tell if any of these nascent laws (at least some seem certain to pass) survive the newly remodeled Supreme Court, but the Kentucky amendment clearly indicates the theocrats' willingless to completely bypass judicial oversight, if that's what it takes to get "Christian"-friendly laws on abortion, gays and the First Amendment.

Bush has served his purpose. The right can now cast him aside.

7 comments on this post
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Doom, I say! Doom!
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:41 PM

Image Credit

While I can never seem to remember important things like birthdays, phone numbers and wearing pants (oh, wait, that's the recurring dreams post), I have a flawless memory for useless things like... well, like my posts from five months ago. In this particular example of 20-20 hindsight, we find reliable pessimist James Howard Kunstler warning us:

Take a good look at America around you now, because when we emerge from the winter of 2005 - 6, we're going to be another country. The reality-oblivious nation of mall hounds, bargain shoppers, happy motorists, Nascar fans, Red State war hawks, and born-again Krispy Kremers is headed into a werewolf-like transformation that will reveal to all the tragic monster we have become.

Obviously, Jim was dead solid wrong on that count. The mall's as crowded as ever, the Sunday paper's full of bargains, my mother-in-law has a new car, the Daytona 500 got record ratings, and Krispy Kremes are still yummy. (To be fair, the war has become rather unpopular, though it's still got broad support, especially in the Red States.) Kunstler has somehow made a career out of being wrong -- he rode the Y2K doom train for all it was worth seven years ago, and is now Peak Oil's biggest cheerleader. It's worthwhile to note that these sort of Chicken Little antics are supporting pillars of Kunstler's main gig, which is decrying the suburbs and wasteful land use. A worthy cause, to be sure, but he seems to feel that threatening people with imminent cataclysm is the only way to get them to give up their McMansions, Explorers and 40-mile commutes.

Of course, it's easy for me to sit here in March 2006 and say that the winter of 2005-2006 did not completely destroy the American standard of living and that Y2K didn't bring about a Road Warrior reality. It's easy for anyone to do that, which is precisely my point -- reckless doomsaying of the sort that Kunstler and his ilk engage in will probably do more to blind people to the real threat of peak oil than happy talk from the oil companies, who people generally don't believe anyway.

When Kunstler, one of the poster boys of the Peak Oil awareness movement, makes boneheaded predictions that don't come true, it discredits the whole notion that cheap oil is ending. "Aren't those Peak Oil idiots the ones that said we'd be living in caves by now? Morons. I'm gonna go fill up my Tahoe." And thus the problem becomes worse and the crisis will be upon us that much faster (and, critically, with less time to build up infrastructure for alternative energy sources).

So when we wake up to $5, $7, $10 gas in the next several years with no clue of what to do about it, we can blame lots of things. We can blame billion-person countries like China and India who decided they want to live like Americans. We can blame Americans for living like Americans. We can blame governments and corporations for ignoring the problem. We can blame the Saudis for fibbing about their reserves.

And, sadly, we can also blame people like Kunstler, who gave many who were ready to listen an excuse to write the whole thing off as mere doomsaying.

3 comments on this post