Saturday, March 01, 2003

Thanks, I Needed That

Crawling, mind-eating Lovecraftian horror in real life. Best laugh I've had in days.

(via Making Light)

Follow the Money - UN

Spade Hammer has tallied up the bribes incentives that we're supposedly promising to various countries to get our little war in Iraq going. Bottom line -- $50 billion. Note that this is in addition to whatever the war actually costs.

Memo to the folks getting this baksheesh (especially you Africans!) Don't vote until the check clears. The US is the world's equivalent of the town drunk when it comes to fulfilling commitments. E pluribus unum translates as "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."

That's a lot of money. I wonder how much we're going to have to cut taxes to pay for it. Taxes for the rich have already been cut as much as practical; we're going to have to find some other taxes to cut. And we thought Reagan practiced voodoo economics!

The F Word

I've been interested in Fascism for a long time. What is its appeal? And what is it, really? Nowadays, it has pretty much degenerated into a simple hate word -- "You fascist!" just means "I don't like you". Best article I'd seen to date is Umberto Eco's article Eternal Fascism. The problem with trying to study Fascism is that post WWII writings have a heavy moral overlay. "This is garbage", they say. "Utter nonsense." No way can you get an objective view from something with this attitude. The current attitude is that everybody in Italy and Germany went into some sort of fit of temporary insanity triggered by Mussolini and Hitler. It was strictly a one-time aberration and not worth studying. Move along, folks; it’s all over. Nothing to see here.

The reason for my interest is that I have very deep fears for the way the US is moving. In particular, I see two very disturbing trends:

  1. The merging of interests between our largest corporations and government interests
  2. The increasing influence and irrationality of the extreme right wing, combined with its out-and-out calls for violence against "enemies of the State".

Then there's the meme (I don't know how true it is) that "democracies don't start wars" vis-à-vis the current Iraq hoohah. "It's not starting a war" say the hawks. "It's just continuing the last one". Yeah, right -- and WWII in Europe started when Poland invaded Germany. (I've seen the German newsreels.) Sorry, guys, we're starting a war here. It's an "elective war" (like "elective surgery"), but a war nonetheless.


Fortunately, I'm not the only one who's worried. David Neiwert is also worried, and he is a lot better at research than I am. Here's the latest of his series on Fascism, with links to the earlier installments.

Scary. Very scary.

Somebody Else's Nightmare

I sleep like a baby. Every two hours I wake up screaming.

-- Colin Powell, quoted in the New Yorker, 10 February, 2003, article by Hendrik Hertzberg

Maybe this is what he's dreaming about. Makes Saddam Hussein look pretty trivial, no?

Keep in mind that this is the kind of spew we've been getting from North Korea for fifty years. Unfortunately, it seems to be getting more possible all the time. Yo! Georgie! Listen up. This is the kind of thing that happens when you poke at mad dogs with sharp sticks.

Friday, February 28, 2003


It's easy to say "no war in Iraq" and not think about the consequences. Saddam Hussein is Not a Nice Man. But what is the alternative?

Well, Georgie Bush and company very carefully avoid any mention of the idea that it might be possible to get rid of Saddam without a massive foreign invasion. Their calculus of power counts guns, bombs, exile "leaders" who tell them what they want to hear, and neighboring dictators who quietly remind them of old obligations and logistics problems.

What's missing? People. Iraqis. Georgie and company have as much or more contempt for Iraqis as they have for (non-rich, non-Fundie) Americans. Everything I've seen from the Administration treats the Iraqis as inert lumps, to be pushed, shoved, and squeezed into shape like Play-Doh. We'll take away their old leaders, give them some new leaders, pat them on the head, and go home -- whereupon the new leaders will get strung up from lampposts and every Islamic fundie nutcase in the world will come in and start setting up his own little version of the Taliban.

What's the alternative? Could, just possibly, the Iraqis themselves do something about Saddam? Some people think so. This is far and away the best article on how the Iraqis could take control of their own government that I've seen. Now, I have a few problems with their ideas, but it's a heckuva lot more attractive to help the Iraqi people set up something themselves than to come storming in with 200,000 troops, blow up everything in sight, kill a lot of people, and expect to accomplish anything permanent.


  • Arab rebellions don't work this way. Usually it's just one fatcat knocking off another fatcat.
  • Islam is not real big on the concept of revolutions. As I understand it, the only legitimate reason for getting rid of a king is that he's "not Muslim enough", which does not apply to Saddam.
  • There is nothing "democratic" in Arab society that could serve as a model of a government. Fortunately, neither the Shi'ites in the South or the Kurds in the North are Arabs. Shi'ia Islam also has the concept of a religious council that governs by majority rule. Might be helpful.
  • "Nonviolence" is not a noticable characteristic of anybody in the Middle East. A Martin Luther King-style nonviolent protest could completely paralyze the Israelis; nobody seriously thinks it could really happen. Worked in a Tom Clancy novel, which should rattle Clancy's reputation for "realism" a bit. Interestingly enough, the approach here doesn't depend on strict nonviolence.

So how about this? Keep the squeeze on Saddam. In particular, extend the "no fly" zones and completely redo the sanctions so the actually do something, let it be known that we'd be glad to deal with any non-Ba'athist successors to Saddam.

Then we wait.

Another One that Missed the Wires

From the American Library Association:

Santa Fe Police Detain Library Patron over Chat-Room Visit

A St. John’s College Library visit by a former public defender was abruptly interrupted February 13 when city police officers arrested him about 9 p.m. at the computer terminal he was using, handcuffed him, and brought him to the Santa Fe, New Mexico, police station for questioning by Secret Service agents from Albuquerque.
The agents accused him of making threatening remarks about President George W. Bush in an Internet chat room

Naturally, he denies saying anything actionable. Makes you think a bit about the right wing nuts who are screaming "treason" at everybody who disagrees with Georgie Bush.

It also makes you think about "news". This isn't "news". Why? Because he didn't get killed? Because grabbing somebody and dragging them off to a police station is too common? Because there might have some kind of gag order under the PATRIOT act?

Look, the Secret Service is doing this only for the purpose of intimidation. If they'd had any trace of an indication that he might actually do something, they'd watch him like a hawk to get some real evidence. They didn't. Therefore nothing.

When the PATRIOT act went into effect, Bush and Ashcfoft assured us that it would only be used against Bad Guys. People (Congresscritters especially) forgot that the "crime" that despots most want to prevent is dissent.

Thursday, February 27, 2003


Once Upon A Time, Jethro bought the World's Smartest Mule from Zeke. At least that's what Zeke claimed. In particular, he claimed that the mule would plow a field by himself. Well, Jethro hitched up the mule to a plow, and the mule just stood there. So Jethro tracked down Zeke and demanded his money back. "Nope." said Zeke. "You ain't doin it right". They went back to the farm, where the mule was still at the edge of the field, hitched to the plow. Zeke picked up an axe handle, walked up to the mule, and hit it has hard as he could, right between the eyes. "MULE! PLOW!" And the mule proceeded to plow the field. "You see", said Zeke, "First you have to get his attention."

Everybody in the world is trying to get Georgie Bush's attention to let him know that invading Iraq is a Really Bad Idea. The only Iraqis who like the idea haven't been in the country in years, and think that they're the logical ones to run the place after "liberation". The military doesn't like it. The CIA doesn't like it. Our "allies" don't like it. Those who "support" us are risking their political futures -- 10% of the population of Spain, 3% of the population of Britain, 2% of the population of Italy. Folks, when you can measure the size of a protest by percentage of total population, you've got a real protest. Nothing seems to penetrate.

The latest axehandle between the eyes is the resignation of career diplomat John Brady Kiesling. His letter of resignation rips off more hide than anything I've seen from anywhere else in the antiwar camp. Will it penetrate? Probably not. (Note -- NY Times requires login. If you don't want to get your own, use nypost as both user and password.)

My own opinion is that the war's a done deal. We'll see if Georgie & company wait for the UN to debate some more; I doubt it. If the start of the war gets put off until after late March, it won't happen. We won't be able to do serious military operations after about mid April, due to the limitations of our soldiers' chem/bio protective gear -- it's simply not usable in hot weather. Everybody, of course, knows this.

We'll see what happens. It's the dark of the moon ....

One Less

There are very few people that everybody likes. One of them just died.

Everybody liked Mr. Rogers. Admittedly, I have seen articles by folks who didn't like him, usually because he wasn't Fundie or Marxist enough. If somebody's only critics are frothing loons, that says a lot of good about them.

I don't have kids, and I'm way too old to have watched Mr. Rogers myself (Captain Kangaroo for me, when I saw any TV at all). But the one thing that impressed me about Mr. Rogers was how incredibly calm he was. Everything was in that same calm, quiet voice, just talking about things the way they are. Nothing seemed to ruffle his feathers. Kids need an area of calm. Their normal world is full of adults rushing around, worrying about things that kids can't understand. Mr. Rogers brought a little bit of calm. Also, he brought in new things, new ideas, and new people, all with that same calm "isn't this interesting!" attitude.

For a far better appreciation of Mr. Rogers than I can come up with, see Jeanne d'Arc's obit. She's one who knows just how bad things can get.

Monday, February 24, 2003


Weapons of Mass Destruction. In particular, Sarin nerve gas. The chemical synthesis is second-semester organic chemistry class stuff, except for the protections required. Any pesticide plant could produce it in tank car lots. Some pesticides, parathion in particular, are pretty nasty themselves.

As to "what to do about it", here's a brief article by someone with training. The only criticisims that I've seen have been in the class of "That won't work if the Bad Guys have US chem/bio delivery systems". They don't. Unless, of course we sold it to them.

Sunday, February 23, 2003


On the surface, the suggestion that we all buy plastic sheeting and duct tape to somehow protect ourselves from a chemical or biological terrorist attack was pretty silly.

Perhaps it's even sillier -- just paying off another campaign contributer.

If you want real information, get it from the real pros.

Another Reason

Earlier I pointed out that all of the "official" reasons for invading Iraq were bogus. This hasn't changed; indeed, the bogosity has only gotten deeper, with the abandonment of "establishing democracy" as a goal. We have to keep Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar happy; a peaceful, prosperous, secular, democratic Iraq certainly won't do it.

However, another reason just occurred to me. Georgie Bush wanted to invade Iraq last August. Why the wait? Well, Georgie can move his little plastic soldiers around on the map all he wants, but this thing called the Real World keeps intruding. It ain't that easy. The American military has an enormous logistical "tail" -- our armed services require a huge amount of material just to stay in one place, let alone fight. We needed this lead time to get our forces into position.

This kind of thing makes military types really nervous. What if our adversary were capable of mounting an attack before we got all our stuff in place? This was certainly a consideration in Gulf War I; I've heard the soldiers and airmen who started the buildup in Saudi Arabia refer to themselves as "speed bumps". If Saddam Hussein had attacked before our defenses were in place, it would have been the biggest US military disaster since the Bay of Pigs.

Now, in Afghanistan, this wasn't a problem. We simply did a lot of bombing and supplied advisors/spotters to the Northern Alliance. All the real fighting was done by NA troops. This turned out to be a disaster, as Osama bin Laden slipped through their fingers -- or was simply allowed to walk across the border into Pakistan.

In Iraq, there aren't any "native" troops that we can rely on. We've got to do it ourselves; it's our "boots on the ground". And it's a bitch. Our big transport planes need big fancy runways. Our tank carriers are too heavy for most bridges. Everything burns a huge amount of fuel. And it all has to come in via the pleasure of some very uncertain allies. Turkey, where the popular support for the war is essentially nonexistant, is making demands that amount to pure extortion. Saudi Arabia is "suggesting" that any long-term occupation force should be composed of good Muslims -- I'm sure that Wah'habi Saudis would be welcomed with open arms by Iraq's Shi'ai majority -- like having Salt Lake City occupied by the Pope's Swiss guards. Actually, both the Mormons and the Swiss guards are far more civilized than any party to this little shin-kicking match.

So how about this?

We move into Iraq. Pick out a likely site. And build a bigass, permanent military base. Our puppet in Baghdad gives us a permanent or semipermanent lease (think Guantanamo). Iraq's western desert is big, empty, and flat. Ideal for airstrips, both fighters and transport planes. Assuming the threats to pull US troops out of Europe were real policy statements and not just bluster, we could move forces out of Germany and into Iraq. Now, the next time we wanted to throw our weight around in the Middle East, we wouldn't have to spend six months moving our forces into position while coddling a bunch of very fussy dictators.

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