Thursday, March 30, 2006

Another War Criminal Nabbed -- They're Doing Something Right

I've waited to post news of Charles Taylor's whereabout until things shook out, and now it's safely confirmed: the crazy-mad psycho-loon dictator of Liberia is in custody and will be socked back to Sierra Leone, site of the relevant court, for what promises to be a very intensely depressing trial. (Some want the trial moved to The Hague in The Netherlands for security reasons. See my earlier post about a similar idea for the trial of Iraqi henchmen.) For those of you not familiar with this man's antics, he set up roving bands of poor teenage militias who cut off the hands, feet and lips of "government enemies," a set of the population that gradually expanded to include about 97 percent of the country. He will definitely be found guilty -- the question, as with Milosevic and Saddam, is how well the trial establishes a feeling of reconciliation and how much of the historical record can be finalized. In this case, though, there's the wrinkle of there not being quite the Stalinist state terror apparatus we're used to in a trial for crimes against humanity. It was bloodletting, quick and dirty. A further wrinkle is that the Nigerian government had set Taylor up in relative luxury while in exile and accidentally oops made a mistake and "lost track of him" as he was supposed to be escorted into custody several days ago, which led to the brief manhunt that has now concluded. Nigeria is embarrassed. Bush doesn't really know the difference but got to play big man when the Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, came to visit this week.

A few paragraphs to get you started:
On Tuesday night, police caught Taylor in northern Nigeria, wearing a safari suit and carrying sacks full of dollars and euros in his car, which bore diplomatic plates. He was trying to cross the border to Cameroon. He was captured nearly 600 miles from the villa in southern Calabar where he lived in exile and from which he reportedly disappeared Monday night.

Taylor's imprisonment was a watershed moment for the tribunal and for West Africa, a region long shaken by Taylor's warmongering.

"Today is a momentous occasion, an important day for international justice, the international community, and above all the people of Sierra Leone," said Desmond de Silva, chief prosecutor of the tribunal called the Special Court.

"His presence in the custody of the Special Court sends out the clear message that no matter how rich, powerful or feared people may be, the law is above them."

Christianity: Nice Stories and Imagery, But Apparently The Icons are Bogus

This doesn't mean I'm going to stop occasionally wearing my crucifix-cut-from-a-quarter friendship necklace I got at the Renaissance Festival one year, but Jesus probably wasn't crucified the way they like to suggest. Far from it.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sectarian Trouble in Iraq: An Unpleasant Story

I struggled with whether to even post this here, and decided I should if only in the name of brave journalism. It's a New York Times portrait, anecdotally told (because the officials wouldn't talk), of what's going on with sectarian revenge killings in Iraq. This is a direct consequence of the neoconservative belief that we were sending enough troops into Iraq to make the postwar environment safe for the whole country. Because Donald Rumsfeld wanted to make a theological point about troop levels, people are now getting killed with drills. Militias are taking over in Iraq, pure and simple. We had our chance to prevent the worst of this and it didn't happen because the administration simply cannot and will not face reality. It won't happen. They're convinced they're right every time the say something. A lot of the talk about the politicization of the war, what America "should do," whether the Sunnis and Shiites can cooperate -- it all sounds a little scary and hollow when you read pieces like this one.

Castro Tries to Help Hurricane Katrina Recovery; Bush Says No

You know how even a broken watch is right twice a day? Well, The Bearded Menace of the Caribbean may have gone all secret-police upside his country's head, but he still has the capacity to do the right thing occasionally. Except in this case, Bush won't let him. Read to the bottom to see how Barbara Bush donated to a relief fund only on the condition that the money buy software from her son Neil's computer company. Delightful woman.

The KGB Wants You to Wave This Flag Now, Please

There's a lot to think about in this article from the American Conservative. I'm not familiar with the writer, but he makes (among many interesting points) the interesting point that Bush's talk of a global democratic revolution and the end of tyranny smacks of the sort of thing that would have been totally anathema to Republicans in the past, given the usually negative, sexy, French connotations of "revolution." This is probably the only piece from this otherwise uninteresting publication I'll post, but you should give it a read, if only for the revelation that the Ukrainian secret police totally stage-managed the Orange Revolution we all like to imagine happened spontaneously.

Randy Quaid Feels He Doesn't Have Enough Money

Apparently he's suing the people who made "Brokeback Mountain" because -- get a load of this one -- they shanghaied him into thinking it wouldn't make enough money for him to get his typical seven-figure paycheck. He says he agreed to be in it as a good samaritan gesture for the arthouse croud, and now he wants his simoleons with interest.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


How convinced of your own powers to you have to be to practice witchcraft with the British Army casing your joint? The answer is found here.

I Always Knew I'd Grope a Cheerleader One Day

By popular request, I am telling a little story I hadn't intended for the Interweb. It's not embarrassing, at least not for me since I don't seem to embarrass easily, but it doesn't reflect well because at the end I don't win the prize.

My company has good season basketball passes to Wizards games that it likes to spread around to the employees. For some reason my editor decided it was time to butter me up a few weeks ago and tossed one my way. I attended with a friend of mine from work (who got the other one for the evening -- it's a seemingly random Willa Wonka's Golden Ticket process that I think really turns into a psycho management tool) who had never been to a basketball game before. Up until the middle of the second quarter everything was fine. Then my ta'veren kicked in. Please follow the link if you don't know what I'm talking about. It kicks in a lot.

Someone from either the team or facility management crew stumbled across my path, sitting as we were in the fourth row back from the court (good seats!), and asked if I wanted to be part of the entertainment for the game. I am full of piss and derring-do and told her I would like to do just that. She made me fill out a meaningless form that looked suspiciously fake and told me to await her summons during a TV timeout in several minutes. I did that: I ate popcorn and I waited. My friend is a man-giggler and did what he does best.

The time came for me to dance the proverbial chicken, to throw dignity out the window and please the crowd with bread and circuses, and I was taken "backstage" where I saw a man dressing himself into a monstrosity of a costume: a Chevy Chase bank suit with the infamous (in these parts) ATM head that their logo has. It has vacant, scary eyes and a moronic, vaguely evil grin and in his case was made of foam and rubber. All I had to do, the dungeoner told me, was put on this blindfold, please, and follow our lead back onto the court in a minute and try to find the Chevy Chase man while you cannot see. I knew immediately where this would end up but saw that I had no further choice in the matter, as I had signed my rights away. Before long the horn sounded for a timeout and I was led to the center of the court, to the general disgusted pleasure of the mob, and was spun around for good measure just in case I somehow navigated with bat sonar. The announcer asked me, the blindfolded prisoner, what my name was, and upon hearing it I expected the crowd to either roar with delight or hiss in existential unease, but it did neither. It sat on its collective thumb.

The spectators were supposed to cheer if I was getting closer and boo if I was getting farther away, but all it did was make a general "RAAAAAAaaaaa" sound no matter which direction I faced or what I tried to do. If I'd been smart, I would have turned 45 degrees to face a corner and tried the thing in quadrants, but of course you're never thinking that clearly in the heat of the moment. So, instead of the cool and collected performance of a James Bond problem-solver, I held my hands out like a mummy, began widely stomping my way in a particular direction, and wandered (hands out, remember) into a line of cheerleaders. When I hit something, it turned out to be a bosom.

Of course they tried to redirect me, but the crowd was so drunk on its own stupefied indifference that it made all sorts of misleading noises in the process and I ended up blundering into them again several seconds later. Apparently (and I have this from several sources) one player on the visiting team's bench stopped listening to his coach and started watching me during the timeout and couldn't contain his glee. I like to think he clapped and stamped his little feet as though he'd found a pony in the barn. I'm probably not far off. He was big, too.

So, long story short, I had thirty seconds to find this cruelly grinning nightmare of a corporate man-vertisement and they expired without him ever being in any real danger. I entertained what few people there were in the stands not absently picking at scabs, silently weeping or scratching their leg with both hands. It didn't last long and I got a free t-shirt out of it, although I understand I could have won a car.

Not really. Then I would have tried harder.

Friday, March 24, 2006

An open letter

Monday, March 20, 2006

As We Suspected: Pure Villainy

It can be a little misleading (although ultimately justifiable) to say "Bush did this" or "Bush did that" when it's technically the brain-dead policy wonk in some gremlin sub-regional Office of Evil Policies who did it, but however you want to slice it, Bush thinks cutting funding for cancer screening is somehow the compassionately conservative thing to do.

A Short And Not Tedious Essay on Obedience

Like most things in the London Review of Books, it's too bad this wasn't written in the United States instead. It's a few things, but mostly a riff on Stanley Milgram with some depressing Iraq topicality thrown in for good measure.

The letters written in response are all worth reading.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Arizona Political/Congressional Blog

It's nothing to do with me personally, but this is a pretty handy blog for keeping track of all things Arizona politics (including the battle to unseat Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, a loathsome and intelligent political hack) and includes a few good anecdotes, like the one about J. D. Hayworth thundering about immigration at the Biltmore while a bunch of Mexican waiters served the audience.

AP Headline: "Bush Using Straw-Man Arguments in Speeches"

This real headline has been making its way around the lefty internet lately, and I thought I should give it a home. AP hasn't been messing around with Bush lately -- they're wide awake and ready to start documenting the atrocities.

Milosevic Buried Without Incident; Doctors Say Not Poisoned

I've been waiting to post on Milosevic again until all the smoke cleared over how he died and what went down at his funeral. A lot of things could have happened that didn't (like nationalist riots or a finding that he was poisoned), but it should still be remembered that this is not what the International Criminal Court or the victims of Serbia's aggression were hoping for. If the court had been able to pass a formal sentence, rather than Balkan wonks now having to satisfy themselves with the scope of the public record that most people will never read, it would have been a much more meaningful statement and capstone on this hugely important trial. While there are a few big fish left to fry, such as the still-elusive Gen. Ratko Mladic and his political boss Radovan Karadzic, this trial will now go forward somewhat in the manner of the proceedings against Iraq's former regime without the presence of Saddam Hussein. You can establish guilt, you can question everybody you want, but at the end of the day if the dictator himself isn't called to account, it's less a victory for true justice than an attempt to tie up the loose ends.

It's odd to look at the pictures of people walking solemnly along as his hearse drives by, or wailing over his coffin -- this guy didn't have anything like the diabolical charisma of Hitler, and yet he gets his own bunch of mythologizers and well-wishers even though he destroyed his own country and everything around it. He literally drove Serbia to ruin and made it an international pariah, and still he has a (fairly modest*) legion of supporters who think he made it alright to be Serbian again, or some such nonsense. If there's a book out there that explains this phenomenon, please recommend it in comments and I will take a long look.

And just for the record, there is no evidence the Hague prosecutors poisoned him. Rumor has been that he was secretly taking pills full of a drug called rifampicin that he knew would impair his heart medication and allow his physical deterioration to delay the trial, a tactic that worked several times without anybody figuring it out. The autopsy did not discover traces of rifampicin but doctors note that it degrades quickly in the body and the possibility can't be ruled out.

* - If you want to know how the Serbs really feel, look no further than these two paragraphs from the funeral story linked above:

Serbian authorities refused to approve an official ceremony, but Saturday's farewell — organized by the Socialists and technically private — had some of the trappings of a state funeral.

Still, though larger than many had expected, the crowd in Belgrade was far smaller than the 500,000 who turned out for the 2003 funeral of assassinated Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic, who had turned Milosevic over to the U.N. tribunal two years earlier.

In The Spirit of Ruining Everyone's St. Patrick's Day Fun

Apparently most of those Irish names we like to think are so damn Irish, like Patrick and Sean and Mick, aren't Irish at all. Or rather they aren't Gaelic. They mostly date to a time when the Normans "influenced" (i.e invaded) Ireland and started baptizing everybody with Roman-sounding names like Patricius. St. Patrick, for instance, wasn't named Patrick at all. What WAS his real name? You'll have to read the rest here.

Big Bang Observed

This is not a joke.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Headline Roundup: You Gotta See These

Bush Shocked by Arrest of Former Adviser

That joke pretty much writes itself.

Boy Called Reincarnated Buddha Disappears

A Nepalese boy who was meditating in the forest for ten months has unexpectedly vanished.

Cassini Spots Water Geysers on Saturn Moon

This brings NASA pretty close to thinking it's possible there could be life on Enceladus, especially since it has an unusually warm south pole. The article also calls the moon "the shiniest object in the solar system," which is certainly something I didn't know.

Report: Web Searches Can ID CIA Employees

The Chicago Tribune always has the best investigative pieces.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Sic Semper Tyrannis

Slobodan Milosevic was found dead in his jail cell earlier this morning. This is not an occasion for jokes, although the one about U.N. bureaucracy with funerals come to mind. The report is that he died of natural causes, and he had been terrifically ill, delaying the trial several times. It's one of those instances where you have to feel that justice wasn't entirely served, since the point of a trial for war crimes is to bring the truth to light and now his supporters can say he was never convicted of anything and can start conspiracy theories. Mark my words, this is a moderate-to-bad outcome for the Balkans.

Borislav Milosevic, who lives in Moscow, blamed the U.N tribunal for causing his brother's death by refusing him medical treatment in Russia.

"All responsibility for this lies on the shoulders of the international tribunal. He asked for treatment several months ago, they knew this," he told The Associated Press. "They drove him to this as they didn't want to let him out alive."

Milosevic asked the court in December to let him go to Moscow for treatment. But the tribunal refused, despite assurances from the Russian authorities that the former Yugoslav leader would return to the Netherlands to finish his trial.
One tangential piece of information, because otherwise the tone of the blog would be violated: the town with the prison where he was housed -- Scheveningen -- shares its name with a chess opening for the black pieces called the Sicilian Scheveningen. I only know this because I used to use it in my salad days.

Quick update: Yup, my fears are confirmed. After posting, I started looking at some of the other coverage, and it seems the quote above is from the tamest version of the lot. Reuters:

Last month, the tribunal refused to let Milosevic go to Russia for medical treatment, perhaps fearing he would never come back despite Kremlin guarantees.

"The Radical forces will now use this death ... they will exploit this," said a Belgrade law professor who did not want to be named.

"This will give wings to the Radicals and other extremist movements," she said. "They can rid themselves of everything bad that went with the Milosevic name and play on the story of victimized Serbia, which has the whole world against it."


In Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo -- Milosevic's last, desperate gamble on war -- the prevailing sentiment was that Milosevic had escaped justice.

Dr Arsim Gerxhaliu, a Kosovo Albanian forensics expert who has exhumed hundreds of bodies since the 1998-99 war, told Reuters: "In the end, he went very easily. The people didn't see him get what he deserved.

Among Kosovo Serbs, a ghettoized minority living on the margins of society since the war, there was only sadness.

"The father of the nation has left us," said Marko Popovic in the ethnically-divided town of Mitrovica. "They couldn't convict him, so they killed him."

And this from Agence France-Presse may be the most depressing:

The statute of the tribunal says that a trial cannot be held in absence of the accused. The court is expected to officially terminate the proceedings against Milosevic as it has done against the other suspects who died before the end of their trial.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I can see this is catching on . . .

Thanks be to Bartcop.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Das Oper

I never really wrote out a proper response to sitting in splendor and enjoying the rich Germanic tones of Parsifal a few weeks ago. My favorite part, I think, was when I took a walk outside during second intermission and looked out over the Potomac in the chilly blue evening light, which was in a way the most operatic few seconds of the whole day. The rest was full of costumes and fake hair, which somehow detracted from the experience. That and the incessant Jesus motifs, especially when the madwoman washes Parsifal's feet and dries them with her hair. No amount of singing made that feel any less like an evil Sunday school.

I suspect Wagner isn't the best place to start when you're going to your first live opera, since (for one thing) he runs long -- about five hours, by my math, which is accurate in this case. There aren't many arias in German opera; they prefer to berate and extol, all very melodically, but without breaking into song per se. There's just too much elaborate storytelling to do and not nearly enough time in which to do it, which is why even at five hours the storyline felt cramped and evasive. Not really. It started to drag. You haven't lived until you've seen thirty Russian performers dressed like knights walking sloooooowly around a stage performing the Grail ritual in complete silence. I thought my head was going to fall off.

None of this is to say I'm sorry I went -- confronting the hard stuff first can be a good way to see the fluff for what it is. The performances were still exciting, especially Kundry, who received the best ovation. (Look up her character. Trust me, she earned it by doing a lot with a little.) And I sat next to a seasoned pro, an older woman who felt like buying the same affordable ticket I bought, who helped me through the operatic canon and suggested some further viewing. (Favorite composer: Verdi). She didn't have any binoculars and probably wanted some, based on some things she said. I was sorry I couldn't help her. I was also almost late because my roommate promised to give me a ride only to crap out and dump me like a dirty rug at the Crystal City metro, making me run like a jackass all the way up the Foggy Bottom escalator (which is long) in my nice clothes (which came a little untucked) just to make the last shuttle to the Kennedy Center (which stank and was full of people with nose injuries. I am not kidding).

Well, enough about that. If you want to see Parsifal I can't stop you. And if you're mikeswanson and want to say something mean about Wagner just because he was a raging anti-Semite and you regard opera as a bourgeois crime against humanity, I ask you to consider that the music was elegantly composed and that I am deadly with the Japanese farming tool called the nunchaku.

Big Doings Afoot

The company is nearing the launch of a new publication -- for copyright reasons, believe it or not, I can't give out the name yet -- and has seen fit to hire a new guy to sit and browse the Interweb looking for leads all day. I decided to extend the hand of friendship to this gentleman, and after work we headed to the neighborhood's most popular and only tapas bar, where we shared a few laughs and a kind of small pitcher of sangria. He used to live in Italy, and that's what we know at this point.

In other news, I am headed to Denver for a conference in a few weeks. The company has opened its heart and its checkbook and I hear I'm staying at the nicest Motel 6 in the metro area. It could be fun, potentially, except I suspect I will be asked to go back to my room after the workshops each day and file dizzying reams of copy rather than enjoy whatever nightlife the Mile High City has to offer these days. Maybe a Rocky Mountain oyster bar. I wouldn't go to one of those. That's disgusting.

In still other news, I am headed for a fateful showdown on the racquetball court Tuesday evening against one of the editors. I could easily settle his hash, of course, but do I want my career to move forward? I have considered eating a heavy lunch to slow myself down a bit, but that never seems to work: whatever I consume just turns into liquid mojo, which keeps me going at a fantastic pace until I inevitably pass out around 2 a.m. This does not bode well for him or for my career, but it ought to be fun to see him try to handle my serve. I call it The Confuser.

After my cruel joke of a New Year's Eve, I haven't had any further brushes with crime or its element. This makes me think I am due for trouble, and it was therefore disheartening to hear, from a good friend back at ASU, that my old Hwa Rang Do school has shut its doors. Now I cannot re-learn to defend myself in proper fashion, and neither can the others. They have probably gone under a bridge somewhere to wait for death.

For the curious, I did not watch the Oscars. I'm sure George Clooney oozed charm, but I simply do not give a tinker's damn who wins those awards.

A second and final plug: really gives you the best time of your life, especially when you're wondering what else to do while you're killing a few minutes on the Wide Wonder Web. That's what www stands for. I read it on the Wide Wonder Web.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Value of Reading Comments

For those of you who don't pay attention when Nolo makes suggestions, and you know who you are, all I have to say to you is you're welcome. Because I have done the job for you, and it has borne the juicy fruit of this article on Scientology. It's even weirder than you think. I won't lie and say this is crucial journalism, but if you're looking for someone to do your asshat-crazy dark cave of parareligion spelunking for you, you really couldn't ask for a better volunteer than Rolling Stone's Janet Reitman. A sample paragraph, chosen entirely at random:

I spend a lot of time talking about the question of apostasy with Rinder and Davis. Both feel the church has been miscast. "Somewhere there is a concept that we hold strings over all these people and control them," says Rinder. But provided you don't denounce Scientology, it's perfectly fine to leave the church, he says. "Whatever. What's true for you is true for you." Nothing will happen to those who lose their faith, he says, unless they "tell bald-faced lies to malign and libel the organization -- unless they make it seem like something it isn't."

See how good (and crazy) that randomly chosen paragraph was? Imagine a whole article like that. About Scientology.

When The Review is Probably More Interesting Than The Book

Instead of being able to cover the political horse race with the up-to-the-minute obsessiveness of the major blogs, I like to think I bring a little depth to the project. In that spirit, here is a must-read review of a recent book on Bush's presidency (not, mind you, Bush the man) written by a Grand Poobah of the conservative movement who was fired from his cushy and evil job for having written it. A sample (of the review, not the book):
In the same vein, the problem on the right is that conservatives have failed miserably whenever they've tried to take a serious chainsaw to modern liberalism. Cutting taxes is just about all they have left, and as Bartlett concedes, taxes can't be cut forever. This has mostly reduced conservatives to nibbling modestly around the edges of the contemporary liberal edifice while simultaneously passing out enough goodies to keep their supporters happy and the rubes, if not happy, at least scared enough to keep voting for them. This means that unlike the '30s or the '60s, when politics was vitriolic because the stakes were high and society was undergoing dramatic changes, the source of today's vitriol is precisely the opposite. As with World War I trench warfare, it's the result of two evenly matched sides beating each other bloody year after year but neither being able to claim victory. Bill Clinton couldn't get national health care passed, but George Bush couldn't gut Social Security either.

Although the heat of battle often obscures this, the unhappy reality is that modern American politics is mostly played at the margins.
And incidentally, for those of you who made it all the way through the post, here's a reward not unlike the sweetest candy: makes it fun and easy to hang out and listen to music on your computer. And it's what the Germans call kostenlos, which is the opposite of teuer, which in turn rhymes with Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer. Look it up.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

What's The News Here, You Ask?

Washington is all a-twitter with news of the most recent shakeup at The New Republic, where I onced farmed myself out for hire. (No dice.) Editor Peter Beinart is out, leaving 31-year-old Franklin Foer in the driver's seat. I've always liked his stuff and think he's a good writer and all, but for my purposes this is the more interesting news from that office this week: Sudan is basically on the receiving end of a Chinese protection racket, and is using Chinese cover to get away with genocide in Darfur. China has been shopping its influence and money around Africa since the 1950s and is now reaping all sorts of rewards America didn't foresee, including oil and mineral contracts and client states less friendly toward the U.S. (Since, essentially, with China looking out for them on the Security Council they don't have to pretend to like us any more.) It's an interesting story, if you can get past the Darfur body count.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Remember, remember

I first read Alan Moore's riveting "V for Vendetta" back in the '80s. The original serial issues were passed on to me in a shoebox by a college friend who was a geek for both lefty politics and comic books, and in the days of the Reagan "revolution" it was like reading a secret message telling us that the resistance was alive.

Anyway, I've been waiting with guarded hope for the film version. Guarded mostly because the Wachowskis are such quirky creatures, and because Alan Moore's stuff's been f*cked up before (the film version of "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" should be classified as a torture device and banned), but with hope nonetheless. And if James Wolcott's a reliable barometer, my hope is not in vain. Here's a link to his reflections following a recent screening. I pass it on in hopes of whetting appetites.

I Remind You That These People Are Serious

Never mind why I was reading it in the first place. Wikipedia's fascinating article on claims about reptilian visitors to Earth includes some gems I just can't not share. To whit:

There are many conspiracy theories centered around, or at least involving, extraterrestrials of reptilian lineage. Many of these posit that the so-called Greys are in fact reptiles, and should be categorized as "Reptoids".

David Icke claims, based on his exploration of genealogical connections to European royalty, that many presidents of the United States have been reptilian humanoids. In his view, United States foreign policy after September 11 is the product of a reptilian conspiracy to enslave humanity, with George W. Bush as its key player. (See also Bush family conspiracy theory.) Some have also claimed that Reptoids are capable of shape-shifting.

Some conspiracy theorists claim to have worked out a "dichotomy of axes" involved in hypothetical interplanetary and intergalactic conflict, and place the reptilians in an evil "Draconian" "axis", while humans are one of the species that belongs in an opposing "Evadamic" "axis". Several other entities and parties have been placed into this conspiracy theory, with some players who switch allegiances between Draconian and Evadamic.

A subterranean Nazi-friendly super race is sometimes associated with accounts of reptilian humanoids, and also with the telekinetic super race depicted in Vril: The Power of the Coming Race.

There's so much more. If you ever find the time, read all about which conspiracy theorists think the other conspiracy theorists are in league with our reptilian overlords and what their unholy rewards shall be.