Thursday, June 22, 2006

Absolute Crackers

Look, either you think the World Cup is cool or you don't. Depending on who you are, this probably proves you wrong.

Information! News of the Weird! Moon Colonies and Things!

I've been sending myself links to this, that and the other for a long time, meaning to post them here, and I've never gotten around to it. It's time for the Great Document Dump of Summer '06. Here's a fun way to enjoy it: hold your breath, don't read too fast, and see if you can get through the whole post without exhaling.

* First off, a Daily Show clip you have to see. It's basically a smoking gun on Bush and the invasion of Iraq, delivered as only Jon Stewart can do.

* A deep, spooky cave in Israel turns out to be a haven for strange life forms we never knew existed. Included in this glass menagerie are eyeless species dating back millions of years, from a time when the Mediterranean Sea covered parts of the Middle East.

* Being a disciplinarian parent, among other downfalls (such as making you kind of a jerk), apparently leads to -- are you ready for this? -- fatter children. There are a few theories to explain this.

"Among the four parenting styles, authoritarian parenting was associated with the highest risk of overweight among young children," concluded the study published in the June issue of "Pediatrics," the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"These results provide evidence that a strict environment lacking in emotional responsiveness is associated with an increased risk of childhood overweight," the study said.

It may be that strict parents have defined limits on when and what their children eat that could have a negative impact if not accompanied by warmth and sensitivity, it added.
* The Army's new interrogation manual? Not the right place for the Geneva Convention, according to the Pentagon. This could last a while: "Citing unidentified but knowledgeable military officials, the Los Angeles Times said the step would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift by the US government away from strict adherence to international human rights standards." For more, Yahoo News has a human rights page you can access here.

* The Republican Party argument that cutting taxes somehow leads to less government spending -- which is dumb because you have to find programs to cut, not just refuse to take in money you end up deficit-spending anyway -- is refuted thusly, and in admirably quick fashion.

I wrote that it would be interesting to see how conservatives reacted to having the factual basis for their entire domestic strategy exposed as a fraud. And it is interesting because "starve the beast" is so central to the GOP approach to governing and because the reaction is a case study in how the conservative movement reacts when its views are disproved.

Well, the right has had sufficient time to formulate its response. The results aren't very impressive. [...] It's said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So do conservatives really care about cutting spending, or are they all insane?
By the way, for those not interested in the nether realms of think tankery, the Cato Institute mentioned in the story is a very libertarian, free-market outfit, not at all a pansy leftist group.

* On a 'hotter' note (ha ha!) Phoenix has, once again, been named the sweatiest city in America. Anyone who wants to make noise about how it's a dry heat should take time out and think about what's wrong with them.

* Noted astrophysicist and man of galactic vision Stephen Hawking says mankind must go into space in order to survive. Bear in mind that he is a genius and he's absolutely not kidding.

He added that if humans can avoid killing themselves in the next 100 years, they should have space settlements that can continue without support from Earth.

"It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," Hawking said. "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of."
* The cosmic fear of illegal immigrants sweeping the nation is having this kind of effect on harmless, hard-working neighborhoods all over the southwest and will probably spill over to the rest of the country if unchecked.

A sense of unease has spread in this community of weather-worn homes since immigration agents began walking the streets as part of a stepped-up nationwide effort targeting an estimated 590,000 immigrant fugitives. Other illegal immigrants are being rounded up along the way.

Juana Osorio, an illegal immigrant from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, said her neighbors have largely stayed indoors since agents visited her apartment complex June 2.

"People rarely leave their houses now to go shopping," Osorio, 37, said as she clutched a bottle of laundry detergent in a barren courtyard. "They walk in fear."
It's worth noting that this is basically what the Minuteman Project had in mind when they organized, at least according to its frontman Jim Gilchrist.

"This is a bloodless revolution. Nobody's getting hurt, but we're changing the way our country thinks and we're changing its immigration policy," said Gilchrist. "We're changing it back to the way it used to be -- the enforcement of the law."

The former tax accountant and Vietnam veteran traces the first rumblings of his immigration activism to the early 1990s, when he says his mother was rejected for a rent subsidy program because illegal immigrants had used up all its funds.
And they've definitely been a magnet for hate activists.

* And the big finish: a memo obtained by the Washington Post shows life in Iraq is dark, brutal, frightening and insecure, which Bush totally smiled past during his smash hit of a visit to the obviously sovereign leader of that country the other day. It's worth quoting the report about the memo in detail.

As a footnote in one of the 23 sections, the embassy relates, "An Arab newspaper editor told us he is preparing an extensive survey of ethnic cleansing, which he said is taking place in almost every Iraqi province, as political parties and their militiast are seemingly engaged in tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq.

Among the other troubling reports:

-- "Personal safety depends on good relations with the 'neighborhood' governments, who barricade streets and ward off outsiders. The central government, our staff says, is not relevant; even local mukhtars have been displaced or coopted by militias. People no longer trust most neighbors.

-- One embassy employee had a brother-in-law kidnapped. Another received a death threat, and then fled the country with her family.

-- Iraqi staff at the embassy, beginning in March and picking up in May, report "pervasive" harassment from Islamist and/or militia groups. Cuts in power and rising fuel prices "have diminished the quality of life." Conditions vary but even upscale neighborhoods "have visibly deteriorated" and one of them is now described as a "ghost town.

-- Two of the three female Iraqis in the public affairs office reported stepped-up harassment since mid-May...."some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative." One of the women is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats.

-- It has also become "dangerous" for men to wear shorts in public and "they no longer allow their children to play outside in shorts." People who wear jeans in public have also come under attack.

-- Embassy employees are held in such low esteem their work must remain a secret and they live with constant fear that their cover will be blown. Of nine staffers, only four have told their families where they work. They all plan for their possible abductions. No one takes home their cell phones as this gives them away. One employee said criticism of the U.S. had grown so severe that most of her family believes the U.S. "is punishing populations as Saddam did."
Did America make this happen? No. But it could have prevented it with even a modicum of proper planning and honesty. If Bush knew, as we now know he did, that he was going to war in Iraq months before he launched the invasion, he and Rumsfeld could at least have planned to use enough troops to keep the peace in the aftermath, just like all those retired generals kept telling them to do. This is what's so infuriating about Iraq: after Saddam, we could have actually turned Iraq into a relatively safe place if Rumsfeld hadn't insisted on doing the whole thing on the cheap to make an ideological point that turned out not to be correct.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Back in the Saddle

Stephanie and I have been tearing up the town, and understandably blogging hasn't been foremost on my mind. Still, I have an obligation to my fan base. I missed all of you. I hope it hasn't been hard.

As a light taste of what you wish you'd had more of the last few weeks, here's a morsel: pressure to catch Ratko Mladic, the Serbian wartime military leader who did Milosevic's dirty work in the Balkans, is always on the rise, with occasional reports of his imminent capture (I noted one a few months ago myself; nothing came of it), but there's never any similar talk about Radovan Karadzic, the political head of the Bosnian Serb entity that turned on its ethnic minorities.
Hardly a week goes by without The Hague tribunal, the European Union or Washington telling Belgrade that Mladic is in Serbia protected by loyalist military officers and needs to be extradited in order for Serbia to avoid sanctions and isolation.

"Maybe he (Karadzic) has managed to hide himself better then Mladic," says Antonio Prlenda of Sarajevo's Oslobodjenje daily. "They don't seem to have a clue where he is at all."

Analysts say NATO peacekeepers and local authorities may not have the will or ability to break Karadzic's support network, or perhaps the West feels Mladic is politically more urgent.

If anything, though, Karadzic is the bigger target. (Would you rather nab Saddam Hussein or Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri? Don't know who he is? There you have it.) It's always surprised me, and probably other armchair war crimes dilettantes out there, that Karadzic gets off the hook. Go read it. I'll be back with more later.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Night Falls On An Angry Elephant

I hadn't really stitched together all these threads, although once you read it the whole thing sort of rings a bell you'd noticed was quietly going off in the other room: Republicans are getting darker and more scared these days. Not in terms of their election prospects, which are dumpy enough, but in terms of their world view. Bush sold everyone delicious tax-free lemonade and got elected twice, and we've seen his popularity sink to levels usually reserved for axe murderers and reruns of Night Court. So what's the alternative, lurking in the shadows, waiting for its turn to come again? This article calls it "night conservatism" (as opposed to Bush's drooling, pseudo-optimistic "day conservatism"), but the name doesn't matter as much as the symptoms: anti-immigrant, loudly churchy and moralistic, rabidly anti-government (whereas Bush just sort of thought it should regulate the environment a little less, and didn't mind a domestic spying operation of epic proportions), viciously "patriotic," suspicious of the outside world. . . In short, bereft of ideas, the GOP is devolving into the creature we know as The Reactionary Lynch Mob. Bush's lame attempt, like Reagan's, to convince everyone his government is running great by ignoring reality just isn't cutting any ice any longer. Expect to see a nastier Republican Party, seething with fury, likely out of the majority in Congress in the nearish future; and keep good watch over your children. Because they are coming for all of us.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

It Doesn't Matter If We Have Nine Scalias, Eh?

It wasn't the new Supreme Court's first scary act, but this one will be felt for a while: earlier in the week it struck down a large chunk of the government employee whistleblower protections in this country, meaning people who see malfeasance can now more easily be fired for reporting it. Republicans love this sort of thing, because they think a "good government" means greedy officials should be allowed to do whatever they want however they want. That's why Samuel Alito is on the bench. And he came through for them big time, casting the deciding vote in the 5-4 decision.

An excerpt:

The Supreme Court [. . .] ruled that "when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens" protected by constitutional guarantees.

Government employers "need a significant degree of control over their employee's words and actions; without it, there would be little chance for the efficient provision of public services," the court said in its decision.
Not very comforting. I have no idea where they find this in the Constitution, and I suspect it was one of those jury-rigged arguments to get the desired result without having an obvious clause to rely on.

This case was actually heard in October, when O'Connor was still a reasonably moderate voice on the Court, but had to be reopened to allow Alito to cast his vote for procedural reasons that are obscure to me. The good news for me is that this means more complaints will now go to the media rather than the chain of command, since the ruling only covers employees discussing their work in an official capacity. When the weekend rolls around, you're a private citizen free to blow off all the steam you want. I win, the inspector general loses.