Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Easter Break

/ easter / real /
I'll be off for a week or so for Easter. I know that a lot of you don't realize, but Greek Orthodox Easter doesn't always coincide with the Catholic Easter, since the Greek Church, after reluctantly agreeing to accept the Gregorian solar calander (there were quite a few who rejected even that) in the 20s - declined to adopt the fixed lunar calander as well, as concessions to the "heresiarch of Rome" have their limits.
So as I'm away from any screens at all for a while - in the meantime you can explore the delights of the Ecclesiastical Calendars. Thus, you can get an idea of how the popish minions stole real Easter...

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Ivory Coast: colonial adventure

/ colonialisme / nouveau /
From Le Monde Diplomatique, an analysis about the Ivory Coast's troubles. A very interesting look at French colonial undertakings in Africa:
The actions of the French Operation Unicorn peacekeeping force in the former French west African colony of Ivory Coast have exposed the greed and seaminess of France’s dual role as both mediator and participant...

THERE is a widespread belief, never clearly formulated, that the culture of violence is deeply rooted in Africa. The underlying assumption is racist: that power struggles in the continent are the expression of secular ethnic hatreds.

Unsurprisingly, western media have persisted in imposing their cliches and preconceptions upon the conflict in Ivory Coast, presenting the head of state, Laurent Gbagbo, as a wily but brutal visionary, the rebels as good communicators and the shouting masses as young patriots."

Monday, April 25, 2005

The solution to the greenhouse problem?

/ peak / climate /
As Mother Jones brings up the shady financing of "skeptical" environmentalist greenwashers, with regard to the climate change issue - the MoJo story discussed here, tabled here and presented in flash elegance here - I wonder whether the problems associated with burning fuel like we're running out of hydrocarbons, might take care of themselves (anyway, after the widespread havoc that global warming is about to bring) because, well, we are running out of hydrocarbons. In fact this last link from the Guardian quotes an unnamed american analyst, calling us to "kiss our lifestyle goodbye", because everything you have come to depend on via cheap oil (and that's a lot of stuff), is about to become vastly more expensive - unless alternative technologies are invented which are practical - and soon.
You know that some serious storm is brewing up ahead, when chairmen of energy investment groups casually remark that 100$ a barrel isn't too high a price for oil:

"The current tightness in global oil markets is likely to be a permanent feature as the world nears peak output," said Matthew Simmons, chairman of energy investment group Simmons & Company International.

"Prices are going to go way higher -- $100 isn't very expensive," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the Peak Oil UK conference in Edinburgh.

The theory of peak oil -- that describes when global production will peak followed by a decline -- attracted an unlikely alliance of oil geologists, greens, nuclear power advocates and bankers to the conference in Scotland, where North Sea oil production has already peaked

Note that what is considered by many to have been the most widely read public case for the "peak oil" eventuality, namely Colin J. Campbell's and Jean H. Laherrère's, The End of Cheap Oil [pdf, html version here], published in Scientific American back in 1998, suggests that the year oil production peaks is 2005. Others differ on this though, claiming that we don't yet know if there is going to be such a peak in the near future (or 2014 - depending). The difference is that, if it's happenning already, there's very little we can do anymore to prevent some sort of catastrophic effect in the near future. If it's to happen in 25 years there's plenty that can and should be done (assuming that someone is seriously looking already into the various alternatives). There seems to be more of an argument of "when" nowdays, rather than one of "whether". Although there are people writing in the WSJ who would argue otherwise... Of even greater note however in this WSJ editorial is the endorsement of Chinese "good governance" by the neo-maoists at the WSJ editorial page: "...Demand for oil grows daily in China and India, where good government is finally taking root..."

(I also note in passing that -as in the climate change "debate"- it seems to be economists and not geologists or engineers that have trouble coming to terms with the concept of "natural limits" of one sort or another... I'm starting to wonder whether economists as a profession are aware that infinities do not exist in nature - I suspect that were economists doing QFT they would see no need for renormalization [obscure physics joke - ignore]).
Anyway, there seems to be compelling, yet indirect evidence that the oil companies are aware of the problem and taking steps to protect themselves.

More on Peak oil: ASPO and Hubbert's Peak. See also "Plan War and the Hubbert Oil Curve"

Friday, April 22, 2005

Savaging Friedman

/ pulitzer / vacuity /
Taibbi (a favorite) discusses Tom Friedman's latest book (whose title would please these guys - possibly appropriately), in a classic of nuclear grade criticism.
I am always in awe of the fact that a guy who can't write, whose depth of thought wouldn't wet your ankles and who seems to perceive reality as an SUV commercial, can be considered a major and influential columnist anywhere...
But listen to what Taibbi says about this:

...It's impossible to divorce The World Is Flat from its rhetorical approach. It's not for nothing that Thomas Friedman is called "the most important columnist in America today." That it's Friedman's own colleague at the New York Times (Walter Russell Mead) calling him this, on the back of Friedman's own book, is immaterial. Friedman is an important American. He is the perfect symbol of our culture of emboldened stupidity. Like George Bush, he's in the reality-making business. In the new flat world, argument is no longer a two-way street for people like the president and the country's most important columnist. You no longer have to worry about actually convincing anyone; the process ends when you make the case.

Things are true because you say they are. The only thing that matters is how sure you sound when you say it. In politics, this allows America to invade a castrated Iraq in self-defense. In the intellectual world, Friedman is now probing the outer limits of this trick's potential, and it's absolutely perfect, a stroke of genius, that he's choosing to argue that the world is flat. The only thing that would have been better would be if he had chosen to argue that the moon was made of cheese.

And that's basically what he's doing here. The internet is speeding up business communications, and global labor markets are more fluid than ever. Therefore, the moon is made of cheese. That is the rhetorical gist of The World Is Flat. It's brilliant. Only an America-hater could fail to appreciate it...

The death of a real superhero

/ life savers / uncelebrated /
A week ago, Maurice Hilleman died, aged 85. It is possibly a sign of current media morality that his death went practically unnoticed by the media, which prefer paying tribute to someone, say, who condemned literally hundreds of thousands to death by opposing (and I give but one example) contraception in the areas heaviest blighted by the AIDS epidemic, rather than a man whose work had saved - and still saves - millions of lives.
Who was Maurice Hilleman? The Telegraph obituary explains:

Maurice Hilleman, who died on Monday aged 85, developed vaccines against numerous once-common diseases including mumps, measles and rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis (A and B), pneumonia, meningitis and influenza.
Over a 40-year career, Hilleman developed some three dozen vaccines, probably saving more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century. In addition he researched the behaviour of viruses and analysed the genetic changes that occur when the influenza virus mutates, work which has enabled epidemiologists to track its development, give early warnings of pandemics and design vaccines in advance of outbreaks.

And here's Ralph Nader's take on M. Hilleman's unsung passing away:

There are many fascinating stories about this scientist. Yet almost no one knew about him, saw him on television, or read about him in newspapers or magazines. His anonymity, in comparison with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Jose Canseco, or an assortment of grade B actors, tells something about our society's and media's concepts of celebrity; much less of the heroic. This is not a frivolous observation.

Bringing the work of individuals who matter to so many people on the important issues of lives and livelihoods is a prime way of educating the citizenry about important matters. Media trumpeting of Madonna's latest escapades alerts and motivates the public quite differently than highlighting the frequent breakthroughs of a scientist like Dr. Hilleman. The former sells records and pulp magazines, the latter keeps the American people more knowledgeable about the critical perils that confront them if recognition and resources are not dedicated to their prevention...

Nader then goes on to stress the importance of adequately funding research for preventive medicine and the fight against infectious diseases.

I suspect that he'll be ignored - until it's too late.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Does the Resistance Target Civilians? According to US Intel, Not Really

/ resistance / stigmatized /
The ceaseless demonization of Iraqis committed to ending foreign control of their country is a key ideological crutch for maintaining the American occupation. Smearing the armed resistance as a band of murderous thugs is well understood by American war planners to be a crucial part of effective counter-insurgency work. Obviously, brutal and horrific attacks on Iraqi civilians have been carried out by some forces claiming to be a part of the resistance. But there is strong evidence from US government and independent intelligence data suggesting that this phenomenon has been wildly exaggerated and torn out of context, creating a false public perception that serves to prop up domestic support for the occupation.

Junaid Alam in Left Hook, documents the case that, despite the propaganda blanket description of the resistance in Iraq as evil madmen, targeting civilians is hardly characteristic of most of the armed groups. He bases this assessment on an analysis of the factual evidence mentioned in a Center for Strategic and International Studies' report, titled: The Developing Iraqi Insurgency: Status at End-2004 [pdf].
That there obviously exist factions among the resistance that do target civilians in an effort to fan the sectarian flames, the author does not deny. Yet he points out that they are obviously a minority (judging by the number of such attacks compared to actions against occupation forces and collaborators), and refers to a recent report from Iraq, written by Patrick Cockburn, where the author notes that:

...The split is between Islamic fanatics, willing to killing anybody remotely connected with the government, and Iraqi nationalists who want to concentrate on attacking the 130,000 US troops in Iraq.

Posters threatening extreme resistance fighters have appeared on walls in Ramadi, a Sunni Muslim city on the Euphrates river west of Baghdad.

Insurgents in the city say that resistance to the Americans is being discredited by the kidnapping and killing of civilians. "They have tarnished our image and used the jihad to make personal gains," Ahmed Hussein, an imam from a mosque in Ramadi, was quoted as saying...

At the same time, in another Iraqi city, civilians were certainly targeted, very probably not just with conventional weapons, but with Napalm Incendiary Bombs as well.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Reconstruction deconstruction

/ colonialism / reconstructed /
Naomi Klein lambasts the Rise of Disaster Capitalism, not least but most pertinently on the ruins of the tsunami ravaged countries of SE Asia:
"We used to have vulgar colonialism," says Shalmali Guttal, a Bangalore-based researcher with Focus on the Global South. "Now we have sophisticated colonialism, and they call it 'reconstruction.'"

It certainly seems that ever-larger portions of the globe are under active reconstruction: being rebuilt by a parallel government made up of a familiar cast of for-profit consulting firms, engineering companies, mega-NGOs, government and UN aid agencies and international financial institutions. And from the people living in these reconstruction sites--Iraq to Aceh, Afghanistan to Haiti--a similar chorus of complaints can be heard. The work is far too slow, if it is happening at all. Foreign consultants live high on cost-plus expense accounts and thousand- dollar-a-day salaries, while locals are shut out of much-needed jobs, training and decision-making. Expert "democracy builders" lecture governments on the importance of transparency and "good governance," yet most contractors and NGOs refuse to open their books to those same governments, let alone give them control over how their aid money is spent.

Three months after the tsunami hit Aceh, the New York Times ran a distressing story reporting that "almost nothing seems to have been done to begin repairs and rebuilding." The dispatch could easily have come from Iraq, where, as the Los Angeles Times just reported, all of Bechtel's allegedly rebuilt water plants have started to break down, one more in an endless litany of reconstruction screw-ups. It could also have come from Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai recently blasted "corrupt, wasteful and unaccountable" foreign contractors for "squandering the precious resources that Afghanistan received in aid." Or from Sri Lanka, where 600,000 people who lost their homes in the tsunami are still languishing in temporary camps. One hundred days after the giant waves hit, Herman Kumara, head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement in Negombo, Sri Lanka, sent out a desperate e-mail to colleagues around the world. "The funds received for the benefit of the victims are directed to the benefit of the privileged few, not to the real victims," he wrote. "Our voices are not heard and not allowed to be voiced."

But if the reconstruction industry is stunningly inept at rebuilding, that may be because rebuilding is not its primary purpose. According to Guttal, "It's not reconstruction at all--it's about reshaping everything." If anything, the stories of corruption and incompetence serve to mask this deeper scandal: the rise of a predatory form of disaster capitalism that uses the desperation and fear created by catastrophe to engage in radical social and economic engineering. And on this front, the reconstruction industry works so quickly and efficiently that the privatizations and land grabs are usually locked in before the local population knows what hit them. Kumara, in another e-mail, warns that Sri Lanka is now facing "a second tsunami of corporate globalization and militarization," potentially even more devastating than the first. "We see this as a plan of action amidst the tsunami crisis to hand over the sea and the coast to foreign corporations and tourism, with military assistance from the US Marines."

This seems to describe a reality on the ground. While locals complain about the snail's pace of reconstruction, developers attempt to reclaim the lands of the victims (more on the land grab from the CS Monitor and The Asian Coalition for Housing Rights), Australian and EU aid is denounced as neo-colonialism, while the whole Paris Club gesture of freezing debt is blasted or simply seen as a cynical PR gesture:
...the fact that interest accruing during 2005 will be capitalised and not cancelled is a quite striking repudiation of the creditors’ self-claimed generosity and solidarity toward those devastated regions and its survivors.

Moreover, the decision on the level of interest rates will depend on the willingness and generosity of each creditor country. “It seems illogical that debtor countries need to negotiate individually with each creditor country”, says Klaus Schreiner, from the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), based in Jakarta. “Why would a collective statement by the Paris Club be necessary in that case?”...

The disaster has proved to be a windfall for the spiritual vampires, who are buying "souls" with aid.

Thus your eagerness to donate to relief funds - was dwarfed by the eagerness of the usual culprits to suck an easy and vulnerable target dry. The IMF is looking forward to the tsunami spurring growth in the region. Others disagree.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Spreading Pandemics by accident

/ sloppiness / fatal /
This is unfathomable, and scary:

The virus that caused the 1957 “Asian flu” pandemic has been accidentally released by a lab in the US, and sent all over the world in test kits which scientists are now scrambling to destroy...
...A few of the CAP kits were sent to labs in Asia, the Middle East and South America, as well as Europe and North America. The kits’ originators had to know what they contained, in order to evaluate the test results. However, when Canada’s National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg identified the strain on 26 March, it alerted the US Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Worryingly, it initially found the potentially deadly virus in a sample unrelated to the test kit - meaning it had already escaped within the lab.

Political commentary: A sickening error

Monday, April 11, 2005

Apostate wisdom: McRevolutions may leave an unwanted aftertaste

/ revolutions / different /
Apostate Windbag, has an excellent piece about the revolutions popping up all over the former CIS (and beyond) and, among other things, how they are received in the corporate US press, in comparison with the uprsings and revolutions occuring in Latin America.
The author further raises the possibility that once people taste a bit of freedom they are likely to ask for more - a fact which might produce results that will surprise US policy makers.
In the process, WaPo double standards are exposed, the shadiness of John Laughland is discussed and a great defense of Chavez is offered. Stuff that, as you might guess, had me cheering wildly.

In fact, the whole damn blog is not only written in a rich and interesting prose, but I have found precious little that I can conceivably disagree with...

Thus, Apostate Windbag is now proudly featured in the side bar, filed under "from the left". Go read it.

found via another great left blog Dead Men Left

Thursday, April 7, 2005

Kill them all - let God sort them out

/ laws / insane /
This, you gotta be impressed by:
Florida's legislature has approved a bill that would give residents the right to open fire against anyone they perceive as a threat in public, instead of having to try to avoid a conflict as under prevailing law.

Common sense seems to run in the family:
Republican Governor Jeb Bush, who has said he plans to sign the bill, says it is "a good, commonsense, anti-crime issue."

Some beg to differ, apparently, but NRA money and the gun fetishists in the state of Florida have had their way. The story from the BBC mentions that:

One critic said all the measure would do is sell more guns and turn the state into a modern version of the OK Corral.

At least now, instead of watching all that wanton murder and killing on TV, one just needs to buy a bullet-proof vest, find a nice spot in, say, Palm beach behind a bullet-proof glass and enjoy his or her cocktail while people "perceived as a threat" are executed with extreme prejudice and gunfights erupt on the drop of a hat. I sense a business opportunity involving public webcams and crowded spots.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

The New Imperial Order Foretold [ pdf ]

/ dystopia / rising /
A view of the present as a mixture of the two canonical modern dystopian futures, Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World. This treatise by Varda Burstyn, appearing in this year's Socialist Register, argues that our future contains the seeds of both conflicting dystopian fantasies and goes even beyond them:

...My view... is that in fact both writers were ‘right’ – that we are living in a Janus-faced present that features the fundamental characteristics of both their visions. We are living in Brave New Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The author talks about a host of signs of a dark future that has arrived, or is threatening to arrive. While one might argue that a lot of her examples might be exaggerated (re: the threats of cloning, or of nanothechnology, which seem to suffer the sin of trusting the most exaggerated hype from the respective advocates), yet I wouldn't want to bet that on the whole she's not pointing to a, quite, possible future. A few links derived from the article, might be illuminating - and chilling:

  • A Harper's article about CEO COM LINK...
    ...Even in an administration notorious for its catering to corporate interests, CEO COM LINK affords the Business Roundtable an astonishing status. No other organization, public or private, has such a secure and open line to the top tier of government during a national disaster...
    ...But the fact remains that CEO COM LINK is the only system of its kind in America, and as such it could, during a national emergency, allow for a kind of ad hoc governance by the Roundtable and its unelected CEOs. If this seems farfetched, consider a line from Armstrong's executive summary about the April war game, in which he notes that, during the simulated bioterrorist attack on Chicago, the DHS "required input from the health-care industry to identify additional resources and to increase production of pharmaceuticals." This seems reasonable enough on its face; but if CEO COM LINK were the only communications line open, the opinions of pharmaceutical company CEOs about drug production would be consulted while those of the nation's hospital and health-care workers would not. In such a scenario, no one from outside of business could raise objections about a particular drug--as happened, for example, in December, when a federal judge ordered the Pentagon to stop giving anthrax vaccinations to soldiers in Iraq without their consent...

  • Brochures, pretty much, on the joys of human cloning.
    Also an interview of Lee Silver who more or less confirms some of Burstyn's fears:
    Can you describe where this technology could go that concerns you?

    The most disturbing part of this technology is not the cloning, where you just have a child born who happens to be related to one parent instead of two. The most disturbing part of this technology is when parents are going to try to use genes to provide their children with serious advantages.

    Now the problem is that all parents want to give their children advantages. In the United States, we have a market-based mentality, where we say that parents who have money can give their children more advantages than parents who don't have money. We all accept that. I think parents are going to keep going back to the genes and say, "I want to give my child every possible genetic advantage in the book."

    That is troubling to me, for two reasons. One is that some of these genes really will provide advantages. Advantages of longevity, decreased risks of cancer and stroke and dementia, and so these children really will have health advantages, which means that the parents who are unable to afford this technology will have children who are disadvantaged. So I see this as greatly exacerbating the gap between haves and have-nots--much, much greater than it is today. That concerns me.

  • Some companies that sound GATTACA-like and make you wonder if they're a web-prop for some Sci-Fi movie or real (they're real): GenLife (which seems design-wise as if it were created by some of the folks that made GATTACA or Total Recall - late 80s, early '90s "futuristic") and GenScript, which has the aesthetic of a run-of-the-mill webshop, and a most impressive list of products tech-wise, including geeky, ugly banner ads)

  • A three year old news item: Army is looking for a few good gamers. Military makes recruitment moves in lucrative market:
    ...The idea is to give young men and women a taste of battlefield tactics. It will be an online game, so players will be able to log onto the Internet and use team strategies to achieve their objectives.

    The game will be rated "T" for teens since the Army wanted to make sure the violence wasn't like something in the realistic World War II drama "Saving Private Ryan."

    "We did it in-house because we were very concerned about some things," Wardynski said, "and we want to make sure that this thing embedded Army values, so you win by achieving objectives, not by sort of being mayhem incorporated."

    This project has materialized and is freely available: America's Army. Here's the online version which has reached five million accounts...

  • Neuromarketing defined. The Neuromaketing powerhouse. Neuromarketing basics - the political application:

    The political consultants discreetly observed from the next room as their subject watched the campaign commercials. But in this political experiment, unlike the usual ones, the subject did not respond by turning a dial or discussing his reactions with a focus group.

    He lay inside an M.R.I. machine, watching commercials playing on the inside of his goggles as neuroscientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, measured the blood flow in his brain. Instead of asking the subject, John Graham, a Democratic voter, what he thought of the use of Sept. 11 images in a Bush campaign commercial, the researchers noted which parts of Mr. Graham's brain were active as he watched. The active parts, they also noted, were different from the parts that had lighted up in earlier tests with Republican brains.

  • Ignoring democracy, a reminder of the trampling of self-evident political rights in 2003 by Jeb Bush and the City of Miami:
    The FTAA Summit in Miami represents the official homecoming of the "war on terror". The latest techniques honed in Iraq - from a Hollywoodised military to a militarised media - have now been used on a grand scale in a major US city. "This should be a model for homeland defence," the Miami mayor, Manny Diaz, said of the security operation that brought together over 40 law-enforcement agencies, from the FBI to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    For the Miami model to work, the police had to establish a connection between legitimate activists and dangerous terrorists. Enter the Miami police chief, John Timoney, an avowed enemy of activist "punks", who classified FTAA opponents as "outsiders coming in to terrorise and vandalise our city".

    With the activists recast as dangerous aliens, Miami became eligible for the open tap of public money irrigating the "war on terror". In fact, $8.5m spent on security during the FTAA meeting came out of the $87bn Bush extracted from Congress for Iraq last month.

    But more was borrowed from the Iraq war than just money. Miami police also invited reporters to "embed" with them in armoured vehicles and helicopters. As in Iraq, most reporters embraced their role as pseudo soldiers with zeal, suiting up in combat helmets and flak jackets.

  • A rather under-reported story: the account of how the Carlyle group dropped their Saudi sponsors after 9/11 (who had names such as Bin-Laden and weren't good publicity) in favour of money from the Russian oligarchs (Harper's again)- models of principled business entrepreneurship, I'm told:
    In Washington, many who note the current President's warm bond with the man in the Kremlin wonder why Carlyle would have taken the political risk of courting the oligarchs. In Moscow, however, they understand. After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to a number of published reports, Carlyle lost Arab investors, who either withdrew their money or saw it returned when it had become impolitic to manage. Among these investors was Shafig bin Laden, one of Osama's numerous brothers. On September 11, 2001, Shafig was at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Washington, attending a Carlyle conference. Carlyle returned Bin Laden's investment, reportedly a paltry $2 million. But many believe that millions more have been returned or withdrawn. "They need the oligarchs' money more than ever," says a Moscow financier who has long had dealings with Carlyle. "They're replacing the Bin Ladens with the Potanins and the Khodorkovskys."

  • Ah, well... that should be enough reading for the week. Coming soon to your planet, I'm afraid, unless you do something about it.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2005

    Reality show ideas

    / shows / reality / real /
    The ever captivating riverbend reports on being deluged by US propaganda and TV:

    ...I’ve been enchanted with the shows these last few weeks. The thing that strikes me most is the fact that the news is so… clean. It’s like hospital food. It’s all organized and disinfected. Everything is partitioned and you can feel how it has been doled out carefully with extreme attention to the portions- 2 minutes on women’s rights in Afghanistan, 1 minute on training troops in Iraq and 20 minutes on Terri Schiavo! All the reportages are upbeat and somewhat cheerful, and the anchor person manages to look properly concerned and completely uncaring all at once...
    ...We sat there watching like we were a part of another world, in another galaxy. I’ve always sensed from the various websites that American mainstream news is far-removed from reality- I just didn’t know how far. Everything is so tame and simplified. Everyone is so sincere...

    She then suggests a blockbuster of an idea for a really interesting reality show:

    ...Take 15 Bush supporters and throw them in a house in the suburbs of, say, Falloojeh for at least 14 days. We could watch them cope with the water problems, the lack of electricity, the check points, the raids, the Iraqi National Guard, the bombings, and- oh yeah- the ‘insurgents’. We could watch their house bombed to the ground and their few belongings crushed under the weight of cement and brick or simply burned or riddled with bullets. We could see them try to rebuild their life with their bare hands (and the equivalent of $150)…

    She says she'd tape every episode of a show like that. Hell, I'd pay for it.

    Somehow I suspect that there will be trouble finding any volunteers...

    Monday, April 4, 2005

    Democracy Redefined

    / democracy / remembered /
    Heaven forbid that the EU would actually fund any group critical of its policies! Note that ATTAC is not against the EU in general, but rather against the way that the EU is heading...
    More by Steve McGiffen, on this rather curious conception of the meaning of democracy in the EU...:
    One of the most disturbing political developments of the last two decades has been the way in which the meaning of the word 'democracy' has been redefined.

    I am not simply talking about the extreme redefinition to which Michael Bywater refers when, in a passage from his book Lost Worlds*, he writes "Democracy is the ultimate unarguable good...Do you have that straight in your mind? Or would you rather be persuaded? repeatedly? By dogs? Through a hood?"

    Just as sinister, in its way, is the manner in which so many people in public life seem to have no clue as to the word's meaning. Not surprisingly, this is most visible in those nearest to that wholly undemocratic institution, the European Union.

    I was recently reminded of this when the deputy leader of the Liberals in the European Parliament, Silvana Koch-Mehrin, described the European Commission's allocation of 59,000 euro (about £40,000) to a group called Attac, as "scandalous"...

    Why we'll never see the second round of Abu Ghraib photos

    / crimes / iraq /
    An explanation for the failure of the shocking events Seymoure Hersh and others had mentioned, or why this or this was not accompanied by (existing) images:

    The images, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress, depict "acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel, and inhuman." After Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) viewed some of them in a classified briefing, he testified that his "stomach gave out." NBC News reported that they show "American soldiers beating one prisoner almost to death, apparently raping a female prisoner, acting inappropriately with a dead body, and taping Iraqi guards raping young boys." Everyone who saw the photographs and videos seemed to shudder openly when contemplating what the reaction would be when they eventually were made public.

    But they never were. After the first batch of Abu Ghraib images shocked the world on April 28, 2004, becoming instantly iconic... no substantial second round ever came, either from Abu Ghraib or any of the other locations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay where abuses have been alleged. ABC News broadcast two new photos from the notorious Iraq prison on May 19, The Washington Post printed a half-dozen on May 20 and three more on June 10, and that was it.

    "It refutes the glib claim that everything leaks sooner or later," says the Federation of American Scientists' Steven Aftergood, who makes his living finding and publishing little-known government information and fighting against state secrecy. "While there may be classified information in the papers almost every day, there's a lot more classified information that never makes it into the public domain."

    Recent events seem to be illuminating the chain of command leading to and responsible for the culture of torture that prevades the US army's treatment of prisoners world-wide. It turns out that the whole thing was not after all due to the evil nature of Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski. I wonder if there is a paper trail that leads, in an actionable way, to even higher offices than those of General Sanchez.

    In other news from Iraq, commiting warcrimes as defined by the Geneva convention, costs the scapegoat the harsh penalty of an unhonourable discharge from the army. A brilliant display of the current US administration's inability to stage-manage even show trials. This arguably beats the previous record of risk-free scapegoatry: serving three days for being in charge of a rather gruesome massacre.

    Anyway, if anyone is still interested, there's one more eyewitness to warcrimes:
    Delgado [an Army Reservist in the 320th Military Police Company, who served in Iraq from April 1, 2003 through April 1, 2004] says he observed mutilation of the dead, trophy photos of dead Iraqis, mass roundups of innocent noncombatants, positioning of prisoners in the line of fire—all violations of the Geneva conventions. His own buddies—decent, Christian men, as he describes them—shot unarmed prisoners.
    In one government class for seniors, Delgado presented graphic images, his own photos of a soldier playing with a skull, the charred remains of children, kids riddled with bullets, a soldier from his unit scooping out the brains of a prisoner...

    But is this sort of thing covered by the major media anymore? Does it make headlines? The Sanchez thing? Delgado? The pictures of whatever horror the Pentagon is trying to hush up, if they finally surface? The trillion pieces that the Geneva convention has been torn up by the conduct of the world's sole military superpower? Does the US DoD or the Pentagon, even need to come up with excuses? Will many care if Rumsfeld decides to say: "fuck it, yes we did clobber those filthy Arab bastards and we bloody enjoyed it, and we're going to do it again in spades - whachagonnadoo aboutit?"

    It seems that the few significant civilizing gains that were the result of the victory over Fascism are now being rolled back at a fast pace.