Monday, March 29, 2004

I mentioned the strange case of Sibil Edmonds a while back, in which our heroine, newly-hired in the post-911 FBI's Mideastern Languages translation section, discovered much skullduggery and low dishonesty, leading to her eventual whistleblower firing. She was essentially an entry-level new hire, but in a position in which her whistleblowing was at least potentially credible. Now it seems (Salon day-passed article warning) that she's been telling tales to the 911 commission, and calling Condi Rice a liar over claims that the higher-ups never saw planes-as-weapons intel before the event.

Powerline points out the obvious, which is that our heroine wasn't an analyst, she was a translator, and a lowly one at that. Furthermore, she didn't work for the FBI in that period of time. Therefore, she cannot - I repeat, cannot - be testifying from personal knowledge about the period prior to the attack.

I'm somewhat curious about this allegation that she had three hours before the commission. That's an awful lot of time. Cabinet-level officials didn't get that much face time with the commission. Given that she's a fired, part-time entry-level translator who didn't work for the government in the period leading up to 9/11, one would naturally assume that she was retailing her "the translators were celebrating the attack" story. But this isn't what the news lead is about her testimony. Instead, we get this "Grr, I hate Condi" thing, and a lot of talk about the material she was working on proving that the FBI had evidence about the plane-weapons plot. This is material she was translating - presumably for the first time - after the attacks. She had been hired because there were horrific back-logs.

So, what her story essentially adds up to, once you strip out the hot-button ranting, is that the FBI had evidence which it didn't know about, and couldn't pass along, because it hadn't been translated. Remember - not an analyst. She wouldn't have had access to previously-translated material as a new hire, nor would they have been using a new person to cross-check old translations, I don't think. Possibly they were using enormously sensitive, previously-translated material to check her translating chops, but I somehow doubt that - it doesn't strike me as the sort of thing a paranoid government security agency would do with a new hire.

So, this story ought to read: translator says that FBI had material showing the plot, but failed to translate material in time. You can't pass along information without translation, after all. That's a shame, and it's an important detail that folks have been arguing for a while - we need more trustworthy translators, and we didn't have them in the spring and summer of 2001.

What I can't abide that it takes a minor forensic examination to extract that story from what was actually published. Salon continues to stink like the virtual fishwrap that it is.

Via Macallan at Tacitus.
I was watching some of the 911 commission hearings on CSPAN this weekend, mostly Tenet's testimony. Interesting stuff.

Tom Maguire and some of his regular commenters have an excellent exchange going about Clarke's story, and what can be learned from it, aside from all the partisan yammering. The meat of the matter is definitely in the comments, this time. His Just One Minute is rapidly becoming the best right-of-center Washington-issues blog on the net.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Spotted this on the Google news page. Mexico is pissed that a handful of active-duty British military personnel were found trapped in a Mexican cave complex, and is complaining about unauthorized "foreign military exercises" on its soil. The soldiers were apparently caving enthusiasts, and there's no indication that they were up to anything more than your average "extreme" vacationing. Just a little reminder that Mexico, despite its recent "North American" pretensions, is a very young democracy, and still retains a number of the traits of your average single-party state - such as hypernationalistic paranoia about foreign intervention.

Here's a better-written BBC account. Meryl Yourish whales on Reuters an awful lot for their pro-Palestinian bias, but I sometimes think that their greater sin is a collective inability to write gripping news copy. Just compare the two articles. The Reuters piece has about as much juice as an office-supply inventory list. The BBC story isn't great, but it at least puts a face on the situation.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

The Allahpundit pointed to a foul bit of business in the guise of a poem in memory of Yassin. Here's my response:

How many monsters
Dead-eyed malignant
Death-demanding, dreaming
Hating, plotting, planning
Might still hide under
Holy robes and the sacred bar?

Truth and lies
Mere debate material
Can they
Blanch the bloody hands
Of the cripple who sent
Children to die in his stead?

Truth? Who gives a damn for truth
While the simple youth stands
In a concrete killing ground
A bomb strapped round
A healthy body
A weak mind
By those willing
To sacrifice his weakness
For their hoped strengths.

Water is not holy.
Land is not holy.
The sacrificers of children
How can they be holy?

Suffer the children to come to me
How dare you build
Your self-sung sanctity
On the betrayed flesh
Of someone else's child?


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Mark Sachs links to a call for a turn towards the positive that I can get behind.

I've enough of analysis,

We are too much in death, and too little in life.

Tell me of Trump and Stewart;
Praise great builders and men of vast ego.
Find me men of great passions, great flaws
and great ambitions
I would have an end
Of critics and academics -
Show me poets and the pragmatic.

Give me the progenitors
The families,
Fathers, and mothers.
We are too much in isolation.

Lead me towards the joyous crowd,
I would be a multitude.
Put my hand to the hammer,
I would be a builder.

Babel is demolished
Not one brick stands on another
The materials scattered
Across the solemn face of the land
Let us now bring them back together.

I am tired of mourning rubble
Let us build new towers.

Along those lines, have you seen this about the newly-formed "Community of Democracies" caucus for democracies in the UN? I can't remember which blog I saw this news, but it's a vital first step in re-building the UN in a form closer to the original notion. I especially like the idea that it won't supplant the UN as a meeting-ground. We've been talking about this notion – it's good to see diplomats implementing it.
Dick Clarke Is Telling the Truth
Why he's right about Bush's negligence on terrorism.
By Fred Kaplan

Or, "Why Fred Kaplan Is Usually Full of Shit".
I have no doubt that Richard Clarke, the former National Security Council official who has launched a broadside against president Bush's counterterrorism policies, is telling the truth about every single charge. There are three reasons for this confidence.

Every single charge, Fred? Really? 100%? Oh, such confidence, such objectivity, such rhetorical vigour! And look! See? He's even left his outline in the finished article, so that the weak-minded and malicious can easily follow his train of logic. Such a giver, our Frederick.
First, his basic accusations are consistent with tales told by other officials, including some who had no significant dealings with Clarke.

That is, Clarke has successfully tailored his message to resonate with the echo chamber. Of course, the likelihood that Clarke has been one of the "background" or "off-the-record" or "unnamed sources" contributing to this chorus of received wisdom probably had something to do with it.
Second, the White House's attempts at rebuttal have been extremely weak and contradictory. If Clarke were wrong, one would expect the comebacks—especially from Bush's aides, who excel at the counterstrike—to be stronger and more substantive.

Because, of course, Fred Kaplan is capable of evaluating the strength of administration responses. Hey, prove me wrong. Show me where this particular Kaplan has accepted any administration statement at face value.
Third, I went to graduate school with Clarke in the late 1970s, at MIT's political science department, and called him as an occasional source in the mid-'80s when he was in the State Department and I was a newspaper reporter. There were good things and dubious things about Clarke, traits that inspired both admiration and leeriness. The former: He was very smart, a highly skilled (and utterly nonpartisan) analyst, and he knew how to get things done in a calcified bureaucracy. The latter: He was arrogant, made no effort to disguise his contempt for those who disagreed with him, and blatantly maneuvered around all obstacles to make sure his views got through.

Wow, that's a doozie. Clarke is credible because he was an Old Boy with Kaplan. Our kind, darling. Note that the personal qualities Kaplan lists aren't actually good ones. Arrogant, blinkered and uninterested in the opinions of others is not my idea of the ideal intelligence agent. But then, I'm not a Beltway bureaucrat. Things are different there.
The key thing, though, is this: Both sets of traits tell me he's too shrewd to write or say anything in public that might be decisively refuted. As Daniel Benjamin, another terrorism specialist who worked alongside Clarke in the Clinton White House, put it in a phone conversation today, "Dick did not survive and flourish in the bureaucracy all those years by leaving himself open to attack."

Well, he's already been documented lying about written documents which contradict his statements. No more so than Bush and the 16 Words, but good for the goose and all that. And this line of argument isn't one that a defender of Clarke really ought to take - "he's too smart to get caught lying". The obvious corollary is that his lies are going to be undetectable. Except see the above link about stupid, petty lies about unimportant, preserved memos.
Clarke did suffer one setback in his 30-year career in high office, though he doesn't mention it in his book. James Baker, the first President Bush's secretary of state, fired Clarke from his position as director of the department's politico-military bureau. (Bush's NSC director, Brent Scowcroft, hired him almost instantly.) I doubt we'll be hearing from Baker on this episode: He fired Clarke for being too close to Israel—not a point the Bush family's political savior is likely to make in an election season. (For details on this unwritten chapter and on why Clarke hasn't talked to me for over 15 years, click here.)

Hmm. Maybe I'm mis-judging Kaplan. This certainly doesn't sound like a defense. Sounds rather like Mark Anthony "I Come to Bury Caesar" material. Wonder if it's intentional?
But on to the substance. Clarke's main argument—made in his new book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, in lengthy interviews on CBS's 60 Minutes and PBS's Charlie Rose Show, and presumably in his testimony scheduled for tomorrow before the 9/11 Commission—is that Bush has done (as Clarke put it on CBS) "a terrible job" at fighting terrorism. Specifically: In the summer of 2001, Bush did almost nothing to deal with mounting evidence of an impending al-Qaida attack. Then, after 9/11, his main response was to attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. This move not only distracted us from the real war on terrorism, it fed into Osama Bin Laden's propaganda—that the United States would invade and occupy an oil-rich Arab country—and thus served as the rallying cry for new terrorist recruits.

Oh, well. I always knew that the invasion of Iraq in the fall of 2001 was a terrible idea. If we had only gone after Bin Laden and the Taliban that fall, everything would be all right.

Wait, what?
Clarke's charges have raised a furor because of who he is. In every administration starting with Ronald Reagan's, Clarke was a high-ranking official in the State Department or the NSC, dealing mainly with countering weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. Under Clinton and the first year of George W. Bush, he worked in the White House as the national coordinator for terrorism, a Cabinet-level post created specifically for his talents. When the terrorists struck on Sept. 11, Condi Rice, Bush's national security adviser, designated Clarke as the "crisis manager;" he ran the interagency meetings from the Situation Room, coordinating—in some cases, directing—the response.

So he was actually in charge of our counterterrorism efforts in the vital period in question. Boy, yeah, he'd *better* blame Bush. There isn't really much between him and the Oval Office to pass the buck to accept responsibility for the failure. Note how he had to be designated again to do the job he was already supposed to be doing - coordinating the anti-terrorism effort. A month later, he was demoted. Tell me, what does this sort of job-title clarification followed by demotion usually mean in *your* organization? In the ones I've been involved in, it means that the joker in question wasn't doing his job, was reminded of that job by a last-chance re-appointment, and then moved someplace where he wouldn't do any damage.
Most pertinent, Rand Beers, the official who succeeded Clarke after he left the White House in February 2003, resigned in protest just one month later—five days before the Iraqi war started—for precisely the same reason that Clarke quit. In June, he told the Washington Post, "The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terror. They're making us less secure, not more." And: "The difficult, long-term issues both at home and abroad have been avoided, neglected or shortchanged, and generally underfunded." (For more about Beers, including his association with Clarke and whether there's anything pertinent about his current position as a volunteer national security adviser to John Kerry's presidential campaign, click here.)

Hey, note that error there. Beers didn't directly replace Clarke, who wasn't the terrorism guy after October 2001. Beers wasn't appointed until August 2002. Sloppy goddamn work - I pulled that in thirty seconds on Google. Beers, of course, is a partisan through and through. There's a lot of "we're old Beltway hands, of course we're not partisan!" flailing about these days, don't you think? You'll see more of it, I guarantee it. These are folks whose self-image demands the idea that they're objective, even after decades of politicking and compromise.

Skipping around...
To an unusual degree, the Bush people can't get their story straight. On the one hand, Condi Rice has said that Bush did almost everything that Clarke recommended he do. On the other hand, Vice President Dick Cheney, appearing on Rush Limbaugh's show, acted as if Clarke were a lowly, eccentric clerk: "He wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff." This is laughably absurd. Clarke wasn't just in the loop, he was the loop.

Well, that's rather the point, isn't it? The loop was OUT OF THE LOOP. We got caught with CLARKE'S PANTS AROUND OUR COLLECTIVE ANKLES. That isn't "get[ting] their story straight", that's the FUCKING POINT! Because Clarke, the coordinator, wasn't in the loop, wasn't doing his job, everybody else was not in the loop because the loop was obsessed with bullshit like wi-fi and cyber-security. The FBI wasn't talking to NSC, the CIA wasn't talking to either, and CLARK WAS THE GODDAMN COORDINATOR!

There's some crap about how he wasn't demoted, but he was demoted, he wasn't a cabinet-level secretary, but he was really important, etc, etc. Maybe I was right in the first place - Kaplan does seem to be defending Clarke's importance. In such a way that I find myself less and less impressed, but that's more a Kaplan thing than a Clarke thing, I suppose.
Clarke writes (and nobody has disputed) that when Condi Rice took over the NSC, she kept him onboard and preserved his title but demoted the position. He would no longer participate in, much less run, Principals' meetings. He would report to deputy secretaries. He would have no staff and would attend no more meetings with budget officials.

Kaplan doesn't include the key fact here, which is that Clarke was of the opinion that Rice had never heard of al Queda before he briefed her at the transition. Now, this is ludicrous on the face of it - there are pre-administration interviews with Rice in which she discusses al Queda. But this might have been what Clarke thought of Rice. In other words, he seems to have had a basic contempt for Dr. Rice which he expresses in the book by denigrating her competence. Would you want such a man in a position of serious importance working under you? If I was Rice, I would have shitcanned his condescending ass after the first interview. The fact that she didn't, combined with his reputation as an "al Queda" expert, suggest to me that the only reason Clarke survived the turnover was a combination of some sort of residual concern about Islamic terrorism and his status as a Bush I "Old Boy".

Hrm. That's sort of interesting, come to think of it. At one point, Clarke is supposedly demoted to cyber-security matters during the turnover in February 2001. Elsewhere, he's demoted in October 2001. Which is it? Folks have noticed that his public pronouncements have, over the years, turned more and more to goofy cyber-terrorism, cyber-security matters, and less and less to actual, y'know, terrorism. How much of this confusion is ass-covering in the White House, and how much of it is a bored bureaucrat shirking an old obsession - non-state-sponsored terrorism - for a new, shiny, sexy obsession like cyber-security?

Monday, March 22, 2004

Spring's coming on, and I saw Benny Lunkin hitchhiking on Benner Pike just outside of Bellefonte. I guess he survived another winter.

Benny is something of a fixture in the Middle Valley. He's a paranoid schizophrenic - he hears voices, babbles constantly, sings, rants, etc. He's a minor thief - one of the reasons why I keep my front door locked on my apartment. He lives somewhere in town - down along Water Street, I think. Rumor has it that he's the son of a wealthy local family, but I have no idea how much of that is true, and how much is legend. Somebody keeps buying him new clothes. Benny looks to be about forty-five to fifty-five, short, wizened and quite mad.

He used to scare the crap out of my female co-workers when I worked convenience for the Armenians - they said he was aggressive and sexually suggestive. He was usually quiet and squirrely around me, but then I'm a scary, sulfurous-looking guy, so maybe I just scared him. Not that this was necessarily the case with all large, manly men. Benny used to get in trouble with the 'roiding college kids, who occasionally beat the crap out of him, or tried to. Benny got his ass saved by State College police on more than one occasion.

Besides his habit of getting into fights with kids half his age and twice his weight, the main reason Benny's continued survival continues to impress me is his nomadic habits. Benny is a peculiar breed of traveller. He loves to go back and forth from State College to Bellefonte. As I said, he seems to live on Water Street in Bellefonte. But he prefers to hang out in State College. Now, he's a clinical psychotic, so he doesn't have it together enough to afford a car or to pass a driver's exam. The local construction companies occasionally seem to give him charity work, and you'll occasionally see him with a work belt w/hammer and tools, but it's not the sort of thing with which one might support oneself. I've been told by some of the local taxi drivers that some of them drive him back and forth as a further charity, but the rest of them are quite tired of him constantly stiffing them. More often, he'll be found on the Benner Pike or Rt. 26, thumb out and hitching. Few folks give Benny a ride twice. As I've said, he's a mutterer, he's freaky-looking, and he smells like your standard-issue bum. I've only given him a ride once. I never intend to do so again, mostly because I don't want to encourage his perpetual procession. I keep expecting to hear that some drunk ran him over on the Pike. It's not a wide road, and it has some blind spots where a froggy little man walking in the dark could easily escape notice by a swerving driver until it was too late.

I don't know why I spend so much time thinking about Benny Lunkin. I suppose it's because I once spent the better part of two years staring at the back of his head, listening to his vapid, querulous muttering at all hours of the night. Those two years were pretty much the nadir of my existence - selling legal drugs and junk food to drunks, psychotics, and insomniacs. I spent them with this old lunatic, in a sort of accidental, incidental companionship. I managed to pull myself together and crawl out of that sewer. But Benny will never do so, can't do so. He's going to die one of these winters – beaten to death by some pissed-off boyfriend, or run over by a night-blinded driver. Every spring, I see him emerge from the snow and slush, still surviving, still living. Evidence that even a man devoid of sanity, companionship, and purpose can still find something worth living for, even if no-one else can see what or why.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

My muse came to me in libertarian drag this morning, breathing fire and egalitarian fury. The bit below is the result. So it goes.

Endless Sunshine of the Spotless Mind kicks all kinds of ass. But be prepared for a really long, sere, off-putting opening. The first ten minutes or so is in the spirit of exceedingly low-key realism, and I could see some folks walking out before things go well and truly insane.

A rising tide raises all boats
In nature's riverland
But here admidst dams,
Diverting basins and
Mounded miles
The mighty dikes
Raised against the whimsies
Of Blind God Wealth
The rising tides shall
Benefit those that
Deems due best.
Locked within walls
Of mounding logic
The invisible hand strains
Pushes and prods
Closes into a fist.
The river would go
Whence the river wist
And logic and design
Only enrages the beast.
Put your faith in walls
And constraints against fate
And the hundred year flood
Will wash away all
Little and great.
And this prideful port
Astride great waters
And the complicit capital
Far from the scene
Shall both shattering shift
Before roaring furies
Of nature unleashed.
And New Orleans dry
And Baton Rouge drown
By the hubris of wisdom
And the pretension of power.


Friday, March 19, 2004

If y'all haven't been reading the Command Post's coverage of the fighting in the NorthWest Frontier, check this out. Not only is the main post and updates an excellent summation, but "jeffers" has an absolutely brilliant series of comments which describes the situation in a concise, brilliant manner that actually makes sense of the terrain and the reports. You would not believe just how goddamn hard it is to find open-source topography information about that end of civilization, or lack thereof. None of the villages or towns mentioned are shown on even the most detailed of maps - the best I could do was find Wana, the capital of the agency in which all this is going on, South Waziristan. Somebody cobbled together a pseudo-map from false-color NASA imagery here.
John Jakala points to a livejournaler who allegedly has the goods on why the "Spanish Flee" wasn't appeasement. Said livejournaler claims that this Spanish cowardice argument is a "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy.

My recent experience with lefties who wave the banner of rhetorical logic is that they rarely are capable of actual, y'know, logic. The old "post hoc ergo propter hoc" saw is the dear friend of those who would best like to pretend causality away, because causality has, for whatever reason, become the enemy of their argument.

In other words, A leads to B only when it suits your argument to acknowledge that it does so. Elsewise, the two elements float in perfect isolation from one another. But when it comes time to play that old time "root causes" religion - oh, lordy, will the hymns ring out!

This led to that
As a result of the other
All at the behest of the Lord!

Causality only holds sway when the cause is us, right?

The irony in all of this is, of course, that the appeasement policies of the new Spanish administration is itself an embodiment of "post hoc ergo propter hoc". We did this something over here, and this violence was done to us; therefore, let us cease to do that, and the violent people will cease to torment us. Anyone who is a pacifist on the basis of a belief in "cycles of violence" and "blowback" and "an eye for an eye until the whole world is blind" has built her entire political philosophy on "post hoc ergo propter hoc".

I'm reminded of this vile, racist September 12 game, predicated on the obscenely simplistic notion that killing terrorists transforms others into terrorists. The bodies of dead terrorists cause random swarthy passersby to kneel and wail, and transform into gun-swinging killers like something out of a sentai show. The game has no more complexity than that – it's a view of the third world in which people are not individuals, with motivations and likes and dislikes, but rather ants, reacting robotically to stimuli.

No, I don't think that the Madrid bombings caused right-thinking Spaniards to vote in cowardice, who otherwise would have voted for the party in power. I think that otherwise apathetic leftist jerks, whose political makeup included many other elements in addition to a certain, minor moral cowardice, were motivated to go and vote, possibly even in defiance, and naturally voted for the incidentally appeasement-minded Socialists instead of those damn fascist right-wingers in power.

As a further irony, the new appeasement policies probably won't work. The killers weren't angry Iraqis, determined to drive the Spanish out of Iraq. They seem to have been Moroccans. Perhaps they're upset about the centuries-long Spanish occupation of towns and islands along the Moroccan coast? Ah, but that isn't caused by an American sin. Clearly, it isn't a root cause; clearly, causality cannot exist in this case. Because it harms the argument.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Spot the logical fallacy:
One of the things we hear again and again from the administration is that Saddam Hussein still had both the intention and the capability to build and possess weapons of mass destruction.

Isn't this a logical fallacy?

I mean, if you have the intention to build WMDs and the ability to build them, then you have WMDs. It's about as close to 2 + 2 = 4 as you get in human affairs.

I suppose it's best for the world that our Joshua chose to go into history and blogging rather than law or law enforcement. Here's a hint: motive, means, and OPPORTUNITY.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I began to write the following on a anime forum I usually lurk within, in response to a procession of pseudohip sheep baa'ing about how they were avoiding Azumanga Daioh because of all the "pedophiles and Love Hina fans" that like the show:
Strangely enough, I tend to judge people by what they like, and not things by which people like them. Maybe I'm strange that way, I don't know.

Maybe it's because I try to take things on their own merits, and not in an imagined context of whether some hypothetical somebody is gonna think I'm a pedophile, or a homosexual, or a Republican because I like this or that.

I'm sure you've spotted why I paused, and shut down the window. Self-consciousness is a temporary, and precious gift. It's not that often that I catch myself in such a blatant display of cognitive dissonance. I think one of the above notions is antithetical to the other. Which one is crap? *Is* one crap? How the hell did I manage to hold both ideas in my head *at the same time*?

I guess it's a species of hypocrisy, in which I both insist on judging others based on their tastes, while refusing to consider the inevitable reciprocal consideration. You could make the argument that it's a refusal to tailor one's actual taste to one's self-image, but I'm not sure I can credit myself with that much principle. More likely, it's just a sort of unthinking stubbornness.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

"But you have kept your honor bright,
and though it was in vain
To guard the walls of Europe then
that would fall down again,
In exile and forgetfulness,
where you are, there is Spain."

Not sure whether the rhyming scheme is successful, but it certainly has the fire of great polemical poetry. By one Frederick Turner.
For those of you not impressed by the whole "I have secret endorsements from foreign leaders" brouhaha, be reassured. The Dauphin has deigned to inform us all, in the course of addressing one of my fellow Pennsylvanians, that such things are "not your business". Kerry proceeded to verbally stomp all over the fellow because he was a Republican in a Democratic crowd. I wish I had been there. I might be a Democrat In Name Only, but I apparently pass The Dauphin's criteria for being worthy of questioning the Presence: having voted for Gore in 2000. Even if I had been a Republican In Name Only at the time...

Eugene Volokh is all over the liberal majors for dropping the "not your business, it's mine" line from their coverage of the incident.
I'm some sort of idiot. Apparently the New York Times *is* covering the Syrian situation. (See also this unsigned AP article here.) But you had to dig to find it - they aren't doing anything radical like, say, putting it on the front page. Presumably it's somewhere in the back of the print edition. Both articles make it sound like garden-variety ethnic rioting.

Al Jazeera says that the violence is continuing, with eleven more dead.

The Daily Star, which publishes in Syria-occupied Lebanon, is reporting the "unrest", with a pro-government spin, of course. That's sort of impressive - they have to step lightly around the Syrians in Lebanon.

The Boston Globe has the AP article, and credits it to an Albert Aji.

Here's the BBC.

Fox has another unsigned AP article from the 13th about the initial riots.

BTW, the columns of smoke reported from over the Turkish border are supposedly barns on fire, according to that Aji AP article.

Monday, March 15, 2004

The Kurdish uprising in Syria has apparently sucked in an American delegation sent to the area, to "mediate". They're reportedly meeting with personal representatives of Assad in the area. The Syrians have sealed the border with Iraq, and there's real danger of the Iraqi Kurdish militia pouring over the border in defense of the Syrian Kurds, or possibly just in an excess of filial feeling. As of this writing, the only American or international outlets even mentioning the situation are the Contra Costa Times and the Miami Herald. What the hell, people!
Yesterday's disastrous election reports in Spain and the weekend's news of uprisings in Kurdish Syria and northern Iran has me spinning like a dervish in the wind. Dangerous times, ugly times. I'm starting to suspect that we're seeing Berman's hypothesis demonstrated in real time - that the Islamist terrorists have their true power in the borderlands of the West and Islam, and that their strength in the Arab heartlands was more apparent than real. Cities are burning in revolt - against Ba'athists and Islamic theocratic regimes.

Meanwhile, Wretchard of the Belmont Club has an eloquent post on the Spanish debacle which is worthy of attention. Normally, Wretchard is a bit alarmist for my tastes, but I have to respect that sort of writing.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Hee hee hee hee... I know what I'm doing on March 15th, "International Eat an Animal for PETA Day" - it's Outback Steakhouse for sure!

Thanks, Meryl!
I'm in at work on a Saturday because some bright spark decided to have a bicycle race in Bellefonte today, and all the parking in town has been bogarted by the police. It's damn cold outside for a bike race, with snow blowing about and the usual, capricious high winds of March. I've got a pile of slow, tedious data work to do, anyways. Reconciling our pesticide entries with a CDMS database's arbitrary product name spellings. Gonna take weeks. Right in the middle of pre-planting prep work, which means we're going to get a lot of no-longer-accurate material back when the folks who have already drawn their headers come back with the logged results from the fields... oh, well. It's what they pay me for. Just wish we had committed to the CDMS database in January instead of March.

Friday, March 12, 2004

I just re-discovered Doug & Claudia Muir, some folks I used to know from the Bujold mailing list. For the Bujold fans out there, Count Vormuir in A Civil Campaign was named after Doug. At the time, Doug and Claudia were living on opposite sides of the world - I can't remember where exactly Claudia had been living then, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't on Guam with Doug. Apparently they got together somehow, because they're now married with kids in Bucharest.

Doug is now one of the guys blogging with Tacitus at his eponymous blog, but the Muirs also have their own family blog at Halfway Down the Danube. I'm still looking around, but Doug has an interesting post about how the multinational drug corporations have discovered Southeastern Europe's comparative advantages as a center for drug-testing. The combination of relative poor health among Eastern Europeans, cheap and educated healthcare labor, and favorable regulatory conditions has made Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia near-ideal for drug companies looking to cut costs involved in getting drugs tested for regulatory approval in the EU and the US. I had not been aware that companies could use foreign datapoints for regulatory purposes in the States. I mean, it makes sense that they could, I just didn't think that the bureaucrats would necessarily be reasonable about it.

Doug cites some Romanians who think that their country is being exploited in this particular business, but I guess I don't see the horrors inherent in a type of exploitation that pays for top-notch health care for poor people. The worst part of it would no doubt involve catastrophic results due to the failures; but this sort of thing already goes on anywhere they're doing drug or treatment testing, rich or poor, foreign or domestic. All in all, it sounds like a classic example of Ricardian economics in action.
I haven't really said anything here about the Madrid horror because I haven't had much to add on the subject. I've left comments on a number of blogs to the effect that I believed it to be an ETA affair rather than an al Queda operation. John at Iberian Notes has a list of compelling reasons why he thinks it's the ETA, rather than an al Queda outrage. Later on, he notes that a cadre of ETA terrorists left for Iraq in May of last year, and that most of them have since returned, and suggests that the ETA is a full-fledged member of the al Queda apparatus, which he calls "Terror International". Folks have been warning of a new "Black-Red" alliance of cryptofascists. The mixed signals on the Madrid slaughter mean that we're looking at the first fruits of that fascist union.

I won't condescend and claim that we're "all Spaniards now". If we weren't before, we aren't now. We're all human beings, and that's a stronger tie than nationalities. Even the miserable, monstrous shits who did this are people. Solidarity isn't much more than a modulation of air and ink. If you haven't yet done so, give a commitment. IRA, FARC, ETA, PKK, MEK, Tamil Tigers, PLO, the many-headed Islamist hydra - they're all terrorists. I don't give a fuck about their causes. Don't sympathize - outlaw them; cut off the wolf's head.
I was watching a bunch of episodes of H2 last night. H2 is a baseball anime based on an Adachi manga. Adachi is the mangaka who's also responsible for Touch, a much better-known baseball anime. If you haven't seen the Touch compilation movies, do your best to find 'em and watch 'em. Of course, the magpie anime importers are not at all inclined to be helpful in this regard. Sports anime is considered far more risky and dubious than something easy to market, like, oh, say, bishie girlporn. ADV's Princess Nine is the only notable exception to this rule so far, and it had the whole gender-war thing going for it. Usually, the only way a sports anime is going to find its way into the American market is if there's some sort of wacky sci-fi element, like Battle Athletes Victory's sports-in-space silliness.

Anyways, H2. Our hero is a subdued high school freshman, who was a big noise on the middle school baseball circuit. Hottest thing since yadda yadda yadda. But he mangled his pitching arm, and the doctors told him to drop the whole baseball thing before he's irrevocably maimed. He's given up on baseball, and is starting over as a rookie on his new, baseball-less high school's soccer club. His air of put-upon competence and slow-burn resentment is really charming, in a teen-age-ticking-time-bomb sort of way. But it turns out that a hapless baseball "fan club" has formed at the allegedly-baseball-less high school, and he gets drawn into his old ways... It's a very slow, very talky, likable show. It's never going to win any animation awards, and there's an absolute minimum of style or flair to the production. The kids have a certain way of talking that more closely resembles the nostalgic rambling of over-the-hill ex-jocks than anything I'd expect out of an actual teenager, but I find myself willing to give the writer the benefit of the doubt. Especially when he quietly, but thoroughly trashes soccer as a trendy, dull sport full of thugs and shallow shits. My sport in school, insomuch as I had one, was soccer, and I hated it like I hate dislocating my knee.

Entire TV series based on sports is something of an American rarity. I can think of few examples to the contrary. HBO's First and 10, perhaps, but that was more of a soap about a football team than about the game itself. The American imagination seems to generally exhaust itself on the subject of sports within the timespan of a two-hour movie. Beyond that, we founder and fail. Meanwhile, the Japanese TV anime market is rarely without at least one Koushien saga playing somewhere. More importantly, they're almost always about school teams, or amateurs, with the notable exception of professional boxing.

Of course, in the case of baseball, this might have something to do with the general weakness of professional Japanese baseball, in comparison with the highly competitive high school circuit, with its legendary Koushien tournament. I've read recently that there are many more anti-fans of the Yomuiri Giants than fans of any professional team in Japan. Meanwhile, high schools compete in developing world-class baseball clubs like gangsters cultivating racehorse stables. It's one of the factors that seems to drive Japan's slightly disturbing youth fixation - the fact that many of their best baseball players' careers are effectively over with their graduation from high school. The cry of "seishun! seishun!" is a perennial in sports anime, and it's definitely on parade in H2, where our hero's career is over in middle school, and we're treated to the spectacle of a over-the-hill high school freshman agonizing over whether to play just one more game.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Aaron McGruder:
"I don't like Condoleezza Rice because of her politics. I don't like Condoleezza Rice because she's part of this oil cabal that's now in the White House. I don't like her because she's a murderer. You know, I'm not bound by the rules of a politician or journalist. So, you know, when I say, 'She's a murderer,' it's because she's a murderer, and that's all that's necessary for me to make those statements."
You know, I think this technically passes muster as slander. No "I believe that...", no "I think that...", no qualifiers, weasel words... no references to the indirect policies that have resulted in what McGruder considers a murder... If I had ever heard of an actual successful American prosecution for slander, I'd recommend that Rice bring a case against him. The only thing I can think of which exculpates McGruder is that Rice is a public figure, and the courts are generally hostile to libel and slander suits brought against speech aimed at public figures.
Al Gore and Al Franken's new liberal-radio project has a name: Air America. I am not making this up. Apparently they thought that lifting the name of the CIA's most famous front company was a really keen idea. Hell, the CIA's Air America even ran a few radio stations in its day. There's every possibility that the new liberal-radio project is violating CIA IP. That is, if they aren't still fronting for the Company...

Via Jeff Jarvis.
Den Beste and Zeyad both had extended thoughts on the Iraqi interim constitution. They both saw things in the constitution which I hadn't concentrated on, which struck me as more apropos than the rubbish I was on about.

Den Beste was particularly impressed by what he saw as a subtle and structural balance struck between the ethnic/sectarian factions in the provisions for an executive. Specifically, the two-thirds provision for election of the three members of the Presidency Council keeps the Shi'ites from dominating the executive, and obliges them to compromise with the other factions. Den Beste also points out something that I hadn't noticed in my rush, which is that the Presidency Council loses authority over minister appointment to the Assembly if they don't act unanimously within two weeks of a resignation. This keeps minority members of the Presidency Council from filibustering, but the unanimous provision means that the majority can't ram through ministers which are totally repellant to the minority. Den Beste believes that the resulting Prime Minister will be structurally centrist, and obviously believes this to be an excellent thing. I tend to agree. On the other hand, I am not at all sure that the Presidency Council is as weak as Den Beste seems to think it will be. It strikes me as having more of a foreign-policy and judicial-appointments role than he's giving it credit for. He lauds the independent judiciary, but doesn't into the details, which I fear will result in an excessively independent judiciary.

Zeyad is happy with any constitution which gets Sistani irate - he complains that Sistani is not actually an Iraqi citizen. I hadn't known that, but Sistani was born in Iran, so it doesn't surprise me... He also has a list of attitudes of the various factions, notes that the Chapter 2 protections are not all that unique in the region, and discusses the ambiguous reaction of the Kurds to the signing. He's happy with the three-protectorates ratification failure clause, and notes that if the Shia hate the resulting permanent constitutional draft that much, they can block ratification by the same clause that the Kurds would use.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

For those of you who haven't yet twigged to just how scaldingly racist mainland Chinese can be, here's a classic example:
"They shouldn't be living totally detached from the modern world," said Mr. Wu, a deputy director general of the Yunnan Development Planning Commission. "If it were not for the founding of the People's Republic, these people would still be living a primitive way of life, like monkeys or ape-men."
The government of the Chinese East is busily raping the westlands. Sounds a bit like the American 19th Century, doesn't it? Rapid industrialization always comes with a hefty price-tag. I suppose the demographic and wealth gains are worth it, but the people paying are only occasionally the ones reaping the benefit. To be strictly honest, the peasants who will be drowned out of their farmlands sound like pretty marginal subsistence farmers - the very sorts of folk whose economic demise are inevitable, like the Appalachian hollows-folk who lost their own lands to the TWA in the 1930s.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

OK, this is just too damned addictive. It's like the chase scene from the Blues Brothers, with la miagra replacing the Illinois State Police. If you can manage to bounce-balance on top of a police cruiser going the same way you're going, you can really rack up the points. We were promised police dogs, but I haven't seen any yet.
Fox News has provided a translation of the interim constitution. Link via Den Beste, who opines that it's a vast improvement over the rejected EU constitution. That's not saying much – I've seen shorter telephone books and better-written VCR instructions than the EU draft. In my opinion, the interim constitution shares, to a lesser extent, many of the shortcomings of the EU constitution draft. It's overlong, contains too much that should be a matter of legislation rather than foundational law, and is too positive in its approach to rights. In mitigation, however, this is an interim constitution, and does have to provide for immediate legislative needs in advance of the formulation of a proper legislature. If the eventual permanent constitution contains the same flaws, I will be irate.

The people of Iraq, striving to reclaim their freedom, which was usurped by the previous tyrannical regime, rejecting violence and coercion in all their forms, and particularly when used as instruments of governance, have determined that they shall hereafter remain a free people governed under the rule of law.
Not bad. Sort of combines the intents of American Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional Preamble.
(B) Gender-specific language shall apply equally to male and female.
Er, OK. I hope that makes more sense in Arabic or Kurdish than in English.
(2) The second phase shall begin after the formation of the Iraqi Transitional Government, which will take place after elections for the National Assembly have been held as stipulated in this Law, provided that, if possible, these elections are not delayed beyond 31 December 2004, and, in any event, beyond 31 January 2005. This second phase shall end upon the formation of an Iraqi government pursuant to a permanent constitution.
This is a little ambiguous. It seems to suggest that the constitution will expire upon the seating of the National Assembly. Maybe I'm reading it wrong?
Article 3. (A) This Law is the Supreme Law of the land and shall be binding in all parts of Iraq without exception. No amendment to this Law may be made except by a three-fourths majority of the members of the National Assembly and the unanimous approval of the Presidency Council. Likewise, no amendment may be made that could abridge in any way the rights of the Iraqi people cited in Chapter Two; extend the transitional period beyond the timeframe cited in this Law; delay the holding of elections to a new assembly; reduce the powers of the regions or governorates; or affect Islam, or any other religions or sects and their rites.
This sounds like it clashes with the already-cited Article 61, which provides an emergency "out" for catastrophic failure of the democratization process, which provides for an extension of the interim constitution until a National Assembly passes a permanent constitution and the governorates ratify it.
Article 4.
The system of government in Iraq shall be republican, federal, democratic, and pluralistic, and powers shall be shared between the federal government and the regional governments, governorates, municipalities, and local administrations.
That's a long laundry list. At lease there isn't any jibber-jabber about "competencies" in *this* document.
Article 7.
A) Islam is the official religion of the State and is to be considered a source of legislation. No law that contradicts the universally agreed tenets of Islam, the principles of democracy, or the rights cited in Chapter Two of this Law may be enacted during the transitional period. This Law respects the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights of all individuals to freedom of religious belief and practice.
This was the worry-making section. The fact that it places Islam in the same construction as rights and democracy is a mitigating factor, but still not something to be happy about in secular terms.
(B) Iraq is a country of many nationalities, and the Arab people in Iraq are an inseparable part of the Arab nation.
What the hell is this? Sounds as if an Arabic Pat Buchanan or David Duke wrote this line. Pan-Arabist racism does not belong with the rest of the material. Must have been a bone tossed to the Nasserists, ex-Baathists and the lunatic fringe. As if that'll make those rabid dogs sit…
Article 8.
The flag, anthem, and emblem of the State shall be fixed by law.
Now this here is what I was talking about inappropriate legislative activity. *Not* appropriate in a constitution, in my opinion. The EU draft had the exact same problem. The sort of crap trivially-minded bureaucrats think is important, but really isn't.

Article 9.
The Arabic language and the Kurdish language are the two official languages of Iraq. The right of Iraqis to educate their children in their mother tongue, such as Turcoman, Syriac, or Armenian, in government educational institutions in accordance with educational guidelines, or in any other language in private educational institutions, shall be guaranteed.
. So, they've established two official languages – for publications and laws and such – but are ordering educational instruction in whatever somebody can agitate for. The American Constitution and most of the state constitutions avoided this nonsense for good reason. This is an example of overactive "positive law". It shouldn’t be codified in any constitution, but it'd be worse in a permanent one. To a certain degree, this interim document has to provide for practicalities in the short term, and this bit is a prime example.

Chapter 2 is the Bill of Rights section, contained within the body of the constitution proper. Article 10 establishes a positive tone towards government relations with the rights of the people – it says that the government should "respect" rights, rather than charging the government to not infringe upon rights. The American amendments and articles are generally "negative" – restraining – rather than neutral or positive. I consider this a strength of the American document which is rarely embraced by modern constitutional framers. Article 11 has a lot of language about reinstating Iraqi citizens and the citizenship of existing Iraqis. No language about naturalization, although the existence of naturalized citizens is mentioned. Article 12 is an excellent equality-before-the-law and procedure clause. Article 13 has more of that damned positive language, which makes natural rights appear to be the creature of the government rather than pre-existing conditions that should not be infringed upon by the government:
(A) Public and private freedoms shall be protected.
(B) The right of free expression shall be protected.
(C) The right of free peaceable assembly and the right to join associations freely, as well as the right to form and join unions and political parties freely, in accordance with the law, shall be guaranteed.
(D) Each Iraqi has the right of free movement in all parts of Iraq and the right to travel abroad and return freely.
(E) Each Iraqi has the right to demonstrate and strike peaceably in accordance with the law.
(F) Each Iraqi has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religious belief and practice. Coercion in such matters shall be prohibited.
(G) Slavery, the slave trade, forced labor, and involuntary servitude with or without pay, shall be forbidden.
(H) Each Iraqi has the right to privacy.
A rather pro-unionist codification of the right of association, but since there's a Communist Party member on the Guardian Council, I'm not surprised. The right of travel is a surprising element, and at first I was hostile on no-extraneous-elements grounds, but as I think about it, it is an interesting addition, and fits the Iraqi experience. That unadorned "right to privacy" element is what's conspiciously missing from the American constitution. It's probably better that it's there than not, although in a permanent constitution it would be way too vague for comfort.

Article 14.
The individual has the right to security, education, health care, and social security. The Iraqi State and its governmental units, including the federal government, the regions, governorates, municipalities, and local administrations, within the limits of their resources and with due regard to other vital needs, shall strive to provide prosperity and employment opportunities to the people.
Ouch, ouch, ouch – this is the exact sort of thing that the EU constitutional draft was abused and maligned for, and rightly so. All of these "rights" are legislative goals, and not natural rights. It blows chunks that these are included in any constitutional document. Might as well include the "right" to live forever, or the "right" to God's grace, or the "right" to go swimming. It's also a problem because this multiplication of enumerated "rights" breeds a habit of thought in which all rights which are not explicitly enumerated are implicitly denied without positive legislation or constitutional protection. Bad road to travel, if you ask me.

Article 15, on the other hand, is an excellent passage. As far as I can tell, it establishes a common-law approach to legal proceedings, as opposed to the usual civil code. Innocent until proven guilty is specifically and explicitly laid out, along with a number of other legal principles, such as a ban on post facto legislation, search and seizure principles, double jeopardy, torture or cruel and unusual punishment, and so on. If they went so far as to implement juries, it would be a full-fledged common law system. Interesting.

Article 16 is a property-law muddle, and isn't going to make anybody happy. Article 17 is an explicit refutation of modern American conservative thought about the Second Amendment, and if any of those folks notice this, they'll hit the roof. I don't really care much for such things, so I say "eh". Article 20 is a terribly vague bit of language for what appears to be a voting-rights and election-code section. Perhaps there's more further on in the document? It doesn't even establish any voting-age majority language. Article 21 explicitly protects the development of "civil society", which is a nice idea, although I'm not sure exactly how much use such language could be in practice. Article 23 is a vital "nonenumerated rights" section, which somewhat negates some of my kevetching about excessively positive language.

Chapter Three establishes the transitional government:
Article 24.
(A) The Iraqi Transitional Government, which is also referred to in this Law as the federal government, shall consist of the National Assembly; the Presidency Council; the Council of Ministers, including the Prime Minister; and the judicial authority.
(B) The three authorities, legislative, executive, and judicial, shall be separate and independent of one another.
I don't know how independent the three "authorities" can be, if there's a prime minister as well as a president, and councils for both leaders. Prime Ministers usually exist in mixed-branch parliamentary systems, where the executive is staffed directly by selection from the legislature. In such systems, the President is either ceremonial (which would make a Presidency Council somewhat odd) or the actual executive power, and thus the boss of the Prime Minister – as in the French system.
Article 25.
The Iraqi Transitional Government shall have exclusive competence in the following matters:
Goddamnit! There's that damned word, "competency". However, the rest of the language in Article 25 severely limits the authority of the Transitional Government, which I strongly approve of. They're using European positivist language in a restrictive, negative sense. I approve. Article 26 maintains the existing law of both the pre-war government and the CPA, unless explicitly rescinded. Article 27 establishes the armed forces, and limits militias and so on. That's a hard row to how – good luck there, guys.

Chapter Four lays out the National Assembly, a 275-member legislature with language about gender and ethnic balance. I don't generally approve of that sort of quota-chasing, but whatever. Members have to be over thirty, no Ba'athists of a certain rank or higher, but with exemption "pursuant to the applicable legal rules". Lots of additional requirements – no profiteers, no oppressors, a secondary-education completion requirement, no currently-serving soldiers. In general, a much more stringent set of requirements than that for US Representative. Considering how often literal crooks and scam artists make their way into Congress, I can't say I blame the framers of this constitution. In general, Chapter Four lays out a strong legislature, with full protection against prosecution of individual members.

Chapter Five lays out the executive, in three parts – a Presidency Council, a Council of Ministers, and a presiding Prime Minister. The Presidency Council consists of a President of the State and two deputies, all elected from the National Assembly. This is something of an inversion of the usual President/Prime Minister formulation. President must be 40, good reputation, not a current Baathist or a participant in the suppression of the 1991 intifada or the Anfal campaign of 1988, and meet all the conditions of membership in the National Assembly. Rumor has it that this Presidency Council, with a rumored deal for ethnically-based composition of the President and two deputies, was part of the fuss over the initial postponement of the signing.

The Presidency Council has veto power over legislation, and can be overridden by the usual two-thirds majority. The Prime Minister is named by the Presidency Council. Same qualifications as the members of the Presidency Council except he can be 35. They will also name the members of the Council of Ministers, in consultation with the Prime Minister. So, the Council of Ministers is a sort of cabinet, except that they owe their appointments to the Presidency Council, instead of directly to the Prime Minister. The Council of Ministers don't seem to have any sort of en banc authority, except in the appointment of diplomats for treaty negotiation purposes. The Presidency Council seems to have strong authority over judicial appointments – the Assembly doesn't seem to have any approval checks-and-balances on judicial matters. They do, however, have such confirmation power over the chiefs of staff for the military and the intelligence branches. I'm not sure what I think of that – this might be the experience of a country with a bloody history of coups and conspiracies speaking, here.

The ministers are responsible to the Assembly via the usual practice of votes of no confidence, same as any parliamentary system. The Prime Minister is additionally responsible to the Presidency Council, and may be dismissed at any time. The Prime Minister is head of government, with the Presidency Council being a much stronger head of state than, say, their equivalents in the UK or Australia, as I understand it.

Chapter Six establishes a judicial authority with explicitly established political and administrative independence from the executive. The Federal Supreme Court will be selected by a Higher Juridical Council and approved by the Presidency Council. So the Presidency Council has the authority given the Senate in the American system – approval, but not selection power. The Juridical Council is composed from the heads of various courts. This makes the Judical branch much, much more independent than in the American system. I think this is probably a mistake. It's going to make the courts much more headstrong and aggressive in dealing with the legislature and executive. There is a provision for impeachment, but it's by the executive, not the legislative branch. That could restraint the judicial branch, or alternatively, breed a series of violent clashes by sending the two aristocratic branches up head-to-head against each other.

Chapter Seven establishes a Special Tribunal and commissions for de-Baathification, property claims, and so on. This is the sort of thing that is OK in a transitional document, but would be inappropriate for a permanent constitution.

Chapter Eight is on sub-federal governments – "Regions, Governorates, and Municipalities". The Kurdish enclave is explicitly recognized as a Regional Government covering five governorates. It provides for formation of additional regions of "not more than three governorates" by agreement between the governorates. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has police and tax authority within its governorates. The document recognizes a Kurdish National Assembly as a legislative authority within that region, where it does not clash with the "exclusive competence of the federal government". Governorates have the right to form a Council, name a Governor, and form municipal and local councils. So sub-governorate governments are the creatures of the governorates – it's similar to the American state model. Not exactly, though. The officers of the governorates and local governments are protected from arbitrary appointment and dismissal by the federal government, excepting conviction of crimes and so on. But there's no provision for legal personhood for the governorates, and thus they technically seem to be creatures of the central state, unlike American states, which are legal persons in their own right. There's some funding confusion going on with the governorates – they're supposed to be funded from the central authority, but they also have local tax authority. They're also both supposed to implement federal laws and projects, and run their own. It's a bit of a muddle. It gets really confusing with Article 57, which is looks like a states-rights provision in a system without actual states. The rest of Chapter Eight is concerned with transitional commission issues and the Kirkuk repatriation tangle.

The Ninth Chapter concerns arrangements for codifying and ratifying a permanent constitution, with "outs" if the first few rounds of framing doesn't result in successful ratification.

All in all, not too terrible. It could work, and it could work long-term, with modifications. The real problem is the confusion going on between regions, governorates, and the central state. The framers are interested in a federal system, but Iraq has traditionally had a strong central state. This first attempt at federalism is somewhat anarchic, as it's providing for a sort of haphazard decentralization without establishing the necessary states. The "region" section seems to be moving in the direction of integral, self-defined "states" – multi-governorate regions which might achieve a sort of legal personality. It seems to be a recognition that the governorates are not legal persons, and are creatures of the central state. This is especially muddled by the ratification criteria – "The general referendum will be successful and the draft constitution ratified if a majority of the voters in Iraq approve and if two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates do not reject it" – which uses the governorate system in a fashion similar to the American provision for ratification by nine states. My guess is that the eventual permanent constitution is going to get rid of the governorates in favor of these nebulous regions.

Monday, March 08, 2004

A friend from my days with PSSFS called last night. He's an animator who's been trying to break into the business for a couple of years now. He was happy to report that he had gotten some freelancer work with Disney. I was trying to explain blogs and livejournals to him. He had gotten in some hot water with a girl he knew, who had pointed him towards her livejournal for something or other, and had gotten paranoid and angry when he proceeded to read the whole thing. My best guess was that she had intended to render private certain portions of it, and had failed to do so, and he ended up reading "personal" material. I noted that blogs and livejournals are normally treated like newspapers - irrelevant after the sell-by date. I certainly don't bother to back-read on newly-encountered blogs unless there's something on-going, like the DKR discussion going on down below, or creative material, like Frank J.'s In My World serial.

Oh, speaking of livejournals, Mark Sachs directs our attention towards the livejournals of the rebellious, gothy spiritrover and her bubbly, giggly sister, opportunitygrrl. I envy them - I'd like to be able to put an entire planetary diameter between me and my demonic sister.

Update: speaking of putting distance between relatives, here's Voyager 2 and Voyager 1, both of them competing to see who can hit the Bow Shock first. Well, Voyager 2 is competing. Voyager 1 is more interested in complaining about just how far away everybody is, and how hard it is to hear us. While I'm at it, here's Cassini complaining about all the stuff NASA weighed her down with, and bragging about all the planets she's visited during her gravity-sling boosts in the inner system. Er, I think Cassini's a girl. Everybody on livejournal sounds a little girly - I think it has something to do with the standard post layout.
I'm on something of a small-wars kick right now, having read through Blackhawk Down yesterday and working on Killing Pablo and the Savage Wars of Peace this week. Yeah, I know - warbloggers are supposed to have read Boot & Bowden at their mother's breast. I'm just continuing my habit of being late to the party - I read the Threatening Storm over the holidays, some nine months after the war Pollack had been arguing for had ended. Call me slowpoke.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Dave Fiore continues his consideration of Miller's the Dark Knight Returns:
In a comment thread, a couple of days back, Mitch from Blogfonte took issue with my basic interpretation of Heart of Darkness. Specifically, he objected to my introduction of the sublime into the discussion, a term, he argues, which is "best suited to obfuscation"... And of course he's right--although I would say rather that the sublime itself obfuscates... and that it does no good to pretend that there aren't things in this world that defy human comprehension. Mitch has already demonstrated, elsewhere, that he is morbidly fearful of nihilism--well, I'm not, and I think that's the real source of our disagreement...

Mitch claims that "civilization was itself the monster eating the heart out of Africa" in Heart of Darkness. No way man! There is no "Africa" in Heart of Darkness, and no "civilization". This is no realist tract against "imperialism", or portrait of "savage customs"--Conrad's book is a complex allegory, and nothing in this text can be abstracted from the structure without losing its significance...

I have a morbid fear of nihilism, of course, because it's deadly. Twentieth-century nihilisms have a body count approaching, and perhaps exceeding, that of the bubonic plague. Your garden-variety solipsist is harmless; your rare occasional sociopathic solipsist might take out a McDonalds before eating a bullet. Nihilism is catching, especially in fetid and intellectually unhygenic environs. I have a morbid fear of nihilism in the same way I have a morbid fear of infectious disease.

As for Heart of Darkness as allegory, I begin to see why Tolkien was so irate about folks who insisted on reading his work as allegory. The Congo was a real place, the Belgian democide was a real series of events, and Conrad had been there. Kurtz himself is a construct, but he isn't constructed out of whole cloth. I believe it is a mistake of the very first water to insist on reading any of Conrad's novels solely on allegorical or idealistic terms. He was a political writer, with very political, journalistic goals. Which is not at all the same thing as calling him a realist, or naturalist. I don't think I can call him a realist in style – he's too broad and colorful for the dull shades and prissy precisions of realism and naturalism. But I believe he had journalistic intentions – Conrad was intent on providing an interpretation of the world – not an allegorical thrice-removed-from-the-flesh abstraction of archtypes and ideals.

Back to the Miller book. Fiore has some excellent points about the shift of narrational voice, and compares the structure favorably with Melville's similar narrational tricks in Moby Dick. All this talk of sublimity always makes me think of Moby Dick, of course, because that's the text when you're talking about the Sublime in English-language fiction. Of course, it's also that book that makes me hostile to the very existence of the term, Sublime, because it reminds me that oftentimes "the Sublime" is sophisticated code for divinity. Certainly y'all have noticed by now that I have a slight streak of Ahabism about the concept of literal divinity.

Bruce's whale is, of course, Superman. But if Miller had wanted us to take this point of view ourselves, I don't believe he would have done what he did in the nuclear explosion scenes (177-179 in the TPB). Superman is the strongest man on earth, sure, but his strength does not come from the same place that Batman's does! His "resurrection" is achieved through a renewed sense of a relationship to the things of the earth--birds, bullfrogs,etc; it is not an act of will! In the final battle, Batman takes his best shot at putting his fist through the opaque wall of relationality that is the sublime... and, of course, he fails!

That's odd, because I've never read Batman as failing at the climax of DKR. He outmaneuvers, outthinks, and tricks the boy scout, and scores an existential victory over the forces of order. Really, it's a conflict between "order" and "justice", and "order" goes wobbling off with the apparent victory, while "justice" dies, lies in the grave for three days, and is reborn. In order for Superman to be a Moby Dick-esque object of divine nemesis, Miller's Batman ought to have been destroyed by standing against him. Superficially, in the supertext, he is – the world perceives the outcome as such. In the text and subtext, however, the identification of Superman as divine nemesis is undermined, indeed, made nonsense. Africa doesn't destroy Kurtz – Kurtz suffers his revulsion against Africa, and does his damnedest to destroy it. Likewise, our Ahab tricks Moby Dick into eating him, and then is reborn Christlike from the beast's blow-hole.

I don't think that Batman relates to Superman in any such fashion, of course. Superman isn't the world – he's just a man of the world, in Tom Wolfe's neostoic formulation. On the other hand, you can see the Superman as the icon of supernaturality, of unresistable force. Meanwhile, Batman is the abyss - the unfillable void. That's sort of interesting.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

I'm confused. Does this mean that TokyoPop is starting to do novel translations? "Manga novel" is a bizarre neologism that may mean "novel" or "picturebook" or "different binding class of manga". Hrm, the CLAMP offering is a "text novel". That would seem to indicate that we're talking actual novels, here. Though the CLAMP one sounds more like a novelization of a thoroughly unpopular and uninteresting CLAMP series; I suppose I ought to be happy it isn't Dukylon.

Slayers was initially a very popular series of fantasy novels; since there's a Slayers title in the initial offering, I think we can be fairly confident that these "manga novels" are translations with the occasional illustration for those that haven't quite grown out of the picturebook demographic.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Check out Josh Marshall tying himself in knots while attempting to get on-message with Kerry, now that he's stuck with him. Marshall's capacity for partisan doublethink is truly impressive. I especially like his blatant untruth about the Kerry/Weld race being "clean by national standards". So senatorial candidates regularly make mutual conduct pledges early in campaigns, and then break them a week before the election?

Marshall was so intent on Clark. It's kind of sad.
I'm an Atheist!

Which Enemy of the Christian Church Are You?

Huh. So much for my agnostic tight-rope act.

Damn you, Pixy!
"By the way, I did try using one of these chain whips just for the fun of it. It was a bit dissapointing since they don't hurt at all. Phonies."

- Zayed, reporting on the Basra Ashura festivities.
Oh, joy. I'm told that there's a new class of email virus which appears to come from "administrator@[yourdomain]". Just what the internet needed. I fear the day where we wander the net, constantly fearful and paranoid, doubting the identity of the sender of every email received. How long before a virus is released which harvests & emails samples from the "sent" archive of a popular email application, with only the virus payload added?

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

"Suddenly they disgust me. What is this simulacrum of a country inhabited by characters pretending to be actors out of a 1950’s French comedy? Is it any wonder that they conduct their foreign relations like village bumpkins? But of course I’m faking, too, forcing myself not to like what I liked and to like what I still have misgivings about, breaking loose from my moorings and sending myself into orbit. Because I don’t want to leave France and I can’t stay."

A Jewish leftist expat struggling with a suddenly alien France. Eloquent, and expressive of what I've seen in a lot of aging leftists, torn violently from the political habits of decades. David Horowitz is perhaps the most extreme example of this syndrome. The temptation of a total reversal, an inversion, a revulsion towards all the aspects and elements of true belief betrayed. The causes of the alienation are varied - for some 9/11, for some the al-Aqsa war, for some a long-forgotten, squalid crime remembered solely as part of that person's biography. But the patterns of conversion is still the same.

I don't think I'll ever experience it myself, because my political philosophy from childhood has always been a hostility towards any sort of pure idealism. You can't betray a pragmatist, you can only disappoint him.

Via Roger L. Simon, another alienated leftist, who demonstrates many of the characteristics of the ex-leftist conversion experience himself.

Monday, March 01, 2004

So, the Passion of the Christ wasn't exactly easy to see without preconceptions. That's been damn obvious in reviews and commentary in the half-week between when the movie came out and when I got around to going to see it. What's with a religious, foreign-language movie getting the blockbuster mid-week release, anyways? This is the sort of thing Hollywood does to bump up the opening-weekend grosses.

Right. Preconceptions. My primary response to the movie afterwards was that people were projecting heavily on it. Folks worried about the anti-Semitic upsurge saw in it another nail to be hammered. Christians saw a traditionally-minded passion play. "Liberal" conservatives saw pornographic violence.

It wasn't my favorite version of the passion. Those that know me personally might be aware that I'm something of a Jesus Christ Superstar fan - the 1996 film version over the version from the Seventies, the original cast album over any other version, filmed or otherwise. But the two are really incommensurate. Jesus Christ Superstar is an aesthetic construct, while the Passion is a primal, ferocious outpouring of pure sentiment. I have to respect it for what it is.

A number of liberal Christians, mostly Protestants, but some disaffected Catholics as well, have complained of the fleshy horror of the movie. The Passion as a physical event is somewhat alien to the low church Protestant experience. That tradition emphasizes the empty cross over the bloody crucifix. Throughout Appalachia, you will find open knolls by little backwoods churches with three empty crosses in the traditional array. The emphasis is on the open grave, and the empty cross - not the agony and the flesh of the event itself. They celebrate the resurrection and the promise - not the betrayal and the sacrifice. Love over pity, celebration over mourning, Gratitude over guilt. The church in which I was raised emphasized the imitation of Christ - but in an ethical sense, rather than a theological sense. We were to follow him in life. Obsessing over his death was morbid, in the literal sense.

Thus, I believe that liberal Christians expected a more robust ending - something triumphal, something spectacular, something full of light and joy. The end of 2001? I don't know. But the film isn't called The Passion and the Resurrection, and that wasn't what was promised. When they didn't get their StarChrist ending, a lot of liberal Christians complained that the Risen Christ had "blood in his eye", that he looked like he was getting ready to go out and do some ass-kicking. I fully expected to see this scene, having read a number of critics complain explicitly about it. I was some-what surprised to not see what I had been told to see. His eyes don't harden, they don't even dilate, in a movie in which strong emphasis was laid on the visual of the Christ's eyes dilating out at the moment of death, at the climax of the movie. He just looks forward, as the light comes forth. It's by no means a triumphal ending, but it isn't one of fury and rage. It's just... blank.

In a certain theological sense, I suppose that emphasis on the physical Passion is a correction for the Monophysite error, which is fairly common among modern Protestants. When you downplay the Passion as an explicit, direct and physical event, full of torment and agony, you underplay the essential humanity of Jesus. It becomes easy to see him as a divine ideal, passing through life, rather than a physical man, broken on the cross. My church was especially fond of considering the Christ as the Word Incarnate, a bodiless Voice which spoke through the world and was gone, leaving nothing but echo centuries in its wake.

The movie was a harsh experience, though, no doubt of that. I'm going to have nightmares of those exposed ribs, and the hammering of nails. In fact, I did have a strange nightmare afterwards - about kittens so delicate that they bled upon being touched, that collapsed into tiny puddles of gore as a result. I'd analyze my dream, except that Freud is dead, and so is dream interpretation.

Gibson's film is a hammer, and some people break. A woman behind me in the theatre started sobbing in the midst of the scourging scene, and didn't stop throughout the rest of the movie. It doesn't relent, and that's sort of the point. I disagree with the folks who think that it's overkill, that the violence depicted would have killed any man. Well, that's sort of the point, isn't it? Jesus was supposed to be an exemplar, and was a font of healing and strength. I'm told that they ticked off the Stations of the Cross, but since I wasn't raised Catholic, I didn't recognize them as such.

Now we come to the "anti-Semitism" of the movie. I'm generally pretty philosemitic, so I was worried about this. And I can see where the critics were concerned. There was too much emphasis on the high priests, and at least one of them was a walking anti-Semitic horror - dark, swarthy, hook-nosed and nasty. We saw too much of Caiaphas and the high priests, that's for sure. But in retrospect, I believe that this has more to do with Gibson's "traditionalist" rage against the Roman Church. I've seen him go all stone-faced in interviews and flatly declare that he believes that the "Eucharist doesn't transubstantiate" in the Roman Church. The horror of a holy institution perverted by pride and blindness speaks through the high priests. I think it's also very telling that at the climax of the film, the Temple is destroyed by quake and fire, and the high priests stumble through the ruins, Caiaphas burning his hand on a brazier.

My experience of the film was that this business with the high priests was more than compensated by the emphasis placed on Simon of Cyrene, a tall Jew dragooned out of the crowd on the Via Dolorosa to carry the cross when Christ couldn't carry it any further. I found myself sympathizing heavily with this neutral party, a decent man in an ugly, mad riot of horrors and agony.

The film isn't perfect. I didn't hate the Morningstar figure as much as others did, but the horrible imp-children who hound Judas to his death were alien to the general spirit of the movie. It detracted from the narrative, made it more "movieish", and almost certainly contributed to the complaints about "the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre". They might have done more with the ending, or possibly less. I would have ended with the Morningstar howling, personally - but then, I'm no longer a believing Christian.

When I came out of the theatre, I found that every car within two blocks of the Garman had a flower tucked under the right-hand windshield wiper. Somebody had been busy to do this during a Saturday matinee. In retrospect, it was probably a good gesture to make. The Passion takes you to a very low place, and doesn't really finish the job of bringing you back from the brink. A little extra-narrational help, a bit of joy and optimism, definitely made a difference in my mood.
Quoth Fred Ramsey:
The Spring Creek Slammers' Present
A First Sunday Poetry Slam
03/07/04 5PM
Zeno's Pub
State College, PA

Slam Host: Dora McQuaid
Featured Poet: Kathy Morrow

Cover Charge: $2
Competition Fee: $3

Cash Prize Awarded to Winner

The Spring Creek Slammers are members of Poetry Slam Inc and our slams are run
according to National Poetry Slam rules:

1. Please come prepared to perform three different original poems.
2. You will have three minutes to make your presentation without incurring a
time penalty.
3. Competitors will be judged on both the quality of their poetry and on the
quality of their performance.
4. No props permitted.

Come one come all. Bring a friend or two as well.

I'm afraid I won't be able to make it this time, due to familial obligations.