Sunday, May 29, 2005

Officially sanctioned misogyny

Today, in the "How much more fucked up can they get department," we have the Republican majority in the House blocking two amendments that would have provided the morning after pill and made an exception to the ban on federal funding for abortions for womn in the military who have been sexually assaulted.

I guess I can understand why someone would oppose the second amendment if they thought that all abortion was wrong (even though it seems fucked up to force that upon someone who has been raped, especially when the fetus in question is usually nothing more than a tiny, non-sentient bundle of cells), but why in god's name would they oppose the morning after pill? Contrary to popular assumption, the morning after pill doesn't abort a fetus. It's merely a high dose of birth control prevents the sperm from being implanted in the egg.

That prevents conception, meaning that these jackasses can't claim to be protecting life. If anything, effective administration of the morning after pill eliminates the need for abortions, which, according to the anti-choice argument, should be saving lives by preventing them from being created in the first place. The only way that you could think of the morning after pill as being "murder" is if you are under the bizarre impression that all eggs and sperm are living individuals, in which case masturbation, wet dreams, condoms, regular methods of birth control, and even unprotected sex (in which tons of sperm fail to fertilize an egg) are veritable killing fields.

Somehow, I don't think that religious conservatives are all ready to go that far. For some reason, their advocacy stops short of infringing on their own rights, preferring to limit it restrictions upon womn who have been abused. Some of these conservatives are the kinds of people that are threatened by womn even having jobs or being in the military in the first place. So it shouldn't be very surprising that their misogyny allows them to look the other way as growing numbers of service womn are sexually abused on a yearly basis.

In other news, Bush's position on contraception is so obvious that his press secretary won't tell us what it is, even a WND reporter.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Fuck blogs

Anyone who

A. Uses "blogs" as their primary news source

or

B. Uses the term "blogosphere" in a non-ironic manner

deserves to have their eyes removed with a pneumatic drill.

Thinking that blogs are going to wrest power from the entrenched media elites due to the half assed fact checking of a bunch of freepers who live with their parents is the equivalent of thinking that rave culture is going to produce peace, love, and understanding, that Jet will revive rock and roll as an art form, or that your cousin's stupid zine about the intersections of Thatcherite neoliberalism and seventeenth century trends in interior design is the hottest shit since Proust wrote Remembrance of Things Past.

Posting on "teh intarnet" is just another medium, one that's just as prone to sheer brilliance as it is to sensationalist trash. For every www.kraftwerk.com, you have a Powerline. When radio was in its infancy, people made the same hyperbolic claims about how it would empower every individual, creating a decentralized check on the power of big media. It went through a period of chaos in which it was difficult to find worthwhile pieces of wisdom in a sea of shit before collapsing into the same old trends of centralization and mindlessness. Someone may say that the decentralized nature of the internet makes that impossible, but I think that decentralization becomes irrelevant when almost every site contains the same rehashed talking points that were drafted behind closed doors by party leaders. Not very liberatory. Not much different than the problems with the much villainized "old media."

Don't get me wrong. The internet is a really useful way to find a lot of information, but to assume that it'll overcome problems endemic to western news distribution because it has a flashier marketing campaign and can be used by every AOL subscriber with frontpage (or blogger... heh) software is a joke. The substance is what matters, not its vapid pretentions of futurism.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Uzbekistan madness

As long as the U.S. continues to give aid to a nation like Uzbekistan that commits gruesome torture as has been consistently described by a number sources, Bush's remarks about spreading human rights and democracy are a farce. HR violations are cool with the administration, provided they support our crackdown on global terror, promote stable access to resources, and make it seem like the administration is doing something about radical Islamists.

The tortured man in question had his teeth smashed out, his finger nails pulled out, and had marks consistent with having his body thrown into boiling water. The Uzbek government is claiming that his death was caused by having tea poured on him by other inmates. Are they fucking serious?

When his mother sent his horrific autopsy photos out via the British embassy, she was sentenced to hard labor for attempting to overthrow the central government.

But it gets worse, not only do we give Uzbekistan money for its shocking anti-terror campaign, but we also export our own terror suspects there so they can be, you guessed it, tortured.

This, in combination with the stomach churning reports from Afghanistan a few days ago, torture of US citizens by Pakistani officials, and the mysterious disappearance in the system of Jose Padilla, an American national who's criminal charges border on the absurd make me a little goddamn cynical about Bush's claims to be trying to liberate the Earth from tyranny.

Remember all of the song and dance that we had about liberating the womn of Afghanistan? After years and years of not giving a shit about it, conservative ideologues suddenly became concerned with their liberation for a brief moment of time. Now that everyone has moved onto Iraq and conveniently forgotten about the Afghani womn, things can return back to the way they were. Who the hell knows how we'll have forgotten about Iraqi citizens in the next few years? Just wait for them to become politically expendable and all of this hand-wringing about rape rooms and Saddam putting people though plastic shredders will be conveniently forgotten about in time for the next faux democracy conquest. Maybe we'll be in some place like Uzbekistan, acting as if we've always been concerned about their humn rights violations, acting as if we'd never supported their evil shit in the first place. This is the new sound...

Monday, May 23, 2005

Not too bad of a compromise.

At first I was irritated by the nuclear option compromise. It seemed as if the GOP were given three of their worst nominees and the only thing the Dems got in return was the right to filibuster in the future, something they had already had. It reminded me of a situation in which someone threatens to steal my bike if I don't give them my plate of caviar and we strike a compromise in which the person eats some of my caviar in return for not stealing my bike.

But some people have put it in context, so now it seems like a victory:

1. Most of the GOP base is pissed. Head over to free republic or any other conservative sites and you'll find people complaining about how the GOP leadership has sold them down the river like a pack of cigarettes (This one is nothing short of priceless). Dobson even went out of his way to call out the Republicans and call it a betrayal. At best, it means that the base will be alienated a bit, hopefully decreasing their leverage over mainstream politics.

At worst, it means that Frist will be marginalized after failing to live up to his promise to win the nuclear option battle, preventing his ability to get the nod for the 2008 presidential election. He's already admitted that this has been somewhat of a defeat, especially since he's been trying to phrase the nuclear option as the only constitutional solution to this mess, but he's also trying to play up the three nominees as a partial success. Maybe McCain can use this as a jumping off point to another run... wouldn't be too bad of a direction for the GOP to move in, even though he's kind of old and that would probably never happen.

2. The Dems probably didn't have the votes to stave off the nuclear option. That means that if there had been no compromise, we would have lost and all of Bush's nominees would get rubber stamped. Sure, we're probably going to see three of them on the bench, but that at least creates the possibility that they won't all be there. At the very least, it's good for the long term health of the Senate and the ability of minority parties to place checks on majorities that the nuclear option wasn't invoked.

3. The Dems are saving up for a much more important battle: Rehnquist's replacement. The filibuster should be available for that much more consequential battle, as well as the decision over who's going to be chief justice. Odds are that it would happen closer to the election, which would make invoking the nuclear option more difficult. I would much prefer that we get a good compromise on that justice rather than a situation where Bush can appoint whoever he wants, which is frankly terrifying.

So, not too bad. "Extraordinary circumstances" is kind of questionable since I neither know what that is nor in what circumstances it can be invoked without the Republicans claiming that the Democrats aren't living up to the compromise in good faith, but it turned out a lot better than it could have.

Edit: After reading the text of the compromise and seeing that "extraordinary circumstances" is up to individual discretion and that the nuclear option has been voluntarily ceded this session, I'm feeling pretty good.
A. Future Nominations. Signatories will exercise their responsibilities under the Advice and Consent Clause of the United States Constitution in good faith. Nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.

B. Rules Changes. In light of the spirit and continuing commitments made in this agreement, we commit to oppose the rules changes in the 109th Congress, which we understand to be any amendment to or interpretation of the Rules of the Senate that would force a vote on a judicial nomination by means other than unanimous consent or Rule XXII.

We believe that, under Article II, Section 2, of the United States Constitution, the word “Advice” speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President’s power to make nominations. We encourage the Executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration.

Against Depression.

There's an interesting review of Peter Kramer's new book, Against Depression, in today's Salon.

I know that in the past I've fallen into the easy and stupid mistake of romanticizing depression, ignoring the horrible impact that it has on people and trivializing what can be a very debilitating disease.

I think the problem is that people confuse art that is generated by actual emotions, many of which are unpleasant, with a neurological imbalance. Depression isn't feeling bad over losing someone and then writing a poem about it. Depression is no longer taking joy in anything you do. It's losing interest in friends, music, art, books, or whatever else fascinates you. It's wanting to lay in bed all day, forever, and never wanting to do anything. It's nights of insomnia, obsessing over the pointlessness of why you're alive.
If you unpack the glibness of the van Gogh question, the implications are obvious. The painter suffered greatly from (probably) both depression and epilepsy, and his art strikes us as intimately concerned with those two, intertwined afflictions. Would the paintings be less revelatory if van Gogh himself were not so miserable? Would they even exist at all? Depression, in many people's minds, is integral to the creative temperament. We might lose some of the triumphs of art and culture if it were wiped away.

Yet as Kramer points out, in a book full of similarly provocative thought experiments, no one would hesitate to treat van Gogh's epilepsy. The idea of allowing those torments to continue with the hope that they might somehow lead to more or better pictures strikes us as coldblooded, inhuman. So why does the idea of treating the painter's depression make many people at least slightly uncomfortable, for exactly the opposite reason? Why do we still harbor a residual fear that eliminating someone's -- and especially a great artist's -- depression might be a betrayal of our humanity?
We don't think twice about treating illness when it's physical, so why are we so hung up about treatment of mental illness? Maybe it's because it's something that we can't directly and intuitively observe. Sure, we can see the horrible symptoms that may tear someone's life apart, but the biochemical processes are locked in the mysterious realm of the brain and we often assume that the illness is part of a person's personality. That's why we tend to blame and stigmatize people for mental illness, while we'd never think of doing the same for glaucoma. It's somehow their fault, in spite of all of the experimental evidence about mental illness's roots in things like genes, chemical imbalances in the brain, environmental factors, and so on. We can tell when someone is sneezing because they have a cold, but have a harder time feeling the same way about a mental illness because it seems so tied up in factors that people are supposed to be able to control, such as how they speak and behave.

And of course, that also has the exact opposite effect when people assume that anti-depressants will cure those everyday emotions. If you're having personal problems or are in a bad mood, maybe a happy pill will make it all better:
Although he once would have regarded the psychoanalyst's strategy as a valid way to prompt a patient to go deeper, now Kramer found himself "seething." "Listening to Prozac," contrary to popular conception, was not about depression at all, but about the implications of the then-new trend of prescribing antidepressants to people who weren't suffering from mental illness: personality tweaking, if you will. Nevertheless, the book's success drew depressed patients to Kramer's practice, and his growing understanding of mood disorders, both as a psychotherapist and as a follower of clinical research on the subject, has convinced him of just how dangerous the disease can be, and how incompletely we realize the threat.
So we're simultaneously underestimating and overestimating depression by assuming that it's just another personality problem, ignoring its source in actual chemical problems in the brain. The wrong people get drugs and the one's who need them get told to just suck it up when they're no more able to do that than someone who has cancer.
According to Kramer, research in the past decade (since "Listening to Prozac" was published) suggests that serotonin and similar neurochemicals may instead serve a protective function. They help shield the brain from the negative effects of the stress hormones that prompt the body to respond to threats. Certain brains are rendered particularly vulnerable to stress hormones by genetics and sometimes, in addition, early childhood trauma. This kind of brain loses the ability to protect and heal itself from the effects of those hormones, and also loses the ability to turn off the production of the hormones. The stress response system can get stuck in the "on" position, eventually weakening and diminishing nerve cells and further eroding the brain's capacity to cope with the hormones. This vicious circle results in clinical depression.

The manifestations of the disease include "low mood, apathy, diminished energy, poor sleep and appetite, suicidality, loss of the capacity to experience pleasure, feelings of worthlessness," and so on. Some depressed people can't sleep; others sleep way too much. Some feel misery; most feel something closer to emptiness. But the cause, Kramer maintains, is measurable organic damage to the brain, damage that prevents the brain from repairing itself and leaves it ever more susceptible to further damage. This is why often very slight stressors can incapacitate a depressed person or trigger an episode of depression, and why a third or fourth episode is harder to treat than the first.
Mental illnesses aren't personality traits or negative emotions. They're illnesses. Maybe we should treat them that way and give up this stupid, patronizing cliche that they're somehow wonderful and responsible for the greatest artistic achievements in human history. Try telling someone who actually has to suffer with paranoid schizophrenia or bipolar disorder how edgy and hip you think it is. I certainly don't presume to be able to speak on behalf of such people, but we should definitely be wary of thinking that we can appropriate their suffering as an aesthetic lifestyle feature in the same manner as the latest Hilary Duff CD when we can't even come close to knowing what they may be going through.

Newsweek Dress

Princess Di is Wearing a New Dress

"We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst." --- Mark Whitaker, Newsweek magazine editor, in a written apology for the magazine having inaccurately reported that U.S. military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a prisoner’s copy of the Koran down a toilet, the reporting of which led to outbursts of violence all over the Islamic world from the Gaza Strip to the Java Sea.

Call them the "Newsweek riots" since there’s no way around the fact that Newsweek incited them. That’s not to absolve the rioters themselves of responsibility, but why antagonize a rabid dog? It was all so unnecessary, but for some inexplicable reason the big media outlets these days seem locked in an irreversible death march off the cliff of responsible journalism.

****

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

****

The "captors" of Janet Arvizo's kids, whom Arvizo called "the killers" on the stand, not only bought them books, but paid to replace their lost schoolbooks as well.

And they did this during what turned out to be the Arvizo family's last week at Michael Jackson's Neverland Valley Ranch in March 2003.

****

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

****

"24" (search) plans to end its fourth heart-stopping season with a bang Monday night — a two-hour finale filled with suspense and surprises.

"It's my favorite season-ender — it's just been the most fun and, I think, the most surprising end. I'm not gonna tell you who dies, or if someone dies. But I will say it's a surprise," Howard Gordon, executive producer of "24," told FOX News.

****

Yet the Bagram file includes ample testimony that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and that guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity. Prisoners considered important or troublesome were also handcuffed and chained to the ceilings and doors of their cells, sometimes for long periods, an action Army prosecutors recently classified as criminal assault.

Some of the mistreatment was quite obvious, the file suggests. Senior officers frequently toured the detention center, and several of them acknowledged seeing prisoners chained up for punishment or to deprive them of sleep. Shortly before the two deaths, observers from the International Committee of the Red Cross specifically complained to the military authorities at Bagram about the shackling of prisoners in "fixed positions," documents show.

Even though military investigators learned soon after Mr. Dilawar's death that he had been abused by at least two interrogators, the Army's criminal inquiry moved slowly. Meanwhile, many of the Bagram interrogators, led by the same operations officer, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, were redeployed to Iraq and in July 2003 took charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison. According to a high-level Army inquiry last year, Captain Wood applied techniques there that were "remarkably similar" to those used at Bagram.

****

Moviegoers turned out in full force for the final chapter of the "Star Wars" saga, which took in $158.5 million since its opening to shatter three-day and four-day box office records.

"Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" grossed $124.7 million from Thursday to Saturday, according to studio estimates Sunday. That's higher than the three-day record set by the first "Spider-Man," which took in $114.8 million in May 2002 — though "Star Wars" had a lower Friday-Sunday take than the Tobey Maguire (search) film.

****

Military spokesmen maintained that both men had died of natural causes, even after military coroners had ruled the deaths homicides. Two months after those autopsies, the American commander in Afghanistan, then-Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill, said he had no indication that abuse by soldiers had contributed to the two deaths. The methods used at Bagram, he said, were "in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques."

****

A TV movie set to air Tuesday night about billionaire real-estate mogul Donald Trump (search) had better be accurate — or The Donald is going to sue ABC.

"I hope the overall tenor of the movie is accurate, or I'll sue their a--es off," vowed Trump, who had nothing to do with "Trump Unauthorized" (search) and doesn't plan on watching it until it airs at 9 p.m. EDT on Tuesday.

"It sounds like a real beauty," he said. "It sounds like 'Desperate Housewives' all over again."

****

Nor were the rules of engagement very clear. The platoon had the standard interrogations guide, Army Field Manual 34-52, and an order from the secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to treat prisoners "humanely," and when possible, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. But with President Bush's final determination in February 2002 that the Conventions did not apply to the conflict with Al Qaeda and that Taliban fighters would not be accorded the rights of prisoners of war, the interrogators believed they "could deviate slightly from the rules," said one of the Utah reservists, Sgt. James A. Leahy.

"There was the Geneva Conventions for enemy prisoners of war, but nothing for terrorists," Sergeant Leahy told Army investigators. And the detainees, senior intelligence officers said, were to be considered terrorists until proved otherwise.

The deviations included the use of "safety positions" or "stress positions" that would make the detainees uncomfortable but not necessarily hurt them - kneeling on the ground, for instance, or sitting in a "chair" position against the wall. The new platoon was also trained in sleep deprivation, which the previous unit had generally limited to 24 hours or less, insisting that the interrogator remain awake with the prisoner to avoid pushing the limits of humane treatment.

****

Viewers are still talking about Sunday night's "Desperate Housewives" finale, which answered some questions (the mystery of Deirdre and Dana) and created others (will George be punished for Rex's death?).

****

Sergeant Loring, then 27, tried with limited success to wean those interrogators off that approach, which typically involved yelling and throwing chairs. Mr. Leahy said the sergeant "put the brakes on when certain approaches got out of hand." But he could also be dismissive of tactics he considered too soft, several soldiers told investigators, and gave some of the most aggressive interrogators wide latitude. (Efforts to locate Mr. Loring, who has left the military, were unsuccessful.)

"We sometimes developed a rapport with detainees, and Sergeant Loring would sit us down and remind us that these were evil people and talk about 9/11 and they weren't our friends and could not be trusted," Mr. Leahy said.

Specialist Damien M. Corsetti, a tall, bearded interrogator sometimes called "Monster" -he had the nickname tattooed in Italian across his stomach, other soldiers said - was often chosen to intimidate new detainees. Specialist Corsetti, they said, would glower and yell at the arrivals as they stood chained to an overhead pole or lay face down on the floor of a holding room. (A military police K-9 unit often brought growling dogs to walk among the new prisoners for similar effect, documents show.)

"The other interrogators would use his reputation," said one interrogator, Specialist Eric H. Barclais. "They would tell the detainee, 'If you don't cooperate, we'll have to get Monster, and he won't be as nice.' " Another soldier told investigators that Sergeant Loring lightheartedly referred to Specialist Corsetti, then 23, as "the King of Torture."

****

Some of the same M.P.'s took a particular interest in an emotionally disturbed Afghan detainee who was known to eat his feces and mutilate himself with concertina wire. The soldiers kneed the man repeatedly in the legs and, at one point, chained him with his arms straight up in the air, Specialist Callaway told investigators. They also nicknamed him "Timmy," after a disabled child in the animated television series "South Park." One of the guards who beat the prisoner also taught him to screech like the cartoon character, Specialist Callaway said.

Eventually, the man was sent home.

****

With Newsweek still reeling from its forced retraction of the Quran-in-the-toilet story, the magazine is now under fire for publishing what some see as staunchly anti-American covers in foreign editions.

For instance, while a Japanese edition of Newsweek dated Feb. 2 published a cover story featuring an American flag in a trash can under the headline, "The day America died," and the international edition featured a photo of President Bush with the headline, "America Leads ... But Is Anyone Following?," the U.S. edition cover story was an "Oscar Confidential" featuring Hilary Swank, Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio.

****

When the detainees were beaten or kicked for "noncompliance," one of the interpreters, Ali M. Baryalai said, it was often "because they have no idea what the M.P. is saying."

By the morning of Dec. 2, witnesses told the investigators, Mr. Habibullah was coughing and complaining of chest pains. He limped into the interrogation room in shackles, his right leg stiff and his right foot swollen. The lead interrogator, Sergeant Leahy, let him sit on the floor because he could not bend his knees and sit in a chair.

The interpreter who was on hand, Ebrahim Baerde, said the interrogators had kept their distance that day "because he was spitting up a lot of phlegm."

"They were laughing and making fun of him, saying it was 'gross' or 'nasty,' " Mr. Baerde said.

Though battered, Mr. Habibullah was unbowed.

"Once they asked him if he wanted to spend the rest of his life in handcuffs," Mr. Baerde said. "His response was, 'Yes, don't they look good on me?' "

By Dec. 3, Mr. Habibullah's reputation for defiance seemed to make him an open target. One M.P. said he had given him five peroneal strikes for being "noncompliant and combative." Another gave him three or four more for being "combative and noncompliant." Some guards later asserted that he had been hurt trying to escape.

When Sgt. James P. Boland saw Mr. Habibullah on Dec. 3, he was in one of the isolation cells, tethered to the ceiling by two sets of handcuffs and a chain around his waist. His body was slumped forward, held up by the chains.

****

Is Newsweek magazine anti-American?
No, its coverage tends to be pro-U.S.
No, it plays no favorites
No, though it's possible a handful of reporters and editors are anti-American
No
Yes, but no moreso than the rest of the so-called mainstream media
Yes, but much moreso in its foreign editions than the U.S. version
Yes, though it claims to play no favorites
Yes, Newsweek is among the worst of the anti-American media

****

"It looked like he had been dead for a while, and it looked like nobody cared," the medic, Staff Sgt. Rodney D. Glass, recalled.

Not all of the guards were indifferent, their statements show. But if Mr. Habibullah's death shocked some of them, it did not lead to major changes in the detention center's operation.

Military police guards were assigned to be present during interrogations to help prevent mistreatment. The provost marshal, Major Atwell, told investigators he had already instructed the commander of the M.P. company, Captain Beiring, to stop chaining prisoners to the ceiling. Others said they never received such an order.

****

In fact, Mr. Habibullah's autopsy, completed on Dec. 8, showed bruises or abrasions on his chest, arms and head. There were deep contusions on his calves, knees and thighs. His left calf was marked by what appeared to have been the sole of a boot.

His death was attributed to a blood clot, probably caused by the severe injuries to his legs, which traveled to his heart and blocked the blood flow to his lungs.

****

When one of the First Platoon M.P.'s, Specialist Corey E. Jones, was sent to Mr. Dilawar's cell to give him some water, he said the prisoner spit in his face and started kicking him. Specialist Jones responded, he said, with a couple of knee strikes to the leg of the shackled man.

"He screamed out, 'Allah! Allah! Allah!' and my first reaction was that he was crying out to his god," Specialist Jones said to investigators. "Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny."

Other Third Platoon M.P.'s later came by the detention center and stopped at the isolation cells to see for themselves, Specialist Jones said.

It became a kind of running joke, and people kept showing up to give this detainee a common peroneal strike just to hear him scream out 'Allah,' " he said. "It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes."

****

Sunday, May 22, 2005 4:08 p.m. EDT

Clinton Criticized for Charging Charity

Volunteer groups in Ireland are criticizing ex-President Bill Clinton for charging a suicide prevention charity $125,000 for a 40-minute speech Monday night.

"Any initiative that contributes to the prevention of suicide is very welcome," said Pat Buckley, spokesman for a group of Irish suicide support groups, in an interview with the Irish Examiner.

"But the money it will cost for Bill Clinton to make this keynote speech would fund a lot of counseling for the bereaved and those at risk of suicide in places like Cork, Limerick or Kerry."

****

When Mr. Dilawar was unable to sit in the chair position against the wall because of his battered legs, the two interrogators grabbed him by the shirt and repeatedly shoved him back against the wall.

"This went on for 10 or 15 minutes," the interpreter said. "He was so tired he couldn't get up."

"They stood him up, and at one point Selena stepped on his bare foot with her boot and grabbed him by his beard and pulled him towards her," he went on. "Once Selena kicked Dilawar in the groin, private areas, with her right foot. She was standing some distance from him, and she stepped back and kicked him.

"About the first 10 minutes, I think, they were actually questioning him, after that it was pushing, shoving, kicking and shouting at him," Mr. Ahmadzai said. "There was no interrogation going on."

The session ended, he said, with Sergeant Salcedo instructing the M.P.'s to keep Mr. Dilawar chained to the ceiling until the next shift came on.

The next morning, Mr. Dilawar began yelling again. At around noon, the M.P.'s called over another of the interpreters, Mr. Baerde, to try to quiet Mr. Dilawar down.

"I told him, 'Look, please, if you want to be able to sit down and be released from shackles, you just need to be quiet for one more hour."

"He told me that if he was in shackles another hour, he would die," Mr. Baerde said.

Half an hour later, Mr. Baerde returned to the cell. Mr. Dilawar's hands hung limply from the cuffs, and his head, covered by the black hood, slumped forward.

"He wanted me to get a doctor, and said that he needed 'a shot,' " Mr. Baerde recalled. "He said that he didn't feel good. He said that his legs were hurting."

Mr. Baerde translated Mr. Dilawar's plea to one of the guards. The soldier took the prisoner's hand and pressed down on his fingernails to check his circulation.

"He's O.K.," Mr. Baerde quoted the M.P. as saying. "He's just trying to get out of his restraints."

By the time Mr. Dilawar was brought in for his final interrogation in the first hours of the next day, Dec. 10, he appeared exhausted and was babbling that his wife had died. He also told the interrogators that he had been beaten by the guards.

"But we didn't pursue that," said Mr. Baryalai, the interpreter.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Texas rejects life without parole.

I didn't know this but apparently Texas doesn't have a life without parole sentencing option. That means that juries get a forced choice between a life sentence in which the convicted person will be eligible for parole within 40 years and a death sentence. It should come as no shock that this results in a ton of death sentences, since that's the only alternative to releasing people on the street again. Maybe that's why statisticians compare Texan executions by the country to numbers in other states.

Unfortunately, measures to create some alternative between a straight up life sentence and capital punishment are foundering in the Texas legislature. Here's a good quote from one of the people who opposes life without parole:
"If you take away the ultimate penalty, maybe it's not enough of an incentive to stay out of trouble," said Rep. Beverly Woolley, a Houston Republican.
These assholes are so callous that they don't even care about getting people off the streets. They want to kill people for the sake of killing people when there are more reasonable alternatives that arguably get people off the street and deter just as well as the death penalty.

Not that that will matter given the fact that none of these assholes seems to care that no study indicates an additional deterrent value to the death penalty or can find an increase in homicides in states that have abolished it. Recent studies showing the opposite have been notoriously fraught with error. Death penalty support is a good example of people attempting to search for post facto rationalizations for affective orientations. No matter how many problems can be shown with the system or how terrible of a job the death penalty does with preventing crime, they will find new ad hoc reasons to support it due to the artificial sense of security that it provides them, the lives that get in the way be damned. Yes, life without parole is horrible and the prison system is really, really messed up, but at the very least it provides a pragmatic path that offers the potential of giving someone part of their life back. Prisons definitely are in need of radical reform, but I'd rather have the option of a life sentence rather than a hasty rush to kill someone.

Culture of life? What a crock of shit.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Bush says he'll Veto Stem Cell Research Bill

Bush says that he's planning on a stem cell research bill. Not a very big surprise, but it says a lot when even his own party supports allowing the research.

South Korea just outpaced the United States by successfully cloning adult stem cells. You'd think that someone concerned with either A. the health of the United States biomedial research industry or B. researching cures for a number of seriously messed up medical conditions would see this as a sign to get on the ball and support some sort of research, but Bush is too busy shoring up his bizarro culture of life in which embryos that are about to be flushed down the toilet have more rights than kids who are actually living in poverty somewhere to really care.

Think about it in debate terms: Bush's only disadvantage to stem cell research, that it will destroy life, is non-unique on two counts. First, corporations that want to do the research merely shift overseas. Second, and much more importantly, those embryos will get destroyed no matter what. I don't see Bush backing legislation to require fertilization clinics to keep their spare embryos alive indefinitely.

The only offense he as left is this notion that it will justify cloning. Not only has he not really justified what would be bad about that, he's engaging in a really bad use of a slippery slope argument. At worst, we're talking about cloning stem cells, not entire humans. If you dislike human cloning, you can make it illegal and still allow research on stem cells. The counterplan sucks up his offense and has a net benefit of making progress towards helpful medical research.

But it's pretty clear that regardless of whether we're talking about climate change, evolution, or stem cells, this administration is as anti-science as it gets.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ridiculous shit on the Senate floor.



More ridiculous shit.

Not only did we get a baffling day of Senate argumentation over the filibuster that called for Lautenberg to show an image of Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars and to quote the line, "In a far-off universe, in this film, the leader of the Senate breaks the rules to give himself and his supporters more power. I sincerely hope that it doesn't mirror actions being contemplated in the Senate of the United States" on the Senate floor, but we also got another example of how batshit fucking insane the Republican majority can be.

If you goto the website of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, you'll find them going on and on about how horrible it is that Byrd compared the Republican leadership to Hitler. Yeah, that's probably out of line, but if you scroll to the right, you'll find the following Senator in the spotlight: Mr. Rick Santorum!
Rick Santorum has served in the United States Senate since January of 1995. He has been elected to a second term as Republican Conference Chairman, the party's third-ranking leadership position in the Senate. As Conference Chairman, Senator Santorum directs the communications operations of Senate Republicans and is a frequent party spokesman.
Guess what Santorum went on about on the floor of the Senate today? Surely, not a comparison of filibustering Democrats to Hitler? Even better, Santorum had the audacity to then decry a lack of civility in the Senate... after making his rather uncivil and fairly non sequitur analogy:
I mean, imagine, the rule has been in place for 214 years that this is the way we confirm judges. Broken by the other side two years ago, and the audacity of some members to stand up and say, how dare you break this rule. It's the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942: 'I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me? How dare you bomb my city? It's mine.'
Somehow, I have a feeling that the Republican Senatorial Committee won't call out ol Rick for his "demagoguery." I'm certainly not holding my breath.

Jesus fucking christ. I refuse to believe that these people are this stupid. They can't be.

edit: Found some better links.

Video of Santorum being a moron (Edit: This link has been fixed. It should work now)

Santorum castigating Byrd for making a Hitler reference

It's crunch time for the nuclear option.

Things are getting serious in the Senate.

And I mean serious.

There's an extremely high likelihood that the nuclear option will be pushed to a vote early next week (probably Monday or Tuesday).

The Washington Post has a good rundown of the sequence of events that we'll likely see here

A brief synopsis:
If all goes as planned, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) will rise after several days of debate beginning today over one of President Bush's judicial nominees and call for an end to Democrats' delaying tactics. The presiding officer will then rule in his favor.

Democrats will protest the ruling and ask for a vote to overturn it. The Republican leader will seek to table that appeal. If Frist and the GOP majority prevail, a long tradition of filibustering will be narrowed and a new precedent will be set allowing the Republicans to force a vote on a nomination with a simple majority instead of three-fifths of the Senate.

[...]

At 9:30 a.m. today, the Senate will begin debating Bush's nomination of Priscilla Richman Owen, an abortion opponent on the Texas Supreme Court who was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, based in New Orleans.

Tomorrow or Friday, Frist and other Republican senators are likely to file a motion seeking cloture, or an end to debate. One session day must pass before a vote to end debate, so a vote would be held and Republicans would expect to get fewer than 60 votes to confirm Owen.

Frist aides say he has not decided exactly what would occur next. But the scenario most widely expected among senators in both parties is that he would seek a ruling from the chair -- Vice President Cheney, if it looked as if the vote was going to be close -- that filibustering judicial nominations is out of order. Assuming the chair agreed, Reid would then object and ask that the ruling of the chair be tabled. Most Republicans would then vote against the Democratic motion, upholding the ruling. Then the Senate would move to a vote on Owen, and a precedent will have been set that it takes 51 votes, not 60, to cut off debate on a judicial nomination.
This would set a new precedent in which the president's judicial nominees couldn't be filibustered by the minority party in the Senate. While that may seem like something that should only concern policy wonks, it could have very real implications for everyone's lives. It would allow the judiciary to become a direct pawn of any party that has both a simple majority in the Senate and occupies the White House. Even if the minority party had 49 votes in the Senate (or 50 if we're assuming an agreeable Vice President acting as the chamber's chair), the dominant party could put whoever they wanted on the bench without being forced to compromise with the other party. That opens the flood gates for any extremist jurist, particularly ones who have controversial positions on politically salient issues such as civil liberties, minority rights, reproductive choice, GLBTIQ issues, and so on. Something scares me about giving Bush free reign to put whoever he wants on the bench, especially since those positions are kept for life. The powerful nature of the judiciary mandates that it be a little more difficult than a simple majority to make someone a federal judge. The judiciary serves its function due to its alleged independence from popular political pressures. I realize that that's an ideal that's made impossible by the inevitable political considerations that function as background assumptions when judges render their decisions, but there are still different degrees of how the judiciary is influenced by the popularity politics of the legislative and executive branches. Allowing the Senate to be a mere rubberstamp for the President creates the real likelihood that political majorities will be able to rollback things like civil liberties.

Call, fax, or e-mail your Senators. I know most of them have already made up their minds, but this is an issue that will have far-reaching effects on the legitimacy of the judicial branch. Those changes have to potential to have an effect on your life some day. Lord knows that I don't want rubber stamped judges deciding on this administration's right to detain citizens and non-citizens alike in violation of habeus corpus.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The soundtrack for this summer.

Summer's here. That means lots of leisure reading, a stupid minimum wage job, iced coffee, grilling veggie burgers, drinking cheap MGD or Corona beer, and a light, upbeat playlist. Here's what I'll be kicking back to.

The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder
Brian Wilson - SMiLE
Out Hud - Let Us Never Speak of it Again
Vitalic - OK Cowboy
Dios - Self-Titled
The Pixies - Surfer Rosa
M83 - Before the Dawn Heals Us
Edan - Beauty and the Beat
Fennesz - Endless Summer
Foreign Exchange - Connected
The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike
Architecture in Helsinski - In Case We Die
Danger Mouse & Jemini - Ghetto Pop Life
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - Naturally
The Glimmers - DJ Kicks
DJ Shadow - Diminishing Returns
Bohren & der Club of Gore - Night Mission
Morgan Geist - Unclassics
Lovage - Music to Make Love to your Old Lady by
Karl Bartos - Communication
Mr. Bungle - California

Up and Running.

The new site seems to be up and running. I finally ditched the old index and linked it over here. Most of the bugs should be ironed out, although I still need to clean some stuff up (might be a never ending task given that I only have a limited background in html and pretty much zero experience with mysql, php, etc.) and personalize the site. Maybe make a banner image or something.

At first I thought that blogspot was a cliche, but then I smacked myself and said, "You have a site on Geocities for god's sake!" Can't really go anywhere but up from that. This is nice because it makes updating easier, organizes archives in a more user friendly fashion, and doesn't have lots of ads cluttering the pages.

With that, I think I'll listen to Vitalic's recent OK Cowboy album and drink some scotch.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A good online debate about Bolton.

It's snowing and I'm listening to The Cure's Head on the Door. Awesome album for awesome May weather.

Last night I got a really sweet book called Mutants aboug people who are born with genetic mutations. It's a fascinating look at some of the less than expected effects of biological evolution.

I'm embarassed to admit it, but I'm just starting to get into the stuff about Bolton. I don't know enough about the subject to have an informed opinion yet, but there's definitely some sketchy stuff going on.

There's a pretty good discussion going on between my former debate coach (Gordon Mitchell, one of the nicest, funniest, and most brilliant people I've ever met) and a former debater from Emory named Daveed Gartenstein-Ross on the collegiate debate community listserv.

Public debate challenge to Daveed (Gordon Mitchell May 6, 2005)

John Bolton and the '16 Stray Words' (Daveed Gartenstein-Ross May 8, 2005)

Bolton's B Intelligence Coup (Gordon Mitchell May 10, 2005)

Re: Bolton's Team B Intelligence Coup (William Newnam, May 11, 2005)

Conservative Duplicity and the Nuclear Option

There is a really informative editorial about the GOP's nuclear option to end Senate filibusters of Presidential nominees to federal courts in today's New York Times.

Some good excerpts:
"Senator Smith embodied independence and understood the Senate's singular place in our system of checks and balances. Our founders created that system to prevent abuse of power and to protect our rights and freedoms. The president's veto power is a check on Congress. The Senate's power to confirm or reject judicial nominees balances the president's authority to nominate them. The proposal by some Republican senators to change rules that have governed the Senate for two centuries now puts that system in danger.

Since 1789, the Senate has rejected nearly 20 percent of all nominees to the Supreme Court, many without an up-or-down vote."

"Between 1968 and 2001, both parties used filibusters to oppose judicial nominees. In 2000, the last year of Bill Clinton's presidency, Republican senators filibustered two of his nominees to be circuit judges. They also prevented Senate votes on more than 60 of Mr. Clinton's judicial nominees by other means."
The argument that nominees deserve an up-down vote is as unprecedented as it is silly. Neither party has ever had this notion that a sheer majority should be the only determiner of whether someone gets a seat on the Federal bench. Republicans have seen no problem with either filibustering Democratic nominees or merely holding up their nominations committees. So much for an up-down vote.

The duplicity of all of this conservative sound and fury is belied by the fact that a full 95% of Bush's nominees have been confirmed, which is more than were given to some recent Presidents, who saw a full 60 percent of their nominees blocked by the Senate.

We have things like the filibuster for a reason. It's one of the checks on legislative majorities available in our government. Filibusters force slight majorities to negotiate and compromise with minority parties. The fact that the Dems are so intent on filibustering these few nominees reveals what a terrible job the Republican majority and the president have done in attempting to unite a nation that remains sharply divided, especially after a presidential election in which the electorate was fairly evenly split. Those calling for an end to the filibuster know that the United States does not operate under a majoritarian system, their willingly obtuse cries about judicial tyranny to the contrary. We place checks on legislative majorities to as to protect things like minority rights. Getting rid of the filibuster is a one-road ticket to allowing the currently sitting administration to put whoever it wants in federal courts, which is a scary notion, given that administration's tendency to pander to Religious conservatives to maintain its political power.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

20 Songs.

Tonight is an island in a week of high stress chaos. The early week was devoured by furious cramming for my French final. That was quickly replaced by about 24 hours straight writing a paper about Davidson's perspective on metaphor and the implications that it had for the debate between Quine and Chomsky about whether language is reducible to a deep structure (probably not).

Today I got to go check my head, buy some records, and get a potato burrito at Big City. Apparently, I need to do more aerobic exercise and listen to more disco music to ward off brain damage. But I got some sweet old vinyl out of the deal: Cars, Adam Ant, Culture Club, and others.

Tomorrow I'm going to be up all night writing a paper about gender and the philosophy of science. I might just write something reactionary and rabidly pro-science just for the hell of it. We'll see.

This is fun: Put all of the music on your harddrive in Winamp, foobar, or whatever and play it on shuffle. Record the first 20 tracks.

1. Neotropic - Indie Electronica Comp - Aloo Gobi
Strange IDM. I don't really know the song or the artist that well. It was compiled by someone on a website I read.

2. Nurse with Wound and Aranos - Acts of Senseless Beauty - Bloodclots
I don't get a lot of Nurse With Wound, but when he teams up with a violinist who plays neo-Gypsy music, it's gorgeous.

3. Jean-Claude Risset - OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music - Mutations
Very academic. I'm starting to really get into early 60's electo-acoustic music and this is just what the doctor ordered

4. Coati Mundi - Mutant Disco 3: Garage Sale - Say Hey
Weird 80s dance music.

5. Scala - Dream On - Underneath it All
A European girls choir that covers pop tunes. Believe it or not, it's really, really good. Not just another terrible classical tribute to a rock artist. Gives me chills.

6. Akira Rabelais - Spellewauerynsherde - 1671 Milton Samson 1122
Cool combination of minimal electronics and traditional Icelandic fem. vox. Made Boomkat's top 50 of 2004 and something I fall asleep to quite often.

7. Nico - Chelsea Girl - These Days
Honestly, when I decided to this, I was hoping this song would come up. I love it. All the haters who don't like her voice and think it hurt VU & Nico are fools. Why did you have to die in a bike wreck?

8. Glifted - Under and In - Heavy Ion
Noisy shoegaze that I just downloaded. Don't know it well but I like the texture.

9. The Cure - Seventeen Seconds [Remastered] (Disc 2) - A Reflection (Live)
Just got the remasters of Faith, 17 Seconds, Pornography, and Three Imaginary Boys and they're making me fall in love with them all over again. Makes me want to mope around and crimp my hair again (or not...)

10. Throbbing Gristle - 20 Jazz Funk Greats - 20 Jazz Funk Greats
Proto-synth pop.

11. Scala - Dream On - Go Where I Send Thee
See above. Except this is a gospel song.

12. Lorna - Static Patterns and Souvenirs - Will You Still Love Me Yesterday?
Pretty obscure dream pop indie band. Melancholic.

13. Aural Exciters - Mutant Disco 3 - Maladie d'Amour
Getting lots of album repeats

14. Mum - Yesterday Was Exciting, Today is Okay - There is a Number of Small Things
More IDM. This is making me want to fall asleep.

15. Fennesz - Venice - Laguna
Another boomkat album. Much rockier than the others.

16. Sweet Connection - [Absolutely no idea what album] - Heart to Heart
Ohh yeah. Italo disco. Catchiest pop music ever conceived.

"Heart to heart... oh I do love you... soul to soul to carry my love."

It's enough to give you a giddy, diabetic seizure.

17. Sens Unik - La Haine OST - Le Vent Tourne
Awesome French Hip Hop with a really sweet horn sample.

18. The White Noise - An Electric Storm - Firebird
More early electronic music. This time with vocals that actually have a rather nice pop melody to them.

19. Maryanne Amacher - OHM: Early Gurus of Electronic Music - Living Sound, Patent Pending Music for Sound - Joined Rooms Series
Sensing a theme?

20. The Conet Project - The Conet Project - tcp d1 4 phonetic alphabet nato irdial
Haha. It's a random numbers station recording. Strangely enough, this is the sample that christened a very popular Wilco album: "Yankee... Hotel... Foxtrot." Creepy as fuck.

With that, I'm going to sleep.