17 July 2006
Creepy Image of the Year Award
It is hard to feel unsympathetic towards folks who are targeted by rockets launched by a terrorist group, but the Israeli Defense Force is doing its best to make an exception.
The Mexican newspaper Reforma has on the front page of its website two creepy photos of Israeli girls writing "messages" to Lebanon on missiles that the IDF will presumably launch. In one photo, two IDF soldier oversee the inscription from next to and on top of a tank. (Reforma cites Agence France-Press for the photos; I will update to a permanent link once I find one.)
The inscriptions are, it seems, in idiosyncratic English: one reads "..azrala whit love from Israel". It is a sad fact of war that soldiers demonize their enemies. It is an ever sadder fact of war that civilians get caught up in the same demonization, and how better to ensure that it contginues by getting youngsters involved.
Update: The Sydney Morning Herald has one of the photos but somehow describes the English as "Hebrew."
Further Update: I found more photos from the location, according to the Associated Press "a heavy artillery position near Kiryat Shmona, in northern Israel, next to the Lebanese border."
14 July 2006
In case one needed a reason to stop paying fealty to the big business that is major American college sports, the New York Times brings news of yet another twisted notion of scholarship at a major college.
It seems that Auburn University helped its athletes' grades the old-fashioned way: it essentially concocted classes from whole cloth.
A graphic popped up on James Gundlach's television during an Auburn football game in the fall of 2004, and he could not believe his eyes.
One of the university's prominent football players was being honored as a scholar athlete for his work as a sociology major. Professor Gundlach, the director of the Auburn sociology department, had never had the player in class. He asked two other full-time sociology professors about the player, and they could not recall having taught him, either.
So Professor Gundlach looked at the player's academic files, which led him to the discovery that many Auburn athletes were receiving high grades from the same professor for sociology and criminology courses that required no attendance and little work....
The availability of better grades for some athletes who did not attend class did not surprise professors who said Auburn sometimes emphasizes athletics at any cost. In December 2003, the university was placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools partly because of concerns about whether trustees had too much involvement in the athletic department.... Professor Gundlach took the case to John Heilman, a university administrator who would soon become Auburn's provost. He included paperwork showing that Professor Petee taught more than 250 students individually during the 2004-5 academic year. He also provided Mr. Heilman with examples of how prominent athletes had cut academic corners.
"It was at that point that I figured the corruption runs the full gantlet of the administration," Professor Gundlach said. "We were getting sociology majors graduating without taking sociology classes. I'm a director of a program putting out people who I know more than likely don't deserve a degree."
Professor Petee, who "directed" the reading of the athletes, scaled his "workload" back from three-and-one-half times the normal classload to equal to the normal classload once Gundlach started asking pointed questions. But he remains at Auburn; in fact, he is now running the department. Gundlach decided to retire after next year, and it is hard to blame him. Auburn is one of hundreds of universities that have forgotten that college sports are supposed to be activities in addition to the curriculum, not the other way around.
If the Auburn trustees want to run a minor-leaguer football program, then more power to them. Recruit, and pay, athletes to play for the Auburn Tigers and get a scholarship to actually learn something once their football career. Just do not pretend that your athletes are really college students at the time.
A Tale of Two Democracies
Lebanon is an emerging democracy, with a real parliament with real power. Alas, Hezbollah uses parts of Southern Lebanon to launch rockets into Israel. The United States is a friend of Israel's. And when Israel replies by bombing the Beirut airport and several Lebanese seaports, the United States government has little ill to speak of its friend.
Pakistan is, our Dear Leader told us in 2003 and in 2004 that Pakistan was taking steps toward democracy. (He seldom mentions that Pakistan's leader was the one who turned Pakistan from a democracy into a dictatorship.) Pakistan has a do-nothing parliament with no power. And, alas, the Taliban used Pakistan to regroup after being foced out of Afghanistan in 2001. I doubt that aerial attacks ont he Islamabad airport would be received with such equal restraint.
If you want to know just how well that War on Terror went in Afghanistan, you cannot rely on the so-called liberal media in America. The Sunday Times of London explains that the supposedly routed Taliban is alive and well.
Far from Afghanistan being a model for Iraq, Iraq has become a model for Afghanistan. There have been 41 Afghan suicide bombings in the past nine months, compared with five in the preceding five years. IEDs—improvised explosive devices—have become a fact of life. Three were left in roadside handcarts in Kabul last week to detonate as buses went past.
According to United Nations officials, not a day passes without a school being burnt down or a teacher being murdered, often in front of schoolchildren.
If there is one factor most responsible for the Taliban resurgence it is the war in Iraq, which distracted the attention of London and Washington at a critical time. While US marines were toppling statues of Saddam Hussein and then finding themselves fighting a bloody insurgency, the Taliban regrouped and retrained in Pakistan.
From just a few hundred guerrillas last year, Mullad Dadullah, the Taliban commander, now claims that he has 12,000 men under arms in the southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan.
The southern third of the country, which British troops are supposed to "secure for development", has long been ungovernable and a no-go area for aid agencies. It is all too easy here for the Taliban to tell local people that the West—and the pro-western government in Kabul — promised aid but has done nothing for them. Where the Taliban are not openly controlling districts, they have set up shadow administrations that assume power as soon as dusk falls.
The one foreign adventure that the Bush administration was going to get a free pass on has deveolved into yet another microcosm of hell. It would be one thing if circumstances forced America and the "coalition of the willing" into fighting somewhere else. No, the disaster in Afghanistan is thoroughly due to the incompentence, arrogance, and utter detachment from reality that permeates today's Republican leadership. And still too many Democrats fear to speak too badly of the king.
07 July 2006
Clean Collection Plate Night
Sounds to me that the Faith Night crowd is a bit, well, cheap.
On arguably the team's biggest and best Faith Night to date, the Nashville Sounds joined with Grammy Award-winning recording group Jars Of Clay and an impressive showing of fans to raise $7,500 for the band's Blood:Water Mission on Tuesday evening at Greer Stadium.
A crowd of 9,117 attended the game, many of whom arrived early to enjoy the first concert performed by Jars Of Clay since the group emerged from the studio after recording its forthcoming album, "Good Monsters."
In addition to donating $1 from all Faith Night tickets sold for the event, the Sounds collected money throughout and after the game in an effort to reach the goal of providing clean water for a village in Kenya, Africa, one of the 1,000 small towns that are targeted recipients of the Blood:Water Mission program.
That's it? $7,500 from a total of 9,117 fans? Either Faith Night is a bust, or it's a fraud.
Billions and Billions
On the World Socialist Web Site, David Walsh reminds us of the inherent contradictions of successful liberal capitalism.
That one solitary human being has nearly forty billion dollars to dispose of, with a good deal left over, is appalling in itself, at a time when 1.1 billion people, one-fifth of the world's population, live on less than $1 a day and some 3 billion on less than $2. The planet's three wealthiest individuals in 2005 (including Messrs. Buffett and Gates) had greater wealth than the combined gross domestic product of the world's 48 poorest nations.
There is, in any event, something intrinsically degrading and demeaning about philanthropy. A society in need of philanthropists is one rooted in inequality, in which the deprivation of the many is supposedly addressed by the largesse of the few. No one can seriously suggest that social problems will be solved in this manner. Especially in America, where an aristocracy has taken shape before our eyes over the past decade and the Bush administration is taking blind, reckless measures to eliminate all restrictions on the accumulation of personal wealth.
As for Mr. Buffett himself, there are no doubt immense personal contradictions in his life. If one takes the media accounts at face value, he seems an honest and civilized man. Among many unsavory, rotten types, he appears to stand out as something of an exception. He has liberal views on social issues and has put his money to use in a number of worthy causes. He lives modestly in a home bought decades ago.
It is worth noting that Buffett's lifestyle puts the lie to the claims by the media and the assorted apologists for corporate thievery that the fabulous sums paid to American executives are necessary to retain "the best and the brightest." For Buffett, at least, the accumulation of personal wealth seems not to have been the principal motivation.
There can hardly be any doubt about his abilities as an investor. Highly skilled at what he does, this is clearly a man who knows his way around money. And his success has earned him a devoted following.
While we have no intention of taking part in the current media adulation, there is no reason to demonize Buffett, as an individual, on account of his great wealth—or Bill Gates either, for that matter. In the final analysis, the issues raised by their fortunes don't go to their personal moral qualities.
That said, those tempted to get dewy-eyed on hearing of Buffett's billion-dollar donations to good works would do well to consider certain facts of economic life. Whatever his intentions, Buffett has played a part in recent economic processes that have had devastating implications for large numbers of people. Under consideration here is not Buffett the individual, but the social process he embodies. Its terrible impact on the lives of workers may be painful to him and, in fact, "extremely demoralising," as Oscar Wilde suggested the burdens of possessing private property often are for the rich, but that is only a further argument for socialism.
Walsh has some good points to make, but he then goes off-track trying to paint Buffett as a modern-day robber baron. Most of Berkshire Hathaway's investments in other companies are its purchases of businesses that Berkshire Hathaway headquarters generally leaves untouched—the effects to the employees of those businesses are in general rather negligible.
What is fascinating about Buffett and his good friend Bill Gates is that Buffett made his billions by being a shrewd investor, whereas Gates made his billions through producing things that people actually wanted. Yet Gates gets a lot more flak, probably because his products are often not all that great.
Walsh does try to address the inherent problems of having an investor class, but there the problem is both smaller and larger than he portrays. Management at Berkshire Hathaway is much less worried about the "werewolf-like investors" who "must be satisfied" than most, if not almost all, of the companies listed on the major stock exchanges. It pays no dividends. Its annual meetings are held on weekends, in a large arena, with ample opportunities for the stockholders to ask questions of senior management. Management often sees fit to leave billions of dollars of cash in short-term investments. And for years, it even allowed its investors to decide how its charitable contributions would be allocated. Investors here are more contented retrievers than werewolves.
However, Berkshire Hathaway is hardly a democracy. As at virtually any American public company, elections to the board of directors resemble elections in a "democratic people's republic," where the Politburo's candidates are the only ones on the ballot. And while Buffett speaks and acts as a liberal on social and fiscal issues, he essentially represents the left wing of big American business. He has not called for universal health care, for a sane foreign policy, for full civil rights for gays and lesbians, or for anything that would put him on the left wing of the Democratic Party. (He certainly is not going to call for ceding the means of production to the workers!)
When the right wing calls for an "ownership society," it surely does not intend Berkshire Hathaway to be its model, regardless of its past and present success. Alas, the American political opposition is too dissipated to realize what an "ownership society" might entail. Rest assured that very few owners will be as enlightened as Buffett has been, warts and all.
Is it news that some terrorists planned to blow up several tunnels leading to Manhattan? Yes, but the importance depends in no small part on how likely the plot was to fruition. Certainly North Korea would like to have its mitts on a magically appearing armory full of phasers and photon torpedoes, but you cannot change the laws of physics and have them magically appear.
What is inundating the news this morning is the idea that terrorists somehow have magical powers on their side. So sayeth that fine example of journalistic perspicacity, the New York Daily News.
The FBI has uncovered what officials consider a serious plot by jihadists to bomb the Holland Tunnel in hopes of causing a torrent of water to deluge lower Manhattan, the Daily News has learned.
The terrorists sought to drown the Financial District as New Orleans was by Hurricane Katrina, sources said. They also wanted to attack subways and other tunnels.
But it turns out that there are two huge problems with the flooding scenario. First, tunnels like the Holland Tunnel (mentioned prominently by the Daily News) are built by drilling through bedrock and are engineered to withstand earthquakes and other nasty things.
But let us assume that some evildoers manage to breach the concrete and steel and bedrock and flood the tunnel. The second problem is that none of Manhattan is below the level of the rivers that surround it. Because water does not run uphill, the devastation would be confined to the tunnels themselves. (In fairness, the Daily News does address the utter implausibility of the plan, but in paragraphs 15 and 16 of its article.) If only the World Trade Center bombers had a plan this stupid—they would have tried to sabotage the sprinkler systems in the towers in the hopes of flooding both buildings and drowning the unfortunates inside.
No wonder this administration pushes Creationism—sorry, Creation Science—so heavily. From what I read in the Daily News, I see that some people will believe anything.
06 July 2006
Count On It
An excellent source for information on the Mexican election and how votes are counted and miscounted there is the weblog El Machete.
05 July 2006
Bad Karma and Bad Dogma
Perhaps I am just a bit queasy when it comes to history, but if I were to drop $1.5 million on a vacation home, I might avoid certain historical connotations. And I have nary a scintilla of political ambition.
Just an hour and a half from Washington, across the 4.3-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge, or less than 30 minutes in a government-issue Chinook helicopter, is the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the primly groomed waterside village of St. Michaels...
[One householder is] Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, 73, who in 2003 paid $1.5 million for a brick Georgian that was last a bed-and-breakfast....
The houses have names. Mr. Rumsfeld's is Mount Misery and is just across Rolles Creek from a house called Mount Pleasant. On four acres, with four bathrooms, five bedrooms and five fireplaces, built in 1804, the Rumsfeld house is just barely visible at the end of a gravel drive....
By 1833, Mount Misery's owner was Edward Covey, a farmer notorious for breaking unruly slaves for other farmers. One who wouldn't be broken was Frederick Douglass, then 16 and later the abolitionist orator. Covey assaulted him, so Douglass beat him up and escaped. Today, where the drive begins, Mount Misery seems a congenial place, with a white mailbox with newspaper delivery sleeves attached, a big American flag fluttering from a post by a split-rail fence and a tall, one-hole birdhouse of the sort made for bluebirds—although the lens in the hole suggests another function.
Today, of course, what Covey did would be called "dryboarding."
04 July 2006
Hit and Missile
Remember those North Korean missiles that the foreign policy experts in the White House were so het up about?
Long-range missiles are not much of a threat to anything—except perhaps local fauna—when they blow up within a minute of launching.
North Korea test-fired several missiles in the early hours of Wednesday, July 5 (Tuesday afternoon Eastern time), apparently including the Taepodong-2, the long-range missile at the heart of diplomatic tensions with the United States and its allies, according to reports by Reuters, The Associated Press, CNN and other agencies, citing sources in Japan and Washington.
The long-range missile seems to have malfunctioned less than a minute into its flight, CNN and Reuters reported, citing American officials they did not name.
The North Koreans are indeed the Kansas City Scouts of nuclear bogeymen.
Better Late Than Never
It is about time that doctors started condemning the grisly practice of assisting with executions. At least one prominent anesthesiologist has started pointing out the contradictions between doctors' roles in executions and their obligation to their profession.
Dr. Orin F. Guidry, president of the 40,000-member group, posted a message on the organization's website Friday saying that anesthesiologists had been "reluctantly thrust into the middle" of a legal controversy, and it was not their responsibility to solve problems created by the nation's judicial system.
It's the Apostasy, Stupid!
Atrios wonders why opposition to a Mormon president is higher for those attending church, especially those who attend more often, than for those who do not attend. It's the apostasy, stupid!
The apostasy that probably irks most faithful Christians is the idea that devout Mormon men get to be gods of their own planets someday. (A better reason, which surely accounts for a bit of opposition, is fairly endemic racism in the Book of Mormon. You see, dark skin reflects a curse from God for doing any number of bad things. And then there is the nasty notion of the war between good and evil among the spirit babies. But I digress.)
Atheists, of course, are just as happy to view the Mormon myths as no more deserving of ridicule than the assorted Christian myths.
03 July 2006
Perhaps 9/11 Changed Not Much At All
Bloomberg News reports that a recently filed lawsuit alleges that the Bush administration started wiretapping domestic phone calls without court orders in April 2001. If true, this would mean that Bush and Cheney set up an important pillar of a police state for, essentially, no good reason at all.
In a sane world, a government that calls from freedom and democracy to spread around the globe would take positive actions toward maintaining both of these worthies at home.
01 July 2006
Give It a Shot
Surprise, surprise. The fraud governor of Massachusetts vetoed a bill that would allow the sale of hypodermic needles without a prescription.
Yes, forty-seven other states have allowed this practice, but Romney feels that he needs to show off his conservative credentials. At least that is what I hope he is trying to do. For here is what his hand-picked lieutenant governor uses for support.
Asked whether there was evidence of increased drug use in states that had already legalized needle sales, Healey said she was worried about Massachusetts, not the rest of the country. Pressed on whether such data from other states exist, Healey said she wouldn't comment on the merit of studies that had been done because she had not reviewed their "methodology."
Healey worries about heroin junkies deciding to use their sudden freedom to buy syringes at the local CVS when she should be worried about heroin junkies getting sick from sharing needles and becoming wards of the state. (Disclaimer: My only personal interest here is that it would be nice not to need my veterinarian call in a prescription every year just so I can get syringes for my diabetic cat.)
Somehow, worrying about Massachusetts, and not the rest of the country, becomes less important to Romney and Healey when same-sex couples try to get married.
The Likudnik Lobby
It should shock no one that some of the loudest opposition to the blinkered policies of the Israeli government come not from the pillars of the supposed liberal media, but from within Israel itself.
Imagine, if you will, the Boston Globe or New York Times or Los Angeles Times writing this editorial, from Ha'aretz.
Bombing bridges that can be circumvented both by car and on foot; seizing an airport that has been in ruins for years; destroying a power station, plunging large parts of the Gaza Strip into darkness; distributing flyers suggesting that people be concerned about their fate; a menacing flight over Bashar Assad's palace; and arresting elected Hamas officials: The government wishes to convince us that all these actions are intended only to release the soldier Gilad Shalit.
But the greater the government's creativity in inventing tactics, the more it seems to reflect a loss of direction rather than an overall conception based on reason and common sense... [W]hat is the point of pressuring the local Palestinian leadership, which did not know of the planned attack and which, when it found out, demanded that the kidnappers take good care of their victim and return him?
The tactic of pressuring civilians has been tried before, and more than once. The Lebanese, for example, are very familiar with the Israeli tactic of destroying power stations and infrastructure....
As one who knows that all the Hamas activists deported by Yitzhak Rabin returned to leadership and command positions in the organization, Olmert should know that arresting leaders only strengthens them and their supporters. But this is not merely faulty reasoning; arresting people to use as bargaining chips is the act of a gang, not of a state.
Imagine the outrage if a Major American Newspaper likened Ehud Olmert to the leader of a gang. The problem with the flap over the "Israel lobby" paper by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer is that the lobby they described is a lobby of right-wing Zionists—a Likudnik lobby, not an Israeli lobby. What Ha'aretz writes is the sort of thing that, in a free society, newspapers should write when a government loses its way. And it is also what newspapers should write when a government enables one of its closest allies to lose its way.
Iran and The Bomb
For sane, sober analysis of Iran and its nuclear ambitions and capabilities, one needs a sane, sober source of fatcs and analysis. In other words, read this article from the sane, sober folks at Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and avoid like bird flu anything from the the craven weasels who run the United States government.
(The short version of the Bulletin article? The likely worst case is 2009. In related news, 2009 is the likely earliest date that the United States acknowledges that Pakistan is not really either democratic or getting-to-be-sort-of democratic. And 3099 is the likely earlist date that the United States will acknowledge that Israel has nuclear weapons.)