Sunday, June 29, 2008

Language And Conflict In the Movies: Rush Hour 3

The character played by Chris Tucker has learned Chinese since Rush Hour 2.  Unfortunately for him, the first person with a distinctly Asiatic appearance that he gets to question... speaks only French.

I like movies if they explain something important, after all, it is so much easier to watch a movie than read a book.  I always point to Wild River, 196?, as an example of a movie which really deals with eminent domain.  I've got several movies which illustrate language issues, I'll bring them up over time.
Oil Speculation: The House Energy & Commerce Subcmte.

10 years ago, the ratio of interested parties to speculators in the oil futures market was about 4 to 1, now it is about 1 to 2.

Another panelist says there is a provision of the Commodities Trading rules could limit the 260 billion "commodities index" purchasers to a maximum of 4 billion.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) is either dumb, or not paying attention.

Rep. Dingell (D-MI) is quite old.

The net result is that reasonable restrictions on Commodities (oil) trading would cut oil prices by half inside a month.
Noticing an Absence: FERC

You've probably heard the price of oil is at record levels, and perhaps that speculation in oil prices (purchases by people who have no interest in actually buying, or "taking delivery of" the oil).

One thing I haven't heard mentioned in any of the recent debate is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  Bush appointees rule it now.
Language And Conflict: Prosecuting Terrorism

Andrew McCarthy wrote a book about his role in the prosecution of the "Blind Sheikh" who was behind the 1993 failed attempt to destroy the World Trade Center.

In an interview he gave with Hugh Hewitt (both men are conservatives), McCarthy said there were two types of people he didn't want on the jury.  Lawyers, because they know the business and no Prosecutor wants to be second guessed, and Arabic speakers, because he didn't want someone to say that the Arabic language tapes they played didn't say what the government said they said.

I didn't actually get the idea that the government had fudged in their translation, which they used as evidence before the jury, but instead simply that translation is tricky, and doubt might ruin the case.  Still, it points directly how language can be part of trial, in this case, one of the more important trials in modern anti-American terrorism.

Hamas arrested the spokesperson of the group that launched the rocket attack that violated the very recent truce.  Please recall that Israel always gives a veto to every peace treaty to every single Palestinian.

And Israel has opened up some of the commercial crossings

Getting one's hopes up about this sort of thing is unwise.  It's not like we are seeing new heights of amity, but instead lifting ourselves off a recent minimum.  Sorta like your house losing 30% of the value and getting excited that it is up 3%.  Still, it is the right direction!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Michael Scheuer

Please force, with Clockwork Orange eye-openers, all Americans with a role in politics (especially the media) to watch Michael Scheuer's recent hour long presentation on his new book, "Marching Towards Hell" that he gave at the Middle East Institute on March 17th of this year.

Or read his book.  I would be interested to hear any counter-arguments, but I don't hear any. 
Yet Another Republican Idea

The real difference between the parties is one wants the government smaller, the other wants it to do more.  Traditionally, upon gaining power, both sides increase the size of the Federal government.

There is a flaw in the US Constitution related to the amendment process, which, over time, will necessarily increase Federal power.  I wrote about this before, the problem is that no one but the Congress can propose a particular amendment to the Constitution, the States can only propose that a whole Constitutional Convention is held, and they have no guarantee that the issue that inspired them to call the Convention will ever be discussed.

This post is about another flaw, a flaw present in all legal systems with which I am even remotely familiar.  The fundamental problem is that it is far easier to propose new laws than to clean up, or clear up, old laws.  Most of us have heard of strange laws still on the books, dating from the Colonial period, which would be a natural result if repealing laws was difficult.

There is a fame factor involved.  Passing any law (and, for all intents and purposes, repealing a law follows the same process as passing it in the first place) is a time consuming process, and there is far more glamor associated with passing new legislation than scrapping the old.

Regardless why it happens, the United States Code continues to get longer and longer.  The Constitution is about 4400 words.  The tax code, according to this fun page on the length of the tax code, is about 16,845 pages.

I propose that we use computers, and this would be easy to do, to help out.  Each legislator, once elected, would get a new entry.  They can, in their own time, and without the effort one associates with getting new legislation passed, simply mark down that certain laws, or subsections of laws, should be repealed.  The computer could keep track of which laws had the most such negative support, and make it known when any law reaches 50% (and each higher percent?) of such support.

Now, most lawmakers won't spend too much time on this, but at the same time, most lawmakers are probably aware of laws they know need to be repealed.  Personally, I'd like repeal of any section of the tax code which subsidizes oil.  Libertarians would have a field day with this. 

To my thinking, the longer the law gets, the more impersonal and insurmountable it appears to the average citizen, the more lawyers are required.  Unlike many Libertarians and Republicans, I think lawyers are great, and the law among the most noble professions.  Most of America's first 24 Presidents were trained in the law.  The lawyers weren't the ones that made the law so complicated in the first place.

I'd appreciate that if you read this, you leave a comment saying whether or not you approve of the idea.  Thank you.

Friday, June 27, 2008

How I'd Like to See the Second Amendment

I start by pointing out that every male in America is in a militia, by law, whether they know it or not.  I can't remember the portion of the United States Code, but I've read it myself.  Therefore, the question of whether or not it is an "individual" right or a right of militias is moot (at least for males between 18 and ?60?).

Who has been to a military armory?  I have.  Who has been to the armory of a Police Station?  I've seen them on television.  The cops and the military have hardware, and they don't leave it in a shoebox.  They are required by rules and regulations to secure their arms when not in use (no, you can't use a gun while you are sleeping).  The more dangerous the arms, the more rules they have for securing them.  In the military, the TOW II (anti-tank missiles, you've probably seen the arm-sized tubes on the back of a Humvee) missile system is secured to a very different degree than a .45 caliber pistol.  The TOW II is a pretty extreme example, because the military keeps Secret the repair manuals for the device, while the complete plans for building a pistol are available for free.

It might be most fair to have the people and the government play by the same rules when it comes to owning and securing their firearms.  The arsenal of a larger police station, which might include shotguns, rifles, pistols and some riot gear, might require a 24 hour guard.  I'm not saying individuals (who can't guard a physically robust locker 24 hours a day by themselves) can't have such large arsenals, I'm saying they would need to gather together in a group, which for sake of argument and pique I hereby name "militia," in order to do so.
Every War is a Tragedy

Radio broadcast after the surrender of the Japan on the battleship USS Missouri officially ending World War II (1945-09-02).
Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won. The skies no longer rain with death — the seas bear only commerce — men everywhere walk upright in the sunlight. The entire world lies quietly at peace.
World War II was a great tragedy, according to General Douglas MacArthur.  Hard to even think of the Iraq War.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

North Korea Nukes in Today's News

Is building nuclear weapons a way to sponsor terrorism?  If not, why will North Korea declaring its nuclear weapons program get it off of America's State Sponsors of Terrorism list?

Originally pointed out by Whatever It Is, I'm Against It, but days before the DPRK deal was splashed all over the news.
My first post on the "House of Death"

Well, according to these reports, America has a wonderful new informant, a former Mexican Highway Patrol officer, who has killed more than a dozen people with the knowledge of his Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Don't worry, Republicans, the dead are foreigners, Mexicans, even.  He also has been caught smuggling pot into America, and was caught, but ICE got the charges dropped for their special little killer.

From People & Power and NarcoNews: The House of Death.  Video lasts over 20 minutes.

What evidence does emerge comes slowly, but by the second film clip is halfway done it starts looking quite solid.
Fox and Friends: Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

They run a story on how math teachers don't know their subjects well enough.  Remember, and I doubt many of my readers have heard anything like this, I've seen this quote on a TV show for kids on the Trinity Broadcasting Network
The devil knows all the science and math and we wouldn't want to be like him.
Anyway, the story was as insipid as one might expect, and then one of them mentions the hypotenuse.  One says "Doesn't that have something to do with a right angle?" and one of them says "It is the shortest distance between two points" and that this was the "dictionary definition" and that it was one of the "few things [he] remembered from school."

Maybe some people are bad at math because their religion says science is evil.  Maybe some people are bad at math because there isn't sufficient social concern.  Maybe some people are bad at math because other people have a vested interest in keeping other people's children ignorant.  Maybe some people are bad at math because rich people send their kids to private schools, and also foot politician's bills.  Maybe some people are bad at math because they watch Fox News.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Surge is a Fraud: Copy and Paste Comment

A lot of times I'll post a comment somewhere else, maybe even post the same idea multiple times, but neglect to blog it here.

Violence is down in Iraq.  The number of people fleeing Iraq has dropped to a "trickle" of maybe 10,000/month (source: Iraq Index pdf).  But the surge had nothing to do with it. .

Much more important are:
  1. We are paying off the Sunni tribalists who used to kill us.  It is simply a fact that some of the people we are paying favor killing American troops.  This is called the "Sunni Awakening" but is nothing more than paying double what your assassin was getting for bumping you off.
  2. Until earlier this month, Sadr's militias were operating under a ceasefireo, although it is clear from the violence in Basra last month that Sadr's isn't in full control, perhaps these new "special groups" are a way for him to save face when violence by his militias does occur.  Regardless, he has stated the ceasefire is definitely over.
  3. Petraeus is more intelligent and humane than Casey before him

    One thing to look back at is the Crimean War. There hadn't been a major English, French or Russian war in over thirty years. Most all of the Generals sucked badly. None of any of the modern General's Vietnam experiences (even if they had them) could possibly have been at any serious level of command.
  4. The surge? Remember, the peak of the surge brought total US troops to 171,000, and it was back down to the low 160s inside one month. There were 160,000+ troops back in November and December of 2005, and over 150,000 in three months in early 2005. Now, factor in that in 2005 the British and Australians were still in Iraq with the Americans, and you can see, without any doubt, the surge was not signifcant.
Now, how many paid killers (mercenaries) do we have in Iraq?  The government doesn't want you to know.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Truly Ignorant Books

I might be wrong about lots of things.  I might well be hopelessly connected to the theories of my age, unable to see a more timeless truth, but this Fichte guy, he is simply awful!

The order of Kantian philosophers goes Kant, Reinhold, Fichte.  His first published paper was written in a Kantian style, and, published without his name, was taken by most to be another work by Kant.  Reinhold held the Philosophy Chair at Jena University, and Fichte took over after him.

I'm not going to get into Fichte's philosophy generally.  I'm only reading him because he was allegedly an early proponent of linguistic nationalism (not as far as I can tell, but I'm not done).  This book is SOOOOO BAD!  I have never read book written with more ignorance, fatuousness, or pomposity in my entire life.  Did you know, if you don't speak German you won't be able to think higher thoughts?  It's true.  And if you aren't a German, you'll never really be able to learn German.  And if you think you are thinking something profound in a non-German language, well, it won't make any difference. 

His ideas on education seem entirely crazy, too, believing that he can educate people to be totally unselfish, totally unafraid, and entirely unerring in their will/love to do what is right, and never what is wrong. Clear thinking, not dim feeling, for Fichte!

But I wouldn't have brought this up except I was reading it on the Subway and I felt so bad.  People might accidentally think it was a book worth exploring, or might think that I was some sort of neo-Nazi!  My edition is a reprint of the 1922 edition, which was suitably timed for the Nazi emergence.
Cases Unsolved

O.K., the Nigerien Yellowcake documents were forgeries.  Who created them?  Doesn't it concern the Federal government that people are producing false documents about nuclear material to get the United States to go to war?  If not, shouldn't it be a grave concern?  Not only is this case unsolved, I don't get the impression that anyone is working on it.

The Anthrax killer is still at large. 

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bashing Victor David Hanson

VDH is a conservative who certainly knows a lot of western history.  He has a syndicated column and a website.

His most recent article is entitled "Obama Promises Change -- But What Kind?"  He highlights the types of changes he expects Obama to make in a number of areas, and then comments on them.
Foreign Policy "[T]he conservative French, German and Italian governments -- unlike the days of rage in 2003 -- now embrace pretty much the same policies that we do. Britain and the European Union just called for imposing tougher sanctions on Iran, while both France and Britain promise to send more troops to Afghanistan." Does VDH really believe support for our failing efforts in Afghanistan (the Taliban have steadily been increasing their areas of control for the last couple years, and when America advances in a military struggle for years, we are "winning") is the same thing as the policies of the Bush administration?  How long did it take Rudd-AU and Brown-UK to withdraw from Iraq?  Those were the biggest two military contributors, now they are basically gone.  The Europeans support some sanctions on Iran, but none of them have come close to singing "Bomb, Bomb Iran" to the tune of Barbara Ann like some Presidential candidates I might name, who has Senators of his party call him a violent-tempered hothead. 
Energy VDH criticizes Obama for his energy program: wind, solar, mass transit and conservation; because "right now it won't fill our tanks."  He says the good plan is "more drilling; more nuclear power plants; or fuel extraction from tar sands, shale or coal." Who does he think he's fooling?  None of his proposals would "fill our tanks" right now, either. 
Taxes VDH says don't "soak" the rich, and don't have more social programs. "Soak the poor?"  The only OECD country with lower tax rates is Mexico.  The rich haven't had as much of a share of total income since the Salad Days right before the Great Depression.  Monkeys have a sense of justice, and Americans have faced stagnant wages for thirty years while the rich have seen repeated doublings of their own fortunes.
Per usual, VDH is under thin ice when he tries to dive into the modern political debate.  He should study Demosthenes some more, who clearly stated in "On Organization" that rich people always want lower taxes and poor people always want more dole.  If it has been this way for over 2300 years, it will probably be this way tomorrow, and instead of pleasingly massaging the egos of the power elite, maybe one should step back and compare taxes, dole and debt and see which one is out of whack.  If your view is that the problem is taxes on the rich, you have absolutely no perspective on the richest people who ever walked the Earth.
Subway Maps and Terrorists

Had you realized that the subway map gives away the game to the terrorists?  If America wants to be safe, we can't spread around vital information all higgledy-piggledy.  It is time we realized sacrifices need to be made, and therefore we need to confiscate all subway maps, road maps, and plane schedules.

What, you want the terrorists to win?  If on 9/11 the terrorists had no idea what time their flight left, September 11th would not have happened.  If you don't support this idea, you are objectively pro-terrorist.
Avoiding Hyperbole

I have just read this piece which does a decent job of stepping on one popular liberal's hyperbole, that of Barbara Ehrenreich in her popular "Nickeled and Dimed."

Some immigrants, the author writes, come from real dictatorships, so when Ehrenreich describes the lack of basic freedoms in minimum wage, service industry jobs as tantamount to living in a "dictatorship," she undoubtedly loses some of their sympathies.

The author then writes something interesting to me, that Republican platitudes about hard work -> success appeal to that same community, but it is important to dissect those claims.

By the way, hyperbole isn't only found in Nickeled and Dimed. The blogosphere, nay, perhaps even on occasion this very blog, are guilty of the same. For example, Songun Blog, which writes about "criminal capitalist Bush clique of contorted consumerist warmongering war provokers for personal profit," jumps to mind.

In the 1950s and 60s it was definitely almost true that a poor excuse for a person, born rich, would end up poor, and a hard-working son-of-a-whatever might end up on top.  And to some degree, of course, this is still true.  Maybe we'll never have religious freedom (A Muslim for President? A Hindu? A person who follows a small cult but who just happens to know more about most policy issues than most other people?  America does not have religious freedom like they have in India) but we have a great deal of economic freedom. 

What newcomers to America couldn't know, what most Americans don't know, is that this freedom has been receding for the last three decades, and as important to know, it is the policies of the Republican party to carve economic immobility into stone.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

2008 June 20, Friday Night Bar Crawl

Met a friend at Cafe Noir which was very open air, but otherwise none too interesting.  From their we stepped near the door of Gatsby's but the U2 blaring out the door was painful more than three feet away.  At this point some of the other people in the party are at the Soho Room.  This place is comfortable, not much decor but there's nothing bad about what they do have, the service is quick and even a bit friendly, and the music was so bad that I am reluctant to say the words, feel free avert your eyes, Motley Crue.  While we were here there were 10 of us, and, at least for a while, the music was at a reasonable volume so that people could hear each other.  Then I was at a place called Noble, they were playing hip-hop, but they had a six by five painting which was a feminist-punk slam on Vogue magazine on the wall. My friend was interested in the bartender, and way too drunk, not to mention barbaric, so I left him there. Then I went to the Back Room, Tim Robbins' bar.  I suppose it was nice enough, pretty crowded at 2:30am.  Had a free drink (I didn't pay at Noble, either), and then started heading in the direction of home.  Was thinking of going to another place, but realized I had walked past it by only a block or two and still wasn't going backwards.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Glenn Greenwald against FISA "Compromise"

Today the US House will vote on "compromise" legislation concerning FISA.  The fourth amendment is important to me.  I went to Washington, DC and talked with Senate staffers (thanks, folks!) about FISA and Michael Hayden the week before he was to be Senate confirmed to his new job as head of CIA.  I basically presented this to them, and, in retrospect, I didn't do that good a job of presentation (I think I had them for a while, but then lost them).

Well, even though Glenn Greenwald doesn't understand how Hayden understands the fourth amendment, he is still a knowledgeable person when it comes to FISA. He writes:
all the Attorney General has to do is recite those magic words -- the President requested this eavesdropping and did it in order to save us from the Terrorists -- and the minute he utters those words, the courts are required to dismiss the lawsuits against the telecoms, no matter how illegal their behavior was.
802(c) of the telecom amnesty section ... says that the Attorney General can declare that the documents he submits to the court in order to get these lawsuits dismissed are secret, and once he declares that, then: (a) the plaintiffs and their lawyers won't ever see the documents and (b) the court is barred from referencing them in any way when it dismisses the lawsuit. All the court can do is issue an order saying that the lawsuits are dismissed, but it is barred from saying why they're being dismissed or what the basis is for the dismissal.
and, perhaps most damning for me, personally
I'd like to underscore the fact that in 2006, when the Congress was controlled by Bill Frist and Denny Hastert, the administration tried to get a bill passed legalizing warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, but was unable. They had to wait until the Congress was controlled by Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to accomplish that.
geesh, and this, too, damns the Democrats
What's particularly amazing about this whole process is that the House leadership unveiled this bill for the first time today -- and then scheduled the vote on it for tomorrow. No hearings. Nothing. They all have less than 24 hours to "read" the bill and decide whether to eviscerate the rule of law and the Fourth Amendment.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Language And Conflict: The Taliban (UPDATE 2)

UPDATE 1: Added new introductory, summary sentence.
UPDATE 2: The scholarship behind this paper is called into question

The Taliban "problem" is entirely and exclusively co-extensive with that of the Pashto language community.

I had thought the Kurds, population over 20 million, were the largest linguistic group on Earth without a country.  It turns out the Pashtun, population 25 million, have that distinction.  Who are the Pashtun?  Most of the rest of this piece will be quotes from the article "No Sign until the Burst of Fire: Understanding the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier" by Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason, published in the Spring 2008 issue of International Security, Vol 32, No. 4.

[R]eligious and political extremism in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region ends neatly at the borders of the Pashtun lands.
[T]he [Pakistan-Afghanistan border] region is also home to Baluchis, Ketranis, Nuristanis, Brahui, Munjis, Chitralis, Shinas, Gujaris, Hazaras, Kowars, Savis, Tajiks, Hindkos, Damelis, Kalamis, Urmurs, and Wakhis, as well as te Gawar-Batis, Badeshi, Khirgiz and Burushos, among others -- each of whome speaks a different language[.] ... Of all these ... groups, however, only the Pahstuns have ever demonstrated an interest in the type of jihad being waged by the Taliban.
The extent of the interest in the Taliban's brand of jihad is the extent to which the Pashtun language is spoken.

Language is what makes a person Pashtun or not, if they want to be or not.
Ther are, for example, tribes that are ethnically Pashtun but that pretend not to be and speak Dari; other tribes that are not of Pashtun descent and claim to be and speak Pashto.
Communication between Pashtuns is generally easy, although not always.
All Pashtuns speak Pashto, or its harsher dialect of Pahkto. Both Pashto and Pahkto have many regional dialects; communication difficulties are not unknown betwen them.
The Pakistanis, as part of their "greater depth" (increased regional power) policy, brought radical Islam to the Pashtos in the early 1970s, to undermine the centuries old tribal system.  The CIA and Saudis leveraged this sytem, bringing in a combined 7.2 billion dollars, during the Soviet occupation.  Some other causes why the Taleban have succeeded in Pashtun lands are rejected by the authors.
This susceptibility of the people of the region to such religious insurgencies, and their resistance to external governmental control, have been ascribed by some observers to tribal culture, or simply a response to chronic poverty and underdevelopment.  Yet all the ethnic groups of the border region have in common the same key elements of segmentary, patrilineal tribal organization, and the same endemic poverty, so tribalism and tribal social structure alone cannot account for this insurgent behavior.
The authors seem to conclude that Westerners lack of respect for the Pashtun code (Pashtunwali), consisting of indepedence (no Pashtun adult male may give any other an order), honor, hospitality and chivalry is a great cause of the problem. I reject this.
Complex and sophisticated conflict-resolution mechanisms, legal codes, and alternative forms of governance have developed [, the Pashtunwali.] ... Moreover, the rural Pashtuns prefer their own mechanisms to alien, external ones because, in their perceptions, theirs are clearly superior.
Continuing later on that same theme:
Pashtuns are generally convinced that their system of social order produces men superior to those of the Western model.
So, the "problem" for the Americans is the Taliban, and the Taliban have a support network in the Pashto-speaking tribal areas, in all the Pashto-speaking areas and nowhere else.  The Pashtun, like the Kurds, encompass many millions of people.  Also, like the Kurds, they live in harsh, mountainous terrain.  Afghanistan's highest peak, Nowshak (24,557 feet/7,485 meters) is in the region.  The large population is certainly a factor why the Pashtuns can mount an effective insurgency.  The geography gives them a perch which it is difficult to knock them out of, and their language provides a road for the Taliban's ideas to travel.

Some of the "problem" was caused by the Colonizers, the British.
[The Pakistan-Afghanistan border] was drawn [in 1893] by a team of British surveyors, led by Sir Mortimer Durand, to creat a boundary between colonial British India and Afghanistan.  To a great extent, the line followed the countours of convenient geographic features, as well as the existing limits of British authority, rather than tribal borders.  It divided the homelands of the Pashtun tribes nearly equally between Afghanistan and Pakistan, effectively cutting the Pashtun nation in half.
It should be noted that most of the borders in Africa and southern Asia follow this same rule.  In almost all instances the borders reflected the needs of the imperial power, and not of anyone living in the region.

Is there any good news?  Yes, there is. 
The [secular Pashtun party] ANP surprised many observers in February 2007, however, with a victory over the once invincible [religious Pashtun] MMA Party in ejections in Najuar and swept into power in the NWFP in February 2008.
The MMA, for example, still calls the Taliban the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

The authors say the model for the USG is to extend "central power" (from Kabul and Islamabad) to the outlying regions.  The only historical time of peace was exactly when this was not the case.  This, then, can also be seen as good news:
[The Pashtun regions of] [s]outhern Afghanistan, for example, [were] neither radical nor unstable in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, when the national government was invisible in the tribal lands ... a foreign visitor could have walked unmolested from Kandahar to Kabul relying entirely on hospitality along the way.
The United States government(USG) has not adopted any language based understanding of conflict prevention. 
Most U.S. soldiers deploying to Afghanistan still receive little or no cultural or language training.

That's the end of that, but I also want to point out something that I feel a need to point out.  Like I have repeatedly mentioned, the Nazis don't appear to have significantly used air power to suppress the French resistance.
[I]ndiscriminat use of airpower in inhabited areas ... [is] extremely damagin to counterinsurgency efforts among a revenge-oriented people with a zero tolerance for insult and "collateral damage."
And from the footnote from the end of the above sentence:
As one Pakistani diplomat noted, "When a child is killed in a [Pashtun] village, that village is lost for 100 years."
Language and Conflict in the News: Schism In The Orthodox Church

From Bartholomew's Notes on Religion, the Russian Orthodox Church is making noises as if to create a schism with the Greek Orthodox Church.
[The schism talk] is just the latest volley against the Greek Orthodox Church from the Russians; last month the Russian theologian Andrey Kurayev sneered at Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as the "Turkish Patriarch", and he dismissed the historic Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem as the "local Greek Patriarch".
This is Like the Stuff I Think About

Found via Jesus's General

Did I mention I have a DV camera, video and animation editing software, and translation-to-YouTube format software?

New Truce in Gaza

Israeli PM Olmert popularity under 5% in Israel isn't hopeful it will last way too look on the bright side!, and Hamas PM Haniyeh is hopeful it will lead to an end to the blockade of Gaza peace through privation tactic, and who knows, just a few months ago the American media was high on Bush's Annapolis meeting wich didn't include Hamas.  Here is the Bloomberg Newswire's take.

The Luftwaffe in France during WWII

America currently uses air power against its opponents in Iraq and Afghanistan.  None of any Iraqi nor Afghani resistance groups has any air power of its own, nor any armored ground forces.  It is not clear to me that the Nazis used air power to attack the French resistance.

Clearly, America is more unaware of the problems of such an approach than its NATO allies.  Here is a NATO commander of the International Security Assistance Force, quoted in Bloomberg
These incidents were mainly exchange of small arms fire and skirmishes. ISAF used air power only against positively identified groups of insurgents that targeted one helicopter, which acted in self defense.

Word on the street is that violence in Afghanistan is reaching higher and higher levels.  This post, from Vets Voice, says that it is more dangerous, on a per capita basis, for a member of the US Armed Forces to be in Afghanistan now, than in Iraq.  The author goes on to say that this recent change is the first time that has happened.

Sometime this summer the war in Afghanistan will surpass the American War of Independence in duration, and become America's second longest war ever.  The Iraq War will pass the American War of Independence in duration next year.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tim Russert

I think the reason Tim Russert pleased the elites he always covered is because he never asked a follow-up.  In their incessant pandering to the mighty, MSNBC ran Russert's one-on-one with the great Communitibidicator, George Walker.  Russert did ask questions a person might call "tough."  But it didn't matter what kinds of answers the President gave, he just moved to the next question.  The President could say Iraq was invaded because an alien told him to do it, and Russert would nod and move politely on.

By never following up, Russert proved to be the world's best stooge.  What I mean, more precisely, is that by accepting patently ludicrous or insufficient answers, he led the public to accept those same answers.

This link shows a whole number of Bob Somerby's posts on Tim Russert.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Noam Chomsky and Language and Politics (UPDATE 1)

UPDATE: Noam Chomsky's response added at end

I            ate all the grapes.
I did not eat all the grapes.
I did not eat     the grapes.

With language, different and even contradictory concepts can be related with relatively small changes in a sentence.

When Professor Chomsky reads the words of a politician or official, because of a natural and studied skill with the possibilities of what language can express, he is aware not only of what the politician said, but also with what was not said.

This crystallization of what was expressed makes it relatively easy to recognize when a politician isn't saying anything, or aren't saying much. When they aren't saying anything or much and yet they are talking about something, one can easily imagine it is because the politician or official's truth is being hidden.

UPDATE: Noam's Chomsky's response
Appreciate the kind words, but what I do in these domains is pretty simple-minded -- as is what everyone else does. It's not quantum physics. It takes a critical, open mind, ability to work hard, and a healthy skepticism about conventional doctrines. Nothing special about language that we don't all share.

Monday, June 16, 2008

None of you were going to vote for McCain, anyway

This was too funny... from the Chris Kelly
John McCain was in the navy and then he was in the U.S. Senate. He has never cashed a check a bureaucrat didn't write. I'm not trying to be glib, and I realize he was doing a solemn and dangerous job, killing people from the sky. But it was still government work.

Wait, except for those years as a POW. A sick but undeniable fact about John McCain: The only period in his life when he wasn't living off the American taxpayer, he was living off the Vietnamese taxpayer.
The Vietnamese taxpayer! Too funny.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Rentier Politics

The rentier class, in economics, is that group which collects income from rent, from owning things.  One can easily imagine feudal, aristocratic landlords who did nothing to earn the land, but profit from their heredity.

Increasingly it is considered acceptable in economics to refer to rentier economies.  Oil extraction, for instance, involves vast sums but very few employees.  Governments survive not because of their own productivity, or that of their citizens, but because of rent.

John Ghazvanian, in Untapped, say economists Hazem Beblawi and Giacomo Luciani point to a mentality among the citizens of a rentier state emerge, that they see wealth as accident rather than the result of hard work.

Looking at the American political scene, I have to say that we must live on some sort of rentier political landscape.  I feel it is accident, more than hard work, which brought a great number of federally elected officials to power, the majority, even, Democrats and Republicans. 

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Grisly, Interesting

and maybe even true.  What does "war hero" really mean?  I didn't get past the "McNasty" part before I wrote this, but the first chunk is really mind altering.

I'm Superstitious

About tons of stuff, but none of the normal things.  Black cats concern me no more or less than cats of any other color, and that not much at all, unless they are feral.  No, I consider things like the subway system.  When I show up at the subway, is the train just arriving, perhaps just leaving?  The former is a much better sign than the latter.  Sometimes I'll imagine that for a week straight I haven't had to wait for a subway.  The way things work in NYC, the subway platforms have to be about the most disgusting things that a person would normally walk in to.  Surely there is no place of commerce with that little regard for cleanliness.  The phrase "cleanliness is next to godliness" puts cleanliness in a real high position, especially for atheists.  I imagine the subway tunnels have never really been cleaned, which means about 100+ years of muck and mire have accumulated.  I guess it is no wonder I don't want to spend any extra time there than I have to.  Most of the subway cars are spotless by comparison.

By the way, the German Romantics were a movement of the early 1800s in Germany that some people had given me the impression spoke of Language And Conflict, my thesis.  Well, they don't.  However, Ficthe and von Herder weren't German Romantics, and for some gal-darned reason, although everything else from Amazon comes very quickly, my two Fichte and von Herder still aren't here.  It's a good thing, too, about the German Romantics, since other people trace a direct line from them to the Nazis.  Not really surprising after reading Novalis.  A whole bunch of pro-monarchic, pro-catholic, pro-inquisition (basically) claptrap which suggests that a good ruler just needs to be poetic.  I'm not saying, if it isn't too much trouble, for rulers to be poetic.  I'm just saying it is ancillary.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Would Someone Sending Their Kids To Private School Fund Public Schools to Beat Them?

Of course no one who sends their kids to private school would elect to fund public schools at such a rate (5 kids per class, teachers earn $100K to start!) that would exceed the funding for private schools.

Roughly 1% of people give 80% of all donations to political campaigns.  Roughly 11% of all students go to non-public schools.  Let's imagine, since data is not readily obtainable, that the richest Americans, generally speaking, both donate to political campaigns and send their children to private schools.

It would then be clear that the people who impact political discourse in America have little personal interest in good public schools.  It is actually worse than that, since, to be honest, you don't just want your child to do well in school, you want your child to do better than the other children in other schools.  Parents of private school students almost have a vested interest in making sure public school children only learn enough to perform "service industry" tasks.  People might complain about people in checkout lines who can't make change, but the computer does it for them, so it is really no big deal, right? 

Not to mention the school connections that private schools offer.  I know some of the kids who went to a private school I went to have advanced degrees and high-paying jobs.  I'd be utterly shocked to learn that none of them used school connections to get any of it.

My solution? The average wage for teachers should meet, if not exceed, the average wage, nationwide. And, of course, smaller classrooms.

Why did it work so well before?  Women smart enough to do any job were limited by convention and rules from pursuing careers outside of teaching or nursing. When women were freed, the quality of teachers and nurses decreased.

All in all, even though it meant Ann Coulter would become a lawyer, of course I wouldn't want to go back.

And remember, the reason America lost WWII was that most of our soldiers had been sent to public schools!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Games with Semantics: There will be no "permanent" bases in Iraq!

Bush is chiding people who believe reports that say the "Status of Forces Agreement"(SOFA) that is secret, and to be signed by the Iraqi government, includes "permanent" bases.

Now let us step into the mind of President Bush:
Look, even if we gave Hallibuddy and Buckstel a gazillion dollars (and Lord only knows, we tried) those bases wouldn't last more than, what, a couple thousand years?

That's not "permanent" where I come from.  Thank goodness no reporters ever had the temerity to ask if we are paying for bases that will last for a decade or more.
Patrick Cockburn has been in Iraq a long time and has been breaking stories on the SOFA.  His recent report on it is here.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Feedback, Government and Language

I've already written how a popular government is a sort of feedback loop, the people elect officials, the officials decide, the officials act, the press reports on the actions, the press reports on the results, the people elect officials...

At the time I was interested in the fact that the press was an essential part of this loop, but that it was also a corporate interest, a profit-making enterprise.

Now I am just interested in pointing out that, in addition, if you don't speak the language of the local press, it is a wonder how informed your vote might be without extensive efforts on the parts of translators, most likely in the form of family members who would read and then relay the news.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Slothful Sunday?

There are a bunch of fun videos at The Real McCain.  "The Real McCain 2," linked, is good.  Another video at Brave New Films is called John McCain vs. The Video Tape which isn't as good, and is eight minutes long, but is also pretty embarrassing for John McCain, it even makes John Kerry look pretty good.

Gosh, this online video thing is really going to change things, I was thinking it would all be words.  I was using the internet in the early days, and bandwidth was critical.  I know how to divide images up into chunks to maximize throughput for the (expected) 56K baud modem.

Another video, also pretty neat, is on the connection between Rod Parsley and John McCain

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Barack Obama is not George Washington

Some people are concerned that Barack Obama spent so much time in church with a pretty radical pastor.  Some people think that if America rapes a 14 year old girl, then kills her entire family to silence all the witnesses, no one should ever say "God Damn America."

George Washington was a deist.  In his entire list of speeches and writings he never once affirmed any doctrine of the Christan faith explicitly.  It is doubtful he ever prayed, or even knelt in church to pray, and it is extremely unlikely he ever took communion.  He believed in God, although a good portion of the time he called it Providence, which sounds a lot like fate, or even luck.

So why did George Washington go to Church?  He didn't go that often, but he certainly did attend.  The church was the central social gathering of his community.

There is no doubt that Pastor Jeremiah Wright's church was the linchpin, the greatest social nexus, of the area in which he lived.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Civilization II

I feel strongly about humans being more civilized, and, if it were up to me, I'd say we couldn't go out and play (send humans into outer space) until we straighten up our room (the planet). In other words, nothing past the realm of satellites in orbit until we've fixed these problems.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Are We Civilized?

If we were civilized, as a species, the only people who would live as pictured below would be people who had sinned against society or, at least, society's code.

Does it require a government of the world to deal with this situation?  I hope not.  I think we can all see that there is no benefit to having people born and raised in the most marginal, or in some cases sub-marginal, conditions.  Does it do you or I any good to have someone born to live as pictured below? 

I think it speaks badly of us, not that this is the only thing I'd be embarrassed about if we ever do meet any life from beyond the planet.

This image is from Afar, Ethiopia, site of the mid-1980s drought and famine, and again, now, there is another drought, and millions of children are growing up malnourished (UNICEF estimate).  Human needs don't allow us to live in the deepest deserts, or on the highest mountains, but to survive, tenaciously, people have lived on the very edges of these uninhabitable zones. 

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Michael Kinsley's newest book is titled:

Please Don't Remain Calm, a collection of his essays from Slate, which he ran.  He is now the editor of the Los Angeles Times.  Although he is certainly literary, as the quote below proves to me, he is in fact of dubious political acumen.
Fleischer speaks a sort of Imperial Court English, in which any question, no matter how specific, is parried with general assurances that the emperor is keenly aware and deeply concerned and firmly resolved and infallibly right and the people are fully supportive and further information should be sought elsewhere. [...]

The Middle East? "I think that, as always, the President wants events to develop over time in a way that he hopes will be fruitful …" That "as always" is truly bravura banality. Never for one moment has the president wavered in his desire to see events develop in ways he hopes will be fruitful. Logicians may puzzle over how it is even possible to hope that your own hopes be dashed, but in case it is possible, the president is not doing it.

When Fleischer produces a rare vivid image, it appears to be unintentional. But is it? On Wednesday, he was asked about the president's thoughts regarding the American who was caught fighting for the Taliban. Rather than say he didn't know the president's thoughts or that the president had no thoughts—dangerous territory—Fleischer rushed through only a few throat-clearing pieties to declare that "the president hasn't really entered the realm of conjecture." The image lingers, like one of those huge allegorical paintings in art museums: George W. Bush poised at the portals of the Realm of Conjecture. Will he enter?
That said, I don't know where he gets off naming his book that without consulting me.  The opposite of Remain Calm is FIGHT!, anyway.
Another Congressional Low: Nationalism meets Education

Democrats, with full Republican support, are amending a bill to make it complete stupid.

The original bill says that Federal funding to build schools have to go to green/efficient schools.  7% of school funding nationwide is from the Feds, and a lot of that, I understand, is for school construction.

The amendment says that all steel and iron used in such schools must be made in America.  The reasoning, repeatedly stated, is that Chinese steel, well, all non-American steel, doesn't meet American standards for quality, and we don't want to endanger the kiddies.

Call me "someone far more likely to cross a bridge than enter a grade school," but if Chinese steel is so bad, I don't want it to be used to build any bridges, either!  And if it isn't that bad, maybe this amendment wasn't really the way to address the problem of Chinese government subsidized, and sub-excellent, steel.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Capitalism Fails

Capitalism might be said to serve as an adequate economic system if it provides, at least to those who work, sufficient goods "for carrying on the business of common life."

Capitalism does not do this, as evidenced by people starving to death every single year, and many children raised so malnourished that they are doomed to a life of ill health and (I think I read) diminished mental capacities. Therefore, capitalism is inadequate.

There are external forces, droughts and storms, which make food distribution difficult, but no one can argue that the existence of droughts or storms are anything new, and yet capitalism, generally speaking, sees no profit from preparing for such eventualities, and, in fact, there is often profit found when situations of scarcity occur.

There are also internal reasons why capitalism might not do as well as it could.  Unfair trade is commonly practiced by the largest companies, and seems to follow Thucydides' formula "the strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must."  Generally it appears that as soon as one sort of unfair trade is ferreted out, then another comes along.  Those with vast sums will almost always be of the mind to spend great sums to enhance, or at least protect, what they have. 

Monday, June 02, 2008

Authoritarianism and the Communication

This argument is quite facile, but, then again, so are most people, and what I'm going to talk about is not advanced authoritarian precepts, just popular authoritarianism.

Is either party more authoritarian than the other?  If you ask me, the Republicans surely want to project authoritarianism, but technically the Democrats are the ones who want to increase the size of government.  One appears more like the authoritarianism of the individual, while the other is that of the institution.  To say that either group is more authoritarian than not is not the same as saying either is absolutely authoritarian.

What do I mean by authoritarian?  Well, for the purposes of this post I am only going to discuss communication between the government and the people.  The authoritarian seeks to both a) communicate widely and, b) has no interest in any feedback.  The anarchist, for just one contrast, would have no interest in communicating widely, but also no interest in any feedback.

I see older forms of communication, most specifically radio, television and newspapers, as being inherently authoritarian.  I've always felt radio was the most authoritarian, because of the history with both Adolph Hitler and the genocide in Rwanda.  Perhaps there is something more powerful about the disembodied voice that is lost on television.

Newspapers have been slightly less authoritarian, because it is so much easier to start alternative newspapers compared to radio or television.

In sharp contrast with this form of communication is the internet, where feedback for many or most is websites is immediate and unfiltered. 

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Order Of The Votes: The Democratic Rules And ByLaws Committee

Yesterday the Democratic National Committee's Rules And ByLaws Committee (RBC) listened to, and then voted on, a set of three proposals, each, for seating the delegates elected by the primary elections in Michigan and Florida. 

For Florida, the RBC followed the rules, whether or not these rules were fair, or resulted in the most reasonable result.  Yet, for Michigan, the rules were changed, and, even though I believe the accepted proposal represents the most rational compromise, it conflicts with the rules, and hence the reasoning behind the RBC's Florida ruling.

The order in which the proposals were voted on in the afternoon matched the order in which they were presented in the morning.  The order of the votes may have changed the outcome.  Sophisticated voting techniques, my favorite all involve ranked ballots.

In the case of Florida, the first vote was to seat the delegates with 100% voting power.  This was a violation of the rules but it isn't clear it wasn't fair.  By and large, the Republican Party decided when the Democrats of Florida had their primary, and hence caused them to be penalized.  The motion failed, 12 to 15.

The next motion followed the rules, but removed any extra penalties.  It passed unanimously.

The first vote on Michigan was also one that violated the rules.  It seats the Michigan delegation with half voting power, but it also comes up with made-up numbers for the delegates.  The numbers were made up by the Michigan Democrats, based on a formula explained to include the actual vote count, exit polls, and uncounted write-in votes.  There were two other distributions of the delegates proposed, Obama's even split, 64 delegates for each candidate, and Clinton's, which was to give her 73 delegates and to give 55 to uncommitted.  The proposal of the Michigan Democrats passed, 19-8, but we will never know how much support there was for either of the other two proposals.  Now, it does appear that the Michigan proposal was a compromise, and so probably earned the most votes, but only with a more sophisticated voting method will can we ever be sure.