Thursday, October 26, 2006


Matt Yglesias is skeptical that the Democrats will do as well next month as everyone is predicting, and mentions immigration concerns as a data point. I think he's right--with the elections coming up shortly, Democrats would do well not to forget about immigration. Or rather, they’d better hope the electorate does forget about it and is distracted by other issues. Which is hard when Bush is pushing the issue back into the headlines by signing the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which mandates that a 700-mile fence be built along vulnerable sections of the Mexican border.

The result was the Secure Fence Act of 2006. It cleared Congress on Sept. 29, but Bush's signature was delayed by four weeks to provide Republicans with something fresh to campaign on leading up to the Nov. 7 congressional elections.

Will the immigration issue, which is a net positive in the near term for Republicans, counteract in the minds of voters negative perceptions of the war and general Republican sleaze? Just because the press isn’t covering immigration every day doesn’t mean it’s not still one of the top two or three concerns among middle class voters.

It’s the flip side of the economic issue that Democrats assume favors them. Stagnant wages, ballooning health care costs, and shrinking pensions in the midst of a “booming” economy mean middle class voters feeling the squeeze are casting about for people to blame. Bush and the Republican Congress get a lot of that blame, but so do immigrants. Every time a Democrat talks about how the economy is leaving middle class people behind, many people think “Yeah, if only those *@$& illegals weren’t stealing all our jobs.”

Luckily for Democrats, Bush appears not to have gotten the memo from Rush and Hannity on this point.
"We must reduce pressure on our border by creating a temporary worker plan," Bush said at a signing ceremony attended by Republican congressional leaders and the heads of some government immigration agencies. "Willing workers ought to be matched with willing employers to do jobs Americans are not doing."

. . .

"We must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are already here," the president added. "They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship. That is amnesty. I oppose amnesty.

"There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant and a program of mass deportation, and I look forward to working with Congress to find that middle ground."

Unfortunately for the president, this is not an era of middle ground. By signing the fence bill now, Bush is convincing (non-Cuban) Latinos and other immigrant-sympathetic communities nationwide not to vote for their local Republican candidates—if there was any chance of that by now anyway. Republicans have to hope that conservative voters hear about the fence going up but don’t hear Bush saying “temporary worker plan blah blah blah rational middle ground” because their talk radio overlords have convinced them that this is code for “I love me some Amnesty!”

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

call on me

If you have a Hummer, keep a close eye on it. Otherwise, this could happen. And no one wants that.


the news cycle

Now this from Reuters is just silly.

American University communications professor Jane Hall said that access [to conservative talk radio] appeals to politicians frustrated by a traditional news cycle they have little control over.

``It's a way to go around the filter, go directly to people who might be more inclined to agree. It's a friendlier audience,'' Hall said.

It's not entirely clear whether she actually said conservative politicians have little control over the news cycle or if this is what the reporter thinks she said. If the representation is accurate, is Hall suggesting that the political party that controls all three branches of government has no power over (1) what gets covered in the news (e.g. legislation, government initiatives, official announcements and press conferences) or (2) when it gets covered? The Bush/Rove White House has made manipulation of the news cycle an art. That is why we’ve had a different “plan” to win in Iraq every other week, with little discussion in the press about all those that came before; why David Kuo said on PBS last night that the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives managed to make lots of grand announcements while delivering very little; why we have new federal legislation every election year to ban gay marriage.

Conservative talk radio is a way for movement conservatives to send their message directly to the ears of conservatives unmediated by any opposing points of view, any attempt at balance, or any process of fact-checking or editing whatsoever. This is fine as far as it goes—talk radio serves the purpose for the right that the Shrillosphere is beginning to serve for the left. But it doesn’t make the stuff you hear on talk radio true or the dialogue any less distorted. In other words, it is the last refuge of many Republicans in office now.

And this whole victim schtick by the party in power is getting just a bit old.

Update: Wow, that was quick:
President Bush said today that he was “not satisfied” with the situation in Iraq and that the United States was shifting its tactics by working on a timetable with the Iraqi government that includes political measures to stem some of the violence. But he also emphasized that the plan was different from an “artificial” timetable under which American troops would be withdrawn.

Is this a new "new plan" or the same one from yesterday? I can't keep them straight anymore.

Worst Person in America

Sean Hannity is putting in quite a bid. (via Atrios)

Although he inadvertently helped out the Democrats yesterday by giving Rumsfeld, who obviously hadn’t been prepped on the new party line, enough rope to hang himself on Iraq. (from Atrios again)

Matt Yglesias is down on Obama

There's perhaps no holder of comparable office who's had less experience tangling with the Republican Party than Barak Obama. This worries me.

Who had more experience tangling with the Republicans after umpteen years fighting it out on the Senate floor than Kerry and Gore? All that experience didn’t seem to help them much when it came right down to it. How about JFK or Clinton—they seemed to do pretty well with relatively little experience.

Obama is my top pick for 2008—next Feingold then Gore then Clark then Dean (who won’t run). The rest should stay the hell out of the race—especially Clinton and Kerry, since they could potentially do the most damage to the Democrats' chances.

We need politicians who do what they believe is right without sticking a finger to the wind every ten seconds. This is a little Colbertesque, but my gut tells me Obama is the one. And I don’t really know why people I respect in the leftosphere are dissing him right now. I know he’s been appealing to the center like crazy, he got owned by McCain earlier this year in a minor kerfluffle, and he has talked about how Democrats should reach out more to people of faith. To me this means he is a smart politician.

I’m having visions of how he could lay waste to the competition in a general election—except for McCain. For all their hangups about McCain, I think the Republicans will be smart enough to know he is their only chance in 2008. And I think Gore and Obama are the only two who could—either of them—beat him. Better if they ran together.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

tortured by both sides

From the AP in the Seattle PI:

Abdul Rahim insists he's an apolitical student who fled a strict father. But he's fallen into a black hole in the war on terror in which first the Taliban and then the United States imprisoned him as an enemy of the state.

Arrested by the Taliban in Afghanistan in January 2000, Rahim says al-Qaida leaders burned him with cigarettes, smashed his right hand, deprived him of sleep, nearly drowned him and hanged him from the ceiling until he "confessed" to spying for the United States.

U.S. forces took the young Kurd from Syria into custody in January 2002 after the Taliban fled his prison. Accusing him of being an al-Qaida terrorist, U.S. interrogators deprived him of sleep, threatened him with police dogs and kept him in stress positions for hours, he says. He's been held ever since as an enemy combatant.

The government says this:
"Multiple reviews have been conducted since each detained enemy fighter was captured, including for these three individuals," said a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon. "There is a significant amount of evidence, both unclassified and classified, which supports continued detention of these detainees and others at Guantanamo."


The whole point of our criminal justice system that distinguishes it from that of, say, Iran, is that a jury and judge get to evaluate the claims of the government to see whether they are full of shit. Enemy combatants have few of those guarantees. Hence the government can make whatever empty assertions it feels will help its p.r. effort in the GWOT and face absolutely no consequences. Unless the courts strike down the recent torture bill, detainees now have no habeas corpus rights—they can’t appeal the legality of their detention. Their cases supposedly will be tried by military tribunals (although few—any?—have been tried after 5 years) where they will not have full access to the evidence being used against them.

I am open to the possibility that the government is right and that Rahim is lying about his time in Afghanistan. But that is the whole point--we don't really know if he's guilty or innocent until he gets a fair trial.

Due process exists for a simple reason: to prevent errors in the process of determining guilt or innocence. When you gut those procedures, it makes sense that you would drastically decrease your chances of being right on that important question.

And surprise—the government has been wrong in many cases we know about already. Like the Uyghurs who were flown to Albania three days before their hearing so the government wouldn’t have to admit they were innocent after being locked up and mistreated for four years.

If the government says anything at all on the issue of Guantanamo detainees, you are better off assuming that the opposite is true.

Rahim on his experience over the past several years: ''Nothing changed in my life. I was taken from prison to prison.''

Romney: it wasn't me

I haven’t been following the Romney/LDS Church story that closely since it broke at the end of last week, but it still seems to be chugging along nicely in Boston and Utah.

The key claim by the Boston Globe was this:

Holland, a former BYU president, suggested using the alumni organization of the university's business school, the BYU Management Society, to build a network for Romney [to campaign for the 2008 Presidential election], according to the documents.

The immediate problem for the Church is this:
Both the church and BYU, as tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations, are prohibited by federal law from advocating on behalf of a particular candidate or political party.

According to the Deseret News, the Church says the Globe got it wrong: [The Deseret News, as always, doesn’t disclose in its story about the Church that it is owned by the Church. Minor conflict of interest, one might think. Although it would get tiresome since half the stories they report on involve the Church in some respect.]
[A]ccording to the transcript provided by [LDS Church spokesman] Otterson, Elder Holland did not advise Romney's people to use the BYU Management Society.

"He told them what they already knew — that neither the Church, nor BYU, nor any other direct arm of the Church would or could ever sponsor or publicly support a political candidate, and that our position of institutional neutrality was well-known and of long standing," according to the transcript.

Either the Globe or the Church is wrong. It seems odd that Holland would meet with Romney’s supporters only to advise them that the Church could not help them. I didn’t see a retraction or “clarification” from either party in today’s follow-up story in the Globe.

The question Romney must be worried about right now is how will reports of official outreach on his behalf by the LDS Church affect his chances of becoming the Republican nominee for President in 2008? The only groups Americans think are less likely to be elected President than Mormons are atheists and gays and lesbians. As much as Romney needs financial backing and campaign support from Church members as he eyes the upcoming campaign, he will be wanting to play down any official ties with the Church to avoid alienating evangelicals, many of whom deeply distrust the LDS Church.

Now I see in today's Globe article that Romney’s supporters are actually using this argument explicitly to show that they wouldn’t have been courting the Church on Romney’s behalf because that would upset evangelicals. With friends like these . . .

I am inclined to believe that Romney is smarter than to pull something like this. I guess it might be like when those supporters of Chris Cannon (R-UT) a few years back got overzealous and put up some inflammatory posters around Provo without his approval, causing him more damage than if they’d just stayed home. At any rate, the problem this is posing for Romney's nascent campaign shows how volatile an issue his religion will be in the next couple of years.

Monday, October 23, 2006

miss clare

There was an article Sunday in the NY Times about crazy neighbors and landlords in NYC. One of the stories featured was about Miss Clare, my old landlady.

People are more likely to vote with their feet when the solution begins to seem more bothersome than the problem, especially when the problem is the landlord.

Pam Fica learned this the hard way during a two-year tenancy in a town house near Washington Square in Greenwich Village.

Ms. Fica, now 29 and an agent at DJK Residential, thought she had found the perfect share in September 2004: $840 per month for a room in a sprawling four-bedroom apartment at the top of a five-story town house owned by a woman who lived downstairs — and ran the establishment more like a halfway house.

“She had a whiteboard in her apartment where she would write our names and try to jot down our comings and goings,” Ms. Fica said. The landlady, who had lived in the building since the 1940’s, also interrogated nonwhite visitors and disapproved of long-haired tenants, who might clog the plumbing, she said. (Ms. Fica wore her hair up during her initial interview with the landlady and passed inspection by accident.)

Then, there were the mandatory “team meetings” organized every few weeks in the younger women’s living room. The object was to “tear apart every problem, but she would focus on things like dirty dishes in the sink, that we had too many plants and too much furniture, causing damage to the ceiling below our apartment. And whenever we would bring up any problems with the lack of heat”—at times the temperature dropped to 50 degrees in the winter —“or the freezer, she would say, ‘That’s not my problem.’ Anytime you would challenge her on something, she would say, ‘I’m not going to renew your lease.’ ”

Ms. Fica said she shivered it out for two years because of the prime location, good roommates, cheap rent and her own low-maintenance personality.

“I think I lost sight of what normal was,” she said. “My friends started really getting concerned. ‘You don’t even realize how unusual this is,’ they said. ‘You’re being abused.’ The more I thought about it, the more I realized they had a point.”

Finally, she listened to her friends and moved to a two-bedroom share in Harlem a month ago.

(When Ms. Fica left, she and her roommates were responsible for bringing a new candidate/victim for their landlady to vet. Their advertisement on Craigslist asked, “What is your tolerance for a crazy landlady: high, medium or low?” With affordable New York City rentals an endangered species, the ad received hundreds of responses.)

I’m sure it did.

I lived on the fourth floor for a year and a half with three roommates, a year of which was during the period described in the article. I remember I was watching TV one night in the living room while a party was going on upstairs on the fifth floor. Evidently there were too many people in the room above because the ceiling started to cave in. The next morning there was a big chunk of plaster on the floor and on bits of it on top of the TV.

The ceiling in our bathroom also started to fall at one point. We’d go days with no hot water, during which time I would shower at the NYU gym if I didn't feel like an icy blast. I was the only one of my roommates who attempted to use the oven periodically. It was at least 50 years old and I always worried it would explode. Miss Clare discouraged guests because she thought they’d make the utility bills go up. Any visitors who spent the night at the apartment did so in a state of fear that they’d run into Miss Clare on the way in or out—that never turned out well.

One time, the ceiling below my roommate’s bedroom fell into the room below. One might sensibly attribute this to the fact that the building hadn’t been renovated since Eisenhower was in office. Miss Clare said it was because my roommate had too much furniture in his room.

Did I mention she was nuts? She used to live with a sister who died some years ago. I was told Miss Clare was the kinder and gentler of the two.

I always got along well with her, though. Underneath the paranoia, she was just an anxious, lonely woman determined not to be taken advantage of. I think she liked me partly because of my Mormon background. (The second and fourth floors were all LDS while I was there.) She would often make comments about how Mormons were clean, quiet, and good tenants. I quickly realized the futility of trying to explain that I wasn’t particularly religious anymore. Once a Mormon, always a Mormon, in her eyes.

I used to speculate that she so obtrusively latched onto the lives of her tenants because that was all she really had. At the very least, 116 Waverly will always be good for some interesting stories.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

political jeopardy

Here’s the deal: invading Iraq was a mistake. There are few outside of the Bush administration who will publicly assert that this is not the case.

But the problem is that, back when it mattered, before the war, virtually no one in any position to do anything about it spoke out against the war. My letters (and those of many others) to Senators Clinton and Schumer in October 2002 asking them to oppose the authorization of force were ignored, as were the 500,000 people I marched with against the war in February 2003 in New York City. These were not crazy people on the fringes of society with nothing better to do. These were professionals, families, students, veterans—most of them New Yorkers who had lived through the horror of 9/11. But even if pundits or politicians thought going to war was a bad idea then, most were too frightened to say so. Or they actually believed the bullshit coming out of the White House. Any politician who had had the guts and foresight to stand up against the president then might have lost his job in 2002 or 2004. But he or she would be happy as a pig in shit right now.

Our soldiers and all Iraqis are paying now for the cowardice of our leaders in 2002-2003. But the problem our politicians are most concerned about now is not how to prevent something like this from happening again, or examining how things went so badly wrong, but how best to evade the anger of voters for leading them astray.

Mark Leibovich catalogues the myriad ways in which politicians are trying to weenie out of the consequences of their actions:

“You can all second-guess and Monday morning quarterback,” Mr. Allen said in a debate in July against his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb.

“We made decisions,” Mr. Allen added on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “You can’t say, ‘Gosh,’ five years later.”

But of course, Mr. Webb is saying a lot of “Gosh.”

“And this is what my opponent’s campaign’s about,” Mr. Allen said, “is the second-guessing.”

. . .

“Look, Chris Dodd, Joe Lieberman and I voted to go to war,” Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, told The Hartford Courant. “I consulted with a lot of people, including Bill Clinton.”

. . .

Democrats who supported the Iraq resolution in 2002 are often quick to point out that they didn’t actually vote for the war. Rather, they only voted to give the president the option to go to war, and they never expected him to rush to war as he did.

“In retrospect, it’s clear to me they had no intention of doing anything other than going to war in Iraq,” said Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, told The Manchester Union Leader.

. . .

“We know now that they had no plan for winning the peace,” said Harry Reid, the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, in a news conference. “But we didn’t know it at the time.”


What are we doing in Iraq now anyway? This video (via Jesus’ General) from a reporter for the Guardian indicates that, on an operational level, Iraqi and U.S. forces are often not getting along too well.

news of the weird, circa 1945

In Fruita, Colorado, they still celebrate Mike the Wonder Chicken, who lived a full 18 months after his head was chopped off.

The Amazing, true story of this famous fowl dates back to September 10, 1945 when Mike, a young Wyandotte rooster, was about to become the dinner of Fruita, Colorado, farmer Lloyd Olsen.

With a sharp ax in hand, Mr. Olsen firmly held Mike, preparing to make the bird ready for his wife Clara's cooking pot. Mr. Olsen swung the implement, thereby lopping off poor Mike's head. Mike shook off the event, then continued trying to peck for food.

Impressive and disturbing.

Nintendo blogging

For my legion readers out there, blogging has been light lately because, well, I acquired an original Nintendo Entertainment System awhile back and I’ve been busy beating Metroid and Punch Out.

When I was a kid, Metroid for me evoked a surreal alien world devoid of any trace of humanity, where fantastic creatures try to kill you in strange and disturbing ways. Even the character you play, with its feline motions and curved back, seems inhuman. The game was fascinating and addictive. The influence of Ridley Scott’s Alien on the game is evident (to me, at least) from the second boss, “Ridley”, which looks kind of like the titular character from the movie.

The game’s pull on me was strong enough almost 20 years after I first played it to keep me occupied several evenings this past week. I finally broke down and checked the internet for maps and hints to beat the game.

Bonus tip: Did you know that if you beat Metroid in under an hour, Samus not only pulls off her helmet but all her clothes except for a bikini?

Now that is nerdy in the extreme.

The God Delusion

The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible. - Bertrand Russell (via Ali Sina)

Andrew Sullivan cites Terry Eagleton's review of Richard Dawkins’ new book, The God Delusion:
Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.

I haven’t read Dawkins’ new book, but I’d like to. If it’s true that there hasn’t been a well-known professional atheist in the UK since Bertrand Russell, then that is a sad commentary on how thoroughly religion has permeated and framed the public discourse there and in the U.S. Arguments of the kind Dawkins makes—that religion is bunk and intellectually dishonest—could not be made by any politician or respected public figure in the U.S., anywhere, ever. Any politician who tried would get a short ride on the Acela back to the private sector at the next election. Meanwhile, conservative politicians commonly deride “godless” liberals, most of whom are themselves publicly professing their religious convictions at every opportunity.

According to a recent survey conducted by University of Minnesota researchers, atheists are America’s least trusted social group. Another recent survey indicates that Americans think only a gay or lesbian would be less likely to be elected president than an atheist.

Eagleton goes on:
Believing in God, whatever Dawkins might think, is not like concluding that aliens or the tooth fairy exist. God is not a celestial super-object or divine UFO, about whose existence we must remain agnostic until all the evidence is in.

I agree with Eagleton's last point, at least on its face. If the balance of available evidence suggests belief in God is not warranted, why drape a fig leaf of agnosticism over the unpleasant truth? Also, Eagleton is right—billions of people do not believe in aliens or the tooth fairy, but they do believe in God. Dawkins is asking why. The fact that (according to Eagleton) he has not studied theology extensively probably has something to do with the fact that he does not believe in God. How this would disqualify him from speaking to the prima facie question of whether God exists, Eagleton never explains.

Eagleton continues:
For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing.

In other words, he is whatever people who believe in him say he is. And unless you believe in him, you can’t possibly understand religious belief and are unqualified to even discuss it. (In another context, I would be somewhat sympathetic to Eagleton's so-vague-as-to-be-meaningless conception of God here, but I doubt it's one many of the faithful in this country share.)

Eagleton takes exception to Dawkins’s description of a God who is vengeful and strict:
Dawkins’s God, by contrast, is Satanic. Satan (‘accuser’ in Hebrew) is the misrecognition of God as Big Daddy and punitive judge, and Dawkins’s God is precisely such a repulsive superego. This false consciousness is overthrown in the person of Jesus, who reveals the Father as friend and lover rather than judge. Dawkins’s Supreme Being is the God of those who seek to avert divine wrath by sacrificing animals, being choosy in their diet and being impeccably well behaved. They cannot accept the scandal that God loves them just as they are, in all their moral shabbiness.

It is nice that Eagleton embraces the warmer, fuzzier God of the New Testament, but Dawkins isn’t alone in this representation of God as a vengeful, sometimes cruel being (if this is, in fact, how he represents God to be—not having read his book, I can't say for sure):
I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them who have tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen." - Jerry Falwell, speculating on the causes of the 9/11 attacks.

- - - -

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to [idols], nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me; - Exodus 20:5 (the 5th Commandment)

- - - -

And to the others [God] said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity:

Slay utterly old [and] young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom [is] the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which [were] before the house.

And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city. - Ezekiel 9:5-7

Well that doesn’t sound very nice. Eagleton is being disingenuous if he is claiming that Dawkins pulled this conception of God out of thin air. The vengeful, violent, unforgiving God of the Old Testament is a commonly-held depiction of God in many religions and has been for most of recorded history. It is human nature to want to take revenge against those who have wronged you, and it is not surprising that people have wanted to give those feelings of vengeance a divine stamp of approval for a long time now.

Eagleton’s review is a polemic answering a polemic. After raging against Dawkins’ purported ignorance of theology for hundreds of words, in the last paragraph he lets on that he actually agrees with much of what Dawkins has to say:
The two most deadly texts on the planet, apart perhaps from Donald Rumsfeld’s emails, are the Bible and the Koran; and Dawkins, as one the best of liberals as well as one of the worst, has done a magnificent job over the years of speaking out against that particular strain of psychopathology known as fundamentalism, whether Texan or Taliban. He is right to repudiate the brand of mealy-mouthed liberalism which believes that one has to respect other people’s silly or obnoxious ideas just because they are other people’s. In its admirably angry way, The God Delusion argues that the status of atheists in the US is nowadays about the same as that of gays fifty years ago. The book is full of vivid vignettes of the sheer horrors of religion, fundamentalist or otherwise. Nearly 50 per cent of Americans believe that a glorious Second Coming is imminent, and some of them are doing their damnedest to bring it about. But Dawkins could have told us all this without being so appallingly bitchy about those of his scientific colleagues who disagree with him, and without being so theologically illiterate.

Shorter Eagleton: “Dawkins is mostly right, but he shouldn’t be so strident about the bits with which I disagree, and he needs to read up on his Bible.” Not much to hang an entire article on, but there you have it.

material support

Via Kevin Drum, Marc Lynch discusses the new RNC ad:

[W]hat to make of the fact that the Republican National Committee has produced its own al-Qaeda video. This is not just a video which suggests that Republicans will be better at fighting terror. It actually very closely resembles real al-Qaeda videos. It has the same tempo, the same images, the same juxtaposition of translated statements by al-Qaeda's leaders with glorified portrayals of powerful fighters waging jihad. The images don't just resemble those used in al-Qaeda videos: many were actually taken from real al-Qaeda videos, and you can still see the al-Sahab label faintly in the background (do you suppose that the RNC paid royalties?). A political ad? This video would not look out of place on a jihadi forum, and it wouldn't surprise me if it actually gets posted on them and admired (although the production values are a bit low for an actual al-Sahab product).

Anyone involved in analyzing or combating al-Qaeda's media strategies has to be astounded that the Republican National Committee has financed, produced, distributed on the internet, and aired on US television what is for all intents and purposes an al-Qaeda recruitment video. The video, if it works as intended, will frighten the American people and influence American politics... just like al-Qaeda's own videos. Bin Laden couldn't be prouder, or more grateful, especially since it didn't cost him a thing.

Friday, October 20, 2006

free to go to synagogues

A Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan tells NY Times readers of the wonders of Kazakhstan and invites Borat to come see his homeland for himself (the link generator doesn’t seem to want to work on this one)

''I'd like to invite Cohen here,'' he said. ''He can discover a lot of things. Women drive cars, wine is made of grapes, and Jews are free to go to synagogues.''

Yes, they are free to go to synagogues. They are also free to be targeted for persecution by their fellow Kazakhs if they do. But don’t expect any actual reporting on that issue from the Times.

In an unpublished Board of Immigration Appeals decision, a Kazakh Jew told about being assaulted at a graveyard for being Jewish, and was awarded asylum in this country because the Board determined she had a well-founded fear persecution on the basis of her religion if she was returned to her country. Reports of skinhead groups assaulting Jews are generally ignored by the press, which is tightly managed by the government.

The US State Department International Religious Freedom Report for 2005 had this to say:
There were no reports of incidents of anti-Semitism by the Government. In August 2004, the Chief Rabbi of Kazakhstan, addressing an international religious conference in Brussels, stated that in 10 years in the country he had never faced a single case of anti-Semitism. He praised the Government of Kazakhstan for its pro-active protection of the Jewish community.

On its face, the Rabbi’s statement is ridiculous. I doubt many rabbis in the U.S. have “never faced a single case of anti-Semitism” in the past 10 years. A more convincing explanation I heard recently is that the Chief Rabbi wants to maintain his ties to President Nazarbayev’s family, and knows that nothing happens in the country without Nazarbayev’s clan’s approval. Things would be much worse for him if he didn’t praise the government’s pro-Jewish efforts. The U.S. government, or even the NY Times, could find this out if it wanted to. But Kazakhstan has lots of oil and gas, with much more scheduled to come online in the next decade, and is a strategic ally of the U.S. in the war on terror. So don’t expect too critical an eye on Kazakhstan from the State Department.

Borat must be proud.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

build it if it makes you feel better

Congress has passed legislation requiring the government to build a fence along part of the US-Mexico border; the president is waiting to sign the bill for maximum political effect before the election.

The principal objection to this plan is that the border between the US and Mexico is roughly 2,000 miles long and this fence would only cover 700 of them. There’s an obvious problem there, which is that the fence may not do much good if people can simply go around it. The less obvious problem that Congress doesn’t want to concern itself with is that pushing immigrants around the fence will lead to more deaths in the desert.

There are other problems. From the Washington Post (via Tyler Cowen):

Legislation passed by Congress mandating the fencing of 700 miles of the U.S. border with Mexico has sparked opposition from an array of land managers, businesspeople, law enforcement officials, environmentalists and U.S. Border Patrol agents as a one-size-fits-all policy response to the nettlesome task of securing the nation's borders.

Critics said the fence does not take into account the extraordinarily varied geography of the 2,000-mile-long border, which cuts through Mexican and U.S. cities separated by a sidewalk, vast scrubland and deserts, rivers, irrigation canals and miles of mountainous terrain. They also say it seems to ignore advances in border security that don't involve construction of a 15-foot-high double fence and to play down what are expected to be significant costs to maintain the new barrier.

A similar, much less ambitious fence in San Diego was built after a local congressman secured funding for the fence and for the cost of thousands of Border Patrol officers with the result that “[t]he number of crossers plummeted.” However, this came at a cost of more than $5 million a mile.
The fence in San Diego forced illegal traffic into the deserts to the east, leading thousands of migrants to their death. In response, the Border Patrol shifted thousands of agents to Arizona to deal with the flow. But many of those agents came from the San Diego and El Centro sectors. So once again, the number of crossers in San Diego and El Centro is increasing even though the two sectors are the most heavily fenced in the nation.

"Tucson now has 2,600 agents. San Diego has lost 1,000 agents. Guess where the traffic is going? Back to San Diego." said T.J. Bonner, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, the main union for Border Patrol agents. "San Diego is the most heavily fortified border in the entire country, and yet it's not stopping people from coming across."

In addition, a fence would be costly to maintain, block natural movement of wildlife, and, counterintuitively, could actually increase accessibility to the border:
In some regions along the border, the nearest main road can be 80 miles away. So to build the barrier, roads must be created. That could end up facilitating movement into the United States rather than blocking it.

Even if you assume roads would only be built on the US side, an immigrant then would just have to get to the border and across the fence somehow to a vehicle waiting on the other side.

The plan also faces opposition from local law enforcement:
In Texas, which is to get 200 miles of fencing, opposition to the plan has come from law enforcement and city governments. The City of El Paso has officially opposed the plan, as has the Texas Border Sheriff's Association.

Maverick County Sheriff Tomas S. Herrera predicted ranchers would sue the federal government to fight the installation of a fence on their property. One reason is that ranchers want access to the Rio Grande, which snakes 1,254 miles along the border, to water their herds and for sport fishermen who pay to use the waterway.

Matthew Yglesias sees a bright side to the project:
On the other hand, like Tyler Cowen I can't help but wonder if a large, ineffective wall might be the best possible outcome for pro-immigration people at this point. It wouldn't really work, but it would sharply diminish political pressure to "do something" about immigration. Meanwhile, as a liberal I don't really have a problem with the idea of an enormous wasteful construction project. It's like a WPA-style jobs programs. And, of course, all the building trades work just north of the border will probably attract a lot of immigrants.

To sum up, the project seems unlikely to achieve its intended ends, if it is ever finished, but it gives Republicans in Congress a symbolic victory before the election and a free pass for awhile to do nothing to untangle our messy and complicated immigration system. Well, better this than something worse.

And, taking a long view, the unintended consequences of the border fence could favor new immigrants. After a few years of unmitigated disaster for Americans and Iraqis, the Iraq war has had the unintended effect of making it less likely that we will start additional hasty wars and less likely that Republicans will remain in Congress next month. Alienating latino voters may ensure in the long run that we have a sensible immigration system due to the fact that there will not then be any Republicans in Congress.

Friday, October 06, 2006

bigger than the Beatles

The New York Times has a story today titled “Evangelicals Fear the Loss of their Teenagers” about how evangelical Christians are in a panic about how few of the current generation of teenagers are predicted to remain faithful as adults. But evangelicals are fighting back:

More than two million teenagers have attended [a Christian youth extravaganza and rock concert called Acquire the Fire] in the last 15 years, said Mr. Luce, a 45-year-old, mop-headed father of three with a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard and the star power of an aging rock guitarist.

“That’s more than Paul McCartney has pulled in,” Mr. Luce asserted . . . .

From the Guardian Unlimited:
March 4, 1966
The London Evening Standard publishes an interview with John Lennon in which he claims that the Beatles are "bigger than Jesus".

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Outline

You Smash It, We’ll Build Around It from The Outline is the best rock album I’ve heard in a long time, even though some of their lyrics are not very good. I expect they will do well. My favorite is “Why We’re Better Now.”

a retired officer's plea

Attention US Military Personnel


If you are ordered to violate Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, it is your duty to disobey that order. No “clarification,” whether passed by Congress or signed by the president, relieves you of that duty.

If you are ordered to violate Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, this is what to do:

1. Request that your superior put the order in writing.

2. If your superior puts the order in writing, inform your superior that you intend to disobey that order.

3. Request trial by courtmartial.

You will almost certainly face disciplinary action, harassment of various kinds, loss of pay, loss of liberty, discomfort and indignity. America relies on you and your courage to face those challenges.

We, the people, need you to support and defend the Constitution. I am certain that your honor and patriotism are equal to the task.

Read the whole thing here. Via Brad DeLong.

Foley in original context

After extensive legal analysis, I have determined that I am required by the Constitution to link to this post by The Editors. Warning: it is dirty.

sad day in Pennsylvania

The Washington Post on the recent slaughter at the Amish school:

Roberts was armed with three guns, two knives and 600 rounds of ammunition when he burst into the Amish schoolhouse, separated the students by gender and let the boys leave before tying up the ten girls, lining them up against a blackboard and shooting them at close range in the back of the head . . .

It’s a good thing this guy had access to so much firepower to defend his home and family against our government, foreign invaders, and urban criminals. Clearly, with so much pent-up rage, he would have managed to inflict the same horrors with a butter knife or even his bare hands. Just another case of an American exercising his right to bear arms—an international human right.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

markets in everything: parenting

New York Magazine, the only publication I know of that regularly mocks its own readership, has a helpful guide to outsourcing parenting from conception to college.

Perhaps you’ve been told that having a child is a 24-hour-a-day job. But it doesn’t have to be your job—not for a moment. Nannies have been around for centuries, but in New York—the leading edge of parental avoidance—it is now possible to outsource more-advanced child-rearing functions as well, such as shopping for clothing, going on college visits, and even initiating those awkward talks about, well, you know. How much would it cost to replace yourself entirely for eighteen years—until your child’s driver drops him off at the dorm?

The answer, according to NY Magazine, is over $4 million. But think of all the extra time you could spend at the office . . .

a medal for Borat?

Originally uploaded by Rude Lovers©.

Borat’s hard work on behalf of his countrymen to promote Kazakh culture abroad is already paying dividends with the U.S. government, over a month before his new movie comes out.

The NY Times reported on Friday:

[President Bush] also discussed Afghanistan in an Oval Office meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, a Central Asian ally and important oil supplier. The former Soviet republic borders Afghanistan.

Bush thanked Nazarbayev for supporting the war in Iraq and for helping Afghanistan become a stable democracy.
''I have watched very carefully the development of this important country from one that was in the Soviet sphere to one that now is a free nation,'' Bush said as the two sat side by side. Bush offered support for Kazakhstan's desire to join the World Trade Organization.

No mention was made of criticism of Kazakhstan for human rights abuses, corruption and heavily restricted political and civil freedoms.

During their private meeting, however, ''there was encouragement for the government of Kazakhstan to pursue a democratic path,'' said Bush spokesman Snow.

I guess Bush must have been treated to an advance screening of the new movie. How else to explain his willingness to overlook President Nazarbayev’s documented efforts to restrict freedom of the press, conduct sham elections, and enrich his own family at the expense of the Kazakh public.

Human Rights Watch had this to say in its most recent annual report:
An annual report on human rights released by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in February said the Kazakh government “severely limited citizens’ right to change their government.”

More facts from the 2005 State Department Human Rights Report:
The law prohibits such practices, but police and prison officials at times tortured, beat, and otherwise abused detainees, often to obtain confessions.
. . .
The law does not adequately provide for an independent judiciary. The executive branch limited judicial independence. . . . Corruption was evident at every stage and level of the judicial process.
. . .
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government used a variety of means, including criminal and administrative charges, to control the media and limit freedom of expression.

From the Human Rights Watch report again:
In September, members of the Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe voiced doubts about Kazakhstan’s bid for chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The senators pointed to the upcoming presidential election as a test of Kazakhstan’s commitment to democracy. In October 2005, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice visited Kazakhstan on a tour of Central Asian states and praised the republic as an “island of stability.”

A stable source of oil, that is, provided by a stable autocracy. The election the Senators were talking about would be the one Nazarbayev moved up a year to stymie any chance of success by opposition parties. As we know from Iraq under Saddam, stability has little to do with how democratic a society is or what types of freedoms people enjoy.

The BBC has more here

Borat, your fellow Kazakhs salute you!


My inner nerd (as in Gen. JC Christian, Patriot’s Inner Frenchman) thrilled to Weird Al’s new White and Nerdy video. Glad to see he’s still making music after all these years. And yes, that is Donny Osmond dancing in the background.

The definitive deconstruction of the video is here, where we find several errors that slipped past Weird Al’s production team:

Yankovic erroneously claims that his pocket protector is protecting his pens.

The equation in the background of the chorus is Schrödinger's wave equation for the hydrogen atom; however, there is an error in that Planck's constant is displayed in place of Dirac's constant.

The scene with him playing Minesweeper (a game included with the Microsoft Windows operating system dating back to v3.1) is actually being played on a Macintosh. The logged in user is listed as "whitenerdy". The reason that Finder is the currently active application listed in the menu bar is because Minesweeper is running as a Dashboard widget. He incorrectly is shown using the keyboard to play this mouse-controlled game.

Yankovic claims that he graduated "first in [his] class here at MIT"; however, MIT does not assign class rankings nor does it confer traditional Latin honors upon its graduates.

Now that’s nerdy.