Apr 30, 2009

The first one hundred

From a new Flickr photostream marking the president's first 100 days. Slate (below) marks the occasion on Facebook. 

Barack Obama joined the Washington, D.C. network.
Barack Obama is taking the oath of office.
Barack Obama is taking the oath of office.
Barack Obama deleted the group I'm a Lobbyist AND I Work at the White House!
Barack Obama deleted the group Guantanamo Bay Detainees 4EVA.
Reggie Love wrote on Beyonce Knowles' Wall.
Not ready to put a ring on it, but I do like it.

Apr 27, 2009

Movie of the year

When I first saw the trailer for Anvil! The Story of Anvil, I thought it was a put-on — a Spinal Tap reheat. Indeed, it features a drummer called Robb Reiner, a volume dial that really does go to eleven, and a hilarious disquisition on the origins of a song called Thumb-Hang ("its from the Spanish Inquisition"). But Anvil are real alright and the film is a joy — funny and touching and rousing, in large part because of the lead singer Lips, a wide-eyed, big-hearted overflowing spillage of a man who exhorts his band through thick and thin with speeches that veer between indefatigable optimism and outright delusion. After everything on their tour goes wrong, he points out, “at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on.” Look on the bright side, he says, as he drives back to his job at a children's catering company in frozen Ontario. "It could never be worse than it already is." By the end of the movie I was tapping my foot to their awful, earsplitting songs, like the proudest of mothers, and I left the theatre with tears streaking my face. Just glorious.

If its not one thing it's another

“The Zen experience of forgetting the self was very natural to me. I had already been engaged in forgetting and abandoning the self in my childhood, which was filled with the fear of how unreal things seemed. But that forgetting was pathological. I always had some deeper sense that I wasn’t really there, that my life and my marriages didn’t seem real. In therapy with Jeffrey I began to realize this feeling of invisibility wasn’t just a peculiar experience but was maybe the central theme of my life." — A Zen Master who entered a course of psychotherapy to deal with the loss of self he attained through meditating.

Apr 25, 2009

Quote of the day

"Yes it's against the law but there's a higher moral law at work here. That's what Dr King was all about" — Pat Buchanan, defending torture on Hardball
Ghandi, too, if I remember correctly. 

Apr 24, 2009

Pretty much how I feel

I've changed my mind over the whole torture prosecution debate. I've been inclined to trust Obama's maneuvring on the subject — maybe a prosecution would be too disruptive, maybe it would impede his ability to do his job, etc, etc. But yesterday we found out something important: the factor on which the decision to torture hinged — the piece of information Bush and Cheney were so desperate to get their hands on — was the phantom link between Al Qeada and Iraq.

The report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.

In other words, what led them to ramp up the interrogation on KSM and Zubaydah, waterboarding them 266 times in a single month was no 'ticking time bomb' scenario, but their desire to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections — an act of such heartbreakingly wicked it's difficult to know what to say except: time to prosecute.

Apr 21, 2009

Handshake earthquake

"The importance of the Chavez hand shake is the report you did just now, on the jump in book sales from #54,000 to number 2. Everywhere in Latin America, enemies of America are going to use the picture of Chavez smiling and being with the President as proof that Chavez is now legitimate, that he's acceptable. He's a dictatorial figure, he's an anti American figure."

Newt Gingrich on Fox News, reacting to the calamity that was Obama's handshake with Hugo Chavez. Numerous bloggers have already pointed out the number of former presidents who have indulged in this nefarious activity — Kennedy/Khrushchev, Nixon/Brezhnev, Reagan/Gorbachev — but at least grant that Gingrich is consistent. It was he who, in 1985, predicted the sky would fall following Reagan's rapprochement with Gorbachev, calling it "the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Chamberlain in 1938 at Munich." Thank goodness we have Newt around to protect us.

Apr 17, 2009

Tortured logic

"We have laid it all out for our enemies. Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again" — Anonymous Bush administration official, protesting Obama's release of the torture memos.
Isn't that the point? I would have thought that Obama's ban on torture (effective Jan 21) was the thing that tipped off our enemies that we weren't going to be torturing them. He wasn't too secretive about it as I remember. I saw it on TV.*
“I don't believe Obama would intentionally endanger the nation, so it must be that he thinks either 1. the previous administration, including the CIA professionals who have defended this program, is lying about its importance and effectiveness, or 2. he believes we are no longer really at war and no longer face the kind of grave threat to our national security this program has protected against.”
The former. To date, the Bush administration have not been able to name a single piece of actionable intelligence that came from torturing suspects, although in the WSJ today Mukasey and Hadley trot out the usual claims about Abu Zubaydah:
The terrorist Abu Zubaydah... disclosed some information voluntarily. But he was coerced into disclosing information that led to the capture of Ramzi bin al Shibh, another of the planners of Sept. 11, who in turn disclosed information which -- when combined with what was learned from Abu Zubaydah -- helped lead to the capture of KSM and other senior terrorists, and the disruption of follow-on plots aimed at both Europe and the U.S.
Zubaydah is the suspect they waterboarded 83 times, and whose coerced testimony triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantom plots — against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty — none of which turned out to have any basis in reality. “What we got was pabulum,” said FBI agent Jack Cloonan. "We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms," said one intelligence official.
Instead, watching his torment caused great distress to his captors, the official said. Even for those who believed that brutal treatment could produce results, the official said, “seeing these depths of human misery and degradation has a traumatic effect.”
That's as good as it gets — the administration's one success story. Asked by a journalist whether he knew of any attacks on America that had been disrupted by information gained from torture, FBI director Robert Mueller at first declined to answer. “I’m really reluctant to answer that,” he said, then paused, looked at an aide, and added: “I don’t believe that has been the case.”

*Former CIA director Michael Hayden was allowed to get away with this on Fox news today. “It describes the box within which Americans will not go beyond. To me, that’s very useful for our enemies."

I understand that Fox is the channel of barbarians, but even so. The argument is so fallacious, it barely even registers as an argument: it just clears its throat and implodes. If the interrogation methods are no longer being used, why would the legal justifications used to justify those methods be of any intelligence value to our enemies? Not just that but "very very useful"? And yet, incredibly, this appears to be the main pro-torture talking point coming in response to Obama's release of those memos. Even more incredibly, it is getting repeated on news channels — and not just Fox but MSNBC and CNN — where it is listened to by news anchors who nod, as if they were hearing sentences in English that reasonable people might be expected to consider. Sometimes I wonder if the news media's dedication to the notion of fair-mindedness would one day lead them to say, "yes but, in all fairness, some would point out that 2 plus 2 equals five." How nonsensical does an argument have to get for them to intercede and help out? Hayden is dribbling soup down his shirt — he's whispering to the faeries at the bottom of the garden — and they're sitting there nodding, sagely.

Apr 10, 2009

Showing great enterprise

I have to say: I'm excited. I am far from being a Trekkie, or even on the footslopes of Trekkiedom, but I always loved the Starship Enterprise itself.* No space ship design has come close for distinctiveness, although I certainly was a big fan of the x-wing and the Nostromo. Above all I love the delicateness of the stems on which the cabin-saucer and side rockets sit — exactly the sort of ergonomic elegance that zero-air resistance might allow. In the new posters (left), it looks like the sort of shape that might form when molten glass is dropped into water.

*The man who designed it, Matt Jeffries, flew B-17, B-24, B-25 bombers in the second world war.

Reclaiming "socialism"

A new Rasmussen poll finds that while 53 per cent of Americans think “capitalism” is better than “socialism,” 20 per cent think socialism is better and 27 per cent aren’t sure which of the two is better. Few can fail to be delighted by this ascent of American politics into the realms of higher nonsense. It's not too hard to see what's happened here: the right have called Obama's programs socialist enough times that the word has come to mean "whatever it is Obama is doing"; and enough people like whatever it is Obama is doing, that socialism has been reclaimed to mean "the thing that 53% of the country voted for." Heaven.

Apr 8, 2009

Cheney vs Obama

I've been thinking long and hard about what might motivate former vice-president Cheney to say that Obama's repeal of the Bush torture program has made America "less safe." It seems politically unwise: Obama is the only thing standing between the vice-president and prosecution. It also seems to kick up another unforseen consequence: if he re-arms the issue and pushes anough people to wonder whether Obama has indeed made them less safe, Obama will be forced to prove him wrong. That will mean an investigation into what intelligence, exactly, the torture program gave us. How is Cheney served by this? The last thing he wants is an investigation of any sort. It's very puzzling. Is it rage?