So the President stands up there and for the first time presents tangible -- though unverifiable -- evidence that his illegal and immoral programs have borne fruit, and that this has allowed the government to foil terrorist plots in the making.
OK. It's nice to be treated like a thinking adult once in a while at least.
And I will say that the even though the President's case is relatively thin (of all the people captured, rendered, imprisoned, and virtually tortured, he only presented one chain of events to support his claims), it was still enough to give me pause for thought.
And here's what I think:
I am willing to concede that an illegal program of rendition, detention in foreign nations with dubious human rights records, and interrogation with techniques that skirt the meaning of the law has yielded results.
It may even be effective.
But that still doesn't make it right.
I understand perfectly that I may simply be wrong about the level of threat that we face in international terrorism. I've been wrong before, and I'll be wrong again. But here's the thing: if my government pursues policies that I believe are moral but that prove less effective and I die in a terrorist attack, I will at least die a free man. If my government pursues effective but immoral policies and I die of old age, I will have died in chains.
Therein lies the difference. My freedom, your freedom, our freedom is important enough to me that I will die for it. But what value is my life if I must sell myself into bondage in order to keep it?
I was poking through a couple of people's denial of global warming, and it astounds me that they seem to have little grasp of physics. Lets lay it out in the simplest possible terms:
All energy eventually ends up as heat. That's basic thermodynamics, and with the exception of the zero-point energy crackpots, this is indisputable.
When an object is warmer than its surroundings, heat energy is transferred from warmer to cooler. This transfer occurs by one of three methods: conduction (direct transfer from particle to particle), convection (transfer by the movement of warm particles), and radiation (transfer through electromagnetic radiation). That's it; there's no other way to move heat energy around. The neat thing is that the greater the difference between the warm object and the cool surroundings, the faster the transfer of heat by all three methods.
Space is a vacuum; I think we can all agree on that. In a vacuum, only conduction and radiation are possible--there being no fluid to carry heat via convection. Since the planet isn't regularly in contact with other spatial object, we'll take a little leap here and say that only radiation can carry heat away in any significant quantities.
So let's do a little thought experiment: take a planet, any planet, and make it geologically dead and lifeless. Energy (in the form of radiation from the star it orbits) goes in, warming it. Energy goes out (thermal radiation from the planet), cooling it. What happens?
Thermal equilibrium, that's what happens. If energy in is more than energy out, the planet warms. The more it warms, the faster the rate of energy out. Eventually, energy in equals energy out, and the planet's temperature stabilizes.
Now let's add an internal source of energy; say, by making the planet geologically active due to internally generated heat from radioactive decay at the planet's core. What happens? This internal heat energy adds to the energy in side of the equation. The planet warms until a new equilibrium point is reached, which is higher than the previous point. Why? More energy in, that's why.
Now let's take the last step: Add life to our little planet. A life that has a penchant for taking the complex chemicals that are found on or near the surface and releasing the stored chemical energy to do work. What happens?
Eventually this energy ends up as heat. Heat that adds to the energy in side of the equation. The planet warms until a new equilibrium point is reached, which is higher than the previous point. Bingo. Human-caused global warming.
Now, I realize that this is an overly-simplistic example. It ignores niceties like living organisms turning solar radiation into chemical potential energy. It ignores the exact rates, and the complexities of an active atmosphere. It also ignores the complexities of how atmospheric composition changes the rate of energy out (i.e., greenhouse gases alone change the thermal equilibrium point by reducing the effectiveness of thermal radiation, resulting in a lower energy out and a higher thermal equilibrium even with no additional energy in; or greater cloud cover reducing the energy in by reflecting solar radiation back into space).
But the basic fact is true: energy in > energy out => increasing temperature.
I should note that this holds true for any source of energy we use except three. We can improve things by not mucking with the energy out side of the equation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for example), but so long as we're adding to the energy in side of the equation, warming is inevitable--we can only play with the rate.
The "except three" above? Solar, geothermal and tidal energy (we didn't discuss this above, but tidal forces are part of the energy in side, adding some energy from friction). These three source of energy are already active in the energy in side of the thermal equilibrium equation. If we can use some of the energy coming in to do the work we want, then there's no alteration to the energy in side, and thermal equilibrium can be maintained. Note that solar energy also means tapping any solar-driven cycle: biodiesel (carbon + sun -> plant matter -> fuel -> carbon), wind (remember convection? That's wind), water currents (convection again), and hydro (sun + surface water -> evaporation -> condensation + gravity -> rain -> surface water).
The only other ways out of this basic physical fact is to figure out how to decrease the energy in or increase the energy out part of the equation. But while it's possible to approach global warming like this--in a science fiction kind of way--it's not very practical: when people object to windmills in their neighborhoods, how do you think they'd feel about a multi-tens-of-miles-high radiator or a huge reflective sun shield overhead?
And it really is as simple as that.
(As an aside, space-based power stations--that mainstay of science fiction--would actually contribute to global warming. Why? Because they increase the amount of solar energy being received by this planet, adding to the energy in side of the equation. To keep our current thermal equilibrium, we have to work with the existing energy in value, not increase it.)
So by now everyone has hopefully heard of Sy Hersh's article in the New Yorker regarding Pentagon planning for strikes against Iran. In particular, Sy talks about the Pentagon contingency plans that involved a tactical nuclear first strike against Iranian targets. Sy makes the claim that when the Pentagon attempted to "walk back" (jargon for withdraw) those specific contingencies that used nukes, they were denied the opportunity.
Think what you want about Sy, but he's still probably the single most capable and respected US investigative journalist. When he writes these things, he's usually right. He was right about Abu Ghraib. He was right about the run-up to Iraq. And now, almost predictably, we're seeing confirmations of the story start to slip out.
Let me explain how this works.
In the first place, there's contingency planning. There are contingency plans for everything you could possibly think of, from full-blown invasion to targeted strikes to information operations. There are whole specialties devoted to supporting this kind of planning capability. And most of these plans are shelved and only taken down and dusted off when they need updating or someone has a new idea. It wouldn't surprise me to find that there are contingency plans for an invasion of Great Britain. Some are simply thought exercises; "What would you do if...," while some are more detailed. Contingency plans involving potential adversaries--like Iran--are more detailed and updated more often.
It's when you move to the operational planning stage that you need to be concerned. Operational planning takes those contingency plans, evaluates them, dumps the infeasible ones, and starts hanging flesh on the bones of the remainder.
Sy is basically claiming that striking Iran has moved from contingency planning to operational planning.
Now, operational planning in and of itself does not mean that we're going to war. It does mean that someone in the chain--usually high up; SecDef or higher--wants to see some serious options for the use of force. That's a sign of a building crisis, but not inevitable sign of coming conflict.
However, operational planning does entail spending money. The longer it goes on and the more detailed it gets (usually narrowing in on a small set of plans in the process) the faster the money gets spent. It doesn't take too long before it becomes a significant sum.
That's where you have to realize that money has its own momentum. Once you start spending, it's hard to shut it off. In fact, it costs money to shut off the spending, odd as that may sound. There's a tipping point beyond which it will simply cost less to follow through than to cancel. That point is difficult to predict.
And when your contingency plans include a nuclear first strike that has been explicitly ruled as being on the table, you have to start wondering--when will we pass it?
The Air Force released new guidelines for religious expression Thursday that no longer caution top officers about promoting their personal religious views.
The revised guidelines say nothing should be understood to limit the substance of voluntary discussions of religion where it is reasonably clear that the discussions are personal, not official, and can be reasonably free of potential coercion.
Now here's a problem I have: Coercion isn't just something you do to me; it's also something I feel. You don't have to intend to coerce in order for me to feel coerced. Now put this in the context of talking with someone who happens to be a deeply religious Christian evangelical and who also happens to be the guy who writes and approves your annual enlisted performance report.
The nature of the military colors every interaction between superiors and subordinates. While many hierarchical organizations have this issue, none have it to the extent of the military; because unlinke the civilian world military members are always on the job; can't quit; aren't free to take time off without planning; are subject to recall, not just from leave, but even after separation (years afterward, even); and can go to jail for saying no.
While no courts-martial would uphold an order to, say, attend church, I can certainly envision it happening. After all, the issue that kicked off this whole furor was allegations at the Academy that some students and instructors were using rank to pressure others to attend church or even convert.
Then there's this little gem:
And that one should give everyone pause.
They also omit a statement in the earlier version that chaplains "should respect the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs."
One of the things I hear over and over again from my right-wing friends when I bring up Ann Coulter's latest shitstream is that there's an equivalence between left-wing and right-wing extremists.
I've been thinking about that, and I've decided it's bunk.
There's a qualitative difference between the extreme wingnuts of the left and right. On the extreme left, you've got the radical environmentalists and anti-corporatists, who would dismantle most of technological civilization and distribute that wealth to the poor in a massive co-visualization of peace and love and happiness. However misguided these ideas may be, they originate in a good place--the desire to help all people live better lives.
On the extreme right, it's "Kill the fags," "Kill the n----rs," "Kill the Arabs," "Kill the Jews," "Kill the liberals," ... well, you get the idea.
Determining the qualitative difference between these two extremes is left as an exercise for the reader.
No matter how much you might disagree with Michael Moore, you've never heard him espouse the mass-murder and forced conversion of the adherents of a world religion, unlike Ann Coulter.
Stolen from a Plastic thread:
A Conservative Government is an organized hypocrisy. — Benjamin Disraeli
Conservatism discards Prescription, shrinks from Principle, disavows Progress; having rejected all respect for antiquity, it offers no redress for the present, and makes no preparation for the future. — Benjamin Disraeli
Ann Richards on How to be a good Republican:
-You have to believe a poor, minority student with a disciplinary history and failing grades will be admitted into an elite private school with a $1,000 voucher.
-You have to believe God hates homosexuality, but loves the death penalty.
-You have to believe speaking a few Spanish phrases makes you instantly popular in the barrio.
-You have to believe in prayer in schools, as long as you don't pray to Allah or Buddha.
A conservative is a man who is too cowardly to fight and too fat to run. — Elbert Hubbard
The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. — G.K. Chesterton
The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. -John Kenneth Galbraith
Liberals feel unworthy of their possessions. Conservatives feel they deserve everything they've stolen. — Mort Sahl
A liberal is a conservative who's been arrested. A conservative is a liberal who's been mugged. — Wendy Kaminer
Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives. — John Stuart Mill
Back during the Clinton impeachment fiasco, I was one of those people justifying the proceedings with "Well, it's about a trivial matter, but lying under oath is a crime."
I just wanted to say I was wrong. Nothing justified the way in which the GOP determined to topple a presidency by any means necessary.
I feel better now.
Conservatives are generally disdainful of so-called popular culture. They describe it as immoral, decadent, degraded and degrading.
Conservatives also claim that their own values represent the majority of Americans. Hollywood is "out of step with America" and so on.
If the majority of Americans actually shared right-wing conservative values, then popular culture wouldn't be so damn ... popular, would it?
So either conservatives are, by and large, hypocrites who privately imbibe of the immoral popular culture they publicly assail, or their values are simply not representative of the majority of Americans.
They simply can't have it both ways. You can't simultaneously decry the culture and appeal to it.
I tend to the latter view, FWIW. Conservatism in America is a shrinking minority view. While they may win a battle now and again, their war on the rest of us is already lost; if not in my generation, then in my children's, or their children's generation.
What's more, I think deep down inside most of them know it, or they wouldn't fight so hard.
If you see no other film this decade, see this one. Clearly the single most important film of the last ten years.
I don't care if you agree, disagree, love or hate Moore-- but I will have nothing for contempt for anyone who attempts to pontificate about the film without having seen it.
We took our 14-year-old (J.) with us tonight, mainly because I felt that this subject is far too important for him to remain ignorant on the topic; he'll be eligible for the coming draft (and don't kid yourself-- a draft is coming. Expect to hear about it in December of this year). We'd have taken our 13-year-old (Z.) as well, but he's at Scout camp this week. He'll have to wait for the DVD.
On our way home we discussed the film with J. We asked him what he thought about the war in Iraq, and he said "I don't really understand everything about it, about why and everything, so I guess right now I don't have an opinion. But I know that some of the things we're doing over there are wrong, and I know that some of the reasons weren't true."
I was so proud. It's the single most intelligent thing I've heard lately.
I learned earlier today that a relative by marriage here in the sovereign State of Texas has registered as a Republican but votes a straight Democratic ticket in every election.
Because she's a schoolteacher, and is afraid of being targeted at work or even losing her job.
I know her fear, as I contract to the armed wing of the Republican Party (otherwise known as the DoD), and I feel it every day at work. It's not the stabbing fear of hearing someone behind you in a secluded area on the bad side of town-- it's a low grade, gnawing, barely registering kind of fear. The kind that makes you hesitate before expressing an opinion. The kind that makes you avoid certain subjects with people you don't know well.
That kind of fear.
I wish my wife's paternal grandfather was still alive. Her family emigrated from Germany in the early 50's, as part of a refugee relief program. I'd like to ask him one question--
Is this what it felt like in '36?
Given the recent attempts by the GOP to drive a wedge into the Left via the Federal Marriage Amendment, perhaps it's time to drive home one of our own.
I'm finishing up Lessig's book The Future of Ideas, and he's given me an idea:
The Fair Competition Amendment
Congress shall make no law nor permit any rule protecting or promoting the profits, products, assets or practices of any public or private business, organization or industry.
I can see adding the clauses:
[...] in the face of increased competition
[...] except where there is an immediate compelling public interest.
But I'm not completely sure about them. The last may act to protect service monopolies like power companies, which would probably be a good thing-- there are areas where the public is better served by a well-regulated monopoly than a competitive market.
I'm dead-set against the use of government power to protect the interests of businesses faced with innovative or disruptive technologies. No business has a right to profits; yet most established industries are the first to clamor for government sanctuary when faced with new technologies they cannot suppress or control.
Americans are (generally) big proponents of fair play. This issue could drive a wedge into the business-subservient GOP, and allow we Progressives to highlight the ways in which the conservative elements use the government to kill fair play.
Such an amendment as above would also do much to eliminate the poisonous effect of lobbyist dollars in our political process; if Congress can't make law on my behalf, why would I waste the money buying (access to) a Congressman?
What do you think?
SBC's CWA union is about to strike. The company has successfully spun the issues of the strike into a fight over introducing copays into the union's insurance-- union members pay no premiums or coinsurance/copays, which is IMHO a pretty sweet deal-- while completly glossing over the company's trend toward outsourcing jobs at a breakneck pace.
Local talk radio in SBC's hometown has, of course, latched on to the "greedy union" meme without a second thought.
This morning at work, I got into a ... discussion ... with a co-worker who thinks that this is all over $30-- the estimated amount of copays per month that union workers would spend, on average, if they accepted the company's last offer.
Leaving aside the "thin edge of the wedge" argument for the moment-- an important principle in this issue-- I am simply astounded by the level of selfishness this claim evinces. The idea my co-worker expressed is, in his own words, that "I spend a lot more than that!"
So, basically, because his life sucks, everyone else's life should as well. Simply astounding.
I tried to point out that if your situation is so upsetting that you're projecting your own latent anger on a group that managed a better deal, why not do something about it? Like, unionize your job and demand a better deal? Instead, he's sucked in to the "greedy union" and "lazy union worker" meme.
Every time I come across this idea, I try to point out that everything we take for granted about our workplaces-- the 40-hour week; overtime (if you're not "exempt"); child labor bans; health insurance; paid vacation time (such as it is in the US)-- is owed to the labor movement of the last century. I further point out the *erosions* of these gains that have happened in the last 30 years have come after a century of systematic weakening of organized labor.
But it's like talking to a wall. The radio told him that unions are bad; the TV told him that unions are bad; he thinks he's being reasonable by claiming that unions had a place once, but are no longer relevant; there's no actual thought, no actual knowlege, no actual understanding of the issues and the history of labor relations in the US.
It makes me sick. It makes me doubly sick as I bend over for yet another corporate reaming: my company's hired HMO apparantly contracts with a bankrupt mental health benefits provider-- so my son can't see the doctors I've dealt with for the last 6 years any more because the bankrupt insurer left them holding lots of unpaid accounts, so they've chosen not to accept it (not that I can blame them)-- and all my HR can say is "Here, you can take this plan that will triple your out-of-pocket costs instead."
Welcome to America. Please check any rights you think you might have at the border. Your Corporate Masters have decided you don't need them any more.
Rice is testifying. I wish I had time at work to listen to the testimony (instead of posting this short note) like my colleagues here apparently do.
But they've stopped listening because they're "infuriated" over the "disrespect" Rice is getting from the Commissioners.
The actual content of her testimony is immaterial, I guess.
Welcome to the Red Nation. We don' like all that there thinkin' stuff he-ah, boy. You just toe th' line like a good little soldier, an' it'll all be jus' fine...
(Yes, someone here just called her a "good soldier.")
Once I was a Libertarian, with a big 'L'. I was even a registered member of the party (hereinafter abbreviated 'LP'), albeit briefly. But I eventually was faced with the following conundrum:
The essential role of government, as I have long understood it to be, is the protection of the rights of its citizens against any and all who would infringe on them. Traditionally, these infringing entities are:
This is not a new idea. The Boston Tea Party and the boycott that preceded it wasn't simply a protest against unfair taxation as our history textbooks say; it was also a protest against the favored status of corporations-- the East India Company among them-- backed by the legal authority of the Empire at the expense of its subjects. Much of what the founders of the American Republic wrote on the issue of corporations could easily be mistaken for anti-globalization writing today.
Why do I bring this up? Because I read this wonderful article over at Alternet yesterday, and it sums up exactly the problems I had with the Libertarian Party policies-- and by extension the laissez-faire arm of the GOP-- and why I ultimately split with them to become a Progressive.
But these issues are not part of the debate. They are deliberately clouded by the economic Right (which includes both the GOP and the LP).
Hasn't everyone seen Gangs of New York by now? Watch it again, only this time look at the social structure that underlies the story. That's the world we're racing toward. We need to put on the brakes, turn ourselves around, and start facing up to our responsibilities to each other more.
If there really was a "liberal media conspiracy," Ann Coulter wouldn't be able to get on TV if she stripped naked on the Capitol steps and gave Tom Daschle a blowjob.
Yet you hear about it everywhere. My guess is the "liberal media" is a fantasy boogeyman self-identified conservatives use to scare their children. Being persecuted makes one feel so much better, I guess.
The fact is, every major media conglomerate is owned by solid Republicans. All the top-rated talking heads on TV are self-styled conservatives. And radio is even more skewed; the level of conservative vitriol on AM radio is simply astounding.
But every damn one of them sounds off on how the liberals control the media. These people can't even see the inherent contradiction in complaining about "liberal-controlled media" while using that same media to spout off their conservative message.
Denial can be a so beautiful sometimes. Irony too.
Yes, the liberal media conspiracy cancelled Donahue and hired Michael Savage to fill his time slot as a complex double-bluff backdoor scheme to discredit conservatives everywhere!
Careful there Rush, you'll sprain your frontal lobes. You've gotta warm up before a gymnastics set.
Uncovering the lies of our politicians is always enlightening.
Select "What's New" and read the litany of prevarication. Then while your dander is up, you can watch Ari Fliescher get laughed off the podium for attempting to act indignant at the suggestion that the US Government is attempting to buy UN Security Council votes. (Skip to minute 28 for context, and listen to the press corp after Ari departs.)
God how I hate that man. How does he sleep at night, that's what I want to know.
Pundits who claim that peace protesters are anti-American are getting under my skin.
I'm a defense contractor. I work for the Department of the Air Force; specifically I'm a network security consultant. I work every damn day to support our soldiers. Secure networks are every bit as important on the modern battlefield as a secure supply line.
On top of that, I served. I'm a vet.
I'm against war with Iraq. I feel that the US meddling in the internal affairs of another country, to the point of selecting a successor government, is simply the assertion of imperial privilege. I'm entitled to my opinion, thankyouverymuch.
But I keep hearing over and over and over that people who are against war with Iraq are somehow anti-American. Even the parts of the current government-- the same government I work daily protecting the lives of its soldiers-- desires the power to expatriate citizens simply because they belong to organizations that are deemed inappropriate.
Anyone who tells me that I'm anti-American because of the opinion I hold should look to his own house. I served to defend the right of free expression; I work daily in support of those souls who currently serve to defend those same rights.
What have all those talking heads on Fox News done? What have you done lately, Mr. Limbaugh? What about you, Mr. O'Reilly? Ms. Coulter, I'm talking to you too-- what have you done?
Via MetaFilter. Columnist Bob Bankard of phillyburbs.com compares the political ideals Ronald Reagan put forth in his "Evil Empire" speech in 1982 to the current political scene.
I'm old enough to remember watching Reagan give this speech. I was 13 at the time, and I'd only just started to become aware of politics. I spent much of my youth in the same political vein as my parents, as most kids probably do.
Over the years, my own political ideology has gone through some torturous changes. From a 1980's-style conservative Republican teen, I segued into a big-L Libertarian young adult, and thence into my current position as a left-leaning citizen's rights absolutist. (I'll explain that one in another posting).
What's almost ironic is as I grow older I find that in some respects Reagan impresses me more than he did when I was a naive Republican cheerleader. Whenever I stumble across the classic pieces of Reagan's political thought, I'm struck all over again that no matter what you might think of his intelligence or fiscal policies, Reagan had a better handle on the essential role and responsibilities of government than most current Republicans.
Of course, this could simply be the result of comparing the heyday of Republican philosophy to mindless ranting that passes for Republican thought today. When you spend all day in the light of candles, even a 40-watt bulb will seem brilliant.
As for Mr. Bankard's thesis that we have become that which we opposed-- it's a bit much. I agree with Bankard in specifics, but not in general. I will certainly agree that we stand now at a decision point; how we handle ourselves now will determine whether or not we become the same evil empire we once stood against. But to say we are now such an empire is overstating the case.
Oh, and first post to my new shiny weblog. I feel so ... connected somehow. Updated with trackback link to MeFi; bear with me, I'm still figuring this out. 8)