Friday, March 31, 2006

Good News from Alabama

In an overdue but nontheless laudable move, the Alabama House of Representatives just passed an act that lets people convicted of anti-segregationist behavior apply for pardons. The "Rosa Parks Act" will allow state officials to preserve the pardoned people's "criminal" records in the Alabama Dept. of Archives and Records so that historians and activists can access them later.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Chin Flipping

Justice Scalia gave a journalist the ol' Italian "chin flip," and got caught on camera. So, now there's some debate about how bad a "chin flip," is and I'll ask my Italian pal Adriana to chime in on this.

My take is that, among gestures, the middle finger is still king. But, that's when you're judging things in society as a whole. Among Italians, the chin flip is what you give somebody when the more common middle finger just won't do. Whatever the chin flip implies in Italy, Scalia's an Italian American. Since I've got some Italian American relatives, I've learned by observerving them and... when they resort to the gestures of the old country, they tend to mean something more damning than what the more common and American gestures have to offer.

So... Scalia went old country.

We always knew he had a temper.

But, he also went duck hunting with Cheney. Who knew he was brave?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I don't do this very often, but... very good friend and I wrote an article in the current issue of Forbes that, while it isn't perfect, I'm proud to say that I think it provides a bit of a counterpoint to the anti-immigrant sentiment that's currently dominating the immigration debate. It's in the current issue of the magazine, which is now on stands. I'd link, but I can't seem to remember my own username and password to the site maintained by my own employer.

I readily admit that one flaw is that we don't deal with the exploitation of illegal workers, which is a dismaying and real problem. But, I think we were the first to deal with the issue by covering the entire spectrum of the economy, from highly skilled technical workers to the essential workers in crafts, trades and service professions. I also think that we've made a good case for expanding, rather than restricting, opportunities for people to become American citizens and that we've made a good economic argument in favor of the view that there's a shortage of workers throughout the American economy and that we'll all benefit by finding ways to welcome immigrants.

We write very highly of guest worker programs in the piece. One bit of nuance I'll add here is that, at least on a personal level (I don't think this quite comes through in the article) my hope is that guest worker programs would provide a path towards citizenship for those who want it. Honestly, some don't. Mexico has no mortgage banking industry to speak of, for example, for a big reason for people to come here and work for awhile is to amass enough money to finance the purchase of a house in Mexico. A good portion of economic migrants to the US want to build savings for use back home. For them, a temporary worker program is ideal. But, as we all know, work and a long stay abroad can lead to people building roots where they are. I'd like them to be able to stay, and vote, and be protected by our government, should they choose that path.

Chiseling Crooks

London Mayor Ken Livingstone is embroiled in another minor scandal. Livingstone has a big mouth that he's stretched out over the years with his foot. He's no Silvio Berlusconi, but he can say some stupid, offensive things. But this time I'm on his side.

Livingston called US ambassador Robert Tuttle a "chiseling little crook" because since he took office last July the ambassador has refused to pay the City of London's £8-per-day-per-car congestion charge for all official US cars. Tuttle calls the charge a tax and points out that the Vienna Convention exempts foreign diplomats from local taxes. Livingstone says it's a toll, which diplomats have to pay for just like everbody else.

I'm with Livingstone. London charges the £8 for driving through its downtown area. If you don't go downtown, you don't pay the charge. Just like if you don't drive through a tollbooth, you don't pay a toll. It's a pretty straightforward point, and the ambassadors of fifty-five other countries pay the fee because they see it that way too.

The £400,000 that the US owes London isn't exactly chump change, but it's not a huge fraction of the embassy's budget either. And that's not the point, anyway. The point is that when you operate an embassy in a foreign country, you obey that country's laws when you're off embassy grounds and you uphold your treaty obligations at all times.

And, just as important, it's profoundly undiplomatic to alienate people in the country where you have your embassy. And make no mistake, whatever the British think of Livingstone, they're annoyed with the US. They want that money paid.

It's a really bad idea to let pettiness or stinginess hurt our relations with the UK. The UK is one of the few countries in the world willing to shoulder any of the financial and human cost of the Iraq war. If we send the message that money matters more than good relations, they might just start thinking the same thing on a much bigger scale.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Senatorial Perjury?

Over at Slate, Emily Bazelon points out, quite convincingly, that Senators Lindsey Graham and John Kyl, both Republicans, inserted into the congressional record of the debate over the Detainee Treatment Act, language that would seem to make it clear that all senators understood that it meant that the Supreme Court would have no authority to review the current detainee case at hand, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Though Graham and Kyl had the discussion, it apparently wasn't on the Senate floor, as a C-Span tape proves, and the discussion was inserted into the record after the bill had passed.

The two Senators filed a brief with the Supreme Court and they claim that they had the conversation, in live debate on the Senate floor before ther bill had passed.

Now, if it's proven that this claim is false, shouldn't there be consequences. The senators know darned well whether or not they had their discussion added to the record after the fact. Have they lied to the Supreme Court? Isn't it some sort of crime to do so? Sounds like a job for an ethics committee, at the very least. Or, the FBI.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Wind Power

The BBC reports that the UK is on pace to have 5% of its energy from wind power by 2010. That puts it halfway toward its goal of getting 10% of its power from renewable sources of one kind or another by 2010. Kinda cool.

Friday, March 24, 2006

What's really going on in Iraq?

In this time of government secrets and both danger and regulation restricting reporters on the ground in a country we've invaded, it's impossible for an outside commentator like me to answer the question posed by my own headline.

What's really going on in Iraq?

We really don't know, do we? Think about this... there's actually an active debate at the moment over whether or not Iraq is in a state of civil war. Is it? Isn't it? I couldn't tell you. Neither can people with better access and far better expertise. We simply don't know, at the moment.

But, whether or not Iraq is in civil war (and let's hope it isn't) the very fact that we're uncertain about it was one of the key arguments against invading and occupying the country in the first place. Those against the war believed that Iraq posed no imminent threat to the U.S. (and... it didn't, they were right about that, no matter speculations about Saddam's future intentions) and, more importantly, they warned that the operation would not be as cheap, easy or predictable as the Bush administration said it would be. But, nobody as far as I can tell, whether they were for or against the war, quite predicted that the situation would turn so chaotic that we wouldn't even know if Iraq had collapsed into civil war or not. The key warning from the anti-war folks was not that Iraq would certainly devolve into a civil war but that invading a country, even a far weaker country like Iraq, will certainly bring uncertainties that we'll have to deal with.

Think about it... we're currently occupying a country that has become so complicated that we can't even definitively describe the situation on the ground. We're now trapped in the realm of the unexpected and the unpredictable. We're paying lives and money in order to deal with a situation that we can't even describe.

It even turns out that while we thought and expected that Saddam's Republican Guard would be the main source of resistance that it was actually Saddam's guerilla fighters that were meant to oppose us.

Psrt of the anti-war rationale wasn't pacifist, it was practical. It was a warning that, in blatant spite of our military power, that the taskm of toppling a foreign government, occupying a foreign country, and then reshaping and rebuilding that country is so complicated that the reaction to our actions will be unpredictable and that it's at least likely, if not inevitable, that accomplishing all of that will be far more difficult and more costly than even the most candid and honest American government could ever predict.

For most of us who aren't in either the government or the military, this is just common sense. We've all tried to do things, in either our personal or professional lives, that seem so easy when we begin them. For me, it happens every time I write an article, whether it's a piece of straight reportage, analysis, or investigation. Every time I set down at my desk to knock one of those pieces out, it seems easy and clear. I know where it should start, where it should climax, and where it should end. It always seems to be the simple task of stringing words together according to where the start, climax and end should go. But... it never turns out that way. Complexities always creep in. I wind up having to explain something at a point that disrupts the narrative. Or, I wind up having to quote or explain a rebuttal or explanation at a point that destroys the story and turns what seemed so clear into a giant puzzle. This happens to me even when I'm writing the most straight forward stories. Complexity always sneaks in. The unexepected always turns up, and usually at the worst moments.

Okay, I was just writing about the travails of writing there. And, though I love to write and to read and though I have the utmost respect for writing and have devoted my very ability to pay rent and buy food to that craft, it's just writing. Sure, it can get hairy. But it's not war.

War is infinitely more complex than any article, or series of articles, that must explain frequent nuance.

An article can be complicated but... a war?

A war...

The ultimate stage where humans are both crafty to push what we think are the boundaries of human imagination and so desperate that they, at the same time, challenge what we think are the limits of human instinct.

If, for me, even a simple article can spiral out of control and, if for those of you not in my field, even an inventory in a retail store or a powerpoint presentation for a board meeting or even the seemingly simple procedures of filing taxes or disputing a traffic ticket can spiral out of control... then we all have to admit that war, a scenario that forces people, no matter what side they're on, to transcend both the highs and lows of not only human thought and human physical capacity or of human will, is almost always sure to create not only unexpected consequences, but unforseeable consequences and even unquantifiable realities.

Almost by instinct, I tend to sympathize with pacifists just because I don't want people to die for causes that are so abstract as the causes that tend to start, inflame, and fight wars.

But, beyond that (because that's really just an aesthetic preference on my part) I tend to oppose wars because they never have and probably never will, produce the results predicted by the people who either start them or who retaliate to continue them. People are simply so unpredictable that no side in a war will ever be able to say, with any certainty, what the results of the war will be. From a US standpoint, even wars that, had I been president at the time (like World War II) I would have fought, produced results that were unpredictable. Think about it, were you in power during the years of World War II, I'll bet you'd be like me and would have entered the war (though we all would have done it differently, perhaps entering at different times). But, who among us could have predicted that the result would have been the US launvhing two hydrogen bomb attacks and that the Russians would have either stolen or duplicated that technology and that the greater part of the post-World War II 20th century would have been defined by a stand off between two opposed powers who both could have wiped life from the Earth many times over?

See? Even World War II, our good war, our just war and our necessary war, yielded unimaginable consequences. I am a peacenik, if you define that as a person who will always error towards peace when making choices. I'm no pacifist, though. I would have, had I been in charge, sent the US into World War II, either just as Roosevelt did or even earlier than Roosevelt did.

My point in this isn't to say what even the neocons know -- that war is bad. My point is that war is worse than bad. Bad can be corrected and healed. War isn't just bad, it's unpredictable and, because it involves people who will push and redefine the limits of heroism, cowardice, creativity and endurance, it's not only something that's beyond our ability to forecast but it's beyond our ability to even describe or define.

As I said, I'm not a pure pacifist. Sometimes, we have to go to war. I support, in retrospect, World War II and I support, in shorter retrospect, our invasion of Afghanistan.

But when it comes to wars of choice, like our recent invasion of Iraq, I have to draw a line. If we find ourselves in the position we were in after 9-11, when we were savagely attacked and could identify a government harboring and supporting our attackers, then I can understand, even if I can't be enthusiastic about it, risking the uncertainties of war in order to both deprive our attackers of well documented and understood support and to punish our attackers for their crimes.

But, think about Iraq, where we were before we went to war and where we are now. Before the war we were, even without the benefit of hindsight, only in hypothetical danger. Now, we're occupying a country where we don't even know, with any certainty, what's going on. We basically risked dealing with the unpredictable nature of war, but we took that risk without properly understanding why we should take that risk.

What we did was gamble. There's nothing wrong with gambling. Taking risks in the face of the unknown is part of every human life, from the most mundane risks to the most profound.

But, smart leaders, leaders of societies and especially leaders of the US, which is the most powerful society on the planet at this point of history need to know when a gamble is warranted and necessary and when it isn't. We don't even know, right now, exactly what our invasion of Iraq has wrought. The question to me isn't so much "what went wrong?" or even "who was wrong?" The question to me is, "was this risk even worth taking?"

The Poor Have It So Good!

In today's Wall Street Journal, Douglas Besharov of the American Enterprise Institute uses census data to make light of the plight of America's poor. They have it better than ever, he argues. Which would only make sense, since America's rich also have things better than ever. Besharov doesn't mention that.

He does, however, trot out one of my favorite arguments about how good the poor doing. 93% of them own color televisions!

Uh, what century is Besharov living in? Where do you even by a black and white set these days? I searched for them on Froogle and came up with a lot of 5 inch black and white televisions that are part of portable radios. They're cheap. The most expensive run about $50. But, search for the color televisions and you'll find they're cheap too. You can get a set for under $100. No doubt, the poor also have VCRs (available for under $40) or DVD players (available for under $75).

But, what of it? Mass produced technology products tend to fall in price over time. That's good for the poor. But if you're going to use that fact to make the argument that Besharav does, which is: "Millions of low-income Americans are living better lives that they did before. Period," then I think you should make that argument in cities and towns along the Gulf Coast, in person.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


They recently dropped the analogy section from the SAT, which is sort of a shame for John Dunleavy, the organizer of the NYC St. Patrick's Day parade. If they'd dropped it years ago, Dunleavy might have scored better. Dunleavy, you see, has a problem with analogies.

When asked why he refused to let the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) march under its own banner, he said, "If an Israeli group wants to march in New York, do you allow neo-Nazis into their parade? If African-Americans are marching in Harlem, do they have to let the Ku Klux Klan into their parade?"

Um, gee, John, maybe not. But maybe they do let gay Israelis or gay black people march in their parades.

Or maybe I missed the manifesto in which the ILGO swore to massacre and terrorize straight Irish people.

In the same analogy tutorial, Dunleavy also asked, "If we let the ILGO in, is it the Irish Prostitute Association next?"


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

In Defense of Feingold

[Mike is recovering in the hospital after circumstances obliged him to foil an extraterrestrial invasion by bringing every NY Giants cheerleader to screaming orgasm three times in a six-hour period. Don't worry--it was neither alien vengeance nor overexertion that injured him; instead, he fell victim to a savage and wordless gratitude. He'll resume posting shortly.]

Remember 2002-3, when the Democrats in Congress were divided over whether they should energetically support Bush's call to invade Iraq or to blindly support his call? Remember how Russ Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the invasion? Remember how Congressional Democrats treated Feingold's nay vote as boneheaded at best and treasonous at worst?

Remember how Democratic leaders stopped savaging Feingold's vote when it turned out that Feingold had been right? Remember how it turned out that there weren't any WMDs in Iraq and that the Bush administration forgot to plan for the occupation? Remember how there was recently a brief period during which the Democratic leadership actually seemed willing to acknowledge that Feingold might have had the right--might even have been right--to take a principled stand?

You remember that? Well, forget it. Before you learn something from it. That's what the Democrats are doing.

A couple weeks ago, when Feingold introduced his motion to censure Bush over wiretapping, his fellow Democratic Senators ran for cover like wicked witches in a rainstorm. Even The Nation called him "an ass." Why? Because Feingold had taken an unpopular position again. Despite all these years of calling Bush everything from an incompetent to a criminal, the party leadership is refusing to back Feingold's censure motion--to even consider it--because they worry it will galvanize the base of a temporarily confused Republican Party. They worry it will alienate swing voters.

I'd be willing to entertain the argument that one has to be a calculating and even a little craven when it comes to election-year politics--you want your issues to test well in focus groups. But the Democratic leadership has calculated and cravened its way right out of power over the past decade. These brilliant triangulators, these no-nonsense vote-grabbers have lost ground in every election to which they've applied their tactical genius since 1994.

If they can't get their tactics right, maybe they should just go ahead and get their values right. Heck, maybe it would be easier for the voters to decide that they agree with what the Democratic Party stands for if the party were willing to, say, stand for something. And to stand for it when it might help the voters, rather than standing for it three years after the fact, when it can only help campaigners.

A small reminder in case the Democratic leadership isn't good at math: in three years Bush will either be former President Bush or President-for-Life Bush. Either way, it'll be way too late for a censure.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Boo, Lieberman!

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) has introduced a bill to censure Pres. Bush for breaking the law by authorizing the NSA domestic wiretapping program. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Ass-CT) has said (to paraphrase), "Now, fellas, we all know that letting the NSA spy on calls made by American citizens is illegal, but heck, we're at war, so a healthy Congress isn't gonna be a-fussin' and a-feudin' over what's done already. A healthy Congress is gonna be doin' everything it can to make the wiretapping legal for the future."

So, let me get this straight. We catch the President breaking the law and lying to us and our Congress about it, and Sen. Lieberman wants us to do everything we can to change the law? Priority number one is changing the law?

The Republicans, at least, have the internally consistent stance that Bush didn't break the law, which for them means that the only priority is improving surveillance. But Lieberman admits that Bush broke the law and STILL doesn't want to do anything about it.

WTF? I mean, honestly, What. The. Fuck? With all due repect, Senator Lieberman, you're not due any respect on this one. The worst thing I can imagine for this or any country is acting as if the President--or anyone in government for that matter--weren't governed by the laws on the books but rather by the laws that he thinks should be on the books. To say that our laws don't matter because we can trust the good heart of the man in charge is to say that democracy and rule of law have been charming failures but failures nonetheless, and that it's time to put our trust in a charismatic leader who talks with tears in his eyes about the Fatherland.

Why is it that these days everybody who shouts loudest about "fighting for our way of life" thinks of the Constitution and the laws of this country as so much funny-shaped toilet paper?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Get Thee to the Left of Me, Satan

Mike is right about the ports deal--seems like a tempest in teacup. From everything I understand, security at the ports, whoever controls them, remains Homeland Security's bailiwick. That's reason enough for concern, but Dubai doesn't enter into that one way or the other.

Now, part of me wants to praise the Democrats for finally playing some hardball. They've been nutless wonders for so long that I'd started to question not only their principles but their desire for power. I'm used to unprincipled politicians, but unambitious ones make me nervous.

Still, I wish they'd pick a real issue. It's not as if the Bush Administration weren't giving them enough choices.

And the same is true of Congressional Republicans. Now they decide to buck their President? For this non-issue?

Homeland Security committee chair Rep. Peter King was unnervingly honest in explaining why the Republicans are fighting Bush on the ports deal: "We're not going to let the Democrats get to the right of us on national security."

Not: "We're not going to let the President endanger our national security." Not even: "We have some reservations about this." But, we're not going to let the Democrats look tougher than us, no matter what.

Never mind the actual merits of the deal. Never mind whether or not there's a real security risk. Never mind whether there might be more important issues that Congress could spend its time on.

No. It's (always) time to posture.

This is so goddamn disheartening. It's childish. It's pandering. It's destructive. Watching the Democrats and the Republicans fight to stake out bully-boy status on the ports issue is like watching a replay of the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s or the anti-Hussein hysteria of 2002.

There are more important problems. There are real issues.

Not that you'd know it watching these bozos at work.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Mike on Fox re: Iran-see below

My last post covered up Mike's timely announcement of his appearance on Fox to debate Steve Forbes over Iran policy. See his post below.

Radical Proposals About Congressional Power

Lately, the Bush administration and a whole host of supporters of a powerful Presidency have been trying to expand the powers of the Presidency.

But I’ve been reading a lot of radical libertarian and progressive left-wing political philosophy, and there's actually a pretty convincing case for keeping those powers out of the executive's hands and granting them instead to Congress. The extent of those powers might sound a little extreme, but there are good reasons for eventually granting them to Congress. So I'm hopeful that these ideas might some day turn to be important for how our nation is governed.

Here are the crucial powers that I think the Congress should have:

1) To set up courts inferior to the Supreme Court. [This could in theory include courts to try "enemy combatants."]

2) To declare war and to order punishments and retaliations short of declaring war. [Sure, the President is commander in chief, but it's the people's job to decide when to go to war and the commanders' job to figure out how to do it.]

3) To raise the military and to determine the nature and extent of its funding. [It's probably best to limit that funding to no more than two years per authorization in order to keep the military-industrial complex at least a little in check.]


4) To make rules saying what the military can, can’t, should, and shouldn't do. [The military is, at least in theory, the armed will of the American people, not the muscular arm of the President.]

For some background reading on these somewhat drastic proposals, you can check out this site.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Forbes on Fox Appearance Tomorrow: Iran and Nukes

I almost blundered into my appearance on Forbes on Fox tomorrow, where I argue that the world can live with, even if it's not desirable, Iran developing nuclear weapons. I say blundered because, even though I've posted the same thing on this blog a few times, I realized as the tapings approached that I was arguing a very counter-intuitive position and that Steve Forbes, who is, to say the least, a very formidable debater, was on the other side of the issue. If you get a chance to see it (11 eastern on Fox News) you can decide how well I did (or how well I didn't) but host David Asman decided to let me have a lot (by television standards) of time to flesh out my arguments and I think I finally, after doing this for awhile, managed to actually pick my best points rather than wasting my time with blather.

As an aside, I'm finally feeling really comfortable arguing on TV and my heart and stomach now seem to stay normal, even right before I'm asked to speak. So, I'm finally saying what I want to say. To the best of my recollection, here's the argument I made:

First, of course it's not cause for celebration when any country joins the nuclear powers. Ideally, after all, nobody would use atoms as weapons.

Second, the foreign policy that the U.S. is pursuing provides reasonable motives for any country that might have (or might someday have) problems with the US to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

Third, in a practical sense, while one person with a nuclear weapon can create a tragedy, on the scale of global politics, the size of an arsenal matters. Iran with one suitcase nuke could destroy an American city. But America, with a 50 year head start on developing such weapons, could destroy Iran. Over and over and over and over again and we all know it. It's not "Mutually Assured Destruction." It's "You stick a knife in us, we bleed really badly, then we cut you in so many places that you're mush."

Fourth, even though I don't trust or agree with Iran's government or with any radical culture (whether that radicalism come from religion or ethos) I think that all people have enough innate instincts towards survival that it's quite fair to say that having nukes is one thing but that using them (especially when retaliation seems inevitable) is quite another.

Finally, I argued that physics trumps politics. We might not want other countries, especially countries who are our stated rivals, to have nuclear weapons and we might have treaties that have quite effectively used carrots and sticks to keep those nations from developing those weapons, that, in the end, we're really talking about a basic fact of the universe here: matter is composed of atoms. Atoms can be isolated and manipulated. When the nucleous of an atom is broken apart, energy is released. That energy, in the right circumstances, can destroy. This is just a fact of life in the universe. All humans, regardless of culture, have the ability to manipulate the universe we inhabit. Treaties, threats and bribes can slow things down but nothing can change the fact that in the same way that humans can fashion rocks and sticks into spears, they can turn atoms into bombs. So, like it or not, we simply have to deal with, as a consequence of living in a universe where fundamental particles can be manipulated by people, that countries can and sometimes will, manipulate those particles into weapons.

Well, I surely gave a lot more elaboration here than I did on television, but that was the crux of my point of view. Do I want a nuclear Iran? Of course not. Nobody does. But, and I do remember saying this and having it used, cleverly and fairly, against me -- a nuclear Iran isn't the end of the world.

What I'll say here, that I didn't and couldn't have said there, is that... it had better NOT be the end of the world. The question isn't whether or not we want Iran to be a nuclear power. The question isn't even really about Iran. The real question is: given that nuclear weapons are something that is attainable by any person, organization or nation that sets out to build them, can we deal with that fact without provoking or allowing catastrophe?

I think we can. I'm by no means predicting that we'll get through the course of human history, even the immediate course, without a nuclear tragedy. One could very well argue, after all, that we've already failed at that, if not at Hiroshima than certainly at Nagasaki.

But I think I can still argue that we shouldn't, especially in a panic, fail to attribute the universal (at least, on a grand scale) survival instinct that humans have to cultures that might oppose us. I remember, when I was a kid growing up during the tail end of the Cold War, hearing people imply that the Soviet Union (it's government and it's people) might court Mutually Assured Destruction because they simply don't value life the way we Americans and our allies in Europe do. That turned out to be false. They do. They always did. Even during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when humanity foolishly taunted the brink, when the Soviets were led by a government far more extreme than the Gorbachev government of my childhood, the Societ government knew better, as did ours. With all of that power on the line, that influence at risk and pride at stake, we all knew better. Yet, two decades after that, during my youth, I was still told that they didn't. They might start it all. They might risk it all. They don't even care if they lose.


They didn't. They wouldn't have. They never did.

In this divided world, we're led to think, sometimes, that we as individuals have little in common with individuals in places that we know very little about and will likely never visit. We're led to think that the differences between a secular American in Kansas City and a devout Muslim in Tehran are wider than they actually are. A guy like Joseph Campbell or Carl Jung shocks the hell out of us when he points out that people who will never meet and who tell their stories in such different ways actually share the same fundamental understanding of the world.

Truth is, we're not "all the same," by any means. Humans live in very disparate and sometimes opposing ways and they believe some very wild and often contradictory things and those contradictions and differences have led to a lot of death and war and yet...

...trite as this will sound, we are all human. We all share a physical existence that we trace back 200,000 years but that can actually be traced back to the sun that burned all of our constituent parts into being, and can actually be traced back farther than that.

Back to Iran...

Iran with nukes? No, not good. Of course not.

Cause for panic, though? It's not that, either. Nukes are a problem because any individual or group can break the basic mold of humanity and can act on the unthinkable. But that's as true of us, or Britain or Pakistan or Israel or France or Russia or any country with such power.

But to me, in the grand scheme and in terms of what's likely -- a nuclear Iran won't insitigate a war in the U.S. or with Israel or with anyone. The consequences are too severe. All legitimate fears about radical individuals or groups aside (and those are legitimate fears) I believe that the mass of human impulses push us towards survival rather than self destruction.

It's not a perfect impulse. The world is, heck, reality is, after all, dangerous. We were all born with the power to extinguish ourselves. But also, fortunately, with a tendency not to.

I wonder how much of that I snuck into 3 or 4 30 second long soundbites? Not much, I'm sure. But I think I got the feeling out.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Shark Spies

DARPA, the Pentagon weird projects unit that seems to make public only its strangest ideas, is at work to make sharks into remote-controlled spies. DARPA is researching ways to put various electrodes into sharks' brains and ping them by sonar to command them. Since sharks move soundlessly and provide their own power, remote-controlled sharks could do all sorts of surveillance that manned and robot subs can't.

Now, mostly this makes me think that before we spend millions teaching sharks the subtleties of martini-sipping and womanizing, we might want to, you know, balance the budget or teach American schoolchildren enough biology to know the difference between a shark and a quark.

But let's just take the idea on its own terms for a moment.

Part of me thinks that the notion is flat-out ludicrous. I'm pretty sure that in 1987 Berke Breathed toyed with running a series of Bloom County strips about shark spies but decided it would be too over the top and instead went a joke about the Pentagon using a big elastic band and a basselope to launch nukes at the Russkies. But part of me is just creeped out by the fact that DARPA is building on successful, non-military research in remote-controlled animals of all sorts (!), which means that it might actually work. Who knows if it's a good idea, but it really might work.

Ever feel like we've gone straight through Brave New World right into Strange Screwed World?

All I can say, is that I'll know for sure that things have gotten out of hand if in twenty years CNNMSNBCFOXAOLGOOGLE News is bio-downloading footage of American shark soldiers taking casualties from improvised explosive chipmunks while patrolling the Baghdad Spaceport Road.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Questions Aren't Evil

I wonder how George W. Bush reacted when sweetheart Laura Welch dropped to one knee and asked him to make her the happiest woman in the world. Or maybe she hid the engagement ring in guide to vocabulary growth that she mischeviously gave him on Valentine's Day.

Clearly, I don't know how the Dubya Bushes got engaged. But I do know that she asked him. How do I know? Because Dubya would never have popped the question. Dubya don't do questions.

Dubya likes simple, clear statements. And Dubya seems perfectly willing to forgive people who massage unclear information to a happy ending if it gets him the sort of clear statements that let him pretend there aren't any questions. Of course al-Qaeda was operating in Iraq before the invasion. Of course there were WMDs all over Iraq. Of course the people of Iraq would greet us as liberators. Of course the costs of the invasion would be paid for by Iraqi oil. Of course. There's no question.

There's no question--of course his administration was ready for Hurricane Katrina. How do I know? Well, in part because he told us so afterward. But mostly because Dubya sat through a long briefing four days before Katrina hit in which federal disaster relief officials told him that the storm could be catastrophic and that the levees might well break. And Dubya didn't ask a question. Not one.

Questions, you see, are for pussies. And terrorists. Pussy terrorists. Anybody who asks questions (Don Rumsfeld and his self-answering rhetorical questions aside) doesn't already know what Jesus would do and therefore isn't cut out to run this great nation. When you're in charge, you know. Or you tell yourself that you know, come hell or high water.

(We had the high water after Katrina, so you know what's next.)

Now, some would say that Bush claiming after Katrina hit that "“I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" doesn't really square with the fact a lot of people did anticipate just that and then told him so. And some would ask whether the President should have asked some questions earlier or at least told the truth afterward. But then some people are pussy terrorists.