best when viewed in low light


Power to the People?

It's nice to know there's another perspective in the world.

I can only hope that people don't get all in a huff about Venezuela becoming a Socialist country. It doesn't really matter what ideology they espouse as a government and nation if it works.

While the idea of granting major restructuring powers to a president seems unnecessary, it has the potential to expedite the process. It also has the potential to founder in corruption and the betterment of a small cadre of insiders, rather than achieving its ambitious aims.

The idea of more effectively providing the necessities of a modern existence to an entire nation's population is noble. But socialism is an economic philosophy that engenders moralistic policy making and openly promotes vested interests, often to the detriment of a nation's long term productivity.

Odd that most capitalist/democratic countries practice the same abuses under another name.

But, again, if it works, the underlying philosophy is ultimately irrelevant.


Get Out! The Recap

How much stupider can you be? Or, at least, that's what I think when I see this and this.

Don't start shit that no one can finish! This and this convince me that our administration has a death wish.

Living in the present means living towards the future, too. Finally, a voice of sanity, from the last place on Earth from which I would expect sanity to spew.

Are we going to survive?

January 18, 2007
Bush on Iraq Plan: "I Believe It Will Work"

Filed at 8:36 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush insisted on Thursday his reworked Iraq strategy could succeed as he worked on a State of the Union speech expected to include a new defense of his much-criticized policy.

Bush's plan to send 21,500 more U.S. troops has been hammered by Democrats and many Republicans since it was unveiled last week. He suggested it should be given a chance and challenged critical lawmakers to offer an alternative.

``I believe it will work,'' Bush told Belo television, a U.S. group of local stations.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush would use part of his prime-time televised address on Tuesday before a joint session of the U.S. Congress -- now controlled by Democrats -- to talk about the war on terrorism, which the administration says includes Iraq.

It comes as Democrats and many of Bush's own Republicans are preparing to vote on a nonbinding resolution to protest sending more troops to Iraq and to call for more diplomacy and an ``appropriately expedited'' transfer of military responsibilities to Iraqi forces.

``I understand resolutions,'' Bush told Sinclair television, another group of local stations. ``My advice to those who are speaking out against a new plan that hasn't been given a chance to work is present a plan you think will work. If disaster is not an option, what do you think will make it successful in Iraq?'' he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress would vote to oppose Bush's new Iraq war strategy because it disagreed with the policy, but that she would not move to block funding for a troop increase.

``Democrats will never cut off funding for our troops when they are in harm's way.'' Pelosi said in a taped interview with ABC's ``Good Morning America,'' airing on Friday. ``The president knows that because the troops are in harm's way, that we won't cut off the resources. That's why he's moving so quickly to put them in harm's way.''

Bush's attempts to gain traction with his plan come amid frictions with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who disputed Bush's contention this week that the hanging of Saddam Hussein looked like a revenge killing and said Iraq's need for U.S. forces would drop dramatically if Washington would speed up the equipping and arming of Iraq's security forces.

Bush tried to avoid a public clash with Maliki.

``My new strategy is aimed at helping the Iraqi government do exactly what the prime minister said what he wants to do,'' he told Sinclair. ``Now it's up to him.''

Snow said while ``there's a disagreement on the handling of the Saddam execution,'' the two governments are cooperating and ''he's (Maliki) not in a fight with us.''

With the debate in Washington dominated by Iraq, Bush planned to devote a great portion of his speech to raise the profile of his domestic agenda.

That includes changing immigration laws, improving health care and education and reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

He is widely expected to announce ways to expand the production and use of alternative fuels. He is under pressure from European leaders to take bolder steps to slow greenhouse-gas emissions many scientists blame for global warming.

Bush opposes mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas emissions, saying they would hurt the U.S. economy, and prefers voluntary ways of reducing them.

Snow said Bush's objective was to ``balance the needs of security and at the same time also the environment and you can expect him to make that linkage in the speech.''

January 18, 2007
Retired Generals Criticize Bush’s Plan for Iraq

A panel of retired generals told a United States Senate committee today that sending 21,500 additional troops to Iraq will do little to solve the underlying political problems in the country.

“Too little and too late,” is the way Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, a former chief of the Central Command, described the effort to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The additional troops are intended to help pacify Baghdad and a restive province, but General Hoar said American leaders had failed to understand the political forces at work in the country. “The solution is political, not military,” he said.

“A fool’s errand,” was the judgment of Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who commanded troops in the first Gulf War. He said other countries had concluded that the effort in Iraq was not succeeding, noting that “our allies are leaving us and will be gone by summer.”

Describing the situation in Iraq as “desperate but not terminal,” he said Iraqis had to try to make political deals domestically and negotiate for stability with neighboring nations, particularly Syria and Iran.

The American effort in Iraq has gone badly because the United States did not understand the consequences of deposing Saddam Hussein, said Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, a former director of the National Security Agency. He said the principal beneficiary of the war was Iran and Al Qaeda, not the United States.

“There is no way to win a war that is not in your interests,” he said.

In statements and in questioning, senators were skeptical about the increased commitment of troops and the likely outcome of the deployment. Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, noted that he had raised questions about the effort in Iraq as long ago as 2003, and said, “Today, I don’t have an understanding about how it will work militarily.”

One general warned that even a plan to start withdrawing American forces from the country carried the risk that the armed Iraqi population will step up the level of attacks. “We will be shot at as we are going out.” said Gen. Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army.

January 18, 2007
Iran’s President Criticized Over Nuclear Issue

TEHRAN, Jan. 18 — Iran’s outspoken president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appears to be under pressure from the highest authorities in Iran to end his involvement in the country’s nuclear program, a sign that his political capital is declining as his country comes under increasing international pressure.

Less than a month after the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran to curb its nuclear program, two hard-line newspapers, including one owned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on the president to stay out of all matters nuclear.

In the hazy world of Iranian politics, such a public rebuke was seen as a sign that the Supreme Leader himself — who has final say on all matters of state —may no longer support the president as the public face of defiance to the West. It is the first sign that the president has lost any degree of confidence from the leader, a potentially damaging reality for a president who has rallied his nation and defined his administration by declaring nuclear power to be Iran’s “inalienable right.”

It was unclear, however, whether this was merely an effort to improve Iran’s public image by lowering Mr. Ahmadinejad’s public profile or signaled any change in policy.

The Iranian presidency is a relatively weak position with no official authority over foreign policy, the domain of the supreme leader. But Mr. Ahmadinejad has used the bully pulpit to insert himself into the nuclear debate, and as long as he appeared to enjoy Mr. Khamenei’s support, he could continue.

While Iran remains publicly defiant, insisting it will move ahead with its nuclear ambitions, it is under increasing strain as political and economic pressures grow. And the message that Iran’s most senior officials seem to be sending is that the president, with his harsh approach and caustic comments, is undermining Iran’s cause and its standing.

Mr. Ahmadinejad dismissed the Security Council resolution as “a piece of torn paper.“

But the daily newspaper Jomhouri-Elsami, which belongs to Ayatollah Khamenei, said, “The resolution is certainly harmful for the country,” adding that it is “too much to call it a piece of torn paper.”

The newspaper said the nuclear case requires its own diplomacy, “sometimes toughness and sometimes flexibility.”“

In another sign of pressure on the president to distance himself from the nuclear issue, a second newspaper run by an aide to the country’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, also pressed him to end his involvement with the nuclear program. Mr. Larijani also ran for president and was selected for his post by the supreme leader.

“They want to minimize the consequences of sanctions now that they have been imposed,” said Mohammad Atrianfar, the former head of the daily Shargh and a reformist politician. “But they don’t have clear strategy and they are taking one step at a time.”

Iran’s president entered office more than a year ago as an outsider. He was mayor of Tehran and promised to challenge the status quo, to equally distribute Iran’s oil wealth and to restore what he saw as the lost values of the Islamic revolution. His was a populist message, centered on a socialist economic model and Islamic values. And from the start he found opposition from the right and left, in the Iranian parliament and among those who viewed themselves as being more pragmatic.

That pressure has continued — and seems now to have gained more credibility in the face of the sanctions and Iran’s troubled economic standing. The United States’ increased pressure on Iran in Iraq has also raised concerns in Tehran and may be behind efforts to restrain the president, political analysts in Tehran said.

“The resolution has decreased Iran’s political credibility in the international community and so other countries cannot defend Iran,” Ahmad Shirzad, a former member of parliament and reformist politician said.

Although the sanctions imposed by the Security Council on Dec. 23 were limited to Iran’s nuclear program, they have started to cause disruptions in the economy.

About 50 members of parliament signed a letter this week calling on the president to appear before parliament to answer questions about the nuclear case. The signatories need at least another 22 members to sign before it can be enforced.

In another letter 150 lawmakers criticized the president for his economic policies, which have led to a surge in inflation, and for his failure to submit his annual budget for next year in time.

The stock market, which was already in a slump, continued to decline more rapidly in the past month as buyers stayed away. The daily Kargozaran reported last week the number of traders decreased by 46 percent since the Security Council resolution was passed.

“The resolution has had a psychological effect on people,” said Ali Hagh, an economist in Tehran. “It does not make sense for investors not to consider political events when they want to invest their money.”

The daily Kargozaran reported that a group of powerful businessmen, the Islamic Coalition Party, met with Mohammad Nahavandian, a senior official at the Supreme National Security Council, and called for moderation in the country’s nuclear policies to prevent further damage to the economy.

Eight major European banks have severed their business ties with Iran.

Economists say that move by the banks will also lead to a further increase in the inflation because importers must turn to complicated ways to finance purchases.

“The nuclear issue has paved the way for other forms of pressures on Iran,” said Ahmad Shirzad, a reformist politician and former member of parliament.

Despite Mr. Ahmadinejad’s harsh language since the resolution was passed, Mr. Khamenei has not referred to the resolution directly and only once said that Iran will not give up its right to develop nuclear power. Mr. Larijani has said that Iran will not quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or bar International Atomic Energy Inspectors despite earlier threats.

Nazila Fathi reported from Tehran, and Michael Slackman from Cairo.

January 18, 2007
Bernanke: Budget Action Needed Before "Storm"

Filed at 12:50 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON ( Reuters) - Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke bluntly warned the U.S. Congress on Thursday that failure to act soon to deal with the budgetary strains posed by an aging U.S. population could lead to serious economic harm.

``We are experiencing what seems likely to be the calm before the storm,'' Bernanke told the Senate Budget Committee as he acknowledged projections that the U.S. budget deficit could hold steady or even narrow in the near-term.

``However, if early and meaningful action is not taken, the U.S. economy could be seriously weakened, with future generations bearing much of the cost,'' he added, citing worrisome long-term projections on the cost of programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

``The longer we wait, the more severe, the more draconian, the more difficult the adjustments are going to be,'' Bernanke cautioned as he answered questions before the panel.

The Fed chairman did not discuss the outlook for interest rates in his testimony, the first he has delivered since Democrats took control of Congress after November elections. He is expected to testify on Fed policy on February 14-15.

Bernanke also hewed closely to a previous pledge to remain neutral in Washington budget policy debates, steering clear of specific advice on how Congress might meet or lower the projected costs of retirement and health-care programs even as he warned of the risks of inaction.

``Dealing with the resulting fiscal strains will pose difficult choices for the Congress, the administration, and the American people,'' Bernanke said.


Bernanke cited projections by the Congressional Budget Office that showed spending on entitlement programs would reach about 15 percent of U.S. gross domestic product by 2030, a size he said risked fueling an ever-growing mountain of debt.

``A vicious cycle may develop in which large deficits lead to rapid growth in debt and interest payments, which in turn adds to subsequent deficits,'' Bernanke said.

``Ultimately, this expansion of debt would spark a fiscal crisis, which could be addressed only by very sharp spending cuts or tax increases, or both,'' he added.

The Fed chief said whatever budget decisions were taken, tax rates would need to be set at a level that achieved ``an appropriate balance of spending and revenues in the long run.''

Bernanke said advocates of lower taxes would have to accept lower spending on entitlement programs. Likewise, proponents of more-expansive government programs must recognize the need for higher taxes brought about by higher spending, he added.

``Unfortunately, economic growth alone is unlikely to solve the nation's impending fiscal problems,'' he said.

President George W. Bush has also warned of the risks of inaction but a plan he offered to shore-up Social Security by allowing workers to invest retirement accounts in stocks and bonds was rejected by Democrats, who argued it would undermine retirement security.

Trustees for the retirement program said last year Social Security would exhaust its assets in 2040, while the trust fund for Medicare, which covers retiree health-care costs, would run dry in just 12 years.


Virtual Diamonds - This is Only the Beginning

This is the beginning of the essay I planned to submit along with my graduate school application today. The completed version - when I get there - will of course be submitted unsolicited as an addendum to my portfolio. Read on.

Virtual Diamonds: The Economics of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games and the Impact on Perceptions of the Value of Intangible Goods

A revolution is occurring in our economy. As economists in rich countries note the diminishing returns of happiness from large increases in wealth , and the developing world strives to reach even the most basic foundations of modern life , a conceptual shift in human understanding of value is taking place in the vibrant economies of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) . The integration of these “virtual” economies with the “real world” economy will have far reaching implications across all social systems, and may cause a dramatic revision in global systems of exchange and the valuation of goods, especially intangible goods and their importance to the global economy.

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) exist in a digitally rendered environment, popularly referred to as “virtual” or “synthetic” worlds. Definitions of these worlds use three main components: computer- or digitally-mediated interactions with humans, persistence of the world through time, and the existence of a complete environment based on a set of rules . The exceptional aspect of this communication technology is its immersive quality, which translates into an investment of emotional energy through an (almost) all-encompassing medium. This immensely powerful pull relies on two essential human phenomena: the brain registers all visual stimuli as “real”, and collective confidence or belief reinforces the individual’s tendency to have “real” interactions with the game environment . Because of this, the societies growing in these worlds develop many, if not all of the systems that arise from human interactions in Earth societies.

The economies of virtual worlds demand particular notice, partly because they have already resulted in measurable transactions with Earth societies, and partly because they have the most potential for generating conflict with the systems and conventions accepted by Earth’s economy. The mainstream acceptance, and future integration of the conceptual and financial aspects of virtual world economies, however, has the potential for far-reaching benefits to the global economy in the form of expanded productivity, harnessed human capital and the redistribution, or reassessment of wealth.

The popular, and, to a small extent, academic debate surrounding the emerging economies of MMORPGs hinges on the real world monetizing of the goods that exist in these virtual worlds. The exchange of real world currencies for these goods outside of the game platforms is called Real Money Trade (RMT). For some critics and players, the commodifying of these goods by assigning a dollar value represents a rejection of these worlds as fantasy, and is resented as cheating and undermining the purity of play, inspiring some game companies and player organizations to take an active position against RMT. Sony Online Entertainment, the developer of EverQuest and partner (with LucasArts) in Star Wars: Galaxies, “has done a u-turn in its hardline position on virtual trade. The company was adamant about pursuing professional virtual traders, and even made a deal with eBay to prosecute sellers of EverQuest goods. Yet last month it announced Sony Online Station Exchange, a service that acts as an in-game marketplace for players who wish to trade real money for virtual properties” . The potential for real world profits is too compelling to reject for philosophical objections; MMORPG goods have already developed trade on a massive scale – some estimates for the year 2006 put the total value at around $1 billion, rising to $1.5 billion in 2007 . For all participants, the existence of RMT has altered the perceptions of virtual worlds as games, and for some, has changed the nature of their participation in these worlds .

Concepts of value, the foundation of all systems of economic exchange, develop in virtual worlds in a similar way to the concepts of value that apply to the physical world, even though the goods that exist in these game worlds may not be rendered in physical form. The intangible value of virtual goods distinguishes them from their physical equivalents only in cases where the primary function of the good is for physical consumption; virtual food and water, though they may sustain your avatar (your virtual world projected identity) in the game, can not hold the same value to your physical body. All other real world goods, however, retain elements of intangible value that are directly translated into the virtual realm. Building a large, architecturally imposing home serves two purposes – it provides shelter, certainly, but its value is derived from the intangible aspects of status and wealth that it represents. The value of a virtual good is derived from the same intangible elements of collective consensus – the more that the society desires it and individuals can apply it to their real or perceived advantage, the more valuable it becomes.

Value is a social construct. As expressed in economist language, “Society consists of thousands or millions of people in decentralized relationships, quietly expressing their interests; the aggregate effect of their activity is to create an anonymous force that dictates the price of things” . The “activity” refers to the buying and selling of goods and services - this movement is the economy. Since the introduction of Keynesian economics, even capitalist governments (and in the game context, the developers) have influenced the supply side of the market to manipulate price, but the value of goods and services still exists as a social perception. “The more people who accept an illusion…the more it becomes real. A ‘share in a company’ is not a tangible thing, for example, but folk deal in them on stock exchanges every day. If a player can buy and sell virtual goods in a virtual world, there’s no conceptual barrier to buying and selling them in the real world. People can trade in intellectual property, so why not virtual property” ?

All forms of currency, from the cowrie shells of ancient times to the stocks, bonds and e-gold of today, have derived value from a collective agreement. The abstraction of value into currency, and the comparative valuation and exchange of many currencies, has created increasingly complex and expansive systems of exchange, upon which much of the planet’s population is now entirely dependent – the advanced industrialized countries most of all. “Egyptians were casting bars of gold thousands of years ago; but the thrust of human history has been away from hard money and toward virtual money, like paper bills, or even electronic pulses shot off by the trillion across the ether” . Metcalf goes on to say that, “the set of conventions that lend money its credibility as a medium of exchange must be universal and stable, so that the shells for which I relinquished my good cow today will be worth as much tomorrow, when I exchange them for something else.” .

Gold served as the universally accepted common denominator of value until forty years ago, when the world’s economies formally freed their currencies from the Bretton-Woods Agreement and the limitations of the gold standard. The United States government still owns huge reserves, despite the obvious fact that, “If the markets and economies were to crash, a basement full of gold bullion would just take space. I couldn’t imagine farmers trading chickens and milk cows or fresh vegetables for gold bullion. For guns, ammunition, gas and oil, yes. For gold, no” . Nonetheless, for a small and enthusiastic cadre of traders and hoarders, gold is the only medium of exchange that they trust – into which they have invested unparalleled value. For them, “Gold is money; and not just money, but the one true money” . This collective illusion of value is worth approximately $2 trillion annually in movement through the world’s economy . It is, however, interesting to note that the value of the world’s gold is expressed in dollars, what the gold bugs call “fiat currency” , because the dollars that gold can be converted into have more practical value in the real world.

If we understand that all currency serves as a representation of value, a medium of exchange to acquire those things we need to live – at a lower or higher standard – then the tangible existence of the currency itself is irrelevant. We should, therefore, have no difficulty accepting the viable economic contribution of digital gold pieces, or Linden Dollars (from Second Life). And once we move past the conceptual barrier of “real”, or tangible, as a predicate for value, and see parity in the convention of value accepted by participants in MMORPGs, we can address the globally economic relevance of monetizing the productivity generated by humans in “games”. For the purposes of the remainder of this essay, then, we shall agree to suspend the distinction between “real” and “virtual” economic activity, and discuss all MMORPG-generated value as equal to value in the physical world.

If currency is merely a representation of value, its form irrelevant, we must take a closer look at what these markers of value attempt to quantify. This is simple: all money represents the hours of time and levels of skill we do not have to “spend” on acquiring the goods and services we need (or want) to live.


Pure Political Propaganda - Get Active!

Generation Engage []

Damned If You Don't

We've sauntered so far down the path of arrogant imperialism in Iraq that it almost seems ludicrous to start growing a conscience now. Or at least, to start thinking of ways to leave before cleaning up our mess.

It makes me think of late night frat parties, where the usual response to someone vomiting up their cold pizza and alcohol poisoning onto the floor is to cover it with a piece of newspaper.

I never thought I could agree with the Bush administration on their military policy, but for once I think they have the right idea. Not "right" in the sense of right and wrong, but right in the sense of you-fucked-it-up-so-now-you-clean-it-up.

But, as usual with the Bushies, they have the right idea and the wrongest possible plan for execution. No pun intended.

What I really think we should do is pull out and then foot the bill, or at least split it with Iraq and her immediate neighbors for the repatriation of refugees and rebuilding infrastructure. This would be a much more positive outcome for billions of US taxpayer dollars than sending our own children to be killed.

I've been reading about the utter incompetence of the US government in accomodating the massive movement of rural Southern blacks to urban areas, especially Chicago and the Northeast, after the collapse of the sharecropper system. What's so interesting to note about the inability of the enfranchised white people to even acknowledge the systemic nature of the social and economic barriers facing blacks (not just at that time, but throughout US history) is that the same self-righteous, isolationist psychological and collective tactics are still used today - with blacks, certainly, but with anyone else that has a different, less privileged life, and thereby threatens the self-indulgent stupor in which we blissfully float.


Propaganda Wars - Vol. 007, Pt. 2

It's hard to stay involved in international politics when it sometimes seems impossibly inane, and the rest of the time it seems like "cunts are running the world" (to take a phrase from Jarvis Cocker).

So the US has launched attacks on groupings of Somalian "Islamists", purported supporters of Al Qaeda. And even though they deny that these air raids are continuing, eye witnesses claim that more attacks have been launched in the same area.

Given that there are three or four battleships off the cost of Somalia, which is roughly the size of Texas, my bet is that they plan to carry on for a while.

Funny that they're back to Somalia, since Afghanistan and Iraq are (almost) complete failures.

And why does the reporting from Al Jazeera look exactly like the stuff on the BBC?

These articles are nearly identical. Word for word. Disturbing? Or just bad reporting? Or just no reporting, perhaps?

I'd also like to note the use of a few interesting phrases:
"first overt military action in Somalia since 1994" - OVERT?
"they were targeting suspected al-Qaeda leaders" - SUSPECTED?
"accuses the Islamists of having links to al-Qaeda..." - ACCUSES?
"...charges they deny" - What can I say? Guilty before proven...anything other than Islamist?

And then, of course, the NY Times:

January 9, 2007
U.S. Airstrike Aims at Qaeda Cell in Somalia
WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 — United States Air Force gunships have struck against suspected operatives of Al Qaeda in southern Somalia, according to a senior Pentagon official and news agency reports.

On Monday night, the official described the first raid, which was carried out Sunday night. A report by Reuters today said there was apparently a new strike today.

The latest attack by American warplanes apparently came in a remote area of southern Somalia and killed between 22 and 27 people, according to an elder from a neighboring town, who spoke to Reuters by telephone from the Kenya-Somalia border crossing at Liboi.

The American involvement complicates matters for the transitional government of Somalia, which is struggling to establish order after suddenly winning control of most of the country from Islamic forces in recent weeks.

The country’s transitional president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, said today that he had given American forces permission to carry out the strike on Sunday.

That attack, by an AC-130 gunship operated by the Special Forces Command, is believed to have produced multiple casualties, the Pentagon official said. It was not known immediately known whether the casualties included members of a Qaeda cell that American officials have long suspected was hiding in Somalia.

Special Forces units operating from an American base in Djibouti are conducting a hunt Qaeda operatives who were forced to flee Mogadishu, the Somali capital, when the Islamic militants who formerly dominated the capital were driven out by an Ethiopian military offensive last month.

The Special Forces attack Sunday night was the first American military action in Somalia that Pentagon officials have acknowledged since United States forces pulled out of the anarchic country in the wake of the infamous “Black Hawk Down” episode in 1993, when 18 American soldiers were killed in street fighting in Mogadishu.

Many Somalis were angered by news of the new American intervention, and some said it reminded them of the troubled aid mission that ended with the 1993 incident.

American officials have suspected for years that a handful of Qaeda suspects who were responsible for the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania have been hiding inside Somalia, which has not had a central government since 1991.

The search for the terrorism suspects has been the driving force in American policy toward Somalia for several years.

Earlier this year, the Central Intelligence Agency began making cash payments to a group of Somali warlords who pledged to help hunt down members of the Qaeda cell.

After Islamist militias took control of Mogadishu in the summer, officials in Washington charged that the Islamists had ties to the terror suspects, and made demands for their handover to American custody.

The Ethiopian military offensive that began last month recently drove the Islamists from the seaside Somali capital, raising hopes in Washington that the Qaeda operatives might surface as they fled. The Islamists have retreated to areas around the southern port city of Kismayo. Ethiopian officials have said they have intelligence reports that members of the Qaeda cell were hiding near the city.

The transitional government had been accused of being a pawn for Ethiopia and the United States, both roundly disliked and viewed with suspicion by many Somalis.

The AC-130 gunship is a heavily armed propeller plane that, because of its slow speed, operates primarily at night. It can direct an immense barrage of gunfire onto a target as it circles overhead.

The attack against suspected Qaeda operatives is the sort of targeted operation that senior Bush administration officials have been pressing the Special Operation Command, based in Tampa, Fla., to undertake in recent years.

But officials have said that Special Operations forces have had difficulty carrying out targeted strikes in the past because of the difficulty establishing the whereabouts of wanted terrorists or getting forces in place when a suspected militant is located.

The Central Intelligence Agency has killed a small number of suspected Qaeda members, using a pilotless drone armed with a missile. Among them were five people killed in Yemen in 2002.

Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from Mogadishu and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.


What You Eat, Pt. 2

In the process of researching this whole GM food topic, I took a look at the news on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website.

One of the hot topics on that site is the regulation of animal clones and cloned animal products. A closer look at some of the documentation revealed some interesting things.

1. The risk assessments - and of course, subsequent regulations - will subject any clones and their products "to the same local, state, and federal laws and regulations as conventional food animals and their products.

2. Cloning, or, in the scientific parlance, "somatic cell nuclear transfer" (SCNT), is the next technological step in the time-honored tradition of assisted reproductive techologies (ARTs).

On the timeline of human assisted reproduction of animals is included:

"Natural Service" (this is old-fashioned fucking between two animals introduced to each other by the breeder - the right time, right place scenario),

Artifical Insemination and Synchronized Estrus (the make it the right time scenario),

Embryo Transfer or 'MOET' (collected and inseminated eggs taken from each animal to prevent lost productive capacity - the stop the progression of time scenario),

In Vitro Feritilization (same as with humans, except they can use dead animals to farm immature eggs - the time is irrelevant scenario),

Embryo Splitting (self-explanatory), and

"Blastomere Nuclear Transfer" (the replacement of egg chromosomes with complete sets from another source - the place is irrelevant scenario).

What sort of definitions of "natural" and "conventional" are they using here? Only the first case, or "Natural Service", does not directly manipulate the biological or physical process of reproduction. It's something closer to introducing a woman who wants to get married to get her aging parents off her back and a man who needs a green card. Right place, right time, right partners. Sure, it's a setup, but most people don't fall in love across a crowded room. And most industrial agriculture doesn't just allow the cows to hang out, socialize, and eventually fuck in a natural setting. But at least there's no genetic or hormonal manipulation.

3. The reproductive capacity of dairy cattle has "declined significantly in the last 20 years" and the response in the document is to claim that this makes ARTs more attractive. But do they wonder why these animals may be responding to their environment in such a way?

4. And I quote: "Because the field is relatively new, and the scientific community has not identified all of the mechanisms involved in epigenetic remodeling, with few exceptions (e.g., X chromosome inactivation), the direct links between any one mechanism (or a series of mechanisms) and the health outcomes in live animals are not clear. Animals produced by non-SCNT ARTs, including natural mating, may have different epigenetic profiles, and even exhibit developmental abnormalities, but are not considered to pose unique food consumption risks."

But even though this is the case, the industry and the FDA is still pursuing methods of formally regulating this sci-fi scenario the same as conventional reproduction. Huh?

Part One


"The ultimate yellow brick is gold"

In the process of researching a paper I am writing about the economies of MMORPGs and their impact on perceptions of intangible value, I came across an entry in Mark Cuban's blog about gold.

I've never been one to buy into representational markers of wealth, so diamonds, gold, et al really don't impress me in any form. I understand that having a lot of either one of those commodities can buy you a lot of other stuff, but why would you want to hold onto them?

Cuban's article is in line with this idea, but he also posted a link to a New York Times article (in case you can't get into this archived file, I've pasted the text below) about the small group of gold enthusiasts in the US. Turns out most of these people really believe that gold holds more value than paper money or other assets.


There's a great poem, "The Garden", by Shel Silverstein that encapsultes the utter inanity of this opinion. It's about a farmer who planted a diamond in his garden and ended up with a whole mess of fruits and vegetables grown of precious gems and metals.

The gist of the last line is basically: The farmer takes off his hat, wipes his sweaty brow, closes his eyes and "dreams about one real peach".

When the economic apocalypse occurs, what are you going to get for all that gold?

Article text:

June 5, 2005
Believing [and Believing and Believing] in Bullion

On a recent early spring morning, I made my way down to the appropriately poker-faced and austere building that houses the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In its sub-basement, 80 feet below street level, there is a vault that rests on the granite bedrock of Manhattan. ''No man-made floor could hold the weight of all this,'' Peter Bakstansky, a Fed spokesman, assured me. The vault holds 7,000 tons of gold. This represents the world's largest stash of the precious metal, and it is worth about $100 billion. To view it, you descend to an underground bunker and pass through a narrow passageway cut into a 90-ton steel cylinder. Like most people, I'd seen gold before, though only in small quantities -- a filling here, a vanity wristwatch there. In front of me now, stacked in bricks atop wooden pallets, lay some pretty serious bling.

Gold is a majestic condenser of wealth. A standard bar is seven inches long, three and five-eighths inches wide, and about one and three-quarters inches thick. It weighs 27.4 pounds, and at the current market price -- roughly $420 a troy ounce, the unit in which gold is measured -- is worth about $170,000. As miraculous as gold is in itself -- it is soft, dense, ductile, sectile, highly conductive, all but indestructible and, of course, very beautiful -- when you look at any quantity of it, you immediately exchange it in your head for something else. One bar, college education; 10 bars, Brooklyn town house. The cage in front of me appeared fairly small. Filled to the ceiling with gold bars as it was, it might well hold the financial health of a nation in the balance.

Most of the bullion at the New York Fed is kept -- in 122 separate lockers -- in custody for foreign countries. (Most American gold is in Fort Knox.) There is something ancient and strange about the vault, in which workers wear magnesium shoe covers to protect their toes from falling ingots. Egyptians were casting bars of gold thousands of years ago; but the thrust of human history has been away from hard money and toward virtual money, like paper bills, or even little electronic pulses shot off by the trillion across the ether. When I remarked that all this brute physical wealth represented an anachronism, Bakstansky seized upon the word brightly.

''Yes, exactly. Gold is an anachronism.''

''And yet,'' I said, ''all these nations, they hold on to this anachronism, just in case. . . . ''

At this, a light chill entered his voice. ''I don't think anyone in a policy-making position,'' he explained to me politely, ''seriously believes that everything else of value could disappear, leaving only gold.''

To a small but extremely avid subculture in the American financial community, gold doesn't mean bling, or King Midas, or them thar hills. Gold is money; and not just money, but the one true money. The gold subculture divides along several lines -- some of its members are gold speculators, some gold hoarders, some gold philosophers and some outright nut jobs -- but it unites behind a single idea: Paper money issued by governments, when not redeemable for actual gold, is fraudulent. Most of us accept the existence of dollar bills unconsciously. To the gold faithful, however, a dollar bill is ''ink money,'' or better yet, ''fiat currency,'' a nearly constant term of abuse at gold conferences and in gold chat rooms. ''Fiat currency -- it's a floating abstraction,'' Doug Casey, a star speaker on the gold circuit, bellowed at me over the phone. ''What's its worth? I don't know what it's worth! It's a figment of some government bureaucrat's imagination!''

The ''gold bugs,'' as they often are referred to with more than a hint of disdain, find gold appealing because they believe it represents the one enduring form of nonstate money. ''Money is far too important to be left in the hands of bankers, Congress or the Federal Reserve System,'' Gary North, a legendary gold bug who has edited financial newsletters for decades, told me via e-mail. North's Web commentaries include everything from advice regarding prostate problems (saw palmetto has helped his immensely) to a recently completed 700-page ''economic commentary'' on the Gospel of Luke, which he encourages readers to download onto their hard drives, in case he were to ''drop dead and the site is taken down for any reason.'' But the focus of his writings is politics, and North's politics aren't hard to pin down. His is the fierce libertarianism of the ardent gold bug.

I had sought out Casey and North, two leading voices among gold enthusiasts, because after 20 years during which paper assets -- stocks, bonds, and the world's leading ''fiat currency,'' the dollar -- soared, gold was making a comeback. If you bought $10,000 worth of gold in 1980, by 2001 you would have lost $6,800. But then the long bull market in stocks ended, and the dollar, responding to the growing debt burden of the average American, not to mention the federal debt and our trade deficit, began a steep decline. And so, starting in 2001, gold, which like many commodities moves in the opposite direction of the dollar, began to recover some of its lost glamour as a store of value. The price of gold broke through the $300 barrier in February 2002, then the $400 barrier at the end of 2003. Could this be the dawn of the apocalypse that the gold bugs, whose prevailing attitude might best be described as a wishful pessimism, have been predicting? Could the dollar collapse, leaving only gold?

''I will accept questions by e-mail,'' North wrote me, adding, ''I will answer the following type question: 'In your article on [ ], you write that [ ]. But what about this? How could this work?''' I apparently phrased my first questions according to protocol, because North e-mailed me back, relaying his nine-point plan for returning gold to its proper status as the only money. Among his ideas: ''Government collects tax payments in gold. . . . Abolish legal tender law. . . . Let anyone set up a bank/warehouse company who wants to.'' Gold bugs are notoriously squirrelly, and North had warned me ahead of time: no questions regarding the future price of gold, and all questions must hew closely to his published work. When I e-mailed him again, asking whether the rising price of gold might be signaling doom, I must have crossed some invisible line. His one-sentence reply read simply, ''Here endeth the lesson.''

For the past 70 years, the United States has been conducting an experiment regarding the dollar. The experiment asks: Can the United States manage its currency responsibly, without having that currency backed by gold? The U.S. effectively went off the gold standard twice in the 20th century, and both times responsible men in positions of power foresaw cataclysm. ''This is the end of Western civilization!'' Lewis Douglas, Franklin Roosevelt's budget director, declared in 1933, when Roosevelt terminated the right of American citizens to demand gold in exchange for their dollars. ''Pravda would write that this was a sign of the collapse of capitalism,'' Arthur Burns, chairman of the Federal Reserve, warned Richard Nixon in 1971, when Nixon terminated the right of our international trading partners to demand gold in exchange for their dollars.

In spirit, the gold bugs are the heirs to Douglas and Burns. Every day is the end of Western civilization -- or should be, now that our currencies float free of gold. In fact, the recent weakness of the dollar has become an idée fixe within the gold community, as it opens up one possible route back to an economic system ballasted by gold. Representative Ron Paul, a Republican from Texas who is gold's lonely advocate in Congress, put it to me this way: ''We will go back to the gold standard, even if it takes the near-destruction of the dollar to get there.''

James Sinclair is a 64-year-old American businessman in a tan blazer and navy blue slacks. From his manner and dress, he could be host to an Amway seminar. But when he speaks, he sounds more like a karma yogi. It's as if you're watching a movie dubbed with the wrong soundtrack. ''Silence is deep rest,'' Sinclair told me as we waited for sandwiches at a deli. ''It's the only way to restructure ourselves.'' Among the most famous gold speculators, Sinclair proclaimed in the 70's that gold, then at $150 a troy ounce, would hit $900. (It eventually peaked at $887.50; he sold his position the following day, for a profit of more than $15 million.) Then, with some analysts predicting that gold could go as high as $2,000, he declared the gold bull market dead. (Within months, he was proved right.) In 2001, with gold near its bear-market lows, Sinclair told Forbes magazine that it could hit $430. On the day I met him, gold was trading at $434.

Sinclair remains a star attraction at gold conferences around the world, but in the 1980's he sold his brokerage firm and took his wife and two of his daughters to the foothills of the Berkshires, where he lives on a 40-acre equestrian compound featuring its own 9,000-gallon water system, its own electrical system and a shooting range. (''I like to cut a target every now and again,'' he told me. ''Get out my aggressions.'') Sinclair's private office sports the typical C.E.O. blandishments -- a massive mahogany desk, a wall-mounted flat-panel computer monitor -- but also a profusion of religious items. Incense always burns, and a temple gong sits in the corner, along with a prominently displayed statue of Ganesh. Behind the desk there is a full-color portrait of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Baba, whom Sinclair visits frequently in India. ''I am an enquiring soul,'' he replied, when I asked if he was Hindu. ''All the great minds have wandered the Indus Valley.''

Perhaps because he has found spiritual satisfaction elsewhere, Sinclair regards gold with dispassion. ''Gold is not to be loved or hated, accepted or refused,'' he said. ''Gold is not barbaric or angelic. It fixes nothing in itself. But it is a mirror.'' Sinclair sees the health of the dollar reflected in the price of gold, and the health of the dollar is now in foreign hands. ''We're not talking about what I want, but about what is,'' he told me, as he picked through a tuna salad. ''If we go over $529, that is not good news,'' he said, referring to the price of gold. ''Anyone cheering for a high price of gold should get on Prozac.'' Sinclair says that when the dollar acts successfully as the world's currency, gold naturally returns to its status as a mere commodity. In the parlance, it demonetizes -- it loses out to the dollar as the world's reserve currency. But a mismanaged dollar, he said, could cause gold to remonetize. Our world would look very different then. ''The first sign is the foreign banks will diversify out of dollars. Then they will cease buying dollars. And then they will sell them.'' What could happen then? ''Stagflation. . . . Expansion of U.S. federal deficit. Expenses rise and incomes drop.''

Are we talking apocalypse? ''The most likely crisis is the collapse in the common stock of the operating entity. In this case, the operating entity is the United States, and the common stock is its currency.'' We had made our way up a hill, to Sinclair's koi pond and its accompanying meditation gazebo. As if on cue, what appeared to be a military airplane flew across the sky. ''That's carrying Iraqi supplies,'' Sinclair told me. ''We have war and monetary easing at the same time,'' he said, shaking his head. ''Everything has its season. That includes gold. Do I have a bet on gold? You know I do. Will I one day unravel that bet? You know I will.''

The Daily Reckoning is a freewheeling Web site for libertarians, gold bugs and doom enthusiasts of every stripe. Its editorial director is Addison Wiggin, and before we met, I pictured an ''Addison Wiggin'' as an ancient gold-hoarding Yankee, and the offices of The Daily Reckoning as a cinder-block bunker patrolled by Minutemen. I was wrong on both counts. Wiggin is a sober, black-clad 37-year-old who is active in libertarian circles. The Daily Reckoning, meanwhile, is nestled in the lovely Mt. Vernon section of Baltimore, and its interior could pass for any 1990's dot-com, with a glass-enclosed conference room, exposed brick walls and a couple of nerdy 20-somethings in sneakers and T-shirts.

The narrative Wiggin spun out for me over lunch is repeated, nearly verbatim, by almost everyone in the gold community. ''This is the blow-off phase for the Great Dollar Era. We're in an unsustainable trend right now,'' Wiggin told me, ticking off the miscalculations that have brought us to the brink of an economic apocalypse. To begin with, the U.S. has become the world's biggest debtor, with three outstanding obligations at alarming highs: consumer debt, or our mortgages and credit cards; the federal deficit; and our current account deficit with foreign countries. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Wiggin continued, has simply shifted one bubble -- the 90's bubble in stocks and bonds -- into another, in real estate and ''overconsumption,'' or the American propensity to pay for an ever-more-lavish lifestyle on credit.

But the real nightmare involves the U.S. dollar. If Asian central banks weary of buying Treasury bonds -- an asset denominated in the weakening dollar -- then look out below. ''What is that Dylan Thomas quote?'' Wiggin wondered over his fusilli. ''The dollar will not go gently into that great night.''

Wiggin offered up his analysis with a confident and steady aplomb. And for good reason. While no one in the mainstream financial elite seriously advocates a return to the gold standard -- the modern global economy is too fluid and dynamic for such austere discipline -- at this moment, the gold bugs' grim prognosis for the dollar happens to align with a more mainstream view. A low-level panic about the debt crisis, and its possible effect on the American economy, is gathering strength. ''Our little post-bubble workout is not over, not by any stretch of the imagination,'' Stephen Roach, the chief economist at Morgan Stanley and himself a noted pessimist, told me recently by phone. Roach says he firmly believes that an adjustment is necessary and inevitable, and that when it comes, it will be very, very painful. From appearances, Warren Buffett, the savviest investor who ever lived, agrees. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, has placed a $21 billion bet against the U.S. dollar.

Meanwhile, the general tone is darkening. In February, Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, publicly stated in a speech that ''there are disturbing trends'' undergirding the U.S. economy, including ''huge imbalances, disequilibria, risks.'' These demand ''a strong sense of monetary and fiscal discipline,'' he said, gently chiding both the U.S. government and its citizens to live within their means. Volcker, a man known for his prudence and a cautious tone, let his words ring ominously. ''Altogether, the circumstances seem to me as dangerous and intractable as any I can remember,'' Volcker continued, referring to the very same warning signs as Addison Wiggin, ''and I can remember quite a lot.''

Recently, Comptroller General David Walker, surveying America's debt crisis, uttered a one-word synopsis for the long-term future: ''Argentina.''

Money is entirely conventional. It's a system of equivalence, a medium of exchange. In a society of any sophistication whatsoever, money is used reflexively. You hand me 50 cowrie shells, I give you a head of cattle. I give you a 20, you give me a tuna on rye and some change. As the greatest theorist of money, the German sociologist Georg Simmel, recognized, money is only money when it is in motion: ''When money stands still, it is no longer money according to its specific value and significance.'' Furthermore, the set of conventions that lend money its credibility as a medium of exchange must be universal and stable, so that the shells for which I relinquished my good cow today will be worth as much tomorrow, when I exchange them for something else. Money is built on motion and trust.

Gold, like everything else, is a commodity whose price is established by supply and demand. But gold is unlike everything else in that an ancient fantasy of solidity attaches to it. We produce things, but to exchange them efficiently, we throw over them what economists refer to as ''the veil of money.'' Interest rate swaps, swap curves, swaptions -- the veil only thickens with time. If the gold bugs are apocalyptic, it's worth recalling the etymology of the word ''apocalypse'': to uncover or reveal. Gold holds out the promise, however chimerical, that one day we might pierce the veil of money.

On the final leg of my tour of gold bugs, I visited the Blanchard Company in New Orleans. Blanchard is the largest retailer of gold to the American public, and it is owned and run by Donald Doyle, a soft-spoken man who might well be the living embodiment of the metal he sells: there is something soft but indestructible about his courtly Southern manner. After talking gold for the better part of an hour, we descended to the company vault. There he picked up two coins and placed one into each of my hands. They were ''Saint-Gaudens,'' named after the great American sculptor who designed them for Teddy Roosevelt. They had a face value of $20 and a value based on the amount of gold they contain -- probably a few hundred dollars. But the ornate coins were impossible to stack, and had been discontinued after a short run. On the open market now, thanks to their rarity, the coins together might fetch $800,000. They were heavy, and transfixingly beautiful, and even as I did the math in my head -- five coins, Brooklyn town house -- I heard Doyle say over my shoulder, ''And they sure feel good in your hands, don't they?''

Stephen Metcalf is the book critic for Slate and a regular contributor to The Times Book Review.


Dead On

I love the inanity of the US military. I love that the New York Times would never report this.

They train and arm themselves for wars that will never be fought, and when called to duty they are totally unprepared for what actually occurs.

They spend billions of dollars on developing technology to kill people, even though people have been dying for thousands of years all on their own.

And now the Army wants to urge dead soldiers to die for their country.

You'll be better off if you can laugh about this, trust me.

Wake up and smell the global warming.


You Are What You Eat

It's one of those days where I question the value of human existence. No, really.

I'd like to say that my disillusionment comes from having very high hopes, but I think my expectations of human rationality and goodness are fairly reasonable. I might err on the side of demanding too much, but how do you achieve anything without that? It's not like my standards are such that we are all doomed to failure.

We're doomed, but at least it's not on my account.

Maybe I'm the last kid on the block, but do you know about bioengineering in agriculture (also called Genetically Engineered, or GE, or Genetically Modified, GM foods)? It's almost like the illegal diamond trade, or multinational corporations outsourcing labor to third world sweatshops, or a US government 911 conspiracy, but it's worse. It's more like all three put together.

For starters, check out this documentary. It got me back into the goddamn liberal-fascist organic food co-op - something I swore to myself I would never do because those people...!

Let's just put it this way:
Farmers lose money on every bushel they produce. The US government subsidizes only specific crops. These happen to be the most marketable crops (corn, wheat, soy, canola) and they also happen to be the crops that a company called Monsanto engineers to be pesticide resistant.
Interestingly enough, Monsanto also manufactures the pesticides. They also own the patent for the GE seeds, so even if a crop is accidentally planted, or even cross-polinated with the progeny of Monsanto GE seeds, the corporation technically owns those plants. They even enforce this by trespassing on farmers' property and taking samples of their crops. Farmers suspect that they do this based on the size of their output.
Unlike other food additives, agribusiness has lobbied successfully to prevent the labeling of foods with GE ingredients. This means that, even if health problems are caused by the introduction of GE food products into human consumption, there is no way that any fault can be attributed to the engineered foods, and thus the corporations responsible for them.
The latest in GE technology is the Growth Termination Gene. This is a self-destruct genetic modification that causes sterility in the seeds/grain produced after the first generation of plants. So, unlike in the old days when farmers would hold a certain percentage of their grain to plant the next year's crops, this "suicide gene" will force farmers to buy new seeds for planting every year. This is happening worldwide, despite widespread popular rejection of GE foods.

Just wait, there's more...


I Told You So

I hate to say it - not because I feel bad telling you I knew this would happen before it happened, never understood that sentiment, really.

I hate to say it because


Absolute Values

I am not proud of being a nerd. I know that finding humor in politics and cultural conflict is really nerdy, but it's like a fucking laugh parade! They never stop!

While wandering around for all those holiday-season goodies on Gawker, I linked to this bit on why women aren't funny (and actually, that's not really the point of this totally over-written puff piece by Christopher Hitchens - he even references Kipling). It was so funny! Not only was this not at all a provocative article highlighting the latest in a centuries-long effort to prove, empirically, that women are indeed inferior to men in some biophysical way, it didn't even conclusively prove that women aren't funny.

What Hitchens seemed to be pointing out, though, was that women have a keener, more selective sense of humor in general, but they seem to find men funny.

If you're female, nothing about that needs to be explained. Men are funny.

So, when you get a bunch of men together, all of whom have invested themselves intensely in this power game - whose lives and ability to acquire pussy depend on it - everything they say and do could be considered funny.

This is an empty sort of humor, because it's really a defense against caring so much.

I was criticized once for being a relativist. As if my unwillingness to condemn the values of other people was a lack of conviction. Huh?
What he was trying to say was that I didn't believe in the absolute right of an idea, or one set of ideas over absolute wrong - which, based on what he said must have been anything other than the right idea(s).

I fundamentally disagree. I am absolutely uncompromising about some things, but when it comes to political ideology, what's the point? There is no right or wrong.


I really mean that. Politics is a system of communication and organization, so no matter what 'values' one system or another espouses and develops into a set of cultural norms used for the control of large populations, who am I to say that one is absolutely right and another wrong?

Do I think freedom is right, oppression is wrong? Yes, of course, but what does this freedom look like, and what, or rather, whom is being oppressed?

I think that the absolutist value structure of the West is just as fanatical and uncompromising (and potentially as unhealthy) as those we criticize so arrogantly. Especially since the forms of those cultures have survived for thousands of years longer than ours.

This is not to say that I support hierarchy, totalitarianism, or feudalism. Communism or theocracy. But those are just words. What is important is what the word means, and until we can mean what we preach about democracy, freedom, openness, liberalism, innovation, equality, opportunity, then all those are just words, too.

Make Me Puke!

In his welcome statement to the entering class of the 110th Congress, Bush announced plans to open a federally-funded chain of vomitoriums...

Just kidding, that might be a more productive result than the mouthful of rhetoric he spewed on behalf of our great nation.

Propaganda Wars - Vol. 007, Pt. 1

Not even three days into the new year and already there's a media shitstorm raging across the western world!

Have you seen the Saddam hanging video? Cause I have some questions about this:
1. Were people searched before they came in to watch the hanging?
2. Did security know that mobile phones sometimes have cameras in them?
3. Why were people allowed in with electronic devices of any kind?
4. Do any models of mobile phone allow you to zoom in?
5. How do camera phones perform in low light?
6. Do they pick up clear audio in crowds?
7. Isn't it obvious when someone is holding a phone above their head?
8. What happened between 1:48 and 1:57?
9. Is that what happens to your neck when you're hung?
10. How did they get that closeup?

Dave Chappelle (one of my personal heroes) has this fantastic bit about scientists's best explanation for the start of HIV. Somewhere I picked this up along the way, but in case you don't know, they say it came from humans having sex with monkeys.
And, as Dave says, with a look of skeptical incredulity on his face, "Word?"
It's not that humans having sex with monkeys is too hard to believe, he continues, even though there are certainly some obstacles ("Do you know how long it took me to train my monkey to suck my dick... without peeling it?"). It's that the likelihood that humans would have sex with monkeys and humans is so unrealistic as to make the entire explanation...well, questionable.

So, regarding this whole explanation of where the Saddam hanging mobile phone expose came from, in the spirit of Dave, I say, "Word?"

I'm not saying this is a conspiracy. Based on my observation of human competence, especially in government, that is beyond our abilities. But I do think that a wildly-elaborated, widely-reported media shitstorm is better at distracting us from the utter collapse of US policy in Iraq than more intricate investigative pieces about the current state of politics there.

Alexander Cockburn proves this point quite eloquently: Occam's Razor postulates that the most obvious conclusion is usually correct. In this case, I hypothesize that no one cared about unofficial footage, and the Bush administration is doing an excellent job of doing whatever they want without anyone paying attention. They don't even need to hide.



I can't help but laugh when I see prophecies of women changing the world...for a year, or a month, even a decade. Because women haven't been doing anything to influence the course of history since, like, ever!

There's a great poem by Ted Hughes that comes to mind every time a cease fire is suspended in the gender wars:

"No, the serpent did not
Seduce Eve to the apple.
All that's simply
Corruption of the facts.

Adam ate the apple.
Eve ate Adam.
The serpent ate Eve.
This is the dark intestine.

The serpent, meanwhile,
Sleeps his meal off in Paradise -
Smiling to hear
God's querulous calling."

I mean, who writes this shit?!

Just the numbers alone are enough to blow your mind. 86 Female members? Who would give women this much overtly-exercised power? Oh, wait. This is the US Congress! Nothing about the exercise of power is overt! Whew!

As long as women stay in their place, manipulating, cajoling and fucking their way into positions of historic significance, we will be safe from any change that might actually be wrought by the armageddon of gender equality.

I know that feminism is passe and all, but if Nancy Pelosi is the torch bearer, women are fucked. This woman is two hierarchical steps away from the Presidency (egads!) and she's the one referencing housework as part of her duty to the nation...the context matters, but could she have chosen another metaphor?

And why are all women credited with the number of children they've produced? In this same article, Pelosi is referenced as "a 66-year-old mother of five and grandmother of another five", instead of something like 'Congressional Representative for California's 8th District for 20 years and House Minority Leader for the 109th Congress'? Is her age and propagation better preparation for a political position than actual experience?

Wait, there might be something in that. If Congress is like a boys club, and all the members behave like high school cliques, with toes stepped on as easily as the average Day Care attendee, then maybe changing diapers is good preparation!

"Merry New Year!"

"It's Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!"

Trading Places is hilarious because it showcases the vast internal rift that exists in the US: the (not so) subtle caste system of race and class. It is funny because it is true, and because it poses the (possibly) ideal resolution - the rich white guy and the poor black guy both get rich by fleecing the prejudiced, anachronistic powers that be, and live happily ever after on a beach with hot girls and lobster.

But in a world without the carefree ending, the differences we note and create between ourselves and others have developed into institutionalized systems of advantage and disadvantage.

Though US culture is obsessively attuned to the obvious and unspoken attributes of racial and socio-economic differentiation, we are unable to see the parallels in other societies. Our fidelity to the myth of equality in the US allows us to swagger around the world making it better for everyone else, according to our standards, yet we can't account for our lack of moral authority.

So we can support/condone the hanging of Saddam Hussein. Now, there's the video, the violence, and the speculations of coming disaster, but whether these fantasies come true or not, Saddam has already been deemed a martyr, and there's the biggest danger. Or not.

The biggest danger because a dead Saddam may be more of an inspirational touchstone for violent protest against US dominance.

Not the biggest danger because Saddam couldn't do much (to us) when he was alive. And really, why not wait for a more opportune moment to attack the US and undermine our (perceived) global hegemony. Just wait!

Funny that the news suggests that it's the video, not the actual hanging that has spurred sectarian violence over the past couple days. As if the broadcast is what's so offensive.

Rumors of Bush announcing an increase of troops in Iraq, not making anybody happy at home, but how will the newbie Democrats refuse? And wheregoes the Senate majority?

Seven years into the new century and not much has changed. Makes me hanker for something really catastrophic like the Millenium Bug that Could, or even another blackout.

In the past...