Sunday, May 30, 2004

More Nutbar Conspiracy Talk

Think Tank Claims Torvalds Didn't Write Linux:

Linux wasn't written by Linus Torvalds, according to the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation.

Instead, Kenneth Brown, president of AdTI, claims that Linux is based on intellectual property 'often taken or adapted without permission from material owned by other companies and individuals.'

The announcement offers no proof of its assertions but says proof will be provided in later announcements— and eventually in a self-published book—that are based on 'extensive interviews with more than two dozen leading technologists including Richard Stallman, Dennis Ritchie and Andrew Tanenbaum.'

It should come as no surprise that Microsoft is one of the funders of this dubious think tank. I'm sure that's merely a coincidence, though. After all, why would a sock puppet Prestigious Think Tank who is partially funded by one of the world's most draconian software providers, long suspected of monopolizing the software industry by strong-arming hardware companies into bundling its slipshod, bug ridden software with all of their machines, have anything bad to say about a pioneer of Open Source operating systems? And what does Linus Torvalds have to say for himself?

OK, I admit it. I was just a front man for the real fathers of Linux: the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. They (for obvious reasons) couldn't step forward to admit that they had gotten bitten by the computer bug and had been developing a series of operating systems on their own during the off-season.

But when they started with Linux (which they originally called Freax—they do feel like outsiders, you know, and that's a whole sad story in itself), they felt that they could no longer just let it languish in obscurity.

They started to look for a front man, and since Santa Claus is from Finland, and thus has connections to Helsinki University, and the Easter Bunny claimed, 'He's got good ears, if a bit small,' I got selected.

Since then, I've lived a life of subterfuge, always afraid that somebody would find out the truth. I'm actually relieved that it's over, and that the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution has finally uncovered the lie. I can now go back to my chosen profession, the exploration of the fascinating mating dance of the aquatic African frog.

The irony RPMs really get flying when we stop to consider that it has long been considered one of Microsoft's dirty little secrets that Bill Gates stole the Windows OS source code from Steve Jobs (who stole it from Xerox).

The whole thing is just layer upon layer of dirty dealing and hypocrisy. But the new player in this little corner of geek intrigue is the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution (ADTI), a PR group that first gained notoriety by providing astroturf for Philip Morris Co., against President Clinton's proposed tax hike on Tabacco products back in '94. Apparently, there is no corporate cock too big to be sucked by ADTI.

And John Quiggen at Crooked Timber wonders, What would de Tocqueville Think?

Saturday, May 29, 2004

On the Origin of the Tin Foil Hat

"I deeply resent the way this Administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist."
-Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Gary Indiana, at the Village Voice feels the same way. Posted on the web is part one of his three part essay, Paranoid Nation: No Such Thing as Paranoia, which is a fascinating look at our national paranoia and how the professional Conspiracy deniers are sometimes as pathological as the most extreme true believers.

Mr. Indiana doesn't fault Bush for the fact that once levelheaded and skeptical folk now find themselves doing the dreaded geopolitical calculus and coming up with weird coincidences. As he points out, it's mostly the fault of historians, doing the powerful elite's work for them:

While it is easy to distinguish a belief that aluminum foil wrapped around one's head filters out alien brain waves from rational but dissident ideas, some modern writers on conspiracy theory tend to conflate nonconformity with the most bizarre and cognitively defective extremes of it. So-called "consensus historians," following the lead of Richard Hofstadter's famous 1964 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," have effectively pathologized any suspicion of active conspiracies, however defined, into a synonym for "nut job" in public discourse.

Once anyone with an idea more colorful than the ochre melange found on the front page of any newspaper is defined, a priori as a nut job, the idea is tainted. Even when they are, much later, proven to be true. "The necessary proof of such a conspiracy, if we choose to call it that, often turns up 25 or 50 years after the fact, when the release of classified documents churns up no public outcry or indictments" (Indiana). This makes it fiendishly difficult to convince most Americans that there are really some valid conspiracies that we should be concerned about. Since their parents or grandparents were already told "The Truth" (at least the Warren Commission version of it) these slippery and confabulated facts have entered the family history and to contradict them now is to invalidate grandpa's life.

"Where were you when Oswald Shot Kennedy?" was the defining question of my parent's generation. Everyone remembers where they were when Kennedy was shot. But by whom, no one really knows for sure. And no one really cares now, forty years later.

The problem of course is only made worse by the fringe thinkers who have spent the last forty years concocting one lurid scheme after another to try and explain what did really happen, sometimes with far less evidence than the Warren Commission, sometimes with far more, but always with the stench of incredulity clinging to their ink stained hands and jittery, coffee colored thoughts. How did this, "monumental apathy and programmed ignorance" come to dominate the landscape of conspiratorial thought? Mr. Indiana (and others) suggest that it is the grandstanding of one tweedy intelectual, Richard Hofstadter, whose 1964 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," set the attitude for the next four decades:

Hofstadter's essay, written in the aftermath of the McCarthy witch hunts and the Kennedy assassination, with an eye on the then marginal but scary realm of right-wing plot-weavers, has been eerily assimilated by a certain idling pedantry, which rummages through the historical debris of arcane conspiracist subjects (the Knights Templar, Jesuit intrigues, Freemasonry, the Illuminati, alien abductions, the Rothschilds, the Bilderberg meetings, the Knights of Malta), often recounting the same narratives at numbing length, with little fresh insight. Only a few contemporary writers drastically depart from Hofstadter's historical itinerary, or his parochial vision of America as a "pluralist democracy" whose institutional framework is essentially benign and immutably fair, rational, and systemically mistrusted only by paranoid schizophrenics. "One need only think of the response to President Kennedy's assassination in Europe to be reminded that Americans have no monopoly on the gift for paranoid improvisation," Hofstadter declared, 15 years before the U.S. House of Representatives' Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that Kennedy's murder was indeed the result of a conspiracy.

Hofstadter's prescience is amply evidenced in Michael Barkun's A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (2003). Barkun has ingested Hofstadter's imperious tome whole, and his book does little more than regurgitate its polemical eurekas. Barkun informs us that the 'essence of conspiracy beliefs lies in attempts to delineate and explain evil.' Ergo Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and most other organized religions qualify as conspiracy beliefs, though Barkun neglects to say so. Barkun identifies three principles 'found in virtually every conspiracy theory,' to wit: Nothing happens by accident. Nothing is as it seems. Everything is connected. Clearly Freud, Plato, Leibniz, and Einstein all suffered from at least one symptom of conspiracism; fortuitously, without mentioning any of them, someone has finally exposed these thinkers as mentally ill.

The end result is that the general public only trusts information that come from the Experts, except that the Experts all work for the Conspiritors. And those of us who still posess critical thinking skills are left with doubt, cinicsm and a desire to find out What's Really Going On but without the means to discover that slippery truth.

So now, we're all nutbar conspiracy theorists, finding connectivity and conspiracy in what we are told, time and again (by the handful of media outlets owned by rich white men who are friends with the powers that be) that all the world is nothing but unrelated events; that they seem related and interconnected is merely coincidence. Surely that and nothing more.

Friday, May 28, 2004

The Evil Stare

Lucy has just woken up from a nap. She's probably upset because I pulled her tail.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Things That Were, Things That Will Be

Amnesty International's 2004 report is out and the United States of America is not looking so hot. And this was compiled before the story about prison torture broke, so next years report is already going to be just as bad, if not worse.

Go, USA.

The New York Times Needs a New Magic Mirror

From Corrente, I learned this morning that the NYTimes thinks blogs are smelly and they smell funny and they're stupid and smell, too:

...For many bloggers, the novelty soon wears off and their persistence fades.

Sometimes, too, the realization that no one is reading sets in. A few blogs have thousands of readers, but never have so many people written so much to be read by so few. By Jupiter Research's estimate, only 4 percent of online users read blogs.

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, 26, a graduate student at the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied bloggers, said that for some people blogging has supplanted e-mail as a way to procrastinate at work.

"The addictive part is not so much extreme narcissism," Mr. Jarvis said. "It's that you're involved in a conversation. You have a connection to people through the blog."

It's ironic that the "Expert" on blogging that they find is a grad student at Berkeley's SIMS, a Library Science Department that lost their ALA accreditation. Further ironical twists ensue when we visit Mr. Hall's webpage and discover that he is not a grad student, but a PhD candidate.1

Before I started blogging, the only people who read my writing were me and my wife. In the year since, I've had over 6000 visitors, with an average of 39 a day. Grant it, some are repeats and that's not a whole lot, compared to Atrios' 30,000 visitors a day but it's more than I had before, when I was just an obsessive writerly sort of freak, reading my novel-in-progress aloud to my cat.

blogging is Radical Democracy in action. Absolute freedom of the press. And it scares the soiled pants off of the likes of 'journalists' who realise they can no longer coast on their byline and have lost all credibility, by sucking at the corporate tit. That there are bloggers out there, like Atrios and Kos who are read by more people than traditional journalists and have earned their credibility by actually reporting facts and checking sources, unlike a certain paper of record who just copies and pastes the proclomations of certain Iranian Spies pretending to be Iraqi Disidents.

1. Note to editor at the Times: Keith Kisser, 27, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, College of Information Studies (fully accredited by the ALA) is an actual blogger, who has done research on blogging. He also knows how to use Google to do basic fact checking. Maybe you should consult someone like him next time you need to fill a few column inches in your technology and lifestyles pages on this whole weird, loser blogging fad that's so popular right now.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The Prettiest Face In All the Land

Hesiod has a great two part review of Troy over at Counterspin. His gripes reflect my own: Helen was week, Menaleus was killed, they gloss over Achilles invulnerability and change his motivation for killing Hektor from guilt to revenge. Overall, I agree with Hesiod: it wasn't a bad movie, it just wasn't the epic it could have been with a little more fidelity to the story and imagination on the part of the filmmakers.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Pass the Wine

Apparently, this Sunday, May 29th is Jesus Day.

For those of you who believe a dead Jew on a stick with magical healing powers1 still influences world events 2000 years after Mel Gibson scourged him to death with broken glass (and filmed the whole thing, for posterity), this is a Jubilation Day. For those of us who still cling to the tattered remnants of sanity that dealing with such superstitious nincompoops on a daily basis has left us with, it's just another day.

1. Requires the afflicted roll 2 D10, and subtract the charisma rating of any Dark Wizards in the vicinity.

Isn't He That Guy that the Kid on the Simpson's is Named After?

A little history lesson from, of all places, USATODAY:

It was Barry Goldwater, the revered conservative, who convinced Nixon that he must resign or face certain conviction by the Senate %97 and perhaps jail. Goldwater delivered his message in person, at the White House, accompanied by Republican congressional leaders.

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee likewise put principle above party to cast votes for articles of impeachment. On the eve of his mission, Goldwater told his wife that it might cost him his Senate seat on Election Day. Instead, the courage of Republicans willing to dissociate their party from Nixon helped Ronald Reagan win the presidency six years later, unencumbered by Watergate.

Another precedent is apt: In 1968, a few Democratic senators %97 J. William Fulbright, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern and Robert F. Kennedy %97 challenged their party's torpor and insisted that President Lyndon Johnson be held accountable for his disastrous and disingenuous conduct of the Vietnam War, adding weight to public pressure, which, eventually, forced Johnson not to seek re-election.

Today, the United States is confronted by another ill-considered war, conceived in ideological zeal and pursued with contempt for truth, disregard of history and an arrogant assertion of American power that has stunned and alienated much of the world, including traditional allies. At a juncture in history when the United States needed a president to intelligently and forcefully lead a real international campaign against terrorism and its causes, Bush decided instead to unilaterally declare war on a totalitarian state that never represented a terrorist threat; to claim exemption from international law regarding the treatment of prisoners; to suspend constitutional guarantees even to non-combatants at home and abroad; and to ignore sound military advice from the only member of his Cabinet %97 Powell %97 with the most requisite experience. Instead of using America's moral authority to lead a great global cause, Bush squandered it.

I'd like to think that our elected officials might put politics aside and do the right thing. But I'm not holding my breath.

Link courtesy of Norbizness at Elated Hairy Pumpkin Farming and Doorknob Polishing Service.

Dispatches from Iraq, Part 7

I just posted the next part of Christian's adventures in Iraq:

Baghdad - May 25, 2004

I received quite the response from my last e-mail! To begin with, I will clarify some of my positions so people can better understand where I'm coming from and the reasons for my decision to be a part of this effort. After all, generally the first response I received from my friends upon telling them of my plans was, "What? Are you crazy?"

Probably one of the more interesting facets of this venture are the motivations of its participants. We have all types here for all reasons. First, there are those who are here for the money. I know an engineer in his 70's who is working hard here to buy a an autopilot for his boat back home. Another wants to earn enough money to settle down as a cattle rancher in Indonesia.

Then there are the politicos. (I guess I might fall somewhat into this category.) One such guy is currently residing in the political wilderness after having resigned from a British cabinet post. For him, this is just a pause before he jumps back into domestic politics. For others like myself, this is a means to jumpstart an exciting career.

Then there are those who just enjoy the danger and excitement of the moment. This would include all the security firm contractors and some of the military personnel.

As for me, I signed up for a variety reasons. Career was an important factor as was money albeit to a lesser degree. Today, the factor I want to talk about is the idea of taking part in a great struggle.


I'm tired of rehashing politics, so we're going to talk about books today.

currently, I'm reading The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton. I'm about four chapters in and so far, very much enjoying it. My only quibble is a minor one: his depiction of Anarchists as bomb throwing nihilists bent on the death of humanity. I realize that this was the Edwardian English view of Anarchism and in some respects, not all that far from the historical mark in some cases. It strikes me though, as I have a bit of an affinity for Anarchism, especially of the ontological variety (check out the link on the side for Hakim Bey, under non-fiction). But I realize of course that Chesterton's book really isn't about Anarchism. Like I said, it's a minor quibble, one that manages to underscore my intellectual snobbery, more than anything else.

The Man Who Was Thursday is a fever dream, or "a very melodramatic sort of moonshine," as Chesterton puts it. Primarily, the story is about dualism and paradox, the flinging of oneself from one extreme to the other in violent reaction. Reaction to what is precisely the question Chesterton is asking us. Take the main character, Gabriel Syme:

He came of a family of cranks, in which all the oldest people had all the newest notions. One of his uncles always walked about without a hat, and another had made an unsuccessful attempt to walk about with a hat and nothing else. His father cultivated art and self-realization; his mother went in for simplicity and hygiene. Hence the child, during his tenderer years, was wholly unacquainted with any drink between the extremes of absinthe and cocoa, of both of which he had a healthy dislike.... Being surrounded with every conceivable kind of revolt from infancy, Gabriel had to revolt into something, so he revolted into the only thing left--sanity.

However, Syme becomes too sane and one night is recruited by a philosophical police officer to join a special anti-anarchist brigade, who search the parlors and taverns of London, looking for the roots of anti-establishment thought. In this way, Syme stumbles onto a conspiracy of Anarchists and is accidentaly elected onto their International Council (because a conspiracy of Anarchists would of course, need to have an organizational body to succeed in its goal of world inhalation). Adventure ensues.

As I said, I'm still at the beginning but I'm very much looking forward to seeing where the moonshine leads me.

So, what are you reading right now?

Monday, May 24, 2004

Fire With Fire

The Onion: U.S. To Fight Terror With Terror:

WASHINGTON, DC—In a response to recent acts of extreme violence against Americans in Iraq and mounting criticism of U.S. military policy at home, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced the government's new strategy of fighting terror with terror Monday.

"Look, in order to catch a rat, you gotta think like one," Rumsfeld said in a grainy and degraded videotape message filmed at an unknown location and released to CNN Monday. "We've been pussy-footing around the war on terrorism for years. All that time, the answer was right in front of us: In order to wipe out terror around the globe, once and for all, we've gotta beat them at their own game."


Rumsfeld refused to comment on the recent abuse of military prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, other than to characterize those abuses as "nothing compared to what we are capable of."

"It's vital to remember that these terrorists hate freedom," Rumsfeld said. "Well, guess what? From now on, we're going to hate it even more. Do you think terrorists care about due process and fair treatment of prisoners? Of course not. Why should we give them the upper hand? You fight fire with fire."


Just wait and you'll see," Abrams said. "Martin Luther King said, 'Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.' Well, enemies of democracy and freedom around the world are going to find out just how right he was. They'll see just how dark it can get."

Experts from the Mukhabarat el-Aama Egyptian intelligence service have deemed the message authentic.

It'd be funny, if it didn't sound like a real press conference.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Friday at Home

My presence has distracted Lucy from her favorite pastime, watching the fish.

Dreams of an Invisible Library

Amazon's search inside the book function is old news by now but it's importance has yet to be fully explored. This Wired News story: The Great Library of Amazonia attempts to draw a map of this new land, and manages to make a few good points along the way. However, as is the case with all newly discovered territories, there's a lot of myth woven in to the accounts of travels there, and I'm carrying this metaphor too far.

The point is, yes, the SIB function is new, it's exciting, it's got pixidust all over it. The major advantage, that it makes searching the text of some books faster and easier is a selling point (and just so I don't sound like a crank, let me clarify by saying I have used the SIB function for some of my work in grad school, doing e-reference and it is useful). But there is still the problem that it's only for some books, and only for parts of those books.

120,000 books sounds like a lot, but there are millions of books in print and even more, out of print. Getting all books, everywhere into a searchable database would be fantastic, the dream of Ptolmy, Borges and every Librarian since, come true. But there are obstacles, most notably, the 8th pit of hell known as American copyright law that has to be overcome before most of these books can be accessible in such a database. And even then, there is the problem of actually scanning every page. Who will do it? Amazon, in order to get there 120K books scanned, outsourced to low-wage countries like India and the Philippines. While this might be one of the few instances where outsourcing would be not quite as unethical (since it's for the greater good of making the world's libraries accessible to all; sort of like conferring on the wage slaves of Bangladesh the venerable title of scribe, without the benefits) it's still a slippery argument that I wouldn't really want to grant legitimacy to.

So it's still a thorny issue. While I for one, would love and appreciate to the highest degree such a valuable online database (so long as it were freely available, like Google or Amazon SIB, and not subscription based, like Lexisnexis or Dialog) then perhaps we could outsource the labor. But it should be outsourced everywhere, divided among the countries of the world who have the means and the funds to pay their digital scribes living wages, if not salaries. This, I could get behind. I would even gladly do my part as a librarian in scanning in books. But this project would be of such a magnificent scope that the powers that be would be far too tempted to employ slave wages in order to cut corners. And frankly, we have enough pyramids as it is.

Update: edited to squash Fnords.

Just Keep Telling Yourself That

The Nation:

In 1997 a 29-year-old schizophrenic inmate named Michael Valent was stripped naked and strapped to a restraining chair by Utah prison staff because he refused to take a pillowcase off his head. Shortly after he was released some sixteen hours later, Valent collapsed and died from a blood clot that blocked an artery to his heart.

The chilling incident made national news not only because it happened to be videotaped but also because Valent's family successfully sued the State of Utah and forced it to stop using the device. Director of the Utah Department of Corrections, Lane McCotter, who was named in the suit and defended use of the chair, resigned in the ensuing firestorm.

Some six years later, Lane McCotter was working in Abu Ghraib prison, part of a four-man team of correctional advisers sent by the Justice Department and charged with the sensitive mission of reconstructing Iraq's notorious prisons, ravaged by decades of human rights abuse.

While McCotter left Iraq shortly before the current scandal at Abu Ghraib began and says he had nothing to do with the MPs who committed the atrocities, his very presence there raises serious questions about US handling of the Iraqi prison system.


Less than a year later, a team of Justice Department correctional experts was inside the Santa Fe jail investigating civil rights violations. In March 2003, their report concluded that certain conditions violated inmates' constitutional rights, and that inmates suffered "harm or the risk of serious harm" from, among other things, woeful deficiencies in healthcare and basic living conditions. The report documented numerous and horrifying examples, and threatened a lawsuit if things didn't get better. Amid the fallout, the Justice Department pulled its approximately 100 federal prisoners out of Santa Fe and MTC fired its warden and pressured its medical subcontractor, Physicians Network Association, to ax one of its medical administrators.

Then, on May 20, in a case of unfathomable irony, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that McCotter, along with three other corrections experts, had gone to Iraq. The very same day, Justice Department lawyers began their first negotiations with Santa Fe County officials over the extensive changes needed at the jail to avoid legal action.

The Justice Department won't comment on why it chose McCotter, whose company has been hounded by well-publicized and ongoing healthcare, security and personnel problems at many of the thirteen prisons it operates in the United States, Australia and Canada. Meanwhile, the Ontario provincial government is currently investigating an inmate death at MTC's Canadian prison on May 5, and inquests into three other mysterious deaths over the past year are expected, according to an article in the Barrie Examiner.


While it seems unlikely Lane McCotter was involved in the unfolding abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, his hiring—given his troubled history and current employment at the equally troubled MTC—is yet another example of the unending and unabashed bumbling of the occupation. Perhaps most important, if this is the type of personnel decision we can expect from critical agencies like the Justice Department, there's probably more scandal to come.

Conservative War fluffers like Hannity, Limbaugh and Zell Miller keep trying to claim that the torture at Abu Ghraib is an isolated incident, and just some youngsters blowing off steam, don't you know. They'll say it so often that maybe even they'll start to believe it. But don't you.

This problem goes deep and moves backwards across years and decades. The fact of the matter ris, our prison system is flawed. While it may not instill the brutality that causes those in positions of power over others to act like swine, it does seem to encourage that behavior in people who already display brutal tendencies. And let's face it, if you want to be a correctional officer, there has to be something in your brain or soul that cries out to see your fellow humans in cages, beaten and mistreated.

This sort of behavior is beyond unexceptable. By now, in the twenty first century, there is not a man, woman or child alive who should not know that treating your fellow human beings like this is evil. And if you think this isn't bad, or endemic of a huge social problem in this country; that this is just the price of war, or the nature of man and just some pranks gone awry, well, you just keep telling yourself that. Then let me know how you sleep at night.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Jesus in a Birchbark Canoe

Via Rivka at Respectful of Otters I learned that, while I was merrily driving for nine hours yesterday, the state of Texas once again proved that reality is for amateurs by deciding that Unitarian-Universalism is not a religion. Now, I've not been shy about my disdain for organized religion on this blog but even this atheist respects the UU, for the simple fact that they are the most inclusive group of spiritual minded folk out there. Heck, they'd even have me. Personally, I think all religious groups should have their tax-exempt status revoked but this isn't simply a tax issue. This is discrimination.

The comptroller's office has not always barred "creedless" religions from tax exemption, said Douglas Laycock, a University of Texas law professor who specializes in religious liberty issues.

That standard first came up in 1997, when then-Comptroller Sharp ruled against the Ethical Culture Fellowship of Austin. In making that decision, Sharp overturned the recommendation of his staff.


Strayhorn vows to continue the legal fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. "Otherwise, any wannabe cult who dresses up and parades down Sixth Street on Halloween will be applying for an exemption," she said in a April 23 news release.

We really don't have enough people trying to protect us from those wannabe cultists like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Louisa May Alcott, Christopher Reeve, and that supreme nutcase, Kurt Vonnegut.

Of course, Comptroller Strayhorn has no problem with the spiritual inclinations of Pat Robertson, Billy Grahm and Fred Phelps, all of whom are perfectly respectable bigots promoting hatefull agendas and blatant lunacy masquerading as faith and archaic sadism as traditional values.

But I guess it's hard to back President Kill Again's Holy War when you have the likes of the UU standing there, looking on disapprovingly. Might as well marginalize them now, so when the next wave of invasions start, their voice will be drowned out by the pious exhortations of the faithful hawks in those real "Christian" churches, who don't mind a few thousand dead Arabs, so long as America gets its oil and hegemony.

And Another Thing:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden sums up:

...Meanwhile, to the State of Texas in 2004, a money-making racket founded by a third-rate science fiction writer qualifies as a "religion" and the faith of Ethan Allen and Daniel Webster doesn't. This is what barbarism looks like.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Lucy the Hunter

Today is my 27th birthday and tomorrow I'll be driving all day, so posting will be light from me until at least Thursday. Kevin should be posting soon though (I actually saw the post being written, so I know it exists). So look for that any day now. Until then, Lucy will be sporting her night vision.

Update: 5/19: I'm now in Savannah, after nine hours alone in a car. Fill in the holes as you will.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Dispatches from Iraq, Part 6

Baghdad - May 17, 2004

The past few days have actually been pretty nice here in Baghdad. Sunny and warm but not hot. Occasionally, the sky will fill with dust. I've never seen anything like it. Looks far worse than the smoggiest day in LA. Kicks up the allergies and coughs real good. Thankfully, today is clear.

Just fetched a communal refrigerator for our new office space. (Can't rely on the government for everything.) Everyone was amazed when I took their money and returned with the fridge within an hour. I had a connection who had a connection. Got a glimpse of the "Baby Assassins Gate" when ferrying the fridge across from the Red Zone. The area was filled with Iraqis filing in and out beside the tanks which guard the Green Zone. Sometimes, it takes hours for them to cross. It has to be nerve racking waiting in line. After all, some bombers have blown themselves up at these checkpoints.

Read the rest

Love, Officially

Today, it becomes official (at least In Massachusetts). The Man stamps the hands of happy gay couples and magically transforms them from sinners into saints.

And all the thumpers gnashed and wailed, and flogged their backs with grandpapy's extra heavy duty Bible (the one with wooden covers, for thumping niggers and keeping the women folk in their place).

Welcome to married life, Boys! And Girls! I hope it's everything you hoped it would be. And for all my queer friends in the other 49 states, don't fret. Your day is coming. Soon, you too will have the rights of every citizen. 'Til then, go read the farmer's ode to the Love that dare not speak its name.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Helen of Beverly Hills

I was going to rant about how mediocre Troy was. How Helen was reduced to a simpering love interest (just once, Hollywood, can we have a movie with no extraneous romance?), how Achiles is made to be oh so troubled and far too human (he is a demigod, after all) but, I don't think I will. I will, however, suggest that you read the Illiad, either before or after you see the movie, if that's your thing. It will give you a better perspective on not just the movie, but perhaps what it means to go to war.

Cold Turkey Sandwich

We all get a little crazy sometimes. It's something that happens with more and more frequency these days, especially if you have half a brain and at least one functioning ear; you don't even have to go out of your way to read newspaper to overload on outrage and disgust. You can just open your window and hear it buzzing through the air, as another brain sizzles under the pressure of our civilized ideals gone awry. So if you're feeling crazy and a little addled about the whole thing we call Life (and maybe wondering what the hell it is we're doing here anyway) fear not. Kurt Vonnegut has a few things to say. They may make you cry but they'll also make you laugh and that's really all we can ask for, these days.

-Link via And then...

Saturday, May 15, 2004

The Original Invisible Library


Archaeologists have found what they believe to be the site of the Library of Alexandria, often described as the world's first major seat of learning.

A Polish-Egyptian team has excavated parts of the Bruchion region of the Mediterranean city and discovered what look like lecture halls or auditoria.

Two thousand years ago, the library housed works by the greatest thinkers and writers of the ancient world.

link via Neil Gaiman

Also, check out The New Library of Alexandria

Friday, May 14, 2004

Cicada Blogging Friday

So, I'm housesitting for a professor for the weekend and when I arrived this morning, this little monster greeted me at the door. There's also a strange, eerie twittering sound in the air, just audible beneath the rustle of the trees, as if a million tiny little UFOs are landing...

I don't know how I'll sleep tonight.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

A Hand Reaching Out in the Dark

Looking upwards I surveyed the ceiling of my prison. It was some thirty or forty feet overhead, and constructed much as the side walls. In one of its panels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention. It was the painted figure of Time as he is commonly represented, save that, in lieu of a scythe, he held what, at a casual glance, I supposed to be the pictured image of a huge pendulum, such as we see on antique clocks. There was something, however, in the appearance of this machine which caused me to regard it more attentively. While I gazed directly upward at it, (for its position was immediately over my own,) I fancied that I saw it in motion. In an instant afterwards the fancy was confirmed. Its sweep was brief, and of course slow. I watched it for some minutes, somewhat in fear, but more in wonder.


It might have been half an hour, perhaps even an hour, (for I could take but imperfect note of time,) before I again cast my eyes upward. What I then saw confounded and amazed me. The sweep of the pendulum had increased in extent by nearly a yard. As a natural consequence, its velocity was also much greater. But what mainly disturbed me was the idea that it had perceptibly descended. I now observed with what horror it is needless to say that its nether extremity was formed of a crescent of glittering steel, about a foot in length from horn to horn; the horns upward, and the under edge evidently as keen as that of a razor. Like a razor also, it seemed massy and heavy, tapering from the edge into a solid and broad structure above. It was appended to a weighty rod of brass, and the whole hissed as it swung through the air.

I could no longer doubt the doom prepared for me by monkish ingenuity in torture. My cognizance of the pit had become known to the inquisitorial agents the pit, whose horrors had been destined for so bold a recusant as myself the pit, typical of hell, and regarded by rumor as the Ultima Thule of all their punishments.

-Edgar Allen Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum


In Afghanistan, the CIA's secret U.S. interrogation center in Kabul is known as "The Pit," named for its despairing conditions. In Iraq, the most important prisoners are kept in a huge hangar near the runway at Baghdad International Airport, say U.S. government officials, counterterrorism experts and others. In Qatar, U.S. forces have been ferrying some Iraqi prisoners to a remote jail on the gigantic U.S. air base in the desert.

The Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where a unit of U.S. soldiers abused prisoners, is just the largest and suddenly most notorious in a worldwide constellation of detention centers many of them secret and all off-limits to public scrutiny that the U.S. military and CIA have operated in the name of counterterrorism or counterinsurgency operations since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

These prisons and jails are sometimes as small as shipping containers and as large as the sprawling Guantanamo Bay complex in Cuba. They are part of an elaborate CIA and military infrastructure whose purpose is to hold suspected terrorists or insurgents for interrogation and safekeeping while avoiding U.S. or international court systems, where proceedings and evidence against the accused would be aired in public. Some are even held by foreign governments at the informal request of the United States.

"The number of people who have been detained in the Arab world for the sake of America is much more than in Guantanamo Bay. Really, thousands," said Najeeb Nuaimi, a former justice minister of Qatar who is representing the families of dozens of prisoners.

The largely hidden array includes three systems that only rarely overlap: the Pentagon-run network of prisons, jails and holding facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere; small and secret CIA-run facilities where top al Qaeda and other figures are kept; and interrogation rooms of foreign intelligence services some with documented records of torture to which the U.S. government delivers or "renders" mid- or low-level terrorism suspects for questioning.

All told, more than 9,000 people are held by U.S. authorities overseas, according to Pentagon figures and estimates by intelligence experts, the vast majority under military control. The detainees have no conventional legal rights: no access to a lawyer; no chance for an impartial hearing; and, at least in the case of prisoners held in cellblock 1A at Abu Ghraib, no apparent guarantee of humane treatment accorded prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions or civilians in U.S. jails.

Although some of those held by the military in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo have had visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross, some of the CIA's detainees have, in effect, disappeared, according to interviews with former and current national security officials and to the Army's report of abuses at Abu Ghraib.

The CIA's "ghost detainees," as they were called by members of the 800th MP Brigade, were routinely held by the soldier-guards at Abu Ghraib "without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention," the report says. These phantom captives were "moved around within the facility to hide them" from Red Cross teams, a tactic that was "deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine, and in violation of international law."


At the end of The Pit and the Pendulum, the Prisoner (whose name we never learn) is freed (by the French Army, no less, who have broken into the Inquisition's fortress in Toledo). There is a florish of trumpets, a cacophony of voices and an arm reaching out from the darkness to catch the Prisoner at the last moment before he falls into the Pit.

I hope, for all our sake, that there is an arm reaching out of the darkness to catch us, soon.

Glory and War

The Guardian has an interesting article in which Noam Chomsky, Jonathan Schell, Howard Zinn and William Polk offer their suggestions on how the US can get out of Iraq. They all boil down to handing control over the UN.

Now, I've noticed there seems to be a huge amount of distrust among Americans in regards to the UN. I'm not sure exactly why this is. Some of the arguments I've heard are that they drag their feet on most issues, requiring reams of bureaucratic red tape to be unwound before they do anything. Usually i hear this argument from the Gung Ho types who follow the old John Wayne style of International politics: shoot first, ask questions later.

The fact is, the UN has to make sure they do things in the right order for the expressed purpose of maintaining transparency. Anyone at any time can look at the UN and see what they are doing. if they didn't do things this way, we'd have an international organization that was secretive, lacks oversight and is prone to manipulation by people of little conscience who desire to exert their power and privilege over others. Sound familiar? Like we need another BushCo. White House, only this one with the sort of global mandate and right to pee on poor people George, Dick and Rummy can only dream about.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the UN paranoids who think black helicopters and blue berets are going to take away our guns and chewing tabacco, and force the Anti-Christ, red horns and all, to be president of the world. This confabulation of Millennialism and ignorance is distressing (because of it’s so prevalence) but mostly just yokels letting their brains go as slack as their jaws.

So, yeah, I agree with Chomsky, Schell, Zinn and Polk: the only way to get out of this mess in a way that won’t incite an Iraqi civil war and just might salvage our reputation with our former allies is to let the UN steward iraq. But since that’s capitulating to the One World Government Beurocracy, which upsets all those Nascar Dads, who might, unfortunately vote to keep their favorite Bubba in office 9just to spite us terrorist loving liberals) it’s unlikely to happen any time soon. So, get used to more beatings, beheadings and body bags. That’s what this war is all about, now: sadism for the sake of national honor.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I Don't Think This Quiz Means What You Think It Means

Dispatches from Iraq, Part 5

The weather is getting hotter out here. Pretty soon, it will be downright oppressive. I can't imagine what it must have been like last summer for the majority of the population in this city without power.

It seems the most significant event people have been wondering about lately is last Friday's car bomb. Don't worry, I'm safe and sound. However, I will say that for a few minutes I was pretty stunned. I was having trouble getting out of bed on that morning when Bam! the entire ground shook accompanied by the sound of an explosion. I've never seen so many people wake up at the same time. (Remember, I'm leaving in a large tent with at least thirty other people.) We all looked at each other stupidly - not knowing exactly what to do. Was it a mortar, a grenade, a missile? Should we put on our gas masks? A couple minutes later a loudspeaker voice told us to take cover. As I was leaving my tent to get to a more hardened shelter, I saw thick black smoke in the distance. Of course, the most immediate source for news was the internet. The rest of the day went on as usual as if nothing ever happened. Now, people are not even talking about it. I wonder what kind of press the attack stirred up back home. This week, it seems like a distant memory.

I have traversed at least half of the Green Zone by now. Today, I even made it to the "Assassin's Gate" where back in January, an even deadlier car bomb exploded. For the most part, the Green Zone is like one giant park complex. There are few large buildings with a great deal of open space in between. Some buildings are completely intact while others are reduced partly to rubble. The most imposing of such structures is the Ba'ath Party Headquarters which sits as a shell of itself home to nothing but wild cats. Sometimes, one can spot the occasional bat flying about.

Read the rest

The College Fast Track

Seatle PI:

WASHINGTON -- At least 28 senior-level federal employees in eight agencies have bogus college degrees, including three managers at the office that oversees nuclear weapons safety, congressional investigators have found.

The problem is likely even bigger, mainly because the government has no uniform way to check whether employees' alma maters are "diploma mills" that require little, if any, academic work, the General Accounting Office reported.


Among those with bogus degrees in the GAO review were three workers with emergency operations roles and security clearances at the National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the Department of Energy.

One of those workers paid $5,000 for a master's degree from LaSalle University, an unaccredited school, the report said. He attended no classes, took no tests and told the GAO his degree was "a joke."

Other senior government employees with bogus degrees worked for the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Small Business Administration and the Office of Personnel Management.


Three unaccredited schools - Pacific Western University, California Coast University and Kennedy-Western University - provided data showing that 463 of their students were federal employees. Most of those listed were in the Department of Defense. The report did not name employees.

And we wonder why the Government doesn't seem to value education. I guess value is the wrong word; they value it very much, enough to pay up to $5000 for a degree. And here I am, like a sucker, spending two years actually earning a masters degree!

Undermining Democracy, One Cat Picture At a Time

Blogs are undemocratic?

"New Yorker writer George Packer argues that by blurring the line between journalism and pure rant, blogs may not be the best thing for democracy."

Someone explain to me how a truly free press, in which the citizens can have their say, is somehow undemocratic? Just because I'm not making money (the horror! Are you some kinda socialist?) or sucking the president's dick doesn't mean I'm undermining democracy.

It seems the traditional media types are a little scared of us regular folks, since people like Atrios, Kos and Hesiod are doing journalists jobs while the "real" journalists are sipping martinis and reading whatever the White House Hands them. I tell you what, Mr. Packer, if you started doing your fucking job then maybe we bloggers wouldn't have to pick up the slack, defending democracy from the War profiteers and Oligarchs wagging their cash under your nose.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Insert Moderately Pithy Title Here

I'm wiped out from finals. I had intended on blogging tonight but it just ain't happening. Instead, we'll have more pictures of Lucy. I should be back to blogging tomorrow, though. In the meantime, go sign the petition to fire Rumsfeld.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Feline Exploitation Curiosa Friday

Finals have got my by the brain banana, hence the light posting of late. But I just finished my big project last night, so hopefully, by this time next week, I'll be blogging at 100%. Until then, we have Lucy, goin' fishin'.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Dispatches from Iraq, Part 4

Baghdad - May 5, 2004

It's Cinco de Mayo in Baghdad, Iraq. Haven't seen any celebrations yet.

Interestingly enough, I attended a party thrown by former members of the French Foreign Legion on April 30th to commemorate the Battle of Camron(?). This battle was fought shortly before the defeat of the French in Mexico during the American Civil War. Apparently, 200 legionares held off 2000 Mexican soldiers for two days. Only 7 survived. They refused to surrender so the Mexican general awarded their courage by allowing them to walk away with their arms.

During the Foreign Legion celebration, a ceremony was held. All the former legionares stood at attention while a former general (an old English guy who had apparently fought everywhere including Algeria - I met him later over drinks and found out he is in charge of my department's security) recited the occasion of the battle in perfect French. This all took place beside one of Saddam's many pools. Meanwhile, I could hear the Muslim call to prayer from over the Tigris as Blackhawks buzzed the top of the palace during sunset. Surreal to say the least.

Read the rest

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

A Long, Cold Draft

Posted by Keith


WASHINGTON -- The chief of the Selective Service System has proposed registering women for the military draft and requiring that young Americans regularly inform the government about whether they have training in niche specialties needed in the armed services.

The proposal, which the agency's acting Director Lewis Brodsky presented to senior Pentagon officials just before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, also seeks to extend the age of draft registration to 34 years old, up from 25.

The Selective Service System plan, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, highlights the extent to which agency officials have planned for an expanded military draft in case the administration and Congress would authorize one in the future.
The agency officials acknowledged that they would have "to market the concept" of a female draft to Congress, which ultimately would have to authorize such a step.

George Bush's little cowboy adventure will soon threaten to decimate an entire generation, and for what? What's this week's Glorious Reason for bombing civilians, torturing prisoners and generally fucking up the world?

And more importantly, will any of the chickenhawks go and fight when their name is called? Or will they follow our leader's example, and disapear? If it's the latter, you'd best not come back at all.

Dispatches from Iraq, Part 3

Posted by Keith

Baghdad - April 30, 2004

Hello everyone!

I continue to get replies asking for permission to use excerpts from my dispatches on web sites. I encourage all who are interested to do so. Don't worry, I won't write about anything I shouldn't be writing about. As a result, some details will be noticeably lacking but the idea is that a clear picture of what life is like here and my perceptions of what is going on around me will be accurately related. Additionally, feel free to forward these dispathes on and let me know if you know anyone that would like to be added to the list.

Now I shall attempt to paint a basic picture of what life is like here.

In some ways, I feel like I'm back at summer camp when I was a kid what with living in a big communal tent and the large cafeteria style dining hall. I live and work in the vicinity of one of the several palaces that populate the Green Zone. The palace itself is a rather ostentatious building with marble all over the interior. Inane quotes from SH (Saddam Hussein) line some of the walls. I can't read them of course (they are in Arabic and I am hoping to delve into that language very soon) but apparently they say things like "Work hard and you will be rewarded". His initials are imprinted on all the bricks in the walls in our dining area. The story is that our dining hall once housed a huge banquest hosted by SH whereupon many of the attendees were poisoned. Of course, I'm hearing such stories all the time and take everything with a grain of salt. Apparently, one of Udai's many liquor collections are in the basement and includes 6 bottles of Johnny Walker Blue Label. One can also take a look at Udai's sword and pistol canes (the man was injured by an assasination attempt - hence the weapons disguised as canes - like something out of a bad Kung Fu movie).

Read the rest

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Deciphering the World System

Posted by Keith

I noticed an add in the google bar recently for the truly true and really real secrets of the Da Vinci Code. Now, as a writer, I'm fascinated by codes and ciphers. They make for some of the most engrossing literary devices around: Illuminatus!, Cryptonomicon, and Faucoult's Pendulum all make masterful use of the code macguffin. But if anyone really thinks there's some mystical code in Da Vinci or the Bible, you're mistaking the map for the territory it represents.

People have been trying to make sense of the world since antiquity. It's even been argued by cognitive scientists that this is what the human brain is for- creating order out of the chaotic stimuli of existence. The problem arises when we mistake our perception of order as being Out There instead of just in our heads. Just look through any well researched history book and you'll discover the Caesar's propensity for relying on Haraspix, Etruscan soothsayers who read the future in the entrails of animals. This is a laughable notion, here in the 21st century, of course. We're more sophisticated than that. We look for coded previews within the dense pages of books.

According to proponents of the Bible Code--itself a subset of the genre of biblical numerology and Kabbalistic mysticism popular since the Middle Ages--the Hebrew Pentateuch can be decoded through an equidistant-letter-sequencing software program. The idea is to take every nth letter, where n equals whatever number you wish: 7, 19, 3,027. Print out that string of letters in a block of type, then search left to right, right to left, top to bottom, bottom to top, and diagonally in any direction for any interesting patterns. Seek and ye shall find.

Predictably, in 1997 Drosnin "discovered" such current events as Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, Benjamin Netanyahu's election, Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9's collision with Jupiter, Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing, and, of course, the end of the world in 2000. Because the world did not end and current events dated his first book, Drosnin continued the search and learned--lo and behold--that the Bible predicted the Bill and Monica tryst, the Bush-Gore election debacle and, of course, the World Trade Center cataclysm.

Just like the prophecies of soothsayers past and present, all such predictions are actually postdictions (note that not one psychic or astrologer forewarned us about 9/11). To be tested scientifically, Bible codes would need to predict events before they happen. They won't, because they can't--as Danish physicist Niels Bohr averred, predictions are difficult, especially about the future. Instead, in 1997 Drosnin proposed this test of his thesis: "When my critics find a message about the assassination of a prime minister encrypted in Moby Dick, I'll believe them."1

And of course, you could use Moby Dick, Ulysses, or any novel of sufficient length to find coded references to world events- after the fact. Any sufficiently complex information system (a pretty good definition of a book) will contain enough data points, loosely arranged to allow for individual interpretation. This is a rather technical way of saying books are full of metaphor and simile, and our brains can rearrange them in numerous, nearly infinite ways, to say anything we want (just don't try and tell a Fundy this, they may want to string you up as one of those dirty athiests who don't deserve citizenship). Yet and still, people look for absolute meaning in-between the covers a book. What they find is, well, a debatable and unfortunate collection of unverifiable notions that may make for comforting myths but leave a lot to be desired in the way of truth content.

If there is an encrypted message in all this numerological poppycock it is this: there is a deep connection between how the mind works and how we perceive the world works. We are pattern-seeking animals, the descendants of hominids who were especially dexterous at making causal links between events in nature. The associations were real often enough that the ability became engrained in our neural architecture. Unfortunately, the belief engine sputters occasionally, identifying false patterns as real. The habit of faltering may not be enough to prevent you from passing on your genes for detecting false positives to the next generation, but it does create superstitious and magical thinking. This process is coupled to the law of large numbers that accompanies our complex world, where, as it is said, million-to-one odds happen eight times a day in New York City.2

Now, that Iíve effectively ripped apart this little strawman, Iíd like to point out that looking for codes in books is a hobby of mine. I donít take the results seriously, but itís certainly an interesting way to stretch oneís imagination and look at the world from a different perspective. if more people looked for codes in the Bible and other novels like this, we might have a far more imaginative and creative culture, one that recognizes the psychological truths of fairy tales and mystery codes, while chuckling merrily at the idea that they mean anything more than that our highly organized brains are capable of surprising things sometimes.

Telegrams in the Sand

Posted by Keith

I've decided to post the Dispatches from Iraq on their own page. Parts 1 and 2 are up now, and I should have part 3 up shortly.

I've decided to do this for because they are important documents, deserving of their own space. They shouldn't have to fight for elbow room with my haphazard rants, literary obsessions, and pictures of my cat. I'll still post excerpts here, and link to the page whenever I update. I've also added the link to the sidebar. So bookmark it and check the page often.

Dispatches from Iraq, Part 2

Posted by Keith

Christian is an aquaintence of my friend, Jenny. He's in Iraq, working as a Contractor and sends back dispatches, letting us know what life is like there in and out of the Green Zone.

Baghdad 2004-04-28

Hello everyone!

I hope this e-mail finds you well.

Much to write about since I last sent a dispatch. First, I have received a tremendous response and more people have wanted me to add them to the newsletter. I have also had a few people requesting permission to forward on my dispatches. Feel free to forward them as you see fit. One of my objectives is to relate as much as possible of what I see is happening here on the ground in Iraq.

I will start with my trip to Baghdad. I was scheduled to depart last Saturday. They picked me up at the hotel in the early morning and drove me to an Army/Air Force base in the Kuwait. While there, I met up with the other contractors flying into Iraq. Many of them were blue collar types destined for a myriad of locations from Mosul to Baghdad. A couple guys I talked to were headed off to help run an ice factory. Another guy was to go work at a prison. Pretty rough and ready types all bent on seeking their various fortunes while leaving their loved ones back home. Some were clearly there for their country. Several wore t-shirts emblazoned with "Operation Iraqi Freedom". Most were Southerners. Of these, the majority were Texans. I'm already slipping into a Southern accent.

The process for boarding the C-130 was extremely tedious. (for those unfamiliar, this is the standard US military plane used to transport cargo and personnel. They can also be converted into AC-130 gunships by installing weapons these were used today in Fallujah to target insurgents) The whole boarding process was stop and go, stop and go. A lot of waiting around to hurry up and wait some more. "Hurry up and wait" as those in the military refer to it. The whole boarding operation was contracted out to a firm. Every job in the process was outsourced except for the crew of the C-130. Although outsourcing has been happening in the military for a while, it seems to be gathering pace. I wonder if one day the entire military will be outsourced! Probably not but I think the trend will continue.

Read the rest of Christian's Dispatches from Iraq.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

May Day!

Posted by Keith

Greetings to all my Communist Comrades!

Secret handshakes to my Anarchist buddies!

For all you Socialist Workers out there, keep up the good work!

I hope all you Witches had a lovely Walpurgis Night and many happy turns around the May Pole! Think of me whilst you frolic.

Itís a joy to see hundreds of little Catholic School Children twirling around a fertility symbol, all in honor of the Virgin. Wink.

Happy Birthday Ma Sanchez!