Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chatting to a chimp in chimpanzee

If we could talk to the animals, just imagine it/ Chatting to a chimp in chimpanzee/ Imagine talking to a tiger, chatting to a cheetah/ What a neat achievement that would be. Doctor Dolittle
David Seaton's News Links
Sometimes you hear people say, "how can anyone spend so much time worrying about animals when human beings all over the world are suffering?"

Actually the people who don't worry about animals probably don't worry about people very much either. The act of "caring" is a muscle that has to be constantly exercised. The more it is used the stronger it gets.

The path to peace is about empathy: its about seeing our self in others, it's about extending compassion farther and farther beyond our own narrow circle of lovers, friends and family, community, religion and country. The idea here is that if you believe that talking to monkeys is useful, then you might also come to believe that trying to understand and care about any other human being is a valuable use of your time too. DS

Groundbreaking Research Has Scientists Talking With Apes - ABC News
Abstract: The Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, is home to seven bonobos -- a close relative of the chimpanzee -- and three orangutans. But if you think Iowa might be a strange place for them to live, don't say it out loud & these apes understand English. Really. No kidding. You can talk to the apes, and they know what you are saying. The residents of the Great Ape Trust are part of groundbreaking language research where the apes are being taught to communicate with humans by pressing 350 lexigrams -- symbols that appear on a screen and represent thoughts and objects. The superstar is 26-year-old Kanzi, whom Bill Fields has been working with for years. To communicate, Fields speaks to Kanzi, who then points to the lexigrams to respond and demonstrate a level of understanding. "Qualitatively, there is no difference between Kanzi's language and my language," Fields said. "It's a matter of degree." The key to ensuring they grasp the language, the researchers said, is to start teaching them when they are young, just like you would with human babies.(...) When they begin to work with the apes, some pick up the vocabulary quickly while others never acquire the language. Rob Shumaker has known Azy, a majestic, huge male orangutan, for more than 20 years. He talks to Azy, just like he would speak to one of his children, or a longtime friend. "When I'm around them we just kind of talk normally," he explained. "I use my normal vocabulary, my normal voice my normal gestures." Sound beyond belief? During a visit to the Great Ape Trust, I sat down with Kanzi the Bonobo -- the first Ape I have ever interviewed. I read Kanzi a series of words, and then without fail, he hit the corresponding lexigram symbol on a touch screen. I said "Egg." He pressed "Egg." I said, "M and M." He pressed "M and M." Then Kanzi took control of the conversation and pressed the symbol for "Surprise!" Needless to say, I was quite surprised, having never actually spoken to an ape before. But Kanzi was pointing to a box of candy that I was sitting near. That is the surprise that he wanted.(...) The insight into ape learning might also give some insight into human development. "It tells us about how we learn everything," said Fields, "what the antecedents are to the kind of powerful learning that could occur in humans." Sometimes the similarities to humans are downright eerie. When I asked Kanzi if he wanted coffee, he enthusiastically shook his head up and down. Bonobos share 98 percent of their DNA with humans -- they also apparently share a love of decaf caramel machiatos. READ IT ALL

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Green Death: money laundering and tax havens

David Seaton's News Links
Offshore tax havens probably do more damage to the poor people of the world than AIDS, avian flu or climate change put together.

In Spain, the presence of Gibraltar's opaque banking system has made the Costa del Sol a refuge for every type of criminal extant and led to an imaginative cross fertilization of drug money laundering and real estate speculation which may end up causing as much damage to the Spanish political system as the "tangetopoli" scandal did to Italy's in the 90's.

There is really little I can add to this excellent article from The Guardian other than to draw your attention to it. I would appreciate any comment from readers with special knowledge of this problem. DS

Dirty money flows distort our economy and corrupt democracy - Guardian
Abstract: Tax havens warp the foundations of market capitalism. David Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage says that production should gravitate towards geographically relevant areas: cheap manufactures come from China and France or Chile produce fine wines. But now we have thousands of companies operating from one building in the Cayman Islands, and a former Thai prime minister avoids paying tax on a $1.9bn sale through a British Virgin Islands company called Ample Rich Investments. Small wonder that people lack confidence in the global economy. Swiss bankers, worried that the Nazi gold scandal had affected their reputation, cooed that secrecy "is as vital as the air we breathe". But, in practice, this parallel economy is a hothouse for crime and corruption, facilitating capital flight from developing countries on a mind-boggling scale, a corollary of the City's boasts about attracting capital into the UK. The offshore economy distorts markets by providing tax loopholes to some businesses but not others. It corrupts democracy, helping elites to evade their responsibilities to the societies that nurtured them, and breaking fundamental relationships of accountability that are forged when rulers tax citizens. It does not create wealth but redistributes it from poor to rich. Worse, it destroys wealth and slows growth.(...) to win the battle against the cancer of tax havens will require much greater commitment to international cooperation, founded on a push for greater transparency. Global debate on these issues is long overdue. New branches of economics are required, asking questions such as how certain aspects of global financial and trade liberalisation foster criminogenic, corrupting environments. Astonishingly, neither the IMF nor the World Bank have seriously studied the scale or nature of global dirty money flows, which others estimate at up to $1.6 trillion per year - half from poorer countries. For each dollar of aid into Africa, at least five flows out under the table. The time has come to confront the tax-haven monster. READ IT ALL

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

High rolling holy rollers with a big bank roll

Photograph by Bill Snead
David Seaton's News Links
Part of the charm of the United States is all the strange and weird things that happen all the time.

Lenin used to ask, when asked about "freedom": "Freedom? Freedom for whom? Freedom to do what?" This creationist museum might be the answer.

One of the essential roots of American culture from the earliest days has been religious nonconformity and even religious manias. This article from the Guardian fits in with that.

What distinguishes today's holy rollers is the money they are finding to express themselves with. Traditionally these people, by definition uneducated refugees from a Flannery O'Connor short story, have always been dirt poor and outside the system. The $27m that this creationist museum cost is the real novelty here. Where is all the dough coming from for this "know-nothing Disneyland"? DS

World's first creationist museum opens in Kentucky - Guardian
Abstract: The world's first creationist museum, which tells visitors the Earth is only about 6,000 years old, has opened its doors in the American midwest. The Creation Museum claims dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex lived alongside ancient civilisations but were strictly vegetarian before the Fall of Man and that the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood. Some 4,000 people visited the Kentucky museum on its first day yesterday while demonstrators protested outside and a plane towing a banner reading "Thou shalt not lie" circled overhead. Critics say the $27m (£14m) centre, whose motto is "Prepare to believe!", will be the first museum in the world whose exhibits are almost entirely fake. It is seeking to convince visitors of the truth of its belief in the account of the world's creation in the book of Genesis through a mixture of animatronic models and tableaux.(...) Some exhibits show dinosaurs aboard Noah's ark and assert that all animals were vegetarians until Adam committed the first sin in the garden of Eden. When Mr Marsh was asked to explain the existence of fossilised remains of man's ancestors, he replied: "There are no such things. "Humans are basically as you see them today. Those skeletons they've found, what's the word? They could have been deformed, diseased or something. "I've seen people like that running round the streets of New York." READ IT ALL

Monday, May 28, 2007

News Flash! Rousseau vindicated: people are basically good

"Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise"
Masaccio - 1427
David Seaton's News Links
Here in this article is probably the most revolutionary discovery of our age...(no kidding) with the most far reaching political consequences imaginable. There is now scientific proof that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was right in theorizing that human beings are naturally good and only deformed by society. The National Institutes of Health's studies, quoted below, do nothing less than prove that the doctrine of Original Sin does not fit observable data. Altruism is demonstrably "hard wired" into our brains. Since, aside from greed, the the perfectibility of humanity here on earth or its innate depravity is the issue that fundamentally divides the left from the right and defines their world views, you could call the studies cited in this Washington Post article, "game, set and match": the end of the "conservative revolution".

Although it tears holes in the intricate lacework of Christian
theology this new view of human ethics and morality may reawaken much of the world spiritually. The logic of Christian theology depends on the existence of a God that created this evil creature (the human being) to "love" him and in order for this befouled, yet somehow adorable creature, to be saved from its evil ways, it would require that God engender a human son and then sacrifice this son cruelly - sacrifice him to himself that is.

Certainly this new view of human nature is easier to fit God into than the one I have just outlined. In this new view God has created a creature with all that is needed to survive and prosper - the way a good father should - and then left his children to work out the "how" they do it, also as a good father should. DS

If It Feels Good to Be Good, It Might Be Only Natural - Washington Post

By Shankar Vedantam
May 28, 2007; A01

The e-mail came from the next room.

"You gotta see this!" Jorge Moll had written. Moll and Jordan Grafman, neuroscientists at the National Institutes of Health, had been scanning the brains of volunteers as they were asked to think about a scenario involving either donating a sum of money to charity or keeping it for themselves.

As Grafman read the e-mail, Moll came bursting in. The scientists stared at each other. Grafman was thinking, "Whoa -- wait a minute!"

The results were showing that when the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.

Their 2006 finding that unselfishness can feel good lends scientific support to the admonitions of spiritual leaders such as Saint Francis of Assisi, who said, "For it is in giving that we receive." But it is also a dramatic example of the way neuroscience has begun to elbow its way into discussions about morality and has opened up a new window on what it means to be good.

Grafman and others are using brain imaging and psychological experiments to study whether the brain has a built-in moral compass. The results -- many of them published just in recent months -- are showing, unexpectedly, that many aspects of morality appear to be hard-wired in the brain, most likely the result of evolutionary processes that began in other species.

No one can say whether giraffes and lions experience moral qualms in the same way people do because no one has been inside a giraffe's head, but it is known that animals can sacrifice their own interests: One experiment found that if each time a rat is given food, its neighbor receives an electric shock, the first rat will eventually forgo eating.

What the new research is showing is that morality has biological roots -- such as the reward center in the brain that lit up in Grafman's experiment -- that have been around for a very long time.

The more researchers learn, the more it appears that the foundation of morality is empathy. Being able to recognize -- even experience vicariously -- what another creature is going through was an important leap in the evolution of social behavior. And it is only a short step from this awareness to many human notions of right and wrong, says Jean Decety, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago.

The research enterprise has been viewed with interest by philosophers and theologians, but already some worry that it raises troubling questions. Reducing morality and immorality to brain chemistry -- rather than free will -- might diminish the importance of personal responsibility. Even more important, some wonder whether the very idea of morality is somehow degraded if it turns out to be just another evolutionary tool that nature uses to help species survive and propagate.

Moral decisions can often feel like abstract intellectual challenges, but a number of experiments such as the one by Grafman have shown that emotions are central to moral thinking. In another experiment published in March, University of Southern California neuroscientist Antonio R. Damasio and his colleagues showed that patients with damage to an area of the brain known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex lack the ability to feel their way to moral answers.

When confronted with moral dilemmas, the brain-damaged patients coldly came up with "end-justifies-the-means" answers. Damasio said the point was not that they reached immoral conclusions, but that when confronted by a difficult issue -- such as whether to shoot down a passenger plane hijacked by terrorists before it hits a major city -- these patients appear to reach decisions without the anguish that afflicts those with normally functioning brains.

Such experiments have two important implications. One is that morality is not merely about the decisions people reach but also about the process by which they get there. Another implication, said Adrian Raine, a clinical neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, is that society may have to rethink how it judges immoral people.

Psychopaths often feel no empathy or remorse. Without that awareness, people relying exclusively on reasoning seem to find it harder to sort their way through moral thickets. Does that mean they should be held to different standards of accountability?

"Eventually, you are bound to get into areas that for thousands of years we have preferred to keep mystical," said Grafman, the chief cognitive neuroscientist at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Some of the questions that are important are not just of intellectual interest, but challenging and frightening to the ways we ground our lives. We need to step very carefully."

Joshua D. Greene, a Harvard neuroscientist and philosopher, said multiple experiments suggest that morality arises from basic brain activities. Morality, he said, is not a brain function elevated above our baser impulses. Greene said it is not "handed down" by philosophers and clergy, but "handed up," an outgrowth of the brain's basic propensities.

Moral decision-making often involves competing brain networks vying for supremacy, he said. Simple moral decisions -- is killing a child right or wrong? -- are simple because they activate a straightforward brain response. Difficult moral decisions, by contrast, activate multiple brain regions that conflict with one another, he said.

In one 2004 brain-imaging experiment, Greene asked volunteers to imagine that they were hiding in a cellar of a village as enemy soldiers came looking to kill all the inhabitants. If a baby was crying in the cellar, Greene asked, was it right to smother the child to keep the soldiers from discovering the cellar and killing everyone?

The reason people are slow to answer such an awful question, the study indicated, is that emotion-linked circuits automatically signaling that killing a baby is wrong clash with areas of the brain that involve cooler aspects of cognition. One brain region activated when people process such difficult choices is the inferior parietal lobe, which has been shown to be active in more impersonal decision-making. This part of the brain, in essence, was "arguing" with brain networks that reacted with visceral horror.

Such studies point to a pattern, Greene said, showing "competing forces that may have come online at different points in our evolutionary history. A basic emotional response is probably much older than the ability to evaluate costs and benefits."

While one implication of such findings is that people with certain kinds of brain damage may do bad things they cannot be held responsible for, the new research could also expand the boundaries of moral responsibility. Neuroscience research, Greene said, is finally explaining a problem that has long troubled philosophers and moral teachers: Why is it that people who are willing to help someone in front of them will ignore abstract pleas for help from those who are distant, such as a request for a charitable contribution that could save the life of a child overseas?

"We evolved in a world where people in trouble right in front of you existed, so our emotions were tuned to them, whereas we didn't face the other kind of situation," Greene said. "It is comforting to think your moral intuitions are reliable and you can trust them. But if my analysis is right, your intuitions are not trustworthy. Once you realize why you have the intuitions you have, it puts a burden on you" to think about morality differently.

Marc Hauser, another Harvard researcher, has used cleverly designed psychological experiments to study morality. He said his research has found that people all over the world process moral questions in the same way, suggesting that moral thinking is intrinsic to the human brain, rather than a product of culture. It may be useful to think about morality much like language, in that its basic features are hard-wired, Hauser said. Different cultures and religions build on that framework in much the way children in different cultures learn different languages using the same neural machinery.

Hauser said that if his theory is right, there should be aspects of morality that are automatic and unconscious -- just like language. People would reach moral conclusions in the same way they construct a sentence without having been trained in linguistics. Hauser said the idea could shed light on contradictions in common moral stances.

U.S. law, for example, distinguishes between a physician who removes a feeding tube from a terminally ill patient and a physician who administers a drug to kill the patient.

Hauser said the only difference is that the second scenario is more emotionally charged -- and therefore feels like a different moral problem, when it really is not: "In the end, the doctor's intent is to reduce suffering, and that is as true in active as in passive euthanasia, and either way the patient is dead."

Saturday, May 26, 2007

On the death of a soldier

I would like to extend my condolences to Professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston university on the death of his son Andrew junior. Lt Bacevich was killed in action in Iraq on May 13th. Words cannot express the respect I feel for both of them and the sorrow I feel for professor Bacevich's loss.

It is nauseating to think that none of the men who promoted this illegal, immoral and murderous war, or any of their children would dream of fighting in it. And it is unbearably sad to think that precisely one of the most articulate, reasoned and firm opponents of the war should lose a son there; killed while following their family's tradition of bearing arms in the country's service.

The death of Lt. Bacevich and the grief of his warrior-historian father has notes of ancient Rome, Greek tragedy or of the heroes of the Mahabharata. Peace to both of them and to those who love them. Amen.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Iraq versus Vietnam... LBJ and Dubya

President Lyndon Johnson listens to a tape recording from his son-in-law Capt. Charles Robb, who was a Marine Corps company commander in Vietnam. By Jack Kightlinger, Washington, DC, July 31, 1968
David Seaton's News Links
People are always comparing Iraq to Vietnam and the photograph above does the job very well... better than any I've ever seen.

The candid photograph above shows the President of the United States bent in sorrowful concentration listening to a recorded message from his son in law, a US Marine serving in Vietnam. Can you imagine George W. Bush - who also has two daughters - having a son in law in the US Marines, much less one serving in Iraq? In fact I can't even imagine Bush ever sitting in such a tragic pose in all his life... unless he was hungover.

The man in the photograph is Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States, a man whose presidency was destroyed by the war in Vietnam. If it hadn't been for Vietnam, I believe that LBJ's would have been one of history's great presidencies: certainly one of the greatest from a progressive point of view.

The centerpiece of Johnson's administration was the "Great Society's" social programs, and most of what little social democracy the United States possesses today we owe to LBJ. Medicare, Medicaid, and federal education funding, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the National Public Radio are just a few of the programs we owe to Johnson. The Wikipedia article states that, "The two main goals of the Great Society social reforms were the elimination of poverty and racial injustice".
As the Bible's shortest sentence puts it, "Jesus wept". All in all it was the most fertile period of social legislation in American history after FDR's "New Deal". African-Americans probably owe Johnson more than any other president after Lincoln.

FDR was Lyndon
Johnson's hero... funnily enough Roosevelt was also Ronald Reagan's hero too. Many consider that Ronald Reagan's main achievement was defeating the "evil empire" - which probably collapsed under its own dead weight - when in fact Reagan's principal goal, one could call it his life's work, was to destroy as much as he could of Johnson's "Great Society". Bush's hero of course is Ronald Reagan.

A man of prodigious, practical energy, an impassioned defender of the underprivileged and the excluded, with all his faults, LBJ was "a man in full"... nothing like the autistic and incompetent little twerp that sits in the Oval Office today. DS

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Immigration will break the right

"It's simply impossible for any political party to win if it has to choose between money and votes." Thomas F. Schaller - Salon

David Seaton's News Links
Any left wing analysis going way back into the 19th century would tell you that the top-hatted, cigar chomping, cartoon capitalist uses xenophobia to divide and manipulate the working class: playing on and encouraging their nativist sentiments in order to better exploit them. I imagine any little Cuban "young pioneer" in Havana learns that before he finishes third grade.

With globalization
all that has been turned on its head. The money wants all the cheap immigrant labor it can get and all the outsourcing all over the world it needs to provide it with what Marx called the "huge reservoir of surplus workers"... and it doesn't want its political operators to turn off the supply. The natural tactic is to talk xenophobic, but continue to liberalize. This is what Sarkozy seems have done to win the Le Pen votes, but if he doesn't throw them some red meat soon, they will know they've been had and turn on him.

I think that the contradiction between the cosmopolitan money and the xenophobic base will inevitably split the right in Europe and lead to a growth of neo-fascist parties and in America the issue may very well hamstring the Republicans... Marx would probably say that they would have to start a war to resolve the contradiction. Iran anyone? Stay tuned. DS

Could immigration really be the issue that finally cracks the Republican base? - Salon
Abstract: For the past three decades, Republicans have carefully sidestepped the kinds of issues that could divide a party's followers from its Beltway elites -- and expertly deployed the same wedge issues against the Democrats. Now the party's 2008 front-runners are in trouble, one of Karl Rove's long-term strategic goals is in doubt, and the foot soldiers are close to open revolt, all thanks to one uniquely radioactive wedge issue. Could Limbaugh's warning about a great unraveling be true? "The Republican strategy on immigration has been one of the great failures of modern politics," says Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, which has organized a systematic outreach campaign to Hispanic voters. "What's going on in the Republican Party is a debate between the strategists who want to win and a part of their base that is extremely xenophobic." Immigration is especially perilous for the GOP because it is what might be called a "double-edged" wedge issue. It not only pits the party's base against a large and quickly growing pool of potential new Republicans -- 41 million Hispanics -- but also pits two key parts of the existing base against each other. The Wall Street wing of the GOP, which finances the party, wants to keep open the spigot of pliant and cheap Spanish-speaking labor. It finds itself opposed by much of the Main Street wing, which provides millions of crucial primary and general election votes and would like to build a fence along the Mexican border as high as Lou Dobbs' ratings or the pitch of Pat Buchanan's voice. And it's simply impossible for any political party to win if it has to choose between money and votes. READ IT ALL

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

How we screwed it up with Russia... step by step

An offer she can't refuse
David Seaton's News Links
Normally the defeat of a country in war is first a military defeat, second a military occupation and third, through most of history, the defeated country is then pillaged and its unfortunate and impoverished inhabitants humiliated.

Let's go through that sequence again:
  1. Military defeat
  2. Military occupation
  3. Pillage
  4. Humiliate
People tend to resent steps three and four, but with steps one and two in place, there isn't much they can do about it... unless they are Arabs, of course. In the case of Russia's losing the Cold War, steps one and two were skipped and steps three and four were carried out au outrance. That, in essence, is what we are paying for now. Certainly after neglecting steps one and two, while effecting steps three and four, it was extremely imprudent to then allow oneself to become totally dependent on the defeated and resentful country's natural resources. DS

Gerhard Schröder: 'Change through Integration' - Der Spiegel
Abstract: Anyone who wishes to judge Russia fairly should first take a look at its history. The country had no democratic tradition. After centuries of czarist rule, even tyranny, a civilian government existed for the space of a few months in 1917. That was followed by 75 years of communist dictatorship, which also resulted in the oppression of Eastern European and East Germany after World War II. The period following the fall of the Iron Curtain in the 1990s still finds occasional praise in the Western media. But those who look at the issue more closely will quickly discover that alarming economic developments accompanied the decline of government power. President Putin's achievement since 1999 consists in having led Russia, following a decade of chaos, economically, as well as domestically and on the foreign stage, down a path of stability and consistency. This is especially the case because large segments of the country's economic and social policy were fundamentally reformed. These reforms have led Russia along a stable path of growth. The Russian economy has grown by between 5 and 10 percent annually since 1999. Efforts were launched to develop a constitutional state, which is still the prerequisite of democracy. No one disputes that there are deficits in Russia. Indeed, the country is only starting to develop in many areas. No one is more aware of this than the current Russian leadership. But we should also realize this: Where would the country be today if the chaos of the 1990s had spread, its ethnic and religious diversity had erupted into violent conflicts and Russia, a nuclear power, had become a "failed state" -- that is, a disintegrating, ungovernable country? None of this has happened. One could call it a stroke of luck. But it has more to do with political activity than with luck.(...) Germany is firmly anchored in a trans-Atlantic alliance, and we share a common system of values. But the interests of Europe and the United States diverge somewhat when it comes to Russian policy or "Ostpolitik." We will not achieve a reliable partnership with Russia unless we discuss these differences openly and act accordingly. The American strategy towards Russia is not in line with our European interests. The only thing that is clear is their understanding of their own future power-political and military role in the world. Great opportunities lie in a close cooperation with Russia. But we should not behave as if it is only the Russians who should be grateful to be allowed to be our partners. We are grateful for this partnership. READ IT ALL

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ethanol Horror story: hogs forced to eat junk food

David Seaton's News Links
Bismark said that is was better for people to not know how sausages were made. Still as true as the day he said it.

This is a story that illustrates the insanity of turning corn into fuel for automobiles and also gives interesting insights into the food industry too.

Does anybody remember the film called "Soylent Green", cause reading this article from the Wall Street Journal, I think we are headed in that direction for sure. DS

With Corn Prices Rising, Pigs Switch To Junk Food - Wall Street Journal
Abstract: "Pigs can be picky eaters," Mr. Smith says, scooping a handful of banana chips, yogurt-covered raisins, dried papaya and cashews from one of the 12 one-ton boxes in his shed. Generally, he says, "they like the sweet stuff." Mr. Smith is just happy his pigs aren't eating him out of house and home. Growing demand for corn-based ethanol, a biofuel that has surged in popularity over the past year, has pushed up the price of corn, Mr. Smith's main feed, to near-record levels. Because feed represents farms' biggest single cost in raising animals, farmers are serving them a lot of people food, since it can be cheaper. Besides trail mix, pigs and cattle are downing cookies, licorice, cheese curls, candy bars, french fries, frosted wheat cereal and peanut-butter cups. Some farmers mix chocolate powder with cereal and feed it to baby pigs. "It's kind of like getting Cocoa Puffs," says David Funderburke, a livestock nutritionist at Cape Fear Consulting in Warsaw, N.C., who helps Mr. Smith and other farmers formulate healthy diets for livestock.(...) In Pennsylvania, farmers are turning to candy bars and snack foods because of the many food manufacturers nearby. Hershey Co. sells farmers waste cocoa and the trimmings from wafers that go into its Kit Kat bars. At Nissin Foods, maker of Top Ramen and Cup Noodles, farmers drive to a Lancaster, Pa., factory and load up on scraps of the squiggly dried noodles, which pile up in bins beneath the assembly line. Hiroshi Kika, a senior manager at the company, says the farm business is "very minor" but helps the company's effort to "do anything to recycle." Other businesses called "jobbers" serve as middlemen, buying food that manufacturers would otherwise throw away, like burned or broken cookies, or cereal that contains too much sugar, and selling it to livestock operations.(...) Historically, the livestock industry has consumed 60% of the nation's corn crop. Thanks to the ethanol rush, the price of a bushel of corn for months has hovered around $4 -- nearly double the price of a few years ago. That has prompted livestock groups like the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the National Chicken Council to call for an end to federal ethanol subsidies, including a 51-cent-per-gallon tax credit offered to companies that blend gasoline with ethanol. For now, livestock must pay up or make do with alternatives.(...) Mr. Smith says he's paying about $63 to feed a single pig for five or six months before it goes to market -- up 13% from last year. His costs would be even higher if he didn't augment his feed with trail mix, which he says helps him save on average about $8 a ton on feed. This year, Mr. Smith has bought enough trail mix to feed about 5,000 hogs, and that will save him about $40,000. He began feeding his hogs trail mix about a year ago, after Mr. Funderburke told him a local manufacturer was looking to dump surplus mix that was either too salty, sprinkled with cardboard or otherwise unfit for human consumption. Mr. Smith recently got a truckload of chocolate chips and his pigs seem to like them. "I've heard no complaints," he says.(...) Dwight Hess, a cattle feedlot operator in Marietta, Pa., is located in the heart of snack country, near Hershey and Herr Foods Inc., a maker of potato chips, pretzels and snack mixes. His cattle ration consists of about 17% "candy meal," a blend of chocolate bars and large chunks of chocolate; 3% of what he calls "party mix," a blend of popcorn, pretzels, potato chips and cheese curls; 8% corn gluten; and the remainder corn and barley he grows. He says the byproducts save him about 10% on feed costs. Still, it costs him about 65 cents to put a pound on a steer, up from 42 cents last year. Near the Snake River in Idaho, Cevin Jones of Intermountain Beef is struggling to feed his 12,000 cattle in light of higher feed costs. Traditionally, he has used up to 30% corn or other grains in his feed mix. This year he's using 100% byproducts, including french fries, Tater Tots and potato peels. "It's kind of funny," Mr. Jones says, "every once in a while, you can spot a couple of cattle fighting over a whole potato." READ IT ALL

Carter's call: Bush is the all time worst

The Killer Rabbit Strikes
David Seaton's News Links
It is quite extraordinary for a former president to criticize the officiating President of the United States in as harsh a fashion as Jimmy Carter has done. It is obvious that Carter is genuinely alarmed at Bush's behavior and fears for the future of the Republic. I think he has every reason to be.

To use Bush's pet phrase, "There are some who," ... There are some who think Bush is stupid. I don't. I think the problem with Bush is that he is a very bad man, what the Spanish call "una mala persona" or what a cockney would call "a nasty piece of work". But he is not dumb.

A proof of his superior intelligence is that he has been able over the years to convince many people (most Americans at one time or another) that he is a "regular guy", a "straight shooter", "just folks" etc, when the fact is that he is a cheater a liar, a nasty sonovabitch and a jerk to boot. To do that takes brains, not just cunning. It also takes an enormous focus, a focus that must be very draining on all the rest of his personality. His own self-deception and fear of self-examination must be so monumental as to preclude almost any other kind of meaningful mentation.

Jimmy Carter has every right to be alarmed. The next few months may be the most dangerous in the history of the United States. Here is a bad man with a damaged personality, facing total failure and humiliation... and with an atomic arsenal at his disposal. Take a look around you and savor it, next year the world may look a whole lot different. DS

Carter Blasts Bush on His Global Impact - Associated Press

Former President Carter says President Bush's administration is "the worst in history" in international relations, taking aim at the White House's policy of pre-emptive war and its Middle East diplomacy. The criticism from Carter, which a biographer says is unprecedented for the 39th president, also took aim at Bush's environmental policies and the administration's "quite disturbing" faith-based initiative funding. "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history," Carter told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in a story that appeared in the newspaper's Saturday editions. "The overt reversal of America's basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including those of George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me."(...) "We now have endorsed the concept of pre-emptive war where we go to war with another nation militarily, even though our own security is not directly threatened, if we want to change the regime there or if we fear that some time in the future our security might be endangered," he said. "But that's been a radical departure from all previous administration policies." Carter, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, criticized Bush for having "zero peace talks" in Israel. Carter also said the administration "abandoned or directly refuted" every negotiated nuclear arms agreement, as well as environmental efforts by other presidents. Carter also offered a harsh assessment for the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which helped religious charities receive $2.15 billion in federal grants in fiscal year 2005 alone. "The policy from the White House has been to allocate funds to religious institutions, even those that channel those funds exclusively to their own particular group of believers in a particular religion," Carter said. "As a traditional Baptist, I've always believed in separation of church and state and honored that premise when I was president, and so have all other presidents, I might say, except this one."(...) Carter also lashed out Saturday at British prime minister Tony Blair. Asked how he would judge Blair's support of Bush, the former president said: "Abominable. Loyal. Blind. Apparently subservient." "And I think the almost undeviating support by Great Britain for the ill-advised policies of President Bush in Iraq have been a major tragedy for the world," Carter told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. READ IT ALL

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Sunday Treat - Music from another planet

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Tin Pan Alley and the Great American Songbook... 1943, Frank Sinatra sings Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust". This is as close as the USA comes to a Romanesque church. If film didn't exist this would all be gone by now. DS

Russia: things we did that we ought not to have done

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Alongside the Iraq debacle, America's greatest strategic error since WWII has been its handling of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its naked exploitation of Russia's weakness in the 1990s, which Russians view (correctly, in my opinion) as kicking them when they were down.

Ironically at the same time that the US and its allies were doing everything they could to create a revanchist minded Russia, Europe became dependent on Russian energy. That is the basic contradiction and all the talk about "shared values" is so much narcissistic claptrap. Russia is suddenly a major power again and perhaps it is a greater power now than before because during the cold war Russia was not integrated into our system and the west had not come to depend on its infinite resources.

Suddenly Poland, the Baltic republics and the Ukraine are so many millstones around the European Union's neck. There is a very good chance that NATO will founder on this question as nobody in their right mind is going to go to war with Russia to defend Estonia and even the tensions within the European Union may become unbearable as German business's frustration grows at the obstacles that Poland continuously throws up to Germany's natural synergies with Russia. DS

Engaging an angry bear - The Boston Globe

Russians believe they have nothing to show for years of pro-U.S. policy, and instead have been rewarded with a policy of "neo-containment." Moscow sees the United States setting up ballistic missile defense interceptors and military bases on its borders, fomenting revolutions in neighboring states and supporting construction of oil and gas pipelines that circumvent Russia. Moscow views the status quo as enshrining its post-Cold War weakness, and the Kremlin is dead set on breaking out of that arrangement. Russia will likely seek to renegotiate arms control agreements and political arrangements that date from its time of troubles, the 1990s. The days of Moscow as Washington's junior partner are over. Doing business with this Russia won't be easy. But giving up on U.S.-Russian relations, a current predisposition among many elites in both capitals, won't serve either's interest. The world's leading power needs better ties with a Russia that is the leading producer of oil and gas, possesses thousands of nuclear warheads, is a key player in major crises (such as Iran) and - like it or not - will retain significant influence in its energy-rich(...) neighborhood.(...) the United States needs to fundamentally alter its conception of Russia. Moscow is resurgent on key diplomatic issues and Russian business is now influential across the globe. Washington should view Russia as a major nonaligned power - more like China or India than a poor second-tier disciple. READ IT ALL

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hit the road jack..... no mo', no mo', no mo', no mo'

"Everyone ran into the hallways and were clapping and hugging each other," said one employee who declined to be named. - Reuters
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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is Al Gore America's last serious politician?

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Is Al Gore America's last serious politician? Can any other major American politician ask the questions he asks in this Time article... in this manner... with a straight face?

Will America be finally forced to choose between Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton?

Will history record that America's democracy died of terminal silliness? DS

Al Gore: The Assault on Reason - Time Magazine
Abstract: Not long before our nation launched the invasion of Iraq, our longest-serving Senator, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, stood on the Senate floor and said: "This chamber is, for the most part, silent—ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing. We stand passively mute in the United States Senate." Why was the Senate silent? In describing the empty chamber the way he did, Byrd invited a specific version of the same general question millions of us have been asking: "Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?" The persistent and sustained reliance on falsehoods as the basis of policy, even in the face of massive and well-understood evidence to the contrary, seems to many Americans to have reached levels that were previously unimaginable. A large and growing number of Americans are asking out loud: "What has happened to our country?" People are trying to figure out what has gone wrong in our democracy, and how we can fix it. To take another example, for the first time in American history, the Executive Branch of our government has not only condoned but actively promoted the treatment of captives in wartime that clearly involves torture, thus overturning a prohibition established by General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. It is too easy—and too partisan—to simply place the blame on the policies of President George W. Bush. We are all responsible for the decisions our country makes. We have a Congress. We have an independent judiciary. We have checks and balances. We are a nation of laws. We have free speech. We have a free press. Have they all failed us? Why has America's public discourse become less focused and clear, less reasoned? Faith in the power of reason—the belief that free citizens can govern themselves wisely and fairly by resorting to logical debate on the basis of the best evidence available, instead of raw power—remains the central premise of American democracy. This premise is now under assault. READ IT ALL

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Blair and Wolfie, a snapshot of Limbo

"There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming." 'Riverbend'

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Occasionally political life produces delicious synchronicities. In the same week that Tony Blair threw in the towel, Paul Wolfowitz, one of the most influential promoters of the war in Iraq, the event most responsible for spoiling Blair's brilliant career, begged a stony faced board of the World Bank not to forcibly remove him from his post as its president. Both men have been brought low by a war that began over four years ago.

In Umberto Eco's bestseller "The Name of the Rose", those who tried to read Aristotle's "Book on Comedy", were poisoned by just touching the pages. Although many would like to move on, "turning the page" on Iraq is just as futile. Invading Iraq was a serious strategic error which Israel's legendary military guru, Martin VanCreveld considers, "the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them" and which others have gone so far as to compare with Hitler's suicidal invasion of Russia. One of the differences between a tactical error and a strategic error is that strategic errors don’t go away, paraphrasing an old advertising slogan, they are “the gift that keeps on giving”. Like Aristotle's "Book on Comedy," they simply don’t allow their pages to be turned.

Blair's predecessor, Harold Macmillan, envisioned Britain's relationship with America's rude "new Rome" as that of the wise and cultured Greeks, but in Iraq it fell to Tony Blair to fully explore the meanings of the word "Greek", because as the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim wrote in the Guardian, "Blair failed to understand that America's really special relationship is with Israel, not Britain. Every time that George Bush had to choose between Blair and Ariel Sharon, he chose the latter." In fact, for the neocons like Wolfowitz who promoted it, the invasion of Iraq was a success until Ariel Sharon lapsed into coma. In fact, a shattered, chaotic Arab world divided into fractious "reinos de Taifas" incapable of uniting against Israel and the subsequent devastation of Iran were the invasion's true objects. Only the brilliant Sharon could ever have hoped to navigate in such chaos: the "sorcerer's apprentices" like Bush and Ehud Olmert are lost in the wreckage and Blair's career is just another broken toy.

Blair and Wolfowitz can go home now and write their memoirs, but Bush, likewise paralyzed by Iraq's poisoned pages, has a year and a half of political limbo left in the White House. Albert R. Hunt, Bloomberg's Washington bureau wrote, "Almost two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Bush's job performance. Bush is reviled around much of the world and has precious little political capital at home. This has enormous implications for foreign policy, domestic politics and the legislative agenda for the next year and a half." The behavior of Iran, Russia and Venezuela bear out Bloomberg's analysis. DS

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bush DOA - Bloomberg

"Dead Duck" - Lucas Cranach
"Bloomberg is the leading global provider of data, news and analytics. The BLOOMBERG TERMINAL and Bloomberg's media services provide real-time and archived financial and market data, pricing, trading, news and communications tools in a single, integrated package to corporations, news organizations, financial and legal professionals and individuals around the world." About Bloomberg
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The article below is from Bloomberg, not from the American left-wing's institution, Mother Jones and the author, Albert Hunt, is Bloomberg's Washington bureau chief and not Noam Chomsky. Money talks!

Bush's legacy will finally have been to have killed the "Conservative Revolution" that Barry Goldwater inaugurated in the 1960s. Bush seems to have opened the doors for something new and not just another Clinton-Blair "Third Way", reacting to conservative charisma by trying to dress in the clothes of Reagan and Thatcher. America is at the door of a period that may see conservative policies having to dress up as "liberal - progressive". In France Sarkozy has just offered cabinet posts to important socialists. If you think that Reagan began as a dyed in the wool New Deal Democrat, you can see that the old saying, "what goes around, comes around" is a profound political insight. DS

Republicans Shaken by Bush Presidency - Bloomberg
Abstract: There's a number that chills Republicans: 616. That's how many days remain in the Bush administration. Private conversations with Republicans throughout America reveal doom and gloom about a politically paralyzed presidency and party.(...) ``The country doesn't believe George W. Bush, it doesn't trust him, and with 19 months to go it's only going to get worse,'' predicts Ed Rollins, a Republican strategist who ran Ronald Reagan's 1984 presidential campaign. ``There is nothing the president can do to get his (poll) numbers back up.'' According to those polls, almost two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Bush's job performance; that is Richard Nixon territory. A majority of the public approved of the performance of the last two lame-duck presidents, Reagan and Bill Clinton, at this same stage in their administrations.(...) America is mired in a rudderless status quo. A new embarrassment or scandal -- Alberto Gonzales, Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove -- seems to surface daily; the only good news for the White House is that occasionally these stories overshadow the bad news coming out of Iraq. Bush is reviled around much of the world, has precious little political capital at home, and seems surrounded by hacks or the forgettable and faceless. Strikingly, perhaps the two most important members of the Cabinet -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson -- have little history with the president, and their greatest leverage is the havoc that would be wrought if they left. Each has served in the administration for less than a year.(...) This has enormous implications for foreign policy, domestic politics and the legislative agenda for the next year and a half. Bill Cohen, a Republican who served as defense secretary under Clinton, thinks Bush blew what may have been his last opportunity by failing to embrace the bipartisan recommendations by the Jim Baker-Lee Hamilton-led Iraq Study Group to gradually disengage from Iraq. Cohen, who travels the globe advising clients, says the president ``doesn't have much influence on anything,'' commanding little respect or fear around the world. That's why the notion that he may take military action against Iran -- for good or bad reasons -- is far-fetched. The American military, bogged down in Iraq, lacks the resources and the president lacks the credibility for such a huge step. Politically, there is a telling indicator: Count the number of times any Republican presidential candidate cites Bush in speeches, debates or interviews. You will need only one hand, if that. READ IT ALL

Monday, May 14, 2007

Tony Blair: carrying water for the golem

"Blair failed to understand that America's really special relationship is with Israel, not Britain.(...) The neoconservatives who drove American policy were interested in overthrowing Saddam Hussein and in nothing else." - Avi Shlaim
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The quotes from Israeli historian Avi Shlaim above are the key to Tony Blair's ruin.

If you consider the influence that the philosopher Leo Strauss and his idea of "Noble Lies", has had on Neoconservatives things begin to fall alarmingly into place. The "Noble Lie" is a justification perfect for a secret elite of superior intellects, free to manipulate the lives of lesser mortals
"The ancient philosophers whom Strauss most cherished believed that the unwashed masses were not fit for either truth or liberty, and that giving them these sublime treasures would be like throwing pearls before swine. In contrast to modern political thinkers, the ancients denied that there is any natural right to liberty. Human beings are born neither free nor equal. The natural human condition, they held, is not one of freedom, but of subordination – and in Strauss’s estimation they were right in thinking so." Dr. Shadia Drury, author of "Leo Strauss and the American Right"

"Part of the charm of the regime-change argument (from the point of view of its supporters) is that it depends on premises and objectives that cannot, at least by the administration, be publicly avowed. Since Paul Wolfowitz is from the intellectual school of Leo Strauss—and appears in fictional guise as such in Saul Bellow's novel Ravelstein—one may even suppose that he enjoys this arcane and occluded aspect of the debate." Christopher Hitchens, Slate, Nov. 7, 2002
The harshest truth in world politics today is that the Israeli right, bereft and orphaned without Ariel Sharon, has always conceived of America and its power simply as a "golem", a word that has several meanings, but which in this case would take the meaning given here:
"Often in Ashkenazi Hasidic lore, the golem would come to life and serve his creators by doing tasks assigned to him. The most well-known story of the golem is connected to Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the Maharal of Prague (1513-1609). It was said that he created a golem out of clay to protect the Jewish community from Blood Libel and to help out doing physical labor, since golems are very strong.(...) Sometimes, someone who is large but intellectually slow is called a golem." - The Jewish Virtual Library
In fact the war was a success, a shattered, divided and chaotic Middle East incapable of uniting against Israel was its object. For those who designed and pushed for the war, it was only "lost" when Ariel Sharon went into coma. Sharon was the only sorcerer who could have navigated in a shattered Middle East, the "sorcerer's apprentices" are lost in the wreckage. Blair's career is just another log on the fire. DS

Avi Shlaim: It is not only God that will be Blair's judge over Iraq - The Guardian
Abstract: Blair came to office with no experience of, and virtually no interest in, foreign affairs, and ended by taking this country to war five times. Blair boasts that his foreign policy was guided by the doctrine of liberal interventionism. But the war in Iraq is the antithesis of liberal intervention. It is an illegal, immoral and unnecessary war, a war undertaken on a false prospectus and without sanction from the UN. Blair's entire record in the Middle East is one of catastrophic failure. He used to portray Britain as a bridge between the two sides of the Atlantic. By siding with America against Europe on Iraq, however, he helped to destroy the bridge.(...) Blair failed to understand that America's really special relationship is with Israel, not Britain. Every time that George Bush had to choose between Blair and Ariel Sharon, he chose the latter. Blair's special relationship with Bush was a one-way street: Blair made all the concessions and got nothing tangible in return.(...) True, Blair was the driving force behind the "road map" that envisaged the emergence of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel by the end of 2005. But Sharon wrecked the road map. In return for the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, Sharon exacted a written American agreement to Israel's retention of the major settlement blocs on the West Bank. Blair publicly endorsed the nefarious Sharon-Bush pact. This was the most egregious British betrayal of the Palestinians since the Balfour declaration of 1917. Blair and Bush have also betrayed the Iraqi people. To begin with, there was much brave rhetoric about bringing democracy to Iraq and turning it into a model for the rest of the Arab world. But the rhetoric was empty. The neoconservatives who drove American policy were interested in overthrowing Saddam Hussein and in nothing else.(...) Blair has the audacity to say that God will be his judge over the Iraq war. This is a curious attitude for a democratic politician to adopt. History will surely pass a harsh judgment on Blair. He has the worst record on the Middle East of any British prime minister in the past century, infinitely worse than that of Anthony Eden, who at least had the decency to accept responsibility for the Suez debacle. READ IT ALL

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sunday Treat - Fred Astaire

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1936, when "Follow the Fleet" was made, was not a happy year and the thirties were not happy times, but the idea of "happy" fills this space. The belief in "happy" is alive here. Enjoy! DS

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Posada Carriles and the naked super power

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One very positive thing that has come out of the aftermath of 9-11 and the disaster of Iraq is a thirst for truth, a great unmasking. The world, and for once that includes the American people too, is taking an accelerated, master-class in who and how and why. The thirst for truth is the first step on the path to wisdom and wisdom is the father and mother of peace.

The number of people who can make a Chomsky-like connection of the dots is growing exponentially. The "noble lies" of the followers of Leo Strauss wither in the heat and light of this environment.

To free the right-wing Cuban terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles while at the same time maintaining the Guantanamo prison, where suspected terrorists from all over the world are being held without recourse to due process of law simply leaves the world's most powerful country the United States of America and all who derive legitimacy from the United States, stark, mother naked.

As the new information technology seems to be essential for the economy that feeds the powerful, perhaps this thirst and search for truth will be allowed to continue. DS

To fry the smallest fish - The Guardian
Abstract: A man accused of blowing up an airliner and killing 73 people, who has already admitted to bombing hotels with fatal consequences and who has a conviction for a failed assassination attempt on a head of state, was freed on a technicality in a Texas court this week, and can look forward to a quiet retirement in Florida.(...) Luis Posada, a veteran anti-Castro militant and CIA operative under George Bush Sr, was told that he was free to go due to administrative errors in the case against him for entering the US illegally. Posada is wanted in Venezuela and Cuba for allegedly plotting to blow up a Cuban airliner in which 73 people died in 1976. The US authorities have already indicated that they will not extradite him to either country, and all the other states to which they have sought to deport Posada have refused him entry. No wonder his lawyer remarked, without apparent irony, that "he is very gratified that the system has worked".(...) The Posada case has caused concern inside the United States and outside. Last month a Boston Globe editorial noted that "the administration is treating this case with delicacy, perhaps because of the CIA connection. Who knows what dirty dealings he [Posada] might reveal? ... Yet justice for the deaths of 73 people should outweigh any concerns about ancient CIA revelations." The editorial also suggested that Posada should face trial on the murder charges either in Venezuela or the US. Under a 1971 international convention, a nation that refuses to extradite a suspect in an airliner attack is obliged to try the person in its own courts. The Non-Aligned Movement, which represents some 118 countries - whose support one would have thought the US would value in the "war on terror" - has also expressed its concern. Yesterday it issued a statement that called on America to fulfil its obligations under the United Nations charter that proscribes the harbouring of terrorists. READ IT ALL

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Blair farewell message to Britain: you been 'ad

Those yellow lights on Bayswater Road made you look Chinese to me./ Little Ming Foo, the pearl of the east, turned out to be you, you great hairy beast." "Those Yellow Lights on Bayswater Road" Marty Feldman and Barry Took
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Yes, in fact for the last ten years the British people have been befooled, betrayed, cheated, confounded, confused, deceived, defrauded, deluded, diddled, duped, entangled, entraped, escamotered, fooled, gazumped, gulled, hoaxed, hoodwinked, illaqueated, insnared, lead astray, nobbled, played false, fleeced, sniggled, snowed, swindled, taken for a ride, tricked and generally have been given quite a fucking. DS
Courtesy of the English Synonym Dictionary

Geoffrey Wheatcroft: Bye-Bye, Blair - Slate

All through Blair's career, there has been a fascinating contrast, or dissonance, between appearance and reality, words and deeds, rhetoric and achievement. (...) We didn't laugh, or not immediately, when he said early on, "I would never do anything to harm the country or anything improper. I never have. I think people who've dealt with me think I'm a pretty straight sort of guy." Those memorable words were spoken in the wake of an episode—the rules against tobacco sponsorship of sport were waived after a large donation had been made to Blair's party—for which most of us didn't think straight was quite the word. Since then, there has been a long line of scandals with exotic names like Mittal and Hinduja, culminating in the baroque cash-for-peerages affair, and in the truly extraordinary moment last December when, for the first time in our history, a prime minister was questioned by the police at the official residence at 10 Downing Street. Straight sort of guy? He has been compared to Winston Churchill or to Margaret Thatcher, but the former prime minister he may best resemble is David Lloyd George, of whom historian Kenneth O. Morgan has written that, while Lloyd George's government had plenty of successes to its credit, what people disliked so much was "its tone as much as its policies, its atmosphere of intrigue and corruption." That fits the Blair years all too well. There is a connection between Blair's religion, with his antinomian sense that "to the pure all things are pure," reinforcing a conviction that anything he does must therefore be virtuous, and his conduct in office, the spinning and smearing, the dirty tricks and the cynical maneuvers. Above all, his departure is burdened by Iraq and the burning sense of anger and betrayal so many feel at the way we were taken to war by Blair pitching a false prospectus and selling us a bill of goods, all in his most exalted manner and for what he believed were good reasons. READ IT ALL

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Blair Enigma

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It occurs to me that Tony Blair defines the era we live in... the only problem being, I can't define Tony Blair. He is an ignis fatuus, a will o' the wisp.

Blair is a man who has no equal in his understanding of the politics of today. A man who can play the system's virtual reality like a Bach organist's toccata and fugue, but who has been utterly ruined by reality/reality in its ageless shape of war.

Perhaps this tells us more about our system's divorce from reality than it tells us about Tony Blair. DS

A Player Who Never Found His Stage - New York Times
Abstract: A little over a decade after he came in as the young hope of a New Britain, Tony Blair, who is expected to announce his resignation date today, is a figure vilified and loathed by his own party and disliked by people in Britain at large. There is, however, one good legacy he bequeaths us, and we should not be ungenerous in recognizing it. That is peace in Ireland. Both sides in the Northern Irish dispute hate the English, and both have good reason to do so. This hatred was a substantial reason successive British prime ministers, many of them doing their very best to undo the mistakes of the past, got nowhere with the Irish.(...) Mr. Blair, however, is a boundlessly superficial person, and he was perfectly happy to swim about in the weird world of Irish politics where words could mean anything you liked. Most of his sentences would be untranslatable. They were even delivered in quite different accents, as though he was more than one person, which in a way he is. This multifaceted quality was very useful in Ireland. He is a naturally pleasant, polite person. And he has courage. These qualities have been an essential ingredient in the Irish peace process. They have led to the Alice in Wonderland situation we now have, in which the government of Northern Ireland has been placed in the hands of two sworn enemies — the extreme Protestant minister Ian Paisley and the former I.R.A. guerrilla Martin McGuinness.(...) Iraq has been a fiasco, but I think he got involved in the calamity because, once again, he is superficial, decent and brave. The superficiality made him think it would be a quick and easy operation, like the military action in 2000 in Sierra Leone, where the British Army nipped in and out to remove a rogue warlord. Alas, his disregard for truth — indeed it seems very unlikely he even quite knows what truth is in this case — led him to think it did not matter what reason he gave for sending in the troops. You have to concede that he has been brave in his unwavering support for the war, but not so brave as the many people who have died as a result of his and President Bush’s calamitous mistake. READ IT ALL

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The war in waiting

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We may have been too busy watching the French elections or the US congress and the president haggling over the bill for Iraq to pay much attention to the possibility of war with Iran... The AIPAC and the neocons like professor Beres of Purdue (writing in the most moderate of newspapers) haven't lost their focus however.

People who might think that Bush, Cheney, the neocons and the Israeli right are incapable of doing anything worse, much, much worse than Iraq are intellectually challenged. DS

The case for strikes against Iran - Christian Science Monitor
Abstract: Iran's latest defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency says it all: Further diplomacy has no chance of stopping Iran's nuclear program. Neither will UN sanctions have any effect. Unless there is a timely defensive first strike at pertinent elements of Iran's expanding nuclear infrastructures, it will acquire nuclear weapons. The consequences would be intolerable and unprecedented.(...) Ideally, a diplomatic settlement with Iran could be taken seriously. But in the real world, we must compare the price of prompt preemptive action against Iran with the costs of both: (1) inaction; and (2) delayed military action. To be sure, all available options are apt to be injurious. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad maintains that his country's nuclear program is intended only to produce electricity, but there is no plausible argument or evidence to support this claim. Meanwhile, Mr. Ahmadinejad's genocidal intentions toward Israel are abundantly clear. Iran must be stopped immediately from acquiring atomic arms, and this can only be accomplished through "anticipatory self-defense." Precise defensive attacks against Iran's nuclear assets would be effective – and they would be entirely legal. They would be effective because the US has at its disposal the "McInerney Plan" (after Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, USAF/ret.). It calls, in part, for an immediate strike force to hit Iran's nuclear development facilities, command and control centers, integrated air defenses, selected Air Force and Navy units, and its Shahab-3 missiles, using more than 2,500 aim points. Operationally, the United States Air Force is best configured for such a complex task, but it would not necessarily be impossible for the Israeli Air Force to execute. It would be lawful because the US and/or Israel would be acting in appropriate self-defense. Both countries could act on behalf of the international community and could do so lawfully without wider approval. The right of self-defense by forestalling an attack has a long and authoritative history in international law. In the 1625 classic "On the Law of War and Peace," Hugo Grotius expresses the enduring principle: "It be lawful to kill him who is preparing to kill…." Today, some scholars say that Article 51 of the UN Charter overrides that right. But international law is not a suicide pact. READ IT ALL