"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister

"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."

- Daenerys Targaryen

"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"

- Tyrion Lannister

"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."

- Jorah Mormont

"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."

- Tyrion Lannister

"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

- Michael Barone

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Alfredo Stroessner, Colorful Dictator of Paraguay for 35 Years, Dies in Exile at 95

Thus was the obit heading in the New York Times I picked up this morning.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sunday, April 09, 2006

That Bitch-Goddess Success

Random subject heading for some random thoughts. I love the Internet exclusive trailer and theatrical trailer for Jack Black's new movie Nacho Libre.

I love the new song by The Raconteurs
Find yourself a girl and settle down
Live a simple life in a quiet town

Steady as she goes (steady as she goes)
Steady as she goes (steady as she goes)

So steady as she goes

Your friends have shown a kink in the single life
You've had too much to think, now you need a wife

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Trial Began for Members of Aryan Prison Gang

The trial in the federal courthouse here is the first in a series growing out of a 2002 indictment of 40 members of the gang, which was formed in the mid-1960's by white inmates in the racially divided California prison system.
Prosecutors said the brotherhood had since adopted the tactics of organized crime families as it expanded to several other states and to a half-dozen federal penitentiaries, particularly the most secure "supermax" prisons at Florence, Colo., and Marion, Ill.

On trial now are four senior members of the brotherhood, including two of its early leaders, Mr. Mills, 57, known as "The Baron," and Tyler D. Bingham, 58, who goes by "T.D." or "The Hulk." Also on trial are Edgar W. Hevle, 54, known as "The Snail," and Christopher O. Gibson, 46.

The four are accused of ordering or participating in 15 murders or attempted murders over the past 25 years. They are being charged under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization laws, which have been used to prosecute Mafia families and other criminal groups. Federal prosecutors call the Aryan Brotherhood case, the result of four years of investigation by numerous agencies, the biggest federal death penalty case ever brought.

Friday, February 24, 2006

It takes a village

Events in Iraq called to mind these words which were written about another land with a much different history
We have been told that "it takes a village" and--never mind the implication for now--it probably does. A village or small town like Gorazde can mature for years in history's cask, ripening away for all its provincialism. The large majority of its citizens may be content or at any rate reconciled. But the awful and frightening fact about fascism is that it "takes" only a few gestures (a pig's head in a mosque; a rumor of the kidnap of a child; an armed provocation at a wedding) to unsettle or even undo the communal and humane work of generations.

Normally the fascists don't have the guts to try it, they need the reassurance of support from superiors or aid from an outside power and they need to know that "law," defined nationally or internationally, will be a joke at the expense of their victims. In Bosnia they were granted all three indulgences. But even at the edge of those medieval paintings of breakdown and panic and mania, when people still thought the heavens might aid them, there was often the oblique figure at the edge of the scene, who might hope to record and outlive the carnage and perhaps help rebuild the community. Call him the moral draftsman, at least for now, and be grateful for small mercies.
I'll admit it: I rely on the New York Times too much for my news. But it's so convenient and my "time management skills" are so lacking. And then there's my laziness. Michael Weiss over at Snarkwatch writes a pitch-perfect post about why the New York Times keeps ya coming back (besides the fact it gives you the lowdown on what everyone else is thinking however much you may disagree):
Once In A While In The New York Times... A passage like this comes along:

The subjects of his books included the Kronstadt naval base rebellion of 1921, an uprising of sailors against the Bolshevik regime that left more than 10,000 dead or wounded; the Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which seven Chicago police officers were killed by a bomb thrown at a workers' gathering; and the Sacco and Vanzetti case. He interviewed hundreds of adherents of the movement for one book, "Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America."
Paul Avrich, CCNY historian of anarchism and the Russian revolution, is dead at 74. The Old Left is steadily moving to the final stage beyond old.
Well, the Old New Left, as Avrich was slightly ahead of his time in a way. In other words, he was an inspiration to the New Left, like Herbert Marcuse.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Strange to learn Richard Kelly wrote the screen play for the Tony Scott film Domino. (Kelly also wrote and directed Donnie Darko.) Domino gets off to a good start with one of the three bounty hunter central characters employing their shotgun to blow away an attacking pit bull. Keira Knightly plays one of the bounty hunters, as does Mickey Rourke who was notably brilliant as Marv in Sin City and is good in this. Tom Waits also has a walk on part.

Rourke's character - who had spent hard time in Angola (the Louisiana State Penitentury and largest prison in the U.S.) - gives a nice speech to his bounty hunter buddie after said buddie freaks out because he has fallen for Knightly's character.
Let me tell you something. You see this? There was no prison riot. I blew off my own God Damn toe. Just to numb the pain. We all get weak over women. We all get weak over women. Fucking broads, they're all nuts. They know how to kill us. This kid in there? She's killing you.
Not anti-union

Interesting piece on how Cingular Wireless is neutral when it comes to unions organizing its workforce.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Cold War fades into the distance

Theodore Draper, Freelance Historian, Is Dead at 93

The following in Thomas L. Friedman's (TimesSelect!) column caused me to do a mental doubletake:
To understand the Danish affair, you can't just read Samuel Huntington's classic, "The Clash of Civilizations." You also need to read Karl Marx, because this explosion of Muslim rage is not just about some Western insult. It's also about an Eastern failure. It is about the failure of many Muslim countries to build economies that prepare young people for modernity - and all the insult, humiliation and frustration that has produced. (emphasis added)

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 22 - Insurgents dressed as police commandos detonated powerful explosives on Wednesday morning inside one of Shiite Islam’s most sacred shrines, destroying most of the building, located in the volatile town of Samarra, and prompting thousands of Shiites to flood into streets across the country in protest.
A Few Good Men

Jane Mayer writes about Alberto J. Mora - once the general counsel of the United States Navy - Guantánamo Bay, and Torture.

One of the writers who has been good on the torture travesties is Andrew Sullivan. He writes about Mayer's piece at his blog.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

from Chinatown

Jake Gittes: I just want to know what you're worth. Over ten million?
Noah Cross: Oh my, yes.
Jake Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What can you buy that you can't already afford?
Noah Cross: The future, Mr. Gitts, the future.
Julian Sanchez writes about the NSA warrantless spying program.

He links to an interesting Washington Post piece and a New Republic piece by Richard Posner.

I caught the Attorney General on Charlie Rose's show tonight and he brought up a new justification beyond the Force Resolution (AUMF) of 2001. He wasn't clear, but he said something about the President's power to act in national security matters. He also argued again that there's a clause in FISA that says Congress may give the President greater powers - or take away oversight - in future cases, but critics continue to argue FISA has the word "exclusive" in it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Equilibrium, i.e. non-dictatorial
(or the Domestic Spying/Terrorist Surveillance Program)

I recorded the entire Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General Gonzalez about the administration's NSA domestic spying program and watched the entire thing.

The hearing focused on a program Bush authorized for the NSA that allows it to use warrantless electronic surveillance on international communications from Al Qaeda or affiliated groups with American citizens within the "homeland." Warrantless means the other two branches of government have no oversight or "check" on what the administration is doing in regards to the domestic half of the international communication being spied upon.

Justice Jackson's concurring opinion in the "Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer" Supreme Court decision was referred to by some because of its discussion of the limits of the Executive branch's powers.

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was Congress's response to the abuses of wiretapping by previous administrations. Apparently, according to this law the government needs a warrant from a special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court in order to perform certain electronic surveillance. Shortly after 9-11 and the 2001 resolution, the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF, against al Qaeda) given to the President by Congress, the administration decided that it didn't need to go to this court to get warrants for NSA spying on international communications from al Qaeda or related groups to American citizens in the US.

The issue is that half of the communication is within the US and hence domestic. Attorney General Gonzalez told the hearing the President didn't authorize a warrantless domestic to domestic communications surveillance program, because of the politics, essentially. However, he didn't say whether or not the AUMF, or the Constitution, gave the Executive that power.

It looks like politics, the media and the public will decide this issue. It came to light because of a leak and, outside the Executive branch, only the top 8 members of Congress regarding intelligence issues had been informed of the program. (Gonzalez said because of the AUMF and the Executive's constitutional powers, it wasn't required to inform anyone else.)

However, after 9-11 Congress changed FISA to make it easier to use. Someone elsewhere on the Internet wrote
While Feinstein touched on it, what is the explanation of the Administration for the clause in FISA allowing the President warrantless wiretapping for 15 days after Congress declares war? According to Gonzalez, FISA is Constitutional, he just doesn't think it applies in time of war. So what was the point of that clause? According to him, wouldn't that clause be unconstitutional because it appears to limit Presidential powers in wartime?
Gonzalez told the hearing that the AUMF superceded FISA - or did he? - plus FISA is too burdensome. Well if FISA doesn't apply because of the AUMF, how is it burdensome? And how come this program wasn't mentioned when FISA was altered after 9-11?

Interestingly, Gonzalez noted that the AUMF is *not* a declaration of war by Congress, but simply what it states: a Congressional authorization of the use of military force.

Republican Senators Specter, Graham, DeWine and Brownback all questioned the administration's use of the AUMF to back up the legality of the NSA/al Qaeda-domestic spying program. As the New York Times reports
Mr. Gonzales also clarified again a statement he made on Dec. 19, a few days after the spying program was disclosed by The New York Times. At the time, he said the administration had not sought an amendment to the 1978 law because "certain members of Congress" had "advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible." Since then Mr. Gonzales has said the real problem is that such legislation could not be enacted without compromising the program.
So it sounds like they knew the other branches of government would see it as a power grab.

Those who subscribe to the Vic Mackey* theory of law enforcement wonder what the big deal is. They should study the domestic spying abuses which led to the encactment of the 1978 FISA law and consider the experience of other countries which don't value a system of checks and balances. Senator Specter spoke of the equlibrium amongst the various branches of govenment and warned that the administration may be disturbing it. All he recommended, though, was that the administration bring the program before the FISA court and see what it had to say. Perhaps there's a chance Congress will do something if Gonzalez doesn't follow his advice, but it looks like this will be decided by the public and politics rather than the law and Constitution.

Emily Bazelon writing in Slate on the hearings.

blogger Glenn Greenwald

Noah Feldman writing in the New York Times Magazine

*character on the television show The Shield

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Market System and Shifting Alliances
President Bush, who was well-known for not travelling outside the country much at all, spoke a great deal in his state of the union on America's need to globalize and mix it up with the rest of the world. In fact, in his opinion it's America's duty to lead all other nations.

I haven't seen the film Syriana but from what I hear it portrays the US government's foreign policy as highly cynical and mercantilist, the very opposite of what a global leader should be. Or does it?

The plot involves an oil-rich Middle Eastern nation whose leader has made contracts with China to sell its oil at much higher prices than the US is currently paying. This leader is a genuine reformer who wants to use the increase in government revenue to benefit his citizens. The market system at work, in a sense. The CIA assassinates this leader so that his pro-American brother can assume power and continue the preferential treatment of America.

So, yes the Americans behave badly on the international stage. But what about the Chinese? In the real world, they back the genocidal regime of Sudan because of oil. They back the klepto-theocratic rogue regime of Iran because of oil. And they keep the American government and economy afloat via massive loans. But they need the American consumer to keep their economy growing.

I'm in the middle of reading Steve Coll's Ghost Wars which is partly about the CIA's support of the Afghan rebels in their war with the Soviet Union's invading force. Most of the weapons the CIA initially supplied to the rebels came from Communist China, a mortal enemy of the Soviet Union.

So, first the US formed an alliance with the Soviet Union against fascist Germany. Then it allied with radical Islam, a defeated Germany and Communist China against the Soviet Union. Now it's allied with Germany, Russia and China against radical Islam.
"Gameness" (or man's best friend)

Malcolm Gladwell, about whom I know nothing, writes:

Pit bulls, descendants of the bulldogs used in the nineteenth century for bull baiting and dogfighting, have been bred for “gameness,” and thus a lowered inhibition to aggression. Most dogs fight as a last resort, when staring and growling fail. A pit bull is willing to fight with little or no provocation. Pit bulls seem to have a high tolerance for pain, making it possible for them to fight to the point of exhaustion. Whereas guard dogs like German shepherds usually attempt to restrain those they perceive to be threats by biting and holding, pit bulls try to inflict the maximum amount of damage on an opponent. They bite, hold, shake, and tear. They don’t growl or assume an aggressive facial expression as warning. They just attack. “They are often insensitive to behaviors that usually stop aggression,” one scientific review of the breed states. “For example, dogs not bred for fighting usually display defeat in combat by rolling over and exposing a light underside. On several occasions, pit bulls have been reported to disembowel dogs offering this signal of submission.” In epidemiological studies of dog bites, the pit bull is overrepresented among dogs known to have seriously injured or killed human beings, and, as a result, pit bulls have been banned or restricted in several Western European countries, China, and numerous cities and municipalities across North America. Pit bulls are dangerous.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Hitchens continues his war on cliche in a review of a Flaubert book:

This made me laugh:
"Still, it is a trope to rival that of Proust's Mme. Verdurin, who loved nothing better than 'to frolic in her billow of stock expressions.'"

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Julian Sanchez interview with Russell Tice, one of the NSA leakers. Reminds of that cheesy movie Sneakers, which starred Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, Dan Aykroyd, Sidney Pointier, David Strathairn, Robert Redford, and River Phoenix, deceased brother of Joaquin.
Article on Cat Power, 33, and Beth Orton, 35, and their new albums.