Thursday, May 30, 2002

We've heard that Condoleezza Rice serves as the President's 'tutor' on international affairs. If you're like me, perhaps you've wondered what those lessons are like...

It was Condoleezza Rice, national security advisor, who helped her boss out of the embarassing situation. During a conversation between the two presidents, George W. Bush, 55, (USA) and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, 71, (Brazil), Bush bewildered his colleague with the question "Do you have blacks, too?"

Rice, 47, noticing how astonished the Brazilian was, saved the day by telling Bush "Mr. President, Brazil probably has more blacks than the USA. Some say it's the Country with the most blacks outside Africa." Later, the Brazilian president Cardoso said: regarding Latin America, Bush was still in his "learning phase".

::Der Spiegel (via Gibt es Schwarze in Brasilien?

In an April interview with The Ithaca Journal at his family's Cayuga Heights home, [Army Private Matt] Guckenheimer, 22, shared his experiences during Operation Anaconda. He was sent on March 6 in a company of more than 100 soldiers to participate in the largest U.S.-led ground engagement in Eastern Afghanistan.

"We were told there were no friendly forces," said Guckenheimer, an assistant gunner with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum. "If there was anybody there, they were the enemy. We were told specifically that if there were women and children to kill them."

::Kandea Mosley, The Ithaca Journal: Fresh memories of war via Cursor

Some British officers at the Bagram Air Base near Kabul are now taking issue with the US-led strategy. They say that creating more small bases across Afghanistan's volatile Pashtun tribal belt and melding antiterror activities with a more concerted "hearts and minds" campaign would work better than the often futile fight that is being conducted now.

"Afghanistan presents immense challenges, and it is crucial to dispel the impression that many Afghans have that this is an invading force that engages in hit-and-run operations across the country without reaching out to the population," says Royal Marines Lt.-Col. Ben Curry. "Also, if you are stationed on the ground in villages and towns, it is far easier to pick out the enemy in a crowd."

::Philip Smucker, CS Monitor: As US coalition debates tactics, Taliban fight on via Dack

Bush and Blair talk up their 'joint initiative' and their 'shoulder-to-shoulder' stance against terror. But on the ground - in a war with no clear aims, no intelligence to speak of, and no significant operations for soldiers to fight in - there is little to tie US and British forces together in anything resembling comradeship, and instead they are reduced to bickering over who is to blame for the failures of the war.

The war on terror was never a clear military operation with clear goals. It was always driven by political considerations, launched by America in the wake of 11 September in a desperate attempt to galvanise audiences at home and abroad. From day one, it was a war that didn't really know who it was fighting against or what it was fighting for - as reflected in the ever-changing war aims.

::Brendan O'Neill, Spiked: Why the marines messed up

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

The New York Times is running low on blockbuster premonitions of the September 11th hijackings. It's whooping up this this one now...

In one conversation, in the summer of 2000, the sheik tells the mosque leader, or imam: "In the future, listen to the news and remember these words: 'above the head.'"

The sheik says the action will be "one of those strikes that you never forget." He added that it will be a "terrifying thing, it will move from south to north, from east to west. He who made this plan is a madman, but a genius. It will turn you to ice."

The sheik also says: "Ah, yes, there are big clouds in the sky, there in that country, the fire is already lit and it's just waiting for the wing ... All the newspapers in the world will write about it."

Before Sept. 11, investigators had few clues about what the men might be discussing, Mazza told the AP. "After what happened, it's now easy to draw conclusions ... but before, it was difficult to understand."

You mean you can understand that now? I guess I'm not intelligence agent material...

::AP, via New York Times: Recorded Conversations Reveal Predictions of Attacks

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Shining a light for democracy...

President Bush, facing television cameras at a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, announced that the two would meet with media representatives as part of his effort to convince Russia of "the important role of the free press in building a working democracy."

When the meeting happened a while later, it was a Kremlin gathering of a few news media figures who were given four minutes to make presentations to the presidents: two minutes for an American newspaper owner and two minutes for a Russian journalist. Participants said Bush and Putin thanked them without responding to the issues they raised. Although the event was meant to highlight support for a free press, news media coverage was not permitted.

::Dana Milbank and Peter Baker, Washington Post: Bush Wary of Confronting Putin
We use terrorism to fight the war on drugs, might as well use drugs to fight the war on terrorism...

US documents reveal that two years ago the Pentagon commissioned scientists at Pennsylvania State University to look at potential military uses for a range of chemicals known as calmatives. The scientists concluded that several drugs would be effective to control crowds or in military operations such as anti-terrorist campaigns. The drugs they recommended for 'immediate consideration' included diazepam, better known as the tranquilliser Valium, and dexmedetomidine, used to sedate patients in intensive care. The scientists advised that these drugs can 'effectively act on central nervous system tissues and produces a less anxious, less aggressive, more tranquil-like behaviour'.

Far out...

::Linda Panetta, "Plan Colombia ... Plan of Death"
::Antony Barnett, The Observer: US plan to strike enemy with Valium via New World Disorder

Sunday, May 26, 2002

Last Friday the old Cold War foes pretended to sign an arms accord. In this scenario, nuclear warheads are not disposed of, exactly, but instead are "warehoused" to ensure "quality control."

"If you have a nuclear arsenal, you want to make sure that they work," [Bush] said.

You are absolutely fucking right about that, Mr. President.

A cynic might suggest that this pseudo-event was more about saving money and saving face than it was about saving the planet. But say what you want about the treaty, Bush did give a good speech about it:

"That's good. It's good for the people of Russia; it's good for the people of the United States. . . . For decades, Russia and NATO were adversaries. Those days are gone, and that's good. And that's good for the Russian people, it's good for the people of my country, it's good for the people of Europe, and it's good for the people of the world."

As if this production wasn't triggering Dr. Strangelove flashbacks on its own, the President starts speaking like Merkin Muffley. Uncanny echoes of Peter Sellers' fine riff on a U.S. President calling up his Soviet counterpart...

Hello? Hello, Dimitri? Listen, I can't hear too well, do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little? Oh, that's much better. Yes. Fine, I can hear you now, Dimitri. Clear and plain and coming through fine. I'm coming through fine too, eh? Good, then. Well then as you say we're both coming through fine. Good. Well it's good that you're fine and I'm fine. I agree with you. It's great to be fine

::Dan Plesch, London Observer: Why Bush's deal with Putin doesn't make the world safer
::Bob Deans, Austin American-Statesman: Hailing a new era, Bush, Putin sign arms accord
::Margaret Dowd, New York Times: W.'s Grand Tour
Alexander Cockburn makes an intriguing point about my three favorite staple foods...

Optimism of the will, optimism of the intelligence. I reminded the Spokane Greens of some of the less trumpeted legacies of the Sixties. Better food. The visionary radical hippies had a lot to do with that, touting organic food and the grains that now find their way into the health pages of the Sunday papers. Good coffee was promoted by radicals . . . Beer too. The backlot brewers who began Sierra Nevada beer in Chico, who ultimately beat back Budweiser's efforts to destroy them and thus sealed the victory of the microbrews, came out of the Sixties alternative culture.

Bread, coffee and beer. It's up there with the Bolsheviks' old slogan of Peace, Land and Bread.

Alexander Cockburn: Counterpunch: You Can Thank the Left for Bread, Coffee and Beer!
They said this war would be fought on many fronts, at home and abroad...

Jacksonville, Fla., police arrested a Fort Stewart soldier Saturday after finding him armed, wearing black clothes and leaving a power plant where he allegedly left an explosive.

Spc. Derek Lawrence Peterson, 27, is being held on a $5 million bond by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Department of Corrections. He has been charged with attempting to detonate an explosive device.

Peterson belongs to B Company, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor and has been stationed at Fort Stewart since March, said Dina McCain, a Fort Stewart spokeswoman.

McCain said she did not know whether Army investigators were involved with the case and referred all questions about it to Jacksonville police.

An officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office stopped Peterson at 11:15 p.m. Saturday for speeding. The officer found Peterson wearing all black clothing and black, plastic pads on his knees and elbows, according to a sheriff's department report. He also had a pistol in a shoulder holster.

The officer recognized Peterson's black 2002 Chevrolet Silverado pickup because he had noticed it backed up to the Florida Power and Light station's main gate 30 minutes earlier as he drove to assist another officer.

The officer searched Peterson's truck and found a 12-inch knife, a six-inch knife, a 12-gauge shotgun, shotgun shells, .45-caliber bullets, four ammo magazines, a six-volt battery, duct tape, speaker wire and plastic from an explosive device, the report said.

After being informed of his rights, wrote arresting officer D.F. Valiante, "the suspect advised me that he was on the power plant property to practice recon tactics."

Police followed footprints on a dirt road at the power plant and found an explosive device underneath the power lines, the report said.

Peterson allegedly told police he had placed a Hoffman explosive device, equal in power to a half-stick of dynamite. He had planned to detonate the explosive but was worried that he would be injured in the blast, the report said. Instead, Peterson removed a six-volt battery and threw it into the woods.

A bomb squad disposed of the explosive.

Peterson's next court date is June 4. He is not allowed visitors at the jail, according to the corrections department.

::Noelle Phillips, Savannah NOW: Fort Stewart soldier jailed in Florida on $5 million bond

Friday, May 24, 2002

(A note on those conspiracy theories: if Bush knew it was all coming, why did he look--in the words of one man-on-the-street interviewee I saw after he gave his first talk to the country after Sept. 11--like such a "scared little mouse" that day? Why did he spend the day flying from one hidey-hole to another? If he knew it was going to happen, wouldn't he have been prepared to stride forth like John Wayne and impress us all with his forceful leadership?)

(I know, I know--a lot of people were impressed by his forceful leadership. What can I say? The human capacity for self-deception is truly a wondrous thing to behold.)

--Tom Tomorrow

Thursday, May 23, 2002

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have waged a determined behind-the-scenes campaign to persuade the Bush administration to reconsider an aggressive posture toward Iraq in which war was regarded as all but inevitable. This included a secret briefing at the White House earlier this month for President Bush by Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who as head of the Central Command would oversee any U.S. military campaign against Iraq.

During the meeting, Franks told the president that invading Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein would require at least 200,000 troops, far more than some other military experts have calculated. This was in line with views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who have repeatedly emphasized the lengthy buildup that would be required, concerns about Hussein's possible use of biological and chemical weapons and the possible casualties, officials said.

..."I think all the chiefs stood shoulder-to-shoulder on this," said one officer tracking the debate, which has been intense at times. In one of the most emphatic summaries of the direction of the debate, one top general said the "Iraq hysteria" he detected last winter in some senior Bush administration officials has been diffused.

Gotta wonder what Smilin' Dick and Rummy think about this fighting spirit among the rank and file...

::Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post: Military Sees Iraq Invasion Put on Hold

Forget about the blame game — for it's just that kind of distraction. It's more important to look ahead and try to block the next attack. Where are the dots today?

One dot is Osama bin Laden's fervent efforts to obtain bio-weapons, reflected in the lab he was building near Kandahar, Afghanistan, to produce anthrax.

Another dot is Iraq. Hazem Ali, a senior Iraqi virologist involved in his country's bio-weapons program, has admitted working with camelpox virus. It's a puzzling choice for a bio-weapon because it's a mild disease — except, as Jonathan Tucker notes in his book "Scourge," Iraq may be genetically engineering camelpox into something closer to smallpox. A scientist who once worked in the Soviet bio-weapons program told me of a visit by Iraqi scientists inquiring about genetic engineering of germs.

A third dot is our vulnerability. The Brentwood mail-sorting facility in Washington is still closed because of contamination, as is the Hamilton Township processing center in New Jersey. Just 100 anthrax letters, if mailed around the nation, could close down the U.S. postal system.

A fourth is our failure to capture the anthrax killer, suggesting to Iraq and other potential perpetrators that they might get away with an attack.

... One of the first steps we can take to reduce our vulnerability is to light a fire under the F.B.I. in its investigation of the anthrax case. Experts in the bioterror field are already buzzing about a handful of individuals who had the ability, access and motive to send the anthrax.

These experts point, for example, to one middle-aged American who has worked for the United States military bio-defense program and had access to the labs at Fort Detrick, Md. His anthrax vaccinations are up to date, he unquestionably had the ability to make first-rate anthrax, and he was upset at the United States government in the period preceding the anthrax attack.

I say all this to prod the authorities, for although the F.B.I. has known about this handful of people since October, it has been painstakingly slow in its investigation. Let's hope it will pick up the pace, for solving the case would reduce our vulnerability to another attack.

::Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times: Connecting Deadly Dots

On NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS, the Vice President purported that the U.S. has made some progress in the war on terrorism but warned, "the prospect of another attack against the United States is very, very real. It's just as real, in my opinion, as it was September 12."

It is? Even after seven-and-a-half months of war against Afghanistan? At more than $1 billion per month? A war that has killed and maimed and shattered the lives of thousands of people?

...Dan Rather admitted in a BBC interview last week that he feared being labeled "unpatriotic" last Fall, and that this fear kept journalists from asking tough, necessary questions.

Such as whether the threat to Americans is actually GREATER than on September 12. We have not destroyed Al Qaeda by waging war against Afghanistan (And how could we? Al Qaeda is an elusive, transnational terrorist group!), but we may have increased the murderous motivation of its survivors -- and of other transnational terrorist groups.

::Brian Foley, Counterpunch: Dick Cheney's Obscenity via Dack

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Last nite I saw Alexander Cockburn give a talk here at the Labor Temple in Seattle. ...

We raced to get to the temple by 7 . . . we were a little late and when we were finally seated about five minutes after seven we were forced to sit through several folk singers. I thought something similar the night before N30 back in '99 when I went to see Michael Moore speak at the Seattle Center (along with Jello Biafra, Anita Roddick, and many more), and was also confronted with folk singers: why do they assume that just because you are here to hear a progressive speaker that you also like folk music? I would rather they begin the nite with a tape of Roni Size . . .

Amen, Doctor.

From American Samizdat

The Republican-controlled House plans to approve a bipartisan bill today providing $1 billion in reconstruction aid to Afghanistan over four years, and Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the International Relations Committee, is backing an amendment that would require President Bush to quickly submit a plan explaining how the administration will address the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

..."There is a real concern that the administration is seizing defeat from the jaws of victory," said a senior Democratic congressional aide, who argued that the interim government in Kabul has little chance to succeed unless it can prevent factional fighting among competing power centers.

::Glenn Kessler, Washington Post: Bush's Afghan Plan Questioned

Monday, May 20, 2002

The New York Times is running one of their tepid exposes that gingerly suggests John Ashcroft tried to bury the infamous July 10th memo when he learned of its existence shortly after September 11th.

I suppose it's not desirable when the nation's top law enforcement official is covering up a rare bit of competent intelligence analysis... but The Guardian runs a story which more clearly demonstrates just how dangerous this crooning Bible-thumper really is...

He has accused his critics of undermining the fight against terrorism. But it is becoming clear that before September 11 he had little interest in counter-terrorism, and diverted resources from measures to prevent terrorism towards those aimed at more traditional targets, such as drugs and child pornography

...On September 10 last year, the last day of what is now seen as a bygone age of innocence, Mr Ashcroft sent a request for budget increases to the White House. It covered 68 programmes, none of them related to counter-terrorism.

He also sent a memorandum to his heads of departments, stating his seven priorities. Counter-terrorism was not on the list. He turned down an FBI request for hundreds more agents to be assigned to tracking terrorist threats.

Nevertheless, he began using a chartered private jet to travel around the country, rather than take commercial airliners as Ms Reno had done. A justice department spokesman said this was done as a result of an FBI "threat assessment" on Mr Ashcroft, but insisted that the assessment was not specifically linked to al-Qaida.

...he had a showdown on counter-terrorism with the outgoing FBI director, Louis Freeh, in the spring of last year in Quantico, Virginia, at an annual meeting of special agents.

People at the meeting said the two disagreed fundamentally on their priorities.

Mr Ashcroft's agenda comprised "basically violent crime and drugs" and when Mr Freeh began to talk about his concern about the terrorist threat facing the country, "Ashcroft didn't want to hear about it".

David Johnston and Don Van Natta, Jr., New York Times: Ashcroft Learned of Agent's Alert Just After 9/11 but Bush Was Not Told
Julian Borger, The Guardian: Ashcroft drawn into row over September 11

::Ashcroft Sings 'Let the Eagle Soar'
::Image from Art Attack
George Monbiot writes about another case in which "incompetence becomes an insufficient explanation for failure."

The Ames strain was distributed by USAMRIID to around 20 other laboratories in the US. Of these, according to research conducted by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, who runs the Federation of American Scientists' biological weapons monitoring programme, only four possess the equipment and expertise required for the weaponisation of the anthrax sent to Senator Daschle. Three of them are US military laboratories, the fourth is a government contractor. While security in all these places has been lax, the terrorist could not have stolen all the anthrax (around 10 grams) which found its way into the postal system. He must have used the equipment to manufacture it.

Barbara Hatch Rosenberg has produced a profile of the likely perpetrator. He is an American working within the US biodefense industry, with a doctoral degree in the relevant branch of microbiology. He is skilled and experienced at handling the weapon without contaminating his surroundings. He has full security clearance and access to classified information. He is among the tiny number of Americans who had received anthrax vaccinations before September 2001. Only a handful of people fit this description.

...a few other offences the FBI might wish to consider. The army's development of weaponised anthrax, for example, directly contravenes both the biological weapons convention and domestic law. So does its plan to test live microbes in "aerosol chambers" at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, also in Maryland. So does its development of a genetically modified fungus for attacking coca crops in Colombia, and GM bacteria for destroying materials belonging to enemy forces. These, as the research group Project Sunshine has discovered, appear to be just a tiny sample of the illegal offensive biological research programmes which the US government has secretly funded. Several prominent scientists have suggested that the FBI's investigation is being pursued with less than the rigour we might have expected because the federal authorities have something to hide.

The FBI has dismissed them as conspiracy theorists. But there is surely a point after which incompetence becomes an insufficient explanation for failure.

::George Monbiot, The Guardian: Riddle of the spores

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Afghanistan offered the perfect solution to September 11 - a massive expiation of US anger and, more subtly, guilt. Dropping all those bombs felt doubly good: it was retaliation for a terrible crime, but also getting rid of an evil regime. The emotional rush was everything; whether the latter actually worked has fallen off most people's radar screen. They're not interested. The selective memory means that what is remembered is that a few women in Kabul threw off their burkas in November, not that many more women in northern Afghanistan have been raped since then in a wave of ethnic revenge against the Pashtun. Nor is anyone much interested that since the fall of the Taliban, the old lawlessness of highway looting and illegal road tolls has re-emerged. Or that in the past few months there have been at least two major conflicts between warlords - in Mazar-i-Sharif and in Gardez - as an uneasy truce awaits the results of next month's loya jirga.

Nor, curiously has there been much said on the spectacular failure to halt the poppy crop. The Taliban virtually wiped out the trade (which supplied about 75% of the world's opium) but Afghan farmers are a canny bunch and no sooner was Mullah Omar on the run than they started planting on the assumption that no new government would have the authority or will to stop them. They've been proved right. Despite huge EU grants, Hamid Karzai's government has backed off, well aware that its position is too fragile to take on such an unpopular battle.

By the time of the first anniversary of the fall of Kabul it will no longer be possible to ignore the accumulation of these awkward details, and we will be embarrassed to be reminded of our naive triumphalism. The war was a crude and clumsy intervention which did little for the wretched Afghans, and even less for the struggle against terrorism.

::Madeleine Bunting, Guardian: This futile campaign
While I confess to a bit of unwholesome glee at seeing this swaggering bunch of warmongers on the defensive, I don't believe that Bush necessarily had sufficient knowledge to stop the attacks (we can't assess that based on what is known). I tend to concur with the Jonathan Chait line I quoted down below. These revelations fly in the face of the administration's shameless posturing, the happy fiction that they are a preternaturally gifted and hard-headed bunch who have known all along how to deal with international terrorism. They act as if it is their critics who are unschooled in the hard truths of the real world.

They continue to peddle that "how could we have known Bin Laden would use the planes as missiles?" defense, in spite of readily available information, which betrays this group as laughably inept and peddling obvious lies rather than admitting to an understandable level of fallibility.

I could say more (or proofread this rambling post), but the Leafs game is about to start, and I have beer to drink and hockey to watch.

Friday, May 17, 2002

On another fun note, I just heard the term "militainment" for the first time.

Lying Media Bastards

Bush squints down Evil with his posse

Bush himself rejected the recommendation of aides who wanted him to take questions from reporters Friday to clear the air. He decided instead to defend himself during a previously scheduled event with Air Force cadets.

"I want the troops here to know that I take my job as the commander in chief very seriously, that my most important job is to protect America," the president said.

Must have taken guts. To give a self-vindicating speech in front of people you can court martial and all...

Even with two days to think up a better excuse, they're still sticking with "how could we have possibly foreseen that Bin Laden could crash the planes into something?"

"If this president had known something more specific - that a plane would have been used as a missile - he would have acted on it," [National Security Advisor Condoleezza] Rice insisted.

This claim of wide-eyed innocence is a little at odds with previous reports...

U.S. and Italian officials were warned in July that Islamic terrorists might attempt to kill President Bush and other leaders by crashing an airliner into the Genoa summit of industrialized nations, officials said Wednesday.

Italian officials took the reports seriously enough to prompt extraordinary precautions during the July summit of the Group of 8 nations, including closing the airspace over Genoa and stationing antiaircraft guns at the city's airport.

But a U.S. official said that American counter-terrorism experts considered the warning "unsubstantiated."

To be fair, they have extended the defence from merely pleading their own incompetence. They've also accused their opponents of politicizing September 11th and suggesting it was they who were somehow responsible, all while deftly managing to avoid politicizing things themselves:

"What did the Democrats in Congress know? And why weren't they talking to each other?" [Ari Fleischer] asked.

Firing back, [D-Sen.] Feinstein said that on Sept. 10 she had talked to Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to convey her concerns and that the response was, "We'll get back to you in six months."

That doesn't sound like Smilin' Dick. He's usually so open-minded and approachable. Always ready to listen to opposing views. Just look at all of the broad-based consultations with environmentalist oil men and eco-stock swindlers that he did while formulating his energy plan...

My own opinion is that the Bush-haters out there are a little too pleased at the prospects of the President finally being held accountable for his administration's ineptitude. The layers of collective trance gripping average Americans are far too dense to be peeled away with mere revelations, the spell of the post-September 11th dreamworld too intoxicating to relinquish. The fog hasn't cleared yet, and it isn't likely to. It involves letting go of a whole raft of delusions that people hold dear.

Look for the right-wing attack dogs to muddy the waters, the media to dutifully echo and amplify the confusion, and the Democrats to fumble the ball like they always do. Soon the point will be lost on everyone. Bush's poll ratings will dip, but not by much -- and the pundits will declare that the American People's love affair with their honest, common-sense President goes on barely diminished. Turn the page, and let's gird our loins for the next battle against Evil...

::Associated Press, Salon: Bush says he didn't ignore warnings
::Kevin Anderson, BBC: Bush seeks damage control
::LA Times, September 27, 2001: Italy Tells of Threat at Genoa Summit via Buzzflash


For people like Condi Rice to suggest they had never considered this possibility of suicide hijackings is either a bald-faced lie--or a more scathing indictment of our anti-terrorism establishment than any memo the president actually did see.

::Michael Crowley, New Republic, Crash Course

The GOP line is that the important change in American anti-terrorism policy wasn't the September 11 attack, it was the Bush presidency. Before, we had a feckless president who fired missiles into empty tents. Now, we have a tough president who understood the dangers of terrorism even before September 11. This notion is the subtext of the thank-God-Gore-isn't-president murmurings we've heard over the last nine months, and it will probably form the basis of Bush's reelection strategy. The latest revelation ought to blow this idea out of the water. Yet the Bushies continue to cling to it, which is why they've resorted to such implausible arguments.

::Jonathan Chait, New Republic: Poor Excuse

Craig at BookNotes has some good links on Leslie Marmon Silko's mammoth novel Almanac of the Dead.

Like Craig, I read the book while in the region where most of it is set, when living in Hermosillo -- about four hours by car south of Tucson. To some extent, Silko's book defined the mental topography for my two years in Mexico... which is a terrifying notion now that I ponder it. Its apocalyptic vision is unrelenting.

763 dense and dizzying pages plumbing the depths of human depravity, and it took me about three attempts to get up enough momentum to finish it... it was grueling at times. Its vast range of characters, plots, and ideas - and its unflinching depictions of the grotesque and the perverse - reminded me, strangely enough, of Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, though Silko's style is far more direct, overtly political and impassioned.

And every day, the world 'out there' more closely resembles that horrible world Silko creates between the covers.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

. . . any time we go out, he fades away. It's just like Vietnam. Any time he finds a weak spot, he flows in like water."

--Lt. Col. Patrick L. Fetterman , commander of Operation Iron Mountain

::Peter Baker, Washington Post: GIs Battle 'Ghosts' in Afghanistan: Search for Elusive Enemy Frustrates Americans

I'm . . . SHOCKED!!!!!!!

But let's keep this in perspective. The administration says they thought Bin Laden only wanted to hijack the planes. How could any of the CIA's terrorism experts ever have guessed that Islamic terrorists might resort to suicide bombing?

We're treated to one of those wonderfully idiotic pearls of conventional wisdom from the always well-meaning New York Times:

It was not clear this evening why the White House waited eight months after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington to reveal what Mr. Bush had been told.

Nothing to do with 80% approval ratings and a non-stop jingoism binge, I'm sure.

Give them 48 hours, they'll find a way to blame it on the Clintons.

::David E. Sanger, New York Times: Bush Was Warned bin Laden Wanted to Hijack Planes
Lest I be accused of anti-Americanism, I refrained from complaining when an American pilot killed four Canadian soldiers on a training exercise in Afghanistan. Unlike others on this side of the border, I wasn't surprised when it took about a week for the U.S. government to express regret for doing so -- after all, isn't that about standard when Afghan allies are accidentally shredded by 500 pound bombs? At least in our case Rumsfeld never denied that it happened, and nobody suggested that the troops were Taliban sympathizers or otherwise had it coming.

And I said nothing when New York Islanders fans booed the Canadian national anthem and burned our flag in the days following this "friendly fire" incident. You can't expect Americans to keep track of all the people they are inadvertently killing, and I knew that the Toronto Maple Leafs would prevail, sending those boors back to their roller derby rinks and monster truck rallies soon enough.

I kept my trap shut when 60 Minutes aired a report suggesting that 'lax' Canadian immigration policies were transforming us into a Great White Northern haven for terrorists, an Hindu Kush of the hinterlands... though none of the September 11th terrorists could be linked to Canada in any meaningful way.

I held my tongue when recent polls indicated average Americans don't know we are their biggest trading partner (by far), and that in fact they don't like us all that much.

But today I read this report on a long-overdue Canadian government reform initiative:

The Senate committee concludes there is no convincing evidence that smoking pot leads to using harder drugs.

It says marijuana use does not induce users to commit other crimes, or engage in risky activity such as driving quickly.

The Senate also found that one in every three Canadian kids age 15 and 16 has smoked at least once in the past month, and that one and a half million Canadians have a criminal record because of what the Senate calls simple possession.

Ground-breaking stuff. But this report, and Canada’s willingness to allow people to use marijuana for medical purposes, also seems to have raised the ire of the U.S. in a significant way. We’ve learned tonight that its drug czar is pressuring Canadian authorities not to loosen Canadian law and he's carrying a very big stick -- threatening trade sanctions if we don't do what he wants.

No offense to you millions of ultra-cool Yanks out there, but that Canada-Mexico expressway looks better every day.

::Rick Salutin, Globe and Mail: To some Americans, we're the not-so-great white North
::Global National: Canadian marijuana reform concern to U.S. via Cursor
::The Onion: U.S. Protests Mexi-Canadian Overpass

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

It's most groovy to see that Brendan O'Neill has started a weblog, and if his recent production is any indication he's really taken to the form.

A recent posting:

More on Britain's muddled marines: on 11 May 2002, 'Our Boys' in Afghanistan found and destroyed a 'massive al-Qaeda arms dump' - boasting of how they created the 'biggest controlled explosion since World War II', by blowing up 'four caves full of ammunition'. But now there are claims that the arms didn't belong to al-Qaeda at all, but to an Afghan warlord. 'Arms blown up by marines were mine', says a headline in today's Daily Telegraph, reporting that 'thirty lorry loads of supposed terrorist arms destroyed by the Royal Marines in Afghanistan probably belonged to a coalition ally'. Oh dear.

And since I'm blogrolling, thanks to Elton (who either shares my online Granfalloon or my Karass, I'm not sure which...) at Busy Busy Busy for forwarding me an account of this military triumph, one that the conservative Telegraph is calling a "fiasco".

Primary sources...
::BBC News, Al-Qaeda arms dump destroyed
::Yahoo News, Destroyed Afghan arms belonged to ally

Sunday, May 12, 2002

A couple interesting paragraphs buried toward the end of a limp New York Times account, detailing the casual attitude towards security at American governmental labs:

The Agriculture Department review found that even after the anthrax attacks by mail last year, several agency labs did not keep accurate records of potentially dangerous biological agents, had no centralized inventory system and kept vials without labels.

In several cases, there were either more or fewer vials on hand than in inventories, and one facility lost track of a vial containing 3 billion doses of Vesicular stomatitis virus, which can cause a flu-like illness in humans as well as fever and lesions in animals that can lead to malnutrition.

Excuse me, 3 billion doses? I'm not sure what amazes me most about that figure. That a single vial can potentially infect half the earth's population, or that a lab presumably staffed by professionals could lose it and not seem all that concerned.

Perhaps I'm overreacting. There may well be nothing all that alarming about a few billion potential biowar infections. But that leads me to what I find most bizarre about this matter-of-fact revelation... the Times doesn't even bother to explain the tidbit's significance, it simply drops the matter entirely.

This seems like an opportunity to remind everyone that the "investigation" into the Anthrax letters last fall is currently being pursued with the same urgency as the search for Judge Crater... As Barbara Hatch Rosenberg reports, investigators may well be dragging their feet because they know American labs contracted by the government (and quite possibly some of their employees) were in fact the source.

::New York Times, Lax Federal Safeguards Found
::Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federation of American Scientists: Analysis of Anthrax Attacks

Friday, May 03, 2002

Seymour Hersh:

We didn't win the war in Afghanistan; I don't care what George Bush says. I don't care that George Bush doesn't know much, but the people around him should know more who don't seem to know more. That bothers me. We didn't win the war in Afghanistan. Right now, we're not being told very much. We're sort of pacified, because we're all scared, too, and we don't know what's going to happen, and we don't like what happened to us.

. . . Al Qaeda was not destroyed in the war. Afghanistan was. Is our country doing anything significant to rebuild the country, nation-building, all those things? Anything that would suggest that when we move on to Iraq it might do some good? Iraq might emerge better? If the model of going into Iraq is Afghanistan, boy, you can understand why people might be very worried.

::Chicago Magazine via Cursor