Author's posts

Sep 30

Snow Falling on Mars

The very idea is beautiful — just say the words and it is like poetry, “Snow falling on Mars.”

Mars Craft Detects Falling Snow

By Marc Kaufman

Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, September 30, 2008; Page A02

Icy snow falls from high in Mars’s atmosphere and may even reach the planet’s surface, scientists working with NASA’s Phoenix lander reported yesterday.

Laser instruments aboard the lander detected the snow in clouds about 2 1/2 miles above the surface and followed the precipitation as it fell more than a mile. But because of limitations with the technology, it was unclear whether any of the powdery stuff made it all the way to the surface.

It’s apparently real snow — made of water.

Sep 09

From Inside this Enfolding Heart

The final night of the Republican National Convention set forth a vision of America and its emotional center.  Two videos, along with the nominee’s acceptance speech, portrayed in a soft but clear light the prime mover by which people are attracted to the party.  The emotional center, the prime mover, the heart, beats with a sentimental militarism.  

The attraction is undeniable.  The promise is of a kind of warm embrace, a belonging, into both a family and a story.  Inside this enfolding heart, all that surrounds you is home.  

Sep 06

Kitschy-Kitschy-Coup

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Can an entire political party be kitsch?  

This year’s Republican National Convention seemed determined to find out.  From the projected image of an American flag (complete with pole) on a giant powerpoint screen during a ceremony in which real veterans carried a real flag to the front of the convention hall, to the Thursday night viewing of 9/11 footage during which the towers fell to the strains of sentimental music and a voice-over insisting that we never forget, the 2008 Republican convention was a kitsch-o-rama of epic proportions.

If veterans with flags get some patriotic pride flowing, then a fifty-foot projection of a flag would – of course! — generate even more.  If a few homemade signs generate some enthusiasm, then mass-produced “Palin Power” signs printed in a fingerpaint font are so much the better.  Subtlety and authenticity are not watchwords for kitsch.  Above all, irony is not allowed; a cracked smile at the overwrought appeals is to be condemned.  

Sep 04

A Notable Discrepancy in DNC, RNC Security

Perhaps you remember the apparent assasination plot against Senator Obama that was stopped in a hotel in Denver.  Kossaks staying in the same hotel reported back on the shocking incident, as did local TV station CBS4:

Sources told CBS4 police found two high-powered, scoped rifles in the car along with camouflage clothing, walkie-talkies, a bulletproof vest, a spotting scope, licenses in the names of other people and methamphetamine. One of the rifles is listed as stolen from Kansas.

The people arrested are not going to be charged with conspiracy to kill the Senator despite an FBI request.  

Meanwhile,  eight would-be protesters at the RNC in St. Paul are being charged with “Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism” based on the word of paid moles.  The house raid in St. Paul was conducted the weekend before the convention began.

Please let that combination of stories sink in for a moment.

Jun 27

This Summer: No Ice at the North Pole

I’m not one of the resident global warming experts, or even amatures, on the blogs, and one of them should be writing this diary — but this story in the UK Independent calls for a diary.

Exclusive: No ice at the North Pole

Polar scientists reveal dramatic new evidence of climate change

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Friday, 27 June 2008

It seems unthinkable, but for the first time in human history, ice is on course to disappear entirely from the North Pole this year.

Jun 21

Congress to Patrick Henry: Drop Dead

Give me liberty or give me death.

— Patrick Henry, 1775

You have no civil liberties if you are dead.

— Senator Pat Roberts, (R-KS), 2006

The issue is completely straightforward.  It could not have been put more clearly by Senator Roberts.  

Congress has decided that the threat of another attack, and more dead civilians, is more important than the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United States.  They are unabashed, unashamed cowards.  They believe that the American people are unabashed, unashamed cowards.  

Jun 19

NYT: U.S. Oil Majors Back in Iraq

In November 2007, President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki signed a “Declaration of Principles” without the approval of the U.S. Congress or the Iraqi Parliament.  This document outlined military and economic commitments between the two countries.

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(White House Photo: Bush and Maliki signing the Declaration of Principles, Nov. 26, 2007)

Later, this Declaration was broken into two agreements, to be ratified by July of this year.  One, the Status of Forces Agreement, concerns the military part of the Declaration and has received the most attention in the blogosphere.  The other, called the “Strategic Framework Agreement,” concerned “Cultural and Economic ties”, that is to say, oil.

The New York Times is tomorrow reporting that U.S. oil majors are getting back into Iraq as of June 30.  This appears to me to indicate that the second half of the Declaration is succeeding.

Jun 17

WaPo: Pentagon Blamed Military for Own Torture Policy

A Senate investigation has concluded that top Pentagon officials began assembling lists of harsh interrogation techniques in the summer of 2002 for use on detainees at Guantanamo Bay and that those officials later cited memos from field commanders to suggest that the proposals originated far down the chain of command, according to congressional sources briefed on the findings.  

Jun 15

McCain’s 1974 Report on the Torture of POWs

The New York Times has aquired a 44-page report filed in 1974 by Commander John S. McCain after his return from North Vietnam.  The document is titled “Individual Research Project: The Code of Conduct and the Vietnam Prisoners of War.”  The full pdf can be found here.

The Times’ story on McCain’s report focuses on his suggestion that American troops be told more about U.S. foreign policy, and upon McCain’s insistance on the importance of forgiveness: an issue McCain addresses briefly toward the end of the report.

There are many fascinating passages in the 44 pages.  The Times does not quote, for example, this passage, which ought to be required reading for everyone who is engaging in the torture debate in the United States, today.  I will simply offer it without further editorial comment.  This is my transcript of the pdf text.

Jun 14

A Victory for (Real) Democracy in Iraq

The Iraqi Parliament has won a significant if tenuous victory in their struggle for democracy.  AFP is reporting that Prime Minister Maliki is at least temporarily conceding that he cannot ram Bush’s Status of Forces Agreement through the Iraqi parliament.

Maliki says talks on Iraq-US pact deadlocked

1 hour ago

AMMAN (AFP) – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Friday that negotiations with the United States on a long-term security pact were deadlocked because of concern the deal infringes Iraqi sovereignty.

“We have reached an impasse, because when we opened these negotiations we did not realise that the US demands would so deeply affect Iraqi sovereignty . . .

Maliki’s claim that he did not “realise” anything about the US demands is fatuous.  Maliki signed the original November 2007 Declaration of Principles upon which the current contested Status of Forces Agreement is based.  This is a victory for the Iraqi people, not their Prime Minister.

A few more words about this below.

Jun 11

Sign that Obama is About to Face Down Bush on Iraq

This should not pass unnoticed.  McClatchy reports that Senator Obama’s spokesman yesterday layed out a clearer opposition to Bush’s Status of Forces Agreement than the Democratic Senate has so far done.

The point here is subtle but significant.  The Washington Post, in tomorrow’s edition, is reporting that congressional lawmakers are objecting to Bush’s unilateral Status of forces agreement, but have so far not directly raised the issue of Congressional ratification — in other words, have not really challenged Bush.  But this is false.  Obama’s office did, as reported by McClatchy.  In fact, Obama’s position is now directly in line with the position of the Iraqi parliament’s.  Bush must agree to a weaked agreement or punt to the UN, and therefore to the next US Administration, for any agreement.

I am not one for optimism in matters related to Iraq, but this appears to be an actual positive and fairly concrete sign that Obama is not messing around.

Jun 11

Iraqi Parliament Resisting US Permanent Bases; US Congress, Sort Of

The Washington Post and McClatchy are both reporting that the Iraqi parliament is growing increasingly bold in its opposition to Bush’s Status of Forces Agreement.

In particular, the Iraqis object to the establishment of long-term bases and to the US (i.e. Bush) demand that the US (i.e. Bush) be allowed to determine unilaterally when a third country is “attacking” Iraq and to respond accordingly.  The Iraqi parliament is also demanding that contractors not be granted legal immunity.

The Bush administration is giving ground on some of these issues.  McClatchy credits pressure from Senator Obama and bipartisan opposition in Congress for some of the change in stance on the part of the White House, but it is clear that the majority of the credit goes to the Iraqis themselves.  The Iraqi parliament is standing up forcefully.

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