June 29, 2006


Yesterday, I saw a deer, a gold finch and - for the first time in years - the Milky Way. Everything else went in the bit bucket. Or should.

June 25, 2006

Was the election stolen?

Rolling Stone, last bastion of freedom (apparently), published "Was the 2004 election stolen". In it, RFK Jr. expounds all the argument in favour of it. Most of it relates to statistical analysis of the results, and the exit polls. The analysis generally overstates the case based on the numbers (or rather, doesn't clarify the assumptions made). But some results do seem unlikely to be random.

But what does that mean? In case of the analysis of the results, not random means that there are unidentified processes at work that drive down Democratic turnout and/or boost the Republican one. In case of the exit polls, it means that Democratic voters are more likely to speak to a pollster (or fill out the form) than Republican voters.

And of course, there is certainly a good case that there was some voter fraud - as you can expect in an antiquated system with no national rules or regulations. In some cases the fraud was blatant. But much of the discrepancies can be due to two observations:
1) The Democratic base is livid, and very verbose about its disgust of the party in power. That explains why they speak out more. RFK Jr. briefly addresses the point, but not convincingly. The Republican base, however, was already holding its nose and voting Bush. They might have run home to wash their hands.
2) Democrats, more than Republicans, believe that the voting system is rigged. Hence, fewer of them bother to vote.

Now, it certainly is tempting to believe that there was voter fraud, because the alternative is hard to accept. Bush won with a comfortable margin, as the Iraq disaster was unfolding, and the deficits were growing. It's hard to believe that Bush represented, at that time, exactly what most of the US voters wanted.

But let's say that RFK Jr is correct, and that Bush's margin over Kerry in the popular vote was smaller, and that Kerry won the electorate. That simply proves that the electoral system is still a sham and needs to be refitted. If the candidate with the most votes, nationwide, would win the election, Al Gore would have been in the White House. But Bush would still have won over Kerry in 2004. Nothing can change the fact that about half of the voters really do vote Republican, even after Iraq, the deficits, and what not.

Of course, a choice between two parties means very little. It is hard to tell whether someone voted for Bush because they believe he is the Son of God, or because they want more tax cuts, or because they believe that abortion is murder, or because they hate Kerry's guts, or because they hate Democrats in general, or because they thought the economy was doing great, or because they thought that under Kerry the economy would do even worse. No way to tell. The same is true for Democrats. How many voted for Kerry ONLY because the alternative was Bush?

It's no way to run a country.

June 21, 2006

How many commandments do you know?

Colbert's interview with Westmoreland is positively hysterical. This guy is just not with it...

Now, clearly Westmoreland doesn't know the ten commandments. Do you? Seriously? Exodus actually has a godzillion commandments, one of the most important (repeated several times) is that you can't work on sunday, on penalty of death. Don't see too many religious Americans asking Walmart to close on sundays.

Anyway, just for your handy reference, here they are:

1. Exodus 20.3 "you shall have no other gods before me". A corrolary to this one is explained a bit later: you shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the (promised) land. Which means, to keep the religion pure, you have to kick all non-believers out of Israel, you can't marry them, trade with them or even be at peace with them. If you wonder why the Jewish-Palestinian conflict just keeps going on, remember that one side is religiously obliged to keep fighting.

2. Exodus 20.4 No false idols. Reason given: "for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents,to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me."

3. Exodus 20.7. Don't take the name of the Lord in vain. Remember, you can cuss as much as you like, as long as you don't drag God into it. "Dog-shit Taco" is a perfectly acceptable turn of speech. Religiously speaking.

4. Exodus 20.8. "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy". Even the slaves aren't allowed to work (hear that, Walmart?), and alien residents can't work either. Next time you see a Christian shop on sunday, ask him why he is angering God. If he says he's not Christian, say that you are and repeat the question. Pick people that don't look like they're armed.

5. Exodus 20.12. "Honor your parents."

6. Exodus 20.13. "You shall not murder."

7. Exodus 20.14. "You shall not commit adultery." Polygamy was allowed though. For future research: when was polygamy no longer acceptable. Was polyandry really ruled out?

8. Exodus 20.15. "You shall not steal." See .here for complications with that one.

9. Exodus 20.16. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour". This is NOT the same as "don't lie". It only pertains to judiciary proceedings. You can lie your ass off unless you're under oath.

10. Exodus 20.17. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house, wife, male or female slave, ox, donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor". What? Can't even covet the slaves?

Now, the only thing that is special about these 10 commandments is that they were written in stone. But Exodus is positively piled with commandments, all straight from God. I don't see why we would forget the others? Some of them are quite amusing, such as Exodus 22.2. Some are positively scary (Exodus 22.28). But there are some really great ideas too. My favourites: Exodus 22.21 ("You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt") and Exodus 22.25 ("If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not enact interest from them").

All in all, Exodus shows that modern interpretation of the Bible is highly selective. It shows that religious people do feel that they can pick and chose what they believe, at least if they lend any credence to the Torah. Religion is very malleable.

June 20, 2006


Good grief. I don't understand why otherwise rational people are so unreasonable when things turn to the theory of evolution. And I don't mean those who want to teach ID alongside it. I mean perfectly reasonable, progressive people, that somehow feel so vested in the theory of unguided evolution that they feel themselves compelled to put it on some pedestal. They can actually bring themselves to write or say that it is more than a theory. I don't get that, did they all of a sudden forget how science works? We don't do any better than theories. Ever.

And the worst is that they always try to pull the rest of our scientific endeavours into the fray, either by comparing unguided evolution to the theory of gravity, or by saying that it is studied with the same means and rigour as physics, or chemistry. In the pantheon of science, evolution is a very long way away from physics, my friends. It ain't even in the same building.

Why do progressives accept the battleground that others have chosen, and bet all of science on it? Unguided evolution is a great theory, built on the basis of a very sketchy record of the past, and on an enormous and ungoing study of the life on this planet. But it is incomplete.

You know, comparing it to Newton's laws of gravity may not be a bad idea after all. Newton's laws stood for centuries as absolutely perfect. Tested over and over again, leading to numerous inventions and seriously changing the nature of our societies. Tested much, much better than the theory of evolution, one might add (after all, it's a tad easier to measure the speed of a falling item than it is to get a species to grow a new sensory organ. Or lose one...). And yet, Newton's laws are wrong. Not by much, mind you, when tested in everyday applications. Not much at all, for most practical uses. And yet, it is fundamentally, spectacularly wrong. Einstein's universe is drastically, qualitatively different than Newton's. And you can't tell them apart unless you have really accurate instruments measuring very reproducible experimental results.

Let them teach ID. Like its opponents say, there's not much to it, so it won't take much time in the curriculum. And, as the polls below show, generations of teaching ONLY unguided evolution has lead to a population that simply does not believe in it. Since 1982, the number of Americans that believe in unguided evolution has been stable and below 14%. So, allow ID in the schools, and move on to something that matters. The US lost this battle. Ages ago. ID won't harm science, in any serious way. Opposing it does.


June 19, 2006

Filter-free reporting from Iraq

Click on the title or cut and paste:


June 15, 2006

No such thing as bad publicity

I stronly suspect that Coulter's book is bought mainly by Democrats. For Republicans, it is either a guilty indulgence or an outright embarassment. It's not a book they will leave on their coffee tables. They might borrow someone else's copy, or get it at the library, just for a good lark.
But for Democrats, it's a great read, a gift that keeps on giving. It is a source of handy quotes, a reference work to fuel their distaste (or hate?) of the extreme right-wing of the Republican party.
Democrats must be the ones buying it. That is why Coulter goes on these talk shows, trying to paint as bad a picture as possible of it. She doesn't try to defend it, really, she wants to get the most outrageous quotes out.
Just as with shock-jocks like Howard Stern, her loyal public consists mainly of people that hate her.

June 13, 2006

Paper blogging

New concept in performance art. I'm reading a Flemish paper and am going to write about the articles that strike my fancy as I read them. Yeah, a bit derivative, but what are you paying to see it? Exactly.

Page 2.
EU and Turkey are talking about Turkey's entry. About 10 or 15 years overdue, in my opinion, but it looks like it's still in time. It's not looking like it will be easy anyway, but at least things are moving a bit.
Belgian government needs to find 4.5 billion euro to get to its (rather ambitious) fiscal goals for 2007. Actually, this is pretty decent news, but there's still a long way to go - national debt is still 89% of the BNP.

Page 3:
Belgians not watching the WC that much because of the heat. Well, I ain't buying that. The Dutch look religiously. Probably more because Belgium isn't in the finals. I actually prefer the first round matches, since they involve so many teams you will not hear about again... Makes for more interesting, unpredictable matches.

Page 4:
1400 train passengers stranded in Belgium because the heat busted a powerline on the track. Maybe it IS getting too hot here. I guess I've been through those blasted Illinois summers too long...

Skipping depressing story about missing children. Perhaps in another post.

Page 11:
Three teachers at a mosque are in jail on suspicion of beating students there. Not much details. Looks good though - the kids complained, action was taken. Now start looking at the credentials of those teachers...

Page 13:
Bickering between Flanders and the francophone community. Somehow the latter managed to stop the new legislation regulating social housing in Flanders. The problem is that the Flemish community wants to demand that people living in subsidized housing should either speak Dutch or be in the process of learning it. Seems like a fair thing to ask. After all, they are living on flemish tax dollars. All they need to do is enroll in some class teaching Dutch, which will be available in the bigger cities (where social housing is generally located). There are fairly low-effort courses available that last years. So even if they don't plan to learn Dutch, they can pretend to do so with a small effort.

Page 15:
German paper (Frankfurter Allgemeine) claims that Menachim Begin was behind the failed assassination attempt on Adenauer. Begin went on to become the prime minister of Israel. Apparently he wanted to try to stop the "Wiedergutmachung" process, which was a dialogue between Germany and Israel to discuss reparations for Nazi crimes. Begin and his fellow extremists didn't want anything of the sort. Hm. Terrorist extremist makes it to president. Why did Israel refuse to talk to Arafat again?

Page 16:
Angela Cannings - see previous post - this is the woman that was erroneously convicted for murdering her infants. Looks like I remembered reasonably correctly. Horrible story. Every parents nightmare, twice over: you lose a child, then get blamed for it...

Military expenditures reached another record high in 2005. Fully 48% of it was done by the US.

Page 20:
Full page article, titled "What would you do after four years in hell?". Rather raw and no-holds-barred opinion piece on Gitmo. Written by the lawyer for one of the prisoners in Gitmo, a kid that was 14 when arrested in a mosque in Pakistan (!!). This kid has already tried to commit suicide twice this year! And then there's the forgotten prison in Bagram too...

Page 21:
Article defending the Center for equal opportunity and fight against racism, which is being targeted by the Belgian wing of the Republican party. Well written. I'm starting to like the Green! party. I'm not sure of the polemics surrounding this issue, but I plan to look into it.

Great article by attachees of the Danish Cultural Institute. Some liberal (which here means "free marketeer") used the Danish model to deal with unemployment as an example for Belgium. They said they were thrilled that people in Belgium look at Denmark to learn, but that they need to look at the broader picture. The unemployment system in Denmark has indeed some rather "liberal" characteristics: maximum assistance is limited in time (4 years) and if you refuse a job offer that is in line with your qualifications twice, you get completely dropped from the system. But as they point out, this only works in a super-social system, where the labour market is relatively unregulated (easy to hire, easy to fire), healthcare is completely free for all and sunder, students get paid between 600 and 700 euros per month (!) to study, retraining courses are paid for by the state, etc... As they put it: Denmark practices neoliberalism with a super-social safety net.

Page 28:
FABULOUS picture. It's got a kid painted in Old Glory with a big red-white-blue hat holding a sign "World cup tickets: $271 - Airfare and hotel: $2000 - Bouncing the Crechs: priceless". The US got creamed 3-0. I wonder whether he'll be at the next game holding a sign "Participating is more important than winning".

From the business section:
Belgium needs to start building more nuclear reactors. Hell yeah. Not like we have a choice.

From the culture section:
Cleese is retiring. Damn.

Oh well. Boring post. Par for the course.

Tidbits that burned into my mind...

The UK is going to start taxing garbage. About blooming time. Apparently Flanders is the region with the highest percentage of recycling - about 71% of its thrash is sorted and recycled. This percentage is apparently still rising. At the very least it shows it can be done. Granted, they have put containers on every other corner, and most cities have their own recycling parks. Quite handy, since pickup from the door follows a labyrinthine schedule.

In the gross miscarriage of justice section - straight from the UK - two items. One, the big raid this month in London, where 250 police and MI5 officers raided a house in search of a chemical weapon, during which they accidentally shot someone, whome they then (afterwards!) beat up and dragged down the stairs (head banging the steps). Yeah, that one. Big oopsie. Both guys that were arrested have now been released without charges. Two, in a case I recall with horror, a woman that had killed three of her children as infants, has been released. Well, actually she was released a while back, and she just wrote about the ordeal. See, apparently, all three of these children died of SIDS. She was convicted because the experts said it couldn't happen. Four years in jail, where she received plenty of abuse (including burn wounds from hot coffee) due to the nature of her alleged crime. No one has apologized to her, least of all the expert whose testimony landed her in jail.

Words fail. I can't imagine losing a child to SIDS (not really). But then be accused of having murdered them? Good grief.

Disclaimer: all this was regurgitated from memory from the BBC news radio I listened to today. No time to factcheck, Brasil is about to play....

June 11, 2006

Hot blogging

Well, finally summer here. A bit before schedule. Three days of high-twenties in a row. Very nice. On the bad side of things, I'm 1.5 for 7 in world cup matches, if I get to watch this game out. No, not in predicting the winner, just in getting to watch the games.

Iran and Mexico still tied. Awesome. Go Iran. Best thing to happen would be if they could move to the next round. They're nuts for soccer, so they can't be all that religious. Just look at the US, they're religious, so they don't care for soccer. There can be only one.... One altar, that is, and I guess that when it really gets down to it, I prefer nations that pray for their soccer players, rather than their soldiers

June 08, 2006

To all of you who are going to Hell,

meet me at HellBucks in Dis while you pass through (the one at the NW corner of Bush Street and Hitler Avenue, not the ones on the NE or the SW corner, they are for Born-Agains only - check out the sign, it's simply righteous). Grande fat-free Coulterino for both of us? It's their special: bones, broken glass and ice.

Hell or high water

Well, below is my result, but ignore the header. I've talked it over with Minos, and I've decided to go to Dis in stead. Yeah, I know, it's actually deeper in Hell. But the scores were tied, and I really am a city boy. I just can't imagine having to haul my bones to Dis from the second level every time I want a cup of Hellbucks, watch a Hellywood movie or shop at HelMart. Especially with the traffic jams around the bridge over the Styx in the fifth level. Ever since Coulter arrived there, the gapers' delay has been out of control.

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Second Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Moderate
Level 2 (Lustful)Very High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Moderate
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very High
Level 7 (Violent)High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)High
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)High

Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test

June 06, 2006


Sorry, not so creative today. Found the following online diary worth reading, while trying to find a site I was one yesterday: http://irregulartimes.com

What really made me laugh was a comment on the site, from Ralph:

So when are liberals going to wake up? It’s time to tell it like it is: Republican policies are attempting to turn tomorrow’s United States into yesterday’s Soviet Union. Here’s the text of the anti-Republican ad for 2006 and 2008:
“Under the Soviet Union, the Communist government had unlimited power to spy on its own people.”
(Scenes of military march through Red Square, overlay headlines of Bush wiretapping)
“It established a system of secret prisons, where people were held indefinitely and brutalized outside of the rule of law.”
(Some scenes from the Soviet gulag, some headlines on Guantanamo torture, scenes of the cages at Guantanamo)
“It suppressed all knowledge that contradicted the ideology of the ruling party.”
(Red hammer and sickle, and Headlines: Bush censors science.)
“It used propaganda disguised as news to deceive its own people.”
(Headlines: Bush pays for propaganda disguised as news.)
“These policies spelled disaster for the Soviet Union. So why has the Republican party introduced them in the United States?”
(Catchphrase) “Republican policy: Bad for the Soviet Union. Bad for America.”

No comment

Ok, I suspect it's a joke (grabbed it from a right-wing blog (http://right-mind.us/blogs/blog_0/archive/2006/04/02/42697.aspx)), but it's interesting to see what they think is funny...


To: All Commands
Subject: Inappropriate T-Shirts
Ref: ComMidEastFor Inst 16134//24 K

1. The following T-shirts are no longer to be worn on or off base by any military or civilian personnel serving in the Middle East:

* “Eat Pork Or Die” [both English and Arabic versions]
* “Shrine Busters” [Various. Show burning minarets or bomb/artillery shells impacting Islamic shrines. Some with unit logos.]
* “Napalm, Sticks Like Crazy” [Both English and Arabic versions]
* “Goat - it isn’t just for breakfast any more.” [Both English and Arabic versions]
* “The road to Paradise begins with me.” [Mostly Arabic versions but some in English. Some show sniper scope cross-hairs]
* “Guns don’t kill people. I kill people.” [Both Arabic and English versions]
* “Pork. The other white meat.” [Arabic version]
* “Infidel” [English, Arabic and other coalition force languages.]

2. The above T-shirts are to be removed from Post Exchanges upon receipt of this directive.

3. The following signs are to be removed upon receipt of this message:

* “Islamic Religious Services Will Be Held at the Firing Range at 0800 Daily.”
* “Do we really need ’smart bombs’ to drop on these dumb bastards?”

4. All commands are instructed to implement sensitivity training upon receipt.

June 05, 2006

Why pushing for gay marriage isn't a good move.

It's not a popular position in the progressive circles I roam, but I don't think that pushing for gay marriage in the US is a good idea. It would be better to first get the government out of the marriage business entirely.

No, hear me out, it's not crazy. At its root, the problem comes from the government meddling in a religious institution. You may want to argue that marriage shouldn't be a religious institution, but you'ld be fighting centuries of history there. Not smart. It is much more sensible to argue that the government should limit itself to the nuptial contract - the secular aspect of marriage. It can limit what is allowed in the contract, specify things that have to be in there, approve it, file it and enforce it.

Here in Belgium, things go something like this:

1) You get hitched "for the law", which consists of signing your marriage contract in front of a city official, who will first read you your rights and your duties under the law, and provide you with a nice leatherbound Cliff notes version of the applicable laws. Of course, before that you need to have the contract prepared and verified by a credentialed professional, who will also go into the details of what the hell you're getting into.

2) If you want to, you can go to a church and have them perform another ceremony, which will establish your married status according to that churches' rules. Or you can go to a local bar, and have the bartender douse you in martinis, and thereby declare yourself married to your community of drinking buddies. Or dance naked in a circle on the wet grass and jump over a broom. Sky's the limit.

That's how things are here, in Belgium. And in the Netherlands. In Spain, you can get married in church only, and bring the certificate to the registry, but you can also just get married in the civil ceremony. And in all those countries, same-sex marriage is legally recognized.

Separating the legal aspects of marriage from the religious aspects has many benefits:
1) It makes it perfectly clear that, for the government, you're simply in a contractual agreement. A very specific one, to be sure, but one that translates into clear legal obligations, that are spelled out to you.
2) It makes all legal benefits (and drawbacks) available to those who are allowed to legally marry. The decision to allow people to enter into this type of contract is now a purely secular one.
3) Religious people can see these legal unions as different from their own kind of marriages. So they don't need to get worked up about them. This means that extending the legal benefits to same-sex couples now becomes much easier.
4) It reinforces the separation between religion and state.

Of course, you don't get to piss off religious people with this approach, which I'm sure will disappoint some. But it is the best way to achieve a lasting status for gay marriage in the US. The push to legalize gay marriage without first separating the religious and secular aspects of it is simply bound to generate a backlash.

Why every progressive American (and most progressive Europeans) NEED to read the bible

Because otherwise, you might think that the person wielding this sign has some kind of argument. In actuality, the verses they quote have NOTHING to do with gay marriage. Read it. READ IT! Okay, you're still reading this post in stead, but really, you should READ IT. Jesus is answering a very specific question on divorce. "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?".

So, if these people want to ban divorce, they can quote Jesus here. Although, even then, they'ld really be a bit selective. Because Jesus says that you can divorce for reason of "unchastity". So, none of that "no fault" stuff, okay. So if these people want to ban divorce, except in case of adultery, they can quote Jesus. Although, even then, they're still not quite right. Because Jesus breaks down under questioning by his disciples (Matthew 19:10-12). Because the disciples thought that if you can't get a divorce just for fun, getting married would just not be worth it. So Jesus says that "Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only to those to whom it is given." That, my friends, means that if you, personally, accept the teachings of Jesus, you can't get a divorce (except in case of adultery (of your partner, you twit)). If you can't accept these teachings, more's the pity. Jesus does not condemn those who do not follow this path. In particular, he says that some people aren't born to be married (born "eunuchs"), a reference to those born gay, impotent or terminally nerdy. He does not advocate gay sex, or gay marriage, which would have been unthinkable in those times, but does say that some people are just born different, which has to be accepted. This was considerably more advanced than the times....

So, read the bible. If those who oppose gay marriage quote this passage, ask them whether they know what it is about. If they do know that this passage is about divorce, ask them whether they know Jesus' position on lying... Then ask them their position on divorce, and whether they know what Jesus DID say about gay marriage...

Youth apathy - where is the outrage?

Thanks to "Is America Burning", a great blog, for bringing this issue up in an article titled "Did Student Protest End With Viet Nam?"

I agree that it is disheartening to see this level of apathy in the face of the scandalous behaviour of the US government. Let me venture the following explanations:
1) Americans are very busy, especially those most adversely affected by the scandalous policies of the US government. It is very hard to survive at the bottom.
2) It IS very hard to get anything done in the US political system. With only 1.5 parties, there are no national political organization with a vested interest in challenging the system at its roots.

On the particular issue of foreign wars, though, there is another reason why the kids in the Sixties were more motivated to participate: the draft. No explanation necessary, is there? If there was still a draft army, there would be street riots in every town in the country by now.

If I would let my cynicism run free, I would add that political activism in the Sixties had a whole lot more "fringe benefits" than it does now. Free sex and free drugs beat free pizza (and even free beer) in getting the young 'uns to attend to a rally...

I'm sorry if it sounds a bit bitter or dejected. But the US never developed a functioning democracy, and is now paying the price. I just don't see any way to structurally improve the situation in a two-party system. It simply cannot work. Somehow, long-lasting, "full-service" third and fourth parties need to appear. Where can they come from?

1) Labour unions traditionally form the core support of a socialist party. But the US unions are weak and corrupt, and many Americans seem to be culturally allergic to socialism. Decades of indoctrination, no doubt, but hard to reverse.

2) Churches can form the core support for both leftist and rightist parties. But the US churches seem reasonably happy with the current situation. It is possible that dissatisfaction with Bush's poor results on conservative issues will lead to a break between the Religious Right and the Republican party. Perhaps the RR will then go on to start its own party.

3) Either the Democratic party or the Republican party can split apart in a centrist and one or two other parties.

Unfortunately, however a third party would be formed, it would still be faced with the fact that the entire electoral system is set up against its success.

So there you have it. There will be no lasting progress until there are more parties. There will not be more parties until the electoral system changes. And there will have to be a revolution in order to have the parties in power agree to change the electoral system ...

Hypothetically, what needs to be changed in the electoral system, you ask? Well, mainly the following:
1) Compulsory voting.
2) Proportional representation.

Chances that that will happen peacefully? Zero. The US will remain subject to yo-yo power politics in the legislative branch, leaving the real power in the hands of the executive branch.

June 04, 2006

Um, no, following Washington's advice would be a disaster

As the article states, Washington advocated armed neutrality. But using the Swiss as an example is rather unfortunate. The Swiss stayed out of the world wars, but that wasn't because Germany was afraid of their army. It was because they collaborated, both economically and politically, by doing such "neutral" things as turning back Jews at their border.

Would Washington have sat idly by while Germany and the USSR battled for Europe? The US would be at peace, perhaps, but it wouldn't be prosperous. The US prospers because the world economy is currently working in its favour. That is not a coincidence, but a result of its military and political preeminence since WWII. For instance, if the world starts trading in another currency than the dollar, the US will suffer. Not quickly, not drastically, but systematically, and forever. It will start the long process of leveling the playing field between the US economy and the rest of the world's.

While neutrality might have at least achieved peace at the expense of prosperity (and peace of mind), Washington's prescription of trading with everyone, no matter what, is simply horrible. Would Washington really have been selling tanks and supplies to both Britain, Germany and the USSR in WWII? Would he at least have let private US firms do it? Reagan did something similar in the Iran-Iraq war, supplying both sides, incidentally one of the great reasons that the US will never be trusted in either of these countries. Contrary to what the article states, Washington would not only send tankers and tourists to the Middle East, but also nuclear reactors, land mines, tanks, missiles, planes and cluster bombs. Delivered to anyone with money - Saddam as much as Sharon, Ahmedinedjad as much as Musharraf.

It is true that it would be unlikely that international terrorists would target the US if the US followed Washington's advice. After all, there would be no reason to, and why kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? Of course the US would sell weapons to terrorists, right? One man's terrorists are another mans freedom fighters, and - as Washington knew very well - todays ragtag rebel army can be tomorrow's government. Why pick sides? That would be interfering.

And of course, Washington would have been strongly in favor of encouraging religion in the US. With public money, if needed, since he believed that the Republic couldn't exist without virtuous people, and virtuous people are most easily created by supporting religion. Faith-based initiatives? Try witch hunts.

No, Washington would be an isolationist, unscrupulously commercial, religious-right republican if he were alive today. The fact that even he would probably not have agreed with much of Bush's actions does not mean that anti-Bush forces should promote his ideology.

June 03, 2006

Things that annoy me - number II

On NPR yesterday, a Marine complains that you can't see your attackers when you are attacked with an IED. Huh? Did the US stop dropping 500 lb bombs over suspected terrorist hideouts?

Also on NPR yesterday, continuous moaning about the demise of the Big Three, prompted by sharp downturn in auto sales in May, which was claimed to be a consequence of high gas prices.
Things wrong with it:
1) There are no "Big Three" US car companies. There's only Ford and GM. Daimler-Chrysler is a European car company with a lot of US factories (and in the process of remedying that disadvantage).
2) While sales were down for F, GM and C, they were up for Toyota and Honda, both having record months. So people didn't stop buying cars, they just bought better cars. It's not like there are no frugal GM cars around, it's that they are crappy compared to what T and H produce.
3) Gas prices continue to be ludicrously low in the US. People who worry about what they will have to shell out for gas are not buying new cars. They buy used cars.

Internet hunting ... who knew?

Putting paid to the idea that the US is leading the world in finding uses for the internet. You gotta read this story.

Elaborating on Haditha

I don't think that the problem is that these Marines came to see the Iraqis as subhuman.

I think modern soldiers are trained to look at the enemy as subhuman, or at least as vastly inferior. They must have that mindset, in order to be able to kill people they do not know at all, at a distance, with the push of a button or the pull of a trigger.

The problem is that this mindset clashes with reality, when the war keeps dragging on, things don't improve, and the soldiers keep losing friends and colleagues every day to an enemy that has learned to fight them. It is humiliating, to be killed by (insert your favourite expletive), and you rarely get to actually fight your attackers.

In addition, Americans (like many modern armies) believe that they are occupying countries "for their own good". That makes it even harder for the soldiers to understand their situation - why would people you try to help, try to kill you?

Putting people in such a cognitive dissonant situation is bound to do serious psychological damage.

According to Rice and co, 99% of the US soldiers behave perfectly every day. According to the top general in Iraq, it's 99.9%. Well, that means that between 130 and 1,300 US soldiers currently in Iraq sometimes wake up in a psychopatic babykilling mood. That sounds like it could be right, but it's not encouraging. It that rate holds up, the US has gained between a few hundred and a few thousand psychopaths over the past few years. People like McVeigh. Good luck...