Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Que maravilloso!

Congratulations to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina on affirming the legality of gay marriage!

It's Idiot Day and this time someone told me

Reproducing John Cole's post in its entirety:

And 100% of Popes are Catholic

by John Cole

Here is the MSM’s go-to guy on terrorism, Rep. Peter King (R, NY), on Fox News:

The fact is while the overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding people, on the other hand 100% of the Islamic terrorists are Muslims, and that is our main enemy today.

We are to the point that merely exposing yourself to right-wingers makes you dumber.

This on the same day that I read this discussion of environmental economics from Ezra Klein featuring a lovely quotation from Larry Summers:

THERE ARE IDIOTS. Look around.

Friday, December 25, 2009

I love it when this happens.

The singer from The Shins is collaborating with Danger Mouse. The single (and website, actually) is pretty cool. Looking forward to the album.

Christmas has been very nice. I asked primarily for socks, and I got so many! I can make it through the winter now! (This at the age of 21. I shudder to think what I'll want for Christmas by the time I'm 70).

Happy holidays to anyone reading!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Some quick hits

The situation for Afghani women isn't getting any better. There's not much new in the report, which could be fortunate or unfortunate depending on how you look at it, I guess; just a tragic sameness. I've posted about this topic before, and I wrote a paper that was about half on this subject. I don't really want to go over it again right now--it's too sad.

I'm getting to this way late, but Switzerland banned minarets a couple of weeks ago. In protest, a Swiss businessman built a minaret on top of his business in protest. Awesome.

Morand said he viewed the ban was all the more "scandalous" given that Switzerland actively encourages Arabs to "visit the country and to spend their money here."

The minaret, which has been in place since Tuesday, has "generated a lot of interest," he said, adding that he will wait and see before deciding if further action was needed to push his point.

I vote further action.

Andrew Sullivan flagged a video a while ago where a suicide bomber was interviewed on "All Things Pakistan." He titled the post "Interviewing Evil," which I object to--I think largely because I don't believe in evil. I'm not interested in this interview for purposes of staring into the underbelly of moral absolutes; I want to know what the suicide bomber thinks, that's all. Here's the video:

As always, there's more, but I'm too tired right now.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fair's fair

In light of my last, rather vehement post on Uganda's kill-the-gays bill and American Evangelical Christians, it's only fair to acknowledge Rick Warren's speaking out against the Ugandan initiative:

Andrew Sullivan comments:

This is an extremely positive if overdue development. I remain deeply concerned that Uganda's public policy is based on the "curing" homosexuals rubric, but that sure is better than executing them. The Ugandan bill should be abandoned. And Warren's call on pastors to disown the bill is a real step forward.


What I think is most significant is that Warren called this bill "extreme, unjust and unchristian towards homosexuals". It is absolutely and unequivocally unchristian to demonize a whole group of people and to threaten them with execution simply because of their sexual orientation and their need for love and sex and intimacy and companionship like every other human being. And for Warren to deploy Christian arguments in defense of the dignity of homosexual persons is a big step forward in this debate. I am grateful to him for staying true to the Gospels.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A hellfire sandwich

Recall the new Ugandan bill that will render homosexuality, or harboring, supporting, or not reporting homosexual Ugandans, punishable by death. It might even lead to the execution of HIV-positive people.


Some observers have wondered if Purpose Driven Life author and mega-evangelist Rick Warren has had a role in the globally controversial bill, especially because of Warren's close association with Ugandan anti-gay activist Martin Ssempa and, more broadly, because Warren has refused to denounce the anti-gay bill. To little notice, a charismatic network overseen by Warren's doctoral dissertation advisor, C. Peter Wagner, has played a major role in politically organizing and inspiring the Ugandan legislators who have spearheaded the anti-gay bill.

Someone please explain to me why Warren, Wagner, etc. cannot or should not be prosecuted for murder should this bill be implemented.

Sigh. The answer is that there is no institution or judicial body capable of doing so. The US, conveniently, is not a signatory to the ICC, and even if we were I doubt much would happen. If we can't even prosecute our war criminals--war being the form of international interaction most robustly understood and governed on a global and juridical level (commerce is an issue for another time)--we sure as hell aren't going to get anything done about rampantly homophobic pastors indirectly killing hundreds, thousands--I don't even know--of poor Africans.

The Talk to Action piece I linked above is further interesting for the following pieces of information:

Both Wagner and Warren have designed elaborate infrastructures for blurring the lines between church and state. Wagner describes his movement as the “New Apostolic Reformation” and openly espouses his goals of reorganizing and mobilizing the church to take Christian “dominion” over government and society. Warren’s movement is described as a “second reformation”...

Wagner is the Convening Apostle in a movement of charismatic "relational networks" which has extended its reach from the United States to Uganda, and worldwide. Under its umbrella of authority are virulently anti-gay apostles in the United States and Uganda including Lou Engle of TheCall, who led thousands of young people in a twelve hour November 1, 2008 stadium rally in support of California's anti-gay marriage Proposition Eight. The San Diego event closed with Engle, a member of Wagner's inner circle of "prophets," calling for Christian martyrs. [...]

In C. Peter Wagner's 2008 book "Dominion", he describes the process through which this brand of Christianity can take dominion over government and society, and claims that this can be accomplished within a democratic framework. Wagner clearly states that Rick Warren's global P.E.A.C.E. Plan is an example of "stage one":

"I think the P.E.A.C.E. plan fits most comfortably into Phase One, the "social action" phase of strategies for obeying God's cultural mandate. The Phase Two emphases on strategic-level spiritual warfare and associated activities have not been placed front and center. And crucial to Phase Three, as I am defining it, are such things as apostolic/prophetic government of the Church, the Church (including apostles) in the workplace, the great transfer of wealth, dominion theology and the 7-M mandate."

If Rick Warren is "phase one," what do Wagner's stages two and three entail ?

The "7-M" or Reclaiming the Seven Mountains mandate encourages believers to take over key societal sectors such as government, and a leading Ugandan spokesperson for the theocratic 7-M paradigm has played a major role organizing and inspiring politicians behind Uganda's Anti Homosexuality legislation.

There's much, much more in the piece (including all the in-text links that I got too lazy to reproduce). It's very much worth reading.

What I now want to know is how these people are any different from Wahhabi or Salafi Islamic fundamentalists seeking to take over various Muslim countries and impose an atavistic reading of sharia law, other than in their remarkable success at seeing their goals enacted in countries to which they have no real connection. Who in Uganda elected Peter Wagner?

I'm truly disgusted. I'm having a hard time viewing the success differentiating Warren/Wagner from the Taliban as due to much of anything other than that the Ws are rich white men working from the global center to impose their views on the periphery, and Islamic extremists are poor brown men working from the periphery toward the center.

So we're sandwiched. With a little luck, eventually we can all look forward to living in a hell modeled on someone's holy book.



On the night of June 10, 2006, three Guantanamo detainees were found dead in their individual cells. Without any autopsy or investigation, U.S. military officials proclaimed "suicide by hanging" as the cause of each death, and immediately sought to exploit the episode as proof of the evil of the detainees. Admiral Harry Harris, the camp's commander, said it showed "they have no regard for life" and that the suicides were "not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare aimed at us here at Guantanamo"; another official anonymously said that the suicides showed the victims were "committed jihadists [who] will do anything they can to advance their cause," while another sneered that "it was a good PR move to draw attention."

The military ordered all press off the island, prevented all lawyers from seeing their clients, prevented any outside investigation, and declared its own investigation, to be publicly released. Two years later, it was indeed released (in heavily redacted form), and failed to satisfactorily answer any of the relevant questions. How did three heavily supervised and separated detainees commit coordinated suicide? Why did none of the guards notice something was happening, and why were none of the guards on duty that night disciplined? Why and how did the detainees stuff rags down their own throats? Why was one of them missing his internal organs at autopsy? (I wish I were making this up.)

Seton Hall University's Law school has released a report [PDF] on the events which is not making my stomach sit any easier about this.

According to the report (and thanks to TalkLeft for highlighting this):

Accepting the military investigation findings as true and complete, in order to commit suicide by hanging, the detainees must have:

* Braided a noose by tearing up their sheets and/or clothing
* Made mannequins of themselves so it would appear to the guards that they were asleep in their cells
* Hung sheets to block the view into the cells, a violation of SOPs
* Tied their feet together
* Tied their hands together
* Shoved rags in their mouths and down their throats
* Hung the noose from the metal mesh of the cell wall and/or ceiling
* Climbed up on to the sink, put the noose around their necks and released their weight, resulting in death by strangulation
* Hung dead for at least two hours completely unnoticed by guards

SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] required guards to note movement or to see the detainee‘s skin while walking the block. This raises many questions as to how three detainees on the same cell block, on the same side of the block, were able to complete the aforementioned acts without any Alpha guards noticing.

And just so we're clear how truly bizarre this whole situation is, here's Scott Horton interviewing Seton Hall professor Mark Denbeaux, who supervised the report:

Q: One of the prisoners, Yassar Talal Al Zahrani, had been seized as a minor and survived the prison riot that occurred at the Qali Jangi Prison near Mazar-i-Sharif. When his body was turned over for burial, an independent medical examination was arranged which found that the heart, kidneys and throat had all been removed from his corpse. The medical examiner noted that the removal of the throat in particular was highly irregular, and made an independent assessment impossible. Do you have any sense why U.S. military pathologists removed his internal organs and throat? Is this discussed in the report?

A: No.

The most innocent explanation I can come up with that comports with all the facts is that this is Gitmo meets The Lord of the Flies and the Stanford Prison Experiment: no one really cares about the rules. Even in that reading, the NCIS investigation is a cover-up of a gross dereliction of duty for which nobody was disciplined, leading to the deaths of three men. The fact that NCIS did not address these issues is inexplicable and very troubling.

That's the bizarre part, the twisted part. But here comes the shameful, really scary part:

There is one way that a meaningful investigation could be conducted into what happened to these three detainees: a lawsuit filed in federal court by the parents of two of the detainees against various Bush officials for the torture and deaths of their sons -- who had never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any wrongdoing (indeed, one had been cleared for release). By itself, discovery in that lawsuit would shed critical light on what was done to these detainees and what caused their deaths.

The problem, however, is that the Obama DOJ has been using every Bush tactic -- and inventing whole new ones -- to block the lawsuit from proceeding.


All of this is depressingly consistent with multiple other cases in which the Obama DOJ is attempting aggressively to shield even the most illegal and allegedly discontinued Bush programs from judicial review. Time and again, the most radical Bush claims of executive power, immunity and secrecy (ones Democrats and even Obama frequently condemned) are invoked to insist that federal courts have no right to adjudicate claims that the Government violated the Constitution and the law. As Harper's Scott Horton documented over the weekend, a new filing by the Obama DOJ in defense of John Yoo is "seeking to make absolute the immunity granted Justice Department lawyers who counsel torture, disappearings, and other crimes against humanity."

I don't have anything brilliant to say about this. It's very, very bad, I wish it weren't this way, I consider it a betrayal by Obama of the base, the country, and his own campaign, I really want to know where that poor man's internal organs went, and I would do a lot to live in a world where people were actually prosecuted for this sort of thing.

I'm just going to leave you with this.

As Harper's Scott Horton documented over the weekend, a new filing by the Obama DOJ in defense of John Yoo is "seeking to make absolute the immunity granted Justice Department lawyers who counsel torture, disappearings, and other crimes against humanity." In other words, as we lecture the world about the need for them to apply the rule of law and hold war criminals accountable, we simultaneously proclaim about ourselves:

We can kidnap your sons from anywhere in the world, far away from any "battlefield," ship them thousands of miles away to an island-prison, abuse and torture them mercilessly, and when we either drive them to suicide or kill them, you have no right to any legal remedy or even any recourse to find out what happened.

As Horton writes, the claim that government officials enjoy a virtually impenetrable shield of immunity even in the commission of war crimes "has emerged as a sort of ignoble mantra for the Justice Department, uniting both the Bush and Obama administrations." Indeed, that is the common strain of virtually every act undertaken by the Obama DOJ with regard to our government's war crimes and other felonies, from torture to renditions to illegal eavesdropping.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

World wide web not looking so fun now

This new Iranian development is stunning:

The regime has been cracking down hard at home. And now, a Wall Street Journal investigation shows, it is extending that crackdown to Iranians abroad as well.

In recent months, Iran has been conducting a campaign of harassing and intimidating members of its diaspora world-wide -- not just prominent dissidents -- who criticize the regime, according to former Iranian lawmakers and former members of Iran's elite security force, the Revolutionary Guard, with knowledge of the program.

Part of the effort involves tracking the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube activity of Iranians around the world, and identifying them at opposition protests abroad, these people say.

Interviews with roughly 90 ordinary Iranians abroad -- college students, housewives, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople -- in New York, London, Dubai, Sweden, Los Angeles and other places indicate that people who criticize Iran's regime online or in public demonstrations are facing threats intended to silence them.

For example:

His first impulse was to dismiss the ominous email as a prank, says a young Iranian-American named Koosha. It warned the 29-year-old engineering student that his relatives in Tehran would be harmed if he didn't stop criticizing Iran on Facebook.

Two days later, his mom called. Security agents had arrested his father in his home in Tehran and threatened him by saying his son could no longer safely return to Iran.

"When they arrested my father, I realized the email was no joke," said Koosha, who asked that his full name not be used.

First of all, that's just scary. That is 1984 gone global.

It's also interesting, for two reasons. One is the way it actually works. It used to be that if a terrifying totalitarian regime wanted to reach outside its borders, it needed soldiers, spies, or double agents. Maybe satellites. The nice thing is that all of those things cost money--a fair amount of it--and good ones cost a lot of money.

Now, basically any regime with computers and a little know-how has a built-in web (no pun intended) of information and, it seems, even influence around the world. This has never happened on such a non-elite scale before.

Secondly, it's interesting in the context of the continuing process of reframing the idea of nations and territory that's been going on for the past couple of decades. Developments like multi-national corporations, the return of private military companies, and cyclical labor patterns that have people frequently moving between countries have done a lot to muddle the fairly fundamental (if never fully realized) notion of a one-to-one correspondence between state, territory, and nation (i.e. people, ethnic group, what have you).

Let's just say that this development does not make the situation any clearer. A few years ago it was in vogue to predict or announce the impending obsolescence of the nation-state. We were all going to be metropolitan now, or local, or global, or, well, something else.

That has not happened, and it doesn't seem likely. Rather, the nation-state is simply undergoing a process of repurposing and reformation. Where that will lead is hard to say in terms of the nation state; I'm confident that we'll see the sphere of global governance, mostly empty since the end of the Cold War (the U.S. all by itself does not count. It has influence over its allies. The Cold War presented an imperative and a set of incentives that came much closer to in some sense governing the whole world via arbitration by each side) begin to be filled in, whether by some other set of superpowers (unlikely, IMO) or by a true set of global institutions (also unlikely), or by something I haven't thought of (quite likely).

If and when that happens, I'm pretty sure this sort of behavior by any nation-state government will be unacceptable. Hopefully. Yeah.

Friday, December 4, 2009


The Vatican released a 12-song playlist for its MySpace page (The Vatican has a MySpace page?! How was this not breaking news on its own?), and, well:

Among selections from Mozart, Muse and Dame Shirley Bassey is the slain rapper's [Tupac Shakur] song "Changes," which was released two years after his shooting death on a greatest hits album in 1998.

That's right. The Vatican has embraced Pac.

I don't have anything insightful to say about this, other than I LOVE IT.

The Vatican commented:

"The genres are very different from each other, but all these artists share the aim to reach the heart of good minded people," the Vatican wrote on its official MySpace Music page.

I also want to point out that the list includes Muse and Fleet Foxes as well. Amazing. Apparently Father Giulio Neroni's got the 411.