Archive for November, 2006

Could Putin really be this reckless?

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

Notice that I’m questioning Putin’s recklessness, not his immorality.  George W. Bush’s assurances notwithstanding, I’ve never doubted that Putin has the soul of, oh, let’s say a former operative of the KGB.    

(Reuters) Poisoned ex-Russian spy dies

Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died in a London hospital on Thursday three weeks after he was poisoned in what friends said was a plot orchestrated by the Kremlin.

Russia has dismissed the allegation as nonsense, saying it was silly to suggest the Kremlin wanted to kill Litvinenko, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The 43-year-old former spy, who had been fighting for his life in intensive care, died at 9.21 p.m. (2121 GMT), said Jim Down, a spokesman for University College Hospital.

But doctors said they still did not know exactly what caused Litvinenko’s death. “The medical team at the hospital did everything possible to save his life,” said Down.

British police said they were investigating what they called the “unexplained” death.

Nightmare at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

Here’s a happy thought for the Holiday season: It occurs to me that it’s far from inconceivable that we could end up with an even scarier president than George W. Bush next time.  His name would be Rudy Giuliani — at least as big a megalomaniac as Bush, every bit as much contempt for civil liberties and, just for a kicker, a good deal smarter. 

I always figured that if things got too bad with Bush I could always move to Canada.  But Giuliani would probably just nuke the place.      

McCain might do the same thing, of course, but only in a moment of anger.  Rudy would do it as cool as ice just to show how tough he is.

A Message From JFK

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

It seemed a little hokey at first, being the anniversary of his assassination, but Budowsky’s take is a good read.

Besides, we can always stand a little more hope these days.

A Message From John Fitzgerald Kennedy On November 22, 2006

- Greg

ps. As I was reading it, I started reading it out loud in JFK’s “Bahstan” accent. I know, I know. Weird. But, it worked out loud.

Robert Altman is Dead.

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

Drag. He was 81. I really liked M.A.S.H. I still do. Altman was a special kind of director.

“M-A-S-H” was Altman’s first big success after years of directing television, commercials, industrial films and generally unremarkable feature films. The film starring Donald Sutherland and Gould was set during the Korean War but was Altman’s thinly veiled attack on U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

“That was my intention entirely. If you look at that film, there’s no mention of what war it is,” Altman said in an Associated Press interview in 2001, adding that the studio made him put a disclaimer at the beginning to identify the setting as Korea.

“Our mandate was bad taste. If anybody had a joke in the worst taste, it had a better chance of getting into the film, because nothing was in worse taste than that war itself,” Altman said.

The film spawned the long-running TV sitcom starring Alan Alda, a show Altman would refer to with distaste as “that series.” Unlike the social message of the film, the series was prompted by greed, Altman said.

In Alan Alda’s bio on IMDB, there’s this:

To show the horrors of war in a television sit-com, Alda had it written into his contract that one scene of every episode must take place in the operating room while surgery occured.

Alda was in all 279 episodes. I never knew that Altman hated the TV show. I did enjoy it and still watch a rerun when I come across it. The episode where they got the dog drunk to teach it to stop drinking sticks out in my memory, as well as the one when Lt. Col. Henry Blake died.

But, regardless of which episodes of the TV version I may have liked, it might not have been possible had it not been for Altman’s movie.

Seeya Mr. Altman. Thank you for your work.

- Greg

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Monday, November 20th, 2006

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Friday, November 17th, 2006

(USA Today) Military may ask $127B for wars

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is preparing its largest spending request yet for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a proposal that could make the conflict the most expensive since World War II.

The Pentagon is considering $127 billion to $160 billion in requests from the armed services for the 2007 fiscal year, which began last month, several lawmakers and congressional staff members said. That’s on top of $70 billion already approved for 2007.

Since 2001, Congress has approved $502 billion for the war on terror, roughly two-thirds for Iraq. The latest request, due to reach the incoming Democratic-controlled Congress next spring, would make the war on terror more expensive than the Vietnam War.

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Tasers and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Friday, November 17th, 2006

I can remember many decades ago reading a story about efforts to develop a nonfatal “stun gun,” which, we were told, would give police an alternative to using deadly force.  It sounded like a good idea, like something that might actually save a few lives.

But I guess one should never forget the Law of Unintended Consequences:

The Law of Unintended Consequences holds that almost all human actions have at least one unintended consequence. In other words, each cause has more than one effect, including unforeseen effects.

As a liberal, I certainly don’t offer a wholehearted endorsement of this so-called law, given that it’s generally employed by conservatives arguing against the wisdom of all forms of economic regulation and other public programs.  But in the case of the taser (the trade name for a stun gun now widely used by law enforcement agencies), it applies with frightening precision.

Still Proud To Be A Bruin? 

The video begins in the study room of UCLA’s Powell Library, a beautiful, ornate sanctuary that I inhabited as often as possible. The library looked how a library should look: Imposing, serious, grave, and somewhat holy. And in response, all of us who entered it became slightly hushed, felt an inch more intellectual, became a bit more serious in our academic purpose. Which makes it all the more jarring to hear the screaming, the yelling, the pleas for peace as a student who refuses to produce a Bruin ID card is tasered again and again and again; shrieking in pain and defiance each time.

(John at AMERICAblog has been following the case closely)

Unfortunately, this incident is far from unique.  Controversies involving the questionable use of tasers by law enforcement personnel are becoming very common.  It turns out that what’s most appealing about police use of the devices, the fact they usually cause no permanent injury, is the very same thing that leads to their misuse.

The most disturbing feature of what happened at UCLA, for example, is the fact the officers appear to have used the device multiple times, not to protect themselves or to restrain an out of control suspect, but, instead, to compel the suspect’s cooperation.  He refused to stand up, so they tasered him again and again until he did.

Presumably this same technique could be used to good effect to breakup any politically motivated sit in.  Instead of carrying the protesters off to the paddy wagon, just zap ‘em until they finally crawl over to it themselves.

But there are lines you simply don’t cross in a liberal democracy, like, oh, say, torturing suspects (yeah, I know).  And allowing the government to use high-voltage electrical shock as a method of compelling compliance to its dictates is one of those things.  You can’t do that and still use words like republic and democracy to describe yourself as a nation: They just don’t fit anymore.   

We are so screwed

Friday, November 17th, 2006

Those who ignore history are . . .  No that’s the wrong truism.  In the case of George W. Bush and his view of the Vietnam War, the correct one would be as follows: Those who misinterpret history are doomed to really fuck things up.

(AP) Bush: Vietnam war offered lessons for Iraq

President Bush said Friday the United States’ unsuccessful war in Vietnam three decades ago offered lessons for the American-led struggle in Iraq. “We’ll succeed unless we quit,” Bush said shortly after arriving in this one-time war capital.

Bush met here with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, one of America’s strongest allies in Iraq, Vietnam and other conflicts. The president said there were lessons to be learned from the divisive Vietnam war — the longest conflict in U.S. history — as the United States wages the unpopular war in Iraq, now in its fourth year.

“We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take awhile,” the president said. He called the Iraq war a “great struggle” and said, “It’s just going to take a long period of time for the ideology that is hopeful — and that is an ideology of freedom — to overcome an ideology of hate.”

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The lesson Bush takes from the history of our national nightmare in Vietnam is that when we find ourselves caught in the no-win situation of being in the middle of someone else’s civil war, with nothing to show for our sacrifice except ever increasing casualties and exploding national debt, the proper response is to just keep banging our head against the wall.

We are so screwed.

I wish I was merely indifferent about Bush

Friday, November 17th, 2006

It would be such a huge step up.

(AP) Vietnamese greet Bush with indifference

Tran Van Lac poured tea Friday for six men on low stools, including a police officer who was part of the large security presence waiting for President Bush outside Hanoi’s Sheraton hotel.

“I don’t care about Bush’s visit,” Lac said in an alleyway parallel to the hotel, where the president’s greeting party was limited to a lone flag-waving American who works for the American Chamber of Commerce. “It doesn’t do me any good. It doesn’t do me any harm.”

Lac’s indifference, which appeared to be shared by many Vietnamese, was a sharp contrast to the reception that Bill Clinton received in 2000, when he became the first American president to visit since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

Unlike the joyous crowds that stayed up late for Clinton’s unannounced midnight flight into Hanoi’s international airport — a half-hour drive from downtown — Bush’s late-morning arrival drew mostly the curious rather than the devoted, other than the police maintaining a security perimeter around the hotel.

People who should perhaps not work with small children

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

(AP) Texas officials consider charges against Pee Wee football coach videotaped attacking referee

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — Authorities are considering charges against a Pee Wee football coach who was caught on videotape attacking a referee after being told to stop cursing on the sidelines in front of his 5- and 6-year-old players, police said.

The amateur video of the Nov. 4 incident shows the coach charging onto a field and tackling the 18-year-old referee, who police Capt. John Houston said was briefly knocked unconscious.

If this plays out the way I expect, we should probably hold a contest in a few weeks between this guy and the couple who went on vacation, leaving their young children alone at home, as to who will have been crucified the worst by the press in the shortest period of time (as opposed to people who, say, merely tell lies that lead to a war that causes hundreds of thousands of deaths).

Not that it’s easy to feel sorry for for any of the above for whatever grief they do receive.

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