Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Halloween grab bag of coolstuff

A_Contract_with_the_EarthSomeone care to report back on Newt Gingrich’s book? I used to have hopes for him to veer our way. I’m not easily drawn back to such foolish thinking... but... one can hope. See: A Contract with the Earth

Sorry, but it's Halloween and I am getting gremlined. I cannot hot link all of the following. But it's cool stuff.

Oh, today I spent all day at the Salk Institute participating in "Beyond Belief" which had some major lumionary minds there... but turned out to be somewhat of an "atheism fest"... I wound up being the contrarian speaking up for God!

More...


Researchers have developed a low-cost, low-power computer memory that could put terabyte-sized thumb drives in consumers' pockets within a few years.

Peter Thiel Explains How to Invest in the Singularity

FutureReputation.gossip.rumor.privacyThe Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, by Daniel J. Solove, isn't much concerned with privacy advocates' usual bĂȘte noire, the surveillance state. Instead, Solove focuses on a more down-to-earth set of concerns, such as developing practical law for a quasi-voyeuristic-exhibitionist society. (Somone go read it and report back here!)

Adobe Systems is developing software that could bring the power of a Hollywood animation studio to the average computer and let users render high-quality graphics in real time.

An extremely simple Turing machine has been proved to be universal.

EEStor claims to have developed a car battery based on capacitors that can be charged quickly and is ready for large-scale production. The patent specifies charge storage that is much higher than anything achieved in an academic lab: 52 kilowatt-hours in a 2,000 cubic inch capacitor array -- more than 10 times the power density of standard cells.

See that fellow who documents every move he makes, in order to stave off “terror” profiling.

The US and UK governments are developing increasingly sophisticated gadgets to keep individuals under surveillance.

 DigitalGlobe, provider of imagery for Google Earth, said WorldView I, a new high-resolution satellite to be launched on Tuesday, will produce one-half meter resolution images for commercial use.

There is new hope that we might survive an apocalypse five billion years from now. That is when, scientists say, the Sun will run out of fuel and swell temporarily more than 100 times in diameter into a so-called red giant, swallowing Mercury and Venus. Astronomers are announcing that they have discovered a that seems to have survived the puffing up of its home , suggesting there is some hope that could survive the aging and swelling of the Sun.

Organized crime may have brought in more than $2 trillion in revenue last year, about twice all the military budgets in the worldcombined.

Neural scientists have uncovered evidence of a distinct neurobiology of human intelligence. Their Parieto-Frontal Integration Theory (P-FIT) identifies a brain network related to intelligence, one that primarily involves areas in the frontal and the parietal lobes. T he brain areas related to intelligence are the same areas related to attention and memory and to more complex functions like language. Haier and Jung say this possible integration of cognitive functions suggests that intelligence levels might be based on how efficient the frontal-parietal networks process information.

W hile there are essentially no disparities in general intelligence between the sexes, women have more white matter and men more gray matter related to intelligence test scores, suggesting that no single neuroanatomical structure determines general intelligence and that different types of brain designs can produce equivalent intellectual performance.

A low-carbohydrate/high-fat diet and a high-carbohydrate/low-fat diet both improve weight loss, enhance mood, and speed thinking, a study shows, but the low-carb diet may offer less benefit in terms of the rate of cognitive processing.

NASA researchers have designed and built a new circuit chip that can take the heat of a blast furnace and keep on performing.

McAfee CEO David DeWalt says cyber-crime has become a $105 billion business that now surpasses the value of the illegal drug trade worldwide. Worldwide data losses now represent $40 billion in losses to affected companies and individuals each year.

These people are creating software to make the world's statistical data accessible to the public.

(10/07) As if taken straight from The Transparent Society -- The U.S. Transportation Administration today promised to protect air travelers' privacy as TSA personnel peer through their clothes. The TSA has begun testing a millimeter wave scanner at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport as an alternative to pat-downs performed by security personnel when is deemed appropriate. The technology can see through clothing to detect weapons, explosives, and other objects. The TSA said that energy emitted by millimeter wave technology -- 10,000 times less than a cell phone -- is safe, that the technology is intended to keep passengers safe, and that it will keep the potentially embarrassing images safe.

The new "SuperSpeed" USB spec will provide a 10X boost in transfer rate (from 480-Mbits/s in USB 2.0 to 4.8 Gbits/s in USB 3.0), while dramatically lowering power consumption, with broad deployment by 2010. One example of their speed goals is to transfer a 27GB HD movie to a portable device in 70 seconds. The same thing would take 15 minutes

Brookhaven National Laboratory has overcome a major obstacle for using refractive lenses to focus x-rays. This method will allow the efficient focusing of x-rays down to extremely small spots

 A computer program that emulates the human brain falls for the same optical illusions humans do, suggesting that the illusions are a by-product of the way babies learn to filter their complex surroundings. Researchers say this means future robots must be susceptible to the same tricks that humans are in order to see as well.

From Josh Duberman: “Larry Lessig appears on Danish TV to explain his new cause, devoting the next ten years to ending government corruption. Lessig is downright inspirational on the subject, calling on us to set aside our cynical instinct that tells us that money will always control government and use technology to expose corruption and rally citizens to end it.” A riff on transparency, of course.

Tool Cool. Nice to know things will boogy after we’re gone.

What Will China Look Like in 2035?  Here's what economists at China's official government think tank predict for the future of the mainland, by Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an international investment banker and senior adviser at Citigroup, is the editor of China's Banking and Financial Markets: The Internal Research Report of the Chinese Government and the author of The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin, China's best-selling book in 2005.

 Forget exploding dye or hot pursuits. Tiny GPS devices inside poackets of stolen money are now snaring bank robbers with trivial ease. And letting parents put fine restrictions on where and when their teens can drive. “Like a host of other location technologies in the works, the money-tracking tools can trace their origin to an initially obscure rule, written into the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which required that new cellphones be able to communicate their location to emergency responders whenever callers dial 911. Some companies planted chips in their phones that communicate directly with G.P.S. satellites. Others use cellular towers to triangulate the signal. With the location systems in place, a number of companies began working on other applications.”

====    ====    ====

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change" -Max Planc, Nobel physicist

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The GOP vs. the U.S. Military: Part Eight - The Generals Speak

In Parts One through Seven, I laid down a careful case that showed, in one categorical area after another, how the Bush Administration and the entire neoconservative movement have effectively been “waging war against the professionals and of the US government, especially the men and women of the military Officer Corps. A perspective that I have been trying to get people to see, for close to five years, now.

Now, delayed and distracted by other things, I feel I must try to finish off this topic, getting the rest of my stored-up material online, even if it comes across less-polished than some of the other sections.


* The Growing Revolt of the Senior Officer Corps.

I have been tracking for years the blatant fact that this administration is more despised by our senior generals and admirals than any other in living memory, even including the Nixon and Johnson officials who meddled cluelessly, while sending men into a useless attrition quagmire on the continent of Asia, dividing the nation, wasting its treasure and credibility and alliances, demolishing America’s position of leadership for a generation.

Take some recent examples:

Oct. 12— In a sweeping indictment of the four-year effort in Iraq, the former top American commander called the Bush administration’s handling of the war incompetent and warned that the United States was “living a nightmare with no end in sight.” In one of his first major public speeches since leaving the Army in late 2006, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez blamed the administration for a “catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan” and denounced the current “surge” strategy as a “desperate” move that will not achieve long-term stability.

“There was been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders,” he said, adding later in his remarks that civilian officials have been “derelict in their duties” and guilty of a “lust for power.”

Or this one: "The (Bush) administration has dumped the entire Middle East problem onto the back of the soldier and the Marine," retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton said in an interview from his Fox Island home. "The 'surge,' a modest success, is counterbalanced by our failure to get out a diplomatic surge. ... I believe this administration is incompetent beyond any dream of the American people. This administration is a one-trick pony: military action, military action, military action." Eaton is a product of the U.S. Military Academy. He is the son of a fellow West Point grad, an Air Force pilot who went missing over Laos 38 years ago. Both of Eaton's sons have followed him into the military, one of them to West Point.

Still, after a 2003-2004 tour of duty in Iraq, he was among the earliest to critique then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the neo-conservative warriors of the Bush Pentagon. "It is not typical of retired generals to go to the media. It is not customary for retired generals to make public displays of criticism toward administration policy. But it is our duty, under oath, to support and defend the Constitution. It is not a matter of duty to support and defend the administration."

Joe Conelly, a columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says: Winston Churchill, to whom George W. Bush has likened himself, declared: "It is better to 'Jaw, Jaw!' than 'War, War!' " The iron-willed wartime prime minister was also a driven diplomat. Such, too, has been a talent of America's best military leaders -- coalition building and skill at achieving national objectives without the clash of arms. Gen. George Marshall blocked Soviet domination of Europe, not by blowing up the Red Army's T-34 tanks, but by rebuilding war-ravaged Western and Central European countries with the Marshall Plan. The grandiose-sounding Gen. Douglas MacArthur proved subtle and culturally sensitive in the post-World War II dismantling of Japanese militarism. http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/connelly/331866_joel17.html

In the mid-1990s, at an air base outside Dayton, Ohio, Gen. Wesley Clark and presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke persuaded an odious Balkan dictator -- Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic -- to sign the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina...


Well, well. It’s good to see SOMEONE raising the Balkans War as a point of comparison, showing the “Powell Doctrine” at its best and most effective, in comparison... in comparison to....


* Turning to the “Petraeus Report”

All right, the following is a few weeks old. But it’s still relevant. For only PART of the Officer Corps is fuming. There are others, in an era when sycophancy is rewarded. (Look into history and tell me when that ever happened, and the nation, at large, benefited.)

The right’s attempt to create a Cult of General Petraeus has been touted by cable news shills and denounced by opponents far more influential than me, from a zillion angles. But let’s go to the heart of it, as an example of the lengths that the Bush Administration will go, in order to maximally achieve their apparent goal -- the destruction of the United States Army.

Ponder this caustic snippet from Russ Daggett: ”Petraeus announced that, "the military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met." And based on all that "progress," he said, "we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve." He noted that "pre-surge levels" could be reached "by mid-July 2008." But it would be "premature" to discuss force reductions beyond that.

“In other words, 20 months after the people spoke, in the 2006 elections, US forces would be at the same level they were on election day, with absolutely no commitment to reduce them beyond that level. “But in recent months, senior military leaders -- including Admiral. Michael Mullen, incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- have acknowledged that the surge would have to end by April 2008 in any event because there are no fresh replacements for troops who would be completing their 15 month deployments.

“What a coincidence -- Petraeus is offering a force reduction that has absolutely nothing to do with "conditions on the ground" -- it is just the maximum level that our broken military can withstand. Whereupon the levels will stay that way indefinitely -- i.e., until Bush leaves office. “By portraying that inevitable unwinding of the surge as being a response to military success, Petraeus was engaging in political spin. That's one of the dangers of a general allowing himself to become the frontman for a highly-political White House propaganda campaign. Not everyone in the military is happy to see a general become the chief salesman for the administration's war policies.”


Russ goes on to quote at length from an article: Petraeus Out of Step with Top Brass   

”In sharp contrast to the lionization of Gen. David Petraeus by members of the U.S. Congress during his testimony this week, Petraeus's superior, Admiral William Fallon, chief of the Central Command (CENTCOM), derided Petraeus as a sycophant during their first meeting in Baghdad last March, according to Pentagon sources familiar with reports of the meeting. Fallon told Petraeus that he considered him to be "an ass-kissing little chickenshit" and added, "I hate people like that", the sources say.

“Fallon's derision toward Petraeus reflected both the CENTCOM commander's personal distaste for Petraeus's style of operating and their fundamental policy differences over Iraq, according to sources. The policy context of Fallon's extraordinarily abrasive treatment of his subordinate was Petraeus's agreement in February to serve as front man for the George W. Bush administration's effort to sell its policy of increasing U.S. troop strength in Iraq to Congress.

“In a highly unusual political role for an officer who had not yet taken command of a war, Petraeus was installed in the office of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, in early February just before the Senate debated Bush's troop increase. According to a report in The Washington Post Feb. 7, senators were then approached on the floor and invited to go McConnell's office to hear Petraeus make the case for the surge policy.

“Fallon was strongly opposed to Petraeus's role as pitch man for the surge policy in Iraq adopted by Bush in December as putting his own interests ahead of a sound military posture in the Middle East and Southwest Asia -- the area for which Fallon's CENTCOM is responsible. The CENTCOM commander believed the United States should be withdrawing troops from Iraq urgently, largely because he saw greater dangers elsewhere in the region. "He is very focused on Pakistan," said a source familiar with Fallon's thinking, "and trying to maintain a difficult status quo with Iran."”


...dang. I mean. Dang. As with the US Attorney firings scandal, people seem to miss the key point in the tussle over the Petraeus report. In that other scandal, the issue should not be the eight US Attorneys who were let go, for not perfectly toeing the line, but rather, the eighty or so who are still out there, doing a “satisfactory job” in Bush’s eyes, by performing politically twisted versions of a task that they swore to do for us impartially and professionally.

Likewise, re the military. I have inveighed about the number of valuable officers who are being transferred or forced out, in relentless Bushite purges. But as Petraeus clearly shows, the real issue is not the good men and women who have been purged, but the roll-over lapdogs who have been promoted in their place, collaborating in the bullying, dismemberment and destruction of a proud and skilled military that -- only half a decade ago -- seemed invincible in the eyes of all the world.


* Long have we asked this question: who is the enemy?

Not Osama, since Bush recently dissolved the very CIA unit assigned to tracking the master terrorist down!

Not our Shiite “friends” or our Sunni “friends”, who sometimes flick, like a switch into opposite roles, in a dizzying whirl of masks and reciprocal blame.

Not potential super-rivals like China or Russia, since no attention is being paid to their recent arms buildups and our own military strength has been torn to bits.

What the Bushites DO seem to care about is redesigning the United States Officer Corps. In stocking political and social fanatics into the service academies, at the bottom, while harrying and chasing out the best and most professional flag-level commanders, replacing them with a coterie of those who are willing to shift their loyalties from the Constitution to the Neocon Agenda. This clear choice of priorities and mission makes clear who the Bushites consider to be the enemy.

It is us.


=======

Return to Part 1 of this series

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Are Things Improving?

Even with civilization at stake, there's got to be some time set aside for... civilization. So here are some things that ours has been up to, lately.

==ARE THINGS IMPROVING?==

A fascinating tidbit from Benny Peiser's newsletter: Democracy, GDP, and Natural Disasters: The average annual percentage of the global population killed by natural disasters decreased 10-fold from the period 1964 to 1968 compared with the period 2000 through 2004, from 0.01 percent (roughly one killed for every 10,000 people) to 0.001 percent (one in 100,000) respectively. At the same time, the average annual number of recorded disasters increased five-fold between 1964 through 1968 (64 per year) and 2000 through 2004 (332 per year). The events that continue to result in the major number of fatalities are the relatively small percentage of events that occur with large recurrence intervals, such as massive floods, strong earthquakes and direct strikes from intense hurricanes, or events that are unusual in the area in which they occur.

Clearly, the impact of a natural disaster is not simply a function of the natural event itself, but is determined also by society's ability to respond to the disaster. Over the same time period that we observe a decreasing number of disaster deaths, two great global socioeconomic trends of the last half century have also occurred: democratization and economic development. To evaluate the role that democracy and economic development play in reducing the humanitarian impact of natural disasters, we measured 133 countries' natural disaster death tolls against both their average democracy ranking and their average per capita GDP. We excluded only those nations with a population of fewer than 1 million people, or which have experienced five or fewer disasters between 1964 and 2004.

The Role of Democracy: More than 80 percent of the total global disaster deaths from 1964 to 2004 occurred in just 15 countries, including China, Ethiopia, Sudan, Indonesia and Bangladesh, among others. Of these fifteen nations, 73 percent are below the median global GDP and 87 percent are below the median democracy index. The democracy index is the average of the World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicator values for voice and accountability, political stability, absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law and control of corruption.

The exceptions to the trend that high GDP correlates with a low death toll after a natural disaster are Iran and Venezuela, both oil-rich countries with significant wealth but low democracy indices. Because the two outliers have high GDP and relatively high death tolls, they suggest that democracy, rather than GDP, may play the more pivotal role in reducing deaths from natural disasters. The strong exponential correlation between democracy and GDP, however, makes it difficult to differentiate the two.


= PROGRESS AND THE NATURE OF REALITY =

NonZeroRobert Wright gives a terrific talk: Progress is not a Zero-Sum Game: How cooperation (eventually) trumps conflict Alas, though we agree on very much, I think Rob underplays the role that old-style human nature plays, in thwarting the new synergies of enlightenment positive sum games. Wright discusses this further in his book: NonZero: The Logic of Human Destiny.

In case you missed this... (how could you?) Craig Venter, the controversial DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.

Parallel universes really do exist, according to a mathematical discovery by Oxford scientists described by one expert as "one of the most important developments in the history of science".The parallel universe theory, first proposed in 1950 by the US physicist Hugh Everett, helps explain mysteries of quantum mechanics that have baffled scientists for decades, it is claimed. In Everett's "many worlds" universe, every time a new physical possibility is explored, the universe splits. Given a number of possible alternative outcomes, each one is played out - in its own universe.

According to quantum mechanics, unobserved particles are described by "wave functions" representing a set of multiple "probable" states. When an observer makes a measurement, the particle then settles down into one of these multiple options. The Oxford team, led by Dr David Deutsch, showed mathematically that the bush-like branching structure created by the universe splitting into parallel versions of itself can explain the probabilistic nature of quantum outcomes.

”Can explain” That is a far cry from “proves”. It seems that even in science reporting, polemical zing trumps accuracy.

What caused the extinction of mammoths and the decline of Stone Age people about 13,000 years ago remains hotly debated. Overhunting by Paleoindians, climate change and disease lead the list of probable causes. Now a group reports evidence that a comet or low-density object exploded in the upper atmosphere and triggered a devastating swath of destruction that wiped out most of the large animals, their habitat and most humans of that period, ending the Clovis culture. If so, this certainly lets proto Amerindians off the hook... though the timing seems strangely auspicious.

What I find more interesting, even still, is that this is about the time that many changes occurred in the Middle East, like the surge of agricultural villages and use of copper tools and advanced pottery

DUAL REALITY is the concept of maintaining two worlds, one virtual and one real, that reflect, influence, and merge into each other by means of deeply embedded sensor/actuator networks. Both the real and virtual components of a dual reality are complete unto themselves, but are enriched by their mutual interaction. See this site for a tour of the MIT Dual Reality lab and for slides for a talk given at the MIT Media Lab's Spring 2007 Things That Think consortium

Experts say they are "stunned" by the loss of ice, with an area almost twice as big as the UK disappearing in the last week alone. So much ice has melted this summer that the Northwest passage across the top of Canada is fully navigable, and observers say the Northeast passage along Russia's Arctic coast could open later this month. If the increased rate of melting continues, the summertime Arctic could be totally free of ice by 2030.

When Salmonella typhimurium food bugs were flown in special flasks on the shuttle, they were found to alter the way they expressed 167 genes. The bacteria were almost three times as likely to kill infected mice compared with standard samples held on Earth. The study has important implications for astronauts going to the Moon or Mars. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7011828.stm


”We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” - George Bernard Shaw


==A FLICKER OF THE STINKING “POLITICAL LAMP”==

The collated and collected version of “Ostrich Hunting” is now posted online at:

Ostrich Hunting: The Bill Clinton Gambit Part 1

Ostrich Hunting: The Bill Clinton Gambit Part 2

This is a preliminary version that - per Stefan’s advice - I may show to the guys at Salon. It still needs your help! (See below in comments where I may announce further changes.)

* There are lots of points and facts that could use links to back them up. Yes, many are “common knowledge” but attribution always helps.

* More items? Places where it’s too repetitious, even for me?

Thanks and onward.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Ostrich Papers: "What if Clinton had..." (Part IV - finale)

Okay, I have worried this bone down to the marrow, in an effort to be comprehensive and offer a useful political tool. Now, let's try to finish up.

By now, you know what to do. Print out parts I, II and III and use them as a long list of hypocrisy skewers to wear down an ostrich. Of course, you’ll have to be persistent, because it may take all of these things, before their state of denial finally erodes far enough for him to start getting mad. Mad over how they have been made a tool. Over how conservatism has been hijacked by monsters.

And, especially, furious at a gang of thieves, for putting him in a position of having to apologize for six years (and more) of obstinate block headedness!

Still, in order to avoid wasting time, be sure and distinguish between five types of Republican! Four kinds are a complete waste of time.

* The owners and thieves themselves, insiders benefiting from the Great Klepto Raid. Or their high-paid shills. I doubt you’ll meet any of these. But they already know what you’d say. Having sold America, they only care about evading accountability.

(Don’t worry, they’ll be taken care of - in the greatest irony of all - by their own children.)

* Fanatics and dogmatists (see below). Not all bad news. Some of the sincere religious are starting to see the light. But you lack the charisma, incantations, or credentials to be their agent of change.

* The narrowminded variety of libertarians, who can see only one threat to markets and freedom - bureaucrats. Ignoring all of human history, this oversimplifying silliness has rendered libertarianism a joke, in the one country where it had a chance. Pity. (Though, steer some of them toward Ron Paul! A decent man, if 1/4 crazy.) If you tell them Bush has systematically quashed our government’s professionals and institutions, in order to rob us blind, they will ask “so?”

* “Tribal republicans.” A far larger group. People who have simply bonded with the GOP and will accept whatever definition of “conservatism” is spoon fed to them by their anointed leader, or on Fox, even if it is diametrically opposite to what they were fed ten years ago. Their loyalty is tribal in the sense that it is far stronger than their love of country or civilization.

(In fairness, many lefties are like this, too!)

Most of your troglodyte uncles are just this hopelessly and rigidly and “tribally” certain. They might concede the entire list of hypocrisies, and blithely reply “well, the next republicans will be better.” Or else,“any democrat would be worse.”

* Which leaves the last group. “Decent conservatives.” Dole Goldwater Republicans. Men and women who have let their definitions drift, and who may have some tribal-obstinate reflexes, but who really do have some rock-solid values that you can appeal-to.

Above all, they would actually choose America, if forced to see that the decision really is in stark terms... a choice between our nation and today’s GOP. (This category also includes more broadminded libertarians, who have actually read Adam Smith.) Only this last part of Karl Rove’s Big Tent Coalition - the ostriches - will be budged by evidence or reason. That’s the bad news.

The good news? These people make up the largest single bloc in Rove’s tent! If we use honor, evidence and patriotism to lure enough of them outside, the tent will unravel. The crazies will be marginalized. Culture War will wither.

Even better, this category includes many of those skilled professionals - in the civil service, officer corps, FBI and so on - who may yet save us all. If they wake up. Enough to do their jobs.

So let’s finish up. Onward, with more skewers for hypocrites.

(Remember, don’t simply ask your Ostrich to read these on paper. They will skim and their minds will veer. It is essential to sit them down and read the list to them, aloud.)

==WOULD YOUR HACKLES RAISE IF IT WERE DEMOCRATS WHO...==

...insist that it is just fine for two companies, run by a pair of extreme partisan brothers, to manufacture the nation’s voting machines, never submitting their software code for open testing, obstructing paper trails or auditing, while lobbying for state laws that forbid exit polling, as a last ditch way to verify election results? Wouldn’t that combination make you a little, well, paranoid? That is, if democrats did it.

...kept buying up newspapers, radio stations and television outlets, aided by rule changes that allow just a few men to control most of the news Americans get to hear? Fabulously rich men who are actively and relentlessly partisan?

...let politically connected companies control the FDA, write laws, pick the inspectors who regulate them, and allowed Big Tobacco to settle court judgements for one penny on the dollar?

(Self-check: Admit it! If Cintonite Democrats had done any of these things, you’d be up in arms! So why are you ignoring it now?)

==OTHER HYPOCRISIES==

Don’t you think you would have called it politically “significant” if Democrats were involved in nine out of ten of the lawmaker sex/perversion/corruption scandals, in the last decade? Of course you would!

You’d call it symptomatic of deeply-rooted Democratic depravity.

So how do you manage to shrug it off as “irrelevant” when -- in fact -- it turns out to be GOP lawmakers getting caught as flagrant perverts or crooks, nine times out of ten?

Is that symptomatic? Deep-rooted? No?

Why not?

Among all of the major candidates running for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations, five out of six of the divorces... and all of the really nasty ones... are on the GOP side.

Not important, you say? Not morally indicative?
Would you have said the same thing, if the stats were reversed?
Really?


Well then, would you call it politically “significant” if all if the worst spies to harm America in the last generation happened to be Democrats? Of course you would! You’d call it symptomatic of Democratic wickedness and a propensity for treason.

So how do you manage to shrug it off as “irrelevant” when -- in fact -- it turns out that all if the worst spies to harm America in the last generation were, in fact, Republicans?(The Walkers, Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, and so on.)

When “abstinence” programs result in much higher teen pregnancy and STD rates than Sex Education, can you be practical and abandon a dogma that failed?
When divorce rates are much higher among fundamentalists than among bluestaters, shall we listen to them preach about marriage?
When they rant against science, doesn’t it embarrass you?
When brazenly doctrinaire fundamentalist groups take millions in your taxes, to use seeking converts, does your copy of the Constitution even cringe?

When they declare that millions of their fellow citizens are literally and inherently damned to eternal torment in Hell, because of differences in faith, do you squirm, even a little?

Above all, when those same fanatics publicly yearn for an end to the world -- impatiently salivating for an imminent, blood-drenched, Revelations conflagration -- shall we rush to give such people control over diplomacy, policy, our military, and nuclear weapons?
Really?

People who pray daily for events that will terminate America should be given control of our nation’s tiller?

Is this where “conservatism” has gone?

And is that whirring sound Barry Goldwater, spinning in his grave?

Oh, but the ironies and hypocrisies go on.

==WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN UPSET IF BILL CLINTON...==

...responded to a terror attack by grounding all Americans for two days, not allowing them to fly...

...but meanwhile whisked out of the country, in luxury, every rich or well-connected citizen of a hostile foreign power? The same foreign power from which most of the terrorists had come? Including some relatives and close friends of the plotters? Not even allowing the FBI to ask them any questions?

Would you have let all that tickle your paranoia bone, if a Democratic president did it? Or would you have shouted treason?

Then why aren’t you even a little bit curious in this world. The world where your party has guided America down a path of steep decline?

Is there even a chance you’ll be honest and honorable enough to realize that -- this time -- it is your side that has gone quite jibbering insane?

And delusional, even at the level of personal evaluations of character.

WARNING: some of the following section may seem immature and degrading. Skip over it, if you like. But none of it is below the level of things spewed by Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter, for decades.

==What if Bill Clinton...==

...preened and preached about his own personal courage, then had himself put unconscious under anesthesia, simply to avoid the discomfort of a routine colonoscopy? Not once but twice? While the White House made a big deal out of “minimizing the risk this caused the nation” by transferring power officially to the Vice President? Can you imagine what Rush would have made of such incredible wimpiness, if Clinton had cried to be put out for a routine exam?

...preened and preached about his own personal courage, then hid out for the first few days after a nation’s trauma with a major terrorist attack? (That is, after finishing reading a 2nd grade children’s book aloud, before watching cameras.)

...mocked and sneered at a condemned woman’s plea for clemency, on national television? (Whatever your opinions on capital punishment, is a “mature leader”someone who treats such matters with sober dignity, or with fratboy nastiness and hand-rubbing glee?)

...spent his first days in office re-assigning scores of FBI agents away from proper duties, sending them, instead, sifting through executive department files, in a vain and (utterly!) fruitless search for any kind of dirt on the previous administration? Agents who were thus not on duty, looking out for dangers to the people, during months leading up to a terrible terror attack upon the nation?

(Wouldn’t you have called that an impeachable offense... even outright treason... if the fellow doing it had been Bill Clinton?)

What if, while publicly calling out for tighter immigration controls, Bill Clinton acted to cripple the Border Patrol during his first year in office, so that his backers would have access to cheap, undocumented labor?

(Of course, in real life, Bill Clinton did the opposite, doubling the Border Patrol, during his first months, while preaching racial tolerance. But what if someone else did do that other thing? Would it make you even a little mad?)

...had to be bailed out of failure after failure in college, the military, law school, and every business venture that he ever “ran” (into the ground) always counting on friends of his father to come save the day? Only then, with ultimate power in his hands, he found new friends, with character more like his own? Whereupon he banished pop’s former advisors, and party elders, and old-style conservatives - and even the old man himself - from any further position of advice, party leadership, or “grownup supervision”?

Okay, let’s put aside all the lesser character flaws of narrowmindedness, incurious dogmatism, yes-man egotism, and irresponsibility. What about the truly monstrous and unforgivable flaw of sheer ingratitude?

Toward the men who smoothed life’s road before him? Or toward the nation that nurtured him? Or toward his own father? Would this story of relentless, feckless “failing upward” - combined with smug, unprincipled and unappreciative ruthlessness - have drawn at least a little worry from you by now?

That is, if Bill Clinton were the one described here?


== A Capsule Summary?==

How can any final capsule envelope all these comparisons? All these crimes?

If one president balanced budgets and the other bankrupted us. If one enhanced government efficiency while the other gave 200+ billions in non-bid contracts directly to friends. If one oversaw a boom in small business and the other a surge of monopolies. If one sliced secrecy while the other sent it rocketing to levels never seen in the Cold War. If one helped all society to prosper spectacularly and the other helped only aristocrats. If one earned respect from the US Officer Corps and the other one betrayed the military at every turn...

...which would be the logical choice for a patriotic and logical "decent conservative?"

If one maintained military readiness, including thirty fully ready combat brigades, and the other one stripped us bare, exhausting our brave troops and leaving us with only two ready brigades, which would be a "strong" president? The one who handled his war with fierce, surgical precision costing no American lives and transforming a continent, while boosting our popularity and alliances? Or the one who has driven away all of our allies, made us more hated than ever, while accomplishing nothing at all?

One doubles the Border Patrol and the other shatters it. Which was the Republican? One leaves office without a single official indicted and the other loses comrades to jail or ignominy almost every week. Which was the "sleaze" subjected to a $2 billion witch hunt?

Oh, there is no way to summarize. No way to reprise or shortcut. Because ostriches will squirm and struggle to keep their heads in the sand. No, the only way to do this is to go through the whole thing, over and over again, till the hypnotic spell shatters, the neocon fever breaks, and they -- our cousins and neighbors and fellow citizens -- finally wake up.

== THE WORST HYPOCRISY OF ALL==

Let’s cut to the chase. Of all the actions that would have condemned Bill Clinton and the Democrats to perdition, if they did it to America -- Culture War would surely have been the worst crime of all. Dividing our nation, pitting us against each other along dismal, geographic and dogmatic lines. Making partisanship the sole test of any issue. Any at all.

That would have enraged you, if the other side did it. Now, live with having helped and excused the same crime, simply because “culture war” served your side, for a while.

Only, dig this: it was “blue America”... people living in the nation’s cities... who responded with courage and fortitude, both on 9/11 and every day since. Who fought back (aboard Boston originated flight UA93). Who stood atop rubble in New York, shouting at the terrorists“Is that all you got?”

Urbanites already pay the most taxes, getting least in return. Yet, led into war, they say “Tax us, not our grandchildren, so we can support the troops and get on with winning... or else get us out of that crazy quagmire!”

Above all, they have said: “Fear? What fear? An ‘endless emergency’ only gives in to terror and lets crooks bypass the law! Let America get back to normal law. Normal rights and progress. Accountability. And stop using us as an excuse to grab power.

“Yes, urban America is in the crosshairs. When more bad things happen, we will take the hits. But we’ll face whatever comes, with courage, refusing to let it daunt or change us. Can you say the same?”


== WE REFUSE TO BECOME THE USSA==

Our country won’t be panicked into becoming the United Security States of America.

Red America can’t have it both ways, despising cityfolk while using New Yorkers as martyrs. Yammering fear of terror, while loathing their fellow citizens who actually live in the crosshairs. Demanding the benefits of a continental republic, while waging Culture War against half its populace.

It’s time for “decent” conservatives to pull their heads out of the sand. Former supporters of the neocon movement must own up and say aloud the words that every scientist - and every honest citizen - learns to speak, from time to time, as a simple matter of mature habit:

“I might be wrong.”

Admit, before it is too late, that you were so very wrong about culture war, about the neoconservative Gang of Thieves, about climate change, and just about everything else, since the 21st Century began.

Admit it! Be adults. Salvage the best parts of conservatism by rescuing the movement from monsters. Act now, while there is still something left of it to save.

And join us in rebuilding our country, repairing the ravages of this, our latest Civil War..

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“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.”
- Edward R. Murrow

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Ostrich Papers: "What if Clinton had..." (Part III)


Our topic is how we might embark on this coming campaign year, and save America. Indeed, save western civilization. Is our aim merely to squeak a narrow win in 2008 -- trusting the neocons not to pull another sneaky trick, like on 2000 or 2004? Is that really a safe bet?

Or shall Democrats and moderates be the smart ones, this time? By taking the fight deep into their territory. Tearing apart Karl Rove’s Big Tent Coalition and stealing their most important and (somewhat) admirable members --

-- those obstinate but mostly decent “Dole-Goldwater Republicans” -- like that sweet but obstinate uncle of yours -- who stay glued to Fox News, in order to avoid lifting their heads out of the sand. In order NOT to face what their beloved conservatism has become -- hijacked, mutated, and steered toward treason by a bona fide criminal gang.

These folk must be the target! Because, each “ostrich” who wakens will get angry -- just like most members of the U.S. military officer corps. And one angry “decent conservative” is sure to waken others.

Yes, it may mean having to negotiate with these ostriches. Offer some compromises that would suit Robert Dole... though never Rush Limbaugh. Still, a small price for sending fanatics and thieves into the wilderness, instead of leaving them in charge of a major political party! It could end “culture war” once and for all, and save the next presidency.

So let’s go back to laying down a long list of thought experiments for you to insist that your ostrich try on for size.
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* WOULD YOU HAVE PROTESTED, IF THE DEMOCRATS...

...systematically dismantled dozens of independent scientific panels, including all of those charged with advising Congress? Then stocked the remaining panels with second-rate shills who are despised, all across the scientific community? http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2007/10/dr_president.php

...allowed major special interests to write the administration’s energy and other policies?

... spent 13 years blocking energy research that might have helped America wean its addiction to foreign oil?

...first denied the existence of a looming threat to our climate, then pressured government and independent scientists to censor their reports, then claimed “the jury is still out and we need more research”...

...while slashing research budgets ...

...and then, finally, after years of delay, when the proof-of-danger was too blatant to ignore any longer, suppose they blithely did a complete and dizzying 180 reversal, suddenly calling human-generated climate change “a dire international crisis”?

What if they did all that and then, abruptly, claimed “We NEVER denied that humans are causing global warming!”

Wouldn’t that affect a whole movement’s credibility? Shouldn’t it? (That is, if the guys who did all that happened to be democrats.)

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* WOULD IT REDUCE DEMOCRATS’ CREDIBILITY IF THEY...

...praised and supported and encouraged Saddam Hussein for decades? Then fought to eject him from Kuwait, only to prop him back up and protect him, yet again? Then, after leaving him to brutalize Iraqis for 12 more years, finally decided to go after him -- in the stupidest way possible?

...praised and supported and encouraged Osama bin Laden? Armed and helped him gain power in Afghanistan. Then, finally decided to go after him, declaring “We’ll never rest till he is brought to justice!” (Only... somehow never succeeded?)

Whatever the solution to Iraq and the Middle East may be, one thing is certain. Any bozos who did things like that don’t deserve to prescribe anything! Democrat or Republican, they would have no credibility. No right to preach or “decide.” None at all.

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* WHAT IF A DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENT HAD...

...encouraged us to be far more afraid of vague “terrorists” than we were ever afraid of a monstrous communist empire, bristling with tens of thousands of hair-trigger nuclear weapons?

... vastly increased government secrecy, to levels never seen before, not even when we were in a life/death struggle against the Soviet KGB? (Would you have wondered if the president was doing it in order to hide misdeeds? (You bet you would have! That is, if it were a democrat.)

...engaged in illegal wiretapping schemes, spying on American citizens and interfering with their rights?

... appointed roughly a hundred US attorneys who were openly partisan Democrats, then fired a few of them for not going after Republicans harshly enough? (Would you wonder about the remaining ones, who weren’t fired? Worrying what kind of a country you are living in, when a majority of US attorneys are acceptable to such a partisan regime?)

Would you have put up with such abuse, if it were done by Bill Clinton? (Who, in fact, appointed dozens of Republicans as US Attorneys and was widely known for promoting professionals within the Civil Service, instead of party hacks.)

No you would not have! So, why have you parroted Fox News excuses for George Bush, when he actually did all of these things?

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* WHAT IF BILL CLINTON HAD...

...taken every bill passed by the Newt Gingrich Congress and signed it, while scribbling in the margins that “this bill means only what I say it means”?

Would that have raised your hackles, denouncing him as “undermining the Constitution and grabbing power?”

(Okay, then. But Clinton didn’t do that. Bush has. Any denunciations?)


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WHAT IF THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION...

...delivered 8 years of relative peace, fiscal responsibility (with more surpluses and buying-down of debt than the rest of US history, combined), and delivered good management (according to JD Powers and other neutral auditing agencies), while reducing federal paperwork and non defense manpower?

..kept US forces at high readiness and high morale by closely heeding the advice of professional officers, while getting taxpayers their money’s worth by fiercely enforcing lawful oversight and competitive contracting rules? And, when a time came to apply military force, did so in strict accordance with the Powell Doctrine, accompanying overwhelming surgical force with skillful diplomacy, achieving all goals quickly, with low civilian casualties and zero loss of American lives?

...oversaw the greatest surge of wealth -- among ALL social classes -- in history, including the formation of more new small businesses than ever? With vastly better performance of the stock market and every other economic indicator?

...despite fervid, paranoid and totally unproved accusations, kept reducing government secrecy? (Hardly the behavior of people with a lot to hide.)

...put 100,000 extra police officers directly onto America’s streets while setting in place procedures to ensure their professionalism? Then oversaw the steepest drop in crime in American history? Along with decreases in abortion and divorce?

...left office (for the first time in US history) with not a single administration official going to jail for malfeasance in the performance of his or her office? In fact -- despite fevered accusations - without a single administration official being convicted or even indicted for malfeasance in the performance of his or her office? This despite several billion dollars spent by the opposition, in search of some kind of “smoking gun”?

What if US world popularity skyrocketed to unprecedented levels, during that time, with all but China, Russia, France and a few Muslim states agreeing tacitly to a US-led “unipolar” world?

Judging entirely according to these “conservative” standards, would you have put up with such goings on, if they were perpetrated by Bill Clinton...?

Oops... trick question. In fact, all of these things DID happen under Clinton. Yet you were fuming for all of those 8 years. On the other hand, every single one of these things has been diametrically reversed by the Bushites, while you and Fox make excuses.

How can that be? Is it possible that you mean something different by “patriotism” and “conservatism” than we thought you meant? It is starting to look that way.

Continue to Part IV

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Ostrich Papers: "What if Clinton had..." (Part II)

We're discussing how not only to eke victory over the Bushites, in 08, but to decisively repudiate the neocons' treasonous “culture war.” To do this, we must not over-rely upon plummeting GOP popularity. After all:

1) Something may happen to firm the GOP base. Another (convenient) terror attack. War with Iran. The nomination of Hillary Clinton. (Look, I like her. I'll campaign hard if she’s the nominee. But can you imagine anything more sure to bring out ten million extra Republican voters, through sleet or hail?)

2) The GOP is already re-positioning, preparing to blame everything on Bush and “Beltway Washington insiders...” giving GOP voters a way to vote for more neocon thieves, backed by the same interests, while telling themselves they're throwing bums out!

3) Democrats may let Karl Rove frame the debate, yet again, as a matter of “left versus right”... leaving moderate and “decent” conservatives no option but to hold their noses and “vote right” -- as a matter of simple self- identity.

We must prepare against these failure modes.


But how?

The best way to do it is by going for the throat. Go AFTER the Dole Goldwater Republicans, hammer and tongs! That beloved, sweet but troglodytic uncle of yours, for example, who gets his memes reinforced on Fox. Make him choose between the GOP and America!

Because that’s what it comes down to.

And now, back to providing ammo for that effort... more ostrich hypocrisy skewers.

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* DO YOU FIGURE YOU’D HAVE NOTICED IF BILL CLINTON...

...sent our National Guard units into endless deployments, wrecking families, demolishing our reserves, and leaving our states and cities defenseless, in case of natural disaster. Or in case of a future terror attack?

...allowed a great American city to be destroyed through staggering bureaucratic negligence, despite plenty of warnings about hurricane danger? Then allowed graft and corruption to siphon off billions, in the aftermath?

...allowed U.S. air travel to decline into a morass of filthy, overcrowded airports, overbearing security and deteriorating service, while the rich escape to charters and corporate jets?

...allowed our nation’s infrastructure, bridges, highways etc to deteriorate at the fastest rate in history?

...oversaw the worst spiral into national debt the world has ever seen, reversing 1990s surpluses into record-breaking deficits?

(Self-check: When did you switch priorities? Loading your grandchildren with debt, while protecting Rupert Murdoch from taxes? Even when our nation is at war, in a “fight for survival”?

(Is it possible you were TAUGHT to make this weird reversal of conservative values? By the same aristocrats who control your radio and TV? By the very same men who directly benefit?)


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* WOULD YOU CRITICIZE YOUR “COMMANDER IN CHIEF” IF IT WERE BILL CLINTON WHO...

...supervised and directly oversaw the steepest decline in U.S. military readiness since the War of 1812? With the Army and Marines running out of troops and equipment, unable to meet quotas, despite steeply lowering standards and offering signup bonuses in excess of $20,000 all the way up to $150,000?

...brought us to the point where only two Army brigades are currently trained, equipped and prepared to fight off a national land force? And those two are in Korea? (Hint: that’s fewer ready brigades than Belgium or Mexico have.)

...fired, transferred, punished, or forced into retirement hundreds of US military officers, for refusing to parrot a party line or for not helping twist our armed forces into a political tool?

...appointed to top positions at the FBI, Justice Department, CIA, Defense and Homeland Security men and women without experience in those fields, whose sole attribute was partisan loyalty and a willingness to bully civil servants, harassing professionals into toeing the line?

(Self-check: If a Democrat did a smidgen of this, would you have looked the other way?

(Or would you have made a fuss if Clinton harassed even one US officer? So, what do you say to that face in the mirror? That fellow who let a Republican administration do all this, and much more, without uttering a word of protest?)


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* WOULD YOU HAVE LAUGHED ALOUD -- OR CRIED -- IF BILL CLINTON...

...declared that he was the one and only “decider,” in what had previously been a vast and sophisticated democracy?

...declared repeatedly that a president can refuse to answer to any kind of accountability or oversight by Congress?

...promised (as a candidate) never to commit troops without a timetable, an exit strategy, adequate financing, or clear goals? Achievable war aims that directly help our nation, enough to outweigh our soldiers’ sacrifice? What if Clinton had promised all that... then did the opposite?

...declared “Mission Accomplished” when an endless, Vietnam-style quagmire had only just begun?

... initiated intimate and unwanted body contact with a female foreign leader? On camera?

...drove away all of our allies and made the United States more unpopular around the world than at any time in our history?

(Yes, the neocon attitude is “#*@! what the world thinks!” But, in that case, wouldn’t traditional conservative isolationism make more sense than trying to “lead” a world that hates us?)

(In fact, Clinton’s Balkans War was brief, fierce, effective and perfect, quickly achieving all major goals at low expense, while preserving readiness and costing zero -- exactly zero -- American lives. While US popularity soared, even among Muslims and troop moral hit new records. Beat that.)

Next time... even more (what-if) crimes of “Bill Clinton!”

Friday, October 12, 2007

OSTRICH HUNTING: The Bill Clinton Gambit

If Democrats simply want to win the next election, they may play it safe. Keep riding the GOP’s self-made spiral of unpopularity, hoping that nothing dramatic will happen to mobilize the Republican base. Keep it about “left vs right.” Chip away at the middle-fringe of Karl Rove’s coalition. That seems to be the game plan.

If - on the other hand - our aim is to save America and our civilization, then we have to be more ambitious. Any Democratic presidency in 2009 will almost worthless, if it stays mired in endless “culture war.”

The only way to solve that is to completely repudiate neoconservatism. This monstrous, mutant version of conservatism should not be left in charge of one of America’s major parties, licking its wounds and preparing for a comeback in 2012.

For America’s sake, the next election has to be a blow-out.

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* OSTRICH AMMO: Hypocrisy is the Zinger

Top priority must go to shattering Rove’s Big Tent Coalition - by rousing twenty million “Ostrich Republicans.” Like your mostly-decent uncle, who stays glued to Fox News, desperately seeking reassurance that his side has not gone insane. Burying his head in denial, trying not to think about what conservatism has become.

If each of us managed to shake-awake just one or two “ostriches” - to realize their movement has been hijacked by a fanatics and thieves - their anger against the neocons might sear Rove’s Red Alliance down to ashes, ensuring that the next version of conservatism (and there will be one) may be more like Bob Dole and less Joseph Goebbels.

But how does one rouse a stubborn ostrich? As I discuss elsewhere, they are psychologically well-armored and Fox provides rationalizations to mask every individual Bushite travesty. Hence, you’ll need persistence, plus willingness to empathize! Instead of screaming at a strawman image, show your ostriches that you understand their better values - prudence, independence, honesty, fiscal responsibility, real patriotism - and then show forcefully how the neocon/Bush cabal has betrayed them all.

It also helps to shake up their perspective! Make them take a fresh angle. So here’s an approach. Try asking ”What happened to the moral outrage that you once fulminated towards Bill Clinton?”

And then start going down a very long list of thought experiments.

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*WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE SAID IF CLINTON HAD....

... sent twelve billion dollars of taxpayer money into a war zone -- as a raw cash, unsupervised slush fund -- and then somehow managed to lose nine billions of it...

(HOW do you “lose” 270 tons of one hundred dollar bills? That’s ninety million $100 bills, or the average monthly mortgage payments of TEN million Americans.)...

...including almost a billion dollars that were “misplaced” by the side of an Iraqi road?

Would you have let Bill Clinton get away with something like that, without a single head rolling, or even a decent explanation?

Self-check: Remember how mad you were over “Whitewater corruption,” amounting to (at most) $80,000? In contrast, are you even curious why George Bush won’t even try to account for TEN THOUSAND times as much?

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* HOW WOULD YOU HAVE REACTED IF BILL CLINTON....

...made US taxpayers subsidize a huge, private, mercenary army, controlled by one of his closest liberal-democrat supporters?

...then signed documents making those mercenaries immune from any law, American or foreign?

...then let those mercenaries exonerate themselves from cold-blooded murder, by ghost-writing a “report” under US diplomatic letterhead?

...while also privatizing many more secret groups to perform intelligence-gathering, interrogation, kidnapping and international “operations” without even a figleaf of supervision by the CIA?

...then ruined the effectiveness of one of the best of those groups, by leaking its methods, simply to make a minor political point?

Would you have shrugged all that off, if Bill Clinton had done such things? You, who relished ornate conspiracy theories over the suicide of poor Vince Foster -- how would you have reacted if the Clintons used your taxes to create vast private armies led by fanatic democrats?

You would have let that slide? As “necessary,” just because Commander-in-Chief Clinton said so? Really?

Now substitue “Bush” for “Clinton” and tell us the same.



WOULD IT HAVE ANGERED YOU IF BILL CLINTON...

...canceled the rules requiring that government contracts be awarded by competitive bidding -- (it’s called capitalism) -- and instead granted multibillion dollar sweetheart deals directly to Clinton family friends, free of supervision or auditing? http://tinyurl.com/ysmv96

...used the words “emergency” and “top secret” to conceal those crooked deals?

...hid the fact that each private contractor costs five to ten times as much as a soldier or civil servant, while doing astonishingly shoddy work?

...then appointed “inspectors” to many cabinet departments and Iraq reconstruction agencies, who have no professional qualifications other than longtime political loyalty to Bill Clinton?

(Meanwhile, our troops go without. And regular Iraqis starve.)

...then managed to lose, waste or “misplace” more Iraqi oil each and every day than the UN “Oil For Food Program” did in its entire history? If Clinton had done these things, would you have ignored and excused it all, the way you have for Bush?

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* Yes, this is confrontational stuff!

Indeed, it would be a mistake to simply print this out and shove it under an ostrich's nose. They won't read. They'll go ostrich on you!

The most effective approach? Sitting him or her down and reading it to them aloud! Be fair. Listen to replies and defenses. Don’t sneer. Be willing to learn!

But don’t let go. The most persuasive thing about this list is its relentless length! Every rationalization will look thinner and thinner, as you lay down one crime after another.

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... Onward to Part II.


(* Added links welcome along with comments.)

A Long "Ostrich" Post coming --

I will be posting, a bit later, a long compilation for the "Ostrich Papers" for folks to ponder over the weekend.

As promised, this one tries to compile a comprehensive set of wake-up accusations that are parsed in a particular way, meant to pillory decent-but-obstinate Republicans, by demanding "What would you have done or said if Bill Clinton and the Democrats had..." And then fill in the blanks.

What I could use from volunteers would be:

1) Anything I missed? Suggestions welcome.

2) Links that substantiate some of the items that currently aren't.

3) Suggestions where else this piece might go.

I currently plan to Kos-serialize it, even though I have been disappointed by the reader numbers over there.

It seems a worthy effort. Alas, it seem clear that very few people - and fewer democratic leaders - feel, as I do, that the key to all this is moderate and decent Republicans.

To me, it seems inescapable. Every "ostrich" who comes over will come over MAD! And he or she will infect other Dole-Goldwater types with the same anger toward the gang that has hijacked their party. Moreover, some will be people of influence, possibly rich persons or civil servants or officers capable of blowing whistles. They would legitimize any moderate democrat president and help to de-legitimize neocon fanaticism. Helping to end culture war.

And, as a bonus, aggressively seeking out these people would go right to one wing of Karl Rove's base, forcing the gang to spend time and energy defending it, making peace offerings to Dole-types that are sure to anger OTHER parts of their base.

Can anybody else see the win-win in this strategy? Or else show me how it's wrong?

Monday, October 08, 2007

The GOP vs. the U.S. Military: Part Seven - Privatization

Looking back across earlier portions of this series, we can see these dismal trends continuing in real time. For example, see a detailed look at the effort to transform the US military into a force for radical christianity.

And yet, is it possible that -- after shouting into silence for years -- I can see hope at last? Signs of quiet back-pressure from the grownups of the U.S. Officer Corps have been evident ever since the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld and his replacement by the new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. Now, with the departure of “Rumsfeld’s Parrot” -- Gen. Peter Pace -- from the office of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it appears that the top tier of at least one department may be back in the hands of professionals and adults. (Read an excellent article about this.)

Will this be anywhere near enough? Alas, not when the President might still, at any moment, dash off an order hurling a gung-ho US Air Force -- and those Naval attack squadrons that cannot resist by working-to-rule -- into a rash and lobotomized series of pinprick provocations against Iran.

To prevent this... and stop this administration’s relentless, top-down treason in all its forms... another set of professionals must stand up and do their part. The FBI. The men and women of the intelligence services. Civil servants in every department. It is time for them to decide whose side they are on. Invoking long dormant protocols (or innovating new ones) for what to do when the nation’s immune systems have been infected and taken over by a virulent disease at the very top.

The social and political equivalent of AIDS.

Only now... back to our series on what has been done to our military by the Bush Administration and by a transformed and mutated GOP.


Privatization: Only the Best for Contractors, and the Worst for our Troops

So far, this series has examined many ways that the Bush administration (and allies) betrayed the U.S. military -- especially the Army and Marines -- as part of a larger War Against Professionalism. (See Part Three: Destroying Military Readiness).

Along this desolate journey, we have crossed a landscape of eviscerated national reputation, allies driven off, enemies emboldened and - worst of all - service men and women treated like expendable pieces in a game, played by overcompensating, macho little boys. And it gets worse.


But WHY quash, destroy or demoralize all government professionals? Especially stripping our defenses and crippling the military?. Why would Team Bush do such things?

The short answer is -- accountability. Or rather, avoidance thereof. The one trait that is common among government scientists, the civil service, the intelligence and law enforcement communities, and the U.S. Officer Corps is that these large pools of highly skilled and dedicated people have been trained to see. They are the ones who might puzzle together patterns, reveal corruption, or refuse to allow unconstitutional usurpations of undue power. If your aim were to seize permanent power in the United States -- or simply to stay out of jail, after robbing the U.S. blind -- it would make perfect sense to concentrate on paralyzing the professionals. And to hide it all in clouds of secrecy.

I am not the only one tracking this overall trend. With a far better soapbox than I, syndicated columnist Paul Krugman has also been on target. He had this to say, a few weeks ago (9/28/07) in the New York Times:

“Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it’s a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we’ve learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work. Thus, the administration has abandoned the principle of a professional, nonpolitical civil service, stuffing agencies from FEMA to the Justice Department with unqualified cronies.”

Unqualified... but also obedient, dogmatic and willing to bully the civil servants under them, distracting, or re-assigning or cauterizing the careers of those who -- in the course of their duties -- happen to look in forbidden directions.

But (again) why?

Advice from the Watergate era still has resonance. Follow the money. Last time, for example, we saw how President Bush has invoked a “national state of emergency,” for six years, with the principal effect that it lets him bypass normal, competitive bidding rules in the areas of Defense and Homeland Security. Emergency contracts have been granted to companies that are blatant Bush-Cheney consorts, with little or no subsequent supervision or oversight.

Let there be no mistake. The left has been proved just plain wrong in its reflex explanation, that the Iraq War “was about oil.” The real profit has come from those non-competitive contracts. From the war itself.


* The very, very, very worst examples.... that we know of

One recent book that exposes the seamy side of privatization (though dipping now and then into polemical excess) is Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War, by Dina Rasor and Robert Bauman.

I thought about writing my own summary, but the one on Amazon suffices: “In this shocking exposĂ©, two government fraud experts reveal how private contractors have put the lives of countless American soldiers on the line while damaging our strategic interests and our image abroad. From the shameful war profiteering of companies like Halliburton/KBR to the sinister influence that corporate lobbyists have on American foreign policy, to the use of “emergency” declarations to evade normal contracting procedures, Dina Rasor and Robert H. Bauman paint a disturbing picture. Here they give the inside story on troops forced to subsist on little food and contaminated water, on officers afraid to lodge complaints because of Halliburton's political clout, on millions of dollars in contractors' bogus claims that are funded by American taxpayers, and privatized services that cost ten to thirty times as much as they did, when performed better by civil servants. Drawing on exclusive sources within government and the military, the authors show how greed and insider deals have conspired to undermine our fighting forces and threaten the security of our country.”

Phew. And you’ll find even more searing poignancy in some of the Amazon reader reviews! Take this excerpt:

“When I entered Baghdad in April 2003 and initially occupied Saddam's bombed out Ramadan palace to setup the new government, I was their as a civilian contractor. I was thrilled! I made more pay in 4 months as a contractor than in 4 years as a soldier. Months later, when I was called to service by my unit, I didn't respond to serve my country as a soldier because I was already in Baghdad. The army can't admit that's a problem, so they transferred me into the inactive reserves so I could stay in the war and make oodles of money. Again, I was thrilled! I stayed in Iraq and made so much money doing a job as good as a soldier with incompatible equipment impossible to interact with the army needs for 40x the military pay, that I bought a new house in Florida every other month. We didn't accomplish a damn thing as contractors. In fact, we broke more stuff than we brought and lost the rest but who cares? I wasn't responsible for it? The corporation was. Hell, I still have a bullet proof vest my corporation bought for me while soldiers were going into battle w/o body armor. I had the best! “

One powerful point in the book is how inefficient most Bush “privatizations” have been, especially in Iraq. The mythology, tenaciously clung-to by conservatives of all stripes, and not just neocons, has always been that corporate entities are universally more efficient that government ones. Study after study has shown that the real life facts are far more complicated, and often diametrically opposite to this article of faith. But when it comes to the privatization efforts of the Bush Administration, this hoary cliche is exposed as an utter travesty.

Bush’s own General Accounting Office (GAO) has declared -- that contractor-run services in Iraq average four to ten times as costly as the same services, when performed by soldiers or civil servants.

(A side note to ponder at leisure: whenever Democrats have de-regulated an industry -- e.g. banking, trucking, telecommunications, airlines, and the Internet -- the central effect was to increase competition. In fact, nearly all major DE-regulations during our lifetime have been promulgated by Democratic administrations, the exact opposite to popular conception.

(In contrast Whenever Republicans deregulate, it somehow always results in reduced competition, inefficiency and a subsequent, economy-rocking scandal. Clear examples include the Savings and Loan and cable industry “reforms”of the 1980s, supervised by George H. W. Bush, and Energy Industry “reforms” passed under George W. Bush. But none of these hold a candle against the half a trillion dollars that has gone into non-competitive, cost-plus Iraq War contracts, granted to Bush family friends.)


Meanwhile, on September 26, 2007, the GAO released a report revealing that the DOD and the VA are taking no better care of the wounded troops now than they were when the Washington Post broke the story about Walter Reed hospital, two years ago. MRAP armored (mine resistant) replacements for the humvee are tragically late, in the latest case of undersupplying the troops. And Iraqi civilians fume because delivery of basic services -- such as electricity and clean water and trash pickup, aren’t any better, after mountains of cash poured into infrastructure projects that get nothing done, making many yearn for well-ordered times before 2003.

And... oh... there was that missing billion dollars. In cash. That Bush officials simply “lost” in Iraq. By the side of a road. No heads rolled over that.

Can one even compare this to the so-called scandals under Bill Clinton? The difference in scale so boggles the mind that it may explain why Republicans could feel outrage at “Whitewater”, then simply blink in dull incomprehension over Neocon-era thievery. After all, you can imagine what you, personally, would do with $80,000. But a billion? In lost cash? The mind reels. It turns away.


* Even Worse -- Getting the Taxpayers to Subsidize the Creation of Private Armies for the Rich.

Of course, none of this more than touches upon the darkest aspect of the trend, described in Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

“Based in the wilderness of North Carolina, it is the fastest-growing private army on the planet with forces capable of carrying out regime change throughout the world. Blackwater protects the top US officials in Iraq and yet we know almost nothing about the firm's quasi-military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and inside the US. Blackwater was founded by an extreme right-wing fundamentalist Christian mega-millionaire ex- Navy Seal named Erik Prince, the scion of a wealthy conservative family that bankrolls far-right-wing causes.”

I have been fuming over Blackwater Security Services, ever since this burgeoning mercenary enforcement company sent private troops to intimidate local cops and to illegally patrol public bridges, during the Hurricane Katrina crisis, violently preventing poor folks in New Orleans from crossing into rich enclaves, even when their only goal was to pass through, seeking safety and transportation on the other side. *

While this trend is frightening in at least a dozen ways that go far beyond the topic of this series. Our primary focus remains mainly on how privatization of force has affected the military.

Consider this: even extreme libertarians, like Ayn Rand, have always conceded that governments should retain “a monopoly on the use of coercion and force.” Yes, many rabid libertarians despise the modern state and rail against excessive bureaucracy. They wish the military would simply guard our borders. Courts should simply enforce contracts and punish bullies who use coercion privately. Indeed, within those ideal limits, libertarians hold with the social compact that founded America -- that private force is a dangerous vestige of the days of mercenary condottieri and rule by feudal lords.

Oh, it is easy to see where Blackwater fits into the grand scheme. Members of the US Officer Corps who seem pliable can be offered lucrative retirement jobs in a new force that does not answer to any of our accountable institutions, nor any of the rigorous procedures that have become core elements of character in our professional - and national - armed services.

As for why neocons are pushing this trend, as part of their larger-scale putsch, well, there is a long tradition. Caesar turned Roman legions into personal ones. The SA and SS could perform actions that the German Wehrmacht found unpalatable. And these predecessors, too, would up servicing the mighty while paid out of public coffers.

Still, one question especially bugs me. Put aside the Secret Masters of this program and the mercenaries themselves, and the fanatics. What about the old fashioned conservatives who still make up the bulk of the Republican Party? Have they no sense of imagination or shame? Do they ever, ever pause and ask themselves “what would I have done, if Bill Clinton had tried to pull even one percent of this stuff?”

Hypocrites who raged over Whitewater, but see nothing to worry about in Blackwater, have simply chosen sides for visceral reasons and will let their minds see nothing disturbing.

Above all, the “side” they have chosen is not us. America. Civilization. It is a partisan movement that’s been taken over by monsters.

==Continue to Part 8

 or return to Part 1 of this series

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Catching Up on Non-Political Marvels

Amid my extended polemic about the War Against Professionalism -- and the ongoing demolition of the U.S. the military -- I have allowed too many other fine things to accumulate. But it is important to keep reminding ourselves why this civilization is so worth saving. Giving examples, rather than a vague, amorphous totem word like “freedom.” Indeed, it gives the terrorists (both Al Qaeda and the neocons) too much of a victory if we let ourselves get to distracted or obsessed and neglect the Scientific Age for too long.

So here goes! (Note: for lack of time, I will simply leave the URLs in place. Inactive. Sorry, but if an article interests you enough, you know what to do.)


Take a civics literacy test: http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/resources/quiz.aspx

The Library Thing site lets you catalog your books online and help rate them! Over nineteen million books on members' bookshelves. http://www.librarything.com/author/brindavid

Radio Tales of the Strange & Fantastic now offers a great collection of radio SF classics! “We bring you stories of the supernatural and the supernormaldramatizing the fantasies and the mysteries of the unknown.”

PERSPECTIVES! The Globalist always has interesting, brief perspectives, this time with short essays on the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, on the beauty and waste of water (soon to be as precious as oil), Russian oligarchs, and two contrasting groups of freedom fighters -- lawyers in Pakistan and monks in Burma. http://theglobalist.com/

Followup: If liberalism needs to cure itself of any filthy vices (and it does, especially if it wants enough power to clean up after the neocon criminal gang), then number three on the priority list has got to be shrugging off a kneejerk-lefty addiction to “anti globalization” as a reflex mantra. “Anti-secretive/corporatist-plutocrat/monopolist-exploiters?” Okay. I can live with that. But global trade in goods, labor and ideas has uplifted more people than all the goody-rhetoric ever spilled. Local tyrants are almost always worse than global ones, and people in the developing world say so, relentlessly with their feet, their voices and their lives. Our job? to help them overcome BOTH kinds of bullies, through the very same method that worked (or used to work) over here. Something called Law.

(Andy other proposed items for a list of “filthy liberal vices”? Like the reflex to oppose nuclear power? Or to screech about “betraying the base”? Right now, ANY bad habit that might help get deep-red Republicans to overcome their plunging morale and vote, has to go at the top of the list.)

------
SUCCESSFUL PREDICTIONS KEEP ACCRUING! Anyone care to post this on Technolvelgy or my prediction Wikis?
(http://www.necsi.org/community/wiki/index.php/ICCS06/David_Brin and http://earthbydavidbrin.pbwiki.com/ )

Tackling a dilemma right out of a science fiction novel, the state Senate passed legislation Thursday that would bar employers from requiring workers to have identification devices implanted under their skin. State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) proposed the measure after at least one company began marketing radio frequency identification devices for use in humans. The devices, as small as a grain of rice, can be used by employers to identify workers. A scanner passing over a body part implanted with one can instantly identify the person.

Alas, they don’t name the novel! (Hint: it’s SUNDIVER.)


---And another hit!---

Ezra Ekman wrote: “However, your extraordinary literary skills were not the reason for my writing this message to you. Your talent for clairvoyance is. In The Uplift War, you envisioned the concept of a network of vegetation through which chemical messages could be sent. Ah, if only we lived on an alien world... but wait! It has recently been discovered that a certain species of clovers can do that very thing! And not merely in an inert fashion; they also do so as a method for warning their neighbors of an eminent enemy attack, such as from caterpillars or other predators:  

A creationist might argue that it makes perfect sense. An evolutionist could say that it was bound to happen eventually. In either case, you sir, are a genius of foresight.”

Again, would anyone be interested in posting these things?

While we’re at it with predictions, I finally remembered the title of the SF novel that came closest to predicting the cellphone-PDA-camera-personal-aide that we seem to be heading for.

The Joymaker is a fictional device invented by for the novel AGE OF THE PUSSYFOOT, first published in 1965 by Frederik Pohl. It bears a remarkable resemblance to devices in common use in the years following the start of the 21st century. The remote-access computer transponder called the "joymaker" is your most valuable single possession in your new life. If you can imagine a combination of telephone, credit card, alarm clock, pocket bar, reference library, and full-time secretary, you will have sketched some of the functions provided by your joymaker.

 The Joymaker was conceived by Pohl in the 1960s after he saw one of the earliest computer systems. These allowed multiple users spread over a wide area, connected by good quality telephone or data lines, to simultaneously use one or more large (for the time) computers for a variety of purposes.

In its basic form, the Joymaker is a remote time-sharing terminal which uses radio communications instead of wire lines, and interacts with its user via voice rather than a keyboard and text output. It is small and light enough to be worn or carried, resembling in some cases a small . It can also dispense various medications, stimulants etc. from reservoirs within it.


----- Speaking of Predictivity (did I coin that word just now?) ----

bet2 give is a real-money prediction market where you grow your account with investments in smart predictions about the future, then give your winnings away to non-profit organizations of your choice. Topics cover sports, finance, politics, the war on terror, Iraq, and various current events in between.

Because participants cannot profit financially or materially from their successful bets - all the money won or lost eventually goes to non-profit organizations - bet2give is obviously not a "gambling" venue. (A problem that has stymied development of markets that open up prediction development to monetized incentives. States legitimately worried about creating incentives for betters to alter events deliberately, (r.g. sports games or political events) in order to win wagers.)

This allows people to treat their forecasts with the competitive zeal of a market, motivated by a desire to win. But without direct gred as a possible motive to cheat.


----More on the fight for transparency & robust citizenship! ---

Check out the smallest high-resolution, real time digital camcorder ever produced. The camera can record up to 33 hours of video at 15 frames per second via its internal pinhole camera. Hide it inside a pack of gum, and no one will never know you're secretly recording them.

Speaking of which, here from W. David Stephenson (The other “Mr. Defense Transparency”) are "21st-century disaster tips you WON'T hear from officials" on YouTube (http://tinyurl.com/35yc6r). They concern creative use of the personal communication devices, from cameraphones to WiFi laptops, that we all carry daily, AND will use in a disaster, whether or not officials want us to.

One top suggestion -- using "Twitter"  instead of voice calls in an emergency to let family and friends know we're ok. During an emergency, most people automatically dial number after number to either let people know they're ok or to try to find loved ones who may be missing. You don't get through, because so many others are doing the same thing, AND the call volume crashes the cell networks. A lose-lose situation.

By contrast, if you sign up now for Twitter and get family and friends to do the same, all you need to do in a crisis is send a Twitter message (140 characters is the limit), and you'll get the message to them (text messages take almost no bandwidth, route around network disruptions).

Says David Stephenson: Searching for someone in a disaster? There’s a cool Red Cross Twitter tool: instead of the normal procedure of dialing on your cell (40404) and sending your message, once you dialed 40404, type follow safeandwell. You’ll get instructions on how to register with the Red Crosse unified Safe and Well database of missing and found people. I don’t know of another emergency communication system that’s as efficient and streamlined!

1) watch the video
2) sign up for Twitter
3) use your own Linkedin and personal networks to pass this message on. You’ll be demonstrating the power of social networks and playing an important role in removing a major obstacle to disaster communications.

Another great suggestion. Have a look at Stephenson’s brief video clips, then drop by http://www.cuwireless.net/ to find out more about creating your own, ad hoc WiFi network that would operate completely off the internet! Crude, but workable (I hear) in an emergency, when the internet is down in your locale. Of course, this kind of capability should have been mandated for every single cell phone sold in the United States, allowing text messaging to take place peer-to-peer, even if the cell towers fail. (Funny thing is, the telcos could still bill for these messages! They don’t even have a commercial reason to oppose it.)

If any of you care to experiment with any of these techniques and report back, that’d be terrific.


----- And a mass of miscellanea!-----

 In May the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its fourth report, warning that global warming would increase the number of extreme weather events and cause more natural disasters, which will hit the poor hardest. Hundreds have died and thousands have lost their livelihoods in floods since the start of the year in China, South Asia, Mozambique, Sudan and Uruguay, while the period from May to July was the wettest in England and Wales since records began in 1766. Two heat waves in southeastern Europe in June and July broke previous records, with temperatures in Bulgaria hitting 113 Fahrenheit on July 23.

An essential commodity has become scarcer and pricier in recent months. Traders are paying record prices for wheat on world markets, thanks in part to shortages caused by a mix of drought and flooding. As a result of the supply squeeze, global inventories of wheat — which makes up one-fifth of the world's food intake — are expected to fall to their lowest level in 26 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 Eating less meat could help slow global warming by reducing the number of livestock and thereby decreasing the amount of methane flatulence from the animals, according to an article in the medical journal, Lancet. Gases from animals destined for dinner plates account for nearly a quarter of all emissions worldwide.

 A second race for the moon would be under way, with a full roster of 21st-century global powers, including China and India, are competing. One reason for much of the interest appears to be plans to mine helium-3 - purportedly an ideal fuel for fusion reactors but almost unavailable on Earth - from the moon's surface.

http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/energy/environment/2007-08-26-solar_N.htm?csp=34 Solar power has long been the Mercedes-Benz of the renewable energy industry: sleek, quiet, low-maintenance. Yet like a Mercedes, solar energy is universally adored but prohibitively expensive for most people. However a few dozen companies say advances in technology will let them halve the price of solar-panel installations in as little as three years. By 2014, solar-system prices will be competitive with conventional electricity when energy savings are figured in. And that's without government incentives.

http://www.economist.com/science/tq/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9249222 Geothermal heating—using the warmth of the Earth's interior to heat water—is an old idea. Hydrothermal cooling is a novel approach that uses cold water from lakes and oceans to run air-conditioning systems. Toronto sits next to a very large supply of cold water, in the form of Lake Ontario and has been pioneering the idea that instead of using electricity to power air conditioning, a useful supply of cold can be directly extracted from the environment. The article does not discuss how the return of heated water is impacting the ecosystem of the lake.

http://www.economist.com/science/tq/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9249242 At six miles up in the air, the jet-stream winds are stronger and blow more consistently than ground-level winds and carry up to a hundred times more energy. So just as oil companies are drilling deeper and in more remote locations in search of new reserves, pioneer wind-power engineers are looking higher in the sky for new sources of energy. To tap that energy, they are trying to invent a whole new technology for harvesting wind: electricity generators that fly.

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=3547157&page=1 In a patent application, an Austin-based startup called EEStor promised "technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries," meaning a motorist could plug in a car for five minutes and drive 500 miles roundtrip between Dallas and Houston without gasoline. EEStor's secret ingredient is a material sandwiched between thousands of wafer-thin metal sheets, like a series of foil-and-paper gum wrappers stacked on top of each other. Charged particles stick to the metal sheets and move quickly across EEStor's proprietary material. The result is an ultracapacitor, a battery-like device that stores and releases energy quickly.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/09/16/wiran116.xml Pentagon planners have developed a list of up to 2,000 bombing targets in Iran, amid growing fears among serving officers that diplomatic efforts to slow Iran's nuclear weapons program are doomed to fail. Pentagon and CIA officers say they believe that the White House has begun a carefully calibrated program of escalation that could lead to a military showdown with Iran.

http://cities.expressindia.com/local-news/fullstory.php?newsid=253114 The deserts of the Rann of Kutch, which melt into the arid Banni grasslands in India hold many unexplained mysteries apart from the varied species of birds. Spread across 3,846 sq km, this grassland is witness to a strange light phenomenon on any dark night. The light, which is as bright as a mercury lamp changes its color to blue and sometimes red. It is like a moving ball of fire, which sometime stops or moves as fast as an arrow. Strangely, although this phenomenon has been observed for centuries, no one has been able to come up with a suitable explanation.

http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ubpl/jpm There is an explosion of interest in the study of Prediction Markets but until now any research has been published in a diverse range of periodicals and websites. For the first time the Journal of Prediction Markets provides focussed publication forum for scholarly research articles in this burgeoning field.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070921/sc_nm/mars_caves_dc An orbiting spacecraft has found evidence of what look like seven caves on the slopes of a Martian volcano. The Mars Odyssey spacecraft has sent back images of very dark, nearly circular features that appear to be openings to underground spaces. (Weird looking! Almost artificial... cue Twilight Zone music!)

.

Finally... a few political previews.

I'd like to follow up on an earlier idea that might make very good ostrich ammo. Compiling an extensive list of direct challenges in the form of: "What would you have said if Bill Clinton had..."

Examples:

"What would you have said if Bill Clinton had managed to "lose" a billion dollars in cash, by the side of an Iraqi road?"

"What would you have said if Bill Clinton had arranged for the US taxpayer to subsidize the creation of a private army that is answerable only to one of his closest political supporters?"

Of course, your typical ostrich has a genius-level ability to shrug off things done by Bush & co. But in fact, there is a tricky alternative approach to all this... a stunt that might get past ostrich callouses... simply by first parsing it all as a gotcha page. One that starts out by listing purported Clinton era crimes.

"Those sanctimonious liberals! We need to remind them that Bill Clinton "lost" a billion dollars of our money in cash by the side of a road in Bosnia!"

And then, once the ostriches are livid, do a flip and global word swap. "Clinton did none of these. But Bush did."

Well, it's an idea.