Archive for March, 2011

“Obama speech on Libya doesn’t satisfy all critics”

Posted in Uncategorized on March 29, 2011 by a4synapse

From the Washington Post @ 3:46PM on 28 March 2011  here

Whoever writes their headlines has a firm grasp of the obvious.  They proceed to inform the public that Republican leaders in the Senate have pointed out that Obama has outlined no timetable for a U. S. exit, irrespective of the shift to NATO leadership in the effort.

And then there is this gem:

How those guidelines will shape Obama’s response to future civil conflicts, especially those underway in the Middle East, is unclear. His senior advisers say the American public should not expect consistency in Obama’s policy toward popular uprisings and autocratic governments.

Where and when did anyone conceive of the notion that ANYTHING ends on a timetable? Why does this meme appear anywhere in the media? Has no one heard of the fat lady? And when is consistency toward the middle east even a good idea? Are we babies?

The ‘story’ continues:

Practical questions also remain about the Libyan operation, including some being raised by Democrats.

Those revolve around Libya’s rebel opposition, which is seeking to topple Gaddafi after 41 years in power. Little is known about the movement, particularly at the rank-and-file level, and fears are rising that some among them may be Islamist extremists.

Someone is always afraid of something. That’s why we’re the land of the free and the home of the brave. I am pretty sure there are lots of ‘Islamist extremists’ among the rebels, especially since Gaddafi insists that they’re in the mix. How many different ways are out there to spell this name? I never get it right from one typing to the next.

Is there a substantive difference between ‘islamist extremist’ and ‘islamic extremist’, and if there is, why didn’t they explain it? There is a difference to me: islamist is a noun and islamic is an adjective. So the former is a compounded noun, a double-noun, and the latter is a modified noun. Did they mean this to be different, or did they just screw up? I vote for the latter.

Other than quotes from the usual suspects, there is not one useful piece of information or analysis in this article. This is not journalism or even punditry; it’s a fan dance (which sadly, is an insult to the art of fandancery).

But they only watch on Mondays.

Posted in Uncategorized on March 24, 2011 by a4synapse

As per the New York Times NYT, the

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It essentially legalized retroactively President George W. Bush’s outlaw program of wiretapping certain terror suspects without a warrant. It also immunized telephone companies that cooperated in the program.

FISA was amended in 2008 in response to newly revealed documents showing that federal wiretapping of all sorts of people had been hugely expanded (even with that special FISA court) and that companies such as AT&T, which runs massive server farms had willingly cooperated in the wiretapping, even though it was borderline illegal.

One federal judge (in 2009) said that no one could sue the government for doing this.

That strategy was halted on Monday when a federal appeals court said that civil liberties and journalism groups challenging an eavesdropping law could pursue a suit trying to get the government’s wiretapping declared illegal. In an important ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reinstated a lawsuit that a federal district judge had thrown out in 2009.

I always thought that cooler heads should have prevailed both within the administration and the companies (such as AT&T) to stop this operation in the first place. But to date, these decisions have been aided and abetted by the courts. This last ruling gives civil liberties and journalism the right to sue to declare the law to be illegal.

The 2008 FISA amendment looks as though it removed the FISA court of judges (even though it’s a secret court) from the equation.

I applaud this decision. At the very least, citizens have the right to challenge their government in court. I think it’s a bad idea to allow government agencies to snoop on citizens’ activities without very stringent oversight by reasonably sane judges. And to get really radical, I think AT&T ought to be held accountable for letting government agencies into our shorts.

This has a long way to go; this is an important first step.

I am puzzled by American’s willingness to let the government snoop in the name of anti-terrorism.  We were all renegades once; just a cursory reading of the Bill of Rights shows that there were strong motivations for keeping the government out of our homes, personal business and political actions (because at the time, we were under the nasty boot of George III).Yes, argue that we’re the ones in charge now, and we would only be prosecuting terrorists. Worms turn.

Und so weiter.

Reinforcing my Prejudices

Posted in Uncategorized on March 23, 2011 by a4synapse

Passport possession by state correlated with education and income levels here.

So, should we make people travel? Would this reverse-engineer wealth creation? Or, to put it another way, does travelling abroad induce people to come home and make their lives better? What’s the driver?

Someone will say that foreign travel turns you into a weenie. I did read that only 1/3 of the members of the House of Representatives has a passport.

Hathos, Pathos, Bathos, Apotheosis

Posted in Uncategorized on March 22, 2011 by a4synapse

This has been on my mind for a while. I have always been an insomniac.  I don’t really get along well with the so-called ‘lark’. When my mechanic asks me to bring the car in at 8 AM, I sometimes ask him if he’d like to do business at 1 (don’t you just hate the caps lock button location?) AM because that’s when I’m awake.  He just looks at me, though I think he understands. The dark is an interesting place. It’s rather large and accommodating. Humankind has traditionally feared what it cannot see; I sometimes think that rather than fear what is ‘out there’, we can fear what is ‘in here’, and we should. (deconstruct that at will). I experience something I have named ‘middle-of-the-night-mind’. It’s a beast. There are also moments when my mind is suspended in a conscious dreamlike state; it’s like dreaming while I’m awake and has a similar plasticity. There is also the waking up song. It can be a jingle or a symphony (it doesn’t care), but it hangs around for a couple of the morning hours.

Making up stories is one coping mechanism. I’ve been doing it since puberty (this is one word in the English language that I truly hate). pubescent, pubic, punic, public. Peeeuw. Stories were always the mainstay of my self-medication, self-evaluation, self-management. Figuring that out was a revelation. It seems so obvious now. Elementary. But nobody told me. I truly don’t how many other persons do this. There have been occasions when I’ve mentioned this practice/preoccupation to someone else and I can’t tell if they do not respond because they have no idea what I’m talking about or because they’re embarassed to tell me that I’m so-not-clued-into the joke.

I recently found a bunch of words that I do love, and they’re all greek. These words are central to modern storytelling, to the enterprise of managing our self-images. For each word I will give pertinent examples.

Apotheosis: the act of raising a person to the status of a god; deification.  There is a religion headquartered in Utah, the beehive state, which holds that if you live right (especially in your marriage), that you and your spouse will become gods in some murky version of an afterlife. This idea just makes me snort. Also the Cylons on Battlestar Galactica believe in apotheosis, though for them it seems to imply some sort of meld with humanity. Again, really vague, but it’s an improvement over the preceding. I’m pretty sure that another so-called religion which is widely practiced by some famous movie stars preaches that if a person practices the religion in just the right way, there is an apotheosis under the tree in a ‘life-continuation event’.

I always thought that there is a story-telling device that parallels apotheosis. At first it was whatever thread allowed me to sleep. Mothers the world over use this one. It’s that thought that comforts, reassures, allows the mind to let go in the sure and certain thought of waking again. Lately, I’ve downshifted the notion to that of a twist, a resolution that can move the mind from one place to a better one. The notion of ‘better’ I will revisit when it suits me.

Hathos: Hathos is the attraction to something you really can’t stand; it’s the compulsion of revulsion. (ht Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish here) They made up this word. They usually use it in reference to video that you have a hard time looking at, but can’t pull yourself away from. It’s also used in reference to the occasional person. I think hathos refers to parts of ourselves that we hate, even as these parts are central to who we are. We cannot look away.

Pathos: a quality, as of an experience or a work of art, that arouses feelings of pity, sympathy, tenderness, or sorrow. Dying swans come to mind. This is an old one, so old it’s nastily overused and degenerates into mawkishness. Pagliacci the clown is another good example (esp. on Seinfeld). Pathos done properly is hideously effective, even lethal.

Bathos: an abrupt, often ludicrous change from the lofty to the ordinary or trivial in writing or speech; unintentional anticlimax. I don’t know anything about unintentional anticlimaxes. That would be like purgatory: a state of anticipation coexisting with a burst of fireworks. The best example I have is Monty Python’s ‘Hell’s Grannies’. Terry Gilliam and his animated pasties is a good example. Some of the best humor uses bathos. It’s a word I discovered recently. It’s hard to get a handle on the idea behind it. What it encompasses is contradictory and expansionary. It’s a very ‘word’ word. It’s out there on the frontier of what words do, which is why I like it.

Hathor: the goddess of love, mirth, and joy, usually represented as having the head or ears of a cow; She’s Egyptian, but the Greeks ruled Egypt for centuries (you knew that). I’m firmly in favor of love, mirth and joy. I have mixed feelings about cows, though I like Gene on ‘Fringe’. There is no separate god for revelry, but maybe it’s Dionysus. This god, however, gets into dangerous territory quickly.

Gruntled: This word comes from Old English. (how do you like that bathos?) You’re more familiar with its sibling: disgruntled. Everybody’s disgruntled these days, because they’re looking for that apotheosis thing, and it’s not working.  TTFN.

What to make of this?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2011 by a4synapse

R. Seth Williams… is the first U.S. prosecutor to charge a church official for a sickeningly commonplace sin: Endangering children whom the Roman Catholic Church was supposed to protect by shuffling pedophile priests to different parishes where they could find fresh prey.

This is from Maureen Dowd’s op-ed piece in today’s (3/16/11) NYTimes.  The whole thing is here. She calls Williams (a Philadelphia district attorney)  ‘the avenging altarboy’.  Dowd emphasizes the reverence of parishioners for their priests. This reverence and a studied public relations campaign by the church hierarchy explains the glacial process of confronting the crimes and the scant discussion of prosecution and punishment. To date, the offenses have been handled by civil courts with large fines (I think it was $250 million in Dallas.)  R. Seth Williams is apparently the first to bring criminal charges against a church official (Msgr. William J. Lynn) for covering up the acts of molesters and placing them in new parishes where they could offend anew while their parishes were ignorant.

In court, aside from their attorneys, the defendants have their supporters.  And, in standard tactics, the attorneys say that the witness against them is a ‘liar’.  This is, of course, all before opening arguments.

My personal feeling is that the Roman Catholic church should be brought up on RICO charges for aiding and abetting criminal behavior.  I think it’s fair to say that this activity has been on-going for two decades at least. If the church is bankrupted in the U.S. as a result, I’m fine with that.  I should state for the record that I am not a Catholic, lapsed or otherwise.

I am aware that there is a vast amount of good accomplished by the Catholic Church in the U.S..  I am also aware that there is a large body of believers.  I think that this legal matter is strong evidence that the U. S. church has come loose from its moorings. And,  as Francis Crawford once said:  “what every sect potentially becomes when it loses leadership: a tool.”  (pg. # 135,  ‘The Disorderly Knights”, Vintage Books, c 1966)

An ‘Indefensible’ Rant

Posted in Uncategorized on March 11, 2011 by a4synapse

The New York Times  inveighs on a case before the U. S. Supreme Court here.  The case involves John Ashcroft’s detention policies dating back to the case of Abdullah Al-Kidd.  Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd from SCOTUSblog. In plain english:

Plain English Issue: Whether former Attorney General John Ashcroft is immune from a suit alleging that he used the federal material witness statute as a pretext to investigate and preventatively detain terrorism suspects in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001. (Kagan, J., recused.)

So, as I understand this:

1. Abdullah Al-Kidd was one of four seized as part of the F.B.I.’s wider “Idaho probe,” Mr. Kidd was arrested, strip-searched, shackled and jailed for 15 days — handled like a suspect, not a witness.  There was no claim that he had broken any law. Against him and others, the Justice Department used the statute, Mr. Kidd’s lawyers inferred and others must as well, “to detain and investigate suspects for whom the government lacked probable cause of wrongdoing, and not to secure testimony.”  He was seized as a witness, and treated to a strip-search, physical restraint, and jail for 15 days.

2. The Non-Detention Act says clearly: “No citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress.”  The Act of Congress, apparently states that the citizen must be suspected of a crime, and there must be evidence to support the suspicion.  (that sounds pretty reasonable.)

3. Ashcroft applied to Congress for permission to treat potential witnesses as suspects.  He was denied permission (quite specifically, apparently).

4. There is a material witness statute to the effect (from the editorial): letting the government keep a witness from fleeing before testifying about an alleged crime by somebody else.

The question before SCOTUS, as I understand it is: should John Ashcroft be held personally liable for treating Abdullah Al-Kidd as a witness (and we don’t treat suspects like this, do we?), without bringing charges, against his civil rights, etc. when he was Attorney General.  Our current solicitor general says ‘No.’

Why is the solicitor general arguing this case?  The logical conclusion is that they want to leave the door open for any subsequent similar behavior.  (Hunh?)

Neal Katyal (Acting)

since 17 May 2010

I think that those in a position of power must be held to a higher standard, simply because they’re in a position to do more damage.  High office should never protect a person from responsibility for their actions.  And remember, John Ashcroft was the guy who had the exposed breast of a statue covered to protect the impressionable.



‘Fighting in Libya Hints at Civil War’

Posted in Uncategorized on March 6, 2011 by a4synapse

My hate-affair with The Washington Post began innocently enough: reading David Broder and realizing that in a lengthy and featured column, that he had said absolutely nothing that was print-worthy.  The second phase was the ill-advised Dana Milbank/Chris Cilizza video-fest wherein they looked like smug Beltway dweebs.  The next phase was the discharge of Dan Froomkin (who found a home at The Huffington Post (which is becoming part of AOL)).  This last (from 3/6/11) is a masterpiece of nothingness.

First, who doesn’t know there is an armed conflict in Libya?  Yes, there are armed conflicts everywhere and most agree that Libya’s conflict will have telling consequences throughout the world.  Yes, no one seems to have a clue as to possible options for the West.  It would seem that doing nothing is the consensus opinion.  But is there something in particular (in LIBYA) that merits attention?  Oh, there is a HINT.  This is a ‘firm grasp of the obvious’.  What has been streaming across the wires is not a hint.  Were they pressed for pixels?

Second, let’s examine the civil war meme.  If there is armed conflict intra-nation,  that is the definition of civil war.  Is there a meaningful distinction between armed insurrection, rebellion and civil war, or maybe chaos?  Is it the parties contesting one type of control?  Is it the level of firepower?  Is it the class of opposition (tribal, class, race, religious, or political-ism)? Is it a simple case of numbers?  Is it regions?  The term ‘Civil War’ is meaningless here except as provocation.  I (feeling like a sucker) read the entire article to find out if they ever revisit the term in a way that expands understanding.  The second page of the article expands the horizon by adding the words ‘long’ and ‘protracted’, which is VERY IMPORTANT.  They are synonyms.  That means they meant to say ‘potentially very long’.  And no, they never get around to telling you what defines civil war, or why this may take a long time.

The fighting made clear that government forces were prepared to fiercely contest the eastern front of the conflict, which had been moving steadily toward the capital.

This merited its own paragraph, and I think they meant to distinguish this fighting from the fighting on the western front (Zawiyah), but you knew that.

This article is a bunch of quotes from people all over Libya assembled to look like a meaningful narrative.  A bunch of quotes is not a meaningful narrative.  (Actually, I should clarify: a series of quotes, if managed properly, can be a fabulous narrative.)  The only conclusion I draw from this article is that The Washington Post, along with the rest of the world, has no idea what’s going on in Libya, or at least can’t, or can’t be bothered to explain the situation coherently.  What I felt after reading the article was a faint odeur of  ‘these poor fuckers’ and that the paper should have placed a coda at the very end containing the words:  “Tut, tut”.