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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?

I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.

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"The brain is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson

"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin

"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton

"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan

"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule -- and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt

"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley

"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss

"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire, the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind; and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon

"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon

"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon

"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority. They show disrespect for elders and they love to chatter instead of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize their teachers."
-- Socrates

"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook

"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook

"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization. We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr

"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion

"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson

"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices, intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation; a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition -- to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand

"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri

"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France

"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke

"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology; it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant

"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville

"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis

"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis

"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis

"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon, but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant

"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand

"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.

"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible, and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus

"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814

"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort, are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true, the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated. This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944

"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News

"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas

"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
-- Cicero

"Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue." -- François, duc de La Rochefoucauld

"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it." -- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson

"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example." -- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance." --
H. W. Fowler

"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place." -- Kate Wilhelm

"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein

"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms

"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).

"Nothing would be done at all, if a man waited till he could do it so well, that no one could find fault with it."
-- Lecture IX, John Henry Cardinal Newman

“Nothing is more common than for men to think that because they are familiar with words they understand the ideas they stand for.”
-- John Henry Cardinal Newman

"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
-- James Madison

"Those who are free from common prejudices acquire others."
-- Napolean I of France -- Napoleon I of France

"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.

"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.

"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128

"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)

"American life is a powerful solvent. It seems to neutralize every intellectual element, however tough and alien it may be, and to fuse it in the native good will, complacency, thoughtlessness, and optimism."
-- George Santayana, Character and Opinion in the United States, (1920)

"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days

"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs

"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign

"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden

"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
-- Batman


Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit. He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.

The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cute panda. Don't you love pandas?

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Contents © 2001-2013 All rights reserved. Gary Farber. (The contents of e-mails to this email address of Gary Farber are subject to the possibility of being posted.)

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world

[Blogroll now far below the sea line! Dive, dive, dive!]

You Like Me, You Really Like Me

Gary Farber! Jeez, the guy is practically a blogging legend, and I'm always surprised at the breadth of what he writes about.
-- PZ Meyers, Pharyngula

...Darn: I saw that Gary had commented on this thread, and thought: oh. my. god. Perfect storm. Unstoppable cannonball, immovable object. -- Hilzoy

...I think Gary Farber is a blogging god. -- P.Z. Myers, Pharyngula

...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow

‎"Gary Farber is a gentleman, a scholar and one of the gems of the blogosphere." -- Steve Hynd,

"Well argued, Gary. I hadn't seen anything that went into as much detail as I found in your blog." -- Gareth Porter

Gary Farber is your one-man internet as always, with posts on every article there is.
-- Fafnir

Guessing that Gary is ignorant of anything that has ever been written down is, in my experience, unwise.
Just saying.

-- Hilzoy

Gary Farber gets it right....
-- James Joyner, Outside The Beltway

Once again, an amazing and illuminating post.
-- Michael Bérubé, Crooked Timber

I read Amygdala...with regularity, as do all sensible websurfers.
-- Jim Henley, Unqualified Offerings

Okay, he is annoying, but he still posts a lot of good stuff.
-- Avedon Carol, The Sideshow

Amygdala - So much stuff it reminds Unqualified Offerings that UO sometimes thinks of Gary Farber as "the liberal Instapundit."
-- Jim Henley

...the thoughtful and highly intelligent Gary Farber... My first reaction was that I definitely need to appease Gary Farber of Amygdala, one of the geniuses of our age.
-- Brad deLong

Gary is a perceptive, intelligent, nice guy. Some of the stuff he comes up with is insightful, witty, and stimulating. And sometimes he manages to make me groan.
-- Charlie Stross

Gary Farber is a straight shooter.
-- John Cole, Balloon Juice

I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber

Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
-- Ogged

I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow

One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.

One of my favorites....
-- Matt Welch

-- Virginia Postrel

Amygdala continues to have smart commentary on an incredible diversity of interesting links....
-- Judith Weiss

Amygdala has more interesting obscure links to more fascinating stuff that any other blog I read.
-- Judith Weiss, Kesher Talk

Gary's stuff is always good.
-- Meryl Yourish

...the level-headed Amygdala blog....
-- Geitner Simmons

The only trouble with reading Amygdala is that it makes me feel like such a slacker. That Man Farber's a linking, posting, commenting machine, I tell you!
-- John Robinson, Sore Eyes

...the all-knowing Gary Farber....
-- Edward Winkleman, Obsidian Wings

Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged

We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!

Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!

Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog

Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog


Gary is certainly a non-idiotarian 'liberal'...
-- Perry deHaviland

Recommended for the discerning reader.
-- Tim Blair

Gary Farber's great Amygdala blog.
-- Dr. Frank

Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott

Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit

My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal

If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.

Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks

I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes

Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this?
-- Natalie Solent

You nailed it... nice job."
-- James Lileks

Gary Farber is a principled liberal....
-- Bill Quick, The Daily Pundit

December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 February 2010 March 2010 April 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 December 2011 January 2013

Blogroll is Always In Progress:

Roger Ailes
Alas, A Blog
The American Street
The Aristocrats
Avedon Carol
Between the Hammer and the Anvil
Lindsay Beyerstein
The Big Con
CantBlogTooBusy The Center for American Progress
Chase me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry
Doghouse Riley
Kevin Drum
Fables of the Reconstruction
Gall and Gumption
Gin and Tacos
House of Substance
The Hunting of the Snark
If I Ran The Zoo
Lawyers, Guns & Money
Lotus: Surviving a Dark Time
Matters of Little Significance
Nancy Nall
Charlie Stross bastard.logic
Daniel Larison
American Conservative
American Footprints
Andrew Sullivan
Angry Bear
Balloon Juice
Beautiful Horizons
Bitch Ph.D.
Brad DeLong
Crooked Timber
Cunning Realist
Daily Kos
Debate Link
Democracy Arsenal
Edge of the American West
Ezra Klein
Glenn Greenwald 13th Floor
Hit & Run
Juan Cole
Kevin Drum
Lawyers, Guns and Money
List Project (Helping Iraqis who worked with us get out)
Marc Lynch
Mark Kleiman
Katha Pollit
Market Square
Matthew Yglesias
Megan McArdle
Metro Green
Pam's House Blend
Paul Krugman
Philosophy, et cetera
Radley Balko
Sadly, No!
Southern Appeal
Stephen Walt
Steve Clemons
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Taking It Outside
Talking Points Memo
The Poor Man
The Progressive Realist
The Sideshow
U.S. Intellectual History
Unqualified Offerings
Volokh Conspiracy
Washington Monthly
William Easterly
Newsrack Blog
Ortho Bob
The Poor Man
Prog Gold
Prose Before Hos
Ted Rall
The Raw Story
Elayne Riggs
Sadly, No!
Texas Liberal
Think Progress
3 Weird Sisters
Tristram Shandy
Washington Monthly
Ian Welsh
James Wolcott
World o' Crap
Matthew Yglesias
Buzz Machine
Daniel Larison
Rightwing Film Geek About Last Night
can we all just agree
Comics Curmudgeon
Dum Luk's
Glenn Kenny
Hoarder Museum Juanita Jean
Lance Mannion (Help Lance!
Last Words of the Executed
The Phil Nugent Experience
Postcards from Hell's Kitchen
Vanishing New York
a lovely promise
a web undone
alt hippo
american street
city of brass
danger west
fierce urgency of now
get fisa right
great concavity
happening here
impeach them!
kathryn cramer
notes from the basement
talking dog
uncertain principles
unqualified offerings
what do i know
crooked timber emptywheel
ezra klein
The F-Word
glenn greenwald
schneier on security
ta-nehisi coates
talking points memo
tiny revolution
Roz Kaveney
Dave Ettlin
Henry Jenkins' Confessions of an Aca-Fan
Kathryn Cramer
Monkeys In My Pants
Pagan Prattle
As I Please
Ken MacLeod
Arthur Hlavaty
Kevin Maroney
MK Kare
Jack Heneghan
Dave Langford
Onyx Lynx Atrios
Rittenhouse Review
Public Nuisance
Scoobie Davis
Nathan Newman
Echidne Of The Snakes
First Draft
Rising Hegemon
Cab Drollery (Help Diane!
Southern Beale
The Kenosha Kid
Culture of Truth
Talk Left
Black Ag=Q< Report
Drug WarRant
Nieman Watchdog
Open Left
Meet the Bloggers
Dispatch from the Trenches
Crooks and Liars
Campaign for America's Future
Iraq Today
Daily Kos
Lefty Directory
News Hounds
The Brad Blog
Informed Comment
UN Dispatch
War and Piece
Glenn Greenwald
Schneier on Security
Jim Henley
Arthur Silber
Julian Sanchez
The Agitator
Balloon Juice
Wendy McElroy
Whoviating (LarryE)
Scott Horton
Tennessee Guerilla Women
Looking Glass
Charles Kuffner
Brad DeLong
Busy, Busy, Busy
Oliver Willis
The Carpetbagger Report Shakesville
Down With Tyranny
Professor B
Monkey Media Report
The Grumpy Forester
Ian Welsh
Pacific Views
Booman Tribune
Matthew Yglesias
The American Street
Media Bloodhound
Liz Henry's Composite
The Heretik
Arizona Eclectic
Sisyphus Shrugged
Interesting Times
Talking Dog
Liberal Desert
Under the Lobsterscope
Seeing The Forest
Sean Paul Kelley's The Agonist
King of Zembla
Mark Kleiman
Liquid List
Elayne Riggs
No More Mr. Nice Blog
Fanatical Apathy
Blue Gal
Mark Evanier
Roger Ailes
Suburban Guerrilla (Help Susie with money!)
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People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost, Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry, Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny. It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out. And She of whom I must write someday.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006
SHAME. Fans of pigment, Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea, and far more, in a terrific piece by Pam Noles, on the tragically soon-to-be-defunct Infinite Matrix that my old friend Eileen Gunn has poured so much of herself into in recent years, and which has been on my blogroll since it began.

This is one of those long pieces that I nonetheless desire to quote every word of, but I'll somehow be strong, and just do some bits, and then tell you that if you read or even just watch, science fiction, you must read.
Dad had his own names for the movies.

What's this? 'Escape to a White Planet?

It's called 'When Worlds Collide.'
I'm sure I sounded indignant.

'Mars Kills the White People.' I love this one.

Daaaaad. It says it right there. 'War of the Worlds'.
I know I sighed heavily, but was careful to turn back to the tv before rolling my eyes.

Once he asked me which was more real, the movie or the skits between. I didn't get it, and told him that they were both stories, so they were both fake. He didn't bring it up again until a skit came on. I can't remember if it was a 'Soulman' skit or one of the caveman gags (the cavemen were multicultural — basic white, Polish, Italian, and black). But I remember Dad saying, how come you never see anybody like that in the stories you like? And I remember answering, maybe they didn't have black people back then. He said there's always been black people. I said but black people can't be wizards and space people and they can't fight evil, so they can't be in the story. When he didn't say anything back I turned around. He was in full recline mode in his chair and he was very still, looking at me. He didn't say anything else.


By the time he was a teen, Dad was the mascot for his neighborhood fire station. In the days before liability concerns, they used to bring the truck over to his house and pick him up. He'd ride with them back from calls, eat with them in the station. In 1965, just before he was to be discharged from the Air Force, Dad flew home to take the fire department's qualifying exam. He aced it, but was told his background check didn't pass muster. As an Air Force veteran, former Boy Scout and yes, an actual altar boy, this didn't make sense. He retook the test in 1966 and twice again in 1967, holding down other jobs while he pursued his dream of being a firefighter. Each time they came up with something new — his nose was too flared, putting him at risk for excess smoke inhalation. He had a bad heart. His feet were too flat and broad, bringing into question whether or not he could physically do the job. He had to go get medical clearances for each of these allegations. A couple of times they just said you did great on the test, but we're not hiring you. In all, they turned him down eight times. By 1972 he'd had enough and went to the courts. The city settled. He joined the department the next year, where he played a role in what eventually became the landmark Headen lawsuit, a discrimination case that made it all the way up to the Supreme Court. Dad served 21 years with the fire department.


I've never told my parents that, in a way, they ruined these books and movies for me. Nor did I ever tell them that gradually, during near-weekly pilgrimages to the neighborhood branch library, I'd started asking the librarian if she had books with magic and spaceships and dragons and stuff in them, but with some black people, too. Black would be the first choice, but anybody kind of brown would do. It seemed the answer, for my age group anyway, was no. When I got older, there would be a few.

A kid can feel the loss from something taken away, even if they don't have the words to say exactly what it is or define the nature of this new pain. All a kid can do is try to find what caused it all, and blame.

Then "Star Wars" came out. I was 11, and in the car with the seat belt fastened on that Saturday of its opening week before Dad even managed to find his keys. I spazzed all the way through the screening, my first science fiction movie on the big screen and with everything so huge, it made a big difference. When Dad returned after the movie and managed to cull me from herd of Jedis-in-training blitzing around the courtyard, I launched into it. Han Solo had this ship that he flew upside down! Darth Vader even breathed scary!! And there were robots!!! And Luke had to fly into the canyon on the Death Star with the other ships shooting at him and he had to get the bomb into a tiny hole and then he turned off the machine thing and he prayed to Obi Wan and bomb went in. And then they got medals. Also there was a giant teddy bear with stringy hair and a gun.

He said it sounded as if I liked it. I said I mostly thought it was absolutely great. And it was, really. Don't get me wrong. But it was like most of the other stuff I had seen. I explained to him about the planet where Luke came from, a desert with two suns? And how here, where we only one sun, in the desert the people are black. I told him how there wasn't even one black person in the whole movie, even in the background, and I had looked.

Back then I didn't understand enough why part of me felt an empty echo even as the rest was hyper-jazzed.


Later that summer, during the weekly hajj to the library, the librarian gave me a copy of A Wizard of Earthsea. She told me it had just come in, that she held it special for me, and that she knew I would like it a lot.

I know I didn't start reading it that day. But I was deep into it before the week was out. And because Le Guin snuck up on it, let us thrill with Sparrowhawk as he made his way, the Revelation came as a shock. I do remember bursting out into tears on the living room couch when I understood what was going on. And the tears flowed again when Mom came home from work and I showed her the book while trying to explain. Sparrowhawk is brown. I think he's like an Indian from India. And Vetch is black like from Africa. There's a bunch more and they have real power. Not the girls, though. But still they are also the good guys. It's the white people who are evil. And Sparrowhawk is also Ged, and he's going to be the most powerful one of them all, ever.

Mom had no idea what I was talking about.


What matters most to me is that same summer I decided I was going to be a Jedi, no matter what they said on that screen, was the same summer a genre work showed me for the first time that my people can have the magic and be the heroes, too.


Sometime in spring 2004 I saw the first casting notices about the SciFi Channel's "A Legend of Earthsea" miniseries blurbed in a film industry trade. What I read was hurtful to my heart. I wonder how many other FoPs (Fans of Pigment) lunged to their bookshelves and snatched down their copies to make sure they didn't imagine what they had read all those years ago.


Those Hollywood People took all of the key heroic players and shifted them down into the paler end of the spectrum. And they were obvious about it. Yes, they knew enough about the rules to keep at least one Magical Negro around to help the newly blond haired, blue eyed surfer Ged through his Journey Of Transformation To Save The World, because lord knows white boys can't do something like that on their own.


I don't have the luxury of not noticing this type of thing. Given all that reality, I cannot understand why The Hollywood People remain such cowards. Why does that industry still feel it is still too dangerous to allow a genre hero with a brown face?

The pass I granted to the movie makers and writers who lived and created in the time devoid of brown people has long expired.

You think we're being racist, my Mom said so many times as I was growing up, when we went round and round about these weird books and movies. I heard an accusation. But what she and my Dad were trying to make me hear was their question: Why do you love a thing that won't even let you exist within their made up worlds?

How many other FoPs were driven to tears by this question they could not answer, despite painful struggles to do so? Am I the only FoP forced to develop a veneer of denial in order to function at the gaming tournaments, at the conventions other than the comic book fest in San Diego, or while watching "Buffy" and wondering if The Hollywood People who had ever actually been to Sunnyvale? Because, you know, if they had, there'd be five Asian/Pacific Islanders and at least three Latinos in the background. Am I the only FoP who was reduced to searching the people in the background because the people in the foreground were always a given? Am I the only one to wonder why the Los Angeles of "Angel" looked a lot like the New York City of Woody Allen's films?


Le Guin's racial choices in "A Wizard of Earthsea" mattered because her decision said to the wide white world: You Are Not The Whole Of The Universe. For many fans of genre, no matter where they fell on the spectrum of pale, this was the first time such a truth was made alive for them within the pages of the magical worlds they loved.


Le Guin isn't the one who should have raised the stink about what The Hollywood People did to the racial stance she deliberately made in her books. In her Dec. 16, 2004 commentary on Slate Magazine, she termed this "The Whitewashing of Earthsea."


Not a single one of our primary news outlets in genre used their space to ask 'what's up with this' in the many months leading up to the broadcast of the SciFi Channel's Earthsea adaptation.


Le Guin's commentary appeared on Slate because a fan asked her what she thought about what was done to the racial message in her books. And the mainstream media, once made aware of the issue, recognized the value of the larger story and ran with it. The mainstream media broke this story, while our media played catch up by linking to Slate.

What this says to me is My People Still Don't Get It.


Dad's advice was cryptic only if you fail to understand that he knows precisely what it means to look directly into the face of what you love while saying you are wrong.

"I think you should try," my Dad said to me. Then he added a caution. "Be ready."

I am.
Now go read the whole damn thing, willya?

Le Guin Slate Earthsea piece here. Ursula Le Guin statement here. Follow-up piece by Pam Noles here on her blog, with tons more links to others commenting. Last entry on this site with Le Guin talking about the pigment/Earthsea issue here. Other fine pieces of nonfiction and fiction at Infinite Matrix here, but it's too late to support it, you bastards.

You know, the hell with "you should read this if you read or watch science fiction." You should read it if you're a goddamn human being. It's a superb piece of writing. Period.

Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5. Pam Noles' blog entry: 5 out of 5.

ADDENDUM, 11:17 p.m.: Friend-I've-not-connected-with in years, due to my gafia, Emma Bull, has a nice followup on how she had a similar experience with Chip Delany and reading a female hero for the first time. Warning: negative appraisal of neo-Battlestar Galactica included. You can survive hearing her POV, although it's based solely on viewing the mini-series.

1/31/2006 04:07:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 3 comments

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EFF IS SUING ATT OVER CUSTOMER PRIVACY violations for colloboration with the NSA.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T on January 31, 2006, accusing the telecom giant of violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its massive and illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans' communications.


The lawsuits alleges that AT&T Corp. has opened its key telecommunications facilities and databases to direct access by the NSA and/or other government agencies, thereby disclosing to the government the contents of its customers' communications as well as detailed communications records about millions of its customers, including the lawsuit's class members.

The lawsuit also alleges that AT&T has given the government unfettered access to its over 300 terabyte "Daytona" database of caller information -- one of the largest databases in the world. Moreover, by opening its network and databases to wholesale surveillance by the NSA, EFF alleges that AT&T has violated the privacy of its customers and the people they call and email, as well as broken longstanding communications privacy laws.

The lawsuit also alleges that AT&T continues to assist the government in its secret surveillance of millions of Americans. EFF, on behalf of a nationwide class of AT&T customers, is suing to stop this illegal conduct and hold AT&T responsible for its illegal collaboration in the government's domestic spying program, which has violated the law and damaged the fundamental freedoms of the American public.
If you gotta problem with this, please write them, not me. I'm reporting. EFF also has an NSA page here, with their stands, and a variety of links, as well as some about FISA, and related topics.

Read The Rest Scale: 2.5 out of 5 as interested.

1/31/2006 03:02:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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FRYING PANS, FIRES, SUDAN, AND CONGO. Out of one, into the other. Last week, on the 24th of January, there was what might, if one is half-blind and squinting, seem like good news, in a small way, about the world's, and Africa's, treatment of Sudan, over Darfur. Well, it's good news, sort of. In a rather microscopic way.
The African Union made a noteworthy decision yesterday: For the first time in its brief history, the organization denied the AU chairmanship to the government hosting its annual summit--in this case, the genocidal Sudanese regime. The National Islamic Front, which dominates Sudan's nominal "government of national unity," was initially the only announced candidate for the position; but in the end Congo Republic President Denis Sassou Nguesso received the nod.
Well, that sounds like good news, doesn't it?

If you know squat about Congo. But first more on the AU's action.
The United States and Nguesso both praised this development effusively. "I think it is really great because it affirms that the AU has standards and principles," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer. For his part, Nguesso immodestly declared that his selection represented an "important and relevant decision, and our proceedings bear witness to this. Our summit has been a tremendous success." But such unstinting praise was hard to find elsewhere, and for good reason.

For one thing, the move hardly signals a new commitment to human rights by African leaders. Nguesso isn't exactly a model democrat (like the National Islamic Front, he came to power via a coup). And the fact remains that Sudan should never have been the site of an AU summit: This in itself did far too much to legitimize the Khartoum regime.

Moreover, the news from the AU summit could prove ominous for the long-suffering people of Darfur. There may now be a temptation towards complacency on the part of the African Union and the West: Having momentarily highlighted Khartoum's destructive conduct in Darfur, African leaders may conclude that a chastened National Islamic Front will settle down and stop the genocide. This interpretation will be convenient for European and American politicians, who desperately want to believe the Darfur crisis can be solved without the involvement of Western troops.

Unfortunately, it will take a lot more than modest diplomatic reprimands to stop the NIF--and this would be a dangerous time to conclude otherwise, as the regime appears increasingly determined to flex its muscle throughout the country. The United Nations has just reported that Khartoum's recent military offensive in the Hamesh Koreb area in eastern Sudan constitutes the first major violation of the ceasefire that came into force as part of last year's peace agreement with southern rebels. Meanwhile, Khartoum has been militarily active in West Darfur and may be on the verge of a war with neighboring Chad. The potential for such a conflict has gone largely unnoticed by the international community, but its implications would be serious. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons, on both sides of the border, are acutely vulnerable; these civilians would almost certainly lose access to humanitarian assistance in the event of open hostilities. None of these on-the-ground developments are likely to be ameliorated by the AU's symbolic decision. If the AU and the West conclude otherwise, they will have done Darfur a disservice.

Worst of all, the deal that gave Nguesso the chairmanship also promised the position to Khartoum in 2007; and this promise could have disastrous consequences. Perversely, the NIF may view the gap year before its coming chairmanship as an opportunity to finish the active phase of its destruction in Darfur. After all, if the genocide is complete by late 2006, the NIF will be able to wipe its hands clean by the start of the next AU summit and say--in some sense, truthfully--that the "war" in Darfur is over. If the NIF does opt for this strategy, then it will probably try to stall negotiations currently taking place in Nigeria aimed at ending the crisis. This shouldn't be too hard to pull off: The rebel leadership that is negotiating with the NIF is both weak and lacking in diplomatic skill; and the talks have produced only scant progress so far. If the NIF can obstruct progress at those talks, while accelerating its nasty work in Darfur, it could be well positioned to assume the AU chairmanship next January. Yesterday's compromise offers Khartoum a disturbing incentive to proceed along this track.

Of course, this analysis involves guesswork about how the NIF will interpret the result of the AU summit. But the regime is vicious in its practice of realpolitik, and its leaders have shown a penchant for similarly shrewd strategies in the past. If Khartoum's genocidaires are thinking along these lines, then yesterday's AU achievement will prove a very modest one indeed. But even if they are not, the AU compromise can hardly be described as an "outstanding outcome," as America's assistant secretary of state has called it. After all, the only "outstanding outcome" for the people of Darfur would be an end to genocide. And yesterday's deal isn't going to make that happen.
That by Eric Reeves, and it strikes me as spot-on.

What's going on Congo, meanwhile?
KINSHASA, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Eight Guatemalan U.N. troops killed in Congo last week were casualties of a botched hunt for a top Ugandan rebel which has sparked a debate about the U.N.'s peacekeeping tactics, diplomats and U.N. sources said on Tuesday.

The Guatemalan "Kaibil" Special Forces soldiers were killed on Jan. 23 during what the U.N. mission in Democratic Republic of Congo officially says was a "reconnaissance patrol" in the eastern Garamba National Park near the border with Sudan.

It was the second deadliest loss in the history of the U.N. mission in Congo, the world's biggest peacekeeping force.

Guatemala has demanded an inquiry into the deaths, which occurred in a four-hour gunbattle with fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), one of a number of Ugandan rebel groups still operating in northeastern Congo after the end of a five-year war. At least 15 rebels were also killed in the clash.

While the U.N. declines to give further details about the Guatemalans' mission, U.N. sources and diplomats in Kinshasa said their operation raised questions about how far the world body should go in enforcing peace in Congo.

One senior U.N. official, who asked not to be named, said the contingent of 80 Guatemalan special forces troops were trying to capture or kill the LRA's deputy commander, Vincent Otti, after locating his suspected camp.

"It was an operation that went wrong," he told Reuters.

"This was clearly an attack -- special forces do not carry out recces (reconnaissance) in groups that large," said a Kinshasa-based diplomat. "They attacked but the LRA were dug in and more organised than people thought.

Led by self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Kony, the LRA has terrorised communities in Uganda's remote north, killing villagers, slicing off survivors' lips or ears and abducting more than 20,000 children as fighters, porters and sex slaves.

U.N. and Congolese troops were also deployed against LRA rebels late last year after they crossed over the border.

Diplomats say the Guatemalan deaths could make countries contributing troops to the U.N. more reluctant to allow their soldiers to take part in high-risk operations in Congo, where the peacekeepers have been regularly battling Congolese and foreign rebels ahead of elections due this year.

"Capitals may tell their commanders in the mission that they don't want to see body bags coming home so they shouldn't take part in similar operations," the diplomat said.


With some 17,000 soldiers and policemen, the U.N. mission in Congo is the world body's largest. But the blue helmets are spread across a vast country the size of Western Europe where fighting continues three years after the war officially ended.


Twenty U.N. peacekeepers have been killed in Congo over the last year in which U.N. forces operating with Congolese government troops have raided rebel camps and brought in attack helicopters to support ground operations.


The LRA leadership is wanted by the International Criminal Court to face atrocities charges.
Of course, many on the right constantly inform us that the ICC is an evil worse than its cure, and the UN is worse than pointless, but is greatly harmful, and saves no lives. They don't live in a country where UN peacekeepers, however inadequately deployed and supported -- which they usually are, are fighting and dying to save them (and doing an inadequate job, but whose fault is that for not giving them adequate numbers and tools to do the job?).

How much better off is Congo than Sudan? Let's see:
A year after the end of a half-decade war that killed a jaw-dropping 3.8 million Congolese, mostly through starvation and disease, fierce fighting continues in the remote, eastern part of the country.

With the situation showing no sign of improving, AlertNet takes a detailed look at the dynamics behind a crisis described by the United Nations as one of the world's biggest humanitarian disasters.

What's the crisis?

In hostile terrain hundreds of kilometres from the capital Kinshasa, militias clash with government forces and U.N. peacekeepers, and plunder natural resources such as gold, diamonds, cassiterite and coltan. They terrorise local populations through campaigns of killing, rape and abduction.

The eastern part of Congo remains a dangerous place for aid workers, even as the humanitarian crisis deepens. Relief workers are often targeted and supplies looted, while fighting has forced the suspension of humanitarian programmes in food security, health care, water and education.

According to the United Nations, access is so bad that 3.3 million people are out of reach of aid groups.

According to the latest mortality study by the International Rescue Committee, some 3.8 million people have been killed since 1998, mostly due to disease and malnutrition.

Some experts fear the whole peace process could be derailed. Congo’s President Jospeh Kabila has been unable to maintain control over the huge country, and various rebels have refused to join the new national army.

One such leader, General Laurent Nkunda, a former commander of a Rwandan-backed rebel group, attacked Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, on the border with Rwanda, in June 2004. The attacks sparked riots throughout the country and brought food aid grinding to a temporary halt.

But what about ‘the peace’?

The five-year regional war, which at different times involved seven countries and at least as many rebel groups, officially ended in 2003 when delegates of Kabila’s government in Kinshasa signed a peace agreement – dubbed the Final Act -- with representatives of the main rebel groups.

One of the biggest of those groups was Nkunda’s Congolese Rally for Democracy (RDC). The others were the Liberation of Congo, the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement and the Congolese Rally for Democracy-National.

The Final Act follows four years of failed peace, dating back to a 1999 ceasefire signed in Lusaka, which allowed the United Nations to establish a peacekeeping mission called MONUC in Congo.

But the ceasefire was repeatedly violated by all signatories, and violence continued, particularly in the north and east, where various groups jockeyed for power and exploited the country’s natural resources.

After the signing of the Final Act in 2003, power vacuums created by the withdrawal of troops in North and South Kivu and in the Ituri district led to renewed violence.

Why hasn’t the U.N. done more to stop the killing?

With fewer than 5,000 troops when it was first deployed, MONUC probably couldn’t have intervened successfully if it had tried. Furthermore, the peacekeepers were not authorized to use force.

MONUC was permitted, however, to protect its own personnel and civilians, but that didn’t save thousands in Bunia, the capital of the Ituri district, in May 2003, when rival militias clashed over control of the town. The U.N. subsequently strengthened MONUC’s mandate and increased the mission’s troop count to a maximum of 10,800.

The mission has suffered more than 40 fatalities since 1999 -- 33 military personnel, eight military observers and three civilians. Its mandate is currently under review.

So what happened in Bukavu?

In early June 2004, rebels loyal to General Laurent Nkunda seized Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu, claiming they were protecting the Banyamulenge, ethnic Tutsis, from persecution. Forces loyal to President Kabila quickly ousted the rebels for control of the town.

General Nkunda, a Tutsi born in North Kivu, is a former commander of the main rebel group that controlled the eastern part of the country, the Rwandan-backed RCD. He has refused to lay down his arms and join Kinshasa’s new national army.

How is Bukavu related to the war?

Instability in Bukavu is exacerbated by unresolved tension between Kinshasa and Rwanda.

Throughout the war, which was triggered in part by ethnic tensions between Tutsis and Hutus spilling over from neighboring Rwanda, Rwandan President Paul Kagame accused Kinshasa of supporting Hutu rebels in eastern Congo who were linked to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Recently, Kinshasa has accused Rwanda of supporting General Nkunda, a charge Rwanda denies.

What’s going on in Ituri?

Despite the official end of hostilities, various armed groups continued to vie for control of the mineral-rich district.

An estimated 50,000 people have died and more than 500,000 have been displaced since 1999 as a result of fighting in Ituri, which has been under the direct or proxy control of neighboring Uganda since the beginning of the war. Fresh fighting in 2003 ended only when French troops intervened.

Much of the fighting can be broken down into two sides: the Union of Congolese Patriots is mainly composed of members of the Hema ethnic group, and the Nationalist Integrationist Front is made up mostly of the Lendu people. The Hema are pastoralists and the Lendu are agriculturalists. Both have, at different times, been backed by Uganda.

The running conflict between the Hema and Lendu has been exploited by leaders of armed political groups vying for influence in the region, and, according to Amnesty International, Ugandan support to various groups has prolonged the crisis.

See Human Rights Watch’s Who is Who – Armed Political Groups in Ituri.
And the beat goes on.

Read The Rest Scale: 0 out of 5. Past substantive posts on Congo: Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Mentioned in passing in many other posts, of course.

Previous substantive posts on Darfur here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and so on and so forth and so on and on and on and on.

Few give a fuck, of course, about a few million dead Africans. Pointless filibusters doomed to failure occupy the left, and pointing out that liberals and leftists are all traitors and fools occupy the right. Gotta have a good sense of priorities, after all.

ADDENDUM, 2:07 p.m., as pointed out to me in e-mail by d'Herblay, for which I am grateful, I am an idiot, since, well, as he said:
You've conflated the Republic of the Congo, of which Denis Sassou Nguesso is President, with the civil-war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, the former Zaire.
He was politely apologetic, and while the politeness is definitely appreciated by me, no apology was necessary (though it shows he's a nice person) -- this was not an error that goes under "pedantic nitpicking," as he called it; as I wrote him back, and this goes for anyone who reads me:
I'm one of those strange people who likes and prefers and desires and requests his factual errors pointed out. I don't have much ego invested in such things, and I'm not ashamed of the fact that I -- from rare time to time -- make errors. But when I do, I'm far better off knowing about them, as it tends to minutely lessen the likelihood of repeating them, which would compound the error.

I also prefer intelligent disagreement to mindless agreement. And so on.

Please do let me know in future when you catch me.
Thanks again to d'Herblay.

MORE, 2:15 p.m. I do know the difference between the two countries, but was being unaccountably sloppy and careless. Democratic Republic of the Congo info here. Republic of The Congo info here. Freedom House doesn't seem to have a country report on the RotC. A 2003 Amnesty International report here. A short summary here. Their older documents here. None of it is comforting or pretty reading. More info here, and a timeline here. Another story about the AU vote here. A self-congratulatory press release from the EU congratulating the AU and President Denis Sassou-Nguesso here. Another account here, and another here. Brief AP story from the 29th here. A beif South African Mail & Guardian Online update from the 27th here. Voice of America version here. The Boston Globe has an Op-Ed piece that disapproves. Britain's Telegraph has African summit rejects one tyrant but elects another.

Latest Human Rights Watch letter on Darfur from today, by the way. Also this on the Democratic Republic of Congo and this suggesting U.S. policy for Darfur today.

1/31/2006 10:09:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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GONZALEZ'S VERSION OF THE TRUTH, as shown here is interesting, and the transcript of his testimony to Congress has been dug up by the invaluable Jeralyn Merrit via Lexis. (Washington Post story here.)
Sen. Feingold: And I also would like you to answer this: does the president, in your opinion, have the authority acting as commander in chief to authorize warrantless searches of Americans' homes and wiretaps of their conversations in violation of the criminal and foreign intelligence surveillance statutes of this country?

MR. GONZALES: Senator, the August 30th memo has been withdrawn. It has been rejected, including that section regarding the commander in chief authority to ignore the criminal statutes. So it's been rejected by the executive branch. I categorically reject it. And in addition to that, as I've said repeatedly today, this administration does not engage in torture and will not condone torture. And so, what you really are -- what we're really discussing is a hypothetical situation that --

SEN. FEINGOLD: I -- Judge Gonzales, let me ask a broader question. I'm asking you whether in general the president has the constitutional authority, does he at least in theory have the authority to authorize violations of the criminal law under duly enacted statutes simply because he's commander in chief? Does he -- does he have that power?

MR. GONZALES: Senator, I -- you -- in my judgment, you phrase it sort of a hypothetical situation. I would have to know what -- what is the -- what is the national interest that the president may have to consider. What I'm saying is, it is impossible to me, based upon the question as you've presented it to me, to answer that question. I can say, is that there is a presumption of constitutionality with respect to any statute passed by Congress. I will take an oath to defend the statutes. And to the extent that there is a decision made to ignore a statute, I consider that a very significant decision, and one that I would personally be involved with, I commit to you on that, and one we will take with a great deal of care and seriousness.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, that sounds to me like the president still remains above the law.

MR. GONZALES: No, sir.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Again, you know, if this is something where -- where it -- you take a good look at it, you give a presumption that the president ought to follow the law, that -- you know, that's -- to me, that's not good enough under our system of government.

MR. GONZALES: Senator, if I might respond to that, the president is not above the law. Of course he's not above the law. But he has an obligation, too. He takes an oath as well. And if Congress passes a law that is unconstitutional, there is a practice and a tradition recognized by presidents of both parties that he may elect to decide not to enforce that law. Now, I think that that would be --

SEN. FEINGOLD: I recognize that, and I tried to make that distinction, Judge, between electing not to enforce as opposed to affirmatively telling people they can do certain things in contravention of the law.

MR. GONZALES: Senator, this president is not -- I -- it is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Finally, will you commit to notify Congress if the president makes this type of decision and not wait two years until a memo is leaked about it?

MR. GONZALES: I will to advise the Congress as soon as I reasonably can, yes, sir.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, I hope that would be a very brief period of time. And I thank you, again, Judge Gonzales.

MR. GONZALES: Thank you, Senator.
It doesn't seem to have worked out that way, has it?

From the WaPo version:
"It now appears that the Attorney General was not being straight with the Judiciary Committee and he has some explaining to do," Feingold said in a statement yesterday.

Read The Rest Scale: 0 out of 5.

1/31/2006 09:04:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 2 comments

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CRIMINALIZING SEX UNDER 16. There's an interesting trial going on in Kansas.
WICHITA, Kan., Jan. 30 — A federal trial opened here Monday over whether a Kansas law prohibiting virtually all sexual activity by people under age 16 means health care professionals and educators must report such behavior to state authorities, which some say would stop many teenagers from seeking contraception or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

The class-action lawsuit stems from a 2003 opinion by the Kansas attorney general, Phill Kline, a conservative Republican who has developed a national reputation for fighting abortion and whose pursuit of abortion clinic records is also being challenged in court.

Mr. Kline's interpretation of the law focused mainly on the reporting duty of abortion providers, arguing that any pregnant, unmarried minor had by definition been the victim of rape or abuse. But it included a broad mandate for reporting whenever "compelling evidence of sexual interaction is present."

Bonnie Scott Jones, a lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York, which is representing the plaintiffs, said in her opening statement that Mr. Kline's "dragnet approach" to amassing information on under-age sex violated minors' privacy rights and the Constitution's equal protection clause, and that it "seriously endangers the health and well-being of adolescents."

"Sexual abuse is not synonymous with consensual sexual activity," Ms. Jones said to the judge deciding the case, J. Thomas Marten of Federal District Court. "Consensual sexual activity is not inherently injurious. It is a normal part of adolescent development."

Steve Alexander, an assistant attorney general defending the suit, said the Kansas statute meant that those younger than 16 could not consent to sex, and that those violating the law forfeited any privacy rights.

"Illegal sexual activity by minors can lead to S.T.D.'s, unwanted pregnancies, abortion, depression, mental illness," Mr. Alexander said. "To pretend otherwise is foolish." He said the case was in essence a challenge to the law barring consensual sex between young people of a similar age, which he called "a policy argument that plaintiffs would be better served making in the Legislature."

Kansas is one of 12 states where sex under a certain age — 16, 17 or 18 — is illegal regardless of the age difference between partners, according to a 2004 report prepared by the Lewin Group, a consulting firm, for the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Laws on reporting child sexual abuse also vary, but a third of states require reporting only when statutory rape involves a parent or guardian, the report found.

Dr. Robert W. Blum, a Johns Hopkins University professor and an expert in pediatrics and adolescent medicine, who was the plaintiffs' lead witness, testified Monday that only one state, California, had previously tried to require reporting of all under-age sex, and that it reversed course after a year in the early 1990's because the authorities were flooded with "irrelevant and obstructive" reports.

Among the plaintiffs' arguments is that blanket reporting of sexual activity would be futile because the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services has a policy against investigating cases of consensual teenage sex.

Pressed on cross-examination, Dr. Blum said he did consider all sex by children 12 or younger to be "problematic" and worthy of reporting, but he said, "That's distinctly different than a 14-, 15- or 16-year-old in a romantic relationship."

Nationally, studies suggest that about 30 percent of teenagers under 16 have had intercourse, and an additional 20 percent have experimented with oral sex or genital fondling.

A federal appeals court on Friday overturned a temporary injunction blocking enactment of Mr. Kline's ruling but provided a two-week window, approximately the expected length of the trial, before the reporting would be required.

Among the issues debated Monday was the very definition of sexual activity. Anal and vaginal intercourse and oral sex are mentioned in the law, as is "lewd fondling or touching" done with "the intent to arouse," which Ms. Jones said could cover even intense French kissing.
Yes, well, clearly if 15-year-olds engage in "intense French kissing" (shouldn't that be "freedom kissing," after all?), their minds would be warped for life, and they'd suffer grave mental illness, inability to have healthy future relationships, and doubtless turn into lifelong perverts and sex abusers. And if genitals were actually involved, let alone actual oral sex or intercourse-with-condoms, why, heavens, words simply fail to encompass the horror, the horror.

I have to say that I first did all the major sexual acts, and did them dozens and dozens of times, at the age of 15, and yet I'm one of the most un-hung-up-about-sex people I've ever known. Never had a sexual neurosis of any kind, never had a sexually-related problem, never had a complaint. Naturally, you'll just have to take my word for this, unless you are an interesting, intelligent, and at least faintly attractive female volunteer (over 18) with at least some interest in heterosex, in which case we could discuss a test drive. For science.

But more to the point, I think, as might be obvious, that this is a bunch of destructive crap. I'm certainly not advocating that all 15-year-olds, or 16-year-old, or for that matter, 22-year-olds, should run out and have sex. When you're ready for it is a matter of individuality, and, to be sure, people are often not their own best judge of when, and most first times, for a variety of reasons I don't purport to go into at the moment (though the starter reason tends to be ignorance), wind up being not-so-great, one way or another. (Now, if they were taught a class in real sex education, which would include many things not presently in the curriculum, such as how to please a partner, and how to learn to be pleased, and what to relax over, and what to take care about in being sensitive to your partner's feelings and needs, things would be better, but, yes, I do have an active fantasy life.)

With this bill, there's grand potential, nay, inevitability, of driving "under-age" sex further underground, putting endless fear in the minds of teens, albeit adding a new topic to Standard Teen Cynical Mockery, and once more giving teens grounds for believing that most adults are morons. And yet worse results, as suggested above and below.

I could rant far more about this, but I'm just too disgusted. The people who passed this, and Phil Kline, needed a lot more teen sex in their lives. Failing that, the alternative left today is that they should go fuck themselves.
[...] Similarly, Mr. Kline said last year that prosecuting rapists was his goal in seeking access to the medical files of women and girls who had had late-term abortions, which led to a separate lawsuit awaiting a decision by the State Supreme Court.

Mr. Kline, elected in 2002, also serves as chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association and has fought against abortion throughout his career. He filed a lawsuit, recently dismissed, to challenge the state's use of Medicaid funds for abortions, and he submitted a brief in a federal case arguing that Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

Last year, Mr. Kline successfully lobbied the Legislature to require that abortion providers collect fetal tissue from patients younger than 14 and turn it over to law enforcement.

"He's certainly on a crusade to limit or eliminate abortion in Kansas," said Peter Brownlie, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. "That's been a clear agenda for a long time." Mr. Brownlie said Mr. Kline had helped make Kansas a national battlefront in the abortion debate.

But the doctors, nurses, counselors and educators suing over Mr. Kline's interpretation of the reporting law say it goes far beyond abortion to include every teenager who requests birth control pills or H.I.V. testing, or who in a group therapy session even discusses "heavy petting" with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

"If they know what they tell me is reported, they simply won't talk," said Beth McGilley, a Wichita therapist who is among the plaintiffs, referring to both teenage clients and adults who often consult her about their children's sexual exploration.

"To me, it's violating what, quite essentially, therapy is couched in: confidentiality," Ms. McGilley said. "You have two 15-year-olds mashing in the back seat of the car — who's the criminal here? Do we really need Big Brother to decide whether or not that needs to be judiciously pursued?"
That's what the Republican Christian Right thinks, apparently.

Read The Rest Scale: 1 out of 5.

ADDENDUM, 11:51 a.m.: Jane Brody has a piece that makes an interestingly idiotic companion as she Views With Grave Alarm the notion that adolescents are reading about and seeing sexual content with no supervision. Why, precisely, this is any more inherently dangerous than seeing people engaged in any other bodily function, be it sneezing, shitting, or scratching an itch, is unclear, except that, of course, it has something to do with drugs, and the fact that if we don't keep secret from people old enough to have children what's physically involved, and don't try to tell them, up until they're married, that it's done via stork, they'll be spreadin' the sexual diseases, and havin' the babies like wildfire. Secrecy through obscurity: that's the answer. Knowledge is bad. Dangerous. Censorship is the answer. We'll reduce unwanted pregnancy through not exposing kids to sexual images, because their own biological urges will therefore disappear.

Something like that. Don't ask me; I don't get it. Clearly. I'm just "permissive." It's all part of my liberal plot to destroy America in collusion with the terrorists.

1/31/2006 07:51:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Monday, January 30, 2006
SHERWOOD BOEHLERT STANDS UP. Via Tim F. at Balloon Juice, this letter House Science Committee chairman Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) wrote today (and promptly issued a press release announcing; that's what politicians do, of course).

I tried to do short excerpts (too many long posts today; I've slowly learned, after four years, that if one does too many of those, or the 60+ posts/day I used to do, most wind up unread by anyone) but I failed. I am weak. Weak!
Dr. Michael Griffin
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Washington DC 20546

Dear Dr. Griffin:

I am writing in response to several recent news articles indicating that officials at NASA may be trying to "silence" Dr. James Hansen, the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

It ought to go without saying that government scientists must be free to describe their scientific conclusions and the implications of those conclusions to their fellow scientists, policymakers and the general public. Any effort to censor federal scientists biases public discussions of scientific issues, increases distrust of the government and makes it difficult for the government to attract the best scientists. And when it comes to an issue like climate change, a subject of ongoing public debate with immense ramifications, the government ought to be bending over backward to make sure that its scientists are able to discuss their work and what it means.

Good science cannot long persist in an atmosphere of intimidation. Political figures ought to be reviewing their public statements to make sure they are consistent with the best available science; scientists should not be reviewing their statements to make sure they are consistent with the current political orthodoxy.

NASA is clearly doing something wrong, given the sense of intimidation felt by Dr. Hansen and others who work with him. Even if this sense is a result of a misinterpretation of NASA policies - and more seems to be at play here - the problem still must be corrected. I will be following this matter closely to ensure that the right staff and policies are in place at NASA to encourage open discussion of critical scientific issues. I assume you share that goal.

Our staff is already setting up meetings to pursue this issue and I appreciate NASA's responsiveness to our inquiries thus far. I would ask that you swiftly provide to the Committee, in writing, a clear statement of NASA's policies governing the activities of its scientists.

NASA is one of the nation's leading scientific institutions. I look forward to working with you to keep it that way, and to ensure that the entire nation gets the full benefit of NASA sciences.



Sherwood Boehlert
I'm willing to bet a quarter that "George Deutsch, a recently appointed public affairs officer at NASA headquarters" (see previous story linked just below) was not Dr. Griffin's personal first choice, and rather have a strong suspicion that Deutch came off a list sent over from the White House. Call me crazy.

Read The Rest Scale: 0 out of 5. Tim's post: 3 out of 5; he has a couple of other links and some comments, as well.

Previous Hansen post here.

Chris Mooney, whose blog I've unaccountably neglected to seek out and visit up to now (I have no excuse) comments on the original Hansen story and more here. Unsurprisingly.

1/30/2006 07:34:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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Last year, the Army promoted 97% of all eligible captains to the rank of major, Pentagon data show. That was up from a historical average of 70% to 80%.

Traditionally, the Army has used the step to major as a winnowing point to push lower-performing soldiers out of the military.

The service also promoted 86% of eligible majors to the rank of lieutenant colonel in 2005, up from the historical average of 65% to 75%.

The higher rates of promotion are part of efforts to fill new slots created by an Army reorganization and to compensate for officers who are resigning from the service, many after multiple rotations to Iraq.

The promotion rates "are much higher than they have been in the past because we need more officers than we did before," said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman.

The Army has long taken pride in the competitiveness of its promotions, and insists that only officers that meet rigorous standards are elevated through its ranks.

But the recent trends in promotions have stirred concerns that the Army is being forced to lower its standards to provide leaders for combat units that will be deployed overseas.

"The problem here is that you're not knocking off the bottom 20%," said a high-ranking Army officer at the Pentagon. "Basically, if you haven't been court-martialed, you're going to be promoted to major."

The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to publicly discuss the issue.

Army officials say the primary cause of the jump in promotions is the service's ongoing effort to create more combat units without an overall expansion.


Yet the increase in promotions is partly due to the large number of Army officers choosing to leave the service. Army officers are getting out of the military at the highest rate since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, shrinking the pool of officers eligible for promotion.

According to Army data, the portion of junior officers (lieutenants and captains) choosing to depart for civilian life rose last year to 8.6%, up from 6.3% in 2004. The attrition rate for majors rose to 7% last year, up from 6.4% in 2005. And the rate for lieutenant colonels was 13.7%, the highest in more than a decade.
Passing observation: retired Lt. Col. Andrew F. Krepinevich is really good at working the press.

Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5.

1/30/2006 06:46:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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I'LL SIGN ON TO THAT. My wrist/arm hurts badly, and has more or more in recent hours; the same thing happened yesterday. I hope I'm not developing carpal tunnel problems, but I'll be short because of the pain.

However, Hilzoy wrote the following in this thread, and I'm excerpting all the parts that it seems to me I agree with. I'd like to expand with some further thoughts of my own opinions, but another time. (The bits I cut out don't indicate bits I necessarily disagree with; merely that I'm not entirely confident I agree, as I think I do with everything I quote.)
I did, in fact, mean that laws with no plausible justification outside religion are an establishment of religion. It's not about the actual religious beliefs of those laws' supporters; it's about the availability of a plausible non-religious justification. I take one to exist for laws banning slavery, but not for laws banning early abortions. As long as such a justification does exist, then (according to me) it's OK, if it passes the legislature. It's not, as far as I'm concerned, as if the existence of a religious prohibition on murder, in many religions, makes laws against murder suspect.


About utilitarianism: I am not myself a utilitarian. I tend to the view that while any moral theory worth anything will take consequences into account in some ways (and the idea that Kant's does not is a damnable calumny, albeit one that Kant himself could have done more to counter), utilitarianism as a personal moral philosophy is wrong, and even somewhat perverse. (Don't ask why.)

However, I'm a lot less troubled by the idea of using utilitarian (or, more generally, consequentialist) considerations as a basis for public policy. Public policy is not about deciding what values I will place at the heart of my life. It's about trying to come up with policies that allow us all to live better lives.

Some parts of 'living better lives' are not, according to me, consequentialist. But these are (often) just the parts that the law wouldn't govern anyways. (Some concern my character construed too narrowly for the law to govern -- e.g., whether I am conscientious, or courageous, or whatever), and some concern the use I make of the freedom I have, which it is (according to me) one of the functions of law and policy both to safeguard and to maximize (in general) (where that means: law and policy should aim to set up a system in which people will, generally, have as much freedom as possible, and will never be subjected to certain sorts of injustice, it being understood that law and policy are not well-suited to the godlike work of making this work out in every instance; just to putting the best framework in place.)

If you get the division of labor right -- society ought to work to ensure that citizens have, other things equal, as much freedom as possible (and what this means is a whole other topic in itself) -- then within certain limits (e.g., no slavery), law and policy should be designed on the (consequentialist) grounds that they actually achieve those results, while what each of us decides to make of his or her freedom is a question best left to each of us, and need not be answered in a consequentialist way.

That said, this is just my stab at a plausible justification of some policies. All my original argument said was: where no such justification for a law can be found outside a given religion, then that law should be regarded as essentially religious.

(I could be convinced to add: at least, this is true when that law deprives someone of some significant good, e.g. liberty. As is the case with laws prohibiting early abortions.) (This would, of course, rely on the separate claim that there is no non-religious reason to take early (pre-sentient, pre-conscious) human embryos to be "someone", for these purposes.)

Note: I think this point about 'human life' is worth some serious consideration: it is not true that we do not, in any sense, kill innocent human beings outside war. Consider organ donors: they are brain dead, and (legally) have to be. However, their bodies are kept "alive", so that their organs can be harvested without having first started to decay.

I have no problem with this: I think that when I am brain dead, there is no more "me" around. My body is still there, but I am gone. By the same token, though, I have no problem with aborting pre-sentient, pre-conscious, pre-any-mental-anything embryos. If organ donors are brain-dead, then they are 'not yet brain-alive'.
Warning: comments about the abortion issue will be left posted if they're polite, but I will not respond and will not debate. (It's probably not wise of me to leave that part in, but you've been warned. And impolite comments will be deleted; there is no appeal.)

(Also: I'm not so up on my Kant.)

Read The Rest Scale: 2.5 out of 5.

IMMEDIATE ADDENDUM, 7:39 p.m.: this was an off-hand comment by Hilzoy, not a post, and not representing her attempt to organize her thoughts into anything more. The choice to pluck it up here was mine.

1/30/2006 06:23:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 3 comments

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PRINT ME MORE BRAIN, I need it to understand some incomprehensible blog-writers. Everything's with the printing matter, and building replicators these days. Not quite a von Neumann machine (second def), but continuing a stroll down that path.
A PRINTER that spits out ultra-fine droplets of cells instead of ink has been used to print live brain cells without causing them any apparent harm. The technique could open up the possibility of building replacement tissue cell by cell, giving doctors complete control over the tissue they graft.

The device is a variant of a conventional ink-jet printer. Instead of forcing individual droplets of ink through a needle-shaped nozzle and onto the page, the cell printer uses a powerful electric field to produce droplets just a few micrometres in diameter, far smaller than is achievable by other means.

Several research groups have shown that modified ink-jet printers can spray droplets of live cells suspended in a sustaining solution. But these devices have not been able to print droplets smaller than 20 m across, because ultra-fine nozzles are prone to blocking. Now the "electro-spray", developed by Suwan Jayasinghe of ...
The rest is behind the pay wall. With more brain cells, I'd know enough to make more money to subscribe. (Feel free to hit the "subscribe" or "donate" buttons at the top of the blog and eventually I'll be able to hit their button, and then maybe hit more of your buttons; or not; hard to say.)

Read The Rest Scale: 0 out of 5.

1/30/2006 12:31:00 PM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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MYSTERY PREDATOR STRIKES, AND CIA ETHICS. Ever see Harrison Ford in the movie of Clancy's Clear And Present Danger? In both movie and book, a drug kingpin is blowed up real good in what the villains are led to initially think is a car bomb attack by a rival, but which was actually a laser-designator-painted-by-CIA-ground-spotter (Willem Dafoe) JDAM attack from a carrier-based plane (in that case, being too clever by half, they used non-explosive material, but never mind).

Seems the CIA is playing that game with the Predator and its Hellfires, as they expand the long-known program.
Despite protests from other countries, the United States is expanding a top-secret effort to kill suspected terrorists with drone-fired missiles as it pursues an increasingly decentralized Al Qaeda, U.S. officials say.


Little is known about the targeted-killing program. The Bush administration has refused to discuss how many strikes it has made, how many people have died, or how it chooses targets. No U.S. officials were willing to speak about it on the record because the program is classified.

Several U.S. officials confirmed at least 19 occasions since Sept. 11 on which Predators successfully fired Hellfire missiles on terrorist suspects overseas, including 10 in Iraq in one month last year. The Predator strikes have killed at least four senior Al Qaeda leaders, but also many civilians, and it is not known how many times they missed their targets.

Critics of the program dispute its legality under U.S. and international law, and say it is administered by the CIA with little oversight. U.S. intelligence officials insist it is one of their most tightly regulated, carefully vetted programs.

Lee Strickland, a former CIA counsel who retired in 2004 from the agency's Senior Intelligence Service, confirmed that the Predator program had grown to keep pace with the spread of Al Qaeda commanders. The CIA believes they are branching out to gain recruits, financing and influence.

Many groups of Islamic militants are believed to be operating in lawless pockets of the Middle East, Asia and Africa where it is perilous for U.S. troops to try to capture them, and difficult to discern the leaders.


High-ranking U.S. and allied counter-terrorism officials said the program's expansion was not merely geographic. They said it had grown from targeting a small number of senior Al Qaeda commanders after the Sept. 11 attacks to a more loosely defined effort to kill possibly scores of suspected terrorists, depending on where they were found and what they were doing.

"We have the plans in place to do them globally," said a former counter-terrorism official who worked at the CIA and State Department, which coordinates such efforts with other governments.

"In most cases, we need the approval of the host country to do them. However, there are a few countries where the president has decided that we can whack someone without the approval or knowledge of the host government."


The CIA does not even acknowledge that such a targeted-killing program exists, and some attacks have been explained away as car bombings or other incidents. It is not known how many militants or bystanders have been killed by Predator strikes, but anecdotal evidence suggests the number is significant.

In some cases, the destruction was so complete that it was impossible to establish who was killed, or even how many people.

Among the senior Al Qaeda leaders killed in Predator strikes were military commander Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan in November 2001 and Qaed Sinan Harithi, a suspected mastermind of the bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in Yemen, in 2002. Last year, Predators took out two Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan: Haitham Yemeni in May and Abu Hamza Rabia in December, one month after another missile strike missed him.

The attack on Rabia in North Waziristan also killed his Syrian bodyguards and the 17-year-old son and the 8-year-old nephew of the owner of the house that was struck, according to a U.S. official and Amnesty International, which has lodged complaints with the Bush administration following each suspected Predator strike.

Another apparent Predator missile strike killed a former Taliban commander, Nek Mohammed, in South Waziristan in June 2004, along with five others. A local observer said the strike was so precise that it didn't damage any of the buildings around the lawn where Mohammed was seated. At the time, the Pakistani army said Mohammed had been killed in clashes with its soldiers.

Michael Scheuer, the former chief of the CIA's special unit hunting Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, said he was aware of at least four successful targeted-killing strikes in Afghanistan alone by November 2004, when he left the agency.


"Zawahiri is an easy case. No one is going to question us going after him," said Juliette N. Kayyem, a former U.S. government counter-terrorism consultant and Justice Department lawyer. "But where can you do it and who can you do it against? Who authorizes it? All of these are totally unregulated areas of presidential authority."

"Paris, it's easy to say we won't do it there," said Kayyem, now a Harvard University law professor specializing in terrorism-related legal issues. "But what about Lebanon?"

Paul Pillar, a former CIA deputy counter-terrorism chief, said the authority claimed by the Bush administration was murky.

"I don't think anyone is dealing with solid footing here. There is legal as well as operational doctrine that is being developed as we go along," Pillar said. "We are pretty much in uncharted territory here."

Pillar, who was also the CIA's National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia before retiring in mid-2005, said there had long been disagreement within the intelligence community over whether targeted killings were legally permissible, or even a good idea.


Amos N. Guiora, a senior Israeli military judge advocate who participated in such tribunals, said that although the failed Zawahiri strike itself appeared to be justifiable, the result suggested a lack of adequate deliberations on the quality of the intelligence.

"I think [the] attack was a major screw-up, because so many kids died. It raises questions about the entire process," said Guiora, who now a professor at Case Western Law School and director of its Institute for Global Security Law and Policy.

"It shows the absolute need to have a well-thought-through and developed process that examines the action from a legal perspective, an intelligence perspective and an operational perspective. Because the price you pay here is that you are going to have to be hesitant the next time you pull the trigger."
There's an obvious trade-off here between the desire for efficiency in being able to move as quickly as you need to when you have immediate intel on a moving, or soon to be moving, target, and the need to carefully check your intel to be sure you have it right. Then, of course, you have to balance out the priority of the target versus the expected or possible "collateral damage," aka blowing up some kids and babies nearby. How good or bad a job is being done, I couldn't say.

Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5.

Meanwhile, in a first, there's an unofficial conference on espionage/covert ops ethics.
Is there such a thing as an ethical spy?

A group of current and former intelligence officers and academic experts think there is, and they are meeting this weekend to dissect what some others in the field consider a flat-out contradiction in terms.

The organizers say recent controversies over interrogation techniques bordering on torture and the alleged skewing of prewar intelligence on Iraq make their mission urgent. At the conference on Friday and Saturday in a Springfield, Va., hotel, the 200 attendees hope to begin hammering out a code of ethics for spies and to form an international association to study the subject.

Conference materials describe intelligence ethics as "an emerging field" and call the gathering, not sponsored by any government agency, the first of its kind. The topics include "Spiritual Crises Among Intelligence Operatives," "Lessons From Abu Ghraib," "Assassination: The Dream and the Nightmare" and "The Perfidy of Espionage."

Organizers said conferees would ponder such timely issues as how many civilian deaths can be justified in a C.I.A. Predator missile strike to kill a known terrorist, or what legal assurances a National Security Agency eavesdropper should demand before singling out the phone calls of an American who was linked to Al Qaeda.

"As an intelligence officer, you are confronted with ethical dilemmas every day," said Melissa Boyle Mahle, who retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002 after 14 years as a case officer, much of it under cover in the Middle East.

Ms. Mahle, now a foreign policy consultant, was scheduled to speak Saturday on the practice of rendition, in which terrorism suspects are seized abroad and delivered either to trial in the United States or to imprisonment in other countries.

But in a required security review, the C.I.A. refused to clear about one-fourth of her proposed 23-page text, Ms. Mahle said Friday. She said the deletions "gutted" the paper and made it impossible to deliver. She decided to attend the conference anyway, because she believes its goal is "so important."


Ms. Mahle said she came up with her own ad-hoc ethical checklist, including imagining what her mother would say about a proposed action or how she herself would feel if it were described on the front page of an American newspaper. But she believes any officer would benefit from more rigorous training in moral decision-making.

"You're the point of the spear, and no one's going to be there to make decisions for you," she said.

Not all agree. "It doesn't make much sense to me," said Duane R. Clarridge, who retired in 1988 after 33 years as a C.I.A. operations officer and who will not attend the conference. "Depending on where you're coming from, the whole business of espionage is unethical."

To Mr. Clarridge, "intelligence ethics" is "an oxymoron," he said. "It's not an issue. It never was and never will be, not if you want a real spy service." Spies operate under false names, lie about their jobs, and bribe or blackmail foreigners to betray their countries, he said.

"If you don't want to do that," he added, "just have a State Department."


But skepticism about the ethics project inside the agencies is widespread, conference participants said, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by their agencies to be quoted. "A lot of current intelligence practitioners are afraid to come," said one who is attending. "They think it could be held against them."


One conference organizer, Jan Goldman, a 25-year intelligence veteran who teaches at the Joint Military Intelligence College, edited a just-published collection of articles on the subject called "Ethics of Spying" (Scarecrow Press).

The book includes 22 imaginary cases, from a female operative who must decide whether to have sex with a "repulsive" terrorism suspect in order to stay in contact, to a counternarcotics officer who must decide whether to relocate a drug lord-informant to protect him from arrest.

Less dramatic but more common ethical choices come routinely to intelligence analysts, who must decide each day what gets reported to policy makers. Melvin A. Goodman, a C.I.A. analyst from 1966 to 1990, is speaking at the conference on his experience with the politicization of intelligence during the cold war, which he believes has been echoed in the Iraq war.

"My feeling is that every problem with the intelligence in the run-up to the war was an ethical question," from the handling of the dubious defector code-named Curveball to the cherry-picking of evidence on Iraq's nuclear program, Mr. Goodman said.

"There's a lot of pandering at the C.I.A.," with the White House being given intelligence reports that suit known policy preferences, he said.

Mr. Goodman is a critic of the Bush administration's policies, but conference organizers say they have tried to avoid bias. The top intelligence officer of the National Guard, Brig. Gen. Annette L. Sobel, is a scheduled panelist. And one organizer, Fritz Allhoff, who teaches philosophy at Western Michigan University, has written an essay arguing that torture in interrogation is ethical in some circumstances.

Ms. Mahle, the former C.I.A. officer, says merely taking a tough line is not enough. If intelligence tactics are not supported by a public consensus of Americans, they can backfire, she said.

For example, the past capture of terrorists abroad who were then convicted in American courts stirred little controversy. But more recent rendition cases, like the delivery of a suspect to Egypt, where he complained of torture and provided information that turned out to be false, shifted the public focus from the would-be terrorist to the actions of the C.I.A.

"If there's not a consensus, then the public focus will be not on the bad guy you got off the street, but on what the C.I.A. was doing," Ms. Mahle said.
This is true. In a democracy, one factor that must be considered is how anything is going to look when it, as often will be the case, and will almost always be the case when it affects someone seen in public, comes out in public. Sheerly for practical considerations, the political repercussions of any action must be considered, or it's all for naught, and the blowback may be worse than the achieved and desired accomplishment.

I'd also agree that, since we don't actually tend to have James Bond types wandering around with licenses to kill and a ruthless-but-necessary lack of conscience (and a scar near their thin, cruel, lips), that in most practical situations, it's good for the people involved to at least consider a) what their personal limits are, for their own psychological good -- it's not going to work out well in the long run if a few years later they feel moved to turn on their employer and engage in a public confessional; and b) what I already said: how is this going to look on the front page of the newspapers?

I have to say that I'm fairly dubious about applying the metric of "imagining what [your] mother would say." But maybe if you have M. as your mother. (Speaking of which, if you look at the picture of Ms. Mahle, Judi Dench could play her with no trouble at all.)

In any case, I've been reading about intelligence matters for about thirty-five years or more, and this conference is definitely a first; I'd love to attend.

Read The Rest Scale: 2.5 out of 5. The ethics of doing honest analytical reports is certainly worth examining, although I'm unclear if there's any sort of metric that could be applied, other than personal comfort level of how much you're willing to be a toady to keep your job to do Other Good (and keep one's benefits and career). That's the sort of thing most people wind up having to make analogous decisions about in their careers and jobs, although only some have lives at stake either directly or eventually.

1/30/2006 11:39:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 1 comments

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THE "CSI EFFECT" CONTINUES TO INCREASINGLY bedevil investigators, though not generally when prosecuting gang-bangers and the more stupid criminals.

But, see, tv makes people smarter!
When Tammy Klein began investigating crime scenes eight years ago, it was virtually unheard of for a killer to use bleach to clean up a bloody mess. Today, the use of bleach, which destroys DNA, is not unusual in a planned homicide, said the senior criminalist from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Klein and other experts attribute such sophistication to television crime dramas like "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which give criminals helpful tips on how to cover up evidence.

Prosecutors have complained for years about "the CSI effect" on juries — an expectation in every trial for the type of high-tech forensic evidence the show's investigators uncover. It also appears the popular show and its two spinoffs could be affecting how some crimes are committed.

"They're actually educating these potential killers even more," said Capt. Ray Peavy, also of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and head of the homicide division. "Sometimes I believe it may even encourage them when they see how simple it is to get away with on television."

A man charged in a recent double-homicide in northeast Ohio was a "CSI" fan and went to great lengths to cover his tracks, according to an affidavit filed by Trumbull County prosecutors.

Jermaine "Maniac" McKinney, 25, allegedly broke into a house, killed a mother and daughter and used bleach to remove their blood from his hands, prosecutors said. He also covered the interior of a getaway car with blankets to avoid transferring blood.

Prosecutors said McKinney burned the bodies, his clothing and removed his cigarette butts — which would contain his DNA — from the crime scene in Newtown Township, about 20 miles northwest of Youngstown.

He tried to throw some evidence into a lake, including a crowbar used to bludgeon one of the victims. The lake was frozen though and he shouted a profanity when the crowbar remained on the surface, according to the affidavit.

Investigators later recovered the evidence. McKinney, who was indicted this month on two counts of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and other charges, could face the death penalty if convicted.

Cases where suspects burn and tamper with evidence seem to be increasing, said Chuck Morrow, chief of the criminal division in the Trumbull County Prosecutor's office.

"People are getting more sophisticated with making sure they're not leaving trace evidence at crime scenes," Morrow said.

Klein said most crimes aren't well planned and that detailed attention to prevent leaving trace evidence typically occurs in cases where someone has killed a family member or business partner.

"For the most part, our killings involve gang bangers who for the most part are pretty stupid," she said.
Now, if they just watched more television. Remember: always use the transporter on your corpses, and be sure to reverse the quantum polarity. Then the bodies will never be discovered!

Use of a Stargate is only advisable if you've dialed a random number. Ask Baltar for help if you're unfamiliar with how to frakking do this. Beware of cops with burning intensity; you'll know them by their look. They're frequently accompanied by tough-as-nails sexy female subordinates. When you see them coming, run, do not walk, towards the nearest exit, or call your lawyer.

Read The Rest Scale: 2 out of 5. Also: do not attempt to throw evidence into a frozen lake, genius.

1/30/2006 11:27:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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THE MISSION. The NYT Magazine has one of their typically long and thoughtful pieces, The Call, by Daniel Bergner, on an American missionary family in isolated northern Kenya, with the Samburu tribe.

It's revealed as a much more morally complex situation than you might think; at least, I think it was the intent of Bergner to show that, and that's how I read it. And I'd suggest approaching it with a bit of an open mind so as to be able to most clearly see what is the good and what is the bad, here.

It's easy for secular folk, such as myself, to hold something of an automatic assumption that prosletyzing Christianity to a people it is foreign to must be all bad. And, indeed, there are many aspects of what the Maples family are doing that I don't like at all.

Not because I think they're disturbing some sacred and pristine culture that mustn't have outside input; that's a condescending view, as well; human cultures aren't static, don't exist in a vacuum, outside of history, and have no sacred unchanging purity that mustn't be disturbed.

On the other hand, change and outside input isn't necessarily inherently always good, either. It pays, as always, to deal with the specifics. Here, I'm not so keen on the Christianity, but am a fan of the material help given, and most of all the fight against cliterectomy, the chattelization of women, and for the first inkling's of women's rights. And, interestingly, the desire of the missionaries to spread the notion of the legitimacy of women's sexual pleasure.
Rick and Carrie talked about converting the Samburu in a new way. They envision developing what they call a Samburu-style church. They intend, gradually, to hold more and more Christian services not under a roof but under the acacia trees amid the manyattas. They want the sparsely attended church down the path from their house to be superseded. And they plan to teach the lessons of the Bible not through the preaching of written verses but through an emphasis on expansive storytelling that will fit with the Samburu's oral tradition. Rick said that the first lesson he had to impart, the first truth he had to instill in the people, was "a sense of sin and separation from God" - a separation that could be reconciled only through Jesus. He drew from 1 Corinthians to capture the essence of his message: "I give you Christ and Him crucified."
See, that's what you'd expect, and I'm not much of a fan of this, shall we say. Not at all. But.
In this way, they plan to inspire - not impose, they stressed - crucial elements of transformation in the culture. They want to elevate the lot of women, to end the ways women are treated as property. And they want to stop the rite of female circumcision, which Carrie and Meghan witnessed for the first time a few months before I arrived, the razoring out of the clitoris that is almost universally practiced among the Samburu.


In a prayer letter last July, e-mailed to the States by satellite phone, Rick and Carrie wrote about the circumcision of Samburu girls: "Everything is cut away that would give them sexual pleasure, all without the aid of anesthetic during the procedure or painkillers afterward. As terrible as it is, it is so ingrained in the culture that all the girls welcome it. Without circumcision, they would never be married."

"Oh," the letter ended, in agony for the tribe, "how desperately they need Jesus."


In the Samburu that he'd learned to speak, haltingly, since arriving in Kurungu, Rick gleaned that an elder in the moran's settlement had fallen ill. Rick was soon navigating the Land Rover along vaguely defined trails through the scrub, with the moran in the back seat. At their manyatta, the old man, too weak to stand, was hoisted into the back of the Land Rover. The nearest clinic, a few spare, clean rooms of concrete, with Kenyan nurses but no doctor, is in the town of South Horr, a half-hour from Kurungu. The clinic is run by a mission of Italian Catholics.

These are the kinds of things that occupy part of Rick and Carrie's days. They drive a crippled girl to be examined by an AIM missionary doctor two hours away. They haul water from their well, in dozens of jerrycans, to manyattas whose sources of water have vanished in recent drought. Rick repairs Samburu machetes with his welding torch.

And because they do these things, the Mapleses are appreciated around Kurungu, Andrea Lekalayo said. Andrea, who learned his English at the Catholic mission's primary school in South Horr, is a young elder; he'd just passed on from being a moran. He led a crew of moran, adorned with beads and with plastic flowers, in digging a drainage ditch for the mission airstrip. Rick and Carrie paid each man about $2 a day - undoubtedly another reason they were appreciated, in this place with almost no cash economy.

The Mapleses were liked too, the moran said, with Andrea translating, for trying to learn their language. They were liked for spending time with the people, for asking lots of questions, for trying to understand their culture, for attending their ceremonies. "Rick," Andrea said, laughing, "he is almost a Samburu." At break time, the ditch diggers sat on the Mapleses' back porch as Meghan served them tea.


But few around Kurungu seemed much interested in their religion. The Samburu faith is monotheistic. It holds its own sacred history in which, I was told, humankind had once been linked to Ngai by a ladder made of leather. Ages ago, a Samburu man, enraged by the death of his herd, cut the ladder, and ever since the people have been disconnected from their deity. Yet when the Samburu spoke to me about Ngai, they evoked not a divinity that is abstract and removed but one that is, though invisible, close at hand, especially on the steep mountains that bound the valley, and most especially on a particular set of ridges and rocky peaks known collectively as Mount Nyiru. This, the tribe's most hallowed mountain, about 9,000 feet high, rises immediately to the west of Kurungu. It looms over the family's backyard. Ngai is up there, taking care of his people. He had granted the Samburu the knowledge of how to survive on cow's blood, Andrea and his crew said. And he was forgiving when the people did wrong. He had placed a spring at the spot where the leather ladder had been cut. The Samburu told me that their religion makes no prediction of a messiah. They didn't seem to feel the need for one.
And likely they don't. Ngai seems organic to the area, and, of course, from the perspective of the secular -- although it's really impossible to judge without far more knowledge and detail -- seems no more or less sensible than the Christian version of trinitarian monotheism (or any number of other world religions in their theological, as opposed to philosophical or inspirational, aspect).
[...] Carrie flew off to Kenya to help an American surgeon, a career missionary who operated on children with polio or terrible burns that had twisted their limbs or left their hands contracted and useless. She saw them after their operations with feet that were straight, with fingers that could hold her own.
But doing that sort of work, is an obvious good. And if there are no secular people there to do it -- and throughout the world, in so many places, there are not -- then I think it's difficult for secular people to complain that religious people are filling in, in a place where we are not helping out instead, without the added dose of religion.
[...] But then they would talk about female circumcision. "It's a spiritual issue, it's a public-health issue, it's a human rights issue," Rick declared, emphasizing that the body is God's temple and to mar it, a sin. As the three of us sat at their dining table, he and Carrie laid out a long-term plan both to end the rite and to raise the status of Samburu women. "Once people have accepted the Lord, we'll talk about how God created sex and ordained sex, that sex is to be enjoyed," Rick said. "It is a gift to a man and a woman who are married, and to take away God's gift of pleasure is not right." During my time in Kurungu, we discussed sex much more often and openly than I'd expected. "Most people," Rick explained, "think evangelicals are anti-sex. It's a fallacy that's picked up from our stance against premarital sex. Within the context of marriage, sex is not only for procreation, it's for pleasure."

"The role of women - there are going to be some tough issues," Carrie said. She mentioned the way young Samburu girls are married off to elderly men, and the way a wife is passed to her husband's brother, or to another man in the family when the husband dies. She also recalled a wedding they attended: when Carrie asked the groom - a young man who occasionally worked for the family - what the name of his bride was, he didn't know. "The woman is not a doormat," Carrie summed up the message they would instill, and listed the biblical heroines and Gospel teachings that would inspire the Samburu to change.

There were, for the Mapleses, limits to how high women should be elevated. Both Rick and Carrie told me that it would "sit strange" for women to hold the highest positions in any church, whether Kenyan or American. Still, amid the Samburu culture, the Mapleses could seem to be not only Christian crusaders but also bold and progressive social activists, champions of female emancipation and sexual fulfillment.
Something to give thought to, while trying to still one's knee, perhaps.

Read The Rest Scale: 3.5 out of 5 as interested in a lot more background and detail.

1/30/2006 08:16:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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THE BIN LADEN OF THE SAHEL. A pretty good, longish, first of two parts, of a story on the hunt for Ammari Saifi, and American efforts to knit together forces of the countries of the Sahel Desert of North Africa, and successes and failures, by Raffi Khatchadourian. Just some bits:
In the early months of 2004, a lone convoy of Toyota pickup trucks and SUVs raced eastward across the southern extremities of the Sahara. The convoy, led by a wanted Islamic militant named Ammari Saifi, had just slipped from Mali into northern Niger, where the desert rolls out into an immense, flat pan of gravelly sand. Saifi, who has been called the "bin Laden of the Sahara," was traveling with about 50 jihadists, some from Algeria, the rest from nearby African countries such as Mauritania and Nigeria. There are virtually no roads in this part of the desert, but the convoy moved rapidly. For nearly half a year Saifi and his men had been the object of an international hunt coordinated by the United States military and conducted primarily by the countries that share the desert. Soldiers from Niger, assisted by American and Algerian special forces, had fought with Saifi twice in the past several weeks. Each time, the convoy escaped. Now it was heading further east, toward a remote mountain range in northern Chad.

At the time, Saifi was by far the most sophisticated and resourceful Islamic militant in North Africa and the Sahel, an expansive swath of territory that runs along the Sahara's southern fringe. In the Sahel, the Sahara's windswept dunes gradually reduce to semi-desert, and then, further south, become arid savanna. The terrain extends roughly 3,000 miles across Africa—from Senegal through Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and into Sudan. It is awesome in its scale, poverty, and lack of governance. Troubled by restive minorities, environmental degradation, economic collapse, coups, famine, genocide, and geographic isolation, the Sahel has been described by one top U.S. military commander as "a belt of instability." (Last year, the U.N. ranked Niger as having the world's worst living conditions; Mali and Chad were among the five worst.) The region is also home to some 70 million Muslims, and since 9-11 there have been reports that Islamic radicals from other parts of Africa, as well as from the Middle East and South Asia, are proselytizing there, or seeking refuge from their home countries, or simply attempting to wage jihad.

Saifi seemed to belong to this final, most worrying, category. He had spent much of his adult life trying to unseat the secular Algerian government, and in 2003 he orchestrated a terrorist act of stupendous bravado: taking 32 European adventure travelers hostage in the Algerian Sahara, shuttling half of them hundreds of miles south, into Mali, and after 177 days of captivity, exchanging the tourists for suitcases filled with 5 million euros in ransom—an immense sum of money in the Sahel, by some estimates a quarter of Niger's defense budget. Most of the tourists were German, and the German government, which reportedly paid the ransom, filed an international arrest warrant for Saifi. The United States declared him a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, a classification shared by bin Laden and his senior commanders. The United Nations put his name on a roster known as "The New Consolidated List of Individuals and Entities Belonging to or Associated With the Taliban and Al-Qaida."

The hostage taking was not just brazen, it had strategic implications. Bin Laden's top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, once noted that "a jihadist movement needs an arena that would act like an incubator where its seeds would grow and where it can acquire practical experience in combat, politics, and organizational matters," and it appeared that Saifi, with his loose connections to Al Qaeda, could make the Sahara's wild south just such a place. After releasing the hostages, Saifi remained in the Malian desert for several months, using the ransom to buy "new vehicles, lots of weapons," a U.S. intelligence officer told me. Saifi established an alliance with nomadic tribesmen by marrying the teenage daughter of a sheikh near the Mauritanian border, and soon enough his small militia had gained enough strength to give the Malian army a "bloody nose," a European diplomat in Mali said. For a decade, Saifi's organization, the Algeria-based Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, or GSPC, had killed scores of Algerian officials and soldiers; it was among the deadliest organizations in the world, with operatives in Europe and North America. Saifi appeared to be extending its reach further into Africa.

For the Defense Department, Saifi's activities became the central and most vivid justification for expanding the U.S. military presence in the Sahel. In 2004, American Special Forces and Marines visited Mauritania, Mali, Chad, and Niger to train local armies how to bring order to the desert, and that program will grow this year.


A former U.S. diplomat in the region said the Defense Department was "unhappy because basically, the Malians haven't gone and kicked butt in the desert." Where Mali's impoverished army was too timid, or unable, to act, the U.S. military stepped in. American Navy P-3 Orion reconnaissance aircraft, dispatched from Italy, tracked Saifi's movements, and U.S. "military experts," according to a local press report, conducted operations on the ground. American military teams in northern Mali helped Algerian and local security forces chase Saifi's militia into Niger, where they engaged in several gunfights. They found that the convoy, though battered, was well equipped for desert warfare. Saifi had fitted the vehicles with GPS navigational devices that enabled his men to locate secret caches of water and supplies in the vast, uninhabited stretches of desert. In truck beds, 12.7mm machine guns and 14.5mm Russian anti-aircraft guns threatened adversaries that approached by land and air.

With the multinational force closing in, and American reconnaissance planes observing from above, Saifi's convoy raced across Niger toward the Chadian border. As the vehicles pushed forward, weapons rattled in their mountings and the roar of engines cut through the desert silence. Stray rocks and loose sand battered the vehicles' exteriors. Windshields clouded over with sediment. During a recent battle, fire had damaged some gear, and certain electrical devices began to fail. One truck broke down near a forlorn place in Niger known as the Tree of Ténéré, where an ancient and solitary acacia once stood. The truck was abandoned. Occasionally, if Saifi believed there was time for prayer, he might stop the convoy. At these moments, his men would walk some way from the trucks, lay in a row their small woven rugs over the ocher dust, shriveled scrub, and stones, and bow toward Mecca. Sometimes, as they prayed, fierce winds would blow through the folds of their desert gowns, and the sun would cast their shadows across the sand.

The American most attentively following the convoy's trajectory as it approached the jagged foothills of Chad's Tibesti Mountains was arguably Charles F. Wald, a four-star Air Force general and the deputy commander of U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. European Command oversees American troops and military operations in 91 countries, from Europe to the former Soviet Union to Africa. Wald is a former F-15 fighter pilot who has flown missions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, and Bosnia, and is known as a forward-thinking strategist and a man who is quick to speak his mind. (Recently, he announced that the Pentagon might soon begin working with Libya—a prediction that, he later kidded, provoked a reprimand from the military's public affairs office, but which he holds to be true.) In the 1980s, Wald headed a counterterrorism center for the Air Force.


But on at least one occasion, military strategists in Germany clashed with the State Department over how to deal with an Algerian militant named Mokhtar Belmokhtar, "The One-Eyed." Mokhtar had ties to the GSPC, and for years had run a transnational smuggling and banditry operation from the deserts of northern Mali. The U.S. military believed that after 9-11 Mokhtar was recruiting and arming religious radicals in the area; it wanted to attack his camps. The State Department argued that the intelligence on Mokhtar was not conclusive, and the American embassy in Mali insisted that an air strike on Mokhtar would "radicalize people you don't want to radicalize," according to a U.S. government official in the Sahel. In the end, the attack was called off. Vicki Huddleston, who was then U.S. ambassador to Mali, said that rather than arming terrorists, Mokhtar was supporting the Kunta Arabs, a nomadic group that was fighting other desert tribes. Huddleston has since retired from government, and declined to discuss her official conversations with European Command, but when asked about the dispute, she said, "If you're correct that we discouraged [the Defense Department], it was a good thing. If we had bombed a bunch of Kuntas, I think the whole place would have gone crazy. They're certainly not terrorists."

Still, the information on Mokhtar's activities was worrying, and taken with other intelligence from the region, it said a great deal about the Sahel's vulnerabilities. In October 2002 an American counterterrorism team visited Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania to invite those countries into a program called the Pan Sahel Initiative. The program was officially "designed to protect borders, track the movement of people, combat terrorism, and enhance regional cooperation and stability." Small groups of Special Forces and Marines, operating under European Command, would deploy to each state, where they would train select, 150-man companies. They would provide the African troops with equipment, such as night-vision goggles, ammunition, and communications gear. They would facilitate military cooperation by putting the region's top defense chiefs in touch with each other. (Within the Sahel, open channels of communication between militaries barely exist.) They would, essentially, lay the foundation for a network that could stymie the growth of regional terrorism. The four countries were eager to participate, and the Pan Sahel Initiative was budgeted for roughly $6.5 million for its first year. Initially, it seemed like an abstract, preventative exercise, but as preparations were under way circumstances on the ground changed. In early 2003, news emerged that Saifi had kidnapped the 32 tourists. Suddenly the initiative's planners had a real target.


At first, no one knew what had happened to the 32 Europeans. The men and women—German, Austrian, Swiss, and Dutch—were traveling on motorcycles and in trucks, in scattered groups along the faint pistes that cut across badlands near Illizi, an oasis town in eastern Algeria. They were drawn to the Sahara for its savage beauty, its promise of isolation and adventure, and a chance to explore what one geologist describes as "landscapes of cliffs shaped like the bizarre towers and bridges of a dream city; valleys in which thousand-year-old trees flourish; deep lakes in whose untroubled surface palm crests are mirrored; golden sand dunes, beetles, lizards, and gazelles." The Sahara has man-made monuments too, isolated oil rigs and the military outposts that protect them. When Saifi and his men rounded up the travelers among such places, he did not announce it; the Europeans simply disappeared. Under the cover of night, as he shuttled hostages to various hideouts, he unveiled another Saharan vista—one as perilous as any sandstorm: the desert's chaotic political order.

Rainer Bracht, an engineer from Detmold, Germany, was with three companions, located about a day's journey by motorcycle west of Illizi, when the first sign of trouble emerged. It was late afternoon. Bracht and his friends had decided to camp behind a dune a hundred or so yards from the piste. ("You go away from the track so that nobody can see you," he explained. "In this area, there were bandits who stole cars from oil companies.") The setting sun cast intense hues across the sky. The men took photos. They pitched tents. Then Bracht walked a few paces from the encampment to relax beneath a tree. At one point, he peered over the dune and noticed three motorbikes and several Toyota pickups approaching the camp. The scene seemed wrong. The vehicles were overloaded with men. The men on the motorcycles were without helmets, and had "long beards and Kalashnikovs and things like this." The pickup trucks were bristling with weapons, including a large, mounted machine gun. Bracht kept still. These were jihadists, he thought. Then he said to himself, "Oh, this isn't good."


The first thing Saifi said was: "We have no problems." He assured Bracht and his friends that they would not find harm. Later, en route to a haven where the other hostages were being kept, several fighters explained what Saifi intended to do. "They said that they wanted money for us because they were fighting the Algerian government," Bracht said. "Their original plan was to buy weapons in Niger, but then they noticed that there were a lot of tourists in the area, and they decided to kidnap some of the tourists for money, because, of course, with more money you can get more weapons."
There's a lot more. You should know by now if you want to read the rest, or not. Part II should be in tomorrow's issue of, yes, The Village Voice.

Read The Rest Scale: 3 out of 5 as interested.

1/30/2006 07:46:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | | 0 comments

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