Friday, May 14, 2004

More hand-wringing about the effect that the War on Terror has had on our civil rights, as shown by the government's case against a Saudi CS grad student, for managing a web site on which he, well, didn't actually write the stuff they're complaining about:

The government's case seems to rest not on Hussayan's postings but the messages and postings of others. And it appears that he worked not with a terrorist group, but alone, on a volunteer basis, in the den of his apartment. Moreover, according to Hussayen's lawyers, these sites also included viewpoints that criticized jihad as well. Thus, they may have been more "marketplace of ideas" -- the First Amendment's ideal -- than terrorist platform.

Providing a forum in which jihadists might, conceivably, get talked out of violent acts is clearly not in our interest. Yes?

Similarly, the nervous ninnies at the ACLU are upset that they had to edit the description of a legal challenge to the Patriot Act to omit the description of the portion of the law that they're challenging, even though the same provisions are described in far greater detail on the DOJ's own web site. And so they cry censorship, simply failing to recognize an inspired artistic tribute to Kafka.

Some people just have no taste...

For what it's worth, the government has other charges against Mr. Hussayan as well, including providing funds to groups that they deem to be terrorist. We'll see soon, I guess, if that amounts to more than providing a forum to the "terrorist" groups in question on which they could, if they chose, point out their willingness to cash a check...

When talking about Muqtada al-Sadr, our guys in Baghdad consistently describe him as the leader of a small, radical faction, isolated from the mainstream of Iraqi Shiites (as represented, they say, by the Shiite factions represented on the IGC, SCIRI and al-Da'wa). Juan Cole has been saying otherwise for months -- that al-Sadr's support comes from the movement originally built up by his father, which is much broader and deeper than our folks seems to realize. But a new poll, showing 45% support in Baghdad and 67% in Basra, surprises even him:

I am surprised by the high numbers in Basra, where I think the rival al-Fudala branch of Sadrism is more important. The level of support for Muqtada has almost certainly increased greatly since late March when the poll was done.

My own view is that Muqtada has now won politically and morally. He keeps throwing Abu Ghuraib in the faces of the Americans. He had his men take refuge in Najaf and Karbala because he knew only two outcomes were possible. Either the Americans would back off and cease trying to destroy him, out of fear of fighting in the holy cities and alienating the Shiites. Or they would come in after Muqtada and his militia, in which case the Americans would probably turn the Shiites in general against themselves. The latter is now happening.

But oddly, Cole may be giving al-Sadr too little credit; according to reports here, al-Sadr actually agreed to disband his militia and stand trial for the murder he is being accused of by the Americans, in a deal brokered by more senior Shiite clerics -- only to have the deal vetoed by Paul Bremer. The problem? Muqtada wants to surrender after June 30th, to the new, supposedly sovereign Iraqi government; Bremer wants him in custody now.

Now, how Bremer can expect any potential "high value detainee" to hand himself over to U.S. control after the Abu Ghraib scandals is beyond me, but that's what he wants. And since he can't get it, he's ordered troops into Najaf, crossing what the very senior grand Ayatollah al-Sistani had earlier identified as a "red line". Is he daring al-Sistani, at long last, to issue a fatwa against our troops?

Ah, but Bremer believes that, polls be damned, the majority of Shiites are with us, as are our Shiite friends on the council, SCIRI and al-Da'wa, each with its own militia, a long-time rival to al-Sadr's. One wonders who is telling them this. Might it be, perchance, SCIRI and al-Da'wa?

Update: The dare is on... someone's knocked holes in the Shrine of Imam Ali. The Americans are, of course, claiming that it was stray ordnance from the Army of the Mahdi that did the damage, not their own. As if that actually matters...

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Condemnations of the Muslim thugs who beheaded an American are pouring in from all over -- from respected Muslim clerics.

In completely unrelated news, Rumsfeld has said today that Pentagon lawyers are preventing the release of the rest of the Abu Ghraib abuse photos:

In his talk with reporters earlier, [Rumsfeld] said, "As far as I'm concerned, I'd be happy to release them all to the public and to get it behind us. But at the present time I don't know anyone in the legal shop in any element of the government that is recommending that."

The government lawyers argue that releasing such materials would violate a Geneva Convention stricture against presenting images of prisoners that could be construed as degrading, Rumsfeld said.

So, if anyone demands public accountability for mistreatment of prisoners in violation of the Geneva conventions -- which necessarily involves discussing, describing, and presenting images of the mistreatment -- holding the miscreants to account would be itself a violation of the Geneva conventions, and cannot proceed. Brilliant! (Though perhaps too clever by half -- someone might notice that a concern for the dignity of the individual prisoners, were anyone to seriously believe that's the motive here, might be satisfied just by painting the faces out).

But that's the kind of brilliance we've come to expect from Rumsfeld -- this is, after all, the same guy who says that the Geneva Conventions don't apply at all to the folks we've been detaining for a couple of years now at Guantanamo, well, just 'cuz.

Meanwhile, back at home, a league of gibbering fools has mistaken the aforementioned Muslim thugs (and their delusional supporters in the Arab world) for the whole of Islamic civilization. And they're wondering why some people think it's news that American soldiers are acting like wanton thugs, but it isn't nearly so much news when wanton thugs act like wanton thugs.

It's because we're supposed to be better than that.

Meanwhile, in other developments, Bremer has rejected a Falluja-style deal for Karbala and Najaf, despite Sistani's endorsement, and hard fighting is underway -- with a historic mosque in Karbala already damaged, and within "oops, where was that tank's gun pointed?" range of major holy sites. I've been wrong before, but I've got a baaaad feeling about this...

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Shorter Victor Davis Hanson: it is a testament to the miraculous power and effectiveness of our new, Western, technomarvelous way of war that our enemies are undefeated and gloating about it. So, maybe it's time for a little good old fashioned colonialist brutality, à la the Mongols Persians Romans nineteenth-century Brits.

via Chun

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

And now, a brief break from the irony and snark: Prof. Juan Cole's blog is indispensable. Today it features a write-up of interviews with the new Spanish defense minister, Jose Bono, in which it's revealed that Spanish troops refused an order from the Americans -- probably coming from Dubya himself -- to capture Muqtada al-Sadr "dead or alive". That sort of major operation in Najaf would risk putting all the Shiites in the country in arms against us. (Gosh, is that why they wanted the Spanish as fall guys?)

Perhaps I'm not the only one to hear odd echoes of this of the Falluja situation, where the on-scene commander apparently took his superiors in the Pentagon and even Baghdad by surprise, by negotiating a settlement which avoided an armed assault amid a hailstorm of tough talk about deadlines and "all necessary action" from Washington...

Monday, May 10, 2004

So, Senator John Warner believes that Rumsfeld should stay, because we're "fighting two wars" right now, and that's an awkward time for a transition in leadership.

Indeed. That might result in haphazard decision making, based on a poor grasp of the facts on the ground or none at all, tactics which are insensitive to the sore points of the local populace, inflaming the situation, and inconstancy in overall strategy, alienating important potential allies within and outside Iraq. Better by far to stick with what we have right now.

Besides, as Matthew Yglesias points out, for a real clean sweep you'd have to ditch not just Rumsfeld, but his whole team, leaving a lot of unhappy former officials around to dish dirt. So even if Dubya were convinced, somehow, that this was the right thing for the country, he'd have to put that above his own electoral prospects. It'll never happen...

A correction: I wrote in an aside last week that Zsallia Marieko was the only science fiction character I was aware of with a link to my blog. (Ms. Marieko, by her own report, looks more or less human, but is a lot more durable, having survived determined attempts at drowning, hanging, and a knife through the heart, having regrown several severed limbs, and having not aged visibly in the past 3500 years -- before which, she says, she has simply lost all memory).

Avedon Carol informs me that I'm mistaken; she herself makes an appearance in Joe Haldeman's "All My Sins Remembered". She reports no known biomods or cybernetic enhancements -- or at least, none that she's willing to disclose.

To forestall further corrections, I will not state that these are the only two science fiction characters who have me on their blogroll. If, by chance, you're a time traveler from a postapocalyptic future, and you have me on your blogroll, please don't feel obliged to send me email about it. You may, but don't feel obliged...

Update: I really didn't want to list another, but it seems there's no getting around it...

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Isabella says she has a family background in European high finance, going back for centuries. Of this, I can say nothing further.

I can, however, observe that there aren't all that many people around who are able to deploy tactical nuclear snark when discussing Google's choice of an investment bank...

And now... bad names for bands. Case study: Stoic. Problem: poor fit to projected 'tude. Illustrative stage patter:

So how many of you motherfuckers came out here to PARTY with STOIC?!?!

For what it's worth, they had what seems to be the judges' favored style at this year's WBCN Rock and Roll Rumble: technically superb, paint-by-numbers heavy metal, mixed with over-emoted stage patter about nonconformity and being your own person. (To which Stoic adds enough stuff about community and "the Boston heavy music family" to make me wonder if Shred hadn't somehow roped Amitai Etzioni into judging for the evening). And yet, in the controversy that erupted on local music web boards after they won over Ad Frank's finely crafted songs for the lovelorn and Black Helicopter's edgier art punk, Stoic's supporters wound up chiding Ad Frank for not falling in line with industry trends:

wake up--stoic is a machine and they wiped they literally destroyed the competition last night. listen to the radio--there are no bands that sound like ad frank or roxie on the radio anymore and i doubt there will be. stoic have a sound that is current, that is marketable. what is the point of making music that people can't get into? the heavy music scene is the biggest thing in this town. i'm sorry, but what use would wbcn have for some faggy band like ad frank? why should they get 3000 bucks and studio time if no one wants to listen to that music?

listen shithead--if you want people to tell you how great you are, look around you and adapt to the musical climate. indie-pop is museum piece. it is not selling and no one cares anymore. get some decent gear and make music that the kids are into. that's how you're going to get people excited about what you do and get on the radio. stoic have all that and more. why are you surprised they won?

And that's what this band is apparently about. Their stage patter has stuff about nonconformity and being your own person, but their bio in the Rumble program is all about business deals. It names the engineer who recorded their first album, the guy who owned the studio, the studio owner's partner in their current record label, the partners' goals in forming the record label, and the band's recording schedule before it gets around to naming a single actual band member, or saying anything at all about the music.

These are, reportedly, nice guys, and technically, they're very good at what they do. But this bio presents them as valued, but inessential employees hired by other folks to produce a product to order. ("Each member possesses an extremely diverse musical background", but none of them are apparently worth talking about). And the product seems, to me, to show it. The players and the band really look like they're playing the parts in somebody else's script, filling in the blanks with their own names, and a band name chosen by throwing darts at a thesaurus. ("PARTY with STOIC"!!! Umm... guys? Dictionaries are good, too. Definitions here; note particularly "indifferent to pleasure") The whole package seems almost designed to validate everything Thomas Frank ever wrote about corporations packaging and selling sanitized, neutered "rebellion".

The anonymous poster I quoted above said these guys "are a machine". There's been a lot of that from fans of Stoic, and a similar band that won another night in the prelims: "they're a machine."

Well, not quite. They're part of the machine. And that's the problem.

By the way, Thomas Frank is no relation to Ad, so far as I know, and I don't really know any of these people at all... but I have bought a couple of Ad Frank records.