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Weekend Journal: February 2-4, 2007

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Flat-Earthers, beware

The Obvious Retold
Global Warming Caused By Humans

Plenty to say about this later on. For now, this from the Times: “The world is already committed to centuries of warming, shifting weather patterns and rising seas from the atmospheric buildup of gases that trap heat, but the warming can be substantially blunted by prompt action, an international network of climate experts said today. The report released here represented the fourth assessment since 1990 by the group, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations, of the causes and consequences of climate change. But for the first time the group asserted with near certainty — more than 90 percent confidence — that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities were the main drivers of warming since 1950. In its last report, in 2001, the panel, consisting of hundreds of scientists and reviewers, put the confidence level at between 66 and 90 percent. Both reports are online at If carbon dioxide concentrations reach twice their pre-industrial levels, the report said, the climate will likely warm some 3.5 to 8 degrees. But there would be more than a one in 10 chance of much greater warming, a situation many earth scientists say poses an unacceptable risk. Many energy and environment experts see such a doubling as a foregone conclusion sometime after midcentury unless there is a prompt and sustained shift away from the 20th-century pattern of unfettered burning of coal and oil, the main sources of carbon dioxide, and an aggressive quest for expanded and improved nonpolluting energy options. Even an increased level of warming that falls in the middle of the group’s range of projections would likely cause significant stress to ecosystems and alter longstanding climate patterns that shape water supplies and agricultural production, according to many climate experts and biologists. While the new report projected a modest rise in seas by 2100 — between 7 and 23 inches — it also concluded that seas would continue to rise, and crowded coasts retreat, for at least 1,000 years to come. By comparison, seas rose about 6 to 9 inches in the 20th century. John P. Holdren, an energy and climate expert at Harvard University, said that the “report powerfully underscores the need for a massive effort to slow the pace of global climatic disruption before intolerable consequences become inevitable.”” See the full story...

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Elimination Game
When Casualties Aren’t

When is a casualty not a casualty? When the Pentagon says it isn’t. According to one count—including, for a time, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs—the number of American wounded or otherwise hurt in Iraq and Afghanistan is 50,508 (as of the beginning of this month). According to the Pentagon, the figure is 21,649. When a Harvard professor mentioned the Veterans Affairs figure in a Los Angeles Times column, someone from the Pentagon called the VA and had it removed in favor of the smaller figure. The 50,508 does reflect the correct number of soldiers who have had to be removed from Iraq and Afghanistan—for being wounded in combat, injured anywhere in the war zone, or being victims of various physical illnesses that developed in the war zones, as physical illnesses may tend to do in hell’s suburbs. To the Pentagon, almost 30,000 of its “casualties” don’t rate. It only counts as casualties the number of soldiers who’ve suffered “hostile” injuries, directly as a result of combat. But that logic, the number of dead Americans, now officially exceeding 3,080, should be revised downward to less than 2,500, since about 600 soldiers died as a result of accidents or suicides or other reasons technically unrelated to the wars.

The distinction is specious. It benefits the body-bag counters at the expense of the true damage and extent of the war. Veterans Affairs now claims that the higher figure of wounded was posted on its Web site because whoever was typing those in made a mistake. The department quickly complied when the Pentagon called and had the number changed. But the effects of war don’t discriminate between combat and non-combat related injuries. When veterans return to the United States, regardless of the nature of their injuries, they’ll have been dislocated, they’ll be needing help, they’ll be requiring it of the Veterans Affairs system, in health care especially: As the Times story that revealed the discrepancies had it on Tuesday, “About 1.4 million troops have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and more than 205,000 have sought care from the veterans’ agency, according to the government. Of those, more than 73,000 sought treatment for mental problems like post-traumatic stress disorder.” So the 50,500 figure is, if anything, wildly understated. It’s not that the Pentagon covers up the numbers exactly: It maintains an astounding database, going back to the Korean War, of casualties by every imaginable category. But what it peddles for public consumption and what it compiles for the record are, as always, vastly different stories—a telling discrepancy when it comes to the kind of story the Pentagon wants to tell, the understatement of wars it prefers to project, the bidding, on behalf of a Bush administration never given to truth, that it’s willing to do.

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Foot and Mouth Disease
Joe Biden’s Loquacious Ineloquence

Some of Joe's best friends are...

There really is no other way to put it: Joe Biden has a gift for stunning imbecility. For a lawyer trained to use words more precisely than, say, a cockatoo, for someone serving for the last thirty-four years as one of the nation’s most visible and effective senators (he’s not one of those slouches who writes no laws), to end up being so reliably risible, year after year and for the most idiotic reasons, proves what Richard Cohen of the Post wrote of Biden in January, in response to Biden’s latest embarrassment—a 12-minute “question” posed Samuel Alito during Alito’s confirmation hearing: “The only thing standing between Joe Biden and the presidency is his mouth. That, though, is no small matter. It is a Himalayan barrier, a Sahara of a handicap, a summer's day in Death Valley, a winter's night at the pole (either one) -- an endless list of metaphors intended to show you both the immensity of the problem and to illustrate it with the op-ed version of excess. This, alas, is Joe Biden.” More to the point:

The tragedy is that Biden, who is running for president, is a much better man and senator than these accounts would suggest. But his tendency, his compulsion, his manic-obsessive running of the mouth has become the functional equivalent of womanizing or some other character weakness that disqualifies a man for the presidency. It is his version of corruption, of alcoholism, of a fierce temper or vile views -- all the sorts of things that have crippled candidates in the past. It is, though, an innocent thing, as good-humored as the man and of no real policy consequence. It will merely stunt him politically.

There is no excuse, no explanation worth hearing, Biden said about Barack Obama on Wednesday, the very day he announced his candidacy for president: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American, who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” So why bother. Biden’s previous bid, in 1988, was itself an embarrassment. Remember the stupid plagiarizing of a speech by then-British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock ? (Biden had his dad be a coal miner, like Kinnock’s, except Papa Biden ran a car dealership.) The stupidest part of Biden’s gaffe is that in previous speeches Biden had credited Kinnock. There was a shoddy mishap in Iowa. The Dukakis campaign, itself never a gift to anyone, jumped on Biden’s mistake and made it the campaign-buster it turned out to be, although Biden would have made a much finer president than Dukakis no matter what Bradley vehicle Dukakis could get his hands on. Anyway, Democrats don’t need a buffoon prattling about in 2008, handing free ammunition to the reactionaries’ artillery of swiftboating sideshows. And his avid, John McCain-like support for the war in Iraq going back to 2002 doesn’t help. He should quit the campaign trail immediately and go back to his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where the parliamentary setting acts like a catalytic converter on his fumes.

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The Joys of War, I
What Military States Are Made Of

Albert Speer would have been proud

Periodically in this so-called war on terror, someone somewhere invents a document that sings the praises of the president, damns liberals as the enemy and portrays every war the country is smashing about as god’s gift to humanity (and anyone who happens to be clobbered by the given war, and who doesn’t have the good sense to thank the United States for it). The texts are circulated like wildfire (like malignant fires usually do, truth’s arsonists being as vicious as nature’s), they manage to appear in the form of letters to the editor (signed by different fictitious “soldiers” until a savvy editor finally catches on), they’re quoted in OpEds, and of course sling-shot all over the place by that other furnace of fictions, Fox News. The originals of course are always anonymous and made to look authentic—this one by a “courageous soldier” fighting in Iraq, this one by a god-fearing contractor who left his six children and wife (no mention of mistresses, naturally) back in the States to sacrifice himself for reconstruction, that one, like this latest I’m about to quote, by a “staff sergeant” serving in Afghanistan who just couldn’t, just couldn’t take it anymore when he came home on a mid-tour leave to see his wife and baby boy. Yes, they always have baby boys or girls in there. It humanizes the fiction, tugs at the reader’s heart, reminds us what we’re fighting these wars for: to teach dishonesty, neo-colonialism, graft and gratuitous violence laced in bigotry to our children, so when they grow up they can carry the torch and arson on. This particular piece comes from Blackfive, one of those brown- and black-shirted militarist sites that reminds you why civilian, civilized America is always a coup away from fascism (the site colors are, in fact, brown and black). Blackfive of course introduces the crib with the pseudo-pretentious phrase, complete with meaningless lingo, “I’ve got permission to go hot with this.” And goes on: “This is typical of what I've been hearing. It's a manifesto of sorts from a Staff Sergeant in the fight in Afghanistan. He had an experience recently while on mid-tour leave to see his wife and baby boy that was the last straw.” The “experience,” the identity of the “sergeant,” the origin of the “manifesto” are all, as always, left in the dark. Must be one of those Homeland Security directives I heard of from that FEMA flacker in Atlanta when I asked questions relating to context and such: “The information is protected and not available for release.” The “Sergeant”’s PR begins with partisan give-aways that makes whoever wrote this anything but a soldier:

Things that I am tired of in this war: I am tired of Democrats saying they are patriotic and then insulting my commander in chief and the way he goes about his job. I am tired of Democrats who tell me they support me, the soldier on the ground, and then tell me the best plan to win this war is with a “phased redeployment” (liberal-speak for retreat) out of the combat zone to someplace like Okinawa. I am tired of the Democrats whining for months on T.V., in the New York Times, and in the House and Senate that we need more troops to win the war in Iraq, and then when my Commander in Chief plans to do just that, they say that is the wrong plan, it won’t work, and we need a “new direction.” […] I am tired of senior officers and commanders who fight this war with more of an eye on the media than on the enemy, who desperately needs killing. […] I am tired of CNN claiming that they are showing “news,” with videotape sent to them by terrorists, of my comrades being shot at by snipers, but refusing to show what happens when we build a school, pave a road, hand out food and water to children, or open a water treatment plant. I am tired of following the enemy with drones that have cameras, and then dropping bombs that sometimes kill civilians; because we could do a better job of killing the right people by sending a man with a high powered rifle instead. […] I am tired of Code Pink, Daily Kos, Al-Jazzera, CNN, Reuters, the Associated Press, ABC, NBC, CBS, the ACLU, and CAIR thinking that they somehow get to have a vote in how we blast, shoot and kill these animals who would seek to subdue us and destroy us.

It’s not without a few interesting tidbits, but those get peppered in there like palliatives to make the whole thing sound more authoritative and ease the force-feeding of the more rankly partisan stuff:

I am tired of hearing that the Battalion Tactical Operations Center got a new plasma screen monitor for daily briefings, but rifle scope rings for sniper rifles, extra magazines, and necessary field gear were disapproved by the unit supply system. […]I am tired of soldiers who are stationed in places like Kuwait and who are well away from any actual combat getting Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay and the Combat Zone Tax Exclusion when they live on a base that has a McDonald’s, a Pizza Hut, a Subway, a Baskin Robbins, an internet café, 2 coffee shops and street lights.

Then again, the Green Zone in Baghdad, headquarters to it all, is what he’s just described. At any rate: expect to see this spread soon to a computer screen near you. The full post at Blackfive...

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The Joys of War, II
Are Troops Mercenaries?

Too bad the question won’t be allowed to be raised: we do live under martial law of sorts, a new kind of martial law where militarism is the undercurrent, the background fog, rather than martial law’s overt, crude versions of old. On January 30 William Arkin, a blogger for the Washington Post, wrote a good piece that puts troops in their place, as they ought to be put once in a while, especially when they question the right of Americans back home to protest as they see fit, and that refers to them, briefly, as mercenaries. Arkin of course retracts the word even as he says it in the piece, but the point is made. The backlash has been so well coordinated and intense, led as it has been by Fox News, the mercenaries of journalism, that Arkin has apologized. First, his piece from January 30, entitled “The Troops Also Need to Support the American People”:

I’ve been mulling over an NBC Nightly News report from Iraq last Friday in which a number of soldiers expressed frustration with opposition to war in the United States. […] I’m all for everyone expressing their opinion, even those who wear the uniform of the United States Army. But I also hope that military commanders took the soldiers aside after the story and explained to them why it wasn’t for them to disapprove of the American people. […] Staff Sergeant Manuel Sahagun, who is on his second tour in Iraq […] complained that “one thing I don’t like is when people back home say they support the troops, but they don’t support the war. If they’re going to support us, support us all the way.” Next was Specialist Peter Manna: “If they don’t think we’re doing a good job, everything that we’ve done here is all in vain,” he said. These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President’s handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect. Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order. […] So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society? […] the recent NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary - oops sorry, volunteer - force that thinks it is doing the dirty work. […] America needs to ponder what it is we really owe those in uniform. I don’t believe America needs a draft though I imagine we’d be having a different discussion if we had one. The full post…

The comments below the post, at the newspaper’s site, are very revealing of the martial mindset we’re enduring. Later in the day, Arkin wrote: “I was dead wrong in using the word mercenary to describe the American soldier today.” Maybe he was: it’s not a word I would use to describe professional soldiers, although there are elements of the mercenary in any professional army that can’t be denied, and battling over semantics is silly when the points Arkin is making around that throw-away line are valid and necessary. This is what he also wrote:

Well, one thing’s abundantly clear about who will actually defend our rights to say what we believe: It isn’t the hundreds who have written me saying they are soldiers or veterans or war supporters or real Americans—who also advise me to move to another country, to get f@##d, or to die a painful, violent death. Contrary to the typically inaccurate and overstated assertion in dozens of blogs, hundreds of comments, and thousands of e-mails I’ve received, I’ve never written that soldiers should “shut up,” quit whining, be spit upon, or that they have no right to an opinion.

Let’s not be under the delusion that a) soldiers are fighting for freedom in the United States, or that freedom in the United States is, in so many respects, worth fighting for if it takes the shape it does when the likes of Arkin write what they do. So goes life in these neo-martial times.

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A Sinclair Lewis Bit
W’s Yoda

From Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street (1920), Dr. Will Kennicott (Yoda to the Bill O’Reillys, Sean Hannitys and various bushes of our day) gives his wife Carol the business over her sheepish attempts to bring a bit of fresh air to Gopher Prairie:

“That’ll be about all from you! I’ve stood for your sneering at this town, and saying how ugly and dull it is. I’ve stood for your refusing to appreciate good fellows like Sam. I’ve even stood for your ridiculing our Watch Gopher Prairie Grow campaign. But one thing I’m not going to stand: I’m not going to stand my own wife being seditious. You can camouflage all you want to, but you know darn well that these radicals, as you call ‘em, are opposed to the war, and let me tell you right here and now, and you and all these long-haired men and short-haired women can beef all you want to, but we’re going to take these fellows, and if they ain’t patriotic, we’re going to make them be patriotic. And—Lord knows I never thought I’d have to say this to my own wife—but if you go defending these fellows, then the same thing applies to you! Next thing, I suppose you’ll be yapping about free speech. Free speech! There’s too much free speech and free gas and free beer and free love and all the rest of your damned mouthy freedom, and if I had my way I’d make you folks live up to the established rules of decency even if I had to take you----”

From the Library of America edition of "Main Street & Babbitt," p. 453.


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The Great Ennio Morricone Conducts
Cinema Paradiso
Ennio Morricone is receiving an honorary Oscar at this year's awards


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Crumbs & Quickies

In the Blogosphere

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