Wednesday, August 31, 2005

No, I Just Have No Words

There is this.

And then there is this.

No. fucking. words.

....

No wait, you know what? I do. I have two words: collective punishment.

A United States court, in fucking Rhode Island of all places, is not only holding the PA responsible for killings officially recognized as committed by Hamas, but it is collectively punishing the entire Palestinian people by freezing the assets of its government.

An entire people, a people which could not at present be more desperately in need of funds, is being literally starved as retribution for the killings of two Jews. That's collective punishment on a scale the IDF must be chartreuse with envy over.

Psychotic, unimaginable barbarity.

Oh, You Shouldn't Have!

I really do think sometimes the universe goes about its vast quotidian business with the main object of arranging things so as to entertain me. Is that solipsistic?

Today's evidence: the spokesman for a group called the Jewish Community Security Trust, responding to the inclusion of renowned progressive Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan in the British government's new 'working group on tackling extremism':
"It's a strange choice given his past statements which some have viewed as being anti-Jewish. Some of our community view him as extreme.

"He speaks with two voices, one for his European audience which appears moderate, and one for his Arab hinterland where he voices many of the demands of Islamists.

"He is at the soft end of the Islamist extreme spectrum."
The name of this insinuatory savant? If it please the court (as it boundlessly does me), one Mike Whine.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Don't Be Such A Wuss, They're Just Devices

In honor of the first day of school, I bring you the news that the FDA is reviewing the medical use of maggots and leeches, which has been on the rise in recent years.

Aside from the massive gross-out chic factor, the kick of this is that up to now the FDA in its wisdom has regulated both as 'unclassified devices':
The agency decided that maggots and leeches are devices, mainly because of how they perform their medical chores. Maggots chew dead flesh and leeches eat blood. "Those are mechanical processes," Mark Melkerson, acting director of the FDA's Division of General, Restorative and Neurological Devices, told reporters.

Currently, both leeches and maggots are regulated as unclassified devices. The agency is proposing that both maggots and leeches be classified as class II medical devices, subject to some safety requirements, but not as stringently regulated as class III devices, such as implantable pacemakers.
The nifty thing about maggots, as you may know, is that they only eat rotting flesh, and they produce their own natural antibiotic that helps sterilize the area, which means they're vastly more effective than surgery at salvaging a necrotic wound with minimal tissue loss.

No, all that evolutionary engineering and mind-bogglingly precise usefulness doesn't make them any less viscerally utterly fucking disgusting. Yeah, the thought of someone dumping a bunch of 'sterilized' maggots in my wound and sewing them up in there makes me want to tear my skin off. Right now, preemptively.

But gotta say, still pretty fucking cool. Especially when it happens to other people.

Monday, August 29, 2005

NYT Hitches A Lift On The Anti-Choice Wagon

Following up on the recent JAMA report showing that fetuses don't have the neural wiring to feel pain before 30 weeks, there are apparently two journalistic paths to choose from.

Some, like that notorious pinko rag the Boston Globe, have chosen to highlight the fact that since publishing the article, Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, editor of the JAMA, has received dozens of 'horrible, vindictive' emails from anti-choice bigots. MedPage Today (free reg required) adds that the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine was similarly so harassed that the journal was forced to hire a bodyguard.

Not so the intrepid New York Fox-Newsified Times. Chez the Grey Lady, there's only one obvious aspect of interest in this story: 'Study Authors Didn't Report Abortion Ties'.

That is to say:
One author, Susan J. Lee, a medical student, is also a lawyer who for eight months from 1999 to 2000 worked in the legal department at Naral, an abortion rights group. Another author, Dr. Eleanor A. Drey, performs abortions and is medical director of an abortion clinic.

Neither tried to conceal those activities from reporters before the journal article was published.
[...]
In interviews yesterday, Dr. Drey and Ms. Lee said they did not regard their work as a conflict of interest and so it had not occurred to them to report it to the journal editors.
Now, the fact of the NYT focusing on this particular issue (alone among the major papers; the WaPo makes no mention of it, instead printing this obviously on-our-side look at how much progress anti-choice legislation has made this year), and the gotcha! tone in which they've done so (the LA Times at least presents the issue as a debate with two active sides), are telling enough as to where the NYT is positioning itself these days on abortion rights.

But let's think about the basic premise of the charge. Dr. Eleanor Drey is being accused of unethical behavior, of an unreported conflict of interest, on the basis that she is the director of an abortion clinic and performs abortions. I.e., she conducted a scientific review of medical studies in the field in which she works and is qualified. How, pray, is that a conflict of interest? If a neurosurgeon, who is the head of a neurology clinic and performs brain surgery, publishes a peer-reviewed study of some aspect of brain activity relating to her surgical specialty, would anyone dream of calling that a 'conflict of interest'? Or would they consider it not merely acceptable but optimally desirable that a physician publish research in the field in which she is experienced and qualified?

What would the alternative be? Should gastroenterologists be meta-analysing fetal neurodevelopment studies? Or perhaps lay readers? People with no knowledge or experience of abortion or fetal development at all? Would that be sufficiently unconflicty?

We already know that the forces opposing women's reproductive choice are anti-science, indeed anti-reason. That's old news. In fact the report in question is expressly intended to function as a scientific, empirically-based corrective to the the utterly evidence-free, medically unsupported assertions of the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act.

The fact that the New York Times is jumping on the anti-rationalist bandwagon, and with such gleeful enthusiasm, is newer, and more depressing. The Democrat-led liberal establishment is abandoning women's rights with ever-greater alacrity. We have no one to count on but ourselves. Time for a new movement.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

And Some Sunday Reading

Go check out ReverseVoteSwap.org, a blog both correct and clever: a rare enough conjunction in these debased times. It make me laugh, especially this:
Anguish as Car Thieves Forced to Give Up Favorite Cars

LOS ANGELES -- The decision by the heads of the city's leading auto theft ring to repaint and resell some of the small-time hoods' favorite cars has provoked much anguish and soul-searching among some of the nation's most dedicated thieves.

"This is disgraceful," said one gangster. "I've driven this car for several days, and it's a part of my spiritual being. The people I stole it from, they were just animals, they didn't know how to use a car properly. For instance, I installed those fuzzy dice myself." [there's more.]

It Could Have Been Otherwise...Oh No, It Really Couldn't

Sometimes even the B-team catch a break. The My Lil' Journos at the Observer have come panting up with the scoop that someone in Labour's Foreign Office at some distant historic point was actually possessed of a brain, with functioning eyes connected thereto.

In May 2004, the Foreign Office permanent under-secretary Michael Jay sent this letter to the cabinet secretary, stating baldly that
British foreign policy and the perception of its negative effect on Muslims globally plays a significant role in creating a feeling of anger and impotence among especially the younger generation of British Muslims.
....
This seems to be a key driver behind recruitment by extremist organisations (e.g. recruitment drives by groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and al Muhajiroon).
Rather an obvious conclusion, one would have thought, but of course we currently inhabit the universe where the official Labour position maintains 'there was no "causal link" between Iraq and the London attacks'.

The interesting thing about this letter, beyond of course the curiosity of its existence in the first place (as opposed to the not-at-all-curiosity of its having subsequently been completely disregarded), is that it goes on to lay out a variety of (lord preserve us) 'work streams' undertaken by the FCO in its 'building bridges with mainstream Islam' program.

Now, some of these are laughably vague and government boondoggly, e.g.: 'One of the key priorities of this new unit is strengthening the relationship with, and consultation of, the Muslim community. We have employed a specialist to assist us in this.' Oooh! A specialist! In relationship-strengthening! Dare one presume to guess who this specialist might have been?

Others, like the 'Islamic Media Unit' and the 'Muslim News Awards for Excellence', are the usual, predictable propaganda measures.

(The 'British Hajj Delegation' of 8 doctors and consular staff to provide aid to hajjis is, I must say, pretty random and kind of batfuck, but I suppose broadly commendable.)

But a few of these measures actually seem, given the parameters of the problem for the actually-existing government, like not bad ideas:
- British Muslim delegations to the Islamic world...to strengthen the links between the British Muslim community and many other countries in the Islamic world

- Regular ministerial briefings for key Muslim representatives

- Ministerial outreach to...grassroots organizations in different UK cities, to engage with people who don't normally have access to government Ministers, in community centres, women's organizations, youth groups, etc.

- Outreach to Muslim youth
OK, so not for a moment to get all starry-eyed about the noble intentions of the Foreign Office as opposed to anyone else in Labour, I would nonetheless characterize these measures as, in general, A Reasonably Good Start at building good, respectful community relations. They presume not only the acceptability but the desirability of connection between British Muslims and worldwide Islam, they seek to incorporate Muslim perspectives, both leadership and grassroots, in governance, and they recognize the specific need to engage with young Muslims. The latter are highlighted for attention in the letter, which notes (in a formulation that comes perilously close to a nuanced analysis of the attractions of extremism) 'many of whom are taking on the burden both of the perceived injustices and of the responsibility of putting them right, but without the legitimate tools to do so.'

And these measures already being instituted by the FCO, it would have been easy enough to strengthen and frontline them in the wake of the July bombings, to make them highly visible, official Labour policy. But apparently even easier was to McCarthyize mainstream British Islam, to require loyalty oaths and disavowals from the MCB, to produce slanderous trash like the Panorama special whose express, open purpose is to tar all of Islam with the brush of extremism.

We know why: because maintaining a suitably terrified, docile population under a security state requires the erection of a straw baddie who is not merely terrifying but insidious, an enemy who could be anyone, who is all around us, lurking behind the seemingly moderate, inoffensive faces of our Pakistani or Iraqi or Jordanian neighbors. It's not enough to locate Al Qaeda cells in every hedgerow: that could just as well serve to bind communities together in fear of an external enemy. To frighten the people sufficiently that they will gladly surrender their individual rights and those of their neighbors for the promise of security, you have to atomize them.

You have to convince them that no one can be trusted, and if anyone certainly not those brown-skinned people up the road who may seem nice, and who may have lived there in harmonious coexistence for generations, but who subscribe to a religion that we all really know, given its head, would have every one of us spitted on jihad's sword for our secular, freedom-loving ways before you can say 'allahu akbar'.

Update: (via particleist) Ah, and here's the Observer doing its bit for today, in the 'person' of Martin Bright.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

And Again I Am Compelled To Say

How is this news? Second-from-top story in my BBC News email today:
The family of murdered schoolboy Rory Blackhall have laid flowers near the spot where his body was found.
Now please don't get me wrong. Their son has been horribly killed, and now they've put flowers at the scene. Terribly, terribly sad. Worthy of tremendous sympathy. But news? Really not so much.

Either it's a shockingly slow news day, or it's an excuse to run yet another article about the murder. And what I don't like about that is, every time they have, they've included some version of the following:
Officers said they wanted to speak to two men described as "vagrant types" who were seen walking 100 yards south of the underpass on Nellburn Pass on Thursday.

On Wednesday, a father walking his children to school saw a man dressed in black who came out of the woods near Westwood Park, near where Rory's body was found.

And on Saturday last week a dog walker noticed smoke coming from woods near Dechmont Law at 6.30am and saw a teenage boy and another male sitting around a large campfire.
Now, I may be paranoid, but my XenophobiaDar pings at that. That's just a little bit too when-in-doubt-blame-the-Travelers for my entire comfort. Especially when we're getting stories headlining quotes about 'evil prowling around' the community. And now it appears that both the campfire males and the 'vagrant types' have all been (quite quickly) traced, so there doesn't seem to have been too much urgent call to publicize them as suspects. Unless it was the need to scratch that blame-the-outsiders itch, and for once they couldn't find any Muslims, or for that matter Brazilians with 'Mongolian eyes', in the immediate vicinity.

Please Excuse BionOc

From substantive blogging today, as she was up at the ass-crack of dawn to hustle down and defend an abortion clinic from a mob of rosary-swinging, moaning, chanting, fake-aborted-fetus-poster-hanging, psychotic bigots whipped up into a misogynist frenzy by this man.

And when I say defend, I mean some 80 of them, half that many unfriendly Cranston cops, and 15 of us chanting.

Fifteen, people. In a state with a clear pro-choice majority. Do y'all think abortion rights are going to defend themselves?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Hurrah For International Worker Solidarity

Big up to Unite Here, the American hospitality workers' union, which is threatening solidarity action against Gate Gourmet if they don't reinstate all the Heathrow workers recently sacked by megaphone for a strike they were blatantly provoked into by management.
In a letter to Gate Gourmet's chairman and chief executive, David Seigel, Mr Rayner says: "I write to express Unite Here's unyielding support for the Transport & General Workers Union members negotiating with Gate Gourmet in the UK.

"As you know, Unite Here and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have been negotiating with Gate Gourmet on behalf of over 6,000 members working at your US kitchens.

"Let there be no doubt, we consider your assault on the union employees in London to be an assault on union members everywhere. We are outraged by such immoral behaviour and we expect that you will resolve this dispute by reinstating all of the fired workers. Failure to resolve the matter in the UK will certainly cause the unrest to spread across the Atlantic as our members will be forced to take every lawful measure possible to support our fellow union members."

Referring to the London dispute, Mr Rayner said his members "want to make sure Gate Gourmet knows we will not tolerate such actions in the US, the UK, or anywhere else in the world".
Boo, and indeed yah. Lovely to see Americans taking solicitous note of comrades outside our borders once in a while.

Meanwhile, Gate Gourmet and T & G appear to have reached some sort of preliminary agreement to offer voluntary redundancy to all its workers, including all 670 sacked. GG is avowedly hoping the 'troublemakers' it's been holding out against rehiring will take the redundancy offer, but won't say how it will respond should they decline.

And finally, Polly Toynbee has strangely not-half-bad things to say about it all. Go figure.

Oh, one more thing: neither the NYT nor the WaPo makes any mention of Unite Here's action, though both cover the latest in the GG/T&G talks. Unsurprising, to say the least.

Oh Come On Now

The Guardian offers this well-wouldja-lookit-that-style bit of credulous fluff, about a new meta-analysis of gender IQ disparities, conducted by, if you can credit it, one bigot who 'has long maintained that men are more intelligent than women, believes that white people are cleverer than black people and has called for the procreation of the "underclass" to be kept in check', in wacky collaboration with one man who 'would like to describe [him]self as a feminist'.

The study, about which the elective feminist expresses himself duly anguished--'To be honest I'm not sure I have done the right thing, but in the end I thought it would be dishonest to suppress it'--finds that on average men have IQs five points higher than women's. The article, meanwhile, is so titillated by the odd-couple pairing of the two scientists, and the naughty politically incorrect implications of their conclusions, that it entirely bypasses (aside from a glancing quote from a dissenter, which is not the same as the journalist engaging with the issue) the very notion that there might be any controversy over IQ testing, what it measures, whether it measures with gender or cultural bias, and whether what it measures has any useful significance or actually serves to reinforce the existing societal biases it reflects.

This I call sloppy, not to say irresponsible.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Self-Moderation

I had a post up here which, it seems to me now, could easily have been construed in a way I didn't intend. Specifically it could have been taken as gloating over the killing of an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem. Be assured, that was not at all my meaning. I was amused (macabrely, I grant) by the photograph accompanying the story, and a joke came to mind.

Having thought it through in the light of day, I've pulled the joke so as not to give the false impression that I'm in any way amused or gratified by the death of that poor innocent. Mea culpa for posting past my bedtime.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Rattle Rattle

Gee I'm gabby today. Possibly because I'm stuck in my house waiting for my new sofa to be delivered. On any (in fact on most every) given normal day, I may very well elect not to leave my house ever, but give me a 3- (or 4- or 12-) hour delivery window and I'm all over cabin fever and yearning for the wide-open spaces.

Anyway, this is amusing me:
The United States has criticised an independent investigation which found no evidence that Iran was working on a secret nuclear weapons programme.

The report said traces of bomb-grade uranium in Iran's nuclear facilities came from contaminated Pakistani equipment, not Iranian activities.

But the US said there were other ways Iran could be building nuclear weapons.
Presumably this last refers to the widely-rumored Iranian program for spinning nuclear weapons from straw, codename Rumsfeldstiltskin.

Also this:
Iran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful and that US pressure over its nuclear programme is part of a wider effort to change the regime in Tehran.

However, a State Department spokesman said the report did nothing to reduce their concern at Iran's nuclear programme.

He listed a series of what he called "unresolved concerns", which included Iran's alleged dealings with clandestine nuclear procurement networks and the Bush administration's strong belief that the country was developing and pursuing a nuclear weapon.
[italics mine]

Now, say I have a 'strong belief' that you have a cat in your pocket. If independent investigation of your pocket reveals no empirical evidence of feline presence, surely any lingering 'concerns' relating to my undiminished belief in the putative pocket-dwelling cat should reasonably be concerns about me, not you. Am I wrong here?

Can I Just Say

How truly, overwhelmingly, astoundingly right I am?

I have been saying for years that the notion of the constancy of the speed of light is a bizarre, quasi-religious shibboleth that, as far as anyone's ever been able to explain to me, was determined to be the case through an exercise in physical logic rather than rigorous empirical observation (which, to be fair, wasn't technologically possible at the time, but sure as fuck is now). And further, that within our puny lifetimes light would be measured at variable speeds and the whole 'c' thing would be shown up for the heathen idol it is.

Oh and how. fucking. right. am. I.

Don't worry, particleist you hardcore-lefty-scientist darling, I don't blame you. I'm sure you suspected something was off the whole time.

What He Lacks In Eye Distribution, He Makes Up In Ear Prominence

No honestly, I need Charles Clarke to look more like the product of a doomed cross-barnyard liaison between a billy-goat and a congenitally obese rabbit.

What is with those neck-whiskers?

This Just In: Anti-Choice Lawmaker Talks Shite

Hmm, well somehow this contrived to pass me by the first time around: the not-at-all-polemically-named Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, sponsored in January by Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas, the upright gent who brought us the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act; not to mention S. J. Res 26, the proposed constitutional amendment against gay marriage; and of course the vital-to-national-security call for the FTC to investigate the maker of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. On the other hand, he also sponsored the delightfully contrite Native American Apology Resolution, which along with $2.87 will buy them a tall latte. Native Americans might be excused for holding out on the gracious apology-acceptance until Brownback sponsors a resolution to, say, return the billions of dollars stolen by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Ahem).

This little legislative bagatelle 'would require those who perform abortions on unborn children 20 weeks after fertilization to inform the woman seeking an abortion of the medical evidence that the unborn child feels pain', and 'also ensure that the woman, if she chooses to continue with the abortion procedure after being given the medical information, has the option of choosing anesthesia for the child, so that the unborn child's pain is less severe.'

Senator Brownback's brownbackgrounder on the bill posits that '[m]any are unaware of the scientific, medical fact that unborn children can feel'. This might be attributable to the circumstance of its being neither scientific, nor medical, nor a fact. A new systematic review published in this month's Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that 'fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.'

For my fellow med-porn aficionados, the reasoning:
Fetal awareness of noxious stimuli requires functional thalamocortical connections. Thalamocortical fibers begin appearing between 23 to 30 weeks’ gestational age, while electroencephalography suggests the capacity for functional pain perception in preterm neonates probably does not exist before 29 or 30 weeks.
In addition, the provision on fetal anaesthesia not only promises no evident benefit for the fetus, but could potentially harm the woman undergoing the abortion:
Little or no evidence addresses the effectiveness of direct fetal anesthetic or analgesic techniques. Similarly, limited or no data exist on the safety of such techniques for pregnant women in the context of abortion. Anesthetic techniques currently used during fetal surgery are not directly applicable to abortion procedures.
Not that we would expect Brownback & co. to be much bothered about the safety of a woman undergoing an abortion; we already know how highly they value the life of a woman as compared to that of any fetus she may be carrying. And of course it's not like Brownback and his fellow intelligent-design cult members have ever been all that concerned with niceties like scientific evidence. But still it's always nice to have one more pebble of actual empirical refutation on our side, if only to add to the vast unheeded mountain already there.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Cultural Anxieties of Imperialism: Two Case Studies


Spoiler warning: This post contains spoily plot details about episodes of 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent' and 'The Closer', so if you're really hardcore about not having your police procedurals spoiled in the service of political analysis, stop right here, pardner.

In the last couple of days, in the unflagging grip of my obsession with polprocs, I've seen two episodes that struck me as fascinating reflections of the mainstream liberal culture's confused and anxious reception of the world under GWOT. Both clearly came from the fading-but-still-tenuously-dominant patriotic-liberal wing of Hollywood (this is not a given; many of these shows are or have become profoundly reactionary: witness the despicable CSI: Miami and the cybernetically jingoistic CSI: NY). Both found themselves in a quandary of befuddled handwringing, vised between their instinctual distaste for oppression, their unreasoning panicked fear of Muslims and 'terror', and their inability to even begin to frame a critique of government that might help resolve the confusion. In both cases, the muddle resulted in complete breakdown of plot and characterization, kind of the episode equivalent of a rogue supercomputer in original Star Trek being confronted by Kirk with an insoluble conundrum of logic. Smoke pouring from vents.

The first was a rerun of
'Criminal Intent', the only interesting Law & Order littermate (starring the divinely histrionic Vincent D'Onofrio, my adulation for whom will be familiar to longtime readers of this blog, and guest-starring the decidedly less appealing Chris 'Big' Noth), entitled 'Stress Position'. (I'm about to summarize the whole plot, so spoiler-stragglers, flee now.) Prison guard is found murdered, and the investigation reveals that a group of 'secret prisoners' are being held in a Brooklyn jail, under the abusive watch of a ring of corrupt guards (of which the vic was one, albeit troubled and about to leave). The secret prisoners are, it's implied, all Arabs, and are being held under the material witness statute; one former prisoner is so terrified of reprisals that he fervently denies his evident mistreatment. The secret-prisoners thing is the big hook of the plot; there's also various interpersonal stuff, and they save the day by means of the usual delightfully improbable psychological intervention by Goren, who shame-talks all the ancillary baddies into standing down and not killing him and Big and Big's girlfriend the troubled but compliant prison nurse, leaving Fat White Piglike Ringleader Guard abandoned in his corruptness.

But here's what's so weird. Although it's chock-full of outrage at the notion of these prisoners being treated thus, and packs plenty of exchanges showcasing that outrage, the show can't actually bring itself to blame the government. It doesn't have the balls to come out and admit that, duh, the material witness statute is a tool invented and used by the government for its human-rights-abrogating War on Terror. So instead, omg this was so weird, it invents a completely insane, barely-explained, plot-credibility-hashing Mob connection. It just suddenly waves its hands in the air and says 'Oh it was the Mob who were behind the whole thing, and who killed the guard and for no apparent reason whatsoever were maintaining a stash of secret Arab prisoners under the material witness statute. Hush hush isn't it terrible, lucky we put a stop to it.' It's absolutely extraordinary. Faced with an incontrovertible chain of logic, the logic of a real-life phenomenon that they chose to write a show about, the writers so lost their bottle that they simply jumped the rails of logic altogether and ran screaming off into the night.

The second instance was last night's episode of 'The Closer', TNT's new series starring Kyra Sedgwick as the Adorably Bumbling, personally-out-of-control Deputy LAPD Chief Brenda Johnson, who despite her Georgia accent and untidy ways always manages to get her man (or in this case woman) in the interrogation room. (This show, I must say, constantly has my misogyny sensors on low-level alert, without ever quite tipping over into full-scale Awoogah. Its relationship to Johnson's femaleness and the ways she exploits it or is stereotyped in it is far from straightforward, and I'm persistently on edge watching.)

This one was really complicated. Wealthy Iranian businessman is assassinated along with his bodyguard. FBI intervenes in LAPD's investigation, looking for $2M the dead man supposedly had. References to terror investigations and national security ensue, met with scorn and disbelief from Johnson and her boss. They go to the victim's house to interview the widow (played by Marina 'Deanna Troi' Sirtis, looking like aging ass I must say and wearing, as an Iranian widow, rather more clothing than ST fans will be accustomed to, which these days is probably a blessing) and son, and find the FBI have trashed the place searching for the money, which it appears they had given him themselves in some never-clarified sting. Sympathy for the victims from Johnson, menacing references to the PATRIOT Act from the FBI liaison, who happens to be Johnson's boyfriend Fritz.

Here's where it starts to get complicated and kind of ugly, because the widow is angled very sympathetically, and the whole oppressed-Muslim-woman thing is played to the hilt, with ample coverage of her fearful but restive obedience to her angry son, and a constant uneasy juxtaposition of blame for the Feds' paranoia and brutal methods with the never-resolved implication that the victim, and now his son succeeding him, were in fact involved in funding terrorism. Johnson does a lot of mooning about worrying and trying to protect the widow from her son who slaps her in public (she slaps him back), but the woman insists on staying with him. Then the Feds arrest the son and send him (possibly) to Egypt for interrogation, giving Johnson the opportunity to express her personal opposition to torture. So that's that covered.

In the end it gets even more confused, because it turns out, based on some entirely contingent and dull plot details, that the murder was in fact plotted and committed by the widow and her lover, a white doctor who was trying to save her from her husband who wanted to send her back to Iran to his fundamentalist family. So we get this extraordinary interrogation scene where Johnson has the widow and doctor in a room and he's telling her not to say anything, to get a lawyer, and Johnson manipulates her into confessing by telling her that if she waives her rights to counsel and to remain silent, she will at last be taking control of her own life and not letting men tell her what to do. And this is played like sisterly solidarity! We're supposed to be cheering Johnson on for empowering an oppressed sister to incriminate herself for premeditated murder!

Tearful confession, big cow-eyed sympathetic gazes from Johnson, then suddenly she turns all hard and says 'Well what about the innocent man [the bodyguard] you also murdered in cold blood, just so you wouldn't have witnesses?!' Onscreen consternation, momentary confusion while the audience tries desperately to figure out what we're supposed to be thinking, followed by the Feds suddenly busting in and dragging the woman away, sobbing for them not to hurt her son, while Johnson just sits in her chair looking tiny and wide-eyed up at the (male) FBI agent who's stolen her perp.

The whole thing was astonishingly jumbled, in gender, religion, race and authoritarian terms. It just didn't know quite what it thought in any cohesive way, but it was pretty sure that Islam was bad, because it oppresses women and, you know, it's probably linked to terrorism, and then on the other hand that women who are oppressed might turn out to do desperate things and kill innocent men, and that's bad too, but it's also bad if the FBI come and take them away from you, and also the FBI might probably be bad, unless they're your boyfriend in which case they might have a reversion to conscience late in the plot, in which further case it will be all right to end the episode by deliberately stopping and with a coy glance allowing him to open the door for you like a lady. A lady cop, of course, but Still A Lady.

The GWOT has scrambled liberal minds. They're stuck between the rock of their terror of terror and the hard place of government encroachment on civil liberties, with a substantial dash of siege-mentality xenophobia thrown in to make the ground (beneath the rock and the hard place, you know, stay with me) slippery. They literally just don't know what to think anymore, and they end up thinking many logically incompatible things at once, some of which are commendably compassionate and others passive, bigoted or downright cruel. Result: they make TV shows that make no sense. Chalk up one more casualty in the War on Terror.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Immorality of Moral Hazard

Via WII, a good piece in the current New Yorker from Malcolm Gladwell (for whom I usually have scant time), on the fatally flawed theoretical/ethical underpinnings of the Bush Administration's plans for health coverage, the much-hyped Health Savings Accounts initiative.

A particular strength of this piece, beyond the fact that it takes the time to clearly delineate both the deprivations suffered by Americans lacking health insurance and the manifest failings of our health system across the board, is its focus on the pernicious effects of moral hazard theory.

Moral hazard, a primary linchpin of the motivation behind cost-sharing measures like HSAs, is an economic theory positing that easy (e.g., free or low-cost) availability of a commodity leads to profligate consumption of that commodity. It's usually used in the context of insurance, to describe the phenomenon in which having insurance causes the insured to engage in riskier behaviors, presumably because her personal liability for bad outcomes is now greatly limited.

As Gladwell points out, moral hazard has been a major factor in health economics for the better part of the last four decades, and underlies cost-cutting efforts like HSAs and high deductibles and co-payments on the grounds that, if you force personal health liability back onto the individual, she will make more economically sensible choices with respect to healthcare consumption.

There are two big problems with this model. The first, ideologically, is that it commodifies healthcare in ways that simply don't stand up to scrutiny. Health consumption is manifestly not analogous to the consumption of commodities like cars, TVs, &c. Nor is it analogous even to consumption of staple commodities like food. The dynamics of healthcare consumption are vastly more complex than this, taking into account, for example, preventive care: the decision to forgo a dermatological checkup may appear to be a sensible economy in the short term, but if it allows an undetected malignancy to spread it will eventually prove much more expensive, both in economic terms (exponentially greater cost of treatment) and in terms of the individual's actual life. Multi-factored, diachronic calculations like these are not reducible to the economics of commodity demand. And from a purely philosophical perspective, to attempt to do so has the additional negative effect of discounting any notion of healthcare as a human right, distinct from the discretionary consumption of material goods. Which is, of course, very much part of the point.

More concretely, studies have shown that, while moral hazard-type incentives do in fact play a significant role in healthcare consumption, they don't play out the way the classical theorists would have us believe:
Mark Pauly, one of the architects of the conventional insurance theory, recognized this ambiguity as early as 1983. He pointed out that his original theory of moral-hazard welfare loss was intended to apply only to “routine physician’s visits, prescriptions, dental care, and the like” and that “the relevant theory, empirical evidence and policy analysis for moral hazard in the case of serious illness has not been developed. This is one of the most serious omissions in the current literature.” This distinction, however, has been lost on most health economists. For example, health economics textbook writers continue to present moral hazard as being unambiguously welfare decreasing, and health policy analysts continue to use the conventional theory in developing their recommendations for optimal cost-sharing rates, managed care programs, and other policies designed to curb U.S. health care costs.
If even Mark Pauly, Mr. Moral Hazard himself, recognizes these limitations, you can bet they're pretty glaring. In fact, the use of moral-hazard reduction measures like increased cost-sharing has been shown (note here the actual data findings, not the tendentious interpretation) to reduce consumption of healthcare not merely for 'frivolous' needs like cosmetic surgery, but across the board. That is to say, people who will have to pay more for their healthcare consume less healthcare regardless of how urgent their need is. Heart meds or Viagra, Botox or broken bones, people who can't afford their health care will do without any or all of it. This result is a perversion of the ostensible intent of moral hazard reduction, i.e., to minimize unnecessary or excessive expenditure, and in fact shows up instead the real nature of healthcare cost-cutting initiatives, which are by and large indifferent to questions of welfare increase or decrease, so long as costs are reduced. This is the inevitable result of the commodification of healthcare.

I've said it before: for-profit healthcare is the moral equivalent of war profiteering. It is morally bankrupt and relies for its perpetuation on demonstrably false shibboleths of market efficiency, the primary importance of 'consumer choice', and capitalist incentivization. The United States stands practically alone in maintaining this barbaric let-them-eat-cake system of 'caring' for its citizens' health. When will we join civilization?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Dept. of The Incredibly Useful

Students in a new sleep medicine course at Warwick Medical School 'are being taught the importance of getting a good night's sleep .'

Presumably this is so that when they become residents, they'll know to an acceptable level of scientific accuracy precisely what they're missing.

Just Beyond Disgraceful

What. THE FUCK. is this:


Truly the Beeb have gone out of their zionism-enfeebled little minds. This is the lead photo on the BBC News home page, linking to an article entitled with DeMillean eschatological grandiosity 'Final prayers at Gaza settlements', and describing, in full maudlin Technicolor, how the last handful of fascist colonists are being removed from the settlements, weeks ahead of schedule and with minimal difficulty, in the last act of the Tragedy of Israel's Heartbreaking Sacrifice.

8500 illegal settlers have been politely and swiftly removed from their illegal homes, given fat wads of cash and rehoused at the state's (read the States') expense.

Or, as the Beeb would have it, ISRAEL IS IN FLAMES!

It's utterly, utterly disgraceful. Read this excellent piece by Jennifer Loewenstein in Counterpunch about the deliberate fabrication of this shameful spectacle. What she said.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

You Tell 'Em, Jenny

The Metropolitan Police Authority, 'an independent authority that scrutinises the work of the London police force', has issued a bold indictment of the Met's conduct after the extrajudicial execution of Jean Charles de Menezes:
Authority member Jenny Jones said it should have been "an immediate priority" for police to clarify the information after the 22 July shooting.
One suspects Authority member Jenny Sparks might have had something a bit more trenchant to say on the subject, followed by the summary electrocution of Sir Ian Blair and sundry other criminal elements.

Meanwhile, the death-defying mendacity continues apace, Sir Ian (an anagram, btw, for 'raisin'; coincidence? I think not) taking the bit firmly in the teeth he so relishes lying through, after several days of bitchslapping by the media:
'The thing that I would want to say is that of all the allegations made in the last couple of days, the matter I would most want to reject is the concept of a cover-up.'
Well yes, I don't doubt you would very much want to reject that allegation. I don't think anyone's asking if you want to reject it so much as whether or not you have a hope in hell of getting away with rejecting it. Which, sadly, it looks increasingly likely he will; as the Beeb noted yesterday, nobody important is calling for his resignation. Only, you know, the people whose son his boys butchered.

I do love when they lie about the lying. It all takes on a kind of psychedelic hall-of-mirrors effect, like if they nest enough lies around each other, eventually the outermost lie will in fact be a truth, because it double-triple-quadruple-negates the lies inside it. That's just a theory though; I've never seen it pulled off in practice.

Not content with building his personal Mighty Ziggurat of Lies, Sir Ian is shamelessly exploiting the July 7th bombing victims for a classic Look Over There gambit, exhorting people 'not to let the shooting overshadow the deaths of 52 victims of the London bombers.'
'Tragic as the death of Mr Menezes is, and we have apologised for it and we take responsibility for it, it is one death out of 57.

"The context here is the largest criminal inquiry in English history with 52 innocent victims dead, still double figures of people whose lives have been wrecked, four dead bombers and we can't let that one tragic death outweigh all others.'
Leaving aside the fact that he appears to have taken the curious step of including the dead bombers in his sympathy-tally purely for the purpose of boosting his Deaths Which Outweigh Menezes's Death count, he fails to acknowledge the salient differentiating factor. To wit, while the other 56 deaths are all being vigorously pursued in 'the largest criminal inquiry in English history', Lucky 57's death, at the hands of those very inquirers, is the object of a criminal cover-up by same.

It's a detail, but I think it's relevant.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Incredibly Lame Joke I Just Made Up Myself

If bees are kept in an apiary, where do apes live?

Crawford, of course.


I know, I'm sorry. I don't make the rules.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

South Carolina Wants Inconvenient Poor People To Die

Via Princess Sparklepony (pleasing and newly discovered thanks to Whatever It Is), this astonishing intel about South Carolina's plans to 'reform' Medicaid, America's government health insurance program for the poor and disabled. As currently constructed, Medicaid covers beneficiaries for a fair number (though by no means all) of health services and treatments, regardless of the total costs of their care.

Under the new proposal, Medicaid recipients will instead be given 'personal health accounts' to pay for care, with a capped amount of money in them allocated according to age, gender and health status. If their accounts run out, i.e. if they get sick more often or more expensively than the government thinks they should, they'll have to make up the shortfall out of their own pockets, or go without.

So let's play this out. A single mother on welfare or, worse, with a job at Wal-Mart, gets lupus. She has kidney failure, and has to go on dialysis, maxing out her personal health account with maintenance treatments that will last the rest of her life. But then, oops! Liver goes too. Assuming no wealthy patron appears to rescue her, now she gets to choose how she wants to die: quickly from not paying for the liver transplant, or (relatively) slowly by choosing the transplant and stopping dialysis? Truly 'consumer choice' is a marvelous thing.

Naturally the right can hardly walk for the hard-ons they've got over this:
Devon Herrick, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, said the plan promotes personal responsibility.

"If they've made wise choices, they might have money left over," Herrick said. "If they've made poor choices, it might take some money out of their pockets."

Herrick said Medicaid recipients already have a hard time finding doctors willing to see them because of the program's reimbursement rates, he said. The lack of access can itself lead to health problems.

"I think they'll get better care because I think most of us in private health plans do get better coverage than Medicaid enrollees, even if on paper, Medicaid looks better," Herrick said.
See how that works? They get shitty care now because Medicaid pays so little, so the answer is clearly to give them less money, and make it their fault when it runs out. It's all about 'wise choices', you see. Poor people get sick through choosing foolishly, and they'll only stop it if we make them pay. Or of course if they die. In which case, problem solved!

I swear to god, if you look closely you can actually see the mark of the Devil branded on these people's foreheads.

Talk Dirty War To Me

What is it with military porn? No, I don't mean those ever-elusive Abu Ghraib images. I mean, what is it about military jargon that makes everyone, even the most hardened anti-imperialists among us, go wobbly-kneed with awful secret shameful crush? Get some deadeyed jarhead General from Kentucky on the news talking incomprehensible nonsense about 'running hot' and 'tracking point elements' and suddenly we're all crossing our legs while we carry on decrying the occupation (with, I strenuously stipulate for all our lovely wingnut friends waiting to pounce and tar us hypocrites, undiminished sincerity and good faith) in now-strangely-strangled voices. It's a brain-stem thing. It makes no sense. Examples.

OK, so Juan Cole, right? None more impressive blogger, blindingly knowledgeable, insanely useful resource, a man deserving of utmost respect and admiration, and widely in receipt of same. But not exactly Gary Dourdan, you know? Yet today, he's all
Since the guerrillas have so many former military officers and veterans in their ranks, and since they know where thousands of tons of hidden munitions are buried, they believe they still have an edge over the ragtag Shiite militias such as Badr Corps and Mahdi Army. I personally think they would need tanks and helicopter gunships actually to prevail; but maybe they think they can buy some on the world market.
and I'm like, 'Well hello sailor!' All because he personally thinks they would need certain items of military equipment, and he sounds reasonably like he knows whereof he speaks. What is up with that?

Or yesterday, in a thread at the Tomb about the ever-more-obviously-criminal extrajudicial execution of Jean Charles de Menezes, Meaders posts a clip from the Sunday Times about the kinds of weapons carried by the 'armed response team' (read 'death squad') that whacked JCdM. And as I'm reading, the inferno of my outrage not one whit dimmed, somewhere in my lower lower brain I'm going, 'Ooooh, "a specially modified Heckler & Koch G3K rifle with a shortened barrel and a butt from a PSG-1 sniper rifle fitted to it".' It's just not right!

I honestly don't know what this discomfiting thing is about. If anyone has any insights or hypotheses, I'll be delighted to entertain them.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Disengage This

Like the rest of the world, I've spent the past few days marinating in schmaltz occasioned by the Gaza Disengagement till I feel it exuding a slimy film from my every pore. The media are beside themselves with an orgiastic spectationfreude that queasily combines kneejerk zionist empathy (those poor brave Jews, driven from their hard-won homes! why, they Made The Desert Bloom™!) with orientalizing fascination for the manifest religiwackos wailing and davening in dusty squares with their freaky-ass black boxes strapped to their heads.

C-Span, that unchallenged champion of punitively soporific legislative programming, tore itself away from the proceedings of the House Sub-Committee on Navel Exploration Appropriations the other evening to lend its platform to the Israel Broadcasting Authority, as fronted by this curious gentleman, speaking flawless Middle Atlantic Broadcast English and looking for all the world like Peter Jennings in a kipah:
For an approximate eternity we were treated to a lacrymose cavalcade of caterwauling settlers bemoaning their savage abandonment by the world (much like the woman interviewed on Five News the other night, who asserted with truly unexampled chutzpah 'I know... [sob]... if an Arab were to go through what we are going through... [sob]... everyone - the US, Europe, *everyone*... would say "No Way". But... [sob]... with *us*? It is as if we are not human.' via CM), interspersed with interviews with Israeli citizens like this fine specimen,

whose asseverations that the Disengagement is a violation of 'moral law, Israeli law and international law' had the double virtue of not only being factually incorrect, but also manifesting a startling and unprecedented interest in the concept and existence of international law at all (one could have been forgiven for surmising that Israel had been out sick that day, and nobody would loan it their lecture notes. But no, turns out they knew about IL, they just didn't think it was all that relevant before), and appearances by po-faced government officials and former Air Force generals trying to appear to give a shit about the settlers while walking the strange line of simultaneously supporting the policy and deeming it a grave national hardship.

And I watched all this, watched all these people unblinkingly asserting the horror and misery of 8,500 fascist, racist, murderous scum--who are uprooting their own olive trees (not content with having destroyed so many thousands of the Palestinians' during their occupation) so the Palestinians won't have them, who tell the news cameras they would be glad to leave behind their chattels undestroyed if only humans would be getting it, but Palestinians aren't humans (via WII), who have terrorized and butchered and starved and shat on a million and a half Palestinians for decades--the unspeakable tragedy of these filth being graciously moved into accommodations elsewhere and generously compensated for their inconvenience in giving back the land they cleansed the Palestinians from. And I thought, Israel is a metastasis.

Israel is the malignant, life-destroying outgrowth of traumatic events that, for vast numbers of Jews living today and since the nazi holocaust, instilled a sense of essentialized, inherent victimization so profound and so durable that it has come to reflexively justify any and all means of 'survival'. It's a tumor, born of grave injury to the body of world Jewry and allowed to proliferate unchecked in all directions, engulfing and annihilating not only innocent others like the Palestinians who happened to inhabit Palestine in 1948, but also anything good and human and humane that might have survived in Judaism's
conception of itself in relation to the world.

Jews could have come out of the holocaust with a fierce, fire-hardened resolve never to allow such atrocities to occur again, anywhere, to anyone. No doubt some, even many, did. But Zionism came out of the holocaust bent on the creation, fortification and relentless expansion of a racially exclusive Jewish state, and if atrocities had to occur, if innocents had to die (be they Palestinian or Jewish) to achieve that always-already corrupt project, so be it. From the word go.

I think of Israel and I am sick with rage and horror and vicarious shame. Not. In. My. Fucking. Name.

BTW, it's a bit old now, but if you missed it then it's instructive to read last October's Ha'aretz interview with Dov Weisglass, (via Rafahpundits), for a reminder of what the Gaza Disengagement is really for, and how very little hope there is in this supposed 'step forward'.

No Worker Too Small

Hello, I'm back from my sybaritic seaside revels, and I can't quite decide if this is really cool or really creepy. Or plausibly, I guess, both. Scientists have harnessed up algae cells and made them haul tiny cargoes of polystyrene beads around little chambers, dubbing the petite slaves (not even a carrot to motivate this workforce: they're enticed along the desired path by attractive low-intensity light, or else driven along it by repulsive high-intensity) 'microoxen'.

Most chilling statement from the report's co-author: 'We harness their motors to make them perform unconventional tasks.'

The imagination balks.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Joint Chiefs Wriggle Like A Detainee On A Wire

(As WIIIAI has also noted), the Bush Administration was revealed yesterday in its, by my count, third desperate and wholly discontinuous attempt to resist releasing the torture images from Abu Ghraib, as ordered by a federal judge in early June.

(Attempt #1 was of course my favorite for sheer barefaced gall: they argued that to release recognizable images of the men, women and children being tortured, raped, sodomized, set on by dogs and beaten to bloody mincemeat by US forces would constitute unacceptable humiliation and therefore violate the victims' rights under the Geneva Conventions. This gambit of truly epic chutzpah was swiftly dispatched with reference to the miracle of modern photographic redaction technology.)

This latest effort, revealed in arguments submitted to the US District Court by General Richard B. Myers on July 22nd, claims that to release the images would 'pose a clear and grave risk of inciting violence and riots against American troops and coalition forces.'
[Myers] said it was "probable that al-Qaida and other groups will seize upon these images and videos as grist for their propaganda mill," leading to violent attacks, increased terrorist recruitment, continued financial support and a worsening of tensions between the Iraqi and Afghani populaces and U.S. and coalition forces.

[....]

Myers said the United States has documented situations in which insurgents have falsely claimed that U.S. actions in Iraq caused suffering to women and children when the damage was actually done by violence and sabotage by the insurgents.

He said the insurgents rely on doctored photographs and images to support their calls to violence.
This is absolutely extraordinary. The logic of this argument is twofold and utterly, fatally bankrupt. It posits that:

i) If the consequences of revealing crimes which we fully acknowledge having committed threaten to prove harmful to our cause, we have no obligation to reveal them. I.e., the way to avoid harmful consequences is not to avoid committing the crimes, but to refuse to reveal them later, even when we've admitted to them.

ii) The fact that our enemies allegedly fabricate similar evidence of wrongdoing on our part absolves us of responsibility to reveal true, unfabricated evidence. This is completely fallacious; the one accusation, even if true, has exactly no bearing on the other assertion. If we didn't want to hand our opponents propaganda-on-a-platter, we might have considered not issuing orders abrogating international conventions on prisoner abuse. But tough luck, we did, and now we have to belly up to the fallout. The fact that it gives Iraqis more reason to loathe and resist us is not some unfortunate collateral effect, it is precisely the point.

The government's obligation to reveal the Abu Ghraib images is an obligation not particularly to Iraqi insurgents who may indeed use it for 'propaganda' purposes (wouldn't you?), but to its own citizens, to the abuse victims and Iraqi citizens who suffer under the jackboot of this depravedly human-rights-indifferent occupation, and in fact to the entire world, which has every moral right to demand accountability from the hyperpower that claims the quasi-divine prerogative of enforcing global Freeman Moxie at the point of a gun.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Triumphal, If Short-Lived, Return

Hello hello hello, bloggy friends. What a pleasure to see you all again after so long away interacting with actual real people in the real world who have faces you can see. All very disconcerting. And you know the inconvenient thing I discovered? When you shout at a 'person' in the 'real world' that they're an ignorant asshole lacking any scrap of analysis or historical rigor and they should shut the fuck up and stop polluting the universe with their warmongering filthy spew, there is no little 'x' in the top corner of them you can then click to make them disappear. They remain stubbornly present, as do the violent invective and fisticuffs they then proceed to direct your way. This is a design flaw, I feel.

Anyway. Having evaded by less than 24 hours (yes! an idiot non-anecdote!) the demi-Inferno that is Heathrow Terminal 4 (and here may I insert a massive fucking big up to the T&G members at BA who walked out in solidarity strike with the Gate Gourmet workers who have been treated beyond abominably by their putrescent union-busting employer, which among other more concrete offenses told the union that its workforce, mostly composed of minimum-wage workers from South Asia, 'is a community we cannot work with'. Racist fucks. All the solidarity in christendom to the sacked GG workers and their supporters, and here's trusty Lenin with a basket of useful resources in re), I am once more, albeit fleetingly, ensconced in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

Fleetingly I say, for tomorrow I'm awa' to Cape Cod for a few brief halcyon days, my one and only trip to the sea this whole summer. I know, I know, it's practically five weeks in Crawford (less the bronco-bustin' or the [presumptive] armadillo-tackling--and how fantastic would it be if he caught leprosy?). You have my apologies for such slackerousness (which is more than you'll fucking get from His Chimpesty), and my assurances of utmost diligence upon return. It remains possible that I will have connectivity in my sandy seclusion and hence be able to resume service in situ, but I don't know yet, so I wanted to Manage your tender Expectations and not o'erpromise.

Meanwhile, I wish to thank the divine Tempestua for her custodianship in my absence. You'll have gathered that I have a rather checkered acquaintance, given that Ms. T is the one I deemed best (least ill?) suited to represent me in public. She is, you'll surely agree, an Original. And Harry my dear, it will do you no good at all to go mooning about here plaintively wondering when Tempestua will be back, or if she perhaps left a message for you, a lipstick or a forwarding address. You're not the first to fall prey to her desiccated but curiously puissant charms, and you undoubtedly won't be the last. Safe to say that when in the fullness of time (gods willing many long, pickled years from now) Tempestua takes her leave of this mortal plane, the coroner will assuredly be called to the tearful scene to pry her rigored fingers from the delicate bits of some poor bewildered innocent who only came in to deliver a Get-Well bouquet from one of her countless admirers. Ladies and gentlemen, Tempestua Ignatieff.

Little Tameem And The Mystery Of The Floating Quote

Woke this morning, rather late and very dry about the mouth, to an excited email from George, which he apparently sent at 3am. He has recently, with my encouragement, graduated to broadband, with the result that instead of getting a message from him about once a month, when he remembered to connect, they now come thick and fast. An additional encouragement in this respect has been his acquisition of a laptop (a rather dainty 12" iBook, as it happens) and an AirPort Express, so he now surfs from bed, and has, so he informs me, discovered the delights of chat rooms. For myself, I discovered chat rooms years ago, but never their delights. Oh well.

In any case, George, I surmise, is now a regular visitor to such sites as gaywired.com, where he discovered the news, eagerly forwarded, that the Crown Prince of Qatar was recently outed by a Middle Eastern newspaper, allegedly after getting into a fight at G.A.Y. Having been to this club myself once, when charged with looking after Jasmine's younger son Terry for the evening, I have no idea why someone with as many exquisite options open to him as I presume the young Crown Prince has should end up there, but to each, as this whole business so amply demonstrates, his own.

George's interest in this story was largely personal: he was charged, many years ago, with 'organising security' for the Qatari Royal Family; it was one of his last jobs, and I imagine all that was required of him was to smile and make small chat as they wandered round Fortnums, but he rather took to them, and particularly the then-small boy. 'What a surprise!' his email concludes, 'Little Tameem! But you know, I swear I saw something in his eyes.'

I hate to break it to George that this revelation, and his post-facto investment of some kind of emotional significance in what I will refrain from pointing out to him was a shared glance between a man of near-retirement age and a seven-old-boy, may, as we used to say, be heavily underseasoned (and thus need a pinch of salt: do you see? How witty we once were!). It's striking that the claims seem to have eluded the mainstream media entirely, and while, as Professor Chomsky would doubtless point out, that hardly means it's not true, even OutRage!, in their press release on the subject, add the caveat:
The police say they have no record of any charges. We cannot discount the posibility that the story was put out by the Prince's political enemies in a bid to discredit him and to destabilise the government of Qatar.
At this point, some of you may be doing a double-take: press release? OutRage!? Well, quite. It turns out they have not, however, resurrected the campaign, with which they toyed more than a decade ago but which they never put into practice, of outing public figures, and decided to start with little Tameem. Rather, the story gives them an opportunity to continue harping on endlessly in their assault on Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Islamic cleric who popped in for a chat with Mr Livingstone last year and caused such a storm in his teacup. Even to skim over the endless saga will probably bore you beyond recovery, but as you probably recall this proposed visit was the target of a sustained campaign in the media in which the ever-boyish Mr Tatchell played a major part, and which rather irritated many members (I use the word 'many' in a relative sense, of course, as I am about to the word 'out') of the out Muslim gay and lesbian community, who were confused by his apparent claim to speak in their name, and far from sure they agreed with what he was saying. All this led to the rather peculiar circumstance of Mr Livingstone and Mr Tatchell swapping dossiers in which they offered competing glosses on the learned cleric's Islamic scholarship. Certain people, of the variety I hope I may be allowed to refer to as Friends of Ocky, rather suspected that Mr Tatchell had been co-opted in all his huffings by the pro-Israeli lobby. (Never let it be said that because I am old I am no longer in touch with things!)

Now Sheikh Qaradawi is back in the news, being mooted by newspaper journalists and the like as a possible candidate for Mr Blair and Mr Clarke's exciting new Coach and Horses policy (You're barred!, do you see? Tee-hee.) And the maybe-true maybe-not catfight in which little Tameem and one Michael Heard are said to have indulged among all those provincial homosexuals in the Astoria provides Mr Tatchell with a new opportunity to weigh in on the get-him-out side, with this apparent revelation (in the same press release) that:
The Crown Prince of Qatar should be stoned to death for being gay, according to Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim fundamentalist scholar who is based in Qatar.

These allegatons appear in the Middle East news magazine Aljazeera.

Dr Qaradawi was defended by the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, in a Guardian comment article only yesterday, Thursday 4 August.

Aljazeera quotes Dr Qaradawi as saying:

"The scholars of Islam, such as Malik, Ash-Shafi`i, Ahmad and Ishaaq said that (the person guilty of this crime) should be stoned, whether he is married or unmarried."
This news is an absolute gift for Mr Tatchell, who has been squabbling endlessly with Mr Livingstone over whether or not the good doctor actually throws his weight behind stoning to death as an appropriate sanction for gay men (far more severe, certainly, as OutRage! notes, than the current legal penalty in Qatar, 5-10 years imprisonment). Previously, the best direct quote from Sheikh Qaradawi that he could find on the subject was this rather equivocal waffle, from a long article in the enticingly-named 'Fatwa Bank' of islamonline.net:
Muslim jurists hold different opinions concerning the punishment for this abominable practice. Should it be the same as the punishment for fornication, or should both the active and passive participants be put to death? While such punishments may seem cruel, they have been suggested to maintain the purity of the Islamic society and to keep it clean of perverted elements.
Now, when that was all OutRage! had, they certainly did their level best to milk the stone for all it was worth:
The death penalty only seems cruel, he argues, until we understand that it is actually necessary “to keep [Islamic society] clean of perverted elements”
But all of that fun sophistry is now rendered happily redundant by the Aljazeera (a magazine, not the TV channel) article upon which OutRage! bases its press release. After all the article itself clearly says, as Mr Tatchell relates:
The eminent Qatari based scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi also quoted:

"The scholars of Islam, such as Malik, Ash-Shafi`i, Ahmad and Ishaaq said that (the person guilty of this crime) should be stoned, whether he is married or unmarried.”
At last: no more beating about the bush. The double-tongued doctor, so elusive in conversations with Western media, has gone and said what he really thinks to an Arabic newspaper. (Actually, he's apparently gone and said what some other people think, the named 'scholars of Islam', think, and even here voiced no clear opinion himself. But hey-ho.) As the press release goes on:
"Dr Qaradawi appears to be encouraging the murder of a person in the UK, which is a serious criminal offence," says OutRage! "We are astonished that Mayor Livingstone is still supporting him."
Well, that's all sorted out then. Naughty Ken. Evil, duplicitous Doctor. Vindicated OutRage!

Except Dr Qaradawi never said it.

Ha! Weren't expecting that, were you? Tempestua, fearless investigative journalist and learned Islamic scholar! Well, sorry to disappoint, it's more Tempestua, member of a generation that was actually taught English at school, and Tempestua who can recognise the odd sentence if she's seen it before.

Forgive me for going about this the long way, but it's the easiest way to make things clear.

OutRage!'s press release (have the link again if you like, it's a long way up) says:
Aljazeera reports that other scholars from Islamonline.net, have also endorsed the execution of the prince, citing the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad to justify the death penalty for the heir to the Qatari throne:

"Whoever you find committing the sin of the people of Lut, kill them, both the one who does it and the one to whom it is done." (At-Tirmidhi: 1376)
Which is half-true. Aljazeera cites two quotes from Islamic scholars on the death penalty, one apparently from Dr Qaradawi and one other, as follows:
Scholars of Islamonline.net condemned the actions quoting religious text:

"Almighty Allah has prohibited illegal sexual intercourse and homosexuality and all means that lead to either of them. Moreover, Islam emphatically forbids this deed [homosexual sex] and prescribes a severe punishment for it in this world and the next. How could it be otherwise, when the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "Whoever you find committing the sin of the people of Lut, kill them, both the one who does it and the one to whom it is done." (At-Tirmidhi: 1376)

The eminent Qatari based scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi also quoted:

"The scholars of Islam, such as Malik, Ash-Shafi`i, Ahmad and Ishaaq said that (the person guilty of this crime) should be stoned, whether he is married or unmarried.”
Well, I've seen both of those quotes before, and so has Mr Tatchell. Because they're lifted from the very same fatwa bank article that contains Dr Qaradawi's equivocatory ramble that was the basis for OutRage's earlier rhetorical gymnastics around his use of the word 'seems'. OutRage! even link back to the article at the bottom of their new press release.

Are you still with me? Good. Yes, it's as simple as that.

Now, Aljazeera, or whatever work-experience teenager stuck the article together from a quick Google, has certainly made a mess of the quotes. The second one, which they attribute to Dr Qaradawi, doesn't come from him at all; it's further down the piece, after his long text, and either after or within the text by one Sheikh Muhammad Saleh Al-Munajjid; a floating double-quote makes it hard to be sure. And the first one is actually a running-together of two quotes, the first sentence (from 'Almighty Allah' to 'either of them') from Dr Qaradawi and the rest ('Islam emphatically forbids' to the end) from the aforementioned other chap.

'Moreover, ' is an interpolation.

Naughty, lazy, lying OutRage!. Now, I don't add 'lying' because they were so preternaturally dim that they didn't spot that the quote on which they base their entire press release wasn't by Dr Qaradawi after all -- but because not even said work-experience teenager tried to claim that these old recycled citations from islamonline.net were anything else.

It was OutRage! who added the invention that these sentences, which we know for a fact that they have previously pored over looking for evidence against the poor maligned Doctor, were responses to the alleged news of the alleged outing after the alleged fight, from 'scholars [who] endorsed the execution of the prince'. They weren't; they predate the whole G.A.Y. business by more than a year. OutRage! even have either the idiocy or the cheek to add:
Dr Qaradawi's comment to Aljazeera reiterated his "gays should executed" opinion delivered in the fatwa "Homosexuality and Lesbianism: Sexual Perversions" issued last year (17 May 2004).
In other words, the thing in the 17 May 2004 article on islamonline.net that Dr Qaradawi didn't actually say himself was apparently Dr Qaradawi himself now reiterating to Aljazeera an opinion that Dr Qaradawi did not, in the first place, express in the 17 May 2004 article on islamonline.net.

For myself, I prefer to remember Mr Tatchell as he used to be, years ago. Perhaps -- I'm not really sure I want to know -- like George does little Tameem.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Surrender

On the horizon, a gathering darkness, through which bright white worms briefly wriggle and are gone. Around it the sky is stained, damp and grey. It's disconcerting, seeing a storm so far off. You know the silence in which you now witness it is wholly absent there, that it will approach relentlessly as a great army, drums building and gunfire echoing towards you, until your now-innocent patch of land begins to tremble, and the daylight seeps from it, and the tempest is suddenly on you in all it raging fury.

Can you see? Can you hear? There, just there, if you hold your breath?

With no hurry, with monumental deliberation, Ocky returns.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Neglect

Oh dear, I really am letting things go. Bad Tempestua! Believe me, I know. I tried to warn Ocky that any appearance I might give of capability was merely the kind of illusion they used to teach you at finishing school. And see? I have let another two days go by without a single post, and even now I don't have the time to make a proper start on what I had been meaning to tell you about. And then tomorrow Ocky will be back, and poor little Tempestua will have blown her chance to do some good for once. At least by now I'm used to it. In fact, I have never been under any illusions about myself, which is why I never had children. It's not that I wouldn't have loved them, it's that I'd have woken up very early one morning, like this morning, briefly confused, and then wondering at the magical ability of gin to eradicate whole days, but instead of now, when at least the limit of my sin is allowing Ocky's blog to drift past its best-before date, I would find some tiny thing, starving and screaming. Even Harry, I hope, is not as starved on my account.

No doubt, though, the brief and thrilling friendship which Harry and I have enjoyed, our shared little firework display, will fade away when he realises how little I really have to offer; and Ocky, too, understandably let down upon her return, may drop round at funny hours less often than before. But then I seem to be shedding friends quite vigorously at the moment. Witness delicate little Jasmine and our adventure on the tube. I'm very fond of Jasmine, really, but the tiny creature is a nervous wreck, and last week, when our bridge game was interrupted, as usual, by George's quite bizarre version of narcolepsy, she began to tell me how, in the current circumstances, she had been avoiding the tube. Unfortunately for Jasmine, whose father was a most tedious roué and left her nothing but debts, avoiding the tube is not really an option: not only can she not afford taxis, but she most certainly can't afford taxis to Pinner. Of course, I brightly offered to go the first few stops with her to give her confidence, which was gratefully accepted, and off we went. At the station entrance was one of those gnarled individuals selling the Evening Standard, who told us it contained all sorts of detail on new and unimagined terror threats, and thinking we might need some distraction I bought a copy. For some reason it came with a free bottle of water, and as we descended in the station lift I offered it to Jasmine, for her nerves, which she politely refused. Now, exactly what about that exchange I should have found so amusing is beyond me, but the fact remains I was most taken with it, and while I managed to avoid actually smirking, I couldn't resist repeating myself. So as we waited on the platform for the train I asked her: 'Are you sure you wouldn't like the water? For your nerves?', to which she simply shook her head, and, a few stops later, after some discussion of the fashion these days for multiple, discrete terror cells, when it was time for me to leave her, I kissed her goodbye and bid her luck, and added, 'Jasmine dear, really, why not take the water? It might help with your nerves, you know,' -- to which she looked suddenly tearful and muttered very quietly, but believe me, utterly uncharacteristically: 'Oh fuck off Tempestua.' Which, with a look of surprise that was not a little manufactured, I did.

Do I suffer from a failure of empathy? What made me torment little Jasmine so? I don't like to think of myself as a cruel person, but from time to time, I catch myself behaving in ways that I can't easily otherwise describe. I'm sure Jasmine and I will patch it up -- at her age, let alone mine, one tends to hold on to friendships, friends being an increasingly endangered species -- but I wonder, now, what the point of all that was. Perhaps I made her sufficienly angry to distract her from her nervousness: if so, is it an excuse?

This I do know: friends, and even whole days, may disappear, but gin endures.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Reassurance

Thanks to the many of you who have, in the wake of the sudden silence that followed my initial flurry of posts, emailed to check on my health. Evidently my advanced age is of concern not only to me. Rest assured I am fit as the proverbial, nor indeed would I be averse to a fiddle, but I've had no more time for that (NW aside, on which more later) than I have to fulfil my babysitting obligations here. Indeed, my admiration for Ocky, whose output here is so regular it could be a testament to a fibre diet, grows ever stronger. I've also had the great pleasure of encountering, in the comments box here and on their own blogs, many of her friends, all of whom seem to share her youth and vigour, not to mention her optimistic desire, which goes alongside that, to feed what I recently had to inform George he is no longer allowed to call 'all the hungry little piccaninnies of the world'. Still, the poor man's heart is in the right place, unlike, it must be said, his shoulders.

Friday, August 05, 2005

From Uzi To Ufi

The robust Mr Blair today announced a wide slew of measures apparently designed to prevent terrorism by stopping people talking about things. We will now no longer welcome people who "foster hatred", although there appears to be no ban, for the moment, on directly giving birth to the stuff, which may come as a relief to certain members of the Conservative Party. He will be introducing laws to deal with "the sort of remarks made in recent days" -- I presume this too is not a direct move against the Conservatives, but as he doesn't tell us which remarks he means, or who made them, it's hard to tell -- and be consulting with the Muslim community on laws to close mosques, which is nice of him, as they are presumably just the people who might have an interest in that kind of thing. He'll also be working with the same community on a commission to advise the same community how to integrate itself better, although it seems this is a special privilege he will be extending only to Muslims. Some of us, who feel, what with reality television and Heat magazine, rather cut off from the rest of society ourselves, might have welcomed, in these difficult times, a commission of our own, to better advise us on how to interact with young people and those in the service industries, but I suppose these changes must be incremental.

Not mentioned by Mr Blair, but recently announced, and in the same vein, is the development of a new requirement for prospective citizens, who, before swearing their allegiance to this country -- something, thank god!, that those of us who were born here have never had to do -- will be asked to take a test on their 'knowledge of life in the UK'. I happen to know something about this, as my gardener, Luis, is trying to bring his lady wife here at the moment, and as the poor chap's rather hard up, I undertook, for his birthday, to pay her fee for this examination. It was with some surprise, then, that I found I would soon be writing a cheque for £40 not to the Home Office, or Hampshire County Council, but rather a company called Ufi Ltd, which runs something called 'learndirect centres' on behalf of the government, and will be administering these tests for the state. Never having heard of Ufi, but impressed with the serious nature of their activities, at least judging by the importance Mr Blair places on all this stuff in protecting us against threats unimaginable, I had a quick peep at their website. In particular, I wondered what kind of career would ready someone for the captaincy of an organisation designed to prepare people for life in this country, and weed out those whose knowledge of the life or language here was inadequate. Well, it turns out the key qualification is a solid track record in arms sales: both the chairman and chief executive of Ufi have spent the great part of their previous professional lives working for BAE and other military suppliers, the former, some years ago, having had direct responsibility for the Saudi account. At first this seemed a bit odd -- how much crossover can there really be between selling military aircraft on the one hand and promoting good citizenship on the other? But as a business strategy, I suppose, it's rather brilliant: first you sell disreputable governments military hardware, and then you charge £40 to each of the refugees who subsequently pitch up here trying to avoid said guns and bombs. If it is people as clever as this upon whom Mr Blair is relying to manufacture a more consensual society for us all, I'm sure we have little to fear.

How To Blow Up The US Embassy

Brunch yesterday morning at 202 with George (his real name, not that it'll do you any good), who I notice has taken recently to describing me as an 'old flame', which is revisionism of the most energetic variety. Oh well: these days, it's hard to begrudge anybody their fantasies or evasions, at least the harmless ones.

For the food, I regret to say Ms Farhi has a lot to answer for. It is, to my mind, hardly on to advertise 'fried green tomatoes' and then deliver something the pillarbox hue of which, concealed in its cornmeal crust, you presumably hope will go unnoticed. More sinisterly, but at least intriguingly, when George, perhaps out of some misdirected impulse to impress, ordered the tuna burger, the young waitress informed us said burger had been taken off the menu 'until further notice'. How grand! What form this notice will, in the fulness of time, take, went unstated. A full-page advertisement in The Times, perhaps.

Fried green tomatoes, or at least those promissory words, are a big deal for me these days, but less so for George, as he was a little too keen to tell me. In fact he had recently been treated to lunch, by wallet, or perhaps purse, ostentatiously unspecified, at Le Gavroche, no less. Of course, I was able to squeeze in the news, which comes directly from Alex Who Does For Me, and is God's honest truth, sharing as they once did a gym, that the Marathon Chef goes commando, which discombobulated George more, and perked him up less, than I'd anticipated; frankly, I'd have thought, the number of layers between Petit Roux and your Omelette Rothschild are less important than the fact of such layers per se, and even in their wholesale absence any risk posed is not so much to you as to the eventual takeover of the lease by the third generation. But I digress.

The point of this story, inasmuch as I have one, is that George, wandering out of the restaurant rather sozzled in the mid-to-late afternoon, and emerging, as one does, bang outside (perhaps that should under the circumstances read 'right outside') the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, had encountered a couple of the policemen that now guard the place giving directions to a tourist. Now, it may well be that Ms Octopus has an international readership who are not familiar with the recent and not-so-recent changes that square has undergone: I remember fondly the days, as you will not, when the embassy building's optimistic glass had not yet been obscured with protective cladding, and indeed, in the days of the great modernist Hiltons, before all that silliness in Southeast Asia initiated the great country's slide, among certain factions, into gross unpopularity, even attended a couple of free jazz concerts there. But if the once-encouraged public access to the building was eliminated from the ’60s, such changes were trivial compared to what happened in late 2001. Looking at Grosvenor Square today, it's almost as if the Americans are trying to acclimatise themselves to Baghdad by recreating it outside their London staging post: concrete barriers, of the same kind that now protect our parliamentary members from Otis Ferry and his whinnying crowd, line the park in old Eisenhowerplatz, and are yet one more disincentive to trying to park near Selfridges (the incentives for which, forgive me for saying, continue to diminish. These places are meant to be forbidding. That is why they used to be, for those of us who were comfortable entering, such oases); residents of prissy little Blackburne's Mews, running behind the great building, are ahead of the rest of us with their already-compulsory identity cards, which they must produce at the miniature Checkpoint Charlies at both ends of their street when they pop out for a pint of milk; and the local bobbies have for some time been carrying the most ferociously unpleasant-looking guns, great black tubes on a scale beyond the capacity, I would imagine, of even hungry little Alex Who Does to incorporate, and which are probably capable of shooting down the next hijacked Ryanair flight from Stockholm.

The point of George's story was that these very officers, PC Plod gone Rambo, had been engaging most, I suppose, engagingly with the misplaced tourist, and trying, with evidently limited success, to help him locate Upper Brook Street in an A-to-Z. I pronounced myself rather pleased by this vision, which seemed to me tremendously if obscurely reassuring, but George was more dismissive, particularly given that Upper Brook Street was the extension, merely a block over, of the very road on which they were stationed. Surely, he insisted, they should have known where they were. What, he demanded, would they have done had the urgent announcement suspect vehicle on Upper Brook Street come crackling over their walkie-talkies?

He had a point, I suppose, but as usual with George the point of this anecdote was less its tenuous interest -- believe me, I know -- and more, rather too obviously, the reassertion of his alleged professional life, which has receded even further over the visible horizon than his hairline, in the world of security. I have never given much credit to the more august of his claims in this respect, George's lavender tendency having remained, despite all his contorted misdirection, rather sweetly overapparent since university, and his desperate need for comfort having been, for just as long, so palpable that it would have been clear even to the most bluffly imperceptive recruiting officer quite how immediate would be George's surrender, in the sympathetic company of not only a young and broad-shouldered Soviet, but probably even an aged and podgy one, of any and all state secrets that had been entrusted to him.

My own assumption, if you are curious, is that George did play some kind of supporting role in the great drama of our secret state, but that it was an administrative one, and even at the late stage of his career did not score particularly well on the great security-clearance pole-vault. Now that career is as permanently behind him as the slight but growing hunch about his shoulders, but like the rest of us, he has plenty of time for retrospection, and so it is understandable that, keen to walk off his stupor of grenadin de veau aux morilles, he wandered round the square in the mental drag of an active intelligence officer. And here, so he related, he became somewhat excited, because the conviction slowly gripped him that a tremendous oversight had been made by those charged with protecting our American cousins. Now, if you and I were gossiping over puds in the Fifth Floor restaurant, I would relate quite happily the details of George's theory: I don't, after all, believe the poor chap really knows what he's talking about, and while even I will concede the Americans seem to be ballsing things up a bit at the moment, I'm sure they are giving it their all, considering the frightful eyesore they are prepared to make of that lovely square, as far as such prophylaxis is concerned. But this friendship of ours is virtual in more than one respect: I am sure Ocky's friends are a lovely bunch, but how can I be sure that I am not unwittingly dropped in on, say, by one of the minions of the unpleasant Mr al-Zawahri, who popped up on our screens yesterday with more of his finger-waving hectoring?

(Those of us who fell prey, in our middle years, to a passing obsession with the Nouvelle Vague, will have noticed a peculiar thing about this latest transmission -- not that Mr al-Zawahri looks not unlike Ronnie Barker in a stick-on beard, which he does, but that whatever you learn in CIA or al-Qaeda training camps, it does not, apparently, include learning to focus a video camera. It is the gun propped up behind him that is sharply-defined, not the crabby Egyptian, who is dressed, by the way, to fit right in with Selfridges' Autumn/Winter Black and White promotion, but appears nevertheless in a terrible blur. But then he is in the centre of the screen, which is where today's cameras are taught to auto-focus: so the possibility arises that far from an oversight, this is a deliberate aesthetic choice on the part of the film-maker, and if so, the question follows, to what end? I don't, I must tell you, have a good answer to that. I toyed momentarily with the hypothesis that it was somehow meant to impair the intercession of whatever artful CIA algorithms are now crawling all over the image, but if he wanted not to be recognisable he'd have stayed off-screen; I considered too the possible agency of simple vanity, the soft focus doing for the ageing grouch's skin what it used to do for movie post-starlets before digital smoothing took over, but if that was a concern he would have gone for a more flattering angle than the veritable belly-level to which we are relegated. Or maybe it is a mistake to look for an explanation in the effect on al-Zawahri alone, and we should rather consider the intention behind the mise-en-scène entire: the director may be drawing our attention to the gun even as we listen to the translator's inevitable voiceover, either because it is a neat symbol for violence, or because it says this is what is constant: our leaders may change but our methods will not. Or maybe the camera just found nothing to focus on in the white expanse of tunic and went for an easier option instead. But once again I digress.)

In any case, George became quite worked-up over the course of relating to me his apparent insight, and went straight off after brunch, in a taxi, no less, to compose an email to various authorities, on which he copied me, and which was copiously illustrated, the following being but one of many attachments.



Poor George! And yet is the unvarnished desire for human contact, for someone simply to listen, so evident in his excited little missive, any different from whatever illusions I myself am sustaining as I bash out this now embarrassingly overlong circular to persons of whose existence, apart from the delectable Harry's, I can hardly claim certainty?

But perhaps I am grown too cynical. Perhaps there are thousands of you out there eager to share in the little ups and downs of my day; perhaps, even, George's urgent memorandum will not be peremptorily deleted by a spotty functionary, but make its way up some serious and secretive command tree and result in refinements to security arrangements that may in their turn prevent or discourage all kinds of unwelcome nastiness on the very door of the enchanting Gavroche. Perhaps the noisome little yahoo to whom all the people George has busied away several of his precious remaining hours for eventually report will stop using the unlovely Mr al-Zawahri's idiosyncratically-video'd harangue as an excuse for the dizzying and apparently impromptu sophistry that this all goes to show that Iraq is -- note he did not say was -- a part of the war on terror (a war I believed had been dropped in favour of global struggle, but has now come back, not unlike the phenomenon which eventually led to my presence on this blog), and go and do something useful instead, like jump off a bridge. After all, as young people like Ocky and Harry keep showing us, there's something rather beautiful about optimism, in the end.

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