Nine Things We Learnt This Week

1. George Bush, explained.

The devil made him

” ‘Evil exists in politics, quite often in fact,’ Father Amorth said.  ‘The devil loves to take over business leaders and those who hold political office.  Hitler and Stalin were possessed.  How do I know? Because they killed millions of people.  The Gospel says: ‘By their fruits you will know them.’  Unfortunately, an exorcism on them would not have been enough, since they were convinced of what they were doing.  We can’t say it was a possession in the strict sense of the word, but rather a total and voluntary acceptance of the suggestions of the devil.’ ”

2. Ships of the Damned.

“The analysis, due to be published this year by the human rights organisation Reprieve, also claims there have been more than 200 new cases of rendition since 2006, when President George Bush declared that the practice had stopped.

It is the use of ships to detain prisoners, however, that is raising fresh concern and demands for inquiries in Britain and the US.

According to research carried out by Reprieve, the US may have used as many as 17 ships as ‘floating prisons’ since 2001. Detainees are interrogated aboard the vessels and then rendered to other, often undisclosed, locations, it is claimed.

Ships that are understood to have held prisoners include the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu. A further 15 ships are suspected of having operated around the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which has been used as a military base by the UK and the Americans.”

3. And so it begins. (1)

“His wife going off on a rant about how evil “whitey” is, and conspiracies that he is a covert Muslim trying to infiltrate our democracy are nothing more than rumors…at least at this point. However, there are plenty of things the media don’t put enough focus on that are true about the Obamas. Instead they would rather focus on things like his playful fist-bump. They have to keep their priorities on the important issues.”

4. And so it begins. (2)

The victim of a plagiarized lie

“Despite the tenuousness of this rumor, Obama was actually asked about this non-existent video in front of the national press by a reporter the other day. Understandably, he pushed back hard on the notion that he should have to answer such a question.

Now Jim Geraghty of National Review has claimed that the rumor may be based on…fiction. A political thriller called The Power Broker, published in 2006 by Stephen Frey, features the presidential campaign of Dem candidate Jesse Wood, who’s aspiring to be the country’s first African-American president.

We went out and got the book. And sure enough, in the novel, Wood’s opponents discover video of the candidate himself — not his wife — discussing with a radical black minister how he will ‘f— whitey’ when he gets into office, despite all his public rhetoric about racial reconciliation.”

5. We’re shocked. Really.  (1)

“The space agency’s internal watchdog, the inspector general, reports that from autumn 2004 until early 2006 Nasa’s central public affairs office handled global warming in a way that ‘reduced, marginalised, or mischaracterised climate change science made available to the general public’.

The confirmation of political interference is vindication for James Hansen, Nasa’s chief climate scientist and one of the first to sound the alarm over global warming. Claims of political dallying surfaced when Hansen said he had been blocked from taking part in a National Public Radio interview in December 2005.”

6. We’re shocked. Really. (2)

” ‘In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted or even nonexistent,’ Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the committee chairman, said at a news conference. ‘As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.’

The report, the last and most contentious of a series of Senate reviews of prewar intelligence, sought to compare the administration’s public claims about Iraq with the intelligence reports available to them at the time. While many of the White House’s statements — such as Bush’s warnings about a secret Iraqi nuclear program — were amply supported by intelligence files at the time, the report said, others were not.”

7. Still dead.

Miracle of the embalmer’s art

8. Must-read essay of the week.

“I am not blind to the imperfections of this America, or the failures to always meet these ideals at home and abroad. I spent 20 years of my life in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans as a foreign correspondent reporting in countries where crimes and injustices were committed in our name, whether during the Contra war in Nicaragua or the brutalization of the Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces. But there was much that was good and decent and honorable in our country. And there was hope.

The country I live in today uses the same words to describe itself, the same patriotic symbols and iconography, the same national myths, but only the shell remains. America, the country of my birth, the country that formed and shaped me, the country of my father, my father’s father and his father’s father, stretching back to the generations of my family that were here for the country’s founding, is so diminished as to be nearly unrecognizable. I do not know if this America will return, even as I pray and work and strive for its return. The “consent of the governed” has become an empty phrase. Our textbooks on political science are obsolete. Our state, our nation, has been hijacked by oligarchs, corporations and a narrow, selfish political elite, a small and privileged group which governs on behalf of moneyed interests. We are undergoing, as John Ralston Saul wrote, ‘a coup d’etat in slow motion.’ We are being impoverished — legally, economically, spiritually and politically. And unless we soon reverse this tide, unless we wrest the state away from corporate hands, we will be sucked into the dark and turbulent world of globalization where there are only masters and serfs, where the American dream will be no more than that — a dream, where those who work hard for a living can no longer earn a decent wage to sustain themselves or their families, whether in sweatshops in China or the decaying rust belt of Ohio, where democratic dissent is condemned as treason and ruthlessly silenced.”

9. Because they can.

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The Hype. The Reality.

From electoral-vote.com:

McCain versus Obama
Electoral Votes: Obama 237     McCain 290     Ties 11

McCain versus Clinton:
Electoral Votes: Clinton 279     McCain 242     Ties 17

There’s a blog called The Truth About John Sydney McCain which has as its tagline:

This blog provides the ugly but well-researched and documented truth about John McCain’s voting record, his fatal inconsistencies, his marital unfaithfulness and divorce record, his absurd and dangerous statements about Iraq and Iran, and all of the reasons why Senator John McCain from arid Arizona ought never, ever become president of the United States of America.

I would probably and unfortunately add, “But will.” Looking at the above maps, I get a sinking feeling, an unpleasant sensation of deja vu.  Since when has recklessness, unfaithfulness and absurdity prevented a  Republican candidate from being elected? John Kerry was supposed to stomp all over George Bush, then eat him for breakfast.  Ditto for Dukakis and the senior Bush.  R. Reagan, the most idiotic and ridiculous of all, won handily, twice.  The plain truth is that Americans and the American media love deeply flawed politicians — if they are Republican.  (There’s even an acronym for the phenomenom: IOKIYAR –It’s OK If You’re A Republican.)

In the weird metaphysics of American political life, obvious character defects becomes assets, because, I think, there is a nice resonance with overtly Christian notions of redemption, and larger American themes of mastering personal obstacles. Reagan’s clear indifference to important details metamorphed into an ability to see the large picture.  Similarly, George Bush the younger’s odd incuriosity is lionized in some places as “studied detachment.”  The transformation of John McCain has yet to begin in earnest, but one suspects his well-documented temper (for example) will become, in time, “assertiveness” or “willing to defend America” or some such tripe.  No such slack is cut for Democrats, who tend to be skewered for the slightest lapses. Contrast Obama’s difficulties with his pastor against McCain’s largely painless collection of John Haggee’s endorsement.

It is admittedly a long way till the November elections, but it seems the Democrats are on the cusp of choosing the unelectable candidate.  Despite the hype confusing desire with reality — and remember the primaries are not the general election — Barack Obama has problems. The mathematics are daunting. Hillary Clinton’s argument, that Democrats ought to choose the candidate who can carry the big states, is essentially correct. Obama’s behind in Florida and Ohio, two states he must carry to win the presidency.  He probably won’t flip any red states.

Politically, the Republicans are going to thump three memes: he’s too young, too inexperienced, and too liberal. The last of these, the tag of liberalism, still strikes fear into the hearts of many American voters, and will be a hard one to avoid, given Obama’s voting record. The ramblings of Obama’s turbulent priest haven’t helped.  The loony right is already circulating stories of Obama being a secret Muslim in thrall to sharia law, and a version of this story has even appeared in the editorial pages of the New York Times.  Like any good propagandists, they know if they say it enough times, it becomes true.  McCain may denounce such idiocies, but note they are consonant with his latest attacks on Obama’s foreign policy objectives. And the media has, thus far, given McCain a free ride, assigning him such vote-getting American virtues as a “war hero”, “straight talking” and “maverick” (though his maverickness has somewhat declined as late: he voted the party line 80% of the time in 2007, as opposed to 65% in 2006.) And he looks like everyone’s kindly grandfather, wisps of thinning white hair blowing in the breeze, though he apparently refers to his wife by a word not repeated in polite company. I will even go on a very windy limb and suggest (with increasing sorrow), that with all of this and IOKIYAR at work, barring some catastrophe John McCain will win in November.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like Obama. If I were an American citizen, I would surely work for him. John McCain I despise, for reasons quite unrelated to his politics. What does it say about his character, to utter a boorish two-liner about an 18-year old girl, even if she is the daughter of a political enemy? (No doubt, somewhere, this is being spun as “straight talk.” And don’t forget IOKIYAR.)

I hope I am wrong, but one must be prepared for the future.  My only advice then, in the face of despair, is to invest in the company manufacturing “Hillary 2012” buttons and related campaign paraphernalia, because surely that’s where she and the Democratic Party are heading.

Obama, Hawking and the Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe

So I spent the week pissing around with a post.  I used up hours marshalling facts, arguments and raw data, pondering over whether this phrase or that represented le mot juste, and generally parsing nothing at all.  My opus major was to be on the topic of Islam and Europe, and the hysteria contained therein, and about how various right-wing writers aren’t so much concerned about Islam in Europe as finding another stick to beat the Left with (and being misongynist and xenophobic along the way.)  It’s a topic I find deeply interesting, and yet. . . the mojo wasn’t working on this one.  Maybe next week.

In the meantime the latest meme (or idiocy, take your pick) surfacing in the U.S. presidential campaign is that Barack Obama is the anti-christ.  Yeah, the real deal, with the name of the beast tattoed on his scalp and a strange, almost devilish, ability to lure superdelegates away from Hillary Clinton.   The proof is clear. It’s in the Bible, for all to see who can  — and people gone wacko over Revelations always somehow skip over all those inconvenient bits about loving your neighbour, giving your money to the poor, visiting the imprisoned, etc.  (Google Obama anti-christ and you will see myriad semi-literate examples. It’s pathological.)

In a related story, Stephen Hawking says, “Primitive life [in the Universe] is very common and intelligent life is fairly rare. Some would say it has yet to occur on Earth.”  Ha ha.  

Prof. Hawking was actually speaking on the need for humanity to get off the planet at a conderence in Washington.  It’s a fairly common theme, incidentally, of hard science fiction writers, like Stephen Baxter.  The argument being, it’s probably stupid of us to put all our eggs in one basket, i.e. the Earth, and the solar system could provide virtually unlimited resources for humanity.  Says Hawking:

People might well have argued it was a waste of money to send Columbus on a wild goose chase. Yet the discovery of the new world made profound difference to the old. Spreading out into space will have an even greater effect. It will completely change the future of the human race and maybe determine whether we have any future at all.