Weblog Archives




  Saturday   July 5   2008

south america

Losing Latin America

Google "neglect," "Washington," and "Latin America," and you will be led to thousands of hand-wringing calls from politicians and pundits for Washington to "pay more attention" to the region. True, Richard Nixon once said that "people don't give one shit" about the place. And his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger quipped that Latin America is a "dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica." But Kissinger also made that same joke about Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand -- and, of the three countries, only the latter didn't suffer widespread political murder as a result of his policies, a high price to pay for such a reportedly inconsequential place.

Latin America, in fact, has been indispensable in the evolution of U.S. diplomacy. The region is often referred to as America's "backyard," but a better metaphor might be Washington's "strategic reserve," the place where ascendant foreign-policy coalitions regroup and redraw the outlines of U.S. power, following moments of global crisis.

When the Great Depression had the U.S. on the ropes, for example, it was in Latin America that New Deal diplomats worked out the foundations of liberal multilateralism, a diplomatic framework that Washington would put into place with much success elsewhere after World War II.

In the 1980s, the first generation of neocons turned to Latin America to play out their "rollback" fantasies -- not just against Communism, but against a tottering multilateralist foreign-policy. It was largely in a Central America roiled by left-wing insurgencies that the New Right first worked out the foundational principles of what, after 9/11, came to be known as the Bush Doctrine: the right to wage war unilaterally in highly moralistic terms.

We are once again at a historic crossroads. An ebbing of U.S. power -- this time caused, in part, by military overreach -- faces a mobilized Latin America; and, on the eve of regime change at home, with George W. Bush's neoconservative coalition in ruins after eight years of disastrous rule, would-be foreign policy makers are once again looking south.


 11:53 PM - link

ain't nature wonderful?

The mating habits of the water shrew

  thanks to Neatorama

 11:50 PM - link

torture r us

Clear Evidence of War Crimes: Stern Letters to Come?

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.
Maj. General Antonio Taguba (Ret.), who led the Army’s 2004 investigation into the prison abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib. (From the foreword of Broken Laws, Broken Lives).

It is impossible to escape a mixture of sadness and fury while reading the 149 horrific pages of the just-released report published by Physicians for Human Rights and called Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by the US. Sadness for the victims. Fury for the fact that American citizens have paid for the ghastly criminal acts of guards and interrogators at U.S.-run prisons in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and Afghanistan. Sadness that Americans are now seen as torturers worldwide. Fury that high officials who ordered these acts are not digging holes and filling them up every day on some penal atoll.

The torture those officials authorized has been revealed over the years in bits and pieces. We’ve seen the photographs. Newspaper stories, magazine articles and a dozen books have been written. There have been previous scathing reports, including two by PHR. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights have delved into the matter. There was, of course, the Army’s 2004 investigation into what happened at Abu Ghraib. And, better late than never, Senator Carl Levin began presiding Tuesday over three days of hearings on the subject, Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody.

For the first time, however, Broken Laws, Broken Lives has added grim evidence gleaned from medical tests, both physical and psychological, of 11 former detainees. Unique stories, but with a theme that cannot - and must not - be ignored. The evidence was gathered and evaluated under strict internationally recognized standards and procedures for determining whether someone has been tortured or ill-treated and for documenting the consequences in a manner so that the results can be used in court. These standards are part of the Istanbul Protocol, Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted by the United Nations in 1999.


Broken Laws, Broken Lives
Medical Evidence of Torture by the US

China Inspired Interrogations at Guantánamo

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.


  thanks to 'Just World News' with Helena Cobban

More on coercing confessions at Gitmo

So let's spool back what happened here. Someone in the military (or the CIA?), wanting to use a quick and handy chart on coercive techniques that can generate "confessions", finds one in the Biderman article and copies it verbatim. Do we assume that whoever copied the chart from the article, read the rest of the article and thereby became fully informed that the "confessions" generated by these techniques were, for the most part, quite false?

False 'confessions' have consequences, and not just in a courtroom (where they can rapidly lead the collapse of the whole case against the individual who was tortured.) If the 'confessions' obtained in Gitmo through these coercive techniques were taken at face value and believed by members of the relevant US government agencies, then that would have led to actions that, being based on false information, would place in extreme jeopardy not only the US campaign against the terrorists but also the lives of many US service-members.

Therefore, whoever advocated and went along with the use of these coercive techniques should be investigated and perhaps even tried on charges of placing the lives of U.S. service-members at risk.


Torture is used by totalitarian regimes to get prisoners to say what the torturer wants to hear. These bastards should be in jail for the rest of their lives for what they have done. That would be starting with the Coward in Chief.

 10:17 PM - link

website visual

Websites as Graphs

  thanks to Amy Elkins

This is one of those cool but not terribly useful things. Here is what the front page of gordon.coale looks like run through this applet.

 09:55 PM - link

we are running out of everything

Another Food Supply Worry: Peak Phosphorus?

Some optimists on the agriculture front, such as Nobel prize winning economist Gary Becker, have argued that increasing the productivity of farming would solve the problem of skyrocketing grain and food commodity prices. Only roughly 30% of crop-raising is done according to advanced techniques; if much of the rest of the land under cultivation was brought to this level of output, the ag commodities crunch would be a thing of the past.

There's a crucial flaw in this reasoning, however. Modern farming is sorely dependent on phosphorous-based fertilizers. And phosphorus is starting to run out.


  thanks to Politics in the Zeros

 09:46 PM - link


A month ago my mom was in the hospital with pneumonia. Last week she was back in the hopital. This time for pneumonia and kidney failure. She was dehydrated but lots of fluids and antibiotics brought her around. Zoe and I visited Thursday evening. She was doing much better and went back to the nursing home yesterday. Still, not a good trend.

 09:41 PM - link

  Sunday   June 29   2008


Civilization's golden era is teetering on collapse
New millennium has brought a turning point in history, yet we ignore meltdown

The period from 1950 to 2000 will be remembered as the Golden Era of modern civilization, the pinnacle reached by humans after a million years of evolution. This brilliant half-century was sponsored largely by fossil fuels, especially oil, which brought unprecedented economic growth, plentiful transportation and a rich and diverse lifestyle.

But the new millennium has brought the end of cheap oil, and civilization is suddenly teetering on the edge of collapse. Even if we manage to scrape through (and it would require heroic efforts), life will change. We're at one of the most important turning points in history, yet we persistently ignore the coming meltdown and just want to party on. Nero would be proud.

So, why is civilization teetering?

First, peak oil has arrived. There is no better signal than the price of oil, which has skyrocketed past $130 and shows no sign of slowing. Some shrug and claim there's still a lot left, technology will find it and extract it. Others, as represented by the editors of Maclean's magazine, feel that we have grappled with costly oil before and by applying determined conservation and new efficiencies, we will cope.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Peak oil, this two-syllable piece of jargon, is another way of saying we are on the threshold of a major crisis. From now on the supply of oil will diminish each year, but population and demand will continue to grow. This is truly frightening because our modern industrial society is built on and totally dependent on this versatile fuel. It is the foundation for transportation, industry, agriculture, fishing and much more. As the gap between what economies and nations need and what they can get widens, bidding wars will erupt (they already have) and then shooting wars (one already has).


  thanks to The Oil Drum

 11:09 AM - link


Ivey Photo shutters film lab
Store a victim of shift to digital photography; workers' futures uncertain

Ivey Photo, among the few Seattle photo labs still processing professional-grade film, will close its doors Monday, the latest victim of the massive shift to digital photography.


Sad but not surprising. I remember when Ivey started out in the old Silver Image Gallery storefront on Washington Street in Pioneer Square in the late 1970s. By the early 1990s they were south of Lake Union and were huge. They had the first digital imaging lab in town. Ironic. Now, what they did very expensively, we all can do from the privacy of our very own computers. There is still Panda Lab. I see they finally have a website. It's under construction but it's there. They are quite a bit funkier than Ivey but they do what I need. Except for 5x7. It's been a while since I've been to Panda. I've been mailing off to another Lab. I think I need to make a run into Seattle for some film developing.

 11:06 AM - link

consumerism run amuck

Shrunken Sovereign: Consumerism, Globalization, and American Emptiness

Two narratives bound our era and, by degrees but unmistakably, our predicament: the story of consumerism and the story of globalization. In recent years, the two have combined to produce a single and singularly corrosive narrative. Consumerism has meant the transformation of citizens into shoppers, eroding America’s sovereignty from within; globalization has meant the transformation of nation-states into secondary players on the world stage, eroding America’s sovereignty from without. In collaboration, the trends are dealing a ruinous blow to democracy—to our capacity for common judgment, citizenship, and liberty itself.

The common thread that winds through these two stories is the erosion of national autonomy—and, with it, the state’s monopoly over violence, the power to enact binding laws, and other essential aspects of sovereignty. Sovereignty, in turn, is an obvious precondition for democracy (which you cannot have without a state). When the sovereign state erodes, democracy erodes. It is that simple—and, beset from within and without, it is happening even today.

There is, to begin with, an accelerating process of internal disintegration—and the engine, consumerism, that drives it. Critics such as David Riesman, Theodor Adorno, and Jean Baudrillard have been writing about conspicuous consumption, keeping up with the Joneses, outer-directed men in gray flannel suits, the dialectic of enlightenment and one-dimensional men since the end of World War II. The story is by now well chronicled: Productivist capitalism, molded by a Protestant ethos conducive to work, investment, deferred gratification, and service, has long since given way to consumerist capitalism, defined by an ethos of infantilization conducive to laxity, impetuousness, narcissism, and consumption. Where once Americans worked harder than almost any other people, today pop commentators such as Thomas Friedman can worry about the “quiet crisis” in which the tendency to “extol consumption over hard work, investment and long-term thinking” creates an America whose vaunted productivity is in decline and where kids “get fat, dumb, and lazy,” squandering the very moral capital the Protestant culture once promoted and sustained. Tellingly, President Bush after 9/11 did not invite Americans to sacrifice or work hard in order to defeat terrorism; he invited them to go shopping.

In the civic realm, meanwhile, hostility to the commonwealth has intensified since the early 1950s, when social science critics such as David B. Truman insisted there was no need to take account of the common good in discussing public interest “because there is no such thing as the public interest.” Politicians like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (the latter asserted that “there is no such thing as society”) were only echoing and reinforcing a powerful skepticism about government and society, a skepticism accompanied in recent years by an astonishing faith in the limitless capacity of markets to “coordinate human behavior or activity with a range and a precision beyond that of any other system, institution, or social process,” as political and economic theorist Charles E. Lindblom has put it.

In this revival of laissez-faire economics and political libertarianism, liberty has acquired an exclusively negative connotation: to be free from. Milton Friedman, the libertarian economist, offered definitive language. Nearly a half century ago, he insisted that “every act of government intervention limits the arena of individual freedom directly and threatens the preservation of freedom indirectly.” Put into practice, what this means for liberty (as Reagan was to argue) is that government is always part of the problem. That belief has encouraged the privatization of any and all government functions, a process that has become a crucial ally of the dominion of consumers.

The problem is that, in the name of abstract personal liberty, libertarians and privatizers actually pervert and undermine real autonomy, given that as Hannah Arendt argued, “political freedom, generally speaking, means the right ‘to be a participant in government,’ or it means nothing.” The tension between private choice and public participation is clearly embodied in the tension between the consumer as private chooser and the citizen as public chooser. Citizens cannot be understood as mere consumers because individual desire is not the same thing as common ground; public goods are something more than a collection of private wants. A republic is by definition public, and what is public cannot be determined by aggregating private desires. Asking what “I want” and asking what “we need” are two different things: the first question is ideally answered by the market, the second by the community. When the market is encouraged to do the work of democracy, our culture is deformed and the character of our commonwealth undermined.


  thanks to Conscientious

 10:56 AM - link

how about a little color?

Spring has finally arrived on Whidbey Island. It just took until Summer to get here. Spring has been wet and cool. This is not all together a bad thing. No need to water the plants! But now we are in a hot spell. Hot around here is in in the 80s (F). Now I have to water! Our friend Kim planted the boxes on our deck. They are now erupting. This is as pretty as they have been and I've put together a Flickr set to capture some of this wonderful color: Summer deck flowers. I've put up large pictures so be sure to click on "All Sizes" or click on "Slideshow" when you get to the Flickr set.

 10:52 AM - link