Saturday, March 10, 2007

We might as well get this out of the way...

The above picture is from an Arab community event held in Chicago in the late 1990s, and yes your eyes do not deceive you: that's Barack & Michelle Obama sharing a meal with Edward and Mariam Said during the event. Said's sin was to contend that the Palestinians were - get this - humans and deserved much better than the treatment they've received at the hands of the Israeli government. Not very PC¹ of Said, to be sure, and one huge reason why Dr. Said's work is continued to be pilloried to this day by US right-wing hardliners and by those who consider themselves part of the "respectable" left. Even worse, Dr. Said was a prolific writer and scholar during the course of his life. His most famous work, Orientalism, for example, is a must-read for those who do research in the humanities and social sciences (and really anyone trying to understand the US & British Zeitgeist with regard to the Middle East).

My guess is that if Hillary Clinton feels too threatened by Obama's campaign numbers once the election season gets hot and heavy, expect her staffers to try to use pix such as this one as a means to call question to Obama's loyalty to AIPAC (short story: don't worry, Obama sufficiently loyal to the Israeli colonialist state). One thing the Clintons do very well is to play dirty.

Via American Samizdat and The Angry Arab News Service.

¹ By PC, I mean in the original Maoist/Chinese Imperialist sense of the term.

Postscript

I think that my recollections of Bill Chambers correspond with the prolonged disappearance of another curmudgeonly outsider, whom I came to consider a good friend. DTF, wherever you are, I hope you are okay.

Passings

I've recently spent some time updating a Wikipedia entry for an acquaintance of mine who died about three and a half years ago, William V. Chambers. Mostly I've been trying to fill in some gaps in the initial entry, to give a bit more of a complete picture of a fellow scholar who, like many of us, toiled in relative obscurity.

I mostly knew Bill due to some discussions on the SEMNET listserv (which at the time I frequented in order to learn a few tips for dealing with some confirmatory factor analyses that I was programming) regarding his iconoclastic approach to inferring causality from correlational data. At the time, my college days were nearing their end and his career had been all but effectively ended by a combination of health problems and personal tragedies. Needless to say, I suspect his view of academicians by then was sufficiently sour as to make it exceedingly difficult for him to tolerate the skeptical reactions he received from many on SEMNET and similar forums.

During the last year of his life he'd started up a Yahoo group devoted to Kelly's Personal Construct Psychology theory, and I joined primarily to see how he was progressing as far as testing out his particular statistical method. At that point, he'd apparently had a manuscript initially accepted - and then rejected under circumstances that always struck me as a bit shady by the journal Structural Equation Modeling. Not long after that event, his messages became sporadic and then he just seemed to drop out altogether. As he had taken extended breaks from the internet before (the combination of ill health and poverty often impose such breaks), I didn't think much of it. Some months later came news of his death.

His main academic contributions came in the field of cultic studies, where he (along with some other colleagues) developed a scale designed to measure cultic abuse. If he were here now, it would interesting to pick his brain on political cults such as the one centered around the current White House resident (but I digress). What will become of his efforts in the realm of quantitative psychology is hard to gauge. The ideas of outsiders are often met with hostility or dismissiveness before being sufficiently tested, and Bill was definitely an outsider. In some ways, I thought he was his own worst enemy in terms of presenting his ideas, which were certainly worth exploring. That said, there appear to be a handful of stats types specializing in causal modeling who have persisted in running simulations to test his techniques (corresponding regressions, corresponding correlations), and I have seen brief commentary of his work in a stats textbook. Jury's still out of course.

The Bill Chambers I got to encounter came across as a curmudgeonly guy with a short temper but a big heart. He was truly one of a kind, and I'm thankful to have had the chance to learn from him.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Don't you just hate it when evildoers use kids as human shields?

I suppose it all matters on whether the evildoers in question are in the empire's good graces.

On a related note: imitation is the highest form of flattery, as the saying goes (or, put another way, what was good for Iraq is good for Lebanon).

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Stating the obvious with regard to torture

Via soccerdad at The Left Coaster:

A new article in Archives of General Psychiatry (vol 64, p 277)is discussed in New Scientist shows that what the Bush sadists call Torture Lite produces long term effects as bad as physical torture.

Basoglu says the findings challenge the common perception that psychological torture is less distressing than physical torture. "Implicit in this distinction is a difference in the distressing nature of the events. The evidence takes issue with that," he says. "And since psychological torture is as bad as physical torture, we shouldn’t use it."

The findings chime with previous work, say others. "The conclusions are completely consistent with what those subjected to these draconian practices have reported," Rubenstein says. He points out that US Senator John McCain, who experienced torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has said that if he were forced to make a decision between enduring psychological or physical torture, he would not hesitate to pick the latter.

America under Bush has become torture nation fueled by hate and enabled by a pervasive nihilism.

My awareness of the literature on psychological torture dating back to the 1950s would suggest that Basoglu's findings are consistent with what should now be common sense (though given the drivel that we are subjected to via our Congress critters and media pundits, a crash course in common sense is apparently in order). One difficulty faced by those of us who know the available research literature is the tendency for Americans to discount the importance of anything labeled "psychological" relative to that labeled "physical." That particular bias is pervasive in public discourse on issues such as mental health (generally taken less seriously than what is labeled physical health), etc. I'm not too surprised that the notion that placing people in conditions of sensory deprivation, extreme isolation, and so on would be viewed under euphemisms as "torture lite" or "enhanced interrogation techniques" or similar nonsense - even though these very techniques have been consistently shown to cause severe mental and physical distress (I realize this is a bit of an understatement), lasting well past the cessation of such techniques.

That said, it's nice to see some of this evidence making its way into the popular media.

It should also go without saying that America was already well on its way to being a "torture nation" long before Bush the Lesser came along. Our government has undoubtedly hit some new lows during the course of this sorry decade, but the difference is in degree rather than in kind. That point should be kept in mind as we get bombarded by next year's election propaganda.

Update: ScienceDaily has a summary of Basoglu's research that is well worth reading.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Arthur Silber on Resisting the Next War

The war drums visa vis Iran are growing stronger, and time is growing short to stop what will surely be yet another criminal war of aggression (along with the on-going ones in Afghanistan and Iraq). Arthur Silber offers a half dozen actions that could be taken to educate and agitate a critical mass of Americans in the name of stopping the atrocities before they start:
ONE: If I had the money, I would take out full-page ads in the leading national newspapers -- at a minimum, in the NYT, the Washington Post, and the LA Times. The major focus of the ads would be the explanation of why an attack on Iran by the United States directly or by proxy (via Israel) in the present circumstances would be a criminal war of aggression, and a blatant violation of basic precepts of international law, including the Nuremberg Principles. If I had a lot of money, I would run a series of ads, or even the same ad every day for at least a week. After that, I would continue to run the ads (adding new material as appropriate and necessary, depending on events) at least every few days, two or three times a week in at least one of those papers, and preferably all three.

The ads should be written simply and directly, and they could provide supporting evidence needed to make a convincing case as required (there isn't that much needed in this respect; the case against an attack is starkly clear if one knows the relevant facts). At the conclusion, the ads should urge readers in the strongest possible terms to contact their Senators and Representatives, and demand that they take action along the lines noted in Point Two, below.

I don't know an individual or an organization that has the money or the willingness to run a series of ads of this kind. I hope someone who reads this might, or might be able to convince a person(s) or an organization(s) to undertake this critical task. In this connection and with regard to any of the other steps I suggest, if anyone thinks that some of my writing in my many essays on these topics would be helpful, I hereby grant full and irrevocable permission to use as much of my writing as you wish for this purpose, without credit and without compensation in any amount. In other words: steal whatever you want from this site and as much as you want, please.

TWO: Contact your Senators and Representatives, and demand that they take the actions I outlined here. Two of those are absolutely required: they must rescind both Authorization for the Use of Military Force resolutions, the one passed immediately after 9/11 and the one on Iraq. The Bush administration uses the AUMFs as the "justification" to launch any war of aggression of its choice, while they simultaneously use them to destroy our remaining liberties here at home. Wipe the AUMFs off the books.

You should also tell those in Congress to pass resolutions in both the House and Senate stating that if Bush attacks Iran without a Congressional Declaration of War, as provided in the Constitution, he will be considered to have committed an immediately impeachable offense. I myself prefer that the argument be made in this clean, straightforward form; let the lawyers and legal experts contend over how this fits into the relevant statutes, including the War Powers Act. I view that Act as pernicious in the extreme, and think we and the world would be infinitely safer if that too were wiped off the books. The founders got this one (and much else) entirely right in my view.

But at a minimum, Congress must tell Bush that he cannot attack Iran without specific, explicit Congressional authorization. If he does so, he will be impeached. As I also suggested, they should draw up Articles of Impeachment on this point now. Those too should be published in the major newspapers, with a brief explanation as to the reasons for them and their purpose -- which is to prevent a second war of aggression begun by the United States in less than five years.

Contact your Senators and Representatives and tell them this, as briefly as possible -- and tell them EVERY DAY. No, I am most certainly not kidding. EVERY DAY, until they do it. You only have to write the message once, and then deliver it repeatedly by fax, email and/or telephone as needed.

THREE: Tell every politician, Democratic or Republican, that they must stop repeating the Bush administration propaganda on Iran. Above all, they must stop saying that "all options are on the table," which in this context can only refer to a threat to launch an unprovoked war against Iran.

"All options" -- to do what? To start a war of aggression against a non-existent threat? To begin a second criminal war, in violation of every principle of international conduct that we demand all other nations follow? To act as Nazi Germany did? Are those the "options" we have to keep "on the table"? Every single time any politician repeats this and similar phrases, it makes an attack on Iran more likely, and provides invaluable help to the Bush gang. [Also read Gareth Porter on this issue and the Democrats' failure.] What they ought to suggest is blindingly obvious: the grant of full diplomatic recognition to Iran, with everything that entails, as I discussed it here:
[T]hink what might happen if we granted recognition to Iran -- and if we did so right now. Again, the entire dynamic would shift very profoundly. And such moves are not unknown in the history of our foreign policy, Nixon and China being perhaps the prime example. This is the kind of courageous and daring gesture that breaks stalemates apart -- and that possibly could halt the bloody insanity that threatens to engulf the entire Middle East. It requires at least one statesman of vision and bravery, one who knows what he is doing and is willing to take the long view. We have no such statesmen at the moment. The great loss is ours, and the world's. (I note that, at one time recently, even the otherwise detestable Christopher Hitchens saw the wisdom of this approach to Iran.)
If I were an influential blogger active in Democratic politics, I would inform every presidential candidate and would-be candidate that, until and unless they stop using this kind of gutter language about leaving "all options on the table," THEY WILL RECEIVE NO SUPPORT FROM ME AT ALL. I would urge everyone else to similarly refuse to support them. If that eliminates all the candidates you have at the moment, THEN FIND BETTER ONES. Alternatively, do everything you can to convince the candidates you have to become BETTER ones themselves.

This is, as they say, where the rubber meets the road. How one acts in this circumstance depends on how much one values his or her contacts with the Democratic establishment, as opposed to how much one cares about preventing the next catastrophe -- a catastrophe that could spread across the world, and destroy what remains of our own liberties. I will not prejudge how anyone will act in this situation and I recognize that an individual's specific personal context can be immensely complicated, but I will watch to see what people do with more than a little interest.

FOUR: Contact every politician you know who appears on television or gives newspaper interviews, and tell them they must be sure to explain briefly in every appearance they make why an attack on Iran at present would be a monstrous crime. IN EVERY APPEARANCE. As I noted above, if this catastrophe is to be stopped, it must be made the NUMBER ONE TOPIC IN THE NATION. If you're well-known enough to create interviews or appearances for yourself, THEN DO IT. Talk about Iran, and why we must not attack that country in the present circumstances.

FIVE: Talk to everyone you can, at work, in your family, among friends, and at social gatherings. Explain the issues to them in a way that is appropriate for the relationship and the occasion, and urge them to take all these actions themselves. Explain briefly why this might be the most important battle they will ever fight.

Talk to them as much as you have to, and take all the time you can afford. Where you can, create more time for this work. Talk to as many people as you can, every single day.

As is true of many actions in life, this work will become easier as more and more people are convinced to act. A greater number of people will be contacting Congressmen and women, more people will be talking about it privately and publicly, and once a critical number of people are involved, this movement will begin to take on a life of its own. My fantasy, and I hope that is not all it is, is that four or five weeks from now, there will not be a single television or radio program or issue of a newspaper that does not discuss these issues, with someone explaining why we must not attack Iran. That reminds me of a further point:

SIX: If you are a writer well-known to any extent at all (and even if you're not well-known, in which case you can contact your local paper), write several op-eds on this subject, and submit them to every newspaper you can. As I say, I look forward to the day very, very soon when every major newspaper will have at least one article every day explaining the immorality and criminality of an attack on Iran in the current circumstances. (Needless to say, I think every blogger who agrees with my overall perspective on this issue should write at least one post a day on this subject, and more if possible. Those entries can be very short, and perhaps only link to lengthier discussions elsewhere with a brief comment. But at least mention it once a day.)
Most of these are quite do-able on an individual level (the lone exception being mass advertising against any war of aggression against Iran). The likely consequences of what could easily include a nuclear bombing of Iran would make what's happening in Iraq look like a walk in the park.

Hat tip to Avedon Carol.

Monday, March 5, 2007

In His Own Words: Joshua Key

First check this out:
Busting into and ransacking homes remained one of my most common duties in Iraq. Before my time was up, I took part in about 200 raids. We never found weapons or indications of terrorism. I never found a thing that seemed to justify the terror we inflicted every time we blasted through the door of a civilian home, broke everything in sight, punched and zipcuffed the men, and sent them away. One raid was far worse.

It was a handsome two-storey house and quite isolated. As usual, I put the charge of C-4 explosives on the door and we blew it in. As we rushed into the house, women were staggering out of their rooms. Three teenage girls screamed when they saw us. Some of my squad mates grabbed them and held them at gunpoint, and the rest of us ran through the house. We found no men at all, just six more women in their 20s and 30s. The guys in my squad couldn't find a thing, not even any guns -- and it seemed that the more incapable they were of locating contraband, the more destructive they became. They smashed dressers, ripped mattresses, broke cabinets, and threw shelves to the floor.

Outside I found Pte. 1st Class Hayes with a woman under an empty carport. He pointed his M-16 at her head but she would not stop screaming.

"What are you doing this for?" she said.

Hayes told her to shut up.

"We have done nothing to you," she went on.

Hayes was starting to lose it. I told her that we were there on orders and that we couldn't speak to her, but on and on and on she bawled at Hayes and me.

"You Americans are disgusting! Who do you think you are, to do this to us?"

Hayes slammed her in the face with the stock of his M-16. She fell face down into the dirt, bleeding and silent. The woman lay still on the ground. I pushed Hayes away.

"What are you doing, man?" I said to him. "You have a wife and two kids! Don't be hitting her like that."

He looked at me with eyes full of hatred, as if he was ready to kill me for saying those words, but he did not touch the woman again. I found this incident with Hayes particularly disturbing because during other times I had seen him in action in Iraq, he had showed himself to be one of the most level-headed and calm soldiers in my company. I had the sense that if he could lose it and hit a woman the way he had, any of us could lose it too.

Then something happened that haunts my dreams to this day. All the women were led back inside the house and our entire platoon was ordered to stand guard outside it. Four U.S. military men entered the house with the women. They closed the doors. We couldn't see anything through the windows. I don't know who the military men were, or what unit they were from, but I can only conclude that they outranked us and were at least at the level of first lieutenant or above. That's because our own second lieutenant Joyce was there, and his presence did not deter them.

Normally, when we conducted a raid, we were in and out in 30 minutes or less. You never wanted to stay in one place for too long for fear of exposing yourself to mortar attacks. But our platoon was made to stand guard outside that house for about an hour. The women started shouting and screaming. The men stayed in there with them, behind closed doors. It went on and on and on.

Finally, the men came out and told us to get the hell out of there.

It struck me then that we, the American soldiers, were the terrorists. We were terrorizing Iraqis. Intimidating them. Beating them. Destroying their homes. Probably raping them. The ones we didn't kill had all the reasons in the world to become terrorists themselves. Given what we were doing to them, who could blame them for wanting to kill us, and all Americans? A sick realization lodged like a cancer in my gut. It grew and festered, and troubled me more with every passing day. We, the Americans, had become the terrorists in Iraq.
My emphasis added. I suppose the next question to ask is what should one do in his situation? Seems to me that this particular Okie did the right thing, and is now telling his story to anyone who is willing to listen.

Bio-Fooled?

Some words of warning on the ethanol boom:

But there is a darker side to this green revolution, which argues for a cautious assessment of how big a role ethanol can play in filling the developed world's fuel tank. The prospect of a sudden surge in demand for ethanol is causing serious concerns even in Brazil.

The ethanol industry has been linked with air and water pollution on an epic scale, along with deforestation in both the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests, as well as the wholesale destruction of Brazil's unique savannah land.

Fabio Feldman, a leading Brazilian environmentalist and former member of Congress who helped to pass the law mandating a 23 per cent mix of ethanol to be added to all petroleum supplies in the country, believes that Brazil's trailblazing switch has had serious side effects.

"Some of the cane plantations are the size of European states, these vast monocultures have replaced important eco-systems," he said. "If you see the size of the plantations in the state of Sao Paolo they are oceans of sugar cane. In order to harvest you must burn the plantations which creates a serious air pollution problem in the city."

Despite its leading role in biofuels, Brazil remains the fourth largest producer of carbon emissions in the world due to deforestation. Dr Nastarti rejects any linkage between deforestation and ethanol and argues that cane production accounts for little more than 10 per cent of Brazil's farmland.

However, Dr Nastari is calling for new legislation in Brazil to ensure that mushrooming sugar plantations do not directly or indirectly contribute to the destruction of vital forest preserves.

Sceptics, however, point out that existing legislation is unenforceable and agri-business from banned GM cotton to soy beans has been able to ignore legislation.

"In large areas of Brazil there is a total absence of the state and no respect for environmental legislation," said Mr Feldman.

"Ethanol can be a good alternative in the fight against global warming but at the same time we must make sure we are not creating a worse problem than the one we are trying to solve."

The conditions for a true nightmare scenario are being created not in Brazil, despite its environment concerns, but in the US's own domestic ethanol industry.

While Brazil's tropical climate allows it to source alcohol from its sugar crop, the US has turned to its industrialised corn belt for the raw material to substitute oil. The American economist Lester R Brown, from the Earth Policy Institute, is leading the warning voices: "The competition for grain between the world's 800 million motorists who want to maintain their mobility and its two billion poorest people who are simply trying to stay alive is emerging as an epic issue."

Speaking in Sao Paolo, where the ethanol boom is expected to take off with a US-Brazil trade deal this Thursday, Fabio Feldman, said: "We must stop and take a breath and consider the consequences."

Biofuel costs

When Rudolph Diesel unveiled his new engine at the 1900 World's Fair, he made a point of demonstrating that it could be run on peanut oil. "Such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal tar products of the present time," he said.

And so it has come to pass that US President George Bush has decreed that America must wean itself off oil with the help of biofuels made from corn, sugar cane and other suitable crops.

At its simplest, the argument for biofuels is this: By growing crops to produce organic compounds that can be burnt in an engine, you are not adding to the overall levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The amount of CO2 that the fuel produces when burnt should balance the amount absorbed during the growth of the plants.

However, many biofuel crops, such as corn, are grown with the help of fossil fuels in the form of fertilisers, pesticides and the petrol for farm equipment.

One estimate is that corn needs 30 per cent more energy than the finished fuel it produces.

Another problem is the land required to produce it. One estimate is that the grain needed to fill the petrol tank of a 4X4 with ethanol is sufficient to feed a person for a year.

Now I hate to be the turd in the punchbowl, but the fact of the matter is that we're going to have a serious lifestyle readjustment ahead of us in the coming years and decades as petroleum gets harder to find and refine. The days of having at least one car per adult are numbered, and these desperate efforts to hang on to that lifestyle are likely doomed. When we get to a point where we're seriously thinking of trading a year's food for a human being for a tank of ethanol, we've crossed some twisted ethical line.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

In His Own Words: Moazzam Begg

I went to Afghanistan in the summer of 2001. We had planned, funded and supported a school in Kabul– a girl’s school. The program was to go to help, teach, expand and advance and to get some social value. I was also involved in digging some wells and a water project in a drought stricken region in NorthWestern Afghanistan.

[snip]

The school would take girls– my own daughter was to attend the school... the Taliban actually didn’t allow education of females by what they believed to be non-Moslem groups... But the Taliban didn’t stop us, they certainly knew what we were doing. There were quite a few Moslems doing humanitarian work and Moslem NGOs. There were also lots of non-Moslem organizations working in Afghanistan. Of course, after the American bombing, only Moslems were picked up... Like an Al Jazeera camera man [Sami Al Hajj] who had nothing remotely to do with terrorism. But it can certainly be said that a number of those detained by the Americans were doing humanitarian work.

[snip]

I will never forget what transpired in Bagram... this is the base that was bombed just the day before yesterday.. I was held there for a year. I was hog-tied– left in painful positions or hours, interrogated, kicked, beaten,... but I remember the screaming of a woman in the next cell, and I was led to believe that she was my wife.

I witnessed the deaths (or the beatings that led to the deaths) of two detainees at Bagram... this will never go away.

I met a number of former Irish prisoners... they were interned for years without trial, held in hoods, subjected to white noise– the commonality of their experience with mine was remarkable... just replace Northern Ireland with Guantanamo and it was almost virtually the same.
From an interview at the talking dog.