Wednesday, November 30, 2005

As Stupid Does

Four peace activists have been abducted in Iraq.

We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. governments due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people.
- a spokesman for Christian Peacemaker Teams

What?!! While I am of the opinion that criticising governments is an entertaining sport, I have to take issue with the above statement. I would change it to read as such:

We are angry at our organisation’s collective stupidity because what happened to our teammates is the result of them being foolish enough to go to Iraq where foreigners have been abducted at a fairly alarming rate and some of them even beheaded or otherwise murdered. What were we thinking?
- Max

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"American Rapture"

The number of Evangelical Christians in the US stands at somewhere between 70 and 80 million.

Yesterday I read an article called “American Rapture” by Craig Unger in the December issue of Vanity Fair. In the article, I found this statistic: “According to a Time/CNN poll from 2002, 59 percent of Americans believe the events in the book of Revelation will take place.” 59%?!! What ever happened to the Enlightenment? Reason? It is outrageous that 59% of Americans, including many highly educated people, actually believe they will be raptured so that they can witness the apocalypse from the safety of heaven. As part of the apocalypse, merely as a point of interest, the rest of us will be crushed to death in “the great winepress of the wrath of God.”

I am generally respectful of religion, but I do fall short of understanding this kind of blind belief in a myth. It has the makings of a larger scale Jonestown or Waco. I would like to be able to ignore the whole phenomenon but I cannot because this belief in Revelation is actually dangerous for the world.

The first part of the problem is that Evangelical Christians have too much influence in our government. In his article, Unger describes the Council for National Policy, a secret society of rich and powerful right-wing Christians that has some control over the federal government. Jerry Falwell has confirmed that he is a member of the CNP.

“Within the council is a smaller group called the Arlington Group,” says Falwell. “We talk to each other daily and meet in Washington probably twice a month. We often call the White House and talk to Karl Rove while we are meeting. Everyone takes our calls.”

The second part of the problem is that Evangelical Christians do not support peace in the Middle East. They have, in fact, aligned themselves with the Israeli right, and a great number of them agree with the Israeli religious far right that Israel should expand its borders because God gave the Jews all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates. The Israeli government began allying itself with American Evangelicals in 1977 when Menachem Begin called on Jerry Falwell. Benjamin Netanyahu continues the tradition today.

It is an unholy alliance. Evangelical Christians only want a “greater” Israel because they think that it will hasten the Rapture. The pragmatic Israelis welcome the political and financial support, and the tourism, but they must think the Evangelicals are mad as a box of frogs. On the other hand, the Evangelicals must be sure that their Israeli friends are all going to suffer horrible deaths when Armageddon comes.

What it boils down to is that we are advancing the world along a dangerous path because we are allowing Evangelical Christians and their biblical myths to influence our foreign policy in the most volatile region on the planet. At the same time, of course, we have extremist Muslims happily playing the part of the other side.

Yitzhak Fhantich, an Israeli intelligence and security consultant, as quoted in Unger’s article:

“…And Jerusalem, of course, is the home of the Jerusalem syndrome,” he says, referring to the phenomenon whereby obsessive religious ideas can trigger violent behaviour. “If someone believes God told him to do something, you cannot stop him. …After all, religion is the most powerful gun in the world.”

Monday, November 28, 2005

Happy Independence Day, Albania!

Dita e Pavarësisë

Albania is a small country (about the size of Maryland or Wales, depending on your preferred reference) on the Balkan Peninsula bordering Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece. To the west is the sea -- the Adriatic in the north and the Ionian in the south. Albania was the most extremely isolationist of all communist countries and previously the poorest nation in Europe. (I believe Moldova currently has that distinction.) 28 November was declared Independence Day by Ismail Qemali in 1912 to mark the end of 500 years of Ottoman rule over Albania.

I went to Albania in July 2003: DL and I flew from Prague to Tirana to visit our mate Tanya for the weekend. We spent time in Tirana, but also hired a car and driver to visit the mountaintop castle at Kruja and a beach near Durrës. In honour of Albania’s independence, below are a few memories from my trip that still make me giggle.


We paid our 10-euro entry fees and then had to go through security to get out of the airport. As our bags went through the x-ray machine we wondered what the penalty would be for getting caught with the 800 Davidoff cigarettes we had brought for Tanya and tried not to think about what the inside of an Albanian prison might look like.

On crossing the road

From Tirana in Your Pocket:

Before the collapse of communism, only high Party officials were allowed to own cars. In 1991, when the restriction was lifted, Albanians brought thousands of cars into the country from Italy and Greece. At the time, there were no traffic regulations, no driver's licence requirements, no traffic enforcement and no traffic lights. Fortunately, all this has changed. Driving is still erratic, however, and the country's roads are narrow, treacherous and full of potholes. Visitors should hire local drivers rather than brave the roads themselves.

DL and I walked to the main square of Tirana, Skanderbeg Square. There was a very busy street that ran around the edge of the square and we had to cross that to get properly into the square. There was a marked crossing painted on the street but we soon realised that Albanian drivers were completely blind to white stripes on the ground. There was no real break in the traffic but we had to cross. DL described it quite aptly as being like the video game Frogger.

On sending postcards

The shop assistant asked us for 350 lek for the stamps, but I had noticed that the face value of the stamps was only 220 lek. The woman patiently explained that the extra charge was for the service because (1) we would not be able to find a post office ourselves and (2) we could sit in the hotel and write our cards in a pleasant air-conditioned environment and leave the cards there for them to post. I could not really accept her reasoning but DL told me to just shut up and pay for the damn stamps.

On Tepelena

Best quote of the weekend, from the English language label on a local bottled water: “Suffled how it gush from the source of the woods of Tepelena.” I drank a lot of this water while trying to choke down a particularly poor quality Albanian raki.

On paying the bill

DL and I had wanted to treat Tanya to a night out. It was rare in Tirana to see a sign posted for Mastercard/Visa, but there it was, right in front of us. At the end of the evening DL sneakily took my card to the bar to pay, but to her disappointment, she was told that no, they did not in fact accept credit cards at all, that the signs were there merely for decoration.

Friday, November 25, 2005


This week I read about an Amnesty International report on rape in the UK which revealed some shocking statistics.

In the UK, 33% of people questioned said that they thought a woman is partially or completely responsible for being raped if she has “behaved flirtatiously”. 25% think a woman is at least partially to blame if she was wearing “revealing” clothing or if she was drunk.

I say that 100% of those people that want to place the blame on women are complete morons. It is absolutely within my rights as an individual to go out wearing whatever I want, to have as many drinks as I want and to flirt as much as I want with whomever I want. None of those behaviours would give any man the right to have sex with me without my consent. The fact that people actually believe otherwise is absolutely appalling.

The police in the UK estimate that only 15% of rapes are ever reported to them. Even more distressing is that only 6% of reported rapes ever result in convictions. These very low report and conviction rates indicate that there is something substantially wrong within the system, which is, after all, supposed to protect victims and punish criminals. The problem that permeates the system, and indeed much of society, is a blatant disregard for women and their welfare.


I found a nice little collection of quotes on the web today and I wanted to share some of them.

“This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.” - Plato

“If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” - James Madison

“Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.” - Adolph Hitler

“Why of course the people don't want war ... But after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship ... Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” - Hermann Göring

“The easiest way to gain control of a population is to carry out acts of terror. [The public] will clamour for such laws if their personal security is threatened.” - Josef Stalin

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Future of Václavák

Prague news:

Yesterday a winner was chosen in the architectural competition on the future of Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas Square) in Prague. The winning entry proposed the following changes to the square:
· pedestrian only; no cars at all
· a possible return of trams to the square
· a second row of trees up and down each side of the square
· the highway to be redirected behind the museum (and thus removed from the square)
· underground parking garages
· fewer kiosks on the square

The city expects to be able to realise improvements on the bottom of the square within 3 to 4 years, but work on the top of the square will not start for at least 5 to 6 years, and will be dependent upon the highway being moved and underground parking garages being built.

Here is the story from Lidové noviny:

If you click on "více fotografií" or "Fotogalerie", you will see visions of the future Václavák. It's pretty cool.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Max's Hair Fable

I got my hair cut 10 days ago. My hair is straight and I have had it longer than shoulder length (this time) for about a year. I had wanted a change, but nothing too drastic. Against the warnings of my two gay best friends, I decided to go for a fringe (bangs). After all, I thought, my hair will grow back.

But I had forgotten that I don’t like hair hanging onto my face. The problem has been complicated because I don’t normally put any effort into my hair and I don’t even own a hair dryer. (Note to TM: not entirely true – I still have the hair dryer I inherited from you when you left Prague – it’s just that it’s in storage in England.)

I have tried a few different strategies, including an effort to tolerate hair tickling my forehead (couldn’t do it), and holding the hair off my face with a clip (stunning junior high school look). But today I finally figured it out. Last week I had purchased some liquid gel for straight hair. It’s actually called ‘milk’: it is white and sticky and you can probably guess what it looks like. I had tried putting the milk just on my fringe and pushing the hair to the side but that looked weird and felt crunchy. Today I followed the directions and put the milk all through my wet hair and then combed the fringe off my face to where it used to go when it was just normal long hair. It worked: the fringe is completely to the side and under control and my hair looks sleek and fabulous.

So my story has a happy ending, but it also has an important moral:
Always listen to your gay best friends when it comes to style and your hair.

Monday, November 21, 2005


There is currently an immigration reform bill in the House of Representatives which would, if passed, bring an end to “birthright citizenship”. Birthright citizenship is currently guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified on 28 July 1868:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

This “citizenship clause” was at least partially in reaction to the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision of 1857, which had stated that Dred Scott did not have the rights of a citizen because he was “a negro of African descent; his ancestors were of pure African blood, and were brought into this country and sold as negro slaves.” By extension, the ruling meant that no black person could ever be a citizen of the United States, and therefore a constitutional amendment was necessary to change that law.

Birthright citizenship is currently an issue for two reasons, the first being illegal immigration and the second being fatherland security. As to illegal immigration, everyone agrees that it is a problem, however there is disagreement as to whether changing our citizenship laws would be a valid means of addressing that problem.

Rep. Thomas Tancredo (R-Col), a co-sponsor of the immigration reform bill, has said that we must end birthright citizenship because it is nothing more than an enticement that attracts illegal aliens over the border into the US.

On the other side of the debate, Michele Waslin, Director of Immigration Policy Research for the National Council of La Raza, has claimed that changing birthright citizenship would merely increase the number of undocumented immigrants and create a permanent underclass of Americans.

The second issue, fatherland security, stems from the Supreme Court case Hamdi v Rumsfeld, in which the Court ruled: “due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decision-maker.”

Yaser Esam Hamdi, arrested in Afghanistan, is a US citizen by virtue of the fact that he was born in Louisiana while his father was working there temporarily. The family moved back to Saudi Arabia while Hamdi was still an infant.

Chris Paulitz, a spokesman for Sen Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex), said in a statement prepared for The Monitor:

When parents from terrorist-harbouring countries come to America temporarily and have children – with no intention of those children growing up American or supporting our country – their children are still US citizens. After growing up taught to hate America, they still have the ability to freely come and go in our country.

I wonder if he managed to communicate that with a straight face.

I have read many arguments on both sides of the issue. Some of them are quite compelling, but several of the arguments for doing away with (or re-interpretation of) the 14th Amendment are paranoid and/or ridiculous. I do not know how to solve the complicated problem of illegal immigration, but I believe that better ways can be found than eliminating birthright citizenship, which is, after all, a fundamentally American convention. As to the second issue, anyone that thinks we can solve security problems by denying citizenship to children is really way off the mark.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

More on the use of WP in Falluja

There is an article in The Independent today which brings some important information to light and supports my last comment to my previous post.

A manual issued at the US Army Command and General Staff School says that WP can be used as a smoke screen, but that, “It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets.”

The 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons prohibits the use of WP, as well as other incendiaries, against civilians. The Convention further states that forces using incendiaries against military targets must take all available steps to avoid civilian casualties.

Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, said: ‘The evidence available suggests that that may not have been done.’”

Many Americans want to believe that our country is moral and does no wrong and that there is an explanation for every action with which anyone finds fault, but the fact is that sometimes there is no explanation except that the people giving the orders are not moral and think they are above the rules.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

White Phosphorus

White phosphorus is a spontaneously flammable chemical which is used in war for illumination and smokescreens. Its use is prohibited for attacking civilians by Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. According to the BBC, the United States has not signed Protocol III.

I first saw pictures of children with horrific burns from white phosphorus last week. That was when the United States’ use of chemical weapons in Falluja was still being reported mostly by alternative media.

The Italian state broadcaster, RAI, aired a documentary on 8 November (by now widely available on the internet in at least 3 languages) that had alerted a lot of people to the use of white phosphorus, and today the main US/UK etc big media corporations finally reported the information.

Yesterday the Pentagon admitted using white phosphorus as a weapon, but they have denied breaking the convention on the use of chemical weapons and they have denied using the chemical against civilians. But while the Pentagon admits one thing and denies another, we must bear in mind that before yesterday they had only admitted using white phosphorous in Falluja to create smokescreens. The attack on Falluja was one year ago.

White phosphorus is not categorised as a chemical weapon because its primary use is for illumination. However, when a chemical is used as a weapon, which use the US has just admitted, it must then be considered a chemical weapon. Or is that too simplistic?

I would like to believe that the US military did not target civilians when shooting white phosphorus shells, but I do not. Anyway, the bottom line is that the US military used white phosphorus as a weapon in a town where there were civilians. They will of course call the civilian casualties “collateral damage,” but I do not buy into that concept. Our military went into Iraq on the pretext (one of many) of preventing Saddam Hussein’s military from using chemical weapons. There is something very wrong with this picture.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Monkey has just sent me a very informative article about the use of chemical weapons in Iraq:

This briefing examines the continuing use of incendiary weapons (“napalm”) by the US military in Iraq. While the UK government has attempted to downplay or deny the use of incendiaries in Iraq, US officials have been forced to admit using the MK-77 incendiary, a modern form of napalm. The UK is party to an international convention banning such weapons where they may cause harm to civilians. In Iraq, UK forces are part of a coalition which does not adhere to internationally agreed standards of warfare.

Iraq Analysis Group, March 2005

17. listopadu – Den boje za svobodu a demokracii

The 17th of November is a state holiday in the Czech Republic: The day of struggle for freedom and democracy.

17 November was declared “International Students Day” by the International Students Council in London in 1941. This is the background:

The Nazis had occupied Bohemia and Moravia from 15 March 1939. That same year, on the 28th of October (the anniversary of the independence of Czechoslovakia), there were anti-Nazi demonstrations and riots in Prague. In the course of the Nazi suppression of the demonstrations, Jan Opletal, a medical student at Charles University, was grievously wounded. He died on the 11th of November and his funeral was held on the 15th of November. Several thousand students attended Jan Opletal’s funeral and the funeral metamorphosed into another anti-Nazi demonstration.

On the 17th of November 1939, the Nazis stormed Charles University, executed 9 students, sent over 1200 students to concentration camps and closed all the universities in Bohemia and Moravia for the remainder of the war.

Friday, 17 November 1989

The Socialist Youth Union had organised a demonstration for International Students Day. By 4 o’clock that afternoon, about 15,000 people had gathered near Jan Opletal’s grave in Vyšehrad. The demonstrators marched down from Vyšehrad and along the river to Národní třída, a major thoroughfare in the centre of Prague. At about 7.30 in the evening they were stopped by riot police in Národní třída. The police had blocked all escape routes and the demonstrators, mostly students, were trapped. The police brutally beat the students, but then eventually allowed them to disperse. One of the demonstrators, Ludvík Zifčák, did not get up from where he was lying in the street. Thus the rumour of the dead student was born.*

The events of that evening were the catalyst for the Velvet Revolution.

*Ludvík Zifčák was actually a member of the secret police and had not been injured; to this day no one knows what his motives were.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Benjamin Franklin’s Joke

In 1784, while Benjamin Franklin was living in Paris as American delegate, he wrote a humorous letter to his friend Antoine Alexis-François Cadet de Vaux. Cadet de Vaux was the editor of the Journal de Paris, and he subsequently published the letter in his newspaper under the title “An Economical Project”.

In the letter, Franklin called for the people of Paris to get out of bed before noon and proposed the following regulations:

1. That a tax be paid on every window that had shutters to keep out sunlight.

2. That candles be rationed, and the rationing be enforced by the constabulary.

3. That coaches not be allowed on the streets after sunset, unless carrying doctors or midwives.

4. That sunrise be accompanied by church bells and cannons to “awaken the sluggards effectually and make them open their eyes to see their true interests ... All the difficulty will be in the first two or three days; after which the reformation will be as natural and easy as the present irregularity. ... Oblige a man to rise at four in the morning, and it is probable he will go willingly to bed at eight in the evening.”

But Franklin’s proposals were meant to be satirical; the only thing he was actually advocating was that people go to bed and get up earlier. And the joke is on us: Franklin, due to this essay, is credited with the idea for Daylight Saving Time/European Summer Time.

The main benefit of Daylight Saving Time is supposed to be the saving of energy, but DST can no longer save energy to any significant degree. Apparently any energy we save on lighting, we now more than make up for with air-conditioning.

And Franklin’s joke isn’t funny anymore. Practically everyone I know has been suffering from some degree of depression since we set the clocks back two weeks ago; people are sleep-deprived, irritable and irrational. Studies have shown that traffic accidents and fatalities are higher twice a year just after clocks are changed. People are less productive at work. DST has completely outlived its usefulness. In the big picture, it makes no difference whether we are on standard time or daylight time. The only problem lies with the semi-annual transition, i.e. the changing of clocks, which is itself a harmful thing.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Separation of Powers

On Thursday, the US Senate voted to bar Guantanamo Bay prisoners from challenging their detentions in American courts. The Senate vote was in spite of a 2004 US Supreme Court ruling which said that the Guantanamo prisoners could file petitions for writs of habeas corpus in the US courts.

Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the provision, which was added to a defence policy bill. He told the Senate:

For 200 years, ladies and gentlemen, in the law of armed conflict, no nation has given an enemy combatant, a terrorist, an al-Qaeda member the ability to go into every federal court in this United States and sue the people that are fighting the war for us.

And he was right.

In Johnson v Eisentrager (1950), the US Supreme Court decided that US courts had no jurisdiction over German war criminals that had been captured in China and were being held in a US-administered prison in Germany and had at no time been present in “any territory over which the United States is sovereign.”

However, the 2004 Supreme Court decision in the joined cases, Rasul v Bush and Al Odah v United States, considered whether or not US courts have jurisdiction to hear “challenges to the legality of the detention of foreign nationals captured abroad in connection with hostilities, and incarcerated at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.”

From the 2004 ruling:

The question now before us is whether the habeas statute confers a right to judicial review of the legality of Executive detention of aliens in a territory over which the United States exercises plenary and exclusive jurisdiction, but not “ultimate sovereignty.”

The 2004 Court distinguished Eisentrager:

Petitioners in these cases differ from the Eisentrager detainees in important respects: They are not nationals of countries at war with the United States, and they deny that they have engaged in or plotted acts of aggression against the United States; they have never been afforded access to any tribunal, much less charged with and convicted of wrongdoing; and for more than two years they have been imprisoned in territory over which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction and control.

The ruling goes on to explain historical applications of habeas corpus:

Application of the habeas statute to persons contained at the base is consistent with the historical reach of the writ of habeas corpus. … As Lord Mansfield wrote in 1759, even if a territory was “no part of the realm,” there was “no doubt” as to the court’s power to issue writs of habeas corpus if the territory was “under the subjection of the Crown.” (R v Cowle)

The Court therefore concluded that the District Court has “jurisdiction to hear petitioners’ habeas corpus challenges to the legality of their detention at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.”

I am curious about the conflict between the Supreme Court ruling and the Senate vote.

In United States v Klein (1871), a case that further defined the Constitutional separation of powers, the Supreme Court decided that it was not within the powers of Congress to invade “the province of the judicial branch by prescribing the rule of decision in a particular cause.”

It would seem to me that what the Senate is doing with Thursday’s provision is invading the province of the Supreme Court in violation of United States v Klein by attempting to create a statute which directly contradicts a Supreme Court ruling.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Reason on the rise again?

The town of Dover, Pennsylvania proved yesterday that reason has not completely abandoned the people of the United States.

The Dover school district had been the first one in the US to introduce “Intelligent Design” (i.e. neo-creationism) into their science curriculum as an alternative to Darwin’s widely accepted Theory of Evolution. The people of Dover rebelled at the ballot box on Tuesday, voting out every one of the eight members of the school board that had supported the teaching of “Intelligent Design”. Each of the newly-elected members of the school board ran on the Dover Cares slate, which had come together specifically to oppose the curriculum change.

It is reassuring to see that some people still care about what their children are being taught in school.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

„V USA psali, že celá Paříž hoří“

“In the USA they have written that all of Paris is burning”
- Czech daily Lidové noviny

…nervozita mezi cizinci už je cítit. „Dneska se mě dokonce jeden manželský pár Američanů zeptal, jestli je bezpečné jít se podívat k Eiffelovce. Že prý v amerických novinách četli, že celá Paříž hoří, a když jim chvíli nejelo metro, měli strach, že to je kvůli těm střetům,“ dodává číšník Džamel v kavárně Le Petit Pont ve čtvrti Saint Michel.

“…you can already feel the nervousness amongst foreigners. ‘Today an American couple actually asked me if it was safe to go and look at the Eiffel Tower. It seems that in the American papers they had read, it said that all of Paris was burning, and when the metro didn’t come for a while, they were afraid that it was because of the clashes,’ said Jamel, a waiter in Le Petit Pont café in the Saint Michel quarter.”

I hope it’s not true, that the American papers are not really reporting that all of Paris is burning, but it brings to mind a problem that seems to exist everywhere, basically that the media presents exaggerated impressions of whatever is actually going on. Not to make light of what is happening in Paris, which is very serious indeed, but it is obvious that the line between fact and fantasy has been blurred.

When I lived in Israel during the first intifada, much of the foreign media made it appear as if there was general chaos all over the country, while in actuality the violence was confined at the time to the West Bank and Gaza. A few years ago, the threat of SARS was blown out of proportion by the media, much the same as the threat of avian flu is being blown out of proportion now. The threat of terrorism has been exaggerated as well.

Media is a commercial industry and sensationalism sells. Threats (e.g. avian flu and terrorism) do exist, and the riots in Paris are real, but the media cannot be trusted to paint a picture that stands up to reality.


This morning I was standing at the window and a magpie flew into view and alighted on the roof of the church opposite. “Bad luck,” I thought, knowing that seeing one magpie is a bad omen while seeing two is good. The magpie took off again and flew out of view; a few seconds later another magpie flew into view from a different direction and also landed on the church roof. I was puzzled by this. Two magpies are good luck, but does it count if you don’t see them together? Should I count my sightings as a good sign, or are they in fact double bad luck (which would better suit my mood right now anyway)?

I looked for magpie lore on Wikipedia, and this is what I found there:

The magpie is a common component of European folklore.

In the British Isles a widespread traditional rhyme records the myth that seeing magpies predicts the future, depending on how many are seen. There are many regional variations on the rhyme.

Wikipedia offers three versions of the rhyme; this is the one with which I am most familiar:

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
And four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.

Wikipedia also included a practical quote from Terry Pratchett:

There are many rhymes about magpies, but none of them are very reliable, because they are not the ones the magpies know.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

US Hegemony in the Americas

The Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine was mentioned in a book I was recently reading. I knew the Monroe Doctrine had some significance because I had given an oral report on it in the 8th grade, but I could not remember anything about the Doctrine or my presentation - except that I had taken on the persona of a Russian woman, including what could only have been a comedy accent.

The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 stated that the Americas were to be closed to any future European colonisation and that any European interference in the affairs of sovereign American countries would be considered acts of hostility towards the United States.

The Roosevelt Corollary was added to the Monroe Doctrine in 1904 – it ‘gave’ the US the right to intervene in Latin American affairs. The Clark Memorandum of 1930 reversed the Roosevelt Corollary, in theory at least, saying that the US had no right to intervene in Latin America unless there was a threat from European powers.

However in reality, it would seem that there have consistently been ‘threats’ from Europe. Today I have looked into CIA covert operations in Guatemala, Cuba, Chile and Nicaragua.

Guatemala – Operation PBSuccess 1952-1954

Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was elected President of Guatemala in 1951 in a democratic fashion. His administration introduced some policies of which the US did not approve because they were too communist and indicated probable Soviet influence. Enter the CIA. The CIA operation used diplomatic, economic, propaganda and paramilitary means to overthrow President Guzmán. There is obviously more to the story than that – for a fairly comprehensive summary, see:

Cuba – The Cuban Project aka Operation Mongoose 1961-1962

Lifted from The National Security Archive:

In his exposé of the National Security Agency entitled Body of Secrets, author James Bamford highlights a set of proposals on Cuba by the Joint Chiefs of Staff codenamed OPERATION NORTHWOODS. This document, titled “Justification for U.S. Military Intervention in Cuba” was provided by the JCS to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on March 13, 1962, as the key component of Northwoods. Written in response to a request from the Chief of the Cuba Project, Col. Edward Lansdale, the Top Secret memorandum describes U.S. plans to covertly engineer various pretexts that would justify a U.S. invasion of Cuba. These proposals - part of a secret anti-Castro program known as Operation Mongoose - included staging the assassinations of Cubans living in the United States, developing a fake “Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,” including “sink[ing] a boatload of Cuban refugees (real or simulated),” faking a Cuban air force attack on a civilian jetliner, and concocting a “Remember the Maine” incident by blowing up a U.S. ship in Cuban waters and then blaming the incident on Cuban sabotage. Bamford himself writes that Operation Northwoods “may be the most corrupt plan ever created by the U.S. government.”

The project ultimately failed.

Chile – 1963-1973

Because Salvador Allende was a Marxist, the United States was determined that he not take power. The CIA spent $3 million to influence the outcome of the 1964 presidential election; Allende lost. In 1970 when Allende won the election, the CIA in Chile received orders to orchestrate a coup, preferably before 24th October, when Allende would take office. There was no coup that year.

Allende was finally overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet in a military coup in 1973. The CIA claims that it “played no direct role” in the coup, but it does admit that it was notified two days prior to the staging of the coup. There is no evidence currently publicly available to prove whether the CIA did or did not have a part in the coup.

Nicaragua – 1980s

In November of 1981, Ronald Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 17, which gave the CIA authority to recruit and support the Contras with $19 million in military aid. The Contras were freedom fighters or terrorists, depending on your point of view, who opposed the socialist Sandinista government.

In 1984 Nicaragua filed a suit against the US in the International Court of Justice and in 1986 the Court issued a guilty verdict, stating that the US was “in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to use force against another state”. The US was ordered to pay reparations, but refused to recognise the jurisdiction of the Court.

And then there was the Iran-Contra Affair of 1986-1987, which is a story for another day.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Are men smarter than women?

The clear answer is ‘no’. I am not going to claim that women are smarter than men, but only that studies have generally shown that there are no differences in IQ levels between men and women.

Dr Paul Irwing and Professor Richard Lynn conducted a meta-analysis of the IQs of men and women, meaning that they took dozens of previously conducted studies and carried out an intense statistical analysis on them. Their findings indicated that men increasingly outnumber women as IQs get higher. For example, they claimed that twice as many men as women have IQs of 125, while 5.5 times more men than women have IQs of 155.

Irwing and Lynn’s study was published last week in the British Journal of Psychology, but in an unconventional move, they had announced their findings to journalists two months before the publication of their paper and without making their findings available to other academics. That move got them numerous invitations to appear on radio and television.

But in this week’s issue of Nature (a highly respected international science journal), Dr Steve Blinkhorn has denounced their work, claiming that it is “deeply flawed” and calling it “simple, utter hogwash.” The first flaw in Irwing and Lynn’s methodology was that they carefully selected studies which would support their findings while excluding those that would contradict them, thereby skewing their results. Blinkhorn has also accused the researchers of employing a number of statistical manoeuvres which he describes as being “flawed and suspect”.

It may also be useful here to note that Professor Lynn has previously claimed that white people are inherently more clever than black people.

There is a vast body of work on the subject of gender and IQ that has found no differences between men and women. Blinkhorn has summarised the situation thus: “Sex differences in average IQ, if they exist at all, are too small to be interesting.”

Friday, November 04, 2005

CIA "Black Sites"

The story was broken by the Washington Post when it reported on Wednesday that the CIA was running an international network of secret prisons and that the locations included facilities in Eastern Europe.

The European Commission has been taking the allegations very seriously because the existence of any such site, especially if the practice of any degree of torture is involved, would be in breach of both European Community law and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Yesterday, the group Human Rights Watch announced that it had identified two sites in Europe: Szymany Airport in Poland and Mihail Kogalniceanu military airfield in Romania. Not surprisingly, the Poles and the Romanians are denying all suggestions that the CIA could possibly have set up secret prisons within their territories. Of course it is feasible that those individuals issuing the denials simply have no knowledge of the existence of secret prisons because they are just that – secret.

Meanwhile, Czech Interior Minister František Bublan has said that the Czech Republic and 10 other countries (which he did not name) had rejected requests from the US to accept prisoners that were being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Today it was also alleged that the CIA has transported prisoners through the airport in Budapest, Hungary.

Dopey Dutch

Monkey brought this news to my attention earlier today.

The government of the Netherlands has just announced a scheme to bar foreigners from drug-selling coffee shops, with an aim to end “drug tourism”. The Dutch government has been under pressure from, in particular, Germany and France to tighten its cannabis laws. Coffee shops will still be able to operate, but as 'members only' venues, and memberships will be available only to Dutch residents.

The coffee shop owners are, of course, not happy about the proposed measures. They are licensed by local authorities and pay huge taxes. “It’s totally ridiculous. The minister is stupid. If this system comes in, all the tourists will buy from criminals in the street,” said Arjan Roskam of the Union of Cannabis Retailers.

And of course drug tourists are not happy about it either. “We are devastated,” said Alan Buffry of the Legalise Cannabis Alliance (UK). “It’s always been a refuge where you can smoke and relax without having to look over your shoulder. It was like a holiday from the police.”

Just another example of a government moving in the wrong direction.

Brownie: "fashion god"

I am happy to admit that I send a lot of bullshit e-mails while I am at work. Some of you have been happy to receive them. I am also happy to admit that my job is not very important and aside from a handful of up-tight lawyers and a few legal publishers, no one ever depends on me for anything at all.

Michael Brown, on the other hand, used to have what should have been a very important job, one that he should have taken very seriously.

In the news today… In the midst of Hurricane Katrina, around the time that Condoleezza Rice was shopping for shoes on Fifth Avenue, the then head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was e-mailing his cronies about his wardrobe.

“If you'll look at my lovely FEMA attire, you'll really vomit. I am a fashion god.”

What a dick.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The 7.1 Billion Dollar Panic

“President” Bush yesterday outlined a plan that will protect Americans from bird flu. Thank you, George, you’re my fucking hero.

Meanwhile, “Defense” Secretary Rumsfeld has declined to sell his shares in Gilead Sciences, which owns the patent for the drug Tamiflu, saying instead that he won’t participate in government while it is dealing with issues connected with bird flu. Well, it is easy to understand his decision because he has already made about $1 million and stands to make quite a bit more while the American population panics over an imaginary pandemic. And we have known for a long time already that Rumsfeld has no sense of ministerial responsibility.

A major mutation of a flu strain occurs about once every 10 years. It’s bloody normal. A pandemic occurs every 30 to 40 years. Over 500,000 Americans died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919. So far about 60 people have died of bird flu, none of them in the Americas.

Apparently, if the current H5N1 strain of bird flu mutates so that it can be passed from human to human, no existing vaccine will protect us. Tamiflu is but a treatment for normal human flu, not bird flu, and it if has any effect on bird flu at all, it will be minimal.

So take your vitamins, wash your hands before you eat, don’t play with fucking chickens, and don’t listen to W because he has no idea what he is talking about.

Rule XXI

Last night Monkey got a text message from AG saying that the Senate had invoked Article 21 and closed its doors. I called AG to find out what she was talking about and she directed us to listen to Randi Rhodes on Air America Radio. So we did. And I, of course, had questions about Article 21 and had to do some research.


Authority for both the House and Senate to hold “secret sessions” comes from the Constitution: Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require secrecy… (Article 1, Section 5, Clause 3).

In the Senate, secret sessions for legislative and executive business are governed by Standing Senate Rules XXI, XXIX and XXXI. Under Rule XXI the Senate must close its doors when a motion to do so is made and seconded. The motion is not open for debate.


The Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention met in secret. The Senate met in secret until 1794. The Senate’s executive sessions (those to consider nominations and treaties) remained secret until 1929.

Since 1929, the Senate has met behind closed doors 54 times, including yesterday. Secrecy has generally been due to reasons of national security. Exceptions:
· 2 sessions in January 1999 to discuss a motion to end President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial and a motion to call witnesses in the trial;
· 4 sessions in February 1999 for final impeachment deliberations;
· once in 1997 when the Senate was considering the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty;
· once in 1992 to debate China’s “most favoured nation” status;
· once in 1933 for the impeachment trial of a federal judge; and
· six times in the 1980s for consideration of impeachment articles against three other federal judges.

The House of Representatives

The House can also meet behind closed doors, but very rarely does so. The House had frequent secret sessions through the end of the War of 1812, and then again in 1825 and 1830. Since 1830, the House has only met in secret 3 times:
· 1979 to discuss the Panama Canal;
· 1980 to discuss assistance to Central America; and
· 1983 to discuss US support for paramilitary operations in Nicaragua.

The Issue of Transparency

Transparency is a problem. Proceedings of a secret session in either House of Congress remain secret unless the chamber votes to release them, which they can do either at the time or later. Released transcripts, which may be only a portion of or the entire session, are printed in the Congressional Record.

House of Representatives transcripts kept secret are released after 30 years. Senate transcripts, however, are kept secret “until the Senate votes to remove the injunction of secrecy.”

(Major Source: CRS Report for Congress)

Yesterday’s Secret Session

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Dem – Nevada) called for the Senate to close its doors: “The troops have a right to expect answers and accountability worthy of [their] sacrifice. I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations aren't being conducted.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Rep – Tennessee) got all bent out of shape over Reid’s motion, which is the very funny part of the whole thing.

It seems that basically the Republicans were not following through on their promises to resume investigations into the Iraq pre-war intelligence debacle, and the Democrats wanted to force their hand. The outcome of the closed door session is that the Senate Intelligence Committee will resume its inquiry next week, and further, a special six-senator commission has been named to examine the status of the investigation itself.

Advantage: the minority party was able to force the majority party to deal with an issue they had been avoiding.

Disadvantage: the lack of transparency.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


I was surprised to read on the BBC News website today that more than 1 in 10 people experience being stalked. This statistic comes from studies in the US, the UK, Australia and Germany. I would not have expected the number to be quite so high.

I was not at all surprised, however, by some of the other things the article said:
· 90% of victims are female;
· over two-thirds are stalked by a previous boyfriend/husband/partner;
· the most common stalking occurrences are nuisance telephone calls and the stalker loitering outside the victim’s home;
· many victims suffer from anxiety, depression and sleep deprivation; and
· one-third of victims continue to experience emotional distress one year after the stalking has ended.

The article was like a checklist for me. My ex-husband stalked me for about 6 months when I left him. He came to my work, he waited outside my house, he called me on the phone, he rang my doorbell, he went to all of my regular hang-outs, he followed me. I was always anxious, always worried that he was going to turn up wherever I was, and when he did, the feelings of frustration and helplessness were overwhelming.

I never felt physically threatened and I never called the police. I was too charitable towards him – maybe out of guilt for having left him, and I assumed he would get over it sooner or later. I did everything wrong.

From the BBC - Professor David Canter, from the Centre for Investigative Psychology at Liverpool University, advised: "It is essential that the victim does not respond to, react to or acknowledge the stalker in any way, and this must be maintained at all times.”

Of course I talked to him. I tried to reason with him, I yelled and screamed at him. I was simply incapable of ignoring someone who was driving me crazy.

One night he followed me to a birthday party and yelled at me and made a huge scene. My friends wouldn’t let me go home that night.

One night he followed me home from the pub where I moonlighted as a barmaid. I phoned some friends at the bar who just happened to be US Marines, and they came over and chased him away. He came back after they left.

One night he was outside my flat and calling me on the phone. I took my house phone off the hook. He called my mobile; I turned it off. He started ringing my doorbell; I pulled the wires out of the wall. He began throwing rocks at my window. I finally decided I had to ignore it and I went to sleep.

The scariest thing was when he had not stalked me for over a month, our divorce had gone through and I was certain it was all over, when suddenly he turned up again. All the anxiety came back and I feared it would go on forever.

It is very strange to remember now how much I hated him then. Being stalked was just the most totally fucked up thing.