Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cutting Through the Bullshit

The bullshit is flying fast and free as far as the embryonic stem cell issue is concerned. Even Jim Caviezel has weighed in on the issue (in mumbled Aramaic at that), saying, "You betray the Son of Man with a kiss."

Evidently, Caviezel has confounded the fact that he played the Son of God with the notion that he is the Son of God.

Mind you, I am a practicing Roman Catholic but I have to disagree with the church on this matter. The embryos used are from already-fertilized eggs that will be destroyed in an autoclave if they are not used for research. In point of fact, they are not even embryos yet, they are blastocysts.

The Biblical definition of life is in Genesis 9:3-4
3Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.

4But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.

Thus the life is in the blood, and at 8 cells, there is no blood yet.

The next problem with the religious right is that they say that there are no cures for any disease from embryonic stem cells, which is patently false. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have concluded a trial that has:
For the first time, stem cell researchers at the University of Minnesota have coaxed human embryonic stem cells to create cancer-killing cells in the laboratory, paving the way for future treatments for various types of cancers (or tumors). The research will be published in the Oct. 15 issue of the Journal of Immunology.

Researchers generated "natural killer" cells from the human embryonic stem cells. As part of the immune system, natural killer cells normally are present in the blood stream and are play a role in defending the body against infection and against some cancers.

"This is the first published research to show the ability to make cells from human embryonic stem cells that are able to treat and fight cancer, especially leukemias and lymphomas," said Dan Kaufman, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Stem Cell Institute and Department of Medicine at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study.

"We hear a lot about the potential of stem cells to treat conditions such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. This research suggests it is possible that we could use human embryonic stem cells as a source for immune cells that could better target and destroy cancer cells and potentially treat infections," Kaufman added.

The results also provided the researchers with a model of how the immune system develops.
So we now know more about how the immune system functions as well as finding a new treatment for cancer. This research was done on two of the stem cell lines that fall under the federal funding guideline, so your taxpayer dollars went toward funding this project. Aren't you proud of the accomplishment of our scientists, or do you want to run back to the Stone Age?

The last bit of bullshit is that there are 65 (or 72) diseases that can be treated with adult or cord blood stem cells. Actually, that number is severely inflated - there are only nine diseases that have emerged from the required clinical trials. That's an abysmal 14% of treatments. More can come later and I fully support all research into this area.

He Was On Vacation

When he got the Presidential Daily Briefing, warning about the worst man-made of disaster (9/11), he was on vacation.

When the worst natural disaster happened, Katrina, he was on vacation.

He was on vacation for the worst disasters in American history, and nobody held him responsible. He stayed on vacation, even when the disaster was so horrific. You can be sure that Bill Clinton would have been there, rolling up his sleeves if necessary.

I miss Bill.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

I Love the General!

Racial politics have been on the back burner until recently. Kenney-Boy Mehlmen even went in front of the NAACP and apologized for the past and pledged that there was room under the Big Tent in the Republican Party for everyone.

That was until they were down in the polls for long enough that they had to come to terms with the fact that the Democrats were going to win unless the GOP could mobilize their base. In the South, that base is fairly strongly racist.

If it were otherwise, why even think of planting the image of a white-trash woman winking and vamping for the camera, asking the "mixed" Harold Ford, Jr. to, "Call me"?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Michael J. Fox Is Right

This is a devastating ad. The GOP's Mighty Wurlitzer is warming up and delivering a full frontal assault on Michael J. Fox in an attempt to reduce the effectiveness of this ad.

Rush Limbaugh (who knows a lot of pharmacology, but only the ones treating pain and erectile dysfunction) is accusing Fox of going off his medications in order to exaggerate the devastating effects of Parkinson's disease for political gain. He obviously knows nothing about the treatment for Parkinson's disease.

The jerking and swaying that you see on the video is called tardive dyskinesia and is a side effect of the medications used to treat Parkinson's disease. After decades of research, there is still no better treatment than oral levodopa. Parkinson's disease is currently thought to be related to depletion of dopamine in the corpus striatum in the central nervous system. Dopamine does not cross the blood-brain barrier, so it cannot be administered orally, but L-dopa does cross it and is metabolized into dopamine in the CNS; however, it requires tremendously high doses of L-dopa in order for sufficient amounts to cross the blood-brain barrier in order to have the desired effect.

The high levels of L-dopa cause intense nausea, tardive dyskinesia, and other negative effects. Carbidopa is a drug that reduces the amount of L-dopa required to have the desired effect by 75%, so it is a significant improvement in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.

Sinemet is a medication that is a combination of L-dopa and carbidopa, and has been approved for use since 1991. The fact that there has been no significant advancement in the treatment of Parkinson's in the last 15 years is very telling. The fact that young people, like Fox (ouch, I see 45 as being young!), are willing to live with these adverse effects - that their lives are better with these constant motions, nausea and vomiting is horrifying.

It is vital that every possible option for research is funded by the federal government, since the vast majority of medical advances have been made by federally-funded research. Expecting the private sector to bleed money for more than a decade is delusional. Medical research is by its very nature a slow and cautions activity. Rushing a treatment to market in order to maximize profitability can be disastrous. The Viagra debacle is proof of that concept - the only reason it remains on the market is that there is a very large portion of the population that is willing to risk death in order to prove that they can still "do what comes naturally". Can you imagine if a drug to treat ADD killed several children after it was rushed to market? I can picture the mobs with torches and pitchforks storming the gates of the drug manufacturers.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

We Never Learn, Do We?

This is such a powerful argument against dogmatism as I have seen. A reader at Andrew Sullivan states:
Your comments about the necessity to recognize doubt reminded me of the most profound moment I ever witnessed on television, namely, the final episode of a series called "The Ascent of Man", which aired in the early 70's. You may of course be well versed in this already, and forgive me if you do, but briefly, the narrator (Dr. Jacob Bronowski) contrasted the certainty of Nazism with the contemporaneous Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

Standing in a swamp behind one of the Nazi death camps, Dr. Bronowski bent forward, and ran his hands through the muck of this swamp that contained the bodily remains of some of his family, while trying to explain the consequences of ideological certainty. I cannot think or tell of this without tears, and yet we seem never to learn these lessons.
We still haven't learned.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

We Are All Conservatives...

Andrew Sullivan writes a piece of prose that is worthy of poetry in his book, The Conservative Soul:
All conservatism begins with loss.

If we never knew loss, we would never feel the need to conserve, which is the essence of any conservatism. Our lives, a series of unconnected moments of experience, would simply move effortlessly on, leaving the past behind with barely a look back. But being human, being self-conscious, having memory, forces us to confront what has gone and what might have been. And in those moments of confrontation with time, we are all conservatives...

The regret you feel in your life at the kindness not done, the person unthanked, the opportunity missed, the custom unobserved, is a form of conservatism. The same goes for the lost love or the missed opportunity: these experiences teach us the fragility of the moment, and that fragility is what, in part, defines us...

Human beings live by narrative; and we get saddened when a familiar character disappears from a soap opera; or an acquaintance moves; or an institution becomes unrecognizable from what it once was. These little griefs are what build a conservative temperament. They interrupt our story; and our story is what makes sense of our lives. So we resist the interruption; and when we resist it, we are conservatives.
True liberalism (ecological conservation; equal rights for all-women, children, latino, black, native American, GLBT, and so on; safety in workplace, home, streets, etc.; protection of our Constitution; etc.) is actually very conservative.

Keeping money in the pockets of the very rich, savaging our environment for profit, diminishing freedom of religion, abandoning the needy (children, elderly, disabled), starving scientists of funding for research that would improve the lives of multitudes of citizens around the world, invading the privacy of citizens' lives to ferret out personal medical decisions are all done by those who do not learn from history.

All the horrific abuses of the Gilded Age are being revisited in today's so-called conservatives. Fracturing the social structure that has been built over the last century is the goal for today's GOP. A return to the Have-Mores is not something of which to be proud. America's prosperity is tied in to the welfare of all citizens.

If we had universal health care, there would be less catastrophic illness due to early detection and treatment. Funding for medical research, including stem cell research in all it's forms, improves the understanding of and treatment for disease, leading to a healthier, more productive workforce.

Home care for the sick and elderly allows family members to enter the workforce, also leading to an increase in productivity. Increasing the access for disabled individuals allows them to add to the wealth of American workers. Imagine if an individual such as Stephen Hawking did not have access to equipment to allow for mobility and communication--how poverty-stricken we would be without his ability to add to the intellectual wealth of humanity.

Measures that decrease environmental destruction decrease contamination of water supplies and exposure to toxic substances. Everything that causes extinction of any species is a canary in the mineshaft-a warning of disasters to come for humanity. Katrina would not have been the massive disaster that it was had the wetlands been preserved, which would have contained the storm surge that turned New Orleans into a inland sea.

Liberalism is actually quite conservative.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Remember What I Said About Domestic Terrorism?

Jennifer Pozner at Newsday.com reports on the issue of domestic terrorism. Money quote:
On Sept. 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks that devastated our nation, a man crashed his car into a building in Davenport, Iowa, hoping to blow it up and kill himself in the fire.

No national newspaper, magazine or network newscast reported this attempted suicide bombing, though an AP wire story was available. Cable news (save for MSNBC's Keith Olbermann) was silent about this latest act of terrorism in America.

Had the criminal, David McMenemy, been Arab or Muslim, this would have been headline news for weeks. But since his target was the Edgerton Women's Health Center, rather than, say, a bank or a police station, media have not called this terrorism - even after three decades of extreme violence by anti-abortion fanatics, mostly fundamentalist Christians who believe they're fighting a holy war.

Since 1977, casualties from this war include seven murders, 17 attempted murders, three kidnappings, 152 assaults, 305 completed or attempted bombings and arsons, 375 invasions, 482 stalking incidents, 380 death threats, 618 bomb threats, 100 acid attacks, and 1,254 acts of vandalism, according to the National Abortion Federation.
If any of these acts were committed by anyone even remotely resembling a Muslim, we would never have heard the end of it. Congress would have been reconvened to pass an emergency bill to authorise an immediate public execution, preferably in a medieval as-slow-as-possible-while-making-a-bloody-spectacle way.

Shown on every television and cable network, even Nickelodean.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Oh, This Is Too Funny

CommenterYour+Conscience on Think Progress has a hilarious aggregation of all the excuses for all the f^#$ups by right-wingers over the last six years. I just had to quote it in it's entirety:
It’s the liberals. It’s the ACLU. It’s Clinton. It’s Monica. It’s the “climate of permissiveness”. It’s France. It’s the liberal media. It’s Clinton’s p*nis. It’s Hillary. It’s Gov. Dean. We never could have known they’d fly planes into buildings. “No actionable intelligence”. They didn’t tell us to do anything. O’Neill’s lying. Clarke’s lying. General Shinseki’s lying. The Union of Concerned Scientists is lying. Our own weapons inspector David Kay’s lying. Wilson’s lying. John Dean’s lying. Newsweek lied! CBS lied! Everyone’s lying but us. We had to lie. We never lied.

Plame outed herself. Her husband outed her. The liberals outed her. No one outed her, since everyone already knew her covert identity. Rove had nothing to do with it. No comment. Lib’ral, lib’ral, lib’ral.

It’s the libs trying to pull Schiavo’s feeding tube. It doesn’t matter that DeLay pulled his own dad’s feeding tube. “Culture of life”. It’s Janet Jackson’s boobs; it’s the Statue of Justice’s boobs. Reading the news might cloud my judgement. It’s the “decade our government…blinded itself to our enemies”. It’s the homosexuals wanting to marry. “Restore honor and dignity to the White House”. A decision to go to war wasn’t a decision to go to war. “No actionable intelligence”. It’s the pledge of allegiance. They’re taking God out of America. Osama didn’t tell us when, how, where, and by what means he’d attack, and he didn’t leave a forwarding address. The 9/11 panel is biased against us. Saddam = Al Qaida. Saddam = Al Qaida.

Chalabi’s an honorable man and I believe everything he says about WMDs. Chalabi’s a crook and he passed secrets to Iran. Chalabi’s the liberals’ fault because they didn’t shoot us when we started using his “intelligence”. Chalabi? I don’t know any ‘Chalabi’!

It’s just a few dead-enders. They’ll be gone when we capture Saddam. They’ll be gone when we capture Saddam’s sons. They’ll be gone when we hand over “sovereignty”. They’ll be gone when Iraq has elections. They’ll be gone in 12 years. They’ll never be gone.

We fight them in London so we don’t have to fight them, er, uh, well, can’t get fooled again!

Bolton didn’t lie! He just knowingly gave incorrect answers under oath.

Aw, so what’s another ISLAMIC STATE in the mideast? It’s not like Bush has made it a home for terrorists or anything!

No one could have anticipated that a category 5 hurricane aimed directly at New Orleans would have destroyed it! No one could have anticipated that they might need federal assistance quickly! Of course no one’s in charge of accepting the generous aid offered by other nations — isn’t that the mayor’s responsibility? Being a judging supervisor for the Arabian Horse Association is ample experience to head FEMA! It’s the mayor’s fault! It’s the governor’s fault! It’s Howard Dean’s fault! It’s CBS’s fault! It’s the Monica Crime! Ted Kennedy killed Mary Jo! Libtards killed Terry Schiavo! Wah! Wahhhhhhh!

It’s all these former staffers hawking their books. Money never corrupted anyone. “I’m a uniter, not a divider!” It’s the stem cells. It’s the feminazis, the intellectual elitists, and the ecoterrorists.

It’s Cthulhu. It’s the martians.

It’s anyone but Bush.
This is as complete a list as I have ever seen.

The Republicans were supposed to be the grownups, unlike the Democrats who were all into their "feelings" and wanted an "if it feels good, do it", amoral, licentious society. They were all about integrity. They were all about fiscal responsibility.

I have always been a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. I know that it is not seen to be fiscally conservative to support universal health care, but as an ICU nurse, I have seen the incredibly expensive medical care that could have been avoided if the patient had had access to early detection and early intervention to treat disease. I have known uncountable examples of situations where the patient could not afford to see a physician because they could not afford health insurance and they finally had to go to the ER because they could not breathe (Hodgkin's lymphoma, lung cancer, etc.) or any other catastrophic medical event.

ICU and ER care is incredibly expensive and a visit to a Nurse Practitioner who can prescribe a round of antibiotics for pneumonia, which would be paid for (with a small copay) by universal health insurance would be exponentially cheaper.

The insurance industry is incredibly corrupt. My credit is ruined because my own employer (the hospital where I worked) sued me for charges incurred at that hospital which should have been covered by the very insurance which they administered. I am being punished for their refusal to shoulder their responsibilities.

The Republican-led Congress has been spending money like Imelda Markos in a shoe store, but it has gone to corrupt enterprises such as KBR's contract to give clean water to our troops, which was found to be just as contaminated as the water in the Tigris River.

With the way the Republicans have been behaving, I have come to the conclusion that I would rather vote for Karl Marx's corpse over anyone with an "R" behind their name until they can prove they can act like old-school Republicans.

Then, maybe I'll vote for them.

Maybe, but not bloody likely.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Funniest News I've Ever Heard Out Of Afghanistan!

Canadian soldiers bring a new high-oops, I mean meaning-to the term "smoking out the enemy". They encountered Taliban forces hiding out in a 10-foot-tall marajuana forest.

The problem? When they set fire to the forest, Canadian soldiers downwind from the "firefight" suffered "negative effects".

According to one unfortunate soldier, "Sir, three years ago before I joined the army, I never thought I'd say 'That damn marijuana'."

Bwaaaahhhhh, haaaaaaaa haaaaaaaaa!

This provided some much needed comic relief!

It Is Not Bill Clinton's Fault

Bill Clinton was not the president when:
  • North Korea violated the Agreed Framework negotiated by multilateral talks.

  • We blew through a $284 billion surplus into an average ANNUAL deficit in excess of $300 billion.

  • We invaded a sovereign country for the first time in the history of this country, one which was NOT a threat to this country.

  • The administration ignored multiple PDB's about al Qaeda and/or bin Laden determined to attack the US.

  • The US became nearly universally reviled due to arrogant international behavior.

  • New Orleans was reduced from a vibrant city into a photocopy of a third-world country and we were no longer confident that FEMA would always be there in the case of natural disaster.

  • Our military was reduced from being the best in the world to a stretched-out shadow of it's former glory and was not sent into battle on any front without the proper equipment.
  • It is not Bill Clinton's fault.

    Friday, October 13, 2006

    About That NorK Nuke...

    Jeffrey Lewis has an interesting post on defensetech.org about North Korea's nuke test this week:
    I -- Jeffrey Lewis, crossposting from Arms Control Wonk -- love the US Geological Survey.

    They've published lat/long (41.294 N, 129.134 E) and Mb estimates (4.2) for the North Korean test.

    There is lots of data floating around: The CTBTO called it 4.0; The South Koreans report 3.58-3.7.

    You're thinking, 3.6, 4.2, in that neighborhood. Seismic scales, like the Richter, are logarithmic, so that neighborhood can be pretty big.

    But even at 4.2, the test was probablya dud.

    Estimating the yield is tricky business, because it depends on the geology of the test site. The South Koreans called the yield half a kiloton (550 tons), which is more or less -- a factor of two -- consistent with the relationship for tests in that yield range at the Soviet Shagan test site:

    Mb = 4.262 + .973LogW

    Where Mb is the magnitude of the body wave, and W is the yield.

    3.58-3.7 gives you a couple hundred tons (not kilotons), which is pretty close in this business unless you're really math positive. The same equation, given the US estimate of 4.2, yields (pun intended) around a kiloton.

    A plutonium device should produce a yield in the range of the 20 kilotons, like the one we dropped on Nagasaki. No one has ever dudded their first test of a simple fission device. North Korean nuclear scientists are now officially the worst ever.
    More evidence that the NorK nuke test was a dud.

    photo from defensetech.org

    Talking To the Shrub

    This is an amazing ad: simple yet very effective. It is done by Jimmy Siegel, a Madison Avenue ad exec who is looked down upon by political admakers. I think it is because they fear that their jobs are threatened by someone this good.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Ah, the fabulous Mark Shea!

    Catholics are committed to following the Church's teachings in our lives. How does this sync with allowing torture? Mark Shea has the answer in spades:
    My concern, in writing the "Toying with Evil" piece was to say that, for Catholics, it is forbidden to do evil that good may come of it. This elementary moral teaching is what undergirds Paul's thinking in Romans 3:8 and it remains an elementary teaching today. And that means, when the Church says "X is intrinsically immoral" our job as Catholics is to see that we bloody well do not make excuses for X.

    In short, when the Church says "This is evil" the mind docile to the Church's teaching says, "Okay, how do I avoid that evil?" The mind looking for legalistic loopholes and a Minimum Daily Adult Requirement standard of obedience says, "Okay, then how do I tiptoe right up to the line of doing evil, but not step over it? How do I figure out a way to say the Church isn't really saying what it is obviously saying?" It is a question asked by randy teenagers, children trying to steal from cookie jars, and people attempting to figure out just how much suffering they can inflict on somebody before it technically is called torture, or people trying to figure out a way to prove that the Church can't really have said that torture is intrinsically immoral. It is not a question asked by people who are want to know "How do we treat our prisoner justly and humanely?"

    That there are people who are clearly attempting to avoid the obvious teaching of the Church about the intrinsical immorality of torture is, I think, beyond dispute. The Coalition for Fog distinguishes itself in this way, when it declares that reading Veritatis Splendor as a condemnation of the intrinsic immorality of torture is "fundamentalist proof texting". Clearly, the goal of such rhetoric is to say that the Magisterium does not teach what it does, in fact, teach. It's as believable as Daniel Maguire's attempts to square the circle of the Church's condemnation of abortion with his pro-choice zealotry--and as contemptible. At the end of the day, the Coalition for Fog is trying, by hook or by crook, to tell us that we can ignore Veritatis Splendor when it declares that physical and mental torture are, like rape and abortion, acts for which there can never be any justification. That's what "intrinsically immoral" means, and that's what Veritatis Splendor says. I do not think the members of the Coalition for Fog are fools, therefore I have to conclude they are dishonest in trying to pretend VS does not say this, and that they cover up their dishonesty with name-calling about fundamentalist proof-texting.

    One issue that comes up is, of course, the inconsistency between the Church's past behavior and her present teaching. As has been shown elsewhere, this is a fruitless approach, because the Church is not protected by infallibility in her juridical acts. She is only protected by infallibility in her teaching.

    "Ah HA!" someone will reply, "But Veritatis Splendor does not *infallibly* define torture as intrinsically immoral." And that would really matter--to a Minimum Daily Adult Requirement Catholic whose sole question when approaching the Church for guidance is, "Just tell me what the infallible stuff is and screw all the rest of it." However, for Catholics serious about obeying the Church, that is not the question. The question is, "What does the Magisterium teach and how do I best obey it?" To Catholics like that, it is sufficient that the Church says "Torture is intrinsically immoral" for them to agree that torture is intrinsically immoral and not rush off looking for excuses, loopholes, apparent contradictions--anything so they can ignore the Church's teaching and ridicule those who take it at face value as "fundamentalist proof-texters".

    Generally, what undergirds this quest for loopholes, excuses, and contradictions are two streams of thought. One is the Traditionalist stream which regards whatever is old as automatically more valid and which therefore regards recent developments as modernistic, squishy, and dubiously Catholic. I think Fr. Harrison's argument essentially turns on this and is motivated more by an aversion to the Council and to John Paul's teaching than to a zeal for excusing American policy. As he puts it, "the Catholic “tradition” against torture only goes back to, well, yesterday." Older is better. If the Church of the Middle Ages tortured, then it's good enough for me, etc. Of course, the answer to all that argument by the clock is "So?" There was a time when the Church's condemnation of Arius only went back to yesterday too. Indeed, there was a time when it was heretical to refer to the Son as "homoousious" (one in being) with the Father. Protestants argue every day that the Assumption is likewise false since the definition only goes back to yesterday. Arguments like "this is recent" are completely worthless for establishing whether a development is valid or not. That's what Popes are for. And our most recent Pope has clearly taught that torture is intrinsically immoral.
    I can't add to perfection.

    First-Person News From Iraq

    I must apologize to the anonymous Marine who penned this email, but I feel I need to quote it in it's entirety:
    All: I haven't written very much from Iraq. There's really not much to write about. More exactly, there's not much I can write about because practically everything I do, read or hear is classified military information or is depressing to the point that I'd rather just forget about it, never mind write about it. The gaps in between all of that are filled with the pure tedium of daily life in an armed camp. So it's a bit of a struggle to think of anything to put into a letter that's worth reading. Worse, this place just consumes you. I work 18-20-hour days, every day. The quest to draw a clear picture of what the insurgents are up to never ends. Problems and frictions crop up faster than solutions. Every challenge demands a response. It's like this every day. Before I know it, I can't see straight, because it's 0400 and I've been at work for twenty hours straight, somehow missing dinner again in the process. And once again I haven't written to anyone. It starts all over again four hours later. It's not really like Ground Hog Day, it's more like a level from Dante's Inferno.

    Rather than attempting to sum up the last seven months, I figured I'd just hit the record setting highlights of 2006 in Iraq. These are among the events and experiences I'll remember best.

    Worst Case of Déjà Vu - I thought I was familiar with the feeling of déjà vu until I arrived back here in Fallujah in February. The moment I stepped off of the helicopter, just as dawn broke, and saw the camp just as I had left it ten months before - that was déjà vu. Kind of unnerving. It was as if I had never left. Same work area, same busted desk, same chair, same computer, same room, same creaky rack, same . . . everything. Same everything for the next year. It was like entering a parallel universe. Home wasn't 10,000 miles away, it was a different lifetime.

    Most Surreal Moment - Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be exact. I had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.

    Most Profound Man in Iraq - an unidentified farmer in a fairly remote area who, after being asked by Reconnaissance Marines (searching for Syrians) if he had seen any foreign fighters in the area replied "Yes, you."

    Worst City in al-Anbar Province - Ramadi, hands down. The provincial capital of 400,000 people. Killed over 1,000 insurgents in there since we arrived in February. Every day is a nasty gun battle. They blast us with giant bombs in the road, snipers, mortars and small arms. We blast them with tanks, attack helicopters, artillery, our snipers (much better than theirs), and every weapon that an infantryman can carry. Every day. Incredibly, I rarely see Ramadi in the news. We have as many attacks out here in the west as Baghdad. Yet, Baghdad has 7 million people, we have just 1.2 million. Per capita, al-Anbar province is the most violent place in Iraq by several orders of magnitude. I suppose it was no accident that the Marines were assigned this area in 2003.

    Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province - Any Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician (EOD Tech). How'd you like a job that required you to defuse bombs in a hole in the middle of the road that very likely are booby-trapped or connected by wire to a bad guy who's just waiting for you to get close to the bomb before he clicks the detonator? Every day. Sanitation workers in New York City get paid more than these guys. Talk about courage and commitment.

    Second Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province - It's a 20,000 way tie among all the Marines and Soldiers who venture out on the highways and through the towns of al-Anbar every day, not knowing if it will be their last - and for a couple of them, it will be.

    Best Piece of U.S. Gear - new, bullet-proof flak jackets. O.K., they weigh 40 lbs and aren't exactly comfortable in 120 degree heat, but they've saved countless lives out here.

    Best Piece of Bad Guy Gear - Armor Piercing ammunition that goes right through the new flak jackets and the Marines inside them.

    Worst E-Mail Message - "The Walking Blood Bank is Activated. We need blood type A+ stat." I always head down to the surgical unit as soon as I get these messages, but I never give blood - there's always about 80 Marines in line, night or day.

    Biggest Surprise - Iraqi Police. All local guys. I never figured that we'd get a police force established in the cities in al-Anbar. I estimated that insurgents would kill the first few, scaring off the rest. Well, insurgents did kill the first few, but the cops kept on coming. The insurgents continue to target the police, killing them in their homes and on the streets, but the cops won't give up. Absolutely incredible tenacity. The insurgents know that the police are far better at finding them than we are. - and they are finding them. Now, if we could just get them out of the habit of beating prisoners to a pulp .. . .

    Greatest Vindication - Stocking up on outrageous quantities of Diet Coke from the chow hall in spite of the derision from my men on such hoarding, then having a 122mm rocket blast apart the giant shipping container that held all of the soda for the chow hall. Yep, you can't buy experience.

    Biggest Mystery - How some people can gain weight out here. I'm down to 165 lbs. Who has time to eat?

    Second Biggest Mystery - if there's no atheists in foxholes, then why aren't there more people at Mass every Sunday?

    Favorite Iraqi TV Show - Oprah. I have no idea. They all have satellite TV.

    Coolest Insurgent Act - Stealing almost $7 million from the main bank in Ramadi in broad daylight, then, upon exiting, waving to the Marines in the combat outpost right next to the bank, who had no clue of what was going on. The Marines waved back. Too cool.

    Most Memorable Scene - In the middle of the night, on a dusty airfield, watching the better part of a battalion of Marines packed up and ready to go home after six months in al-Anbar, the relief etched in their young faces even in the moonlight. Then watching these same Marines exchange glances with a similar number of grunts loaded down with gear file past - their replacements. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said.

    Highest Unit Re-enlistment Rate - Any outfit that has been in Iraq recently. All the danger, all the hardship, all the time away from home, all the horror, all the frustrations with the fight here - all are outweighed by the desire for young men to be part of a 'Band of Brothers' who will die for one another. They found what they were looking for when they enlisted out of high school. Man for man, they now have more combat experience than any Marines in the history of our Corps.

    Most Surprising Thing I Don't Miss - Beer. Perhaps being half-stunned by lack of sleep makes up for it.

    Worst Smell - Porta-johns in 120 degree heat - and that's 120 degrees outside of the porta-john.

    Highest Temperature - I don't know exactly, but it was in the porta-johns. Needed to re-hydrate after each trip to the loo.

    Biggest Hassle - High-ranking visitors. More disruptive to work than a rocket attack. VIPs demand briefs and "battlefield" tours (we take them to quiet sections of Fallujah, which is plenty scary for them). Our briefs and commentary seem to have no affect on their preconceived notions of what's going on in Iraq. Their trips allow them to say that they've been to Fallujah, which gives them an unfortunate degree of credibility in perpetuating their fantasies about the insurgency here.

    Biggest Outrage - Practically anything said by talking heads on TV about the war in Iraq, not that I get to watch much TV. Their thoughts are consistently both grossly simplistic and politically slanted. Biggest offender - Bill O'Reilly - what a buffoon.

    Best Intel Work - Finding Jill Carroll's kidnappers - all of them. I was mighty proud of my guys that day. I figured we'd all get the Christian Science Monitor for free after this, but none have showed up yet. Talk about ingratitude.

    Saddest Moment - Having the battalion commander from 1st Battalion, 1st Marines hand me the dog tags of one of my Marines who had just been killed while on a mission with his unit. Hit by a 60mm mortar. Cpl Bachar was a great Marine. I felt crushed for a long time afterward. His picture now hangs at the entrance to the Intelligence Section. We'll carry it home with us when we leave in February.

    Biggest Ass-Chewing - 10 July immediately following a visit by the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Zobai. The Deputy Prime Minister brought along an American security contractor (read mercenary), who told my Commanding General that he was there to act as a mediator between us and the Bad Guys. I immediately told him what I thought of him and his asinine ideas in terms that made clear my disgust and which, unfortunately, are unrepeatable here. I thought my boss was going to have a heart attack. Fortunately, the translator couldn't figure out the best Arabic words to convey my meaning for the Deputy Prime Minister. Later, the boss had no difficulty in convening his meaning to me in English regarding my Irish temper, even though he agreed with me. At least the guy from the State Department thought it was hilarious. We never saw the mercenary again.

    Best Chuck Norris Moment - 13 May. Bad Guys arrived at the government center in the small town of Kubaysah to kidnap the town mayor, since they have a problem with any form of government that does not include regular beheadings and women wearing burqahs. There were seven of them. As they brought the mayor out to put him in a pick-up truck to take him off to be beheaded (on video, as usual), one of the bad Guys put down his machinegun so that he could tie the mayor's hands. The mayor took the opportunity to pick up the machinegun and drill five of the Bad Guys. The other two ran away. One of the dead Bad Guys was on our top twenty wanted list. Like they say, you can't fight City Hall.

    Worst Sound - That crack-boom off in the distance that means an IED or mine just went off. You just wonder who got it, hoping that it was a near miss rather than a direct hit. Hear it every day.

    Second Worst Sound - Our artillery firing without warning. The howitzers are pretty close to where I work. Believe me, outgoing sounds a lot like incoming when our guns are firing right over our heads. They'd about knock the fillings out of your teeth.

    Only Thing Better in Iraq Than in the U.S. - Sunsets. Spectacular. It's from all the dust in the air.

    Proudest Moment - It's a tie every day, watching my Marines produce phenomenal intelligence products that go pretty far in teasing apart Bad Guy operations in al-Anbar. Every night Marines and Soldiers are kicking in doors and grabbing Bad Guys based on intelligence developed by my guys. We rarely lose a Marine during these raids, they are so well-informed of the objective. A bunch of kids right out of high school shouldn't be able to work so well, but they do.

    Happiest Moment - Well, it wasn't in Iraq. There are no truly happy moments here. It was back in California when I was able to hold my family again while home on leave during July.

    Most Common Thought - Home. Always thinking of home, of Kathleen and the kids. Wondering how everyone else is getting along. Regretting that I don't write more. Yep, always thinking of home.

    I hope you all are doing well. If you want to do something for me, kiss a cop, flush a toilet, and drink a beer. I'll try to write again before too long - I promise.

    Semper Fi,
    God bless you and all your fellow soldiers, may you stay safe until we can get you all home--we are trying to do it as fast as we can.

    Monday, October 09, 2006

    The Legacy of Nurenberg

    Poster scribe on TalkLeft said something very profound:
    For those who were disputing over why the Administration took some revenge on Commander Swift, by forcing him from the service, the following quote is revelatory :

    These [the Admin's] lawyers adopted a mantra, namely, to quote Alberto Gonzales, that the Geneva Conventions were "quaint" and "obsolete," and did not apply to a "new kind of warfare." In so doing, they thoughtlessly moved in the same paths traversed by lawyers in Berlin sixty years earlier. Indeed, at the General Staff trial, the world public learned for the first time of the valiant struggle of Moltke when one of his memoranda was put into evidence. It pleaded in forceful terms for respect of the Geneva Convention rights of enemy soldiers, civilians and irregular combatants on the East Front, mustering a series of arguments that bear remarkable similarity to a memorandum sent by Colin Powell to President Bush sixty years later. And in the margins, in the unmistakeable pencil scrawl of Field Marshall Keitel, were found the words "quaint" and "obsolete." This was cited as an aggravating factor justifying a sentence of the death against Keitel.

    The Bush Administration apparently assumed that the court system would toe the political line they had drawn. It was clearly taken by surprise when the Supreme Court, in Hamdan, knocked the legal props out from under the Administration's detainee policy, validating the positions taken by the senior legal officers of the nation's uniformed military services and the State Department, which had opposed the Administration on this grounds.

    So, when Justice Kennedy mentioned the Geneva Conventions and the War Crimes Act in his Hamdan concurrence, he was (as I and others noted at the time) making a pointed reference and warning to the Administration. His warning was that the policy they chose (not created - the Nazis had done that, and the Repugs were merely following their footsteps) was taking them down a course to where these members of the Admin would, some day, place their lives on the line for their actions.

    It's just that simple - because Commander Swift had the courage - moral and physical - to take on his case and defend his client, he's shown the Admin not only to have no clothes, but to be in truth a criminal enterprise. And that, to these folks, is intolerable.

    For standing up for the principles of law, Moltke was murdered by the Nazis. For standing up for the principles and letter of the law, Swift's career was murdered, no less surely, by the Admin. And Haynes, Bybee and others, wrongdoers all, were rewarded.

    This also puts more context to the browbeating Haynes gave to the heads of the various services' JAG Corps, demanding they sign on to supporting the Torture Bill and locking them in a room until they did. Like in a criminal gang, where one has no standing until as an initiation the gang members hand one a gun and point out a target. Kill the target, become a member of the gang through complicity in the crime. Refuse to kill the target, the gang kills you.

    That is what passes for a governmental administration today - the morals and ethics of a street gang or, as John Dean has noted, La Cosa Nostra. A fine pass we've come to, and, I worry, there is yet worse to come.
    I think the reference to La Cosa Nostra is very apt. This administration acts just like a crime family straight out of "The Godfather" or "The Sopranos". If you don't do their bidding, they threaten your livelihood, then they threaten your life. If you don't think that lives have been threatened, then you have your head in the sand. Troops who question the status quo are sent into "killing zones" where there is very high troop mortality ratios. Emails sent immediately prior to a soldier's death state very clearly that this had occurred.

    At least La Cosa Nostra had a code of ethics, unlike criminal gangs these days.

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    I Seem To Be On A Dance Kick!

    I remember this to be one of the highlights of this season's So You Think You Can Dance. It was what this show is all about-growth as an artist.

    I have to say that I didn't give Ivan a snowball's chance of seeing the last few weeks of the show, but this dance proved me wrong. He grew so much over the weeks that I see a long career ahead of him.

    Historical Lessons on Waterboarding

    Last week I had a conversation (if you could call it that) with a staffer for Jim Talent about the TINtAW and the history of it's use against Americans. I doubt that I will get anything but a form letter in response. She couldn't possibly have noted the details of my complaints, as there was no sound of keyboarding and there were no breaks in the conversation.

    I called to remind Jim Talent that:
    in 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for carrying out another form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian. The subject was strapped on a stretcher that was tilted so that his feet were in the air and head near the floor, and small amounts of water were poured over his face, leaving him gasping for air until he agreed to talk.

    "Asano was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told his colleagues last Thursday during the debate on military commissions legislation. "We punished people with 15 years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II," he said.

    I suppose that waterboarding is a war crime when other nations use it, but is ok if Americans do it.

    What a typical "America can do no wrong" attitude. I will probably be labeled an "America-hater" for saying that, but what is more patriotic than loving your country so much that you want to live up to the ideals that the Founding Fathers enshrined into the document that defines America.

    Thursday, October 05, 2006

    The Argentine Tango

    This is an amazing dance--I wish that I had an ounce of their talent.

    The Human Joystick!

    Today is the 3rd anniversary of this amazing return by the one, the only Human Joystick Dante Hall!

    A thing of beauty!

    More Reasons To Love Juan Cole

    I love reading Juan Cole for his profound, intellectual analyses of Middle East politics and policy. His insights into the culture, history, and religion of the Arab states are impeccable, but I had not fully appreciated Professor Cole's fine sense of snark.

    His post today was a thing of beauty:
    That item started me thinking of other things that the Republican Party could spend $20 million of the taxpayers' money to celebrate.

    10. Stopping weapons of mass destruction programs that aren't even there!

    Read it all--it is a much-needed break from the bleak news from the Middle East.

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Oh My F#@^$%g Jesus Lord...

    I was horrified as I watched this. It is bad enough to read about waterboarding, but watching it (as one might expect) was infinitely more terrifying.

    Everyone who voted for the TINtAW Act needs to watch this every hour until they beg for mercy.

    Then, I might just make them see it for the rest of their natural lives.

    Now that's torture.

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    What About Domestic Terrorism?

    In all this terrorism debate, there is one question that I want the Right-Wing Insane Asylum Inmates to answer--what are you willing to do to domestic terrorists?

    There are many, many instances of domestic terrorism by right-wing supposedly pro-life ideologues. Ob-Gyn physicians are murdered, their houses burned down, abortion clinics are bombed (sometimes without warning during regular hours when there are people in the clinics), etc. These supposed pro-lifers are part of the right's base, and they are never prosecuted as terrorists.

    It's enough to make you say, "Hmmmmm...."

    Monday, October 02, 2006

    I haven't posted in a while because I have been so angry over the Torture Is Now the American Way bill, but I have been heartened by the fact that the ACLU has pre-emptivly filed a lawsuit on behalf of 20 Guantanimo detainees (POW's) against the federal gov't, challanging the constitutionality of the TINtAWtm.

    The funny thing is that the Republicans will probably say that it is too late to file a lawsuit as if the bill had already become law and the Supreme Court had upheld the law already, even though the bill has not even been signed into law yet. I don't think the Bush Crime Is Our Middle Nametm administration can even claim they can predate his signature on a bill.

    There is hope yet for this country.