One Nation, Under Mars

The top article on Tom Tomorrow’s site today cites a story in The Australian which is asking for an investigation into the gruesome photos and captions shown on the Web site

Late last week, when the subject came up in a diary on DailyKos, I poked around at the WHOIS service of my favorite domain registrar, Dotster (although just about any of them works just fine).

The domain is registered to a Shannon Larratt, living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The record for the site’s administrative contact lists Larratt’s email address at the domain

The site is dedicated to information and photos — many of them quite graphic — of piercing, tattoos, scarification, and body modification. Its home page sports a small “War is murder” emblem.

The Beatles’ “Revolution”: Republican Anthem?

My wife Barbara knows the lyrics to just about every song in the world. Even songs I’ve liked for years but can’t remember all the lyrics for (and some that I never figured out) that she’s overheard maybe half a dozen times, she knows the lyrics for. It drives her crazy when commercials come on and use a snippet of something that’s more or less antithetical to the intent of the ad, something that’s happened with greater frequency as people our age and younger have become advertising execs with power over national accounts and mined the punk/New Wave era and its descendents in recent years.

It leads to head-scratching moments like Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” — a song about drug addiction — being used to pitch family vacation cruises, or selling trucks with the Von Bondies’ “C’mon C’mon” with its plaintive refrain of “Things were good when we were young.” It’s hard to tell whether the people at the agencies who pick these songs are putting something over on their clients, if they’ve never listened to or thought about the lyrics beyond the chorus, or if they thing the general public isn’t going to make the association since they’ll never hear more than a few words of the song.

One of those surface-skimmers is Mark Noonan at Blogs for Bush, whose brilliant marketing plan is:

I’ve long thought that, just for fun, the GOP should use the Beatles tune Revolution as a campaign song – mostly to annoy ageing hippies who would be outraged by such use, but also because in a very real sense, we are a revolutionary Party in American politics.

As Sven, one of the early commenters on the post notes, Noonan’s managed to completely misunderstand what the Fab Four were saying in the song:

The Beatles’ song is referring to the same nihilist fringe [referring to a portion of his post where he discusses violent revolutionaries -dp], who hope to spark the revolution through violence and destruction. That’s why the song resonated with the pacifist hippies.

Hmmm. Let’s take a look at portions of “Revolution”.

We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know you can count me out

Anyone know who wants to “change the world” through “destruction”?

You say you got a real solution
Well you know
We’d all love to see the plan

Two guesses at who I’m thinking of when I’m thinking of someone who claims to have a “solution” but hasn’t shown their “plan”.

But when you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait

Can anyone say “government funding for faith-based initiatives?”

You say you’ll change the Constitution
Well you know
We all want to change your head

“Change the Constitution”? Defense of Marriage? Ah-nold for President? Democratic or Republican initiatives? Discuss.

But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow

Pictures of Chairman Mao, pictures of Bush with a halo, every totalitarian regime has its iconography.

It’s gonna be alright.


Safe As Houses

For the entire length of the Iraqi occupation, war supporters have been making the false statement that service in Iraq is safer than living in California, Washington D.C., etc. Perhaps the most well-known of these lies was Fox “News” anchor Brit Hume, who said on August 26, 2003 that “U.S. soldiers have less of a chance of dying from all causes in Iraq than citizens have of being murdered in California, which is roughly the same geographical size”. This type of “comparison”, of course, is exactly the same as that used to claim a Bush mandate in the 2004 election, by surrounding densely-populated “blue” metropolitan areas with relatively empty “red” counties. (Even Howard Kurtz pointed out his error. Hume replied: “Admittedly it was a crude comparison, but it was illustrative of something.”)

Lies about fatality rates were abundant throughout that summer. All of them relied on erroneous comparisons of vastly differing population groups. In Hume’s case, though he said he was comparing two areas similar in size, the population groups (US military personnel vs. the entire population of California) were vastly different. As a Buzzflash analysis from August, 2003 pointed out, armed service personnel in Iraq were over 67 times more likely to be killed than residents of California, and that was before the major increase in insurgent attacks in 2004.

The Buzzflash piece reports an AP story showing how Donald Rumsfeld started the ball rolling in June, 2003.

“You’ve got to remember that if Washington, D.C., were the size of Baghdad, we would be having something like 215 murders a month,” Rumsfeld said. “There’s going to be violence in a big city.”

Here the problem was that Rumsfeld was comparing a fatality rate within the population of the military, but using the relative sizes of the civilian populations as the scaling factor. A true comparison would have scaled the number of personnel in Iraq (and the number of fatalities) to the size of the DC population. With math skills like that at his disposal, it’s no wonder that Rumsfeld’s bungled every move he made in the Iraq invasion.

Eager “troop supporters” followed close on Rumsfeld’s heels to show how the ‘hood they lived in was worse than Baghdad, too. Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub wrote on June 29, 2003:

Here in the state that is famously “roughly the size of Iraq,” we have an average of 5 homicides a day (that would be about 300 since May 1). We also have 18 reported rapes per day, 134 robberies, 258 assaults, 395 motor vehicle thefts and 27 arsons. Match that, Mesopotamia.

And the lies just kept coming, giving many gullible people the impression that life in Iraq was just a “cakewalk” (a word that will be associated with Iraq forever, thanks to former Donald Rumsfeld aide, Ken Adelman, who wrote the infamous “Cakewalk In Iraq” op-ed in the Washington Post in February 2002). The misperception continues to this day.

Oregonian letter-writer Larry Iverson (“Service is not a death sentence”, Jan. 18) states that although he is a banker, he was unable to “coax my eight-digit calculator” to determine the fatality rate for service members in Iraq, and that he could “guarantee that the death rate is much higher for police officers, firefighters, loggers and commercial fisherman that it is for (those in) combat.” I encourage people not to put their trust in that guarantee.

According to the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fatality rate for logging workers is 131.6 per 100,000 employed. That’s the highest death rate for any of the selected occupations in the 2003 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. The fatality rate for police and sheriff’s patrol officers was 20.9 per 100,000, below that of construction laborers (25.1), farmers and ranchers (39.3), and aircraft pilots and flight engineers (97.4).

According to the Department of Defense’s troop strength figures for the end of October, 2004 there were 1,475,125 active duty members of the armed services. Between January 16, 2004 and January 15, 2005, 692 active duty members of those services (not National Guard or Reserve) died in Iraq. That’s an overall fatality rate of 46.9 per 100,000. 371 of those deaths were active duty Army personnel; the Army had 498,616 troops in the report: that’s 74.5 deaths per 100,000. The Marines suffered 298 deaths from a force of 177,181 for a fatality rate of 168.4 per 100,000.

Those figures, of course, are for entire services, not the portions of the services serving in Iraq, which are more difficult to calculate because of rotations of troops in and out of country through the year. If you assume an average force level of 120,000 for last year, and a six-month average turnover (which is faster than I understand is the case), that’s 240,000 troops serving in Iraq per year. The casualty rate for those troops would be 288.3 per 100,000, more than twice as high as fatalities for loggers, nearly 14 times the rate for police, and much higher if troops don’t actually rotate out in six months.

Mr. Iverson is correct, the service isn’t a death sentence in and of itself — particularly if your duty calls you to the Pentagon — but for the two services taking the bulk of the casualties, minimizing the danger the combat troops face is disrespectful, particularly when it’s based on faulty math.

Safe as houses.

Eating Well at NPR

What was Jennifer Ludden thinking with her chuckling question to historian Paul Boller, when discussing the food served during the 1945 Presidential inaugural reception, she asked “So that was also because you’re not supposed to eat well when there’s a war going on?” (near the end of the interview)

How can she possible be so uninformed as to not know that there was widespread food rationing during the Second World War and that a lavish spread at the reception would have been inappropriate? Of course you’re not supposed to eat well when butter, flour, and other essentials are limited; when people can’t get tires and children are collecting scrap for the war effort; when thousands of people are dying every month. Is she, like, clueless?

Yalies Gotta Stick Together!

It’s becoming more and more clear that America’s institutions of higher learning are failing, even unto the hallowed halls of the Ivy League. President Bush somehow managed to get a bachelor’s degree from Yale back in the 1960s. Of course, as a multiple-generation legacy of the nation’s blue blooded class, that was only to be expected.

In 1993, a bushy-tailed youngster named Peter Beinart graduated from the same facility of education. I have no idea what his family connections may have been, but he was apparently a Rhodes scholar so I’d have to assume that his grades were impeccable.

However, his New Republic column on the US response to the Asian tsunami reveals something about how — perhaps — he managed to maintain the kind of academic record that would get him to Oxford, and how Bush got through school at all.

We all know the story of the official response to the disaster: nothing for two days, while Bush reportedly cleared brush, then a miserly response followed by progressive racheting up of promises. Never mind that in a disaster on this scale, a couple of days’ delay in food and medical supplies could mean death for hundreds or thousands of survivors.

Beinart’s first sentence: “Give the Bush administration a B.” Sure, it’s initial reaction was awful, he says, but “when the pressure grew stong enough…they reversed course and did the right thing.”

Wow. That kind of work gets you a B at Yale? Talk about grade inflation!

The Inquisitor General

I haven’t found a transcript of all of the questioning of Alberto Gonzalez during his confirmation hearing last Thursday (the Washington Post has a partial transcript online), and I missed part of the second session where longer periods of questioning were allowed, but there was one question I don’t think anyone asked our next Attorney General that he should have been asked:

Mr. Gonzalez, what is your current definition of torture?

Throughout his testimony, Gonzalez evaded saying whether he personally agreed or disagreed with the Bybee memo’s definition of torture that would violate current prohibitions as “…equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” He repeated over and over that “…the president said we’re not going to engage in torture.” But so far as I can tell, none of the senators ever asked him to define the line where torture begins.

Someone should have asked him — with his human shield of wife and kids sitting behind him — if rape was torture. Rape isn’t necessarily accompanied by “serious physical injury” or “impairment of bodily function” but it is considered torture by most international standards.

Gonzalez and his fine legal team at the White House put — if you will — the proverbial tit of the Geneva Convention in a wringer to extract their definition of torture two years ago. Saying that they won’t torture anyone — for now — is useless without knowing what they consider torture to be.

In his justification of why torture might be necessary, Gonzalez brought up the hoary “ticking time bomb” scenario. Here’s my own, much more likely, scene:

A man is arrested along with his wife in his house. The man is suspected of being aligned with terrorists. The man and wife are placed in adjoining cells. Interrogators rape the wife repeatedly in an attempt to get the man to talk.

The subject of the inquiry is never actually touched in this case. No chance of intense pain, impairment, or death. The wife, well, women are raped all the time without it being considered torture. It needn’t be his wife, it could be his son, mother, whoever happened to be home at the time.

Would Mr. Gonzalez consider that torture? He should, because according to the Geneva Convention Against Torture, it is “…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession…” (cited at the Human Rights Watch Torture Q&A, something Mr. Gonzalez apparently should have read). But it wouldn’t have qualified under his previous definition, and we have no idea what his current definition is.

The fact that –barring a Kerik-style meltdown — Gonzalez is our next AG just makes me sick.

Will Eisner is “The Spirit”

I spent a lot of my young adulthood around bookstores; the kind of bookstores that sold comic books and games as well as books. It was the flowering of the graphic novel, which has remained a staple of the comic industry to this day, and one of its heros was Will Eisner, whose comic “The Spirit” was seen as the touchstone of quality for storytelling and style.

According to CNN, Mr. Eisner is dead at 87, after complications from heart bypass surgery.

The Clinton Mandate

Two months of harping by Republicans about their win in the elections and whimpering by Democrats like Peter “Chickenhawk Little” Beinart about how Republicans are so big and strong that we should just try to blend in with them so we don’t get beat up at recess, drew me back to some November figures for a blog entry on the effectiveness of the DLC.

One of the “proofs” of the size of the Bush ManDate is the gain Republicans made in Congress; 231 representatives, 55 senators. I didn’t see anyone do the comparison to when the last time a Democratic president had such an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress.

It was just 12 years ago, when Bill Clinton was first elected. The 103rd Congress came into session in 1993 with 258 Democratic representatives and 57 Democratic senators. Did the Republicans spend a lot of time whining about how maybe they didn’t share the values of America? No, they went on the warpath, led by Newt Gingrich, and two years later they took majorities in both houses.

Just a little perspective.