Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stripping Bradley Manning naked

I've been meaning to comment on the moral vacuousness of President Barack Obama's comments on the abusive treatment of Bradley Manning, but Marjorie Cohn, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, has said what needs to be said: Manning's treatment amounts to torture.

Cohn's comments, originally posted on the American Constitution Society blog and reposted the other day by, make reference to Obama's position as follows:

Nevertheless, President Barack Obama defended Manning’s treatment, saying, “I’ve actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures . . . are appropriate. They assured me they are.” Obama’s deference is reminiscent of President George W. Bush, who asked “the most senior legal officers in the U.S. government” to review the interrogation techniques. “They assured me they did not constitute torture,” Bush said.

Is it not amazing that someone like Obama, whose demonstration that he had his own moral compass had so much to do with his election, now defers to the Pentagon for "assurances" that solitary confinement and stripping prisoners naked is A-okay? The man who would pretend to lead us now needs to follow the moral compasses of those who have not stripped themselves bare of all principles--people like former State Department official Phillip J. Crowley, who was forced to resign after he commented publicly on Manning's mistreatment.

By the way, how do we explain this penchant among those supposedly charged with protecting our national security--from Abu Ghraib to Quantico--for rendering prisoners nude on the flimsiest excuse? Perhaps this is a job for the psychologists.

Update: Crowley still has no regrets. So he tells the BBC, as reported by the Guardian.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Juan Cole: An Open Letter to the Left on Libya

The best and most carefully reasoned statement I have seen so far, from a left perspective, in support of the U.N. intervention in Libya.

The problem with so much left "analysis" these days is that if you apply the same analysis to each and every situation, no matter how different, it is no longer analysis but rote thinking.

Please read Cole's post carefully and all the way through, especially his deconstruction of the notion that the West is just trying to get its hands on Libya's oil (which it already had.) His ending statement is particularly important:

"I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time. It is possible to reason our way through, on a case-by-case basis, to an ethical progressive position that supports the ordinary folk in their travails in places like Libya. If we just don’t care if the people of Benghazi are subjected to murder and repression on a vast scale, we aren’t people of the Left."

Hugo Chavez backs repression in Syria. The nation's president, Bashar Assad, is a "brother" and a "humanist" according to the Venezuelan leader and left icon, who accuses Washington of being behind the unrest in Syria. Fortunately, Chavez's support for Qaddafi has already made many leftists think twice about just how much of a "socialist" he really is.

A nuanced analysis of the Libyan intervention. From Paul Street. Well worth reading, especially if you're a leftist and don't know what to think.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How a Dinosaur Is Like a Vacuum Cleaner

Yours truly has recently added Science's dino beat to his repertoire of science writing. Here's the first paragraph of my latest contribution to the dino literature. Click the link to read the rest.

The plant-eating sauropod dinosaurs, such as Brachiosaurus and Apatosaurus (formerly called Brontosaurus), were the largest animals ever to walk on Earth, weighing up to 80 metric tons. Many also sported very long necks—though researchers have debated their purpose. Now, using some fancy mathematics and an analogy with vacuum cleaners, two scientists in the United Kingdom may finally have the answer.

Photo: iStockphoto

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Libya and the left

My thoughts on the intervention in Libya are clear: I'm for it 100%. And my friend and colleague Marc Cooper, a journalism prof at the University of Southern California, explains better than anyone else why leftists are wrong to oppose it. So I am going to quote him in full:

This Is Not Iraq

 Michael Moore accuses Barack Obama of acting like George w. Bush.  Danlel Ellsberg gets himself arrested outside the White House. Others on the left waffle and shuffle and — in my view– abstain on the moral issue underlying the U.S. and allied attack on Gaddafi. (Though it isn’t clear if Ellsberg, whom I generally respect, was protesting only the anniversary of the war in Iraq or was also opposing the action in Libya).

I have no idea what the outcome of this will be. I don’t know what the endgame is, or if Obama and his allies know either.  Nor do I know what all the consequences of this action will be.

I do know this much: if every exercise of American military power took place in the context we see today, I would be much less of a general opponent of its use. Notice I said general opponent. That’s different than being an automatic opponent as some apparently are.  If one believes the old Maoist claptrap that the “primary contradiction” is between “the people of the world and U.S. imperialism” then you should probably stop reading now.

The world, as it turns out, is a much more complicated place with myriad faces of evil (including Mao’s heirs) and to choose up sides in a dogmatic, knee-jerk fashion is something we can ill afford.
In short, as I said weeks ago, it will give me great pleasure to see Gaddafi’s planes blown from the skies, his tanks burnt to a crisp and his regime smashed to smithereens. Nor would I mind terribly much if a missile hit his compound while he donning one of robes in the shower.

Do I believe that the interventionist forces are selfless humanitarians? Hardly.

Do I think they are hypocrites for intervening in Libya while giving cover to the repressive regimes in Bahrain and Yemen (and Saudi Arabia and Jordan). You bet.

Do I think this intervention is a horrendous blunder and act of aggression as was the invasion of Iraq? NO.

Absolutely not. Double absolutely not.  Libya has been the stage for a popular uprising for the last several weeks, the same one sweeping much of North Africa and the Arab world.  The western military intervention now taking place against a clearly delusional and butcher dictator comes, effectively, in direct support of the revolutionaries facing down the regime. This action also comes with the full support of the Arab League. It comes with no opposition from any member of the UN Security Council.
Further, this action comes at a time when not only Libyans, but also tens of other millions of Arabs have invested their hopes in regional renaissance.  I am proud, I am happy that the U.S. — for once and for whatever calculation– finds itself on the side of those fighting against oppression. In some sense, then, I see this action by the Obama administration to be somewhat redemptive. After decades of supporting one Arab dictatorship after another and, precisely, after watching the Iraqi debacle of the last decade, I feel we sort of OWE the Arab world the surprise of showing up, albeit erratically, on the right side of things.

Let me also add that the success of the Gadaffi regime in smothering the rebellion in blood would be quite a destabilizing force for the very young and unsure Arab revolution which has sprouted in Tunisia and Egypt and which struggles to be born elsewhere. I feel great solidarity with the insurgents in Libya and would aid them any way I could. If the U.S. Navy wants to pitch in, I’m good with that.
So with all of the reservation noted above, of course, I support the military action.  My greatest fear, only, is that it won’t be effective enough.  But I stand with the Arab League, with the National Council in Benghazi and with the overwhelming majority of Libyans in supporting this action and hoping it will accelerate the fall of Gaddafi,  I support this action just as I would have supported a U.S. military strike in favor of the Kurds and Marsh Arab uprising that took place right after the Gulf War. I support this action the same way I would have supported the U.S. opening an air bridge before it was too late in Rwanda.

I am ready to be called a Cruise Missile Leftist or a running-dog imperialist rather than have silently watched Gaddafi carry out his threat of two nights ago to enter Benghazi, show “no mercy” and hunt down his opponents door to door.  I will leave that latter task to Hugo Chavez.

Let me also concede, in advance, that there will be civilian casualties involved. This is inevitable in any armed conflict.  I supported the Salvadoran revolutionaries in the 1980′s and I saw with my own eyes more civilian casualties than I cared to count.  There were piles of civilian casualties during the Spanish Civil War and IF only the West had militarily intervened on the right side it would have saved the Spanish from four decades of Franquismo.

But it is Gaddafi,  not the cruise missiles, that has already killed thousands and who rather blithely threatened to kill thousands more.  Want to stop the killing of civilians in Libya? So do I. The best way is to overthrow the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

P.S. Here is the worst sort of mumbo-jumbo from your run-of-the mill “leftist analyst” (whom I have know for years — even back when she was a Maoist and relaundered herself as some sort of reasonable “analyst” an shrouded with the legitimacy of the Institute for Policy Studies).  Strip away all the bullshit and her argument seems to boil down to a fearthat the Western powers will actually expand their actions to overthrow Gaddafi — even though she claims she would like to see him go. Huh?  My fear is that they won’t!

What she doesn’t say, which is the real point of her piece, is that she plain opposes the use of American military power under any conditions and for any reason–period.  She says she wishes, instead, there were some of global anti-intervention force like the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. Another huh?  Those brigades were boots on the ground, a step farther than the evil imperialist powers say they are now willing to go. So, apparently, she would support a ground-based armed force to support the Libyans, so long as they were unofficial poorly-trained Communists and not professional Americans or Brits?

A couple of untidy historical reminders. The International Brigades, for better and for worse, were directly supported by the Communist Third International and therefore by a state power, known as the Soviet Union. If the Republican forces had won, they would have a had a real problem mediating the geopolitical interests of the Soviet state which had its direct representatives under arms on Spanish soil.  Personally, I think the Brigades fought on the right side and many of their members were great heroes in spite of their Stalinist pedigree.  But they lost. Remember?  They lost because the Western Powers would not intervene in Spain for the Republicans (as they were mostly sympathetic to the fascists) nor did the Soviets (and anyway they were on the verge of signing the Hitler-Stalin pact). Well, to be more precise, the Soviet army did not intervene on the Republican side but the ComIntern and KGB agents  were very much in Spain and helped to royally fuck up things. I would suggest a reading of Orwell’s magisterial Homage To Catalonia to get a good sense out of the less than honorable role played by the Communists in undermining the Spanish Revolution and squandering the sacrifice of many of the individual Brigade fighters.

But back to the point. Bennis’ argument is really gibberish. And it’s sad that the official left employs such pathetic arguments at this point in history. Her solution to the crisis? Issue manifestos and pine for a non-existent brigade of global socialists to intervene. No thanks.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A river runs through it

Everyone seemed to like my sunrise over the Indian Ocean yesterday, so here is a photo of a river in KwaZulu-Natal. I can't tell you what river, as that might give away what I was doing there, but I can say that I fell in while trying to wade over it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sunrise over KwaZulu-Natal

I'm just back from South Africa, a memorable trip. I will have to tell you later what I was doing there, but in the meantime here is a view of the Indian Ocean in the early morning.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I can't really add much to what others are saying on this issue, except perhaps to say that the revolutions sweeping the Arab world once again show the stark contrast between the courage of the people in the streets and the cowardice and dithering of the "international community" and its leaders.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thomas Friedman, international sage

There is a devastating parody of Friedman's latest column in the New York Times on the blog Inanities, and I recommend that you read it right away. Friedman listed a number of "not-so-obvious forces" he thinks help explain the Egyptian revolution, including the Obama Factor, Google Earth, and the Beijing Olympics. Be sure to read Friedman's column first, and then Inanities' followup version, which starts as follows:

Future historians will long puzzle over how I was given an international platform to freely pontificate on the Arab people and be remunerated handsomely for it. It is true that I am not the only person in the world who formulates dubious theories based on scant or no evidence which I then harangue people with. Other people do it. They are called taxi drivers. But they are not as rich as me and haven’t been awarded three Pulitizer Prizes.
Since I’ve been here in Egypt I’ve been putting together a list of “the-absolutely-irrelevant forces” that have captured the captive Arab mind and ignited the simmering coals of the instant garden BBQ that is the Middle East. You might ask why, since I am in Egypt, I don’t ask an Egyptian – possibly two Egyptians – about what inspired them to completely ignore my theories on the Arab peoples and take to the streets. The answer is this: I am Thomas Friedman and I write a column in the New York Times.
Photo: Josh Haner, New York Times.

PS--In case you are wondering, Inanities is produced by a journalist in Egypt named Sarah Carr.