Monday, December 31, 2007

The Continuing Relevance of Gandhi

The fragrance of Gandhi's life and thought continues to waft through the world and works minor magic on people, this example being in Vermont, USA.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ballerina Veronika Part

Via James Wolcott, Ballerina Veronica Part.
PS: (July 4, 2012): the website hosting this picture has vanished, this is the only copy I could find.

Veronika Part

Edwards Quote

The typical immigrant to the US who does well seems to forget what Edwards repeats here:
“Some people come from nothing to being wildly successful and their response is, ‘I did this on my own,’” Mr. Edwards said in an interview. “I came to a different conclusion. I believe that I did work hard, and I think people should work hard, but I think my country was there for me every step of the way.”

Of course, to the immigrant one can ask - what might have happened had you not immigrated? and provoke some thought. America's wealthy by inheritance are a different matter.


The US Bill of Rights (Dec. 15, 1791 - Jan 21, 2001).

A time-line of how it was hanged, drawn and quartered is linked to above.

Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A John Edwards endorsement

The Democratic stable of Presidential candidates is quite good, but in case you were not decided, this essay might help you make up your mind. Me, I wish there was a combination of Dodd and Edwards in one person.

A sunset

A memento. Shanmugham Beach, Trivandrum.

Sunset at Shanmugham Beach, Trivandrum

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas!

One of my neighbor's decorations - the picture does not do justice to it, which means I have some photography technique to learn. I think if a shot could be taken after a snowfall, this would look awesome even with my skills. :)


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Three Cheers for Senator Dodd!

Whatever else is true, Chris Dodd took a principled stand today, sacrificing his presidential campaign and alienating his long-time colleagues to do so, and he won. He demonstrated what "leadership" is in action, rather than "rhetoric." Acts of that kind on our national political stage are rare indeed.
If you missed the news, Glenn Greenwald explains.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Sovietization of America

Ex-Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA), quoted by Steven Clemons:
Fire chiefs in the Big Apple, for example, already have been granted federal security clearances to further this "integration" of firefighters into the homeland security. According to published accounts of such training, firefighters are being trained to watch for "hostile" or "uncooperative" individuals, or those "expressing discontent" with our government. They are also trained to watch for and report on things that "seem out of place" in a home or business such as firearms and video recording equipment. Rooms with "little or no furniture" fall within the reportable suspicious activity.

The New York Times, via dkos
In a separate N.S.A. project, executives at a Denver phone carrier, Qwest, refused in early 2001 to give the agency access to their most localized communications switches, which primarily carry domestic calls, according to people aware of the request, which has not been previously reported. They say the arrangement could have permitted neighborhood-by-neighborhood surveillance of phone traffic without a court order, which alarmed them.

Other telecomm providers, reportedly have had no such qualms.

David Habbakuk, via turcopolier:
I find myself here being reminded of the conclusion of the famous Long Telegram which the figure generally regarded as the architect of 'containment', George Kennan, sent from Moscow on 22 February 1946. As his final thought, Kennan stressed that 'we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society.' The 'greatest danger' that could befall the United States in coping with the problem of Soviet communism, he wrote, is that ' we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.' As regards the neoconservatives at least, his warning seems to have been to the point.

As a spoiled British child of the post-war Pax Americana, what staggers me about so many of the neocons is their patently inability to grasp that American success in the Cold War was in very substantial measure due quite precisely to the fact that your country did not behave as the Soviets did. Why then this sudden enthusiasm for Soviet-style thuggery? Allies are 'to be commanded not consulted' -- precisely as in the Warsaw Pact. War and violence the 'birthpangs of a new Middle East' -- sounds very Leninist, doesn't it? This does not mean that military power was unimportant to the outcome of the Cold War -- far from it. But it seems to quite extraordinary that the neoconservatives simply cannot understand that the moral authority of the United States was crucial to the success of the post-war Pax Americana, and also to the retreat and collapse of Soviet Communism.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pandagon: Nice Guys

July 23, 2008 - this comment I left on Pandagon on Dec 15, 2007 Whatever happened to the Nice Guys®

  1. You mean guys who are deluded that they are nice. That is a narcissist notion; only someone else can judge you nice; and that is context dependent; i.e., A finds you nice but B doesn’t; and even A finds you nice in some situations but not-so-nice in others. “Nice” is not a virtue that stands on its own, such as courage or strength, but is always in relation to someone.

    “I am an unappreciated nice guy” is thus an idiotic statement, because the niceness does not exist without the someone who is appreciating it.

    Nor should the “nice” in “I am a nice guy” be considered to be some kind of a bundle of politeness, consideration, kindness, gentleness, helpfulness, friendliness. (I know we use nice as a shorthand for that bundle when referring to someone else.) Because the guy who is asserting “I am a nice guy” is really admitting that he may be pursuing those virtues not for their own sake, but because it will buy him appreciation. A polite, considerate, kind, gentle, helpful or friendly person does not withdraw or abandon those qualities if they are not appreciated. One sees that “I am a nice guy” can easily turn into “OK, no more Mr Nice Guy”. Qualities of character cannot be so readily changed.

    E.g., if I’m a helpful sort of guy that does leave me open to a certain type of exploitation. Should I find that happening, I can’t stop being helpful, I can only tell the exploiter to stop or avoid that person. If I was being helpful only to win appreciation, however, I’d be able to switch it off in an instant.

A Rescue That Will Fail

Economist Paul Krugman explains why the Federal Reserve cannot make the current bank crisis go away.

One scary fact from there:
...we had an enormous housing bubble in the middle of this decade. To restore a historically normal ratio of housing prices to rents or incomes, average home prices would have to fall about 30 percent from their current levels.....The financial blog Calculated Risk, using data from First American CoreLogic, estimates that if home prices fall 20 percent there will be 13.7 million homeowners with negative equity. If prices fall 30 percent, that number would rise to more than 20 million.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

America's banks in dire straits

Sean Olender explains how "at stake is nothing short of the continued existence of the U.S. banking system"


The ticking time bomb in the U.S. banking system is not resetting subprime mortgage rates. The real problem is the contractual ability of investors in mortgage bonds to require banks to buy back the loans at face value if there was fraud in the origination process.

And, to be sure, fraud is everywhere. It's in the loan application documents, and it's in the appraisals. There are e-mails and memos floating around showing that many people in banks, investment banks and appraisal companies - all the way up to senior management - knew about it.


The catastrophic consequences of bond investors forcing originators to buy back loans at face value are beyond the current media discussion. The loans at issue dwarf the capital available at the largest U.S. banks combined, and investor lawsuits would raise stunning liability sufficient to cause even the largest U.S. banks to fail, resulting in massive taxpayer-funded bailouts of Fannie and Freddie, and even FDIC.

The problem isn't just subprime loans. It is the entire mortgage market. As home prices fall, defaults will rise sharply - period. And so will the patience of mortgage bondholders. Different classes of mortgage bonds from various risk pools are owned by different central banks, funds, pensions and investors all over the world. Even your pension or 401(k) might have some of these bonds in it.


What would be prudent and logical is for the banks that sold this toxic waste to buy it back and for a lot of people to go to prison. If they knew about the fraud, they should have to buy the bonds back.


It is truly amazing that right now everyone in the country is deferring to Paulson [current US Treasury Secy, and former head of Goldman Sachs} and the heads of Countrywide, JPMorgan, Bank of America and others as the best group to work out a solution to this problem. No one is talking about the fact that these people created the problem and profited to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars from it.


We are on the cusp of a mammoth financial crisis, and the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury are trying to limit the liability of their banking friends under the guise of trying to help borrowers. At stake is nothing short of the continued existence of the U.S. banking system.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Interview with Balu

Interview with Prof. S.N. Balagangadhara.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Bush: the simpler version

Continuing the post below. Sen Waterhouse:

In a nutshell, these three Bush administration legal propositions boil down to this:
1. “I don’t have to follow my own rules, and I don’t have to tell you when I’m breaking them.”
2. “I get to determine what my own powers are.”
3. “The Department of Justice doesn’t tell me what the law is, I tell the Department of Justice what the law is.”

Bush's Classified Theory of Presidential Powers

Let Senator Sheldon Waterhouse tell the story:

Because look what the Bush Administration does behind our backs when they think no one is looking.

For years under the Bush Administration, the Office of Legal Counsel within the Department of Justice has issued highly classified secret legal opinions related to surveillance. This is an administration that hates answering to an American court, that wants to grade its own papers, and OLC is the inside place the administration goes to get legal support for its spying program.

As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I was given access to those opinions, and spent hours poring over them. Sitting in that secure room, as a lawyer, as a former U.S. Attorney, legal counsel to Rhode Island’s Governor, and State Attorney General, I was increasingly dismayed and amazed as I read on.

To give you an example of what I read, I have gotten three legal propositions from these OLC opinions declassified. Here they are, as accurately as my note taking could reproduce them from the classified documents. Listen for yourself. I will read all three, and then discuss each one.
1. An executive order cannot limit a President. There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous executive order. Rather than violate an executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it.

2. The President, exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, can determine whether an action is a lawful exercise of the President’s authority under Article II.

3. The Department of Justice is bound by the President’s legal determinations.

If you do not understand the implications of the three highlighted items then continue reading the transcript.

An excerpt:

And then, it gets worse. Remember point three.

The Department of Justice is bound by the President’s legal determinations.

Let that sink in a minute.

The Department of Justice is bound by the President’s legal determinations.

We are a nation of laws, not of men. This nation was founded in rejection of the royalist principles that “l’etat c’est moi” and “The King can do no wrong.” Our Attorney General swears an oath to defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States; we are not some banana republic in which the officials all have to kowtow to the “supreme leader.” Imagine a general counsel to a major U.S. corporation telling his board of directors, “in this company the counsel’s office is bound by the CEO’s legal determinations.” The board ought to throw that lawyer out – it’s malpractice, probably even unethical.

Wherever you are, if you are watching this, do me a favor. The next time you are in Washington, D.C., take a taxi some evening to the Department of Justice. Stand outside, and look up at that building shining against the starry night. Look at the sign outside- “The United States Department of Justice.” Think of the heroes who have served there, and the battles fought. Think of the late nights, the brave decisions, the hard work of advancing and protecting our democracy that has been done in those halls. Think about how that all makes you feel.

Then think about this statement:

The Department of Justice is bound by the President’s legal determinations.

If you don’t feel a difference from what you were feeling a moment ago, well, congratulations – there is probably a job for you in the Bush administration. Consider the sad irony that this theory was crafted in that very building, by the George W. Bush Office of Legal Counsel.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A G Noorani skewered

A G Noorani, is an advocate, Supreme Court of India and a leading Constitutional expert. But some of the historical fiction that he promotes is extremely annoying.

Lately, he wrote this: 1946: A fateful year

This includes another one of those myths - India would not have been partitioned but for the sabotage of the Cabinet Mission Plan by the Indian National Congress, specifically by Nehru and Gandhi.

The whole problem with that particular myth is that Pakistan was implicit in the Cabinet Mission Plan, and that too, very much more than the "moth-eaten" Pakistan that Jinnah had to finally settle for; and the Congress leaders recognized that.

Anyway, for once, Noorani was neatly skewered, and that too, by one near and dear. Way to go!

IN his article, “1946: A fateful year” (December 7), A.G. Noorani writes that Jinnah
“accepted the Mission’s Plan of May 16, 1946, which envisaged a federal India based on groups of provinces. It was wrecked by the Congress at the instance of Gandhi who demurred at the proposals from the very outset. Jinnah said in Nehru’s presence on May 11 that ‘if the Congress would agree to Groups of Provinces as desired by the Muslim League, he would seriously consider a Union’.”
In fact, Jinnah himself considered acceptance of a Union that would be strictly restricted to defence, foreign affairs and communications related to defence as a temporary arrangement until the establishment of a sovereign Pakistan.

This was stated in the Muslim League’s June 6, 1946 resolution of acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan:

“In order that there may be no manner of doubt in any quarter, the Council of the All-India Muslim League reiterates that the attainment of the goal of a complete sovereign Pakistan still remains the unalterable objective of the Muslims in India for the achievement of which they will, if necessary, employ every means in their power, and consider no sacrifice or suffering too great.”[1]

The Muslim League resolution also stated that the basis and foundation of Pakistan were inherent in the compulsory grouping of provinces in Sections B and C by the Cabinet Mission Plan and the Muslim League would cooperate in the Mission’s scheme in the hope that it would ultimately result in the establishment of a complete sovereign Pakistan: It said:

“...inasmuch as the basis and the foundation of Pakistan are inherent in the Mission’s plan by virtue of the compulsory grouping of the six Muslim provinces in Sections B and C, [the Muslim League] is willing to co-operate with the constitution-making machinery proposed in the scheme outlined by the Mission, in the hope that it would ultimately result in the establishment of complete sovereign Pakistan.” [1]

Jinnah also stated that acceptance of the Mission proposal was not the end of the struggle for Pakistan in a secret meeting of the Muslim League Council on the same day:

“Acceptance of the Mission proposal was not the end of their struggle for Pakistan. They should continue their struggle till Pakistan was achieved.” [2]

Thus, Jinnah himself stated that his acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan and its compulsory grouping scheme specifying three sovereign constitution-making bodies, was only a means to achieve his goal of a sovereign Pakistan.

Further to note (not published): "Consequently, Congress's refusal to accept the Plan's compulsory grouping scheme specifying three sovereign constitution-making
bodies constituted Congress's bid to prevent partition and to preserve the unity of India. A.G.Noorani has it backwards.

As for Assam, no Indian need feel ashamed if Gandhi prevented a non-Muslim majority province Assam then ruled by Congress, from being handed over by the British to Jinnah, Muslim League and Pakistan, in the name of Muslim self-determination."

The references weren't published either:

[1] Resolution passed by the Council of the All-India Muslim League, 6 June 1946, 'Speeches and Documents on the Indian Constitution 1921-1947', Selected by Sir
Maurice Gwyer and A. Appadorai, OUP, 1957 Vol. II.

[2] Jinnah's Speech at the Secret Session of the All India Muslim League Council, New Delhi, June 6 1946, 'Speeches, Statements and Messages of the Quaid-e-Azam', Vol IV, Khurshid Yusufi, Bazm-i-Iqbal, Lahore.


PS - a word of explanation is needed about the "moth-eaten" Pakistan. Jinnah wanted to carry out of India provinces which as then constituted had a barely 51% to 55% Muslim majority, and that had large contiguous areas with non-Muslim majorities. Moreover, he was not willing to offer the large minorities in his hoped-for Pakistan the kinds of guarantees and powersharing arrangements that he was demanding for Muslims as a minority in a United India. For Jinnah, "self-determination" was a right of the Muslims alone.

One might argue that Partition and its accompanying mass population movements and massacres was totally unnecessary in retrospect, and that Congress should have yielded to Jinnah, it would not have been a betrayal of the non-Muslims in what is now Pakistan, etc. etc., had Pakistan also turned out to be a progressive democratic country. But Pakistan did not so turn out; and many fewer millions of people are oppressed by this epicenter of terrorism because of Partition.

There are few sane, thinking Indians who would wish Partition undone. Yes, the cost was horrible. First India and then East Pakistan (also at enormous cost) jettisoned the ever-aspiring-to-the-seventh-century dead weight of Pakistan.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Toxic Texas

Toxic to any form of rational thought, that is.

NYT Editorial
In most states, we hope, the state department of education would take the lead in ensuring that students receive a sound scientific education. But it was the Texas Education Agency that pushed out Ms. Comer after 27 years as a science teacher and 9 years as the agency’s director of science.

As Ralph Blumenthal reported in The Times yesterday, Ms. Comer forwarded to a local online community an e-mail message from a pro-evolution group announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University. Professor Forrest testified as an expert witness in a 2005 Dover, Pa., case that found intelligent design supernatural and theological and definitely not part of a scientific education.

An hour later, Ms. Comer was called in by superiors, pressured to send out a retraction and ultimately forced to resign. Her departure was instigated by a new deputy commissioner who had served as an adviser to George Bush when he was governor of Texas and more recently worked in the federal Department of Education.

It was especially disturbing that the agency accused Ms. Comer — by forwarding the e-mail message — of taking a position on “a subject on which the agency must remain neutral.”

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Melting Pot vs. Thali

thali picture

I hope the thali version of globalization wins over the melting-pot version.
Shashi Tharoor:

You've remarked that if America is a melting pot, then India can be seen as a thali. It's an interesting observation. Does this correspond to the Nehruvian ethos of unity in diversity? Would you care to elaborate?

Yes, I think you can connect the two. My point is that the melting pot essentially induces conformity. You have a society where whether you've come from Croatia or Italy or Scotland or Ireland, you essentially - within the span of a generation - are speaking the same language with roughly the same accent, wearing the same sorts of clothes, eating the same sorts of food, celebrating the same sorts of holidays. That will be the idea of the great melting pot - the creation of an American out of this hybrid background of European races. In India we don't do that. We have people who are quite conscious of their separateness: their different clothes, their different food habits, their different appearance, their different languages, their different religions, and so on. And yet, of course, there's a common shared identity as well. And that to me is the magic of the Indian thali with all these bowls on one plate. But each of the bowls contains a separate dish. They don't necessarily mix with the next and they don't certainly flow into each other. And yet they belong together on the same plate and they combine on your palate to give you a satisfying meal. And to me that is a better metaphor of the Indian experience than the melting pot because, aside from the elite urban English-educated Indian, there's not the same sameness about, say, a Kerala rice farmer and a Haryanvi jat peasant. And yet they are conscious, at a certain level, of sharing a larger roof over their heads together - this idea of Indian civilization. To me, that's part of what India is all about. I think I wrote in one of my books that the whole thing about India is that we're able to endure differences of color, creed, caste, custom, costume and conviction, and still rally around a consensus. And that consensus is that in a democracy you don't really need to agree all the time so long as you agree on the ground rules of how you will disagree and where you will disagree. And that ability to contain the real differences we have is one of India's great strengths as a nation. And that's why I've made such a virtue of Indian pluralism in all my writing.

The Wild, Crazy West

Via dkos, this story about the truth of the Ugly American:
AMERICA has told Britain that it can “kidnap” British citizens if they are wanted for crimes in the United States.

A senior lawyer for the American government has told the Court of Appeal in London that kidnapping foreign citizens is permissible under American law because the US Supreme Court has sanctioned it....

Until now it was commonly assumed that US law permitted kidnapping only in the “extraordinary rendition” of terrorist suspects.

The American government has for the first time made it clear in a British court that the law applies to anyone, British or otherwise, suspected of a crime by Washington.

Legal experts confirmed this weekend that America viewed extradition as just one way of getting foreign suspects back to face trial. Rendition, or kidnapping, dates back to 19th-century bounty hunting and Washington believes it is still legitimate.
During a hearing last month Lord Justice Moses, one of the Court of Appeal judges, asked Alun Jones QC, representing the US government, about its treatment of Gavin, Tollman’s nephew. Gavin Tollman was the subject of an attempted abduction during a visit to Canada in 2005.

Jones replied that it was acceptable under American law to kidnap people if they were wanted for offences in America. “The United States does have a view about procuring people to its own shores which is not shared,” he said.

He said that if a person was kidnapped by the US authorities in another country and was brought back to face charges in America, no US court could rule that the abduction was illegal and free him: “If you kidnap a person outside the United States and you bring him there, the court has no jurisdiction to refuse — it goes back to bounty hunting days in the 1860s.”
Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said: “This law may date back to bounty hunting days, but they should sort it out if they claim to be a civilised nation.”

PS: What it means:

It means that the United States does not respect the sovereignty of any government, nor does any treaty bind the US. (And then it wonders why countries feel that nuclear weapons are a necessity as a security guarantee.)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

On superhuman powers and religion

A quote from S.N. Balagangadhara's "The Heathen In His Blindness..."

Does Spiro really have no theory? Could his conviction that religion is
a cultural universal have its roots elsewhere? I have suggested that religion
is the background framework. In that case, the ‘consensual’ definition must express the vengeance that a theory will take for being oblivious to its presence. Reconsider Spiro’s claim (1966: 91):
Since ‘religion’ is a term with historically rooted meanings, a definition must satisfy not only the criterion of cross-cultural applicability but also the criterion of intra-cultural intuitivity; at the least it should not be counter-intuitive. For me, therefore, any definition of ‘religion’ which does not include, as a key variable, the belief in superhuman…beings who have power to help or harm men is counter-intuitive.

Now it is a matter of established consensus that the Hindus worship trees, serpents, various animals (cow, monkey, and condor), images and idols. Are we to consider these people religious? It all depends, one may want to retort, whether or not Hindus consider the animals as “superhuman beings that have the power to help or harm men”.

In non-trivial ways, animals can help or harm human beings, but Spiro does not probably have this in mind. The problem might well be about the belief states of the Hindus: do they believe that animals are ‘superhuman’ beings?

This is a question about the hierarchy of life on earth. Humans are at the summit of ‘creation’ and animals are well below them in the ladder of life constituting the ‘infra’ or ‘sub-human’ species. Consequently, and only because of it, can gods be ‘super-human’.

Cultures do exist which recognise the differences between species, but do not recognise any hierarchy of life on earth. Even if human life is a desirable form of life, or even as a privileged form of existence, this does not imply that either goal or direction is attributed to the emergence and ‘evolution’ of life. One such culture is India and, in fact, one of the problems of the Christian missionaries with the Brahmins had to do precisely with this issue, as Rogerius (1651: 110) records it:
Hier toe an zijn sy niet te brenghen datse souden toe-staen dat een Mensch, de Beesten overtreffe, end dat den Mensch een edelder Creatuere zy, dan de Beesten, om dat hy met een voortreffelijcker Ziele zy begaeft. VVant soo ghy dat haer voor hout, sy sullen segghen, dat oock dierghelijcke Zielen de Beesten hebben. Indien ghy dit wilt betuygen door de werckingen van de redelijcke Ziele, die in den Mensch, ende niet in de Beesten, haer vertoont: soo heb je tot antwoort te verwachten…dat de reden, waerom de Beesten niet soo wel reden, ende verstant, voor den dagh en brengen, ende soo wel als de Menschen, en spreken, zijn, om datse gheen Lichaem en hebben ghekregen, dat bequaem is, om de qualiteyten van haer Ziele te voorschijn te brengen…

[You cannot make them admit that Man outstrips the beasts and that he is a nobler creature than the animals because he has a superior soul. If you try to remonstrate with them on this, they would say, animals also have a similar kind of Soul. If you try to demonstrate this by the workings of the rational soul, which is evident in Man and not in the beasts: you may expect an answer…that the reason why the animals do not exhibit the kind of rationality and understanding that human beings can show, why they cannot speak as man does, is because they are not given a body capable of exhibiting the qualities of their soul…]

In other words, to the Christians, Man was/is at the summit of creation. To the Hindus, it was/is not so. Where does this take us with respect to Spiro’s definition? His definition cannot be ‘useful’ to us unless we presuppose at least some amount of (suitably diluted) Christian theology: gods are superhuman, which is why they are worshipped; humans are at the top of the hierarchy of life with animals well below them, and so on.

This ‘minimal’ definition, which appears reasonable, merely expresses a linguistic and historical intuition of a religious culture: how could a religion not acknowledge the existence of ‘superhuman’ powers? This is a secularised theology, as far from ‘science’ as anything could possibly be.

PS: to add to the confusion, if I understand it correctly, moksha is available only to humans, not to animals or to devas.

PPS: The logical possibilities are:

1. Balu is wrong, and Hindus believe animals have superhuman powers.
2. Hindus worship beings that have no superhuman powers.
3. What Hindus do appears similar to, but in reality is very different from Christian worship. In general, conflating rituals or an attitude of reverence with worship is a mistake.

#3 is the most interesting - it raises the question - just what is it that Hindus are doing? (Please be careful with the words "worship", "scriptures", "holy" used there, they are loaded words and may obscure instead of help understand.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Feelin' Groovy

Today, if someone pushed me from the fifth floor, I'd be singing happily on the way down. Not sure why I feel so light-hearted, I haven't

- attained moksha
- fallen in love
- published a viable theory of everything
- won a lottery

or any such thing. There's nothing special happening this weekend either. None of the piles of boring but necessary stuff to do has evaporated.

Come to think of it, except for the first item in my list, I should feel some resentment on being pushed, because it would interrupt the many interesting things left to do. But I wouldn't, I'd be waving a cheery farewell.

Strange. I think as I grow older, my power of introspection diminishes, my intentions, motivations are increasingly a mystery to me.

Enjoying it while it lasts :)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

dkos: Things That Are Not Torture

A Hunter diary.
The United States does not torture. This has been definitively stated at all levels of government, including by the President of the United States. The United States may perform techniques of enhanced interrogation; it may engage in coercion; it may inflict suffering akin to that experienced at the moment of death; it does not, however, torture. The United States clearly follows the Geneva Conventions in all circumstances in which it has deemed the Geneva Conventions to apply. The United States unambiguously follows its own laws regarding the rights of prisoners in all instances in which the United States has deemed those prisoners to have rights. It does not treat prisoners in a cruel or inhumane fashion. The Vice President of the United States has explicitly endorsed the legality and reasonable nature of this technique.

The United States may have enhanced interrogation techniques, borrowing methods of methodical drowning used by the Khmer Rouge, the Spanish Inquisitors, and various others that populate the cruelest edges of history.

But we are the United States, and that is the difference: the United States does not torture.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Diwali 2007

Diwali 2007

Our Rangoli:


Estimating the Size of the Revolution

The American political system is rotten to the core. The confirmation by the Senate of Mukasey to the post of the Attorney General, the chief law enforcement officer in the United States is simply an example that is exceptionally easy to understand; there is nothing unusual about it in any other way.

The Senate has abandoned its Constitutional Duty of Advice and Consent, and replaced it with Abdicate and Capitulate. To quote the New York Times editorial:

[Mukasey] was simply asked if, as a general matter, waterboarding is illegal.

It was not a difficult question. Waterboarding is specifically banned by the Army Field Manual, and it is plainly illegal under the federal Anti-Torture Act, federal assault statutes, the Detainee Treatment Act, the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions. It is hard to see how any nominee worthy of the position of attorney general could fail to answer “yes.”.......

....Democrats have done precious little to avoid the kind of spectacle the world saw last week: the Senate giving the job of attorney general, chief law enforcement officer in the world’s oldest democracy, to a man who does not even have the integrity to take a stand against torture.

What is needed to stem the rot?

The Republicans in the Senate all have to be voted out. I include Lieberman in their number. Replaced by whom, though? One of the two key enablers of the Mukasey confirmation is Senator Chuck Schumer (NY) who is the chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee! He has to go. Diane Feinstein (CA) has to go. The Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has to go. What about the Democratic Presidential hopefuls in the Senate? None of them showed any leadership in trying to block this nomination, or even to force a clarification of Mukasey's stand on torture (a group of distinguished career intelligence officers who are appalled by waterboarding even as they are keenly aware of the practical necessities of their job suggested to the Senate leaders that Mukasey be given a full briefing in private before continuing with the nomination). As it turned out, they didn't even vote. That means Clinton, Biden, Obama, Dodd should be shown the door.

This is just one issue, isn't it?, etc.

This is just one easy to understand issue. But it is symptomatic of a pattern of behavior of this Senate. The Democratic Senators have perfected the "oppose but are powerless to stop Bush" charade. They artfully register their opposition only when that opposition is bound to fail. E.g., they will not even attempt to block a bad bill or nomination in committee or filibuster it on the floor; they just want their pious vote "against" recorded. Glenn Greenwald describes the game quite well.

The size of the revolution

Virtually all of the current Senate has to face their accountability moment. Will it, can it happen? Not immediately of course, but over the next three election cycles. Since the answer from any sane observer is no, most will likely not even face serious challengers, then expect that the rot will simply continue to grow.


PS: Desi links to a great cartoon

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fawke You, Washington!

(The title is from a comment by a freeper.)

Congressman Ron Paul, candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, broke GOP online fund raising records on Guy Fawkes Day, by raising about $4.2 million.

Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the British Parliament, but today he is given a different meaning; he is taken as a reminder

It is not the People who should fear the Government, but rather the Government which should fear the People.

Ron Paul is an old-style conservative, anti-war, anti-interventionism, for limited constitutional government and for fiscal responsibility, contra the neo-cons. He also has some antediluvian positions.

The Republican establishment would like Ron Paul to go away. From the left, Glenn Greenwald opines on the Ron Paul phenomenon:

The Paul campaign is now a bona fide phenomenon of real significance, and it is difficult to see this as anything other than a very positive development.

There are, relatively speaking, very few people who agree with most of Paul's policy positions. In fact, a large portion of Americans -- perhaps most -- will find something in his litany of beliefs with which they not only disagree, but vehemently so. Paul has a coherent political world-view and states his positions clearly and unapologetically, without hedges, and that approach naturally ensures greater disagreement than the form of please-everyone obfuscation which drives most candidates.......

.....So there is at least something in Paul's worldview for most people to strongly dislike, even hate, if they are so inclined. Yet that apparent political liability is really what accounts for the passion his campaign is generating: it is a campaign that defies and despises conventional and deeply entrenched Beltway assumptions about our political discourse and about what kind of country this is supposed to be.

While Barack Obama toys with the rhetoric of challenging conventional wisdom, Paul's campaign -- for better or worse -- actually does so, and does so in an extremely serious, thoughtful and coherent way. And there are a lot of people who, more than any specific policy positions, are hungry for a political movement which operates outside of our rotted political establishment and which fearlessly rejects its pieties, even if they disagree with some or even many of its particulars.


Perhaps most importantly, Paul is the only serious candidate aggressively challenging America's addiction to ruling the world through superior military force and acting as an empire -- not by contesting specific policies (such as the Iraq War) but by calling into question the unexamined root premises of these policies, the ideology that is defining our role in the world.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Atlantic, 1946, on Pakistan

1946 article on India, Pakistan


When Congress ministries took office in seven out of eleven provinces in 1937, Moslem Leaguers (who had polled only 4.6 per cent of the total Moslem vote) were denied any share in the spoils of office. Moslem League propagandists have represented this situation as a denial of their legitimate rights, and as proof of a Hindu determination to dominate India. Tactically, it may have been unwise of Congress, but under a party system of government it is difficult to see how it could have done otherwise. Congress did not refuse office to Moslems as such, but to Moslems who were not members of Congress.

For Congress is not, as League followers claim, a Hindu organization. The Hindu Mahasabha is the party of orthodox Hindus. Congress is, and always has been, open to Moslems, and has a notable Moslem president, the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Mr. Asaf Ali is another Moslem member of the Working Committee. To expect Congress to present ministerial offices to its political rivals is as if the British Labor Party, after its recent overwhelming victory, should be invited to give Cabinet posts to members of the insignificant Independent Labor Party, which had opposed it at the polls.

How many nations in India?

The experience of one election convinced Jinnah that his party could never hope to enjoy a ruling majority. In 1940 he accordingly resurrected the theory of Pakistan, claiming that Hindus and Moslems are two separate nations.

Before 1940 no one outside the Moslems, and few among them, took Pakistan seriously, but by persistent advocation in season and out, Jinnah has made of it the central issue before India today. He has made of the League a real political party, and in the recent elections to the Central Legislative Assembly it won all the Mohammedan seats (30), polling 86.6 per cent of the total Moslem votes. These elections were based on the extremely restricted franchise of the 1919 Act, and the total number of votes cast was only 586,647, representing almost exclusively the propertied classes.

In the provincial elections now taking place, with an electorate of over 30 millions, the League is unlikely to repeat its 100 per cent success, but there is little doubt that it will gain a decisive majority of Moslem votes for a policy of Pakistan.

The real problem starts from this point the League is pledged not to make the new Constitution work unless it starts from the basic assumption of Pakistan. There must be not one but two constitution-making bodies, says Jinnah -one for Hindustan and one for Pakistan. Hindus naturally are not willing to submit, in advance of the elections, to the dictation of a minority.

Allegations of corrupt practices and official interference have been made by the League and Congress in the Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. Doubtless many are true. The greatest curse of Indian political and administrative life is corruption running like a putrefying streak from top to bottom. Election returns from the North-West Frontier Province show, however, that the majority of Moslems in their traditional home are opposed to the vivisection of India.

Jinnah wrecked the Simla Conference - called by the Viceroy, Lord Wavell -in July, 1945. He can wreck the elections. All he has to do is to stall, and the longer he stalls, the stronger he grows.


Things that tickled me:

...he had a personal philosophy of Manifest Destiny in which a higher power had already made his choices for him. By virtue of him choosing A over B, A was right. This outlook made him reckless, or a Muslim, and he wasn't that, that's for sure.

Hocus Potus - a novel by Malcolm MacPherson


(Via CIP) Andrew Sullivan points out that the neocons are making precisely the same arguments in defense of torture that the US rejected and condemned the guilty to death in the case of the Nazis.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Officials write to the Senate about the AG nominee

Via dkos, from No Quarter:

Mukasey Nomination: Letter from Intelligence, Military, Diplomatic & Law Enforcement Professionals


A group of distinguished intelligence and military officers, diplomats, and law enforcement professionals delivered an urgent message this morning to the chairman and the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, calling on them to hold the nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey until he takes a clear position on the legality of waterboarding.

Their message strongly endorses the view of former judge advocates general that waterboarding "is inhumane, is torture, is illegal.” The intelligence veterans added it is also a notoriously unreliable way to acquire accurate information.

They noted that the factors cited by the president and Mukasey as obstacles to his giving an opinion on waterboarding can be easily solved by briefing Mukasey on waterboarding and on C.I.A. interrogation methods.

The intelligence veterans noted that during their careers they frequently had to walk a thin line between morality and expediency, all the while doing their best to abide by the values the majority of Americans have held in common over the years. They appealed to Senators Pat Leahy and Arlen Specter to rise to the occasion and discharge their responsibility to defend those same values.



MEMORANDUM FOR: Chairman and Ranking Member Senate Committee on the Judiciary

FROM: Former U.S. Intelligence Officers

SUBJECT: Nomination of Michael Mukasey for Attorney General

Dear Senators Leahy and Specter,

Values that are extremely important to us as former intelligence officers are at stake in your committee’s confirmation deliberations on Judge Michael Mukasey. With hundreds of years of service in sensitive national security activities behind us, we are deeply concerned that your committee may move his nomination to the full Senate without insisting that Mukasey declare himself on whether he believes the practice of waterboarding is legal.

We feel this more acutely than most others, for in our careers we have frequently had to navigate the delicate balance between morality and expediency, all the while doing our best to abide by the values the vast majority of Americans hold in common. We therefore believe we have a particular moral obligation to speak out. We can say it no better than four retired judge advocates general (two admirals and two generals) who wrote you over the weekend, saying: “Waterboarding is inhumane, it is torture, and it is illegal.”

Judge Mukasey’s refusal to comment on waterboarding, on grounds that it would be “irresponsible” to provide “an uninformed legal opinion based on hypothetical facts and circumstances,” raises serious questions. There is nothing hypothetical or secret about the fact that waterboarding was used by U.S. intelligence officers as an interrogation technique before the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004. But after Alberto Gonzales became attorney general in February 2005, Justice reportedly issued a secret memo authorizing harsh physical and psychological tactics, including waterboarding, which were approved for use in combination. A presidential executive order of July 20, 2007 authorized “enhanced interrogation techniques” that had been banned for use by the U.S. Army. Although the White House announced that the order provides “clear rules” to govern treatment of detainees, the rules are classified, so defense attorneys, judges, juries — and even nominee Mukasey — can be prevented from viewing them.

Those are some of the “facts and circumstances.” They are not hypothetical; and there are simple ways for Judge Mukasey to become informed, which we propose below.

Last Thursday, President George W. Bush told reporters it was unfair to ask Mukasey about interrogation techniques about which he had not been briefed.

“He doesn’t know whether we use that technique [waterboarding] or not,” the president said. Judge Mukasey wrote much the same in his October 30 letter, explaining that he was unable to give an opinion on the legality of waterboarding because he doesn't know whether it is being used: “I have not been made aware of the details of any interrogation program to the extent that any such program may be classified and thus do not know what techniques may be involved in any such program.” Whether or not the practice is currently in use by U.S. intelligence, it should in fact be easy for him to respond. All he need do is find out what waterboarding is and then decide whether he considers it legal.

The conundrum created to justify the nominee’s silence on this key issue is a synthetic one. It is within your power to resolve it readily. If Mukasey continues to drag his feet, you need only to facilitate a classified briefing for him on waterboarding and the C.I.A. interrogation program. He will then be able to render an informed legal opinion. We strongly suggest that you sit in on any such briefing and that you invite the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to take part as well. Receiving the same briefing at the same time (and, ideally, having it taped) should enhance the likelihood of candor and make it possible for all to be — and to stay — on the same page on this delicate issue.

If the White House refuses to allow such a briefing, your committee must, in our opinion, put a hold on Mukasey’s nomination. We are aware that the president warned last week that it will be either Mukasey as our attorney general or no one. So be it. It is time to stand up for what is right and require from the Executive the information necessary for the Senate to function responsibly and effectively. It would seem essential not to approve a nominee who has already made clear he is reluctant to ask questions of the White House. How can a person with that attitude even be proposed to be our chief law enforcement officer?

We strongly urge that you not send Mukasey’s nomination to the full Senate before he makes clear his view on waterboarding. Otherwise, there is considerable risk of continued use of the officially sanctioned torture techniques that have corrupted our intelligence services, knocked our military off the high moral ground, severely damaged our country’s standing in the world, and exposed U.S. military and intelligence people to similar treatment when captured or kidnapped. One would think that Judge Mukasey would want to be briefed on these secret interrogation techniques and to clarify where he stands.

The most likely explanation for Mukasey’s reticence is his concern that, should his conscience require him to condemn waterboarding, this could cause extreme embarrassment and even legal jeopardy for senior officials this time not just for the so-called “bad apples” at the bottom of the barrel. We believe it very important that the Senate not acquiesce in his silence—and certainly not if, as seems the case, he is more concerned about protecting senior officials than he is in enforcing the law and the Constitution.

It is important to get beyond shadowboxing on this key issue. In our view, condoning Mukasey’s evasiveness would mean ignoring fundamental American values and the Senate’s constitutional prerogative of advice and consent.

At stake in your committee and this nomination are questions of legality, morality, and our country’s values. And these are our primary concerns as well. As professional intelligence officers, however, we must point to a supreme irony—namely, that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation practices are ineffective tools for eliciting reliable information. Our own experience dovetails well with that of U.S. Army intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. John Kimmons, who told a Pentagon press conference on September 6, 2006: “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.”

Speaking out so precisely and unequivocally took uncommon courage, because Kimmons knew that just across the Potomac President Bush would be taking quite a different line at a press conference scheduled to begin as soon as Kimmons finished his. At the White House press conference focusing on interrogation techniques, the president touted the success that the C.I.A. was having in extracting information from detainees by using an “alternative set of procedures.” He said these procedures had to be “tough,” in order to deal with particularly recalcitrant detainees who “had received training on how to resist interrogation” and had “stopped talking.”

The Undersigned
(Official duties refer to former government work.)

Brent Cavan
Intelligence Analyst, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA

Ray Close
Directorate of Operations, CIA for 26 years—22 of them overseas; former Chief of Station, Saudi Arabia

Ed Costello
Counter-espionage, FBI

Michael Dennehy
Supervisory Special Agent for 32 years, FBI; U.S. Marine Corps for three years

Rosemary Dew
Supervisory Special Agent, Counterterrorism, FBI

Philip Giraldi
Operations officer and counter-terrorist specialist, Directorate of Operations, CIA

Michael Grimaldi
Intelligence Analyst, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA; Federal law enforcement officer

Mel Goodman
Division Chief, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA; Professor, National Defense University; Senior Fellow, Center for International Policy

Larry Johnson
Intelligence analysis and operations officer, CIA; Deputy Director, Office of Counter Terrorism, Department of State

Richard Kovar
Executive Assistant to the Deputy Director for Intelligence, CIA: Editor, Studies In Intelligence

Charlotte Lang
Supervisory Special Agent, FBI

W. Patrick Lang
U.S. Army Colonel, Special Forces, Vietnam; Professor, U.S. Military Academy, West Point; Defense Intelligence Officer for Middle East, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA); founding director, Defense HUMINT Service

Lynne Larkin
Operations Officer, Directorate of Operations, CIA; counterintelligence; coordination among intelligence and crime prevention agencies; CIA policy coordination staff ensuring adherence to law in operations

Steve Lee
Intelligence Analyst for terrorism, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA

Jon S. Lipsky
Supervisory Special Agent, FBI

David MacMichael
Senior Estimates Officer, National Intelligence Council, CIA; History professor; Veteran, U.S. Marines (Korea)

Tom Maertens
Foreign Service Officer and Intelligence Analyst, Department of State; Deputy Coordinator for Counter-terrorism, Department of State; National Security Council (NSC) Director for Non-Proliferation

James Marcinkowski
Operations Officer, Directorate of Operations, CIA by way of U.S. Navy

Mary McCarthy
National Intelligence Officer for Warning; Senior Director for Intelligence Programs, National Security Council

Ray McGovern
Intelligence Analyst, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA; morning briefer, The President’s Daily Brief; chair of National Intelligence Estimates; Co-founder, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

Sam Provance
U.S. Army Intelligence Analyst, Germany and Iraq (Abu Ghraib); Whistleblower

Coleen Rowley
Special Agent and attorney, FBI; Whistleblower on the negligence that facilitated the attacks of 9/11.

Joseph Wilson
Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Ambassador and Director of Africa, National Security Council.

Valerie Plame Wilson
Operations Officer, Directorate of Operations


I stupidly turned on the radio this morning (NEVER a good way to start the day!) to an Anne Garrels' story from Iraq. I'll link to it later, whenever it appears on the NPR web-site.

You'll understand what I mean, when I tell you that Garrels informs us that regular US military personnel were in tears describing to her the brutality of US Special Forces (towards Iraqis).

PS: Here's the link to the NPR story.

Mathematics cannot substitute for ethics

Multi-billion dollar losses at big banks are making the news these days.

Big name investment bankers assembled dubious mortgage loans into securities, the ratings companies gave these products investment grade ratings, and investers purchased this blessed junk.

No doubt these will all claim good faith effort and take refuge in the excuse of the failure of their mathematical models of risk. But the models were premised on eternally rising housing prices, which is an absurd assumption. You don't need any sophisticated quant analyst to tell you that.

It seems very clear to me that the lure of ringing up immediate transactions and making a profit in the short term greatly outweigh the long-term well-being of the bank for its employees, CEO downwards. Presumably they make their bonuses and are out doing something else when the whole thing blows up.

Just how bad they were is outlined in this dailykos story.

This is from Fortune magazine, quoted there:

In the spring of 2006, Goldman assembled 8,274 second-mortgage loans originated by Fremont Investment & Loan, Long Beach Mortgage Co., and assorted other players. More than a third of the loans were in California, then a hot market. It was a run-of-the-mill deal, one of the 916 residential mortgage-backed issues totaling $592 billion that were sold last year.

The average equity that the second-mortgage borrowers had in their homes was 0.71%. (No, that's not a misprint - the average loan-to-value of the issue's borrowers was 99.29%.)

It gets even hinkier. Some 58% of the loans were no-documentation or low-documentation. This means that although 98% of the borrowers said they were occupying the homes they were borrowing on - "owner-occupied" loans are considered less risky than loans to speculators - no one knows if that was true. And no one knows whether borrowers' incomes or assets bore any serious relationship to what they told the mortgage lenders.


In this case, Goldman sliced the $494 million of second mortgages into 13 separate tranches. The $336 million of top tranches - named cleverly A-1, A-2, and A-3 - carried the lowest interest rates and the least risk. The $123 million of intermediate tranches - M (for mezzanine) 1 through 7 - are next in line to get paid and carry progressively higher interest rates.

Finally, Goldman sold two non-investment-grade tranches [and kept one more, the riskiest, as its fee for the deal}


Even though the individual loans in GSAMP looked like financial toxic waste, 68% of the issue, or $336 million, was rated AAA by both agencies - as secure as U.S. Treasury bonds. Another $123 million, 25% of the issue, was rated investment grade, at levels from AA to BBB--.

Thus, a total of 93% was rated investment grade. That's despite the fact that this issue is backed by second mortgages of dubious quality on homes in which the borrowers (most of whose income and financial assertions weren't vetted by anyone) had less than 1% equity and on which GSAMP couldn't effectively foreclose.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Need to Innovate

The energy to run a technological civilization and the resiliency of the environment to man's activities are in deep depletion. If we do not want the majority of humanity to live in great material deprivation and misery, we need to do things differently. Sometimes even Thomas Friedman is worth quoting in this regard:
Why should you care what they’re driving in Delhi? Here’s why: The cost of your cellphone is a lot cheaper today because India took that little Western invention and innovated around it so it is now affordable to Indians who make only $2 a day. India has become a giant platform for inventing cheap scale solutions to big problems. If it applied itself to green mass transit solutions for countries with exploding middle classes, it would be a gift for itself and the world.

To do that it must leapfrog. If India just innovates in cheap cars alone, its future will be gridlocked and polluted. But an India that makes itself the leader in both cheap cars and clean mass mobility is an India that will be healthier and wealthier. It will also be an India that gives us cheap answers to big problems — rather than cheap copies of our worst habits.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Surge in Iraq

The current trend line in Iraq for casualties is pointed downwards. The trend could be real, i.e., not equivalent to some of the previous downturns in violence. It could be because of the surge - the efforts of General Petraeus and his men. It could be for a variety of other reasons.

Is it real? Only time will tell.

The graphic whose small version is below is from


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Miaculpa Cartoons

This is my collection of links to cartoons linked to by Diane(Desi) at
Oct 31
High Explosive
Oct 27
Oct 24
'publican attack dogs
Kettle and Pot
Oct 21
Employment of last resort
Bush's New Middle East
Oct 20
Darth Cheney
Oct 19
President Jeffrey saves the world
Oct 18
Won't retire
Oct 15
Nobel reaction

Piano Music Reco

The Scarlatti Piano Sonatas played by Yevgeny Sudbin meets with my (mere listener) total approval.

Free Market Rules!

Since the unregulated free market is supposed to be the best of all possible ways of organizing an economy, why is this NYT article, Chinese Chemicals Flow Unchecked to Market written as a matter of concern rather than congratulations?

Any Libertarians around?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dodd makes a speech

Senator Dodd (on the badly flawed FISA bill):

Mr. President, for six years, this President has demonstrated time and time again that he doesn’t respect the role of Congress nor does he respect the rule of law.

Every six years as United States Senators we take the oath office to uphold the Constitution. Our colleagues on the House side take that oath every two years. That is important.

For six years this President has used scare tactics to prevent the Congress from reining in his abuse of authority. A case and point is the current direction this body appears to be headed as we prepare to reform and extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Many of the unprecedented rollbacks to the rule of law by this Administration have been made in the name of national security.

The Bush Administration has relentlessly focused our nation’s resources and manpower on a war of choice in Iraq. That ill conceived war has broken our military, squandered resources and emboldened our enemies.

The President’s wholesale disregard of the rule of law has compounded the damage done in Iraq and has made our nation less secure and as a direct consequence of these acts, we are less secure, more vulnerable and more isolated in the world.

Consider the scandal at Abu Ghraib – where Iraqi prisoners were subjected to inhumane and humiliating acts by U.S. personnel charged with guarding them.

Consider Guantanamo Bay. Rather than helping to protect the nation, the prisons at Guantanamo Bay have instead become the very symbol for our weakened moral standing in the world.

Consider the secret prisons run by the CIA and the practice of extraordinary rendition that allows them to evade U.S. law regarding torture.

Consider the shameful actions of our outgoing Attorney General who politicized prosecutions – who was more committed to serving the President who appointed him than the laws he had sworn to uphold.

And consider, of course, the Military Commissions Act – a law that allows evidence obtained through torture to be admitted into evidence.

It denies individuals the right to counsel.

It denies them the right to invoke the Geneva Conventions.

And it denies them the single most important and effective safeguard of liberty man has known – the right of habeas corpus, permitting prisoners to be brought before a court to determine whether their detainment is lawful.

Warrantless wiretapping, torture – the list goes on.

Each of these policies share two things in common.

First, they have weakened our ability to prosecute the global war on terrorism – if for no other reason than they have made it harder, if not impossible, to build the international support and cooperation we need to fight it.

And second, each has only been possible because Congress has not been able to stop this President’s unprecedented expansion of executive power, although some in this body have tried.

Whether or not these policies were explicitly authorized is beside the point. In every instance, Congress has been unable to hold this Administration to account for violating the rule of law and our Constitution. In each instance, Republicans in the Congress have prevented this body from telling this Administration that “a state of war is not a blank check.”

And those aren’t my words, Mr. President – those are the words of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who was nominated by Ronald Reagan.

And today, it appears that we are prepared to consider the proposed renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – a law that in whatever form it eventually takes will almost certainly permit the Bush Administration to broadly eavesdrop on American citizens.

Legislation, as currently drafted, that would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that helped this Administration violate the civil liberties of Americans and the law of this country.

Mr. President while it may be true that the proposed legislation is an improvement on existing law, it remains fundamentally flawed because it fails to protect the privacy rights of Americans or hold the Executive or the private sector accountable if they choose to ignore the law.

That is why I will not stand on the floor of the United States Senate and be silent about the direction we are headed.

It is time to say “no more.”

No more trampling our Constitution.

No more excusing those who violate the rule of law.

These are our principles.

They have been around at least since the Magna Carta.

They are enduring.

What they are not is temporary. And what we do not do in a time where our country is at risk is abandon them.

My father was Executive Trial Counsel at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals during 1945 and 1946.

What America accomplished at those historic trials wasn’t a foregone conclusion. It took courage – when Stalin and even a leader as great and noble as Winston Churchill wanted to simply execute the Nazi leaders, we didn’t back down from our belief that these men—as terrible as they were—ought to have a trial.

We did not give in to vengeance.

As then, the issue before us today is the same.

Does America stand for all that is still right with our world? Or do we retreat in fear?

Do we stand for justice that secures America? Or do we act out of vengeance that weakens us?

Mr. President, I am well aware that this issue is seen as political. I believe that Democrats were elected to strengthen the nation – elected to restore our standing in the world.

I believe we were elected to ensure that this nation adheres to the rule of law and to stop this Administration’s assault on the Constitution.

But the rule of law is not the provenance of any one political party – but of every American who has been safer because of it.

Mr. President, I know this bill hasn’t even been reported out of the Judiciary Committee yet.

But I am here today because if I have learned anything in my 26 years in this body—particularly during the last 7 years—it is that if you wait until the end to voice your concerns, you will have waited too long. That is why I have written to the Majority Leader informing him that I will object to any effort to bring this legislation to the Senate floor for consideration.

I hope that Senator Leahy is able to remove this language – he is a dear friend and I know his respect for the rule of law runs deep.

But if he cannot, I am prepared to filibuster this bill.

President Bush is right about one thing: this debate is about security. But not in the way he imagines.

He believes we have to give up certain rights to be safe.

I believe the choice between moral authority and security is a false choice.

I believe it is precisely when you stand up and protect your rights that you become stronger, not weaker.

The damage that was done to our country on 9/11 was stunning. It changed the world forever.

But when you start diminishing our rights as a people, you compound that tragedy. You cannot protect America in the long run if you fail to protect our Constitution. It is that simple.

Mr. President, history will likely judge this President harshly for his war of choice and for fighting it with a disregard for our most cherished principles.

But history is about tomorrow. We must act today to stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law.

Mr. President, this is the moment. At long last, let us rise to it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Canon 200mm f/1.8

The Canon 200mm f/1.8 is an old lens, no longer manufactured, no longer supported (as far as I know). There is news that Canon is developing a 200mm f/2 lens.

Some incredibly lovely shots by the old lens can be found here (at least for now). The long focal length and wide aperture are essential ingredients of these photographs. (The photographer's skill, the subject and recording medium are other essential ingredients, to be sure.) Be sure to go beyond Page 1.

Until the annoucement of the new lens, the extinct version of the lens was trading reportedly for as much as $4000.

A Trading Proposition

I'm not sure why, but I find this to be very funny: (all of the following is an excerpt)

THIS APPEARED ON CRAIG’S LIST… I’m a beautiful (spectacularly beautiful) 25 year old girl. I’m articulate and classy… I’m looking to get married to a guy who makes at least half a million a year. I know how that sounds, but keep in mind that a million a year is middle class in New York City… Are there any guys who make 500K or more on this board?... I dated a business man who makes average around 200–250. But that’s where I seem to hit a roadblock. 250,000 won’t get me to central park west. I know a woman in my yoga class who was married to an investment banker and lives in Tribeca, and she’s not as pretty as I am, nor is she a great genius. So what is she doing right?... Here are my questions specifically:… What are you looking for in a mate? Be honest guys, you won’t hurt my feelings… Why are some of the women living lavish lifestyles on the upper east side so plain? I’ve seen really ‘plain jane’ boring types who have nothing to offer married to incredibly wealthy guys. I’ve seen drop dead gorgeous girls in singles bars in the east village… How you decide marriage vs. just a girlfriend? I am looking for MARRIAGE ONLY. Please hold your insults – I’m putting myself out there in an honest way. Most beautiful women are superficial; at least I’m being up front about it. I wouldn’t be searching for these kind of guys if I wasn’t able to match them – in looks, culture, sophistication, and keeping a nice home and hearth.

Well, she got an answer:

I read your posting with great interest and have thought meaningfully about your dilemma. I offer the following analysis of your predicament.

Firstly, I’m not wasting your time, I qualify as a guy who fits your bill; that is I make more than $500K per year. That said here’s how I see it.

Your offer, from the prospective of a guy like me, is plain and simple a crappy business deal. Here’s why. Cutting through all the B.S., what you suggest is a simple trade: you bring your looks to the party and I bring my money. Fine, simple. But here’s the rub, your looks will fade and my money will likely continue into perpetuity…in fact, it is very likely that my income increases but it is an absolute certainty that you won’t be getting any more beautiful!

So, in economic terms you are a depreciating asset and I am an earning asset. Not only are you a depreciating asset, your depreciation accelerates! Let me explain, you’re 25 now and will likely stay pretty hot for the next 5 years, but less so each year. Then the fade begins in earnest. By 35 stick a fork in you!

So in Wall Street terms, we would call you a trading position, not a buy and hold…hence the rub…marriage. It doesn’t make good business sense to "buy you" (which is what you’re asking) so I’d rather lease. In case you think I’m being cruel, I would say the following. If my money were to go away, so would you, so when your beauty fades I need an out. It’s as simple as that. So a deal that makes sense is dating, not marriage… I hope this is helpful, and if you want to enter into some sort of lease, let me know.

Unstated but assumed in all of this is what philosopher D. C. Stove, in his book of the same name, would call a Darwinian Fairy Tale, the fairy tale here being that because there is a theoretical evolutionary basis for rich men to pursue beautiful women, they must in fact follow this course.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bush, Rumsfeld implicated in torture

A US vision of a Middle East

Iran is a major obstacle to the U.S. vision of a Middle East, Rice says.


Monday, October 22, 2007



My apologies to those who don't know Hindi. I can't translate.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Guess who is in the news?

As per sitemeter, this blog has been receiving a number of hits from Pakistan, all based on searches for Ijaz/Ejaz Shah.

This blog posting and this one produced the hits.

I was wondering why, until I saw this by B. Raman: Bin Laden's Former Handling Officer Was In Charge of Benazir's Security - International Terrorism Monitor---Paper No. 288

Friday, October 19, 2007

Another Garba picture

The dancers were visibly reacting to the camera in my hands, and my niece N took the camera, (correctly, as it turned out) pointing out that they would not notice as much the camera in the hands of another young woman. Here is one of the results:


#7 in the previous post is also likely by my niece.

A Keeper

This essay on Bush versus History is a keeper.

The plan for governance in “post-Saddam Iraq” does not exist, all discussion of it having been paralyzed by a bitter dispute between officials in the Pentagon, State Department, and CIA that the President will never resolve. The Iraqi “civil society” that he tells Aznar is “relatively strong” will soon be decimated by the prolonged looting and chaos that follows on the entry of American troops into Baghdad. The “good bureaucracy” he boasts about in Iraq will shortly be destroyed by a radical de-Baathification ordered by the American proconsul that he almost certainly never approved. The Iraqi army that he decides in early March will be retained and used for reconstruction will instead be peremptorily dissolved, to catastrophic effect.

If these radical departures from the President’s chosen plan have dampened his optimism and faith — or indeed have even led him to try to discover what happened — there is no evidence of it. When Bush’s latest biographer, Robert Draper, asked him why the Iraqi army had not been kept intact, as the President had decided it should be, Bush replied, “Yeah, I can’t remember. I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’”

The Decline and Fall of the New York Times

But the Times made one more mistake -- one which it alone could make, and which I think ultimately led to yesterday's meltdown. Most newspapers adopted the always dangerous strategy of trying to become more like one's competitors rather than establishing the defensible position of being even more true to oneself. Like most newspapers, the Times decided to become more timely, more hip, and more judgmental than the electronic media -- when it should have become better reported, more objective, and better written; professionalism being the one arena where the new competitors would have a hard time competing. - Michael S Malone, How the New York Times Fell Apart.

This is something I have long believed. The only problem is that perhaps there isn't enough of a market for a better reported, more objective, better written newspaper with high standards of professionalism. This being a country where professionals for whom English is a second language write better than the natives; a country that reelected George W Bush, a country that made Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly into stars.

Neither professionalism nor competence is a value for the majority, and there in lies the real story of the NYT's decline.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Road Sign, Holmdel, New Jersey


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Spirit of Dance

The Indian Culture Society of New Jersey held a series of Navaratri Garba dances at the Dunn Sports Center, Elizabeth High School. pictures of the event are here.
My few pictures are here.

I felt disoriented when I entered the indoor stadium turned dance room:


It is not just the women that were dressed in vibrant colors. While many guys had come in jeans and tee-shirt, some of them did not disappoint. Little children shared in the fun.






The spirit of dance:




Pictures from the East Brunswick Festival

September 16th a fair/festival was held on the grounds of the East Brunswick library. Some pictures from there:






Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why America is in Iraq

The whole of Retd. Air Force Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski's speech should be read.

If not, read below:

In the second half of 2002, a total of 27 different reasons were given by the administration or by Congresspersons as to why we needed to go into Iraq as soon as possible. I know this because a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wrote her senior honors thesis entitled "Uncovering the Rationales for the War on Iraq: The Words of the Bush Administration, Congress and the Media from September 12, 2001, to October 11, 2002." Devon Largio did a detailed analysis identifying 23 different reasons put forth by the administration, and 4 more put forth by various congressmen in the run up to war.


Today, we generally understand that we were lied to by the Pentagon, and by our government. These lies were repeated and often expanded upon by politicians and our media in 2002 and for several years after the invasion. Suggestions by politicians and media outlets that the truth was actually somewhat different were met by scorn, and accusations of sleeping with the enemy. And we all fell in line, and marched in unison.

There were of course, real reasons for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. There might even be 27 real reasons. But I know of three.

One reason has to do with enhancing our military-basing posture in the region. We had been very dissatisfied with our relations with Saudi Arabia, particularly the restrictions on our basing. There was dissatisfaction from the people of Saudi Arabia, and thus the troubled monarchy. So we were looking for alternate strategic locations beyond Kuwait, beyond Qatar, to secure something we had been searching for since the days of Carter – to secure the energy lines of communication in the region. Bases in Iraq, then, were very important – that is, if you hold that is America’s role in the world. And Saddam Hussein was not about to invite us in.

A major reason for the invasion, and the urgency of it, is that sanctions and containment had worked, and over the years, almost too well. They had become counterproductive. Many companies around the world were preparing to do business with Iraq in anticipation of a lifting of sanctions. But the U.S. and the U.K. had been bombing northern and southern Iraq since 1991. So it was very unlikely that we would be in any kind of position to gain significant contracts in any post-sanctions Iraq. And those sanctions were going to be lifted soon, Saddam would still be in place, and we would get no financial benefit.

Naomi Klein has researched and written many astute articles on our foreign policy in Iraq. One of these, published by Harper’s in September 2003, was called "Baghdad Year Zero." She made a compelling case for the convergence of business interests and a kind of neoconservative free market ideology – and that the invasion and occupation was a clean slate transformation of a command economy into a free trade utopia. Neoconservative ideology does not embrace free trade in the sense that libertarians or Adam Smith might embrace it, but instead prefers significant state involvement in trade, for the good of the nation. However, Klein’s article from 2003 sheds a great deal of light on what we really wanted and intended for Iraq.

Another reason is a uniquely American rationale, and it relates to our currency, and our debt situation. Saddam Hussein decided in November 2000 to sell his Food for Oil program oil sales in euros. The oil sales permitted in that program weren’t very much. But if the sanctions were lifted, the sales from the country with the second largest oil reserves on the planet would have been setting a standard away from, and competing with, US paper.

The U.S. dollar was, and remains, in a sensitive period because we are a major debtor nation now. Our currency is still globally popular, but these days that’s more due to habit than its reliability as a currency backed up by a government that the world trusts not to print boatloads of bills for no productive reason. To the extent that oil, almost the new gold in terms of in-demand commodity reliability, is traded on the euro, global confidence in the dollar and global bank reserve demand for the dollar shifts negatively.

In any case, the first executive order regarding Iraq that Bush signed in May [2003] switched trading on Iraq’s oil back to the dollar.

These, for me are the big three.