Friday, February 29, 2008

INNER HEROES AND PSYCHOLOGY'S INTELLECTUAL CRAP

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY PHILIP ZIMBARDO IN THE GUARDIAN

Philip Zimbardo invites us to dine and offers a plate of steaming intellectual crap.

Except for certain experimenters, I have a low opinion of psychology as a profession. It is more secular mumbo-jumbo than scholarship and hard knowledge.

There are no "inner heroes." This is a concept without any basis other than Zimbardo's own wish fulfillment.

We do have heroes, but they are exceptional and correspond to just those very people who behave as heroes. And they are often not the military types but the truly brave people who continue their hard responsibilities in life despite the weak examples around them.

Zimbardo has a kind of secular version of the flatulent Christian idea that all people are more or less the same and just need a little help from the Almighty to achieve greatness or grace. Rubbish.

People's character inclinations and strengths are just as varying and genetically-determined as their hairlines, blood pressure, and sexual orientation.

MUSHARRAF AND TERRORISTS IN PAKISTAN AND BUSH-SPEAK

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY ANITA INDER SINGH IN THE GUARDIAN

Did Ms Singh write this under a grant from the Pentagon?

Pakistan is the "frontline state against terrorism"? That's Bush-speak.

Musharraf has been the only barrier against the Pentagon's invading Pakistan.

Only the other day, American forces launched a missile killing more than a dozen people in Pakistan. The U.S. claims they were "militants," but that word, so eerily copied from Israel's extra-judicial murders, gives one pause.

Are they wearing shirts with "militants" in big letters on the back?

Not long ago the U.S. launched another missile at a madrassa in Pakistan, claiming it was a nest of "militants," but the dead consisted of eighty children who had been doing religious studies.

This kind of mass murder cannot be taken lightly. It is state terror.

The Pentagon would just love to send thousands of their thug special forces into Pakistan to go village to village, blowing down doors, using stun grenades, holding women at gunpoint, and taking men away for "questioning."

That's what they've been doing for years in Afghanistan.

Can you imagine how frightening and destructive this behavior is in hardscrabble farming society? How stingingly insulting in a traditional society?

But Ms. Singh seems perfectly happy to have it happen.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

REFLECTION ON THE DEATH OF WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY DANIEL FINKELSTEIN IN THE TIMES

Buckley was an articulate and rather disingenuous man, one who truly was a bit off his rocker.

Anyone who watched Buckley on television, flicking his tongue almost like a rattlesnake and rapidly blinking his eyes, couldn't doubt he was a bit unbalanced and simply enjoyed conflict and argument for their own sake.

He was a vital part of what critic Robert Hughes has called "America's culture of complaint."

The culture of complaint is one in which the combat is enjoyed for its own sake with little meaningful discussion happening and little desire to achieve understanding or change.

It is a verbal form of Rome’s gladiator battles, and just about as intellectually meaningful.

Buckley’s television show also frequently put up debaters who were supposed to represent two sides of an issue but, to the observant watcher, clearly did not. That is to say, Buckley often loaded the dice.

Further note on the infamous Buckley-Gore Vidal exchange many years ago on American television, tapes of which the American network likely will never release or has destroyed out of fear of lawsuits.

Vidal did call Buckley a "crypto-nazi," a personal attack which at least had the merit of being about politics (as well as being true).

Buckley called Vidal "queer" and threatened him on national television, a personal remark having nothing to do with politics and revealing very clearly the kind of prejudice that motivated Buckley.

He had no class, except an assumed, fake quasi-British accent which he managed to permanently acquire from a short stay in Britain.

THE REAL IMPORTANCE OF PEOPLE ABROAD KEEPING UP WITH AMERICAN POLITICS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY DANIEL FINKLESTEIN IN THE TIMES

The importance of U.S. politics to Britain and others is not for techniques or learning about democratic practices.

The truth is America is and always has been a marginally democratic country.

It not only has always displayed a certain flirting with fascism, it has supported countless such people abroad, and the truth is that its 18th century Constitution is heavily laced with anti-democratic features, favoring stability and property over all else.

Those who doubt this last, owing to the Bill of Rights, will need a hard course in America history to understand how meaningless the American system has rendered the Bill over much of the country’s history, and I’m not referring to the obvious example of slavery.

The Bill of Rights over much of the country’s history was not in any way enforced since states said the national court cannot enforce it. Even today, we feel ripples of this in matters like it’s okay to hold people illegally and torture them just offshore or the Supreme Court effectively appointing a president.

Why Britains and others need to be aware of American politics is simply to be aware of what is coming next from the bloated imperial power.

America's population is several percent of the world's. America's politically active (only just over half of those eligible vote in presidential elections, and the money funding the elections comes from a tiny slice of 1%) is on the order of 1 to 2% of the world.

This makes them, de facto, an aristocracy, whether or not they regard themselves as such. Their percent of politically active out of the world's people is about equal to the percent of China in the Communist Party or, for that matter, the percent of Britains who could vote in 1776. And that’s more less what it was in the early colonies.

This wouldn't matter if they didn't interfere in everyone's business, but they do, constantly. They more than interfere, they bully, bribe, and bomb.

So, effectively, the world has just what America whined about in 1776, taxation without representation.

Don’t be surprised one day to see a tax bill from Washington for services rendered.

ANTI-DEPRESSANT STUDY AND A COLUMN ADVOCATING PEOPLE REFUSING TO USE THEM

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE GUARDIAN

Both the study and this writer miss something very important.

Depression comes in many varied forms.

It almost a spectrum of disorders from deep depression to alcoholism to panic attacks to general anxiety.

And it has long been known that these medications are not equally effective for all of these shadings or forms of depression.

But for some, they are extraordinarily effective, life-changing almost.

It does people a great disservice to pooh-pooh them.

ON ISRAEL'S KILLING SIX MORE "MILITANTS"

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO'S GLOBE AND MAIL

I love these reports about Israel killing "militants." This one, about the killing of six people, is only the latest of many.

First, I wonder how do you identify a militant. Do they wear tattoos on their foreheads? Or special costumes? Something you can identify from a supersonic jet?

Second, what is a "militant"? Just someone who is miserably unhappy about, and objects to, Israel's treatment perhaps?

Three, the press in reporting these events, has done no independent investigation worth speaking of.

It simply adopts Israel's characterization of a multiple extra-judicial murder. Dreadful.

The use of the term really does give the impression that all the press is just repeating press releases from Israel's Ministry of Truth.

BRITISH WRITER MARTIN AMIS AND SUPPORTING BOMBERS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY MICHAEL WHITE IN THE GUARDIAN

Amis is a boring ass, but with this he goes even further down in my consideration.

I've heard him interviewed at length a couple of times, and I fail to understand why he has much of a position as a writer. He really has little to say that is interesting or incisive.

This disingenuous question is the kind of thing that people like Goebbels were fond of. It's a journalist's cheap question: Why do you beat your wife?

Criticizing the gigantic insanity of the 'war on terror,' the invasion of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the chimpanzee-brain in the White House has nothing to do with supporting bombers.

It's not supporting bombers, it's opposing state tyranny and repression and murder.

It's called standing up to the ugly mob to defend basic freedoms and decency.

ARCHITECT LIBESKIND ANNOUNCES HE WON'T WORK FOR TYRANT REGIME LIKE CHINA

RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE TIMES

Well, I've always questioned Daniel Libeskind's work, brutal and jagged, monumental and impractical - in short it shows the aesthetic of the totalitarian spirit. His horrid Berlin Museum is no exception.

In Toronto, his addition to the Royal Ontario Museum is a disaster - a jumble of gigantic crystals exploding out of a dignified pseudo-Romanesque structure from the early 20th century.

Well into the project, it was discovered they could not use the glass surfaces of the design for various technical reasons. They should have re-started the design competition.

Now the crystals are covered with ugly panels, resembling some material used on industrial sheds with odd-ball windows at various locations. It is ugly and uninviting.

The rooms inside - given the severe slopes of the crystal shape - are literally half unusable space.

I love good contemporary architecture, but I've yet to see any from Libeskind.

The Chinese should count themselves lucky.

LAURA BUSH SAYS SHE AND GEORGE TAKE DEMOCRATIC CRITICISM WITH A GRAIN OF SALT

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Well, I don't think anyone expects Laura and George to take anything serious seriously.

They've adequately demonstrated their thick hides to criticism during seven years of Bush's destructive presidency.

I suspect, in Laura's case, this ability developed from years of practice against the many embarrassments of her long-drunken husband.

George, well, how do you describe someone who kills a million souls without a blink of an eye? I believe the clinical term is psychopath.

FROM THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH: ISRAEL CALLS IRAN "TICKING BOMB"

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Iran has attacked no one in the modern era, although it has been attacked brutally, much to the joy of Washington and Israel.

Indeed, when America attacked Iraq, Sharon was constantly promoting the invasions of both Syria and Iran also.

Israel has attacked every one of its neighbors, some more than once, as with Lebanon where its efforts have killed in total on the order of 20,000 people.

Israel holds about 3 1/2 million people in virtual servitude. It is an apartheid regime as brutal as the old South Africa, and authorities like Bishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela have said so

Israel has nuclear weapons, having lied, cheated and stolen materials to get them. It lies to the world every day about their existence.

Israel kills people almost daily. They call them "militants," whatever that means, so the press doesn't question multiple extra-judicial murders.

Israel holds about 9,000 people in illegal detention, including much of the elected government of Gaza. It also tortures them.

Israel shared its nuclear technology with the old South African regime before its collapse. Undoubtedly there were favorable economic exchanges behind it. South Africa had produced a small number of nuclear weapons which were quietly removed by the U.S. after the government’s collapse.

I wonder how many clear-thinking people in the world would agree with Israel's characterization of Iran?

Israel is itself the ticking bomb. Always making new demands, always expanding its armed forces, always ready to make dirty behind-the-scenes deals in its favor, as in the case of South Africa or the invasion of Suez, always taking new property from decent people in the West Bank, and always blubbering about peace it doesn’t want.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

MUSLIM VEILS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

Why are you asking the general public a question of this personal and religious nature?

Do you ask the public whether a Sikh should remove his turban? Whether a conservative-order nun should stop wearing her habit? Whether a Jew should not wear a yarmulke? Whether the pope should stop wearing his skull-cap?

It wasn’t many decades ago that fashionable women in Britain and the United States wore veils with hats. Would anyone with manners have asked a woman then to remove her veil?

Most such old-country practices end after a couple of generations in a new land. People just naturally want to become part of the society in which they live. The most religiously symbolical of them however - eg, the yarmulke - even then survive. So why this probing into the practices of conservative Muslim women - and it is only conservative ones since the simple hijab suffices for many?

Jack Straw started this nasty business off in Britain, saying he always asked Muslim women to remove their veils when meeting with them. This was an ignorant remark, revealing considerable prejudice on Mr. Straw’s part. Blair only chimed in later with his popularity at record lows, and in keeping with a manner that has earned him the contemptuous nickname Fluffy the toy poodle.

No wonder the Muslim world feels under assault from the West. We bomb their countries. We keep men in secret prisons. We say forms of torture are okay. And we interfere with their religious and cultural practices here. Can anyone blame them for feeling angry?

SOVIET SPY KOVAL AND THE ATOMIC BOMB

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

It is fascinating to learn of yet another important Soviet spy, Koval, against American interests during the World War II era.

There was MacLean, Philby, Fuchs, and a number of others touching America, and the remarkable Sorge in Japan. There may well have been a very high-ranking spy, too, in Hitler's bunker.

A senior Soviet intelligence official, Sudoplatov, in his memoirs claimed Oppenheimer also worked for the Soviets.

I don't think it is any surprise, nor does it have to do particularly with the 'viciousness' of KGB and GRU.

America not only wanted to keep a monopoly on the terrible weapon - even its ally, Britain, who had once been more advanced than the US in nuclear-weapons research, was cut off from information after a while despite a signed treaty - but we know the US had every intention to use it.

And use it they did, on Japan, on a civilian target, twice. One of the main secret purposes of the atomic attack on Japan was as a threat to Russia, and Stalin well understood this.

Later, the Pentagon - the psychopath, Gen LeMay, for one comes to mind - actually planned a surprise attack on the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons. MacArthur of course wanted to use nuclear weapons on China.

Men like MacLean and Philby were well aware the McCarthy-crazed United States was actually considering further use of atomic weapons.

I'm sure there were rumors and whispers, and I suspect there was actually considerable sympathy with men like MacLean against the US in MI6. After all, the U.S. hadn't hesitated before and it often behaved quite high-handedly

I feel sure that preventing this catastrophe was a major part of the Soviet spies’ motivation. They were idealistic, not motivated by money, hard as that is for Americans to understand.

Likely the world over all has benefited from their spy work.

We've seen recently how crazed an unopposed America can behave. This happening with nuclear weapons through the 60s and 70s is a frightening idea.

Don't forget, despite Soviet and Chinese weapons, Nixon considered using nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Utter insanity.

VIRGINIA CAMPUS MURDER AND AMERICAN VIOLENCE

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

It does seem to me that all the "our thoughts go out" and "our prayers are with" and other trite expressions serve only to say nothing in a polite way.

They remind me of plastic wreaths on graves.

H. Rapp Brown had it right decades ago: "Violence is as American as cherry pie."

It's why the murder rate is highest in the advanced world.

It's why America spends as much on the military as the entire rest of the planet.

It's why America is the world's largest arms merchant.

And, of course, it's why there are so many pointless, bloody wars like Iraq.

It's why Hate Radio is such an important part of popular culture.

The nation is so steeped in violence that all discussions of steps like meaningful gun control seem hopelessly dreamy.

I reckon it will take the best part of a century for America to become a fully civilized member of the community of nations.

SCRIPTURE AND SCIENCE COMPATIBLE?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

I sincerely doubt it, unless there already was an underlying conflict concerning the truth of his or her faith.

Believing in the absolute truth, applying to all of humanity, of some 2,500 year-old pieces of papyrus found by chance in one tiny portion of the planet is a pretty-unscientific notion, to say the least.

There is no reason on earth for these to contain any more universal truth than the Iliad or an ancient Chinese text.

Indeed, since many of the passages appear to have been written by mentally-unbalanced authors - fair portions of the Old Testament and certainly The Revelations - there is far less reason to accept it as truth.

A scientist would also understand the almost-zero probability of total texts passing down this way. Partial or corrupt, yes.

Of course, if the Deity’s power is such as it is portrayed, we may well ask why He or She needed raving old men to write things down in the first place?

FUNDAMENTALIST CHRISTIANS AND POLITICS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

The Pilgrims were not escaping religious persecution. That is a myth.

The various Puritan sects behaved obnoxiously in Europe.

Some ran through the ancient cathedrals smashing statues and stained glass and destroying manuscripts.

Others literally made a point of attending the religious meetings of others and shouting and behaving obnoxiously.

Others wrote ugly books and tracts that today read as genuine hate-speech.

They broke laws all over Europe.

Few Americans understand that the Puritans were escaping the results of their own fury and obtuseness when they sailed for America.

And they brought their nasty culture to American shores. They were happy killers of aboriginal people. They passed repressive laws in any community where they dominated.

How many Americans I wonder knew that burning effigies of the Pope became an American custom for many decades on the East Coast?

How many Americans know that one of the genuine underlying causes for the Revolution was anti-Catholic attitudes that burst out with Parliament's passing of the Quebec Act?

This was portrayed by many colonists as putting them under the Pope, using furious language exactly like that we would find in Northern Ireland in the 1960s.

Movements favoring superstition and ignorance and intolerance have little worthwhile to contribute to politics or any other institution today.

The public comments of Falwell, Robertson, and Franklin Graham may be somewhat less unpleasant than those of John Knox, a truly hideous man, but they contribute nothing worth having.

PAKISTAN AND MUSHARRAF AND BUSH'S REAL INTENTIONS IN CRITICIZING HIM

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

Well, anything which causes grief to the gang of criminals in the White House must have some redeeming value.

Sarcasm aside, here we go again with destructive outcomes from the Afghan and Iraq invasions.

All the U.S. cares about in Pakistan is the border and the movement of Taleban supporters. This completely ignores the fact that there is no genuine border in the Durand Line.

Families on both sides belong to the same tribal group and speak the same language and share religion and customs.

Yet somehow, Gen Musharraf is supposed to suppress this historic reality in favor of what armchair experts on the Potomac think should be done.

America's so-called war on terror is thus translated into a real war inside Pakistan, tearing apart families and causing needless harm.

The U.S. has put immense pressure on Musharraf, even to sending over Ms Bhutto whose own record is a sorry one.

At the same time, the Taleban have now taken control of two provinces from the corrupt warlord governors the U.S. used in its invasion.

The situation in Afghanistan, according to good critical observers in Britain and other places, is almost hopeless.

On another front, we have the PKK attacking Turkey, and note the total hypocrisy of the White House reaction. Israel killed more than thousand people and left a million cluster-bomb bomblets on the flimsy excuse of having two soldiers kidnapped.

The attack on Turkish forces was a serious one, yet the White House prevents Turkey from responding, going to the extreme apparently of influencing the release of kidnap victims.

The October death toll in Iraq was higher than the month before, even though official American sources make loud claims of reduced violence. The only real change is the frequency and location of bombs.

American soldiers now frequently speak of the hopeless mess in Iraq. None of this is widely reported by establishment newspapers.

America has left huge open wounds across the region, yet still the madman in the White House threatens more, an attack on Iran, a country which has attacked no one and is threatened itself on many sides.

LIFE OF THE MIND - WOLFOWITZ AND THE AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

The American Enterprise Institute?

Oh please, this outfit is a propaganda mill posing as an academic institution.

Its appointees remind me of the actors on television headache commercials, the ones in white lab coats and carrying charts, posing as doctors or scientists, but only pitching a product.

There is no range of views at outfits like this. There are selected candidates who are then given selected briefs to promote. At best they are well-financed idea pitchmen.

It is precisely oufits like this that long advocated the toppling of Hussein.

That was good advice, wasn’t it?

Many of them now are pitching bombing Iran or toppling the government of Venezuela.

INTERNET EDUCATION

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

Yes, I'm sure they can, so long as there are good, responsive people at the other end of the cable.

I think the general public should very much welcome this development.

First, finally we have a potential competitor that can eventually knock the teachers' union off its perch. The union has abused the public for decades, always asking for more privileges, always offering students less, ands always defending the indefensible, including poor teachers.

Second, there are potentially immense savings to taxpayers here with the need for fewer buildings that are lighted, heated, and staffed and a reduction in the fleets of buses operating daily. This is genuinely “green” stuff.

Third, America has become, to a great extent, a de-centralized society, a suburban society. As sprawl continues, the costs of facilities and transportation rise greatly owing to a lack of economies of scale. Just as subways and other forms of costly transportation cannot be supported by suburban populations, so as population goes further and further out, quality schools become more costly per capita to support.

Fourth, because lessons may be done at any time, there are benefits to students who have a hard time adjusting to a fixed beginning time every morning. Lessons may also easily be repeated until mastered. At the other end of the cable, teachers too will benefit from this. Marking and setting tasks may be done at any time too. This will be especially attractive to part-timers.

Fifth, at least potentially, the average quality of teachers may improve. The Internet will attract many capable and interesting experts who would not find it easy to enter, or adjust to, the educational bureaucracy. Also, some of our genuinely talented teachers will be recording their lessons to be used by millions in future. And there will be some wonderful part-timers.

Sixth, the educational establishment as political creature will begin to decline.

HIP HOP, FOUL SPEECH, AND HATE

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

This really is a drink-or-the-drinker argument. It can't be decided.

What we can say is that the foul language of a fair amount of hip-hop tells us something not very pleasant about our society, much as it would were there drunks wandering around commonly, puking and peeing on the streets.

I am being generous characterizing the language as 'foul.'

The truth is a good deal of it is hate-speech, pure and simple. Truly ugly stuff, full of prejudice, paranoia, and name-calling.

This kind of speech would not be tolerated were it more narrowly focused, yet it is every bit as vicious and ignorant as, say, anti-Semitism.

But there is a great deal of hate speech tolerated in America, especially of a political nature. It floods the radiowaves. Its chief practitioners are 'celebrities.' They are extremely well financed.

I'm not an advocate of censorship, but I very much admire the exercise of good judgment and civility. Those are the qualities almost totally missing from American society today.

THOUGHTS ON GERALD FORD'S DEATH

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

Ford enjoyed a brief moment of genuine popularity as the world breathed a sigh of relief over Nixon’s ugly collapse and Agnew’s disgrace (often forgotten today was Agnew’s receiving right in his Washington office brown paper bags of pay-off cash from contractors in his home state).

But Ford’s whole long career contains little of which to be proud.

An extremely conservative Congressman, comparable in tenor to Dick Cheney today.

A mediocre President except for his early moments of national re-assurance.

A rather dismal ex-President who gave relatively little of his time to benefit the world, spending much of his time on the golf course.

And no one should forget Ford’s shameful role in the Warren Commission, that shabby prosecutor’s brief that passed for an investigation into a revolutionary event. He was its most vocal defender, often having been proved wrong in light of subsequent evidence.

THOUGHTS ON CASTRO RETIRING

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

I don't defend dictators, but there are qualities about Castro every open-minded person must admire.

I was a young man when he first liberated Cuba, and many of my generation first regarded him as a heroic figure. It is not widely known now, but the style of military cap he wore became for a while a pop-culture item in the United States.

He stood up to American bullying, and he did it with flair and intelligence. Who does not admire the little guy who stands up to bullying?

American interests in Cuba had been to a great extent gambling, nightclubs, prostitution, and other dark activities. Castro did largely end this, making an enemy of the American Mafia interests who owned what had been goldmines.

Castro did genuinely try to help his people, and he did some very worthwhile things.

In a poor country, the average 8th grader is better educated, by far, than he or she is in the United States. Tests and observations have shown this many times. His health care system and medical training were remarkable achievements.

He resisted numerous attempts on his life by the CIA and its agents, he resisted an invasion, and he withstood a senseless embargo.

These facts tell us something about Castro not widely appreciated in the U.S. He was a popular figure despite having opponents just as all politicians do.

I was looking on the Internet for information on Cuban travel a couple of years ago, and I came across some comments from Americans who had managed to sidestep the ridiculous restrictions on travel. One man wrote, I'll never forget, along the lines, "It's a great place. Get there quickly before the U.S. gets back in and screws everything up."

He stands at the center of several major historical events of the 20th century. The Missile Crisis, of course. His position in this was not as unreasonable as Americans often think. He simply wanted the same security that American tactical weapons offered Western Europe at the time. The U.S. never stopped threatening him, attempting to kill him, and supporting and arming some vicious Cuban émigrés who regularly shot things up from boats and blew things up in Cuba. It was a bigger terror establishment by far down near New Orleans and other locations than the mountain redoubt of Osama, and it was government sponsored to the tune of millions.

And there can be little doubt that at least part of the plot to assassinate Kennedy revolved around an effort to discredit Cuba, perhaps making an invasion possible. I’ve always thought the violent émigrés who came to hate Kennedy for his settlement with the Soviets were behind the assassination.

BUSH SPEECH ON WITHDRAWAL

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

What an utterly dishonest speech, truly bordering on delusion.

Note Bush’s absurd words about opposition to this hateful, illegal war.

In effect, he said Americans who oppose it are contributing to slowing the return of troops.

After all these years, it’s still a form of “you’re either with us or against us” for this man of limited intellect and even more limited emotional capacity.

He is simply an idiot.

AMERICAN COLLEGES AND EDUCATION

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

The answer is simple: behave like colleges and universities in the first place. Higher education is supposed to mean something.

Despite America's great institutions, the nation has a huge number of highly questionable colleges and universities. Post-secondary education has become seriously debased in the United States.

Part of the problem is the post-war idea of "my kid's goin' to college," no matter whether he or she is genuine college material. The whole American education system has stretched itself to fit this notion.

Inflated grades in high school are a scandal in the country. There are places where 70% of the students end up on the honor roll, reducing the concept of distinction to meaninglessness. Universities can't even depend on transcripts to tell them anything. That is why the SAT/ACT tests have become important. The tests function as filters.

But many places either do not use these tests or weight them very differently. Also, even the prestigious universities use special criteria for some, as for example the sons and daughters of the well-off.

We have institutions giving "degrees" in subjects like circus or recreational management. We have colleges where half the students are in a soft subject like education. They churn out what might be called bare-foot teachers for the thousands of poor public schools in America. Because standards of admission are low, they are naturally admitting many who can't finish even a soft course.

Can any thinking person truly believe George Bush got into Yale by his competitive standing? Can anyone believe he honestly graduated without either paid assistance with his assignments or a great deal of "consideration" from instructors under pressure from administration? Many such admissions end up leaving or being kicked out eventually. Bush managed to slip through.

The American tradition of athletic scholarships, always a very questionable practice, has become a disgrace. Young people of absolutely no academic inclination or potential are given scholarships to play for teams whose function is donation-gathering.

It's just a cheap trick, and it effectively cheapens the meaning of university because again administration needs for money and prestige (in athletics) over-ride academics.

If schools want teams to garner donations from alumni, they should simply pay the players for what they do. This would bring more benefit to them and more credit to the institution. As it is, the young people either do not graduate or graduate with meaningless degrees in return for bringing in the crowds to "homecoming."

AMERICAN IGNORANCE OF OTHER LANDS - EXPLANATIONS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

Because Americans have a large and complex society, they take less interest in others.

But this is reinforced by affluence – the rich are generally indifferent to others anywhere - and a degree of genuine xenophobia, this last being quite apparent to outside observers in many events as in the recent ridiculous noise about a Spanish translation of the national anthem.

But there is also the deliberate influence of the Washington establishment. Americans are distant from their national government. Sometimes it appears as a Roman power ruling over a conquered people. This is a function of an outdated 18th century constitution and prejudices about central governments that have been there since the dawn.

The Washington establishment uses and abuses these attitudes. Take Bush's ignorant remark in 2000 about never reading the international section of the newspapers or the boast of a number of conservative congressmen about never holding a passport or stepping outside the country.

The really sad thing is that America's establishment starts so many colonial wars and follows so many questionable policies, and the people are virtually cut off from the process, just accepting it all as almost inevitable.

In effect in foreign policy, for all these reasons, America does not act like a democracy. The one-percent or so of the world's population active in American politics behaves like an autocracy towards the other 99% of humanity. They get no vote on matters deeply affecting them. How is this different than the role of the Chinese Communist Party - about 1% of the population - in China's internal affairs?

It's not.

DE-SENSITIZED TO VIOLENCE AND THE KILLER AT NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY

POSTED RESPONSE TO COLUMN IN THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR

Desensitized to violence?

Good Lord, look at the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A million dead souls in Iraq and a great city where half the people still don't even have water.

When a man like the one who did this shooting decides he will strike out against injustices he alone perceives, how is he behaving any differently than the American government at its highest level?

America left three million dead in Vietnam, left a sea of poisonous Agent Orange and millions of landmines to cripple farmers for decades.

All for nothing. How is this in any way different than the acts of such a man?

Again, Israel's brutal assault on Lebanon, killing 1500 people and leaving behind a million hideous cluster-bomb bomblets to cripple for years. The deliberate targeting of UN observers?

All this done on the most feeble excuse. All done for nothing.

We even have a Prime Minister who saw nothing wrong with the barbarism, even calling into question the murdered UN workers who bravely stayed at their post.

Where do we find the ethical base to discuss a man like this?

Sadly, we have none. We are a planet of nasty chimpanzees.

ISRAEL AND THE FALSE NOTION OF PALESTINIANS USING NON-VIOLENT RESISTANCE

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY JONATHON FREEDLAND IN THE GUARDIAN

I don't know whether Mr Freedland is naive or dishonest.

He offers up the same dishonest idea that has long been pushed by the New York Times' Thomas Friedman, aluminium-siding salesman for the Pentagon.

Friedman has long preached the notion of the Palestinians copying Dr. King's non-violent movement in the American South.

But, except for the fact of an oppressed and abused people, there are virtually no parallels to the two situations.

First, in a number of Southern states, the blacks were actually the majority population (of course, this was true for Ghandi's campaign in British India too). Being a majority is a powerful tool.

Two, the Palestinians are splintered into many pieces both by geography and by the dark arts Israel has worked for fifty years.

As an example of the latter, we have the fact that Israel secretly supported Hamas for years to create an opposition to Arafat's party, something that is now a fact Israel turns around and claims is hopeless.

Three, American blacks ultimately had the federal courts and the Bill of Rights on their side.

There is no Bill of Rights in Israel. How do you create one for a state based on religious/ethnic identity? Impossible.

Four, American blacks received huge contributions of money and manpower from other parts of the United States.

This is literally impossible in Israel. The laws and abusive security apparatus make anyone's going there with the intention of assisting the people Israel regards as enemies liable to arrest, abuse, and deportation.

Sending money will earn you a place on America's Terror Lists and perhaps arrest.

Five, Israel controls almost everything - water, fuel, electricity, supplies of every description, air travel, imports, etc.

The South never came near to having such a chokehold on its black citizens.

Six, Israel has shown many times its willingness to be barbaric and ruthless in its efforts against those it regards as enemies.

Despite all the headlines of the time, Bull Connor's police dogs look pretty ineffectual compared to Israel’s recent slaughter and cluster-bombing in Lebanon.

How many times has Israel killed thirty or forty or fifty people in one week, many or most civilians? What about its previous bloody invasion of Lebanon, killing tens of thousands? Its attack on an American spy ship during the Six Day War, killing many of its crew? Its killing of prisoners on the desert in the same war? Its use of torture and illegal imprisonment?

Israel’s own founding was marked by a great deal of terrorism.

Passive resistance would never work for Palestinians. My God, the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi only weeks ago said they should all be rounded up and put on the Sinai Desert for a state. A noted Israeli military historian has written a few years ago of Israel’s using a moving barrage of artillery to drive the Palestinians out of their land. And there have been many other prominent Israelis who’ve spoken this way.

There will only be peace when Israel begins treating Palestinians as humans and neighbors and when it gives up on the idea of Greater Israel and when it dismantles its garrison state.

VISION AND BRITAIN'S PRIME MINISTER BROWN

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY JONATHON FREEDLAND IN THE GUARDIAN

Oh please, Jonathon Freedland, if you knew how tiresome it is to go on about "vision."

This delusional concept started in corporate America, then it oozed into public education, and now it contaminates politics.

What people need is competent, intelligent, and sympathetic government, not "visions."

Twisted minds like Blair and Bush have "visions," and they ain't pretty.

The world will be a better place with fewer visions and more decent, rational governance.

ESSAY WRITING AND UNIVERSITIES

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY JOHN MULLAN IN THE GUARDIAN

John Mullan makes a very weak argument here, trying to bolster it by dropping the names of many essayists and toying with the notion of peculiarities in British academics' attitudes towards essays.

It is actually quite fatuous to pooh-pooh essay writing while showing off your knowledge of its past greats.

It's a form of saying, 'Look, I know what I'm talking about here, so pay attention.' A cheap rhetorical trick if ever there was one.

It really does not matter whether you use the term 'essay' or 'paper' or 'term paper' or any other, what matters is a university student's ability to organize ideas and write them in a clear and interesting way.

The fact is that this kind of writing represents a set of skills likely to remain important until machines take over as the world's next dominant species.

I do not know the precise standard of undergraduate writing in Britain, but from the many references I see, it appears very much on its way down.

I can only assure British readers that the bottom is still a long way down, using the standard at American post-secondary institutions. Readers would be stunned by the poor writing skills now widely displayed in America.

Of course there is still good writing and of course there are institutions that still have standards. America over the last half century has developed a bizarre system in which almost anyone can get a BA, but not all BAs are equal.

It's just a new form of the old snobbish exclusivity with an elaborate show of democratic values in the world of academics.

Everyone's kid gets to go to 'college' even though many of the degrees are worthless and qualify you only for jobs that not many years ago were filled by people graduating high school. Those going to Harvard or the University of Chicago still have a value that cannot be touched by graduates of Liberty U.

In effect, young people today in America pay for what high school should have done for them, and that is passing the basic entrance requirement for entry into decent employment.

Of course, in an ever more technical and information-intense world, people must improve their education. What is needed are purely technical and polytechnical schools, closely associated with the needs of industry. But the American system only does that to a limited extent.

After all, roughly the same proportions of the population are bright or dull as before. You do not change that with grade inflation and near-universal access to university.

You just end up changing the meaning of what it is to graduate and you devalue the coin of the academic world by having people who cannot write and who do not have a great many other traditional academic skills.

SCIENCE AND RELIGION

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE GUARDIAN

Science indeed has been a remarkable success at explaining our world. The progress in the last 500 years is astounding.

Religion has succeeded in explaining nothing. Its devotees pretend that it exists in a spiritual world, but we have no idea what that is.

Not only that, but since there are hundreds of religions, there is not even one consistent idea of the spiritual world.

Religion undoubtedly started as a primitive attempt to explain the world, but its explanations do not change or progress as do the explanations of science.
This fact is viewed by devotees as unchanging truth rather than the intellectual dead end that it truly is.

Of course, even the best scientist may have a private life of rich in superstition. As long as the superstitions don't cross over, no one cares.

But they do sometimes cross over, and that's when they deserve our condemnation. The current raging popularity of 'creationism' in the United States is certainly an instance of this, a clear and ridiculous attempt to use science as explaining a belief.

Religion earns our contempt with this sort of thing. Keep it in your churches and temples, and truly no one cares what you believe. Drag it into science or government, and you become an enemy of free thought and democratic values.

THE UNIVERSE'S MEANING

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE GUARDIAN

Explain the Cosmos?

True meaning?

The universe just is.

Science, by the way, gave up the 19th century concept of laws long ago.
Science offers conjectures that get firmed up into theories by testing, but they never become laws.

Each really major breakthrough in physics brings us to a new level of generality under which old 'laws' become special cases.

There is no 'meaning' in any of this, just increased understanding and ability to manipulate phenomena in our favor.

BHUTTO AND MUSHARRAF AND ELECTIONS NOW

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE GUARDIAN

It is a simple fact that Bhutto was following, at least to a considerable extent, an "American agenda."

I'm sure her doing this was not deliberate, but good people do sometimes end up serving bad purposes inadvertently.

She genuinely thought she understood what was best for Pakistan, but there is considerable reason to believe she was seriously mistaken.

From the American (read: Bush/Cheney) point of view, she was a tool, not a savior of democracy, but a contributor to more effective American policy in the region.

America wants Pakistan reduced to a quasi-occupied country, one where there is no effective objection to its policies in the region. Those policies include the free run of American special forces through large parts of the country, spreading insensitive brutality in countless villages.

Right now the only thing standing between Pakistan and this status is Musharraf.

As for democracy, a meaningful version of it is a long way off in such a backward economy married to backward ways.

Bhutto offered only the gloss of democracy to a situation inherently uncomfortable with it.

Musharraf is trying to do something along the lines of Ataturk in Turkey, while keeping the country's integrity, a mighty battle when you have the full force of Washington's propaganda and influence attacking and undermining you.

I wish Pakistan nothing but the best, and I'm pretty sure that doesn't include America's special forces thugs ranging over the landscape terrorizing people.

CHERIE BLAIR AND RETIREMENT

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY YVONNE ROBERTS IN THE GUARDIAN

Cherie Blair is a national embarrassment.

Great gaping yawns in public, photographed to last for all time.

Special personal assistants striving to mend her tendency to slouchy, gum-chewing behavior.

Absurdly expensive haircuts, intended to make a ripe plum from a prune, all done at the expense of others.

Vapid speeches done for profit on the American rubber-chicken circuit, displaying not an ounce of awareness of the dignity expected of her position, the funds being destined to pay the mortgage on a pretentious house beyond her family's means.

Blair is a criminal, but Cherie is an idiot.

Whatever she does in retirement, we can be sure it will be air-headed, if not downright squalid.

J.S. MILL AND LIBERTY AND THE NEW WORLD OF TECHNOLOGY

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY ROY HATTERSLEY IN THE GUARDIAN

I might not agree with all Roy Hattersley concludes from his general proposition about some of J.S. Mill's concepts of liberty being obsolete, but I do very much agree with that proposition.

His points about tobacco smoke and greenhouse gases are sound. Science can change our fundamental understanding of some liberties, even while it unfortunately does not always make immediately clear the appropriate adjustments or remedies.

Mill was an economist, yet generations of economic thought has developed important concepts with which Mill was ignorant.

An important example of this is the concept of externalities. An externality happens when someone exercising an economic right causes damage to the rights of others. The clearest example of this is why we have zoning regulation in cities. If someone were to build a slaughterhouse next door to your Mayfair mansion, the value of your property and the enjoyment you derive from it would disappear immediately.

Only regulation overcomes externalities. Markets, while powerful and vital, can not overcome externalities. Every market-oriented economist recognizes this fact today.

Another example from economics. Modern economists understand the importance of costs and prices reflecting all the inputs consumed in manufacturing anything. Air and water are often supposedly free, but they are not really free in a deeper sense. Indeed, one of the most important ideas for environmental problems is the need to reflect the full cost of resources in prices.

Whatever set of intellectual concepts you may make about society, with the ever-increasing increasing rate of change now underway in economic, social, and political matters - all triggered by now constant technological change - it will before long become at least in part out of date.

This is not an argument for accepting what is clearly unacceptable, torture, illegal imprisonment, assassination - all the horrible things represented today by the United States Torture Gulag Establishment abroad.

But it is an argument for society's coming to grips with the challenges represented by the changing nature of human society.

Developments in genetics, robotics, and computerization will challenge many of our traditional concepts.

A few examples.

Computerization should before long make genuine democracy a real, practical possibility. Should we continue to have the aging 18th century traditions of a legislature and elected representatives?

At the very least, who should decide momentous affairs in future like going to war? Likely as the possibility become a practical reality, legislators deciding such matters will become as obsolete as princes doing so.

A complete brain transplant will be possible in coming decades. The moral and aesthetic and social implications of this are horrendous. How should it be handled?

Custom-made babies, with desired characteristics engineered and other excluded, is on the horizon. How do we deal with this momentous development?

LITVENENKO, PUTIN, AND THE USE OF ASSASSINATION BY AMERICA AND ISRAEL

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE GUARDIAN

It is a platitude to say that we must take such murders seriously. In fact, we don't.

If Litvinenko was under threat, why wasn't he protected in Britain, as Rushdie was?

Putin has enjoyed almost complete freedom of action for his murderous crimes in Chechnya. Why? Because Bush granted it to him in exchange for silence on Iraq.

If you want to level charges at Putin, it is ridiculous without also leveling them at Bush, or for that matter, Bush's obnoxious mascot, Blair.

One has to ask in a time when political assassination is almost ordinary, why the highly selective focus on Putin? The word 'terror' today is used almost exactly the way Stalin used 'wreckers.' When Stalin started talking about wreckers of the revolution, it was time for a new round of murder.

The word 'terrorist' has become a code-word and a justification for brutal excess.

Apart from many hundreds of civilians killed, Israel assassinates other people almost weekly, sometimes daily. The deaths are brushed off in our press as the deaths of militants or extremists or terrorists without any scrutiny.

The United States spent years and millions of dollars trying to assassinate Castro. While it failed, it did assassinate a number of others who were less well loved and guarded.

Today Bush protects a man who blew up a Cuban airliner full of people from justice in Venezuela. The recent savage attack on a madrassa in Pakistan, killing eighty people, almost all of them teenagers, was certainly the work of the United States.

Assassination is either morally wrong (as I believe), or it's not. This focus on Putin seems contrived. We in the West who claim love for justice and human rights cannot accept assassination selectively as we have.

No more than we should accept torture, but then we have accepted that, too, haven't we?

ISRAEL AND HIZBOLLAH

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY JONATHON FREEDLAND IN THE GUARDIAN

Jonathon Freedland is right, although I think some of his points need re-weighting.

Nothing is more dishonest and tiresome in the comments than this kind of stuff we read above: "Islamist fundamentalists who declare their goal openly to destroy the state of Israel and kill Jews."

There is simply no possibility that Israel can be destroyed by Islamic fundamentalists. No matter what declarations they may make, the destruction of Israel is simply a fantasy. This is not so because of Israel's willingness to kill and kill and kill, but because of American and other guarantees. It is also so because no Arab state any longer genuinely believes this is a sensible or possible goal.

Israel moved into a bad neighborhood, and it understood this from the beginning, yet it behaves as though everyone should suddenly act as though they lived in Disney-like suburb with white-picket fences. Israel's behavior is explained largely by this delusional expectation.

If Israel had spent half of what it has spent on war over the last fifty years in helping its neighbors and building up their economic status, the region would be a far better place today. And if Israel had been willing to make reasonable concessions to the needs of others in the region, there might well be lasting peace there today.

But no, the response has always been war and assassination and illegal arrest and torture, maintaining "the iron wall." Duplicity has often played a significant role, as in events leading up to the Six Day War, partly engineered by Israel, knowing it could gain an overwhelming victory and considerable patches of land. There is some evidence that the Israeli soldiers kidnapped at the beginning of current events were actually kidnapped in Lebanon on a provocative mission. I have no idea whether this true, but it is far from improbable. It certainly provided an excuse for bombing the hell out of southern Lebanon while again intimidating all other interested parties.

Anyone who reminds Israelis that they really do live in a bad neighorhood (of their own choosing) is simply flattened. But flattening the perpetrators is never enough for Israel. Always it takes the lives of innocents and destroys their property too. It believes, as a further delusion, that such ruthlessness will eventually intimidate everyone for miles around.

I am sure if Israel had its way, the two or three hundred mile perimeter around Israel's border (whatever that is) simply would be paved over.

This is utterly unrealistic. It is just as impossible as the destruction of Israel.

What is the solution? So seemingly simple an act as negotiating with its neighbors and sorting things out. Israel has never yet honestly done this. It presents only an iron wall, bristling with weapons, to its neighbors.

Israel holds all the cards. It has the advanced weapons, and the atomic bombs. The Palestinians and Hizbollah are pathetically weak opponents. Israel always talks peace, but never behaves as though it were anything but a useful word.

The very existence of Hizbollah and Hamas is largely the work of Israel's behavior. Hizbollah grew out of Israel's totally-illegal previous invasion, killing thousands, and occupation of Lebanon. The organization really was what Ronald Reagan might have called one for freedom fighters. Hamas was created in part by Israeli intelligence to offset the influence of the PLO and introduce instability into Palestinian politics.

Now, Israel wants us to believe these organizations are evidence of Islamist wishes to kill all Israelis. Nonsense, and as long as that is the overly-simplified view of them there can be no understanding and no sensible approach to peace. You can't build peace on delusional fantasies.

I said Israel could not be destroyed by anyone, but there is an exception to that statement. Israel could be destroyed by itself.

CHANGING JEWISH OPINION ON ISRAEL

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE GUARDIAN

It's about time.

Jews have always been leaders in political and social criticism. They've always been leaders in scientific and artistic work, work that absolutely requires independence of mind.

But on the subject of Israel, especially over the last decade or two, the lack of independent Jewish views is almost frightening.

Genuinely frightening is the sense one gets of a people who insist that up is down, black is white, and you are evil to question either assertion.

I believe this represents an unacknowledged awareness of how terribly wrong Israel has been in recent years, of how brutal its tactics have been, of how ruthless some of its leaders are.

There is wish to make these realities fade away and cling to the dream that inspired the creation of Israel originally.

But, of course, that is as unrealistic as it is immoral.

Reality eventually comes crashing back to all wishful thinkers, and just so to Jews who have worked to suppress the notion that there just might be something wrong with the way Israel has behaved.

One can only hope this eventually leads to peace, genuine peace with equal rights for all in the region.

Right now, it is impossible to distinguish any moral or ethical impulse in the policies of Israel towards its neighbors, much as it is impossible to distinguish any such impulse in the ugly behavior of the United States today towards much of the world.

American behavior today is sometimes described as the "Iraelization" of American foreign policy. That this can be said says a great deal about Israel.

IRAN, ISRAEL, AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE GUARDIAN

Talk about the destruction of Israel is absolutely paranoid fantasy nonsense.

For years Israel charged Russia with anti-Semitism, and Russia has plenty of nuclear weapons. Nothing has ever happened.

Pakistan has a very large fundamentalist Muslim population, and its intelligence service actually assisted al Qaeda. It is a nuclear power, and nothing has ever happened.

Iran has every right to possess nuclear weapons to defend itself. It is almost surrounded by hostile powers, and it was attacked with no justification by Iraq, fighting a long and horrible war.

There is no reason, other than believing Israeli propaganda, to believe that Iran would attack Israel with nuclear weapons, absolutely none. It would be national suicide since Israel has deliberately built an arsenal roughly the size of Britain's for just this purpose.

Israel and the supporters of her excesses, like paranoid schizophrenics muttering madness on the street, keep insisting everyone near them is a threat.

Iraq was a threat. Syria is a threat. Lebanon is a threat. Iran is a threat. The Palestinians remaining in Israel are a threat (An Israeli Rabbi, head of an ultra-orthodox party, has called for their extermination).

The Palestinians around Israel are a threat (although what is "around" remains undefined since Israel refuses to define its borders and keeps taking the property of others). Europeans are a threat (a well-known Israeli military historian has threatened Europe with the reach of Israel's nuclear weapons).

Critics of Israel are a threat (they all get labeled anti-Semitic). In the U.S., supporters of Israel's excesses have variously advocated an American police state, torture, and, in one atrocious case, the legal murder of all family members of terrorists in Israel.

This has all gone beyond sanity and threatens to drag down the planet with Israel's obsessions. This is the real reason why there is no peace in the Middle East.

IS BUSH THE WORST PRESIDENT?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE GUARDIAN

Does it matter whether he is THE worst?

It seems to me this kind of thing only matters to people fascinated by lists - the ten best...the hundred greatest...etc. - always a trivial and unimaginative way to look at the world.

That Bush ranks with the worst, there is no question. He is provincial, unpleasant, uninspiring, and has only set the United States back in diplomacy, respect, human rights, and social justice.

Observations have leaked from many ministers and aides abroad testifying to the sad impression Bush makes.

His changes to the tax structure of the United States are almost as much a disaster as his foreign policy. He has turned the United States into France in 1781. Apres moi, le deluge.

His financial record is a nightmare.

The full impact of his invasions may not be felt for years. He has made an army of enemies.
Of course, historical assessment, as opposed to journalism, takes many years, but Bush's general position seems clear.

The truth is that the United States has had a pretty unimpressive list of presidents. When they weren't madmen like Jackson (who would have been committed in the 20th century), they were mediocrities like Johnson, Buchanan or Grant. Sometimes they were men of talent but no taste or judgment like Adams or Nixon. There's been a lot of pettiness and an immense amount of ranting jingoism.

Perhaps it is a measure of the weakness of American constitutional arrangements and political structures that the record of its leaders is not more heroic, or at least impressive.

Monday, February 25, 2008

GAZA TROUBLES

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY JONATHON SPYER IN THE GUARDIAN

And who created the situation in Gaza?

Good God, Israel has reduced 1.4 million people to desperation. All the world's humane-minded people were glad to see the people of Gaza breathe some fresh air and buy needed supplies for cooking and general living.

But all spokespeople for Israel see is the possibility of supplies for terror. Paranoid.

And the United States pressures poor Egypt on Israel's behalf to put an end to it, the U.S. having the leverage of its annual payments to Egypt.

I would remind readers that just the other day the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel called for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

According to that learned man the Palestinians are to be dumped in the Sinai Desert and that would be their state.

The irrationality of this outburst, one of many such by prominent Israelis, is in keeping with a state that espouses democracy yet refuses even to speak with democratically elected leaders of their neighbors.

Essentially, Israel is reducing and killing people in Gaza for the sin of voting.

ISRAEL AND HAMAS SHOULD TALK

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY MOUSA MARZOOK IN THE GUARDIAN

There is no more realistic opportunity for peace than Israel's talking to Hamas.

Just in the act of doing so, Israel would be recognizing that there are other interests involved beside its own.

And it is Israel's refusal to recognize that there other interests involved that has prevented any chance at peace for half a century.

Israel has never turned from its harsh policy of "the iron wall," an expression taken from an early Zionist and adopted as its official attitude towards Arabic neighbors.

It seems almost bizarre that the mainstream press never questions Israel's absolute demands and attitudes, as the one that all parties must come to the peace table having already agreed to a whole list of Israel's demands in advance. This is an irrational position, yet it goes unquestioned as though it were perfectly reasonable.

I think there is more chance for a meaningful long-term peace in talking with Hamas than in continuing with the long charade with Fatah, an organization that has lost much of its credibility with Palestinians through its corruption and through accepting Israel's contempt and treatment as inferiors.

All issues do not need to be settled to have peace. Over the coming decades, two nations can gradually build respect and trust. I don't see any other way to peace actually.

But then many in Israel still do not want peace. Greater Israel still beckons. Netanyahu, a man who has expressed in public his utter contempt for Palestinians, is staging a political come-back.

Much or all of the West's troubles since 9/11 stem from America's completely one-sided support for Israel, effectively showing contempt for Arab interests. A settlement would go a long way towards a more peaceful future for everyone.

HAMAS AND ISRAEL NEGOTIATING

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY ZVI HEIFETZ IN THE GUARDIAN

What an utterly disingenuous piece of writing Mr Heifetz offers.

"Israel has put its money where its mouth is, releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and freeing huge sums in revenues."

Hundreds? Israel released 250, and that only after weeks of fanfare and pumped-up headlines. Israel holds about 9,000 Palestinians arrested illegally and held with no rights.

Freeing huge sums? First, the money is not Israel's to hold. It belongs to the Palestinians.

Israel believes it has the right to withhold the money of others just because it doesn't like the government they elected?

Then, when it gives part of it back and it is only part, it wants to be praised as a peacemaker and a generous spirit. This is simply ridiculous.

As for Hamas, it is just the opposite to what Mr Heifetz says. Talking to Hamas won't destroy prospects for peace, but refusing to will almost certainly.

Heifetz, like all members of the Israeli government, insists on regarding Hamas as a bunch of "terrorists."

Now quite apart from the fact that Israel was in part founded on terror - the Irgun, the Stern gang, blowing up people in the King David Hotel, terrorizing Palestinian areas, and at least one mass murder of Palestinian families intended to make people run in terror - the fact is Hamas is a legitimate organization.

Israel secretly supported it for years to help create opposition for Fatah. It wanted to stir up conflict in the territories, which is precisely what it has succeeded in doing.

You can't pretend a major interest like Hamas does not exist and get peace.

It does not matter at all whether Hamas recognizes Israel. Many governments refuse to recognize other states, including of course Israel's refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Palestine.

The United States went for years without recognizing the Soviet Union. It has gone more than forty years refusing to recognize the government of Castro.

The failure of recognition does not prevent two states from living in peace and with some cooperation.

Were Israel just once to show some largeness of spirit in these matters, there could be real peace. Then, over time, the Palestinians would grow used to cooperation and peace. Eventually recognition would come.

But Israel's position remains - as Mr Heifetz's words confirm without intending to - that the Palestinians must come to the negotiating table already having met Israel's key demands.

Israel has no idea of what it is to properly negotiate. It simply refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the other parties, saying it won't deal with them until they've already compromised.

Ridiculous and the real reason we have no peace.

GENOCIDE AND DARFUR

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE GUARDIAN

Mr. Reynolds truly doesn't understand what he's talking about.

Few words are more abused today than 'genocide.' When relatively small groups of people are killed in places of interest to the West (ie. Serbia), it is genocide.

When millions are killed in places of little interest to the West (ie. Rwanda), it is ignored, except of course for the sensational news coverage after the fact.

I am not sure exactly what horror is taking place in Darfur, but I do know that when the murderous, lying Bush administration declares something a 'genocide,' we had better be careful about agreeing.

More broadly, when has any nation or international organization stood in the way of genocide in the post-war period? Most importantly, has the US ever opposed genocide, other than with words? It is the US which holds political and economic sway over international agencies like the UN, and it is the US which has the military power to do something.

We have had several genocides in the last fifty years.

We had a genocide in Rwanda (around a million killed). The US simply refused to use the word internally so that they could ignore it.

We had a genocide in Cambodia (over a million killed), caused by America's de-stabilizing of the once peaceful country with its bombing and secret invasion. When tough little Viet Nam went in to do something, the US stood back and said, 'See, we told you, the domino theory at work!'

We had a genocide in Indonesia with the fall of Sukarno. Five hundred-thousand people, vaguely identified as communists, had their throats cut and their bodies dumped into rivers. Not only did the US not react, there were officials at state department phones late into the night transmitting names of candidates.

I would argue, too, that America's slaughter in Vietnam was a genuine genocide, the greatest of the post-war period. About three million were killed, mostly civilians, for no reason other than embracing the wrong economic system.

'Never again' is a slogan - we've proved that in the last fifty years - and, like all slogans, it is selectively applied to sell something.

HIROSHIMA

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY OLIVER KAMM IN THE GUARDIAN

Mr Kamm makes a thoughtless and dangerous argument.

You might say that the atomic bomb was no more terrible than the terrible fire bombing that that American madman, General Lemay, relentlessly pursued.

You might say that the atomic bombing was no different in killing only civilians.

But you cannot say that it wasn't a war crime. They were all war crimes.

America also passed an important psychological and moral threshold with these acts, something that enabled it to start murdering 3 million people in Vietnam, mostly civilians, twenty years later, leaving the place a ghastly junkyard of Agent Orange and landmines. It was, quite simply, the greatest war crime since the Holocaust.

And perhaps more terrible for all our futures, the United States made these unthinkable weapons thinkable and usable.

GLOBAL LEADERSHIP AND THE U.S.

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN MICHAEL BOYLE IN THE GUARDIAN

Oh please, global leadership and the United States make an oxymoron expression.

The United States exercises raw financial, economic, and military power. Full stop.

There hasn't been a glimmer of what any thinking person would call leadership from the United States in decades.

My God, it won't even pay its UN bills set by a treaty it signed and helped create.

Numberless colonial wars, interventions, overthrows of democratic governments, and totally irresponsible behavior on the environment and other crucial world issues.

There wouldn't even be a so-called war on terror if it would use its influence on Israel appropriately to get a lasting Mideast settlement.

The US can't control its own appetites yet it constantly shakes its Puritan moral finger at others.

It talks about democracy as it rolls out the B-52s, yet it can't even run a clean presidential election.

HIROSHIMA AND IRAN - FURTHER CONSIDERATION

POSTED FURTHER RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY EDALAT AND SHAHABI IN THE GUARDIAN

Auximinies...

Again a poster too timid to use a name.

But I suppose it's just as well since you simply do not know what you are talking about.

I suggest informing yourself a bit before continuing to make an intellectual ass of yourself.

The Japanese offers of surrender are solid facts. The bombing was entirely unnecessary.

To describe the attack on Pearl Harbor as in the least way comparable is beyond the rational.

The Japanese targeted military ships. They killed a few thousand servicemen. It was as purely a military attack as it was possible to carry out at the time.

How would that be compared to destroying entire cities full of civilians? Especially after they had offered to surrender.

But the U.S. didn't want their surrender, it wanted their reduction as a Pacific competitor.

In fact, many American establishment figures welcomed the Japanese attack. It gave the excuse for going after Japan ruthlessly. Japan had been viewed as an unwelcome growing competitor for years.

Indeed, it is also an historical fact that Japan had planned not to attack the United States, but when American economic and other measures became so severe, the plan for the attack was made.

Its sole intention was to eliminate the U.S. fleet and thereby its ability to act over any short time horizon in Asia.

There was no issue of 'world domination' except in the minds of the same propagandists who called the purely military attack as 'a day of infamy.'

HIROSHIMA AND IRAN

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY EDALAT AND SHAHABI IN THE GUARDIAN

The savage and truly ignorant comments are piling up on this topic. It is no surprise they come from people too timid to use their own names.

First, America's atomic attack on Japan was completely unnecessary. Every serious student of history knows this.

The Japanese, well before the atrocities, had put out serious feelers telling the Allies that they were ready to surrender, the only proviso being that they be allowed to keep the Emperor.

America summarily ignored these. It insisted on complete, abject, unqualified surrender. It was the epitome of pointless arrogance, a characteristic we so often still see.

In effect, America used two nuclear weapons on civilians over the issue of unqualified surrender versus surrender and keeping the Emperor.

Ironically, the Japanese then were allowed to keep the Emperor.

The U.S. had a second motive for the atomic bombing, one it kept secret. It wanted to prove to Stalin that it was mad enough to actually use the bombs Stalin knew they had.

And so they did, achieving at least two interesting results.

One, Stalin, of course, redoubled his efforts at getting the bomb and he succeeded, undoubtedly benefiting by the guilt of American and British elites. The full story has still not been told, and I think it likely that just as Russia's former master spy, Sudoplatov, claimed, that Oppenheimer himself was involved.

Many highly intelligent people felt it was a moral imperative to not allow America to use its monopoly against the rest of the world. The rise of savage McCarthyism scared many abroad and in the United States, especially in light of America's willingness to annihilate cities.

And they were right to be afraid. In the 1950s, the United States had definite plans to launch a pre-emptive attack on Russia. Madmen like General Lemay were influencing policy.

The British Cambridge spies were partly motivated by their horror at America's behavior. And this horror was shared by a good deal of the British establishment, something which helps explain the luck and success of this circle of spies.

Of course, the effort to demonstrate to Stalin that America was mad enough to use the bomb had echoes decades later during America's holocaust in Vietnam.

Nixon not only seriously considered using nuclear weapons, but he developed the 'madman' theory that resulted in America's horrific mass murder of civilians with carpet bombing.

Nixon wanted to demonstrate to the Vietnamese that he was mad enough to do mad things to frighten them into settling on his terms. If this wasn't state terror and blackmail, nothing ever was.

These are just some of the disastrous results of America's insane decision to use the atomic bomb. It was an utter mistake in every respect.

Any Japanese official who said otherwise is like any official anywhere who says something factually wrong, and of course, there is a faction in Japan which constantly seeks to serve America in the same way Blair has.

ETHICAL FOREIGN POLICY?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY JEREMY BRADSHAW IN THE GUARDIAN

I have a difficult time thinking of a solid example of foreign policy based on ethical considerations.

I wish it were otherwise.

There are certainly examples of foreign policy that happen to be ethical, but it was not the ethical considerations that shaped the policy.

It was still self-interest - although unquestionably a more informed and enlightened version of self-interest - that shaped policies like the Marshall Plan.

The same nation that gave us the Marshall Plan has given us over the last half century dozens of dirty little colonial wars and coups, even against democratic governments.

And it has never once lifted its mighty hand against great injustice, including the genuine, horrific genocides of Indonesia after Sukarno, Cambodia, and Rwanda.

It also long supported apartheid South Africa, until near the end, as it today supports and even subsidizes Israel's apartheid.

We need a world in which it is less possible for any one nation to do as it pleases. We need a multi-polar world, and we need greater, stronger international institutions.

That will be a world in which foreign policy of individual nations becomes less important.

DIVORCE, DAVID CAMERON AND INCENTIVES IN BRITAIN

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY SONIA SODHA IN THE GUARDIAN

David Cameron, indeed, does not understand what drives the changes in marriage, or perhaps he does and is just playing to the crowd that does not understand.

As one reads Ms Sodha, it becomes clear that she is one of the crowd that does not understand the forces at work here.

If we go back about 500 years, it was impossible for ordinary people to divorce.

Yet, princes and other great lords always managed to divorce if that is what they wanted.

Gradually over the centuries, as the middle class grew, the ability to divorce became more widespread, just as the case with the franchise.

Today with a very large and affluent middle class, divorce has become the same kind of option it was for princes centuries ago.

When you have great cumulative economic growth, you always find change in social and political customs. Always.

The choice that people with great wealth exercised centuries ago is precisely the same choice middle class people embrace today.

No monetary incentive can possibly change this, unless that incentive is so great it amounts to a conditional inheritance, something clearly society cannot afford.

Saying otherwise is much like believing you can change modern women's fertility. Women have achieved freedom and control over reproduction, and they are not about to give it up for some small consideration.

Birth rates in every advanced country have dropped to the point where they cannot sustain their population without immigration. A modest bonus of some kind will never change this.

It is part of a basic principle of modern economics that fertility drops with affluence, at least up to a point. Truly great wealth causes the curve to rise, so only a bonus the size of a great inheritance can change this.

Just so people's freedom to divorce.

DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA?

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE GUARDIAN

Does any sensible person really believe America understands what democracy is? Hugo Chavez was elected in a supervised election that was far cleaner than Bush's pathetic performance in 2004.

George Bush was effectively court-appointed to his first term of office, and he had at least half a million votes less than his opponent.

Bush's second term in office was secured through extensive vote fraud, especially in Ohio and Florida. Vote fraud is nothing new to the country. John Kennedy was elected thanks to fraud in Illinois and Texas. And going clear back almost to the beginning, Jefferson was only elected through political wheeling and dealing, having failed to secure a lead in the Electoral College.

The Electoral College, by the way, is one of America's quite anti-democratic provisions of the Constitution. The votes of a small moneyed elite were all that mattered, the popular vote being automatically over-ridden by this institution. The College still exists and can in principle over-ride the popular vote.

Even the popular vote originally was rigged to favor the establishment. You could only vote in the general election if you were white, male, a legal adult, and, most importantly, the owner of what then was a considerable amount of property. It's been estimated that in early Virginia this amounted to about 1% of the population, the same proportion roughly that the Communist Party represents today in China.

Most of America's well-known founders - Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and others - emphatically did not believe in democracy or anything approaching it. Many other provisions of the Constitution - an appointed Senate until 1913, a Senate only elected one-third at a time to avoid taking the effects of currently unpopular policies, a Senate which had, and still has, far more voice in the shape of government than the House of Representatives, having to approve all appointments and treaties - were anti-democratic. Many remain so.

That is why America was called a republic, but in a real sense, it was no more a republic than the Great Britain of George III, a government which formed almost a model for the new American government, the British constitution being greatly admired among the revolutionary leaders in America. A number of America's founders wanted the president to be appointed for life, much like a king. The appointed Senate corresponded to the House of Lords, and the House of Representatives, with its extremely limited popular election, to the House of Commons.

About as many people voted in Britain then, and the king's powers had been declining vis-a-vis Parliament's since Elizabeth the Great. Many other republics, states without kings and with some limited form of voting, pre-dated America. The Dutch Republic, the Swiss Confederation, and the Venetian Republic to name a few.

Money has effectively displaced the College (and appointed Senate) for the power of the elite to influence elections in America. Bush entered his party's nomination race, hardly known in national polls except by his father's name and was a man quite undistinguished in his career, whatever that was, with $77 million stuffed into his pockets. He blew it quickly and it kept being topped up - all before the national election which saw record amounts squandered on meaningless television advertising.

American national elections today are little more than a marketing campaigns between two similar products representing two powerful companies, such as Coke and Pepsi, with a fair bit of fraud and character assassination thrown in.

It is interesting to note how powerful family ties represent a greater and greater influence too in American national politics, a clear sign of the long-term effects of using 18th century concepts as a constitution. The Bushes, the Gores, the Romneys, the Rockefellers, the Kennedys, and many others.

History is one thing, of course, and it is important to the understanding and attitudes of a people. We perhaps should judge American democracy by its actions which include invading pretty much any country its government chooses, violating the free elections of other countries regularly, toppling with coups democratically-elected leaders in many places, supporting the most oppressive regimes whenever it is politically opportune, assassinations, etc.

Condi Rice's disgusting words about children and others torn apart by cluster bombs in Beirut representing the birth pangs of a new Middle East pretty much speaks for itself. Democracy? Democratic values? Nonsense.

ATHEISM AND THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY AND THE AGE OF SCIENCE

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY NIGEL WILLMOTT IN THE GUARDIAN

The analogy is not uninteresting, but in the final analysis, it fails.

What we are facing in the age of science has no precedents.

Science has proven its abilty to work real miracles, ones everyone can see, not re-told tales from papyrus.

The rate of change worked by science and technology only increases.

We have, for the first time in human history, literally an army of scientists working full-time everywhere. Any nation would fear not to join the race for scientific discovery.

New areas of work, such genetic work and artificial intelligence, promise even more startling changes.

I believe we are on the edge of a new era with respect to religion, one in which, quite simply, all educated people everywhere will cease believing in superstition.

Religion will still be there in all the dark corners of the world, but it will be deprived of effective leadership and a good deal of wealth.

After all, a good part of the world likely believes today the world is flat, but they have no influence on the course of events.

DARFUR AND THE SPECTACLE OF SPIELBERG AND MIA FARROW

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE GUARDIAN

Of course, Spielberg is ridiculous, just like his movies. As for Mia Farrow, she is a pathetic figure on this. She means well but does badly.

Darfur is an ugly civil war and nothing more. Civil wars are always horrible, and rape as a weapon is as old as the Trojan War.

The U.S. and Israel have tried to foist the idea on the public that it is genocide, but that is only because they are uncomfortable with the Muslim government and because they want to throw sand in our eyes over their own atrocities.

Were it truly genocide, they themselves should be blamed because they do have the power to do something to stop it. Israel would only need a brief break from killing Palestinians. But they do not believe what they say.

Nothing that has happened at Darfur has not happened in Iraq - killing children, killing women, rape, and destruction of a way of life.

As for that killing machine, Israel, it was reported only the other day that they wouldn't even help Lebanon discover the location of the hundreds of thousands of cluster-bomb bomblets they left behind to maim innocents.

Israel also refused to help Canada's investigation into the killing of four UN observers - one was a Canadian - who clearly were murdered as they bravely stayed at their posts.

It is appalling that prominent Americans don't see this.

But "none are so blind..."

BLACK CRIME IN BRITAIN

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY ANGELA LAWRENCE IN THE GUARDIAN

Regarding the incarceration rates cited above, everywhere there are detailed records kept, these kinds of differences are seen.

In the United States, literally half of all black young men have had experience with the penal system.

Close to half of all violent crimes are committed by black males.

That is, out of a population of about 300 million, the 13% who are black are responsible for the same amount of violent crime as the entire rest.

Since it is overwhelmingly males who commit violent crimes in any population, and if we allow for only young males, then we get something on the order of 2 or 3% of the American population responsible for about half of all violent crime.

The stats are similar in other places. In the small country of Jamaica with a population roughly 2.5 million, there are about 1,200 murders a year.

Were you were to take the Jamaican stats and blow them up to British size, roughly 60 million people, Britain would have nearly 29,000 murders a year.

There is clearly a terrible problem here, but I don't think it has anything to do with traditional British society or education or social programs.

DAWKINS AND ATHEISM AND THE REAL AGE OF SCIENCE

POSTED RESPONSE TO A CULUMN BY GORDON LYNCH IN THE GUARDIAN

Gordon Lynch's piece is vapid puff.

You can call any passionate advocate of anything an evangelist if you wish, but what does it add to our understanding?

Dawkins is a remarkable man. I don't share his embrace of atheism, feeling comfortable, as I am, with the descriptions humanist and skeptic.

Yet I appreciate what Dawkins is attempting to do. He is trying to shake the world out of a comfortable torpor of superstition. And in the beginning of the Real Age of Science, that is immensely important.

What do I mean by the Real Age of Science? Quite simply, the rate of technological change, and the economic and social changes that follow almost immediately, has reached the point where ordinary lives are affected every year, perhaps oftener, in significant ways. It won't be very long before this becomes monthly and even daily.

All of our preconceptions of social norms and ethics are going to be challenged.

To get a good grasp of the absurdities that come with the embrace of superstition, look at the United States and its position in the world.

The same country that has nuclear-armed aircraft carriers and submarines prowling the seas has millions who expect the End of Time momentarily, millions who believe that Harry Potter represents devil worship, millions who give generously to destructive idiots like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, and many others.

Now, just wait until this same huge group of dark minds is confronted by the scientific changes hurtling towards us - robot house servants and hospital nurses, designer babies, designer food, discovery of some forms of life on other planets, archeological and paleontological discoveries that will astound our current understanding, plus so much more.

The United States is on the verge of seriously computerizing and robotizing its capacity to kill people abroad. Drones with Hellfire missiles, robot soldier guards, heat rays, and many other items that are going to turn it into a modern New Style Army, one where great power to destroy is combined with limited exposure of its own to danger.

The entire post-WW II period has been characterized by American colonial wars, almost always fired by some burning faith such as anti-communism or anti-Muslim fundamentalism, a sense of seeking the Evil One, of trying to destroy the forces of darkness. This mad mix is likely to intensify.

This promises to be extremely dangerous.

And it is not just fundamentalist Protestants. A Catholic Church still doesn't understand the absolute necessity of birth control in the world. We could have a better world for more people in one generation if we could make birth control an everyday reality everywhere, something truly worth striving towards. Here is a Church which still hasn't absorbed the Enlightenment in so many ways, including its attitudes towards women and homosexuals, a Church which is even now taking steps to return to a 2,000-year old dead language.

And just listen to Jewish extremists making ridiculous and dangerous claims on the remainder of Palestine, always citing the writings of a few men from nearly 3,000 years ago. Some of them defend any measure by citing the writings of ancient prophets who for all we know where madmen in their day, including actions like bulldozing away all remaining Palestinians or passing laws to kill the families of so-called terrorists.

And if you believe in the Clash of Civilizations and the War on Terror being meaningful concepts, something I do not accept, then you have all the more reason to be concerned. If you believe Muslim Fundamentalism is a danger to civilization, then what is the alternative? Christian and Jewish Fundamentalism? That way is madness and endless religious war.

So I praise Dawkins for trying to promote reason and science and skepticism. They are the only things that can save many of us in the end.

AMERICAN SCHIZOPHRENIA

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE GUARDIAN

Watkin uses the word "schizophrenic" in an entirely wrong way.

His way of using it - a split mind or personality - is very old and reflects understanding of many decades ago. You find it in movies of the 1940s.

The fine American historian, Page Smith, used the word this way in his massive history of the United States, but in his case it is forgivable since he wrote decades ago.

Nevertheless, Page Smith had a point. America is a highly divided nation in its attitudes and intentions.

Any observant person spending some time there soon sees it, free and easy attitudes next to anal-retentive attitudes. Supposedly open and carefree, but in fact in many matters the most bureaucratic nation on earth.

Try applying for a visa, try filling out your taxes, try getting a mortgage (unbelievable stacks of forms), or consider all the police-state spying that is not new with 9/11 (it's only gotten worse).

The myth of a sunny California attitude melts with your first confrontation with the often brutal police in the U.S. (cited by Amnesty and others). There are some real thugs as guards at the border, and it is hard to imagine the quality of some of the folks guarding the world's largest per capita prison population in the "land of the free."

You have fundamentalist morons searching Harry Potter for witchcraft next to nuclear-armed fleets. There was a years-long boycott of Procter and Gamble over its "stars and moon" logo, a charming symbol taken as proof of witchcraft by millions in America.

No one can have a treaty with the US without one side or the other challenging its legality. In plain terms, as with the North American Free Trade Agreement, the US frequently signs a treaty and then high-handedly violates it.

The power in the national government is spread in such a way that no one outside can tell who is really in charge of anything. It very much resembles the current situation in Iran's government.

AL QAEDA AND PROFESSIONALISM

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE GUARDIAN

Al Qaeda has given up professionalism?

This piece is pure silliness posing as analysis.

Boxcutters as weapons aboard airliners were a sign of professionalism? For that is just what the 9/11 bunch had.

And I would like to know where anyone has even proved that something called al Qaeda was responsible for 9/11?

The newspapers endlessly repeating it doesn't make it so.

With intelligence services tracking every phone call and e-mail, it really is hard to see how such an organization, if it existed, could be organizing anything.

Aren't all these events really the efforts of disgruntled, angry individuals, perhaps identifying with a vaguely defined cause?

We hear of announcements from al Qaeda Internet sites, but no one seems to wonder why the American NSA wouldn't track down such a site in hours and have special forces attack the operators.

I think 'al Qaeda' is a convenience or short-hand term for a pool of discontent, much of it based on people's legitimate resentments against Western interference.

It's much easier to scare people and motivate them if there's a secret organization at work.

Again, I don't doubt there's lots of angry people ready to inflict harm over their grievances, but I've yet to see anything convincing that al Qaeda is an actual operating organization.

In fact, one scholar I read said the meaning of the word 'al Qaeda' - it apparently can mean 'toilet' - is such that no organization would choose it for a name.