ISIS, oh ISIS – What drives us to you is what drives us insane: In Reuters, Middle East expert Andrew Bacevich has some serious doubts about a military solution to the newest Big Bad (who, let’s remember, are a threat at all precisely because of all the weapons we’ve already dumped in the area — Gee, it’s almost like our always getting involved makes everything worse.) “Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues to drift, guns blazing.”
He’s not alone. While they’ve been highly complicit in the collective freak-out over the past few weeks, the media — as welcome returning blogger Dan Froomkin notes — are starting to get skeptical too. “Allam notes that Yemen and Somalia are hardly examples of success; that the new Iraqi government is hardly ‘inclusive'; that training of Iraqi soldiers hasn’t worked in the past; that in Syria it’s unclear which ‘opposition’ Obama intends to support; and that it may be too late to cut off the flow of fighters and funds.”
Keeping in mind that Obama himself seems to think this is all a terrible idea, let’s recall what we’re really dealing with here, via the very worthwhile “War Nerd,” Gary Brecher: “ISIS, compared to any of the groups on that list, is about as scary as your neighbor’s yappy Shih Tzu: all noise and no teeth. Let’s just sober up, for Christ’s sake, and remember we’re talking about a half-assed Sunni militia that couldn’t face up to Assad’s mediocre Syrian Arab Army and still hasn’t found a way to occupy Sunni Iraqi towns that were outright abandoned by the Army, left totally undefended.”
Along the same lines, see Brecher on ISIS’s initial advance back in June:
|“Actually, topography has everything to do with what’s gone well or badly for ISIS. in this latest push. If you know the ethnic makeup of the turf they’ve taken, their ‘shocking gains’ don’t seem so shocking, or impressive. After all, we’re talking about a mobile force — mounted on the beloved Toyota Hilux pickup truck, favorite vehicle of every male in the Middle East — advancing over totally flat, dry ground in pursuit of a totally demoralized opponent. In that situation, any force could take a lot of country very quickly…So this isn’t the second coming of Erwin Rommel by any means. Everything has conspired to push the Sunni advance, from the lousy opponent they’re up against to the terrain, which is a light mechanized commander’s dream.
Flat and dry is how a mechanized force commander wants his ground — and believe me, you haven’t seen flat and dry until you get to Iraq. Once you’re south of the Kurdish mountains, you’re on a dried mudflat…This is, after all, Mesopotamia, a land literally built by the sediment of the Euphrates and Tigris. It’s river mud, but nice and dry because very little rain falls,..On ground like that, any force with good morale and enough fuel could advance as quickly as the Sunni have. It’s the Bonneville Salt Flats of insurgency, the place you go to set new speed records.”
The point being, we have to stop losing our minds and letting a hysterical media and the same gaggle of Neocon pricks who’ve been wrong about everything for two decades get us involved in every opportunity to make war in the Middle East. Are ISIS a bunch of Bad Men? Undoubtedly. But that doesn’t make them an existential threat to the republic. So how about we all take a deep breath before, yet again, expending ever more blood and treasure in the region?
Thirteen years after a dark day, 15-year-old Bretagne, one of the last surviving 9/11 search dogs, returns to Ground Zero. “In the years that followed 9/11, Bretagne and Corliss deployed together to numerous disaster sites, including Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ivan. Bretagne retired from formal search work at age 9 — but today, even though she’s roughly 93 in human years, she still loves to work.”
In related news, Michael Stipe of R.E.M. talks about the art of Douglas Coupland and the legacy of 9/11. “Is that who we are now? Blind, unquestioning, warlike? Are we that violent, that childish, that silly, that shallow? Are we that afraid of others? Of ourselves? Of the possibility of genuine change? Are we that easily swayed, that capable of defending ‘American interests’, whatever ‘American interests’ means?
In a long and handsomely illustrated piece, WaPo’s Stephen Pearlstein looks into the reimagining of Union Station (or is it Truman Station), in light of both commuter needs and the burgeoning of NoMa, H-St, and the DC downtown in general. “This new Union Station would go well beyond the ambitions of Daniel Burnham’s original Beaux-Arts masterpiece. Its footprint would span 10 square blocks — two blocks east to west, five blocks north to south, from the foot of Capitol Hill to K Street.”
And while we’re re-envisioning DC, CityLab looks at some intriguing “High Line”-style plans for the 11th Street Bridge. “Maybe the City Council could be convinced of the merits of the Southeast-to-Southwest Streetcar line once D.C. decides on a final design for the edgiest architecture project in the city’s history.”
Also in recent Original Trilogy-related humor, Black C-3PO (BL3PO? Either way, probably still less offensive than Jar Jar et al) and this analysis of the insurgency on Endor’s moon. “The Ewoks are not soldiers, but a tribal insurgency — and a remarkably successful one once they receive the backing of foreign special forces.”
Using an algorithm based on the velocity of redshifting galaxies, a team of University of Hawaii astronomers identify our galaxy’s place in the newly-identified Laniakea supercluster. (Laniakea being Hawaiian for “Immeasurable Heaven.”) Adds Slate‘s Phil Plait: “Laniakea is about 500 million light years across, a staggering size, and contains the mass of 100 quadrillion Suns — 100 million billion times the mass of our star.”
In the wake of a ridiculous apologetic in the NYT — and news that the government now wants to waive sanctions for Credit Suisse — Bloomberg’s Barry Ritholtz re-asks one of the central questions of the financial crisis, and Obama’s response to it: Why have no Banksters gone to jail?
“Political access and lobbying go part way toward explaining the absence of prosecutions and, therefore, the lack of convictions…As we have repeatedly shown, Treasury Department officials, including former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, had convinced prosecutors in the Justice Department of the dangers of prosecuting banks and bankers for the economy.” (Cartoon above via here.)
We’re getting warmer: While the world focuses on deleting spam from U2, a new report finds carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere accelerating ever faster. “‘The changes we’re seeing are really drastic,’ Tarasova said. ‘We are seeing the growth rate rising exponentially’…’It means we’re probably getting to the point where we’re looking at the ‘safe zone’ in the rearview mirror, even as we’re stepping on the gas.'”
Citing various recent research, Vox’s Joseph Stromberg extols the benefits of the coffee nap. “So if you nap for those 20 minutes, you’ll reduce your levels of adenosine just in time for the caffeine to kick in. The caffeine will have less adenosine to compete with, and will thereby be even more effective in making you alert.” And just imagine how much more fulfilling a Red Bull-Guinness-Coffee-Nap would be.
Take that, Van Helsing: Per PBS’s NOVA, research increasingly suggests that transfusions of young blood hold the secret to slowing or reversing aging. “We can turn back the clock instead of slowing the clock down,” said Dr. Toren Finkel, director of the Center for Molecular Medicine at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.”
(Unless, of course, it’s all about the jellyfish.)
In the meantime, my girlfriend Amy and I have been getting in lots of travel this month — first a long weekend in New Orleans where, among other things, I for the first time took in the French quarter, Frenchman St., and the future final resting place of thespian and scholar Nicolas Cage.
A fortnight later, we were off to Iberia for a stretch, with four and a half days in Barcelona and Lisbon each (with a brief, three-hour layover tour through Brussels — alas, we didn’t have time to visit my old stomping grounds of Waterloo.)
August is probably not the best time to visit Barcelona — it was as crowded as Times Square at times, on much narrower streets. Still, it’s an amazing World City, and Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia is like nothing you’ll see anywhere else in this system. Very highly recommended (although, again, perhaps not in August.)
By comparison, Lisbon and its dozens of ancient churches was more of a sleepy European capital. But it too had its charms, not the least Sintra and its ninth century Moorish castle, only an hour or so away by train.
In any event, if you want to peruse some photos from the trip (and aren’t already a Facebook friend), I’ve put three dozen or so up in the long-neglected Flickr feed. Suffice to say, a grand time was had!
Robin Williams, 1951-2014. See also: David Simon’s remembrance: “I encountered him only once, twenty years ago, but the memory is distinct. I found Mr. Williams good-hearted, hilarious, talented, and remarkably, indescribably sad.”
Must-see Williams: The World According to Garp, Moscow on the Hudson, The Fisher King, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Aladdin.
Lauren Bacall, 1924-2014. More from RogerEbert.com’s Balder and Dash: “The most touching thing about Bacall’s autobiography is her bewilderment about having been given so much at such a young age and then having it all taken away from her…But she did keep going, and going, for more than half a century…Her interviews were always salty, brassy, forbidding. She claimed often that she was more vulnerable than she appeared, and maybe that was true.”
Must-See Bacall: To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep.
Those True Detective pun titles keep on givin': Matthew McConaughey goes asking our intergalactic neighbors for water in the newest trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, also with Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, John Lithgow, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, and David Oyelowo.
Among the most frightening developments in a world full of bad news at the moment: Ebola is running rampant through West Africa, and has reached both Freetown and Lagos, Africa’s largest city (where it was hopefully and quickly contained.) “This epidemic…can only get worse, because it is still spreading, above all in Liberia and Sierra Leone, in some very important hotspots,’ Janssens said…’we have never known such an epidemic.'”
Still, before you seal the locks on the underground shelter, the general scientific consensus seems to be that, even if the virus does reach here by plane — and it may well — ebola isn’t influenza circa 1918: “This is not a highly transmissible disease, where the number of people who can be infected by a single individual is high. You have to come into very close contact with blood, organs, or bodily fluids of infected animals, including people. If you educate people properly and isolate those who are potentially infected, it should be something you can bring under control.”
Also, as far as deadly mutations go, ebola “kill[s] so quickly that I don’t envision there’s going to be a major shift in transmission.” Some small comfort…unless, of course, you’re infected. As it is, per The Onion, a vaccine is “at least 50 white people“ away.
Wonkblog’s Matt O’Brien briefly surveys the downward pressure on our sinking middle class. “[I]t’s still a heckuva lot better than households in the bottom 25 percent, whose wealth never grew during the good times, and then plunged 60 percent during the bad ones. That’s because, for both the middle and working classes, real wages have been stagnant the past 30 years, and housing equity has taken a nosedive.”
In the New Yorker, Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi excoriates Israel’s “collective punishment” in Gaza, and our complicity in it. “[T]he United States puts its thumb on the scales in favor of the stronger party. In this surreal, upside-down vision of the world, it almost seems as if it is the Israelis who are occupied by the Palestinians, and not the other way around. In this skewed universe, the inmates of an open-air prison are besieging a nuclear-armed power with one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world.”
And before the Jon Stewart heads start popping up to accuse Khalidi of rabid anti-Semitism for questioning the targeted bombing of civilian infrastructure, see also Roger Cohen’s recent piece in the NYT:
“What I cannot accept, however, is the perversion of Zionism that has seen the inexorable growth of a Messianic Israeli nationalism claiming all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; that has, for almost a half-century now, produced the systematic oppression of another people in the West Bank; that has led to the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on the very West Bank land of any Palestinian state…that pursues policies that will make it impossible to remain a Jewish and democratic state; that seeks tactical advantage rather than the strategic breakthrough of a two-state peace; that blockades Gaza with 1.8 million people locked in its prison and is then surprised by the periodic eruptions of the inmates; and that responds disproportionately to attack in a way that kills hundreds of children.” This.
When Gaza erupted in 2009, I posted about how we needed here in America “the type of broader range of discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that you can find it…say, Israel. It’s both embarrassing and extremely counterproductive for our nation to be seen — and to continually be used — as a knee-jerk diplomatic dupe that will always blindly support policies initiated by the most conservative factions in Israeli politics.”
Well, not much seems to have changed in Washington, unfortunately. Bibi Netanyahu is still the Dubya of Israel (tho’ these days Andrew Jackson comes to mind), still doing all he can to destroy any hope of a two-state solution. His government is offering up absurd defenses for murdering civilians that we wouldn’t countenance for a second if they came, from, say, Russia. And, as usual, we — and we alone — are backing their play at the UN.
Still, whether it is social media, a generational shift, or just shock at the scale of death and destruction happening, at least a broader discussion about the conflict is breaking out here in America this time.
Let’s hope it continues. Despite all the heat that’s shed on this topic, we should all at least be able to agree that there is such a thing as a wildly disproportionate response, and the IDF killing 1200-odd civilians who have nowhere left to evacuate to, in a bombing campaign with no end in sight, should probably qualify. At the very least, we can stop footing the bill for these sorts of atrocities.
A few other trailers that popped up via Comic-Con ’14…
Elsewhere, Joss Whedon’s Avengers showed up to gab and release, over a few days, this robot melee from Age of Ultron. Both properties also showed short teasers to the attendees, but thus far I’ve only seen them online in unflattering Kramervision form.
But this looks tonally off to me — The Hobbit just isn’t Return of the King, and, while I know the Battle of the Five Armies is the bulk of the material remaining to be covered, I’m still going to be depressed if two-thirds of the running time here is Pelennor Fields II: Prequel Boogaloo. Fingers crossed.
As preparations for World Cup 2022 threaten to amass a higher body count than 9/11, The Guardian uncovers ever more examples of criminal worker abuse happening in Qatar. “In 2012 and 2013, 70 labourers from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka died from falls or strikes by objects, 144 died in traffic accidents and 56 killed themselves, the government’s own figures show. Dozens more young migrant workers die mysteriously in their sleep from suspected heart attacks every summer.” Maybe let’s move it, eh? (Poster above via here.)
Building on this recent piece by Meredith Shiner, Simon Maloy eviscerates the quintessentially Beltway idiocy of No Labels. “Their stated intention is to be high-minded ‘problem solvers’ in Washington who will cut through the gridlock, but most of what they do is silly and self-defeating, and most of the money they raise is spent on promoting themselves.”
See also this worthwhile May 2012 post at Driftglass, where I found the handy historical graph above: “The Big Lie of Centrism is the Magic Lie. The Philosopher’s Stone of lies which has transmuted dozens of mediocre hacks into Very Wealthy and Serious Persons…The Maginot Line of the Beltway Media can withstand any assault as long the Big Lie of Centrism remains intact.”
As written up by Aatish Bhatia at Wired, the winners of Princeton’s annual Art of Science competition are announced. “Among the entries are some wonderful ‘oops’ moments, where an experiment goes beautifully wrong, revealing art where you might not have expected to see it…But most of these submissions aren’t accidents. Many of these pieces reveal form, structure, and beauty hidden at a scale that our eyes can’t perceive.”
In a much-touted op-ed over the weekend, the NYT editorial board calls for the legalization of marijuana. “We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.”
Well, I’m glad to see the NYT come down on this side of the ledger, and I appreciate them emphasizing the Prohibition angle. But their week-long Come-to-Jesus stance on this would be more impressive if they actually put action to words and stopped testing their employees for weed usage.
There’s also a strong and somewhat irritating element of Captain Obvious here. As Gawker‘s Hamilton Nolan well put it:
“This is something that has been clear to the majority of American high school students for the past forty years. The fact that it took our nation’s paper of record this long to catch up does not inspire confidence. The only reason the Times gets attention for expressing this opinion is because it is the Times. This is not thought leadership. It is thought following. The Times’ endorsement of legal weed is remarkable not because we look to the Times for new or thought-provoking opinions, but because the Times is such a self-conscious, careerist, and cautious institution that if they want to legalize drugs, you know that shit is really mainstream now…
I do not say this to scold the newspaper for its position. Drug legalization is an issue that can use all the support it can get. I say it to kindly suggest that the New York Times editorial board — and all of the ‘serious’ mainstream media ‘thought leaders’ that define the boundaries of discourse acceptable on Sunday talk shows — ease back a wee bit on the self-importance. You’re not defining the times. You’re behind the times.”
Aaaannnd speaking of those “serious” mainstream media thought leaders, several of them aren’t quite on board yet anyway: “MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said at the time he didn’t ‘get the legalization thing’ and offered a pithy defense of prohibition. ‘Pot just makes you dumb,’ he said. Former Newsweek/Daily Beast editor-in-chief Tina Brown said that ‘legal weed’ will make the United States ‘a fatter, dumber, sleepier nation even less able to compete with the Chinese.'”
Er…first off, Scarborough better hope, for his own sake, that we don’t exhaust our domestic reservoirs of dumb anytime soon, or he and his morning ilk are out of job. I was going to post a longer retort to this ridiculous pundit kvetching — which could only really come from deeply privileged people who’d never, ever have to worry about being arrested for weed — but Wonkette‘s Kaili Joy Gray has already done the heavy lifting:
“[E]ven if pot makes you fat and stupid, so does watching Fox ‘News’ and eating Big Macs, but last time I checked, none of these Very Serious People were on the Sunday shows pearl-clutching about that. Also…recall that Michael Phelps has been known to take hits from the bong, and he’s the fastest swimming motherf**ker on the planet, and he is not fat or dumb and can compete with the Chinese just fine, thanks, and he has eleventeen trillion gold medals to prove it, so, you know. There’s that.” What she said.
Hey, hey, hey (Say what?): Slate and the 99% Invisible podcast survey the world-shaking importance of R.E.M.’s “Out of Time” longbox. “That, ladies and gentlemen, is why no album in the history of recorded music has had as large an effect on politics in the United States as R.E.M’s Out of Time.” Welllll…that sounds a bit hyperbolic, but I do remember sending in that Rock the Vote Motor Voter card back in the day.
Or would we? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar makes the case for an NCAA players’ union as a stepping stone to college athletes finally getting paid for their labor. This is a no-brainer to me – Why should everyone get rich off of college players but they themselves?“The athletes are left with the choice of either crossing their fingers and hoping their fairy godmothers will convince the NCAA to give up money that it doesn’t have to, or of forming a collective bargaining group to negotiate from a place of unified strength.”
(1) “The court found Poland violated its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to prevent torture, ensure the right to liberty, and properly investigate allegations a crime had been committed on its territory.”
The European Court of Human Rights finds that Poland harbored one of the CIA’s infamous black sites — perhaps this is one of the old Soviet compounds? “[S]imilar cases have been lodged with the court in Strasbourg against Romania and Lithuania.”
(2) “The five Americans whose email accounts were monitored by the NSA and FBI have all led highly public, outwardly exemplary lives. All five vehemently deny any involvement in terrorism or espionage, and none advocates violent jihad or is known to have been implicated in any crime, despite years of intense scrutiny by the government and the press.”
Paging J. Edgar: The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain, with help from Edward Snowden, uncover NSA and FBI surveillance of prominent, upstanding Muslim-Americans. “In one 2005 document, intelligence community personnel are instructed how to properly format internal memos to justify FISA surveillance. In the place where the target’s real name would go, the memo offers a fake name as a placeholder: ‘Mohammed Raghead.'”
(3) “Emblazoned with the crests of 19 agencies, it offers the most complete and revealing look into the secret history of the government’s terror list policies to date. It reveals a confounding and convoluted system filled with exceptions to its own rules, and it relies on the elastic concept of ‘reasonable suspicion’ as a standard for determining whether someone is a possible threat…individuals can be watchlisted if they are suspected of being a suspected terrorist, or if they are suspected of associating with people who are suspected of terrorism activity.”
Also in The Intercept, Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux explain the absurdly broad net that is the terrorist watchlist. “There are a number of loopholes for putting people onto the watchlists even if reasonable suspicion cannot be met.”
(4) “Nearly all of the highest-profile domestic terrorism plots in the United States since 9/11 featured the ‘direct involvement’ of government agents or informants, a new report says…rais[ing] questions about the US criminal justice system’s ability to respect civil rights and due process in post-9/11 terrorism cases.”
And in The Guardian, Spencer Ackerman expounds on the FBI’s apparent excessive leaning on entrapment to conjure up terror cases. “‘In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act,’ the report alleges.”
Torture, rendition, secret prisons, spying on Americans, surveillance policies that are obviously, woefully ripe for abuse…We are six and a half years into the administration of a president who promised us definitively this nonsense would end. And yet, virtually every day, we hear of a new outrage, and the only official response seems to be Lock Up the Messenger. So when are we going to get an accountability moment here?
By way of Follow Me Here, Gizmodo looks at five massive telescopes that will change the game, including the James Webb Space Telescope, a.k.a. Hubble 2.0. “Since blowing past its initial budget and launch data, NASA promises the ambitious project is on-track for 2018. And it better, because astronomers are eagerly awaiting its data.”
"A barking dog is often more useful than a sleeping lion." -- Washington Irving