Escalation in the ‘not war’ against Libya

The US, France, and Britain rushed the UN and NATO to intervene in Libya allegedly in order to prevent an imminent massacre of 100,000 people, although the evidence to back up this charge was slim and looks increasingly like an alarmist lie to get public support for starting a war in Libya, similar to the lie about Saddam Hussein’s imminent nuclear weapons that was used to steamroll the US public into starting that war.

Recall that the initial intervention was supposed to be a “limited humanitarian intervention, not war” to prevent the use of the Libyan air forces from attacking civilians. Then the air war shifted to attacking the Libyan armed forces on the ground wherever they are. Then the British, French, and Italian governments announced that they were sending in ‘advisors’ to help the rebels. The US already has acknowledged that CIA operatives are already working in the country. Now NATO has bombed Gadhafi’s compound. It should be obvious that preventing a massacre was just a pretext for the US to start a new war against yet another country.

The US has now ordered sending in Predator drones. It is important to realize that this is a non-trivial escalation. The drones have been used in Pakistan and Afghanistan for, among other things, targeted attacks on individuals (though they frequently go astray and kill civilians with the most recent incident occurring just yesterday that killed five women and four children) and one wonders who the targets are in Libya. The fact that the drone announcement came so soon after Gadhafi felt confident enough to jauntily ride around Tripoli waving to people while standing through the open sun-roof of a car suggests to me that the US might be targeting him or his close associates or even his family for summary execution. This would not be unprecedented. Recall that that in 1986 Reagan ordered the bombing of Gadhafi’s compound, killing his daughter and injuring his sons.

NPR had discussions on this option last Friday morning and again in the evening and it was sickening to hear supposedly ‘serious’ people so casually discuss the possibility of the US government murdering people including foreign leaders, although they avoid the harsh but accurate words ‘murder’ or ‘kill’ and prefer the softer euphemism of ‘take out’, as if the victim was being invited to a baseball game or the zoo. It become perfectly acceptable for the US president to act like a gangland boss and order ‘hits’ on his enemies.

Maybe Obama thinks that since he got a Nobel Peace Prize after merely escalating an ongoing war in Afghanistan, he can get another one by actually starting a new war in Libya. Or maybe David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy think that they could get a Peace Prize too. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian wonders if the British Prime Minister realized what he was getting the UK into in Libya and sees parallels with the 1956 Suez debacle.

It looks like we are witnessing the beginning of a long-drawn out civil war in Libya with the involvement of the US, Britain, and France rising to meeting the increasing needs and demands of the anti-Gadhafi forces. This strange policy of using external forces to supposedly ‘level the playing field’ between warring factions in another country only ensures that the ‘game’ will never end and that people will continue to suffer. This is why I think the drones have been brought in, to kill Gadhafi or at least kill enough of his family and close associates to force him to leave or to create a coup. NATO can then declare victory and leave the people of Libya to sort through the mess left behind, making sure that the US controls the oil supplies of course.

While all this is going on, a lot of innocent people are going to get killed. The western forces intervening in Libya steadfastly deny any intention of sending in ground forces but I cannot see how that can be avoided if the current stalemate continues, as seems likely, and the drones do not succeed in quickly winning the civil war for the anti-Gadhafi forces. After all, the drones have been used extensively in Pakistan, killing large numbers of people, including civilians, with no decisive outcome.

One thing that drone attacks are good at doing is creating widespread anti-American sentiment. As Glenn Greenwald notes about its effects in Pakistan:

Can someone who defends these drone attacks please identify the purpose? Is the idea that we’re going to keep dropping them until we kill all the “militants” in that area? We’ve been killing people in that area at a rapid clip for many, many years now, and we don’t seem to be much closer to extinguishing them. How many more do we have to kill before the eradication is complete?

Beyond that, isn’t it painfully obvious that however many “militants” we’re killing, we’re creating more and more all the time? How many family members, friends, neighbors and villagers of the “five children and four women” we just killed are now consumed with new levels of anti-American hatred? How many Pakistani adolescents who hear about these latest killings are now filled with an eagerness to become “militants”?

The NYT article dryly noted: “Friday’s attack could further fuel antidrone sentiment among the Pakistani public”; really, it could? It’s likely to fuel far more than mere “antidrone sentiment”; it’s certain to fuel more anti-American hatred: the primary driver of anti-American Terrorism. Isn’t that how you would react if a foreign country were sending flying robots over your town and continuously wiping out the lives of innocent women, children and men who are your fellow citizens? What conceivable rational purpose does this endless slaughter serve? Isn’t it obvious that the stated goal of all of this – to reduce the threat of Terrorism – is subverted rather than promoted by these actions?

We seem to have this strange policy of denying that the goal of the Libyan not-war is ‘regime change’ while insisting that the not-war will continue until Gadhafi is removed from office. Both things cannot be true.

Making sense of Palinspeak

One of the curious features about Sarah Palin that invites considerable mockery is the way she expresses herself. What does one make of the following, uttered just before the 2008 election?

We realize that more and more Americans are starting to see the light there and understand the contrast. And we talk a lot about, OK, we’re confident that we’re going to win on Tuesday, so from there, the first 100 days, how are we going to kick in the plan that will get this economy back on the right track and really shore up the strategies that we need over in Iraq and Iran to win these wars?

Or this, referring to Hillary Clinton:

When I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism, or maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think, ‘Man, that doesn’t do us any good, women in politics, or women in general, trying to progress this country.’

John McWhorter takes a stab at trying to understand why Palin speaks the way she does. He is a linguist whose book The Power of Babel I have praised before. He used to be a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley but is now a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and is someone whose politics are at the conservative end of the spectrum and so cannot be accused of simply attempting to take a partisan shot at Palin. He seems genuinely intrigued at the way her thought processes work.

Palin is given to meandering phraseology of a kind suggesting someone more commenting on impressions as they enter and leave her head rather than constructing insights about them.

Part of why Palin speaks the way she does is that she has grown up squarely within a period of American history when the old-fashioned sense of a speech as a carefully planned recitation, and public pronouncements as performative oratory, has been quite obsolete.

What truly distinguishes Palin’s speech is its utter subjectivity: that is, she speaks very much from the inside of her head, as someone watching the issues from a considerable distance.

This reminds me of toddlers who speak from inside their own experience in a related way: they will come up to you and comment about something said by a neighbor you’ve never met, or recount to you the plot of an episode of a TV show they have no way of knowing you’ve ever heard of. Palin strings her words together as if she were doing it for herself — meanings float by, and she translates them into syntax in whatever way works, regardless of how other people making public statements do it.

Palinspeak is a flashlight panning over thoughts, rather than thoughts given light via considered expression.

The modern American typically relates warmly to the use of English to the extent that it summons the oral — “You betcha,” “Yes we can!” — while passing from indifference to discomfort to the extent that its use leans towards the stringent artifice of written language. As such, Sarah Palin can talk, basically, like a child and be lionized by a robust number of perfectly intelligent people as an avatar of American culture. And linguistically, let’s face it: she is.

I think he’s right. Palin is ignorant about a lot of things and arrogant in her ignorance but is not unduly stupid.

Betting on a sure thing

Texas is experiencing a drought and so the governor has decided to proclaim “the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas. I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal way of life.”

Since no time frame is specified for when the rain should fall, such prayers are bound to be answered, at which point everyone can thank god for his mercy and blessings.

Next, people in Texas are asked to pray for the sun to rise tomorrow.

(Via Pharyngula.)

Phone calls in films

To enjoy a film, you have to suspend disbelief and get absorbed in the story. One sure way to destroy that feeling and take you completely out of the film is having a character dial a phone number that starts with 555, which are never given out to customers. They do this because apparently viewers often will note the numbers and call them (I have no idea what drives people to do this) so that if a real number is used, the owner of that number gets tons of annoying calls.

In the 2003 Jim Carrey comedy “Bruce Almighty,” God’s phone number (776-2323, no area code) appears on the Carrey character’s pager, so of course moviegoers called it and asked to speak to God. That’s kind of funny, unless you happened to own that number in your area code.

The Associated Press reported that a Florida woman threatened to sue Universal Pictures because she was receiving 20 calls an hour on her cellphone. The phone number also connected divine-seeking callers to a church in Sanford, N.C., where the minister, who happened to be named Bruce, was not amused. The BBC reported that even a man in the Manchester, England, area was receiving up to 70 calls a day from folks seeking help and forgiveness.

At the time, Universal explained that the number it chose was not in use in the Buffalo area, where the movie was set. The studio subsequently replaced it in TV and home video versions with, yes, a 555 number.

I have wondered why, with their multi-million dollar budgets, film companies don’t simply purchase a few dozens of real numbers that are sufficiently varied and nondescript so that no viewer would likely remember that they have seen them before in other films.

So I was glad to see in the above article that some films are purchasing real numbers where, if you should call it, you receive a recorded message, maybe promoting the film.

Bradley Manning protest

While Obama was giving a talk at a fund-raising event in California for his 2012 re-election campaign, one of the attendees interrupted him by taking off her jacket revealing a t-shirt that said “Free Bradley Manning” and singing a song denouncing his continued detention. It should be noted that this was not some hippie protestor but occurred at an event for wealthy campaign contributors who had paid up to $35,800 to attend.

According to a BBC report, witnesses said that Obama was ‘visibly displeased’ and the woman was escorted out of the room and two of her fellow protestors left with her. Poor man. It must be so annoying to be reminded of one’s hypocrisy while dispensing campaign pieties and pretending to value high principles.

Although the government commits many violations of human rights that are even worse than what is happening to Manning, his treatment has become a potent symbol and I hope it dogs Obama wherever he goes.

The 27% Crazification Factor

The number of contenders courting publicity by publicly flirting with the idea of running for the Republican party’s nomination for president seems to be growing exponentially, ranging from those who are crazy to those who are pretending to be crazy in order to attract the crazy base of the party, though it is hard to tell the difference between the two groups. Me, I am waiting for the King of Crazy, Alan Keyes, to throw his hat into the ring to indicate that the craziness has reached a critical mass and we are truly off and running.

Some observers are bemused that Donald Trump has been leading the other contenders in some polls and is able to garner support in the mid-20% range, purely on his crazy birther shtick. His performance does not surprise me in the least because we now have, thanks to Keyes, a benchmark that says that the craziest of candidates can get 27% of the population to vote for him or her. It is only when candidates crack the 27% mark that I start to take them seriously.

How did such a precise number of 27% become the standard for craziness? In 2005, the website Kung Fu Monkey identified what it called the Crazification Factor.

John: Hey, Bush is now at 37% approval. I feel much less like Kevin McCarthy screaming in traffic. But I wonder what his base is –

Tyrone: 27%.

John: … you said that immediately, and with some authority.

Tyrone: Obama vs. Alan Keyes. Keyes was from out of state, so you can eliminate any established political base; both candidates were black, so you can factor out racism; and Keyes was plainly, obviously, completely crazy. Batshit crazy. Head-trauma crazy. But 27% of the population of Illinois voted for him. They put party identification, personal prejudice, whatever ahead of rational judgement. Hell, even like 5% of Democrats voted for him. That’s crazy behaviour. I think you have to assume a 27% Crazification Factor in any population.

John: Objectively crazy or crazy vis-a-vis my own inertial reference frame for rational behaviour? I mean, are you creating the Theory of Special Crazification or General Crazification?

Tyrone: Hadn’t thought about it. Let’s split the difference. Half just have worldviews which lead them to disagree with what you consider rationality even though they arrive at their positions through rational means, and the other half are the core of the Crazification — either genuinely crazy; or so woefully misinformed about how the world works, the bases for their decision making is so flawed they may as well be crazy.

John: You realize this leads to there being over 30 million crazy people in the US?

Tyrone: Does that seem wrong?

John: … a bit low, actually.

Barack Obama has been extraordinarily lucky in having weak or nutty candidates as opponents in his major races. In his 2004 run for the US Senate seat in Illinois, his Republican opponent flamed out and quit after a sex scandal, and publicity-seeker Keyes, a Maryland resident and ever eager to enter a high-profile race, parachuted in as a replacement less than three months before the election, and ended up getting the above 27% of the vote. That’s why the blogosphere has embraced the 27% figure as the potential support on any issue, however nutty.

Then Obama faced the ridiculous McCain-Palin ticket in the 2008 presidential race but they still managed to get 46%. This seems absurdly high when you consider the quality of the ticket but not when you consider that a Keyes-Trump ticket could pull in 27%.

Given that the Republican party has entangled itself in the overblown rhetoric they used to win sweeping congressional victories in 2010 and cannot seem to wriggle out, their eventual candidate who runs against Obama in 2012 will either be a complete nutter or someone who had to act like he or she was a nutter in the primaries in order to get the party’s nomination, which then becomes an albatross during the general election and lead to another easy Obama victory.

Where have you gone, Alan Keyes? 27% of the nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Shaming people for being poor

Sometime ago, in my series on how poor people have dignity too, I praised the recent adoption of debit cards instead of food coupons as a good way for them to purchase food without others knowing that they were down on their luck.

But some people want to deny even that minimal level of dignity and label the poor with a scarlet, or rather orange, letter. An Arizona Republican legislator wants the debit cards to be a bright orange color. Of course, his stated reason is to prevent ‘fraud’, that useful word that disguises hateful motives as noble ones.