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America’s Moral Collapse.

There are many reasons why I post less frequently at GitM these days, and a lot of them are the usual prosaic stuff — life is good, the days are very busy, my garrison isn’t going to build itself. But among them also is, quite frankly, it’s sometimes hard to see a purpose to it anymore, at least in GitM’s current incarnation. Case in point: this month’s CIA torture revelations.

Like countless others, I have been railing about the Bush-era CIA torture regime here for over a decade now. So this isn’t a breaking story. Still, the recent Senate Report — which the “most transparent administration in history” fought tooth and nail to buryably covers all we’ve known to date, and includes a number of horrifying new revelations.

For example, so it turns out that we — you and I — paid foreign governments $300 million to construct and maintain our dungeons.

We — again, you and I — also paid two psychiatrists $80 million to come up with more devastating torture techniques. (And their contract was originally for $180 million!)

These two assholes got on the payroll after Al Qaeda higher-up Abu Zubaydah was captured. Zubaydah was then waterboarded over eighty times, mainly so he and others would corroborate the false positive, demanded by Iraq War architects, that Iraq was involved with Al Qaeda.

We also tortured people for not calling CIA officers “sir,” or having a stomachache.

We even tortured our own informants.

We anally raped detainees with pureed hummus, causing anal fissures and a rectal prolapse due to “excessive force.”

We also may have raped detainees with dogs. And it sounds like a child was raped in our custody as well.

Another detainee froze to death during his Room 101 session.

Naturally, the CIA tried to cover all this up. First, they blatantly lied about the efficacy of their torture regime. (And, since it cannot be said enough, particularly in the wake of the CIA’s Zero Dark Thirty propaganda: Torture does not work.)

Then, they — with the full and active complicity of both the Bush and Obama administrations — blocked the American people from seeing the evidence of their depravities, including destroying torture tapes, repeatedly lying to Congress, and hacking into Senate computers.

And, still, over a decade later: Even though the Constitution bans torture, even though it is a crime to lie to Congress, even though it is explicitly a crime NOT to prosecute torturers, Nobody Has Gone To Jail — well, except the whistleblower.

And on top of everything else, Americans approve of all of this by 2-1.

So, what is there to say? The illegality here is black and white, the crimes abhorrent, the moral corruption pervasive…and yet we all just collectively shrug. The sad and hilarious thing about The Onion‘s recent minotaur video — “That hungry half-man, half-bull kept us safe from the terrorists!” — is this is basically the world we live in now.

Makes me sick, m*therf*cker, how far we done fell.

We Thought It Was So Reckless.

“Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant won’t create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. It won’t restore the possibility of a democratic Egypt. It won’t dissuade Saudi Arabia from funding jihadists. It won’t pull Libya back from the brink of anarchy. It won’t end the Syrian civil war. It won’t bring peace and harmony to Somalia and Yemen. It won’t persuade the Taliban to lay down their arms in Afghanistan. It won’t end the perpetual crisis of Pakistan. It certainly won’t resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

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?

The Last Dog Scout.

“You’d see firefighters sitting there, unanimated, stone-faced, no emotion, and then they’d see a dog and break out into a smile,” Otto recalled. “Those dogs brought the power of hope. They removed the gloom for just an instant — and that was huge because it was a pretty dismal place to be.”

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.”

The Terminal. | And the Bridge.

“It speaks to the paucity of our civic imagination, and the small-mindedness of our politics, that simply to describe a project of such ambition is to invite the knowing smirks and raised eyebrows of those who will immediately recognize it as wholly incompatible with the current political and budgetary environment…At the same time, broader economic forces make Union Station expansion almost inevitable. As Doug Allen, the head of the Virginia’s commuter rail service, put it, ‘The question is how we do it, not whether we do it.'”

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.”

Update: “Make no mistake: Any of the finalists in the competition to design D.C.’s 11th Street Bridge Park is a winner. This is the savviest proposal for adapting outmoded infrastructure since the High Line. The four teams that made the grade as finalists to design the thing met the challenge.

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.”

Life in the Big City.

“His rad book…includes the answers to such burning questions as, how do I hail a cab? What is a bodega? Which way is Uptown?” From a new book by cartoonist Nathan Pyle, Distractify shows off a number of spiffy animated primers on how to live/survive in NYC. Funny because they’re true, and definitely worth a perusal. The one above — a.k.a. the “Reservoir Dogs walk” — is a huge problem in DC also.

Immeasurable Heaven.

“Discounting cosmic expansion, their map shows flow lines down which galaxies creep under the effect of gravity in their local region…Based on this, the team defines the edge of a supercluster as the boundary at which these flow lines diverge. On one side of the line, galaxies flow towards one gravitational centre; beyond it, they flow towards another. ‘It’s like water dividing at a watershed, where it flows either to the left or right of a height of land,’ says Tully.”

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.”

Life Everlasting.

“The scientists joined old and young mice for five weeks and then examined them. The muscles of the old mice had healed about as quickly as those of the young mice…The young mice, on the other hand, had effectively grown prematurely old.”

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.)

August Recess.

Hello all. No, GitM’s not dead. As per several Augusts past, I’ve spent the past few weeks on August recess, confining my thoughts on the various nightmares unfolding in Ferguson, Gaza, Iraq, etc. to 140 characters on Twitter and Facebook.

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!

Outbreak.

“The outbreak — the largest in history — has spread across Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone and killed at least 672 people, according to the World Health Organization. The disease has no vaccine and no specific treatment. It has a fatality rate of at least 60%.”

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.

The Massacre in Gaza.

“In the past seven or more years, Israel has besieged, tormented, and regularly attacked the Gaza Strip. The pretexts change: they elected Hamas; they refused to be docile; they refused to recognize Israel; they fired rockets; they built tunnels to circumvent the siege; and on and on. But each pretext is a red herring, because the truth of ghettos…is that, eventually, the ghetto will fight back. It was true in Soweto and Belfast, and it is true in Gaza.”

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.

Death Cup 2022.

“The migrants are squeezed seven to a room, sleeping on thin, dirty mattresses on the floor and on bunk beds, in breach of Qatar’s own labour standards. They live in constant fear of imprisonment because they have been left without paperwork after the contractor on the project, Lee Trading and Contracting, collapsed. They say they are now being exploited on wages as low as 50p an hour.”

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.)

Brick by Brick.

“These days the holy grail is an octopus or a dragon. I only know of three octopuses being found, and one was by me, in a cave in Challaborough, Devon. It’s quite competitive. If you heard that your neighbour had found a green dragon, you’d want to go out and find one yourself.”

By way of Dangerous Meta, BBC briefly looks into the Lego infestation of Cornwall. “[On February 13th, 1997] 62 containers were lost overboard about 20 miles off Land’s End – and one of them was filled with nearly 4.8m pieces of Lego, bound for New York…shortly after that some of those Lego pieces began washing up in both the north and south coasts of Cornwall. They’re still coming in today.”

The Beautiful Game.

And so it ends. After a US loss to Belgium that included a meme-making defense by Tim Howard, and a complete 7-1 evisceration of the host nation by the eventual winners in the Semis, Germany wins the World Cup 1-0 over Argentina, on a beautiful strike by Mario Gotze in extra time. “At some point we’ll stop celebrating, but we’ll still wake up with a smile.”

All in all, a really entertaining World Cup. And perhaps it’s because I reside in DC and spend time on Twitter, two of the most futbol-happy environments around stateside, but this felt like the year soccer might have finally broken through in America for real. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, I should do a better job of supporting the MLS. Valar Futbolis!

The Knicks Reset. | But Melo’s in the Mix.

“‘Watching them play, I saw guys that looked at each other like, you didn’t back me up, you weren’t here when I needed help,’ Jackson said. ‘There just wasn’t the right combination or feel [where] it felt like everybody was in sync all the time.'”

Just prior to this year’s draft — very classy move by Commissioner Silver with the Isaiah Austin pick last night — Phil Jackson pulls the trigger on a long-awaited Knicks overhaul, sending Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, and two second round draft picks, which later became Cleananthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

I always liked Chandler — Felton, er, didn’t really pan out — but it definitely seems like time to completely hit the reset button on the franchise.

Same goes for Carmelo Anthony. It’d be great if the Knicks could keep him, but, were I in his shoes, I’d sign with Chicago or Dallas too. The Knicks are now in full rebuilding mode with an untested coach. The Bulls and Mavs have more pieces to really make a run at a championship right now. So no harm, no foul, ‘Melo — Do what ya gotta do.

“I will always remember this chapter in my life. In the end, I am a New York Knick at heart. I am looking forward to continue my career in Orange & Blue and to work with Phil Jackson, a champion who builds championship teams. Madison Square Garden is the mecca of basketball and I am surrounded by the greatest fans in the world.”

(The bigger paycheck probably didn’t hurt either.) In any event, Carmelo will remain a Knickerbocker, and apparently even took a slight pay cut to allow for more cap space next year. We’re gonna need it – Unless the league has forgotten how to defend the triangle, the Knicks still look to have at least another year of waiting before we’re even a second-round contender in the playoffs. Still, good to have Melo aboard for the long haul.

Valar Futbolis.

“I.

I believe.

I believe that.

I believe that we.

I believe that we will get what turns out to be an entirely acceptable result in our third group-stage game that, combined with the result between the other two teams, puts us through into the knockout round!”

As USA reaches the second round the hard way, MLS Soccer’s Matthew Doyle offers his tactical insights on the US-Germany match. “Whether it was Klinsmann’s own decisions, or his willingness to listen to others, I don’t really care. What matters is that he made the right moves to get us out of the group. I’m tipping my cap as I type this.”

Next up for we Americans, wily, athletic Belgium, who I feel bad rooting against, having lived there back in the day. Still, to mix my fantasy metaphors, there can be only one — on to Round 2.

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