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Wed, 23 Apr 2003 Something Besides Iraq

I'm not going to talk about Iraq today; opinions are long-hardened, and I need to think about something more bearable. I've been raiding the Ann Arbor Public Library. Here's what Paul has been reading, in approximate reverse chronological order, with some brief reviews.

Connie Willis: The Doomsday Book

A beautiful book, but very grim. It uses time travel without resorting to techno-babble or paradox; it portrays the middle ages without resorting to crude stereotyping. It is a bit hard to call it "uplifting," but it does express dramatically the notion that we are all called to be saints to one another, and that ordinary people can come close to that ideal. The story is moving. It gets hold of the reader's feelings but the manipulation is deft. I'm looking forward to reading more of Willis's books.

I generally like harder science fiction, but this was a nice break from that, and reminded me that a lot of my favorite "hard" science-fiction writers are really not very good with the "writer" part.

I'm looking over the reviews on Amazon to see what others thought. A reviewer called it "fun." It seems to me that this is like calling Gorecki's Second Symphony "fun." It is a mournful, but ultimately hopeful, book.

The complaint that the book is a bit long is valid. It is almost six hundred pages; a number of the scenes and conversations that take place in the book's "present" are a bit redundant and some could be combined or trimmed. Amusingly, some Amazon readers think just the opposite; they'd like to see the account of Kirvin's time in the Middle Ages trimmed. But it does not need to be savaged, just pruned, perhaps by a hundred pages; an awful lot of books could benefit from a similar treatment.

Personally I'm a fan of many longer works and like to see what can be achieved by a long work. But I'm a fast reader; it seems to me that the complainers might weighed the book beforehand, skimmed a few pages to get the style, and then decided that they were not likely to have the stamina to make it to the end. (Then again, perhaps that what they did before giving this excellent novel a one-star revew).

Some of the minor characters are a bit flat -- but some people are a bit flat. The characterizations of the household children are amazingly real and unsentimental (her children can be obnoxious, and frequently understand more than the adults think they do). I think being slightly confused by the British English is charming rather than off-putting. The idea that historian studying Middle English today would have difficulty understanding a native of the 1300s seems not only plausible, but likely. Some readers complain that the story moves back and forth between a present- day epidemic and the time of the Black Plague: but it seems to me that this juxtaposition is precisely what makes the book's point.

Robert L. Forward: Rocheworld

This is the author's longer, preferred version of what was originally a short story, later lengthened into a somewhat longer novel. It is a bit patchy: it seems to me that the more-recently revised portions are better, and the overall result flows a little awkwardly, but I have not read the original versions to compare. I'd rate this as somewhat second-rate Forward, but this is still better-than-average hard SF.

The genre is science fiction in the tradition of Dragon's Egg, but this is not quite up to the standard of that classic novel. Forward's human characters are quite weird. They veer wildly between John Glenn test-pilot stereotypes and all-too-human lonely geeks in fuzzy pajamas. I'm not sure I would call them realistic, but they are at least entertaining.

As usual for Forward, the aliens are more interesting. In this case they are mathematical brilliant, brightly-colored underwater clouds who don't have technology, create no artifacts, and spend most of their time surfing. If you don't think too hard about the evolutionary biology (why develop great intelligence if there are no predators and you are virtually immortal?) they are great fun.

Forward is a very sharp physicist and speculates brilliantly about Rocheworld, a binary planet composed of two small planetary bodies in an extremely tight orbit, one covered with water, one dry. He's a firm proponent of the axiom that the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine. The humans are never quite prepared for what they find around Barnard's Star, just as I doubt we would be. His sail-based propulsion is convincingly drawn; as in Dragon's Egg, the physics are described in more detail in an appendix.

Less convincing is his solution to the problem of keeping humans alive for decades on interstellar journeys: rather than the undergoing the usual cryogenic "cold sleep" to slow the metabolism and prevent boredom and psychosis, his humans take a drug called "No-Die," which prevents them from aging, but has the unfortunate side effect of reducing them, mentally, to first-graders. This is mostly annoying, although mercifully we are not forced to endure very many scenes with of the adult crew reduced to children. There are also some minor subplots that could have been left out without harm. One of the more interesting is the ethical furor over the fact that the journey is one-way. This is of slightly more than academic interest: it may be, for example, quite feasible with existing technology to send humans to Mars. Sending them enough fuel to manage the return trip is, given the cold equations of entirely another order of difficulty. Would you volunteer for that one-way mission?

Some of Forward's predictions seem laughably out-of-date already: he's got great mobile and highly intelligent robots that assist the crew and even "live" on their shoulders or in their hair, but the equipment needed by a character to edit images and video is a bulky console that can't be moved from room to room. This is particularly funny given that I'm writing this on a five-pound portable equipped with iPhoto and iMovie. It's just more proof that science-fiction writers can't necessarily predict the real future any better than the rest of us, but it can still be a lot of fun to watch them in the attempt.

Robert L. Forward: Starquake

A somewhat less-than-stellar sequel to the wonderful and highly influential Dragon's Egg. If you've read Dragon's Egg and liked it a great deal, you will find this worth reading; if you only slightly enjoyed the first book, don't bother. Foreward doesn't come up with anything truly innovative for the sequel, and it has not aged as well as the first book.

(To come: Joe Haldeman's Forever Peace, Terry Pratchett's Moving Pictures, more...)

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Wed, 16 Apr 2003 U.S. Arrogance on Weapons Inspection May Cost Soldiers, Civilians Dearly

So, what's the best way to guarantee that Iraqui uranium goes missing: continue a U.N.-backed inspection regime, or bring war and anarchy to the region with un-briefed, un-trained military personnel?

It's not a trick question. On his Thursday, April 10th weblog entry, Andrew Sullivan posted this brief and provocative bit:

IS THIS IT? Fox News reports on a labyrinth of tunnels and labs in Southern Iraq, where buildings are testing positive for radiation. This may not turn out to be a nuclear research facility. But it strikes me as a sign of what we might soon find.

Sullivan linked to Fox News, where an article here with the headline "Weapons Grade Plutonium Possibly Found at Iraqui Nuke Complex" in which they state:

While officials aren't prepared to call the discovery a "smoking gun," two preliminary tests conducted on the material have indicated that it may be weapons-grade plutonium.

Is this the same kind of "preliminary test" which found sarin and other chemical agents in containers of pesticides? Note the rather provocative wording: "weapons grade plutonium" and "nuke." Wow, this is big news, right? Iraq actually had nukes? Damn, we were right! Hold that thought.

The Fox News story goes on (Good Lord, does it ever):

The discovery of the underground labyrinth of labs and warehouses was unexpected, Fox News has confirmed...

Is this credible? Did American ground troops find something new and threatening that the weapons inspectors were unaware of? Fox News quotes a Capt. John Seegar:

"I've never seen anything like it, ever," he told the Tribune-Review. "How did the world miss all of this? Why couldn't they see what was happening here?"

Then they quote "Former Iraqui Scientist" Gazi George:

"The high levels of radiation suggest it's a high-level nuclear waste that was stored underground, trying to hide it for the process of repurposing it for the future... or just to make dirty bombs out of the material that's down there," George said.

"If the material has not been disclosed by Iraqis to the United Nations... [then] definitely this material was hidden there to use it as a source for extracting plutonium chemically and using it in dirty bombs."

"Saddam always tried to hide... uranium or other nuclear fuels so we could use them in the future for weapons of mass destruction."

George said it's important the coalition find Iraqi scientists who know about these weapons so they can hunt down the harmful material and destroy it.

"I think this demonstrates the failure of the U.N. weapons inspections and demonstrates that our guys are going to find the weapons of mass destruction."

Wow, an insider who knows all about this stuff. This is hot news, right? Those moronic inspectors; that useless U.N. Right?

It took me barely ten seconds of googling to determine that, in reality, yes, this was a "nuclear research facility." But it is far from a revelation.

Gazi George has been in exile from Iraq for twenty years. He lives in the Detroit area now. See this link. Twenty years is a long time. Now, I'm not claiming he doesn't know a lot about what was going on in Iraq twenty years ago; I'm sure he does. And quite likely, the statements he gave Fox News were measured and reasonable, especially given his personal experience. But note his phrasing: "If the material has not been disclosed..." The material has been disclosed. And inspected. Many times.

In fact, this facility is the Tuwaitha nuclear complex: see this page from http://globalsecurity.org, and also this page, which contains the following text taken from an UNSCOM report in 1997:

Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center: Main site for Iraqi nuclear program. Activities included: several research reactors, plutonium separation and waste processing, uranium metallurgy, neutron initiator development and work on number of methods of uranium enrichment. Tuwaitha also is the location of the Osiraq reactor bombed by Israel in 1981. All nuclear fuel at this site was removed under IAEA monitoring. Equipment directly tied to the nuclear weapons program was destroyed in place.

And according to Haaretz,

...the Vienna-based IAEA [International Atomic Energy Commission] - which has inspected Tuwaitha at least two dozen times and maintains a thick dossier on the site - said Iraq was allowed to keep several tons of low-grade uranium and other nuclear material there under IAEA seal because the material could not be used directly for weapons.

Later in the same article:

Tuwaitha contains 1.8 tons of low-grade enriched uranium and several tons of natural and depleted uranium. The uranium was inspected by the UN nuclear agency twice a year.

IAEA inspectors visited Tuwaitha about a dozen times since December and most recently on Feb. 6. It was among the first sites that IAEA inspectors sought out after the resumption of inspections on Nov. 27 after a nearly four-year break.

It may have been inspected even more recently: see this report which indicates that at least a cursory inspection was performed on March 10th of this year. So what do we have here? This was a place where a lot of material from Iraq's nuclear program was found, but left in place, because it was easier and safer to leave in place and inspect it, than to attempt to remove tons of uranium from a presumably highly contaminated site. Material suitable for weapons-building was removed.

Does Fox News do any research whatsoever? Or is that just a dumb question? Geez, there are even some primary source documents (a declassified, edited CIA report) out there for the plucking. There are frickin' PowerPoint slides of a visual walkthough of the place. Ten seconds of Googling.

It gets worse: Fox News doesn't even search its own archived stories. This Fox News story here, dated December 9, 2002, describes an inspection at the site. I guess Fox News has a short memory:

Inspection teams scoured the three nuclear sites near the town of al-Tuwaitha, 15 miles southeast of Baghdad, picking up from where U.N. nuclear agency inspectors left off in 1998, when they left Iraq amid disputes between Baghdad and the United Nations.

Many buildings at the three sites -- including the giant al-Tuwaitha nuclear complex -- were destroyed in heavy U.S. bombing in the 1991 Gulf War. Through the 1990s, al-Tuwaitha was scrutinized by U.N. nuclear agency inspectors under a postwar U.N. monitoring regime to ensure Iraq did not develop weapons of mass destruction."

But their journalism of late 2002 is not inflammatory enough to use in 2003. And Fox News knows it is preferable to whip up hysteria than it is to offer information. And, apparently, so does Andrew Sullivan. He suggests this may be a "smoking gun." He links to the Fox News story that claims possible plutonium when none is likely to be present, and which implies that the world did not know what was going on at Tuwaitha, until the brave American soldiers uncovered this horror. And this "money quote," to use a term Sullivan likes to use, will be the one that people remember. Fox would love to leave us with the impression that the inspections were a farce. Certainly, Iraq was deceptive; certainly, Iraq was uncooperative. But the inspectors did know a thing or two.

Now, the thing is, this is a scary news story. But not because of plutonium, and not because of "nukes." There are parts of the story that we should consider to be the scary parts, if we think straight and don't resort to hysteria. There's some talk about a hidden underground complex that one source claimed the inspectors may have been unaware of. That's interesting and possibly frightening, but I'm waiting to form an opionion on it, as any reasonable person should do, until I see corroborative evidence. (Recall that the inspectors had ground-penetrating radar, and certainly had the detectors necessary to find radioactive materials, but if they were unaware or kept out of certain hidden parts of the complex, that's news). There are reports of recent construction at the Tuwaitha complex. That's interesting. There's also a report of a Finnish "centrifugal pump," which may be a revelation that some parts necessary for enrichment were not destroyed (but enrichment requires a large- scale operation). These don't rise to the level of "scary" yet. But there are two parts that do scare me.

The first part is that marines, apparently completely uninformed about Iraq's nuclear program, were entering the facility. Throwing open doors and examining drums of highly radioactive material, watching their radiation detectors go "off the scale." That's crazy. The Tuwaitha complex was known by the inspectors to be highly radioactive! The apparent ignorance may have put these soldiers at grave risk and just underscores our lack of planning, organization, and willful refusal to even use information provided by the inspections process. But perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at this, given our willingness to expose our own troops to depleted uranium on the battlefield.

The second part is that there is a possibility that the seals have been broken on this material and that some may have been removed. This was not the case at the time of the last inspection on February 6th, and may not have even been the case as of March 10th. But that's what the latest reports are saying.

The power is out at the site. Looters are cutting through the electrified fences and entering the buildings. One possible conclusion is that in the "fog of war," with the demolition of the ongoing inspections regime, we've created conditions for an undetected "smash and grab" of radioactive material, not highly enriched uranium, not plutonium, but still dangerous, and suitable for creation of a dirty bomb to be used within Iraq, against our own troops (as if the battlefield depleted uranium was not enough), or against America on our own soil.

In fact, this isn't the first time we've increased, rather than decreased, the risk. Take a look at this story from Gulf War I. We bombed the Tuwaitha complex. And we wonder now if it might be leaking. During the bombing, Iraq refused to report on the whereabouts of 20 kg. of "highly enriched" (suitable for making a real weapon) that had gone missing.

It is war that leads to the chaos in which this kind of thing can happen, and peace and the cooperative application of international law that prevent it. And those are the part of the story that scares me. Can I get an "amen?"

P.S.: I've written Andrew Sullivan a note informing him that citing such a distorted and inflammatory story from Fox News just makes him look uninformed, and advised him to distance himself from the story's implication that U.S. ground forces "discovered" the activities at the Tuwaitha complex, with a followup post on his site. No response yet.

P.P.S.: This piece has been edited: I removed references to nuclear power in Iraq. It isn't clear to me from the record whether Iraq's reactor(s) were ever used for power generation; although Iraq claimed to be working on reactors for civilian (power-generation) use, it appears they may have been used for "research" (that is, the weapons program) only. Scott Ritter's book "Endgame" talks about Iraq's efforts at building a nuclear weapon and their failure to achieve it.

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Sat, 12 Apr 2003 So, They Can Hear Me!

It turns out that Audible.com is listening after all. While they still have not responded to their e-mail, I was able to get into a live chat with a live person in response to another issue. An episode of Fresh Air I purchased turned out to be a repeat broadcast of an earlier program. This is usually indicated in the program description, but it was not this time. This is not Audible's fault; presumably they use the program description WHYY provides.

Upon request they were willing to credit the purchase back to my credit card and remove the duplicate show (actually the same show apparently digitized earlier, in a lower-bitrate format, but with the same filename.

This was quite confusing, and not well-handled by the interface available on their web site. The library pages are not really well-suited for handling things like Fresh Air programs, that may have recurring guests; for example, once you've checked out, you can't get back from the program's filename listed in your library to the program description that contains the air date and program summary; this may be necessary to distinguish two programs with identical names in the library.

I also figured out, with no help from Audible, why my PowerBook could not burn Audible files to CD-R, while my office G4 desktop machine could; iTunes on my PowerBook was set to burn an MP3 CD, not an audio CD. Audible apparently disallows this, although the error message only says "none of the items can be burned to CD." I'm still annoyed at having to drag all the Audible files into my office to burn the audio CDs at work, and at Audible's unresponsiveness to tech-support requests via e-mail. But I'm less annoyed, and getting help from a real person goes a long way towards making me feel better about using the service.

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Mon, 07 Apr 2003 Audible.com: Can You Hear Me Now?

I've been trying out Audible.com, a business whose model is digital delivery of audio content. It all began with an attempt to gain access to content from the NPR show Fresh Air. Fresh Air's web site explicitly states:

We do not object to the educational and non-profit use of Fresh Air program audio. We do not provide research or other special services for listeners. Individuals or not-for-profit institutions which intend to make limited, non-profit, educational use of Fresh Air programs may record the programs off the air or purchase tapes from Burrelle's. Please credit, " Fresh Air with Terry Gross, produced in Philadelphia by WHYY" in your use.

Therefore, I have never felt reluctance to record the program on casette tape and share it with family members of friends. But the show comes on at noon: this isn't convenient for me. Being unable to start the tape at the right time or flip it, I usually wind up with an incomplete recording. I could order a tape: they cost $23.70. That's quite a bit. Instead I decided to try Audible, where the individual programs cost $1.95 or less, depending on special promotions or subscription purchases. My first Fresh Air download cost only $1.56. Clearly a bargain. But even something that is free may not be worth it, if it costs me time, additional money, or aggravation. By that standard, is Audible worth it?

Although Fresh Air is legally distributable as described above, Audible's file format is not; it is a presumably DMCA-compliant format, and your use of the content is enforced by code. You may allegedly download the file in one of several different bit rates, download it to an iPod (I don't have one; the lowest-end iPod still costs $300), or burn a CD. After you've purchased it and downloaded it, the first time you play the file, you'll have to provide your Audible username and password. After that, it seems to be possible to play the program an indefinite number of times, but I can't vouch for that with any certainty. How long will I be allowed to use the content? Will I need to re-authorize this file at some point in the future, if I move it to a new hard drive, a new computer, or put it on a (digital) CD-ROM? Programs you've purchased stay in your on-line library; I was able to download the file both at home and at work. I guess this is my backup, but what limitations exist on when and how I can download it again? What if Audible goes tits-up? The file is not a standard MP3 file. Do I "own" it? Am I "renting" this file? Taken this way, making a casette off the air does indeed seem far less troublesome!

There is a "back door" -- iTunes can burn a copy of the content to a plain old audio CD-R. Just what I want: now I can listen to it in the car, or on my (plain old) CD player. But when I tried this on my G4 PowerBook with an external Yamaha FireWire CD-RW drive, it did not work: iTunes consistently reports that "none of the items in the playlist can be burned to CD." I've now tried it with a different program: it still doesn't work.

It apparently isn't the case that I'm doing something wrong: the mirrored-drive-door (or "wind tunnel") G4 dual-processor 867-MHz desktop machine at my office will download and burn the same file to CD-R, using the exact same versions of MacOS X and iTunes, and the same procedure. So I've got a workaround. This flaw is probably a result of excessive paranoia in Audible's protection code, but why does this code care that the CD-RW drive is not built-in? The drive has always performed flawlessly with other file formats, and in this case, the content provider itself has given me permission to make any "limited non-profit, educational use of Fresh Air programs." Since this is the case, why doesn't Audible provide the content in a standard MP3 file?

I've attempted to contact Audible tech support about this issue; I've received, so far, only automated replies that referred me to the same FAQs available on the web site; they don't address this problem. It isn't encouraging. Also not encouraging is Audible's web site; it arbitrarly lost the stored expiration date of my stored credit card information, giving the impression that my card had stopped working. Sometimes links don't work; sometimes buttons don't work; reloading the page makes them work again. I don't think it is worthwile to write these issues up for reporting to tech support; I'm not interested in more automated replies.

So, so far I've found workarounds to all the problems I've encountered using Audible. But the phrase "not ready for prime time" springs to mind; and Audible has been in business long enough that these issues should have been worked out by now. For a handful of the low-cost, high-value (to me) programs, it has probably been worthwhile, despite all the twiddling and workarounds. For real, full-price content or daily use? Call my skeptical; traditional tape or CD media seems to be far more flexible, and I don't have to argue with someone's code or an unresponsive tech-support staff over what rights I have to use the content.

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Tue, 01 Apr 2003 People of Iraq: Please Give Up

I just heard a commentator on the BBC speaking about how he believed the Iraqui perception that the war is going badly here in the U.S. may be giving them the impression that it will be possible to force the U.S. to abandon the war prior to fulfilling its objectives, and thus fighting with greater ferocity and dying in greater numbers.

They probably think that America lives in a democracy and that anti-war voices will sway the administration in the short run, and that if the war goes badly for us and appears to drag on, resulting in a lot of American troops dead, we'll lose our stomach for it and end this tragedy.

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth, at least until the next American election in 2004. That is far too long and far too many Iraquis could die. Therefore, I feel compelled to make the following statement, addressed to the people of Iraq:

People of Iraq,

Please, surrender. Show no signs of resistance; welcome the coalition forces, even if they commit atrocities against your people and your families; do not attack them, even if they have destroyed your homes and brought you starvation and terror; even if they have used weapons of mass destruction against you on the field of battle; don't fight; don't throw away your lives in suicide bombings; don't attack. Our forces are strong; there are more where they came from. They will kill without mercy; more will come. They are frightened; fear will make them lash out in violence. Act calmly around our soldiers. Move slowly. In this situation of anger and fear, many of you have already died, and more could die, due to a misunderstood gesture or action. We want as many of you as possible to continue to live. DO NOT FIGHT BECAUSE YOU BELIEVE THE AMERICAN PEACE MOVEMENT MAY BRING AN END TO THE WAR. This may happen, but it will not happen soon. We were not able to stop the war from happening. We will continue to try and bring an end to this madness, but we are not confident. Why?

We are rational, sensible American people who are opposed to killing for economic reasons and opposed to our own government's terrorist atrocities, and don't believe we should be fighting this war. But we have lost all control of our government. Let me repeat that: WE HAVE LOST ALL CONTROL OF OUR OWN GOVERNMENT, AND OUR MILITARY. Our President, whom we did not elect, is not acting in accordance with our wishes, and our elected representatives are doing nothing to respond to the voices of sanity here in America. The terrorists who attacked America on September 11th, 2001, have won; they've gotten their way; they innoculated America with terror, and that terror has spread and infected and metastatized like a cancer, and burst forth, and we are now spreading that terror elsewhere. America is a rogue state and a terrorist; possibly the biggest and most dangerous that world has ever known. It did not need to happen this way, but it has happened this way.

Our own Congress, the body that the wise men who wrote our constitution invested with the exclusive power to declare war, has executed its own "preemptive strike" and handed the president the authority to do anything he pleases with our military, all in the name of "the war on terror", and all out of fear. The administration has lied to us and convinced many of us that Iraq is an immediate danger to the security of the United States: so great a threat that the regime of a sovereign nation halfway around the world, who has not attacked us, is now an issue of the utmost importance. Never mind that most of the evidence to support the war is completely false; the lies have been told, and Americans have chosen to believe them. These are not the real reasons, but the coalition will still fight just as viciously. America is promoting a whole new military strategy, the pre-emptive, "preventive" war, as if using violence could prevent violence. We are in gross breach of international law, but America has no more respect for international law. Our contempt for the world will haunt us for decades to come, and it is hard to believe, but the war-mongering rhetoric of the first President Bush about "the rule of law" and "naked aggression will not stand" and "a new world order" now seems like a distant memory of a happier and saner time in comparison to these dark and vicious days. We are the naked aggressors; we follow no laws; our new world is disordered.

Rational debate has all but evaporated now in the frenzy of television coverage for the war. American public opinion actually seems to support the war now, although I believe that much of this support is "soft" and will dry up as the war progresses and people come to the realization that a war, especially an illegal war, cannot be won without horrific bloodshed. But please make no mistake: THIS WILL NOT STOP OUR ADMINISTRATION. They are far beyond the reach of such moral appeals. They are committing war crimes, but there is no court that will ever try them. People of conscience and compassion are marching in our cities to protest this heartbreaking war, but they are called "sympathizers" with your tyrant, Saddam Hussein. Many more feel in their hearts that what America is doing is not right. Let me make that point again: WHAT AMERICA IS DOING IS NOT RIGHT, IT IS NOT MORAL, AND IT IS NOT LEGAL. But America will continue doing it for the forseeable future; for your own safety, please get out of the way. Let them do what they have come to do; they will tire of it; they have short attention spans. We can't even remember to rebuild Afghanistan after destroying it yet again; we can't remember to provide the humanitarian aid that we promised, and as our own administration has said, we have no real interest in "nation-building." We are on a mission of destruction, not reconstruction. It will not last forever.

American intellectuals are, for the most part, going unheard. We're talking, but mostly to each other. No one else will listen to us. Please listen: our president is out of control. He has been badly duped and deceived by cynical pro-war hawks who have been planning a kind of coup since the Reagan adminstration; they actually believe that America single-handedly destroyed the former Soviet Union and that after this success it is our duty to use our military might to do whatever we please, anywhere in the world. We did not elect these people. They have views that are strange to us; they bring together the worst parts of unquestioned support for the Israeli regime, support for the merchants of international arms that profit from suffering, and support for the companies that paid to bring George W. Bush, their puppet and pawn, into office. They may even believe that it is their task to help bring about the end of the world. They speak with the language of religion, but they are godless and lawless. These rogues are the power behind the throne. They answer to no one. Their delusions regarding the power of military intervention to bring about peace and justice are clearly nonsensical, but they know no bounds, as if a lie grown monstrous could someday aspire to truth. President Bush is a fool who does not understand history or politics, but yet he is in charge of nuclear weapons, depleted uranium, fuel-air explosives, cluster bombs, chemical agents, and other weapons of mass destruction. He believes that the tyrant Saddam Hussein is a kind of Hitler, but he is too stupid to understand that he himself has become an agent of all that is darkest and cynical and violent.

If this was not bad enough, he himself actually believes that God has chosen him to be his agent on earth, and that God is on the side of the aggressor. This has never been true, but he believes it is true, and that is all that counts. His language is the language of Jihad. He believes that to invade Iraq at this historical moment and express America's vengeance will be his glorious legacy. To do so he is sacrificing money for schools, for veterans, for the poor. What little is left has been promised to cut our taxes, but these cuts will mostly help the very rich. He does not know what it is that he is doing. America is not asking for this. America is exploding with impotent rage and fear and our government has bottled up that fear, and poured it back down our throats, until we have come to believe that revenge is the path of righteousness, even revenge against the wrong people. And at the same time that we lash out at the world, as we realize that we cannot dominate, terrorize, and control the entire world, our fear is turning inward. Americans are losing many of the glorious freedoms that we cherish in a free and open society. We are beginning to live in fear of what our own government is going to do next; we wake up every day in fear of our own newscasts, because we know that this is not the nation that we loved and we can no longer trust our leaders to do anything but hasten the rot and profit from the suffering.

Our only hope is that intellectuals, rational people, and peace-loving people will be able to get rid of our president and his mercenary crew of thieves at the next election, at the end of 2004. We have less than two years left. I hope that our victory will be decisive, and I hope that America will have a better leader to offer the world. I hope that God will see fit to forgive our president for what he has done and what he has allowed to happen in his name. I hope that George W. Bush will get down on his knees and beg the forgiveness of the God in whose name he has brought about this horror. I hope that we can undo the damage that this adminstration has done and continues to do to the name and reputation of the United States of America in the world. Today, I am ashamed to be a patriotic American. I hope that one day soon I will no longer be ashamed of America's actions. But until then, despite our street protests, our marches, our letters, our rage and sadness and disgust and nausea at what is being done in our name, there is not much we can achieve in the face of a country gone mad with blood lust and greed. Please save yourselves and pray with us for a better and saner time.

Lay down your weapons; help us to end this insane war as we are, by showing no support for it, and by refusing to participate in it. My heart fills with profound feelings of solidarity for all who would chose the path of peace.

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