The Rants, Raves, Gripes, and Prophecies of Paul R. Potts

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Sun, 30 Mar 2003 America Using WMD, Violating Geneva Convention, No Film at 11

According to the Sunday Herald, the U.S. is again using depleted uranium weaponry. I quote:

According to a August 2002 report by the UN subcommission, laws which are breached by the use of DU shells include: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Charter of the United Nations; the Genocide Convention; the Convention Against Torture; the four Geneva Conventions of 1949; the Conventional Weapons Convention of 1980; and the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, which expressly forbid employing 'poison or poisoned weapons' and 'arms, projectiles or materials calculated to cause unnecessary suffering'.

And then there's this little tidbit:

The use of DU has also led to birth defects in the children of Allied veterans and is believed to be the cause of the 'worrying number of anophthalmos cases -- babies born without eyes' in Iraq. Only one in 50 million births should be anophthalmic, yet one Baghdad hospital had eight cases in just two years. Seven of the fathers had been exposed to American DU anti-tank rounds in 1991.

Sometimes, I just don't have anything to add.

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Mon, 24 Mar 2003 Shock, Awe... Horror, Disgust... Business as Usual... and Deja Vu

It's a Monday. It hasn't been a good day in battle, say the headlines. Wall Street has started to lose its enthusiasm, realizing, to their apparent surprise, that you can't conquer a sovereign nation the size of California -- even an impoverished, desperate sovereign nation -- over a three-day weekend, so the lucrative rebuilding contracts aren't quite ready to hand out.

Maybe as we listen to the endless echoes that whisper "support our troops," we could take a moment to consider how the Bush administration is supporting them: by slashing veteran's benefits. Yes, they really are pushing this through right now, and the vote has split along party lines. Just astounding. See also this article and this one. In case you missed it, veterans themselves are starting to speak out against the Bush administration, too.

It should not be a surprise, but we're starting to see losses. A British jet was brought down, somewhat predictably, by an American Patriot missile. We've killed a journalist with "friendly fire." The Patriots didn't perform flawlessly in Desert Storm and missed a few Scuds, including one notable case where a Patriot failed to prevent the deaths of 28 Americans in an Army barracks (see the GAO's story on the software problem that supposedly led to this failure here. There are always a few bugs to work out. This should come as no shock... unless you believe in Star Wars.

We've now had some personnel losses on the ground. Al-Jazeera broadcast footage of American POWs, and some killed in battle. I've seen the stills, even though Al-Jazeera's web site was pretty well hammered (apparently, it runs Microsoft SQL Server; relatively easy to crash). They're gruesome, of course. This is not surprising. But the big controversy today: not "how did this happen?" or even "is this justified by our goals?" but "should Americans be able to see those pictures, those scenes?" And then, the outrage: goodness, "Iraq has violated the Geneva Convention!"

In case you missed it, we haven't done such a great job taking care of our prisoners of the "war on terror." (According to Rumsfeld, they aren't POWs, and so aren't entitled to Geneva Convention treatment, but the press can't take pictures of their living conditions... because that would violate the Geneva Convention. WTF And, of course, there's the Iraqui soldiers we plowed under in their trenches, or bombed as they retreated (see the essay here. We even claimed that it was legal. And that's just some very recent examples. Please keep these things in mind when you hear American officials expressing righteous indignation about Iraq's atrocities towards our POWs; you'd come away thinking that we have some measure of respect for International Law. We don't.

This is going to take longer than "predicted." Predicted by whom? Did someone forget to tell the pundits exactly what going to war would involve? That people were going to be killed? Did people simply forget to take some time to think, prior to jumping in and throwing their support behind this endeavor?

The Guardian writes here:

...for the first few days of the Iraq invasion, British and American opinion has been in danger of slipping into a fool's paradise. Buoyed by our sense of technological, political and moral superiority towards Iraq, and precipitated by our culture's preference for short, sharp, scheduled outcomes, we have risked falling prey to a delusion that modern war is easy, cost-free and entertaining, when it is none of these things.

Did someone forget that in Desert Storm, the Iraqui army was in Kuwait, far from home, with the problem of supply lines, of escape routes. Attacking the Iraqui army in Baghdad has never looked to me like a Desert Storm situation. It has looked to me like... a Vietnam. Another country the size of California, where it was difficult to distinguish combatants from noncombatants, and where our frustration and fear led us to commit atrocities. And then there were the fraggings

Meanwhile, on the peace front, the opposition to this misbegotten war is growing and seems to be gaining legitimacy. It isn't just students out to cut class who are stating their opposition. And it isn't just about this war: it's also about the new National Security Strategy: the so-called Bush doctrine. This document is what is going to determine our next war, when we've abandoned Iraq to its wreckage and left the cleaning up to various humanitarian organizations that we won't bother to fund.

During the first Gulf War, I told everyone I knew to please, have their second thoughts first. Killing is killing. After the first Gulf War, Bush Senior crowed that "the specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula." It looks like this time there will be plenty of time for people to carefully consider their views... while we dig it up.

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Fri, 21 Mar 2003 Drums of Peace, Voices of Sanity

I attended a peace rally in downtown Ann Arbor last night. It's very difficult to estimate the size of the crowd from within the midst of it, but my wife guessed that about two thousand turned out. It was a noisy, but from what I saw, completely benign and non-combative crowd. I saw no incidents or arguments and no clashes with police (although of course I could have missed something). There were news helicopters overhead and reporters and camera crews on the street (although without a TV, I didn't get the chance to see how the protest was covered). There was a wide range of ages, classes, and nationalities. I saw many friends I haven't seen for a long time. I want to say publicly that was proud to pound a drum for peace, proud to march with my wife and eight-year-old son, and proud to be one of them.

As we start to shock and awe, or at least to terrorize and horrify, it's worth noting that a few of our pussilanimous elected representatives are saying brave and truthful things: see Rep. Pete Stark here. Most, though, are still dragging out the tired party line that once the troops are on the ground, it's time to abandon protest and throw our full support behind whatever our administration chooses to do with them.

It's an argument I find strange in many ways, a knot of tightly conflated issues. To me, it ignores notions about expression of dissent that this country were allegedly founded on, the Christian notion of separation of the sinner from the sin, and a fundamental concern for the welfare of human beings. Rep. George Miller says "It's our young people who will be in jeopardy. They are the ones who are on the firing line. Now that the decision has been made to go to war, they are entitled to our full support."

But by this argument, in my view, we should reserve our greatest contempt for those who made the decision to put them in harm's way to fight an unjustifiable and illegal war. Does the president "support our troops?"

Natasha Walter writes here "this pragmatic desire for a quick victory rather than a bloody, drawn-out struggle doesn't mean that it is necessary to idealise these men who are fighting this unjust war. In fact, it is vital that we do not now start to blur reality by idealising them." Although we should always endeavor to love the sinner and hate the sin, I have little doubt that many are drawn to participate in the military for less than benign reasons. There are those in the military who look forward to a chance to inflict violence. Those who have been through the experience, however, are not so quick to recommend it. Even those "just following orders" must ultimately justify and reconcile themselves to what they do in wartime. Frequently, the long-term result is a profound disillusionment. Stephen Banko III writes about his wartime experience here and David Boe takes on Charlie Daniels here.

Let's also remember that the notion of a "coalition of the willing" is rather less than one might hope. In fact, it is a fabrication, nearly entirely spin. Even the New York Times wrote "the administration released a list of 43 nations it said were willing to be identified publicly as coalition members. Many of them had little to offer the war effort but moral support. While the list included Afghanistan, Eritrea, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Rwanda and Uganda, only Britain and Australia have contributed sizable forces." The Marshall Islands? Even Canada does not necessarily support our actions. In Montreal, sports fans booed the playing of the national anthem!

And, apparently, the Dow has been increasing for the eighth day running. Nothing like a way to get the economy moving.

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Thu, 20 Mar 2003 The Rhetoric Is Flying

The missiles are flying. This is, of course, anti-climactic; no one has seriously doubted that our administration was going to get its war on. Frustrated by our inability to exact concrete revenge on the person of Osama bin Laden, we've apparently completed an amazing act of psychological transference that would make Freud blush: who was it that was national enemy number one again? Saddam bin Laden? Osama Hussein?

And what is our motive again, exactly? In Bush's statements, in Rumsfeld's statements, in Fleischer's conferences, I keep hearing differing statements of just what we are doing: are we there to enact "regime change?" Are we there to "disarm Iraq?" Are we there for "the liberation of the Iraqui people?" Or are we there to "bring democracy to the Middle East?" Perhaps I'm just dense, but it seems to me that these objectives, if not just muddled, may actually be contradictory.

Our cowardly elected representatives have now felt which way the hot air is blowing and are dropping any pretense of dissatsifaction with the administration's actions. We're told that "now is not the time to protest," that "we need to come together and support our troops." In case it is not blindingly obvious, let me state it clearly:

Those opposing the war on moral, religious, political, humanitarian, or other grounds all have the greatest sympathy and concern for those in harm's way.

Now, here is the part that those who mistake metahpor for reality will probably great have difficulty understanding:

We believe that the people of Iraq are people just as we are: we do not place the value American lives above the lives of Iraquis. (I guess this is what really exercises the hawks and gets those opposed to war blamed for treason, providing aid and comfort to the enemy, and all kinds of other atrocities).

As my wife likes to point out, God is never on the side of the bully. God always sides with the meek, the inconsequential, the victim, collaterally damaged. He never takes the sides of those commiting atrocities because they were "just following orders." To say otherwise is to wilfully misunderstand the fundamental messages of Biblical history.

Insisting that "supporting U.S. troops" means turning our back on the fate of the rest of the human beings caught up in this madness is a rhetorical act of dehumanization that no principled person could support. It seems to obvious to need stating, but let me state it anyway:

The way to reduce the danger to the lives of both American troops and soldiers of other nationalities, as well as Iraquis and other persons of other nationalities within Iraq, is to lay down weapons and end hostilities as quickly as possible.

As I write this, I can hear the loudest protest march yet outside my office window. This gives me hope. I will be joining them later today. This is not the time for those who oppose this war to drop their principles, bend over, and accept the inevitable. If this war was a misguided, opportunistic, divisive, and immoral act before the hostilities got fully underway, and I believe it was, how could it not be now?

As the weapons go on-line, and the rhetoric ramps up, keep your vision clear, remember to carefully separate metaphor from the reality, and get out there and be heard, both now and at election time.

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Tue, 18 Mar 2003 Sleepless in Ann Arbor

Well, it appears that the clock is ticking... President Bush has given Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave the country. I had to stop by the bank this morning and unfortunately caught a glimpse of CNN; the brief glimpse almost burned out my retinas. I want to rinse my eyeballs in bactine or something. Bouncing, animated "terror alerts" ratcheting up to orange! Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! It makes me glad that I haven't been following this on television (we don't have cable, and so can't tune in anything). Re my comments previously about hot and cold media: CNN must be the "Elmo's World" of war coverage.

It would be interesting to see just how and if the population's support for unilateral military action against Iraq correlates with how we get our news. My hypothesis is that talking heads with earnest, earnest faces, together with biased, distorted, and edited coverage and flashy, hypnotic graphics, produce a much more uncritical attitude of support towards American policy.

Grace and I sat across from each other at the dining table last night and sighed. However this plays out, whatever happens, it ain't gonna be good. There's the retaliatory terrorism scenario; I think it's likely, and to be blunt, we're fucking asking for it. Talk about the terrorists winning: what better evidence that they have already won, than by seeing the outcome of the process by which the U.S. becomes one of them? A rogue state that defies the will of the international community and attacks another? Bombing and invading a sovereign nation who has, literally, not threatened or attacked us -- based on sketchy evidence of possible threat mixed in with a heavy dose of religiously-tinged ideology -- what do you call that again? Can you say "terrorism?" I knew you could!

Now, we may not use what we classify as Weapons of Mass Destruction (d'ya notice how this has become a new vocabulary word -- as if it truly represented a clear-cut category, now universally abbreviated as WMD) -- but do you think that massive aerial bombardment is somehow not massively destructive? Does anyone remember the televised demos of the "fuel-air explosives" from Gulf War I, designed to rupture the lungs and other organs, burst the eardrums, and suffocate and burn the victims? (See Human Rights Watch). That's a conventional weapon. So is the new MOAB (Mother of All Bombs). I suppose we've decided that depleted uranium does not constitute a WMD, but do we feel good about maintaining the moral high ground in not using WMD, but instead Massively Destructive Conventional Weapons (MDCW)?

I hope President Bush is sleeping well, because I'm sure not. Besides the massive casualties, the massive expense, we've got the massive violations of international law -- and, now, disgustingly, apparently just about every other nation in the world is prepared to look the other way, given sufficient bribes, or threats when bribes won't work. We're likely to see environmental damage that makes Gulf War I's flaming oil wells look insignificant by comparison. And we'll have the burden of responsibility for masses of refugees -- which we will conveniently blame on Saddam Hussein, and conveniently fail to provide for, leaving the rest of our strained "international community" to try to take care of the human cost of our attack. We'll have "regime change."

And perhaps most ominously, we'll have set a brave new precedent and turned into reality the police-state, world-policeman fantasies of the new U. S. Security Strategy. Welcome to the future of international relations. Can anyone believe that this is going to make the world a safer place?

One more thing we can be reasonably sure of: we'll find the evidence to justify the war. The U. S. will uncover a secret cache of... something nasty... that the inspectors obviously overlooked, illustrating their clear incompentence. Something that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, unless you realize that it is fraudulent, planted evidence. The press will be allowed to file in and photograph the evidence, then filed out quickly, before they notice that we've covered up the "Made in U.S.A." labels with ones that say... "Fabrique en France." The administration's done this kind of thing before, and they'll do it again. Keep an eye out. And watch for that "plausible deniability" thing in action; if it is exposed, it'll be blamed on an overzealous, low-ranking official of some kind.

And remember -- we still have the power to enact regime change here. Let's make it decisive. Let Bush be remembered as the the president who was voted out after one term by the biggest margin in history. And pray that there's a genuine leader to vote for who can help clean up this mess, or at least fail to make it worse. After all, any fool can start a war, and we're seeing proof.

A few more links: see Robin Cook's resignation speech here.

The resignation letter of diplomat John Brady Kiesling.

The resignation letter of Foreign Service Officer John H. Brown.

The Australian intelligence official Andrew Wilkie.

And the Onion was, distressingly, eerily prophetic.

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Ramping Up the Rhetoric

There's a very wise, insightful piece on Alternet by George Lakoff, a Professor of Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, about the language of war and the metaphors that we use to make the notion of killing large numbers of people morally acceptable. Please go read it! The essay is here.

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Sat, 15 Mar 2003 Mister Rogers: Stranger in a Strange Land -- Thank God

Rather than rant about Gulf War II: Electric Boogaloo tonight, I want to write down some ideas that struck me when thinking about the life and work of Fred Rogers; some ideas that I haven't seen mentioned in any of the writing either eulogizing or kind-heartedly (or sometimes, not so kind-heartedly) mocking him. His television show shares, among the tragically hip, an stereotype one might associate with the "special" individuals consigned to ride the short bus to school every day: "kind-heareted," hopelessly slow, doomed never to grow up, and therefore mired in an irrelevant past that has nothing to do with the world of arms inspections, Sept. 11th, Grand Theft Auto, botox, dot-bombs, and Internet-mediated one-night-stands.

But the real gift of Fred Rogers was that he had, in fact, a profound understanding about the medium of television and how to use it to convey his dead-serious messages to children. Marshall McLuhan spoke of hot and cool media; Fred Rogers realized that to use television, it was not necessary to introduce jump cuts and brightly colored fuzzy characters: instead, it was necessary to cool down the medium, to slow down the message, not to wind up children with candy and junk breakfast cereal and toy advertisements, but to speak slowly and directly, to introduce minimal props and a homey, comforting, and most importantly, consistent, environment.

Mister Rogers could have modernized; he could have introduced flashy animation and dancing bears; King Friday the Thirteenth, Daniel Striped Tiger, and Esmerelda could have become anime characters or green-furred muppets with tentacles or little Elmos or Pikachus, endearing, but ultimately vacuous. Instead he focused tirelessly on some very simple messages: sometimes the world is a frightening place; everyone gets frightened. It's OK. You can never go down the drain. You are special. (Not merely, ironically "special.")

Do a quick comparison between Mister Rogers' living room here, a suburban living room that is positively boring, but a calm and collected place to interact, and Elmo's living room, a technological marvel full of hyperactive objects, puppeteered in real-time by an entire team of human puppeteers driving computer-generated objects, that won't give Elmo a moment's peace. Which is going to give kids the time to reflect and understand that is necessary for developing a sense of self-worth and self-efficacy?

Exercise for the reader: why does Sesame Street, designed for children older than Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is designed for, assume that the older children need such intense stimulation? Could it be that it is really the adults running the show who crave the stimulation they are putting on the screen? And which approach to educational television for young, vulnerable, easily confused, and easily over-stimulated children is actually deserving of your mockery? Discuss.

Fred Rogers wrote:

Whatever we do to show our children we love them, nothing can replace times when we give them our complete attention. I believe that the children who have learned that there will be such times for them are the ones who are at least likely to demand it and to compete for it.

If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.

We'd all like to feel self-reliant and capable of coping with whatever adversity comes our way, but that's not how most human beings are made. It's my belief that the capacity to accept help is inseparable from the capacity to give help when our turn comes to be strong.

As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has -- or ever will have -- something inside that is unique to all time. It's our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.

Fred Rogers was not a doddering, dull man, although it saddened me to see age dig its claws into his body. He was a rare man who was lucky enough to discover what he wanted to do -- what gave him joy and what use the world had for him -- and he did it. How many of us have what he had, and give the world something that it truly needs?

Addendum 23 Mar 2004: The Children's Television Workshop broke the link for Elmo's World; it attempts to forward, but to a bad URL. Elmo's World seems to be here now: but I was unable to find the "Elmo's Living Room" interface; it seems to have been replaced with a new interface to choose mini-games.

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Wed, 12 Mar 2003 Et Tu, Daddy?

I'm having a bad day: not enough sleep, a cranky son who didn't want to get up to go to school. So you may notice that I'm giving up my pretense of civility today. It seems to me that politeness isn't working; it's time to get cranky. Howard Zinn writes of "the emergence of new voices, unheard before, speaking "inappropriately" outside their professional boundaries... 1500 historians have signed an anti-war petition. Businessmen, clergy, have put full page ads in newspapers. All refusing to stick to their "profession" and instead professing that they are human beings first." It gives me some hope. Something else that will give me hope: major demonstrations in every city. Walkouts. A national strike. Anything but business as usual, because this isn't.

One thing is making me feel a little better: I'm not alone. George W. Bush is probably having a pretty bad day too. His own father is warning him against the danger of completely alienating the international community: Times Online story Bush Senior said "The Madrid conference would never have happened if the international coalition that fought together in Desert Storm had exceeded the UN mandate and gone on its own into Baghdad after Saddam and his forces." And in 1996 he told the BBC "to occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us, and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero." (See the Counterpunch essay.) Will Bush Jr. listen to his father and ease up on the cowboy rhetoric?

Maybe if we gave him a certificate signed by the world's leaders acknowledging that yes, he's the man with the biggest dick, and the French can't take that away from him, he would breathe a sigh of relief and settle down to the business of running the country. He wouldn't feel threatened by the existence of "french fries" and "french toast" (renamed at the House office building cafeterias by Republican lawmakers; see the CNN story here. But I'm not very hopeful: according to a Reuters story the U.S. is already lining up contractors to reconstruct "health services, ports and airports, and schools and other educational institutions." And, of course, how could these companies, which include a subsidiary of Cheney's former company Haliburton, get on with the business of earning $900 million dollars for rebuilding, unless we get on with the business of demolition? And they've got just the thing to do the demolition: this 21,000 pound bomb, billed as "the mother of all bombs," to be employed for "psychological operations." Maybe this will change some minds in Iraq... or at least puree them. Of course, $900 million could do a lot of good here, repairing "schools and educational institutions," such as... say... this one.

If you're wondering whether I can possibly be cynical enough to suggest that the U.S. would deliberately spend hundreds of billions of dollars, and put Iraqui and American lives at risk, in order to provide a few hundred millions of dollars for its favored friends, let me be clear: yes, I am just that cynical, and sick at heart. These organizations probably did not even ask for this largesse. According to Reuters, "Sources at the companies said the invitation was unusual in that USAID did not ask them to set a price for defined services but rather asked them to say what they could do for $900 million." Of course, this is a drop in the bucket, or rather the barrel, compared to the economic factor staring us in the face: the assurance of continued access to cheap oil. Is it so obvious we can't believe it could be that simple?

Is there any limit to our duplicity? The Observer reports a leaked American plan to conduct "aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the emails of UN delegates in New York." See the article here. Haliburton already has the contract to put out the burning oil fields we set on fire. And there's more forged and planted evidence of Iraq's supposed attempts to acquire nuclear weapons.

What is the goal, again, exactly? In other words, just what can Saddam do to avoid bombing, invasion, and massive casualties? Fred Kaplan in Slate points out that there are no clear steps Saddam can take; our American policy doesn't even give him a standard to comply with. Lots of people are spouting off about how Iraq could have avoided all this and gotten out of the sanctions doghouse -- but, in fact, this [was never the plan]([]. The U.S. had no intentions of lifting sanctions; Madeline Albright in 1997 said "We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted." So we've never, in fact, given Saddam Hussein any real incentive to work hard to comply with U. N. resolutions. And now we're giving him a serious incentive -- the massive buildup to invasion and bombing -- to comply -- and we've raised the bar. Ari Fleischer said "To avoid war... Saddam must not only disarm totally but step down from power." What kind of U.N. resolution mandated that?

What kind of a precedent does it set for one sovereign nation to demand that the leader of another, operating within its own borders, and arguably complying (albeit barely) with U.N. resolutions, must "step down?" Even Tony Blair believes that's not something we can reasonably ask. See the Boston Globe's Editorial:

Bush's inconsistency on this point -- disarmament or regime change? -- undermined the early case for war. That it reappears now, obliterating Powell's argument of a month ago, is fatal to the moral integrity of the prowar position.

It's not surprise that our own allies are ready to veto us.

Of course, there are some credible threats out there: Iran is apparently close to nuclear capability. Then there's the minor matter of North Korea, with whom we're apparently not speaking. Perhaps we could just demand disarmament and regime change all over the goddamned place. Of course, we could consider getting our own house in order.

And happy fucking Easter.

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Sun, 02 Mar 2003 What Would Jesus Eat?

A report on what the diet of Jesus would look like... in the unlikely event that Christians could ever actually agree on anything about the life of Christ.

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