Tuli Can't Stop Talking

These are just my thoughts on contemporary issues and an attempt to open up a dialogue.

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Location: New York City

A citizen who cares deeply about the United States Constitution and the Rule of Law.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You!

I saw this video and had to post it as I am so indiscriminate. It’s a tribute to one of my favorite actors and with a song by one of my favorite vocalists who is singing one of my favorite songs.

I guess that’s a lot of favorites in just one post.

"Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You" is so apropos and so true. I have such a girl crush on Ms. Mirren!

Surfing the Intertubes!

So, after perusing the news and seeing that the usual suspects are up to the same old thing, I decided to take a trip back in time. I take my trips back to past via music. So, that meant a trip to Youtube.

First up are classics from way back in the day. And classics always hold up to the test of time. Especially when the talent is extraordinary as it is here:

Yes the classics certainly hold up, don’t they? Here are Ella, Miss Nancy, Al and a tune by Stevie all together in one venue!

Then I moved into my memories from the mid-seventies. Phyllis was so talented, beautiful and also extraordinary. She sang at a club on the Upper-Westside regularly and we got to know each other. This was when she was singing standards, reminding me of Miss Nancy Wilson, and before the big costume era. This video is quite interesting and I love this song:

Betcha By Golly Wow, indeed. I miss her so!

Though the seventies were a pretty terrific time for me I finally got sentimental about the nineties and one of my favorite classic sixties songs in one of my favorite scenes from a movie. These three women in this scene take the Lesley Gore and Dusty Springfield classic and really turn it into an anthem:

And so as they charge off into the good night and face their future, let us hope that what is coming for all of us is just as hopeful.

What the Colonel Says!

You really do have to wonder who in the hell we think we are. I thought that Iraq was a “Sovereign Country.” What does the U.S. Senate have to say about how Iraq should be organized? Oh, yes, that’s right after March 2003 it is clear just who we think we are: in Charge of Everything.

Col. Lang has a few choice thoughts in this post:

Iraq and the US Senate

""The government and its Premier [Nuri al-Maliki] reject this vote," said government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. "It is the Iraqis who decide these sorts of issues, no one else," Dabbagh said on state-run Al-Iraqiyya television. "The Iraqi Parliament too should express its total rejection of this plan." The plan, touted by backers as the sole hope of forging a federal state out of sectarian strife, was approved by the US Senate Wednesday in a 75-23 vote. The nonbinding resolution would provide for decentralizing Iraq in a federal system to stop the country from falling deeper into civil war. It proposes to separate Iraq into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni entities, with a federal government in Baghdad in charge of border security and oil revenues. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Friday condemned the resolution, saying it would complicate matters further in the war-torn country. The Bosnia-style plan "would add new complications to the already difficult Iraqi situation," GCC chief Abdel-Rahman al-Attiyah said in a statement. "Instead of calling for division, the causes that led to the current situation should be addressed. These include the [US-led] occupation, the sectarian and ethnic quota system, absence of law and security and the paralysed administration."" The Daily Star - Beirut



The US Senate has voted to "soft-partition" Iraq? Well as a famous TV "talk man" said a few weeks ago - "Who runs that place, us or them?" I guess we think that we do..

The Bush/Cheney Collective ("resistance is futile") is notably made up of ideologues who proclaim their devotion to revolutionary social change in the Islamic (and other) World(s). Their adherents are various. There are first and foremost their brethren and sisteren in the "crusade" for secular righteousness. Then there are the Mayberry Machiavellians who were imported from Texas. Those have thinned out lately. Then there are the simpletons who still can't tell you what the difference is between a Sunni and a Shia and who don't think it matters. There are many, many of those and they are not reading this. There was a back-bencher congressman from the Southwest on TV this week who simply refused to accept the idea that the war in Iraq was about anything but a kind of Manichean division of humanity into the forces of good and the forces of evil, the children of light and the children of darkness. He would not discuss the war situation in any other terms. I suppose that he thinks that the Lord Jesus enters into it somewhere as well, and maybe the pope ,although I doubt if he thinks that Benedict plays on the "good guys'" team.

Now, I know how much a lot of you feel vindicated by Greenspan's pronouncement on the causes of the present mess, but I have to tell you that he does not impress me as a savant on the subject of the peoples of the Middle East, or on the neocons either. So far as I know they never thought well of his ideas about anything but interest rates and he was never one of their counselors.

Those Arabs (Sunni, Shia and Christian) are pesky people. They have the "gall" to think for themselves. The US Senate has now pronounced itself on the subject of how Iraq should be organized. They don't accept that? Who the hell are they to resist when it is futile? The "greatest deliberative body in the world" has delivered itself of "the word." What more is there to say?

Those pesky Arabs are also infested with "oldthink." This is an expression from the early phases of the Cheney/Bush Collective's revolution. The poor fools (Arabs) don't think that federalism is a good idea. (They think they have tried it many times) They like UNITY (tawhiid). They think that diversity is weakness. They think that federalism will inevitably lead either to a final complete dissolution of the state of Iraq or a weakened state so enfeebled as to be a shadow of its former self. Those poor foolish Arabs are the product of a modern cultural and educational development which caused them to believe that a unified Iraq is good, but a federal Iraq is or will be a disaster. They have always felt that way in the modern state of Iraq.

Now, the Kurds may secretly want something else but they will be very careful how they express that secret desire.

The Senate resolution on this matter? It is DOA, and we lack the power to inflict anything like that on the Iraqis or anyone else in the Middle East. Note the GCC reaction.

Down at the bottom of this article, some general or other opines (used to be a good Army word) that AQ may decide to cuts its losses in Iraq. That might be true, but, contrary to the opinion of the congressman from the Southwest, it will not solve the situation that the Iraqis find themselves in. A "post AQ intervention" Iraq will still be a "beached whale" beset with savage and unrelenting internal struggle and numerous wars over power and wealth in what was a moderately well integrated state before 2003. Unfortunately, our departure won't fix that either. pl

I always listen to him as he has been so right so many times.

You’re No Good!

This is a video mix with Amy and Linda Ronstadt!

Dualism alive and well!

Being Human is so complicated isn’t it?

Cruel and Unusual Punishment and Lawlessness: Thy Name is Texas!

What can one say, after all it is Texas which was once governed by the “Torture President!”

From the NYT’s:

September 29, 2007

Texas Planning New Execution Despite Ruling


HOUSTON, Sept. 28 — A day after the United States Supreme Court halted an execution in Texas at the last minute, Texas officials made clear on Friday that they would nonetheless proceed with more executions in coming months, including one next week.

Though several other states are halting lethal injections until it is clear whether they are constitutional, Texas is taking a different course, risking a confrontation with the court.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to stay convicted murderer Carlton Turner’s execution will not necessarily result in an abrupt halt to Texas executions,” said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas. “State and federal courts will continue to address each scheduled execution on a case-by-case basis.”

Shortly before midnight on Thursday, the Supreme Court stayed the execution of Mr. Turner, who had been scheduled to become the 27th Texas inmate executed this year by lethal injection in Huntsville.

Although the court gave no reason for its order, Mr. Turner, convicted of murdering his adoptive parents in 1998, had appealed to the court after it agreed Tuesday to consider the constitutionality of lethal injection, the most commonly used method of execution in the United States.

Several legal experts said the Supreme Court reprieve would be seen by most states as a signal to halt all executions until the court determined, probably some time next year, whether the current chemical formulation used for lethal injections amounts to cruel and unusual punishment barred by the Eighth Amendment.

Eleven states had halted executions for that reason. On Thursday, Alabama stayed an execution for 45 days to come up with a new formula.

“There is a momentum quality to this,” said Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who has a blog, Sentencing Law and Policy. “Not only the Supreme Court granting the stay, but also the Alabama governor doing a reprieve that is likely to lead to other states with executions on the horizon waiting to see what the Supreme Court does. I’ll be surprised if many, and arguably if any states other than Texas, go through with executions this year.”

On his blog on Friday, Professor Berman predicted that there would be few if any executions in the country for the next 9 to 18 months, while the court deliberates and, later, as lower courts parse the meaning of its eventual ruling.

Texas, which has a history of confrontations with the Supreme Court over its prerogatives in criminal justice, does not appear interested in waiting. That forces lawyers for condemned prisoners to appeal each case as high as the Supreme Court.

Four more executions are scheduled in Texas over the next five months. The next inmate, who is to be executed, on Oct. 3, is Heliberto Chi, 28, a Honduran convicted of murdering the manager of a men’s clothing store in a Dallas suburb, Arlington, in a robbery in 2001.

A lawyer here who represents Hondurans in the United States, Terence O’Rourke, has said Mr. Chi’s execution would violate international law.

Mr. Chi’s lawyers are almost certain to appeal to the Supreme Court on the same grounds as Mr. Turner, also 28, used in his successful appeal. The court said this week that it would consider the legality of the injection formula used in Kentucky. Texas uses a virtually identical formula.

Andrea Keilen, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, a law firm that represents prisoners, said the message of the reprieve on Thursday was clear. “In the coming months,” Ms. Keilen said, “lethal injection could be found to be cruel and unusual punishment, and Texas should wait for that decision instead of proceeding with potentially unconstitutional executions.”

David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston who handled Mr. Turner’s appeal, said it was still too early to proclaim that a de facto national moratorium was in place. If Mr. Chi’s case goes to the high court and it issues a stay, Professor Dow said, that would clearly indicate that the justices will grant such appeals until a final decision is made.

He said he expected the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to agree eventually and begin granting the stays itself, removing the need to go to the Supreme Court. The Texas court split, 5 to 4, on Thursday in denying Mr. Turner’s appeal.

A similar de facto moratorium on executions was in place for several years in the late 1960s and early ’70s, as it became apparent that the Supreme Court was preparing to rule on the constitutionality of the death penalty. There was nothing official, but lower courts routinely delayed their cases or granted stays of execution.

The court’s eventual ruling, in Furman v. Georgia in 1972, did end capital punishment in the United States for four years, until the court approved new state death penalty laws in a series of cases in 1976.

The current challenge to the death penalty is on a much less fundamental level. Even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the two Kentucky inmates who brought the challenge to lethal injection, the result will not be to overturn any death sentences, but rather, at the most, to require a different method to carry them out.

The stay for the Texas execution was issued two days after the court did not stop Texas from executing another inmate, Michael Richard, leading to some confusion about its intentions.

Lawyers in the case on Tuesday said their appeal had been turned down because of an unusual series of procedural problems.

Professor Dow said the computers crashed at the Texas Defender Service in Houston while lawyers were rewriting his appeal to take advantage of the high court’s unexpected interest in lethal injection.

Because of the resulting delay, the lawyers missed by 20 minutes the 5 p.m. filing deadline at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin, where the appeal had to go first before moving to the Supreme Court.

The Texas court refused their pleas to remain open for the extra minutes. Because the lawyers missed that crucial step, Professor Dow said, the Supreme Court had to turn down the appeal, and Mr. Richard was executed.

But on Thursday, with a more carefully crafted appeal for Mr. Turner, and the Texas court’s closely split rejection, the Supreme Court called a halt to another lethal injection.

Well, some folks seem to think that the Supreme’s decision to review the constitutionality of “Lethal Injections” would put a halt to the practice until the Court decides whether the practice does or doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution.

But those folks would be wrong and clearly do not understand the “Family Values” and “Rule of Law” environment in that Great Christian Republic of Texas.

Few Facts, and Fewer Voters.

Yes, that is the “Republican Dream.” The fewer voters we have the more likely Republican’s can succeed in elections. Toward that end the Republican Machine has rallied the call for Voter ID Laws around the nation. The putative reason is “Voter Fraud.” You know where the lone voter votes when the voter is ineligible to vote. Now the Republican Machine is not so down on “Election Fraud” (well actually they are totally down with Election Fraud) you know where state institutions, such as Florida’s or Ohio’s Secretary’s of State purge voter registration lists for people with “Black Sounding” names.

From the ever reliable McClatchy:

Ohio, Florida laws could dampen Democratic voting

By Greg Gordon | McClatchy Newspapers
  • Posted on Wednesday, September 26, 2007

WASHINGTON — Ohio and Florida, which provided the decisive electoral votes for President Bush's two razor-thin national election triumphs, have enacted laws that election experts say will help Republicans impede Democratic-leaning minorities from voting in 2008.

Backers of the new laws say they're aimed at curbing vote fraud. But the statutes also could facilitate a controversial Republican tactic known as ``vote caging,'' which the GOP attempted in Ohio and Florida in 2004 before public disclosures foiled the efforts, said Joseph Rich, a former Justice Department voting rights chief in the Bush administration who's now with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.

Caging, used in the past to target poor minorities in heavily Democratic precincts, entails sending mass mailings to certain voters and then using the undelivered letters to compile lists of voters for eligibility challenges.

As the high-stakes ground war escalates heading into next year's elections, Republicans have led the charge for an array of revisions to state voting rights laws, especially in key battleground states. Republican political appointees in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division have endorsed some of these measures.

Over the last three years, the Republican-controlled state legislatures in Indiana, Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have passed laws requiring every voter to produce a photo identification card — measures that civil rights groups contend were aimed at suppressing minority voting.


Chandler Davidson, a Rice University sociology professor who has studied voter suppression, said the new laws are questionable because ``there has been virtually no evidence presented that there has been wide-scale voter fraud in the United States.''

So, even though there are few facts to support the Republican’s contention that “Voter Fraud” is rampant Republican Activist Hans von Spakovsky transformed the DOJ’s Civil Rights and Voting Rights Section into a machine to actually suppress the rights it is tasked to enforce.

The Republican rallying cry is and has always been, “Suffrage, Smuffrage.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Riddle from Firedoglake.

If this weren’t so serious it would be pretty funny. I especially like TRex's beard joke. Very deep and so true!

Check it out!

Bush’s Grip on Reality: Not!

Is it possible that our MBA President doesn’t know what the terms “asset” or “liability” mean?

Just saying!

PS I love Gnarls Barkley!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Wow, Indeed!

From Bernhard at Moon of Alabama in Germany:

The Rape

Neurotica is a Iraqi born women with a British passport working for some contractor in the Greenzone. She blogs:

He promised her his undying love. I will protect you he promised. Trust me, he said. I will protect you. He gave her freedom, or so he said. Freedom that he thought she deserved. But with this freedom, he also opened up every single wild animal's cage on her. That was his vision of freedom. She can do what she wanted, he told her. Here, go and enjoy this freedom. You are free. You are finally free, he assured her. At first, she loved this so called freedom. It was something new. Something she never lived before, never experienced. She went out, she had fun, she would come back at dawn, alcohol and smoke smothered all over her. She didnt know what she was putting herself into. But she enjoyed it. She enjoyed this so called freedom.

One night, as she stepped outside her door getting ready for another "free and fun" time, a car stopped. A car filled with young lost guys. They too were looking for a free and fun time. They whistled to her, she ignored them. They shouted flirtatious comments, she continued walking in the dark alleyway. She is strong, she thought to herself. She is strong and she is free. She didnt care. He will protect her, trust me he promised. They followed her. You can hear their quick steps echo in the quiet of the night. Finally they caught up with her.

As one turned her around, the other slapped her face and forced her to the floor pulling at her long black hair. She fought back, kicking and screaming. He covered her mouth with his strong filthy hands. And so began the so called freedom. One by one, they raped her. One by one they raped her ferociously. At one time, there were 2 on her. One from each side. She cried, she kicked, she scratched their faces. But they didnt give up. Just before she was succumbing to her fate, just before she shut her eyes to go into that forever unconciousness, she saw a shadow. A shadow on the ragged twall that has filled up the streets. She forced her eyes open, her heart began to thump. She was going to get rescued. Yes. Yes finally, finally he came to her rescue. He finally came, just as he promised. He came to snatch her away from these animals. But the shadow, the shadow didnt move. He didnt move.

He stood there, stood there leaning on the filthy twall, smiling, smirking, his arms folded. He was there, he was there all the time. Watching, watching as she got raped. Watching as her legs were forced open and bled to death. He just stood there, getting excited himself as he watched these animals tear her flesh apart. He stood there, unscathed by the scene afore him. She got raped, Iraq got raped, but they stood there watching. We gave them freedom, they reasoned. Thats what they wanted. We gave it to them and they chose to abuse it.

Before she finally shut her eyes forever, she looked at him with her spearing hazel eyes and mouthed her last words to him. To him and to the world. She forced her beaten bleeding mouth open and whispered, "but I trusted you, I trusted you". And with that, she gave her soul up. Her Dying Soul...The Iraqi Dying Soul...

What can one say?

Justice Stevens

How appropriate that we call him “Justice.” I really enjoyed reading Jeffrey Rosen’s profile of John Paul Stevens in today’s NYT’s Magazine. The title of the article is “The Dissenter.” With this version of the U.S. Supreme Court that is quite the compliment for our Senior Justice. But as we all know he is not a “Liberal” nor does he consider himself one. That dramatically shows just how far right the court has turned. None-the-less I for one am very pleased and reassured that Justice Stevens is in excellent health of mind and body. Not to mention his family’s history of longevity. Who would have thunk that in 1975?

The Supremes are, though a most important part of the third branch of government, for the most part a “secret society.” So any break in Omerta is much appreciated. And Justice Stevens being viewed as a liberal, who was appointed by Republican President Ford, is most interesting, comforting, and appalling all at the same time.

In the same edition the NYT’s Book Review has David Margolick’s review of Jeffrey Toobin’s “The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court.” Now I haven’t read the book and I often find Toobin just a tad too impressed with himself, but after reading the review I want to read the book if just for the gossip. I found the “Brethren” enlightening and nodded along as I read “Closed Chambers.” For some reason, mostly having to do with Jan Greenberg’s deference to SCOTUS, I have little interest in her recent tome. Though I must admit her title “Supreme Conflict” is catchy. Maybe at sometime in the future I will pick it up as I am a groupie for all things SCOTUS!

That said read the article on our Senior Justice at SCOTUS. And do take a look at the review of Toobin’s book which might lead you to purchasing his book. You might learn something about one of the most important institutions of government which effects your life. Not to mention an institution that operates behind closed doors.

What does that say about the state of our so called “democracy”?

Joel and the Mind!

I find Joel Achenbach to be most interesting. His articles on Science are often so accessible and yet scientifically dense that they are respectable as professional tracts. I do have to admit though that I am far more enamored of his “Human Foible” pieces. And here is one that I loved:

What Makes Up My Mind?

By Joel Achenbach
Sunday, September 23, 2007; B01

If I were to be eaten by a shark, I'm pretty sure the worst part would be not the pain or the mutilation or the actual dying and so forth, but rather the thought balloon over my head with the words, "I'm being eaten by a [expletive] shark!"

Whereas a fish doesn't have this problem. A fish has no thought balloon, or just a teensy little one, with a monosyllabic fish-word like "Urp!" A fish probably suffers, but it doesn't have the additional suffering that comes from knowing that it's suffering, and from regretting that it went swimming instead of watching the golf tournament, and from hearing, as we all do whenever we're devoured by sharks, the theme music from "Jaws." You know: that tuba.

All of which is a deft way of introducing our subject today: The Mystery of Consciousness. It's one of the biggest unknowns, right up there with the origin of life. But it's under a multi-pronged assault by scientists, who vow to crack the code of the mind in the same way that they are deciphering the human genome. It's all very exciting, with the one catch that no one can really agree on what the mind is.

"With consciousness, there is no agreement on anything," says Giulio Tononi, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, "except it's very difficult."

Jim Olds, who directs George Mason University's Krasnow Institute, a think tank devoted to the study of the mind, says of his field, "We're waiting for our Einstein."

The human brain is a hunk of meat that weighs about three pounds. It contains about 30 billion cells, called neurons. The networking of these cells involves 100 trillion meeting points, or synapses. This is the most complex object in the known universe (though if we explore the stars we may eventually find organisms with brains that make ours seem as impressive as Twinkies).

Human brains can do things that no computer can match. Sure, a computer can beat a human at chess, but only with brute-force calculation of every conceivable move. The most sophisticated robots still lack the basic smarts of a 2-year-old, who can perceive the world in three dimensions and go searching for a kitty cat while somehow avoiding the jutting edge of the coffee table. Negotiating the world requires massive bandwidth.

"The engineering problems that we humans solve as we see and walk and plan and make it through the day are far more challenging than landing on the moon or sequencing the human genome," psychologist Steven Pinker writes in his book "How the Mind Works."

Beyond the basics of perception and motor skills, the human brain has a premium feature: consciousness. You could also call it sentience, or self-awareness, or just the thing that makes it such a drag to be devoured by a mindless oceanic carnivore. This is what keeps us from being zombies. We perceive ourselves as actors on the stage of life. We sense that there's an "I" somewhere inside our skull.

"Consciousness is a big thing," Tononi says. "It is the single biggest thing of all. It is the only thing we really care about in the end."

But we don't understand it. We don't know how, in the words of philosopher Colin McGinn, "the water of the physical brain is turned into the wine of consciousness."

Will we ever know?

Earlier this year, Jim Olds gathered a bunch of big thinkers at George Mason University for a two-day conference on the mind. He and his allies want the federal government to invest $4 billion in an initiative that would be called the "Decade of the Mind." This would be a follow-up to a 1990s program called the "Decade of the Brain," which brought increased attention to neuroscience. The new initiative would be an attempt to take science into a realm previously explored only by philosophers, theologians and mountaintop yogis.

"Brain science is an exhaustive collection of facts without a theory," Olds says. "This is for the nation as a whole to invest in one of the fundamental intellectual questions of what it is to be a human being."

In a letter published a few weeks ago in the journal Science, 10 scientists said that a Decade of the Mind would help us understand mental disorders that affect 50 million Americans and cost more than $400 billion a year. It might also aid in the development of intelligent machines and new computing techniques. A breakthrough in mind research, the scientists wrote, could have "broad and dramatic impacts on the economy, national security, and our social well-being."

There's reason to be optimistic. Look at what has happened in recent years with the development of brain scans, such as MRIs, that let us observe the brain at work in real time. As the technology improves, the brain becomes more transparent, less of a black box.

That said, the mind isn't something that pops up on a computer screen. People have been poking around the brain in search of the mind for many centuries, and no one is even sure what neurological structures are the most critical to generating consciousness. Descartes, who gave us the most famous line in the annals of philosophy ("Cogito, ergo sum" -- I think, therefore I am), believed the center of consciousness to be the pea-size structure known as the pineal gland. Nice stab, but it turns out that the pineal gland does not seem to have much to do with creating the "I" in our head.

Other brain structures are important, such as something called Brodmann area 46, and the anterior cingulate sulcus, and the thalamus, and of course the knurled, dipsy-doodle structure called the cerebral cortex. We can also be confident that consciousness does not depend on the cerebellum, which is 50 billion neurons worth of brain matter that you could surgically remove without "losing your mind." As Tononi puts it, you could toss the cerebellum in the garbage and " you would still be there."

The classic idea of "dualism" solves the location problem by defining it away: The mind is perceived as separate from the body, something that can't be reduced to machinery. It's unreachable by the tools of the laboratory. Dualism flatters us, for it suggests that our minds, our selves, are not merely the result of rambunctious chemistry, and we are thus free to talk about souls and spirits and essences that are unfettered by the physical body.

Dualism is pretty much dead to serious researchers, though an echo of it can be found among philosophers who are sometimes called the Mysterians. The philosopher David Chalmers has famously made a distinction between the Easy Problems, which involve the ways that the brain creates specific elements of consciousness (vision, language, memory, attention, emotion, etc.), and the Hard Problem, which is the mystery of how all the elements come together in that powerful sense of self (" I am Spartacus").

But here's the most radical idea of all: The reason why the mind is hard to define is not because it has some mysterious, ethereal, spooky qualities but because it doesn't really exist. We just imagine it. You might say it's all in our heads.

When you see a Toyota cruising down the street, you know that you're looking at a complex machine with many parts. You also know that there's a person inside, some intelligent being who's directing the Toyota's movements. The human brain is another complex machine with many parts -- but it doesn't seem to have a driver most of the time.

The brain operates day and night and performs myriad functions of which we have no direct awareness. Even our "conscious" brain is actually many different operating systems. It's as though the Toyota is being driven by hundreds of tiny elves, with no single elf in charge.

This is the view espoused by the philosopher Daniel Dennett, author of "Consciousness Explained," who argues that the notion of a central executive in the brain is an illusion. "It's a mistake to look for the president in the Oval Office of the brain," he declares.

It's bad enough that astronomers tell us that the Earth isn't at the center of the cosmos; it's worse that biologists tell us we're all descended from pond scum. Now we have philosophers saying that the self is illusory. You are not really there.

The mind might be what Pinker calls the "ultimate tease." He has written that "the most undeniable thing there is, our own awareness, would be forever beyond our conceptual grasp."

The mind, in this view, isn't a single, specific thing. It's more like a process, or an "emergent" phenomenon. This means that the many disparate components are not themselves conscious, but when they get together, the consciousness precipitates into being. Grabbing hold of the mind, however, would be like trying to seize a puffy white cumulus cloud.

Cracking the code of the mind may be ultimately impossible. My guess is that a century from now, consciousness will still make the list of Biggest Mysteries and scientists and philosophers will still be arguing about the what, where and how of it all.

But we should still take a whack at it. Ten years and $4 billion: That's a reasonable cost. The evolution of the human mind is arguably the most important biological event in the history of our planet since the origin of life itself.

We should try to understand how the brain makes the mind. And then we can make up our minds about what to do with ourselves.

Achenbach is a wacky guy and I love him.

Toys Heavy with Lead, Etc.!

I guess this “Free Market” thing might not be working out so well. How could it be that industry is just finding this out? China, and not in secret, has embraced “Unfettered Capitalism” and with it the attendant Republican lack of regulation (think e. coli, again). So, why are our industries who flocked to China in an effort to reduce cost but not profits so “Shocked” about the obvious outcome: product adulteration and product recalls? Maybe it is the usual short term thought that often infects American business decisions.

So, what have we learned? Well we know that our food system is not safe, our pet’s food system isn’t safe and now our children aren’t safe from their “Toys.” Read the NYT’s article and tell me that you aren’t reading everything you buy and discerning between “distributed by” and “made in.”

HMMM! What is next?

Stupid Girls!

I so love Firedoglake and they never disappoint. So here is another of their wonderful contributions to the Political Discourse.

H/t to Firedoglake.com

Update: It was wonderful to see Jane on “To the Contrary” this weekend. I am visualizing her recovery and her limitless contribution to our political dialogue.

Did I mention that I am a very big “Pink” fan!

Jena: Americana Redux!

Couda, shouda!

Here is an Op-Ed from the WAPO that says much that needs to be said”

It's the Same Old Story in Jena Today

By Beverly Daniel Tatum
Sunday, September 23, 2007; B03
Fifty years ago today, nine African American teenagers in Little Rock were escorted into Central High School by National Guardsmen while an angry white mob hurled racial epithets.

Last week, thousands of marchers protested the plight of six young African American high school students charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate in Jena, La. They were treated much more harshly than white teenagers who beat up a black student in the town.

The two cases are divided by context, circumstances and 50 years, but at the heart of the conflicts is a fight over something as fundamental as space in a toxic racial climate. In 1957, the contested space was a white school that was formally placed off limits to black students. In Jena, it was the "white tree," a privileged spot of shade from the hot Louisiana sun. It seemed to have been reserved for white use only and it was part of the series of events that led to the Jena controversy.
In some ways, these sorts of disputes are familiar at high schools nationwide. Students and parents in racially mixed high schools so often ask, "Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?" that I made the query the title of my 1997 book -- though it is not just the black kids who group together. I found that the answers to this question vary. Sometimes it's adolescents exploring their racial identities, sometimes it's a strategy for coping with racial isolation.
In 1957, the Little Rock 9 sat together for protection in a hostile community bent on preserving the symbols of white supremacy. In Jena today, maintaining white privilege appeared to be the priority, and the whole community suffered as a result.
While much can be said about the obvious racial disparities in the criminal justice system brought to light by the Jena 6 case, we should also ask what could have been done to prevent the violence. What kind of dialogue about race and racism might have led to a more hopeful outcome?

Consider this: On Aug. 31, 2006, a black high school student asked the principal whether he could sit under the "white tree." "Sit wherever you want," the administrator replied. Students arrived at school the next day to find three nooses hanging from the tree. The black residents of Jena saw the nooses as a vivid, threatening reminder of the thousands of African Americans who were lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968 -- an unmistakable message to "stay in their place."

The principal expelled the three white students who hung the nooses, sending a clear signal that "hate behavior" was unacceptable. But that message was undercut by the school board and the superintendent, who reduced the punishment to a three-day in-school suspension. They dismissed the act as an "adolescent prank," unwilling to acknowledge the enduring power of the noose as a symbol of racial hatred and intimidation.

Reed Walters, the local district attorney, spoke at a hastily planned assembly and admonished the protesting students to stop complaining about an "innocent prank." He allegedly added insult to injury by threatening the protesters: "See this pen? I can end your lives with the stroke of a pen."

A few days later, several dozen black students tried to bring their concerns to the school board, only to be silenced because the board thought that the noose incident had been handled appropriately. Racial tensions simmered throughout the fall but did not erupt until Nov. 30, 2006, when an arsonist -- whose race is unknown -- set the high school on fire.

Instead of suppressing dialogue, Jena could have treated the noose incident as a teachable moment -- a catalyst for important discussions about the history of race relations in Louisiana and beyond. For instance, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana could have explained to the Jena assembly why she introduced a resolution on Feb. 7, 2005, apologizing that the Senate hadn't passed anti-lynching legislation despite repeated attempts throughout the 20th century.

White students might then have realized, in the words of her resolution, that "the crime of lynching succeeded slavery as the ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction." They could have begun to understand why the hanging of a noose could never be seen as an innocent prank.

For many years, I taught a course on the psychology of racism and led professional-development workshops for teachers. Most of the teachers I worked with were white, and they often remarked about how uncomfortable they were talking to students, especially in racially mixed settings, about the nation's painful heritage on race.

One elementary-school teacher said: "It is hard to tell small children about slavery, hard to explain that black young men were lynched, that police turned fire hoses on children while other men bombed churches, killing black children at their prayers. This history is a terrible legacy for all of us." Another teacher confessed that she could not look her students in the face when she taught such topics. It was too painful, too embarrassing.

But silence is not the answer. We can engage students -- from preschool through college -- in age-appropriate conversations about our collective past that take us beyond the usual talk of victims and victimizers. In the aftermath of the noose incident, history teachers at Jena High School could have talked about the courage of Ida B. Wells, an African American woman who led an anti-lynching campaign in the late 19th and early 20th century. Wells's campaign, which garnered international attention, still provides a lesson in empowerment for black students who all too often see themselves depicted in history only as victims. And white Jena students could have learned about the white supporters who joined Wells in her campaign to end this form of terrorism, a potential source of pride for those who don't want to identify with the role of victimizer.

The weeks that followed the noose incident could have led to a cross-racial dialogue in Jena, bringing together a coalition of parents to talk about how they might reduce racial tension in the school. Clergy members -- black and white -- could have created opportunities for residents of this small town to take a stand against bigotry, a "not in our town" kind of demonstration seen several years ago in Montana, where Jewish residents were being targeted with anti-Semitic graffiti, fliers and vandalism.

Such interventions may be difficult in this small mill town, where racial tensions have existed for years. But we will never know what might have been accomplished. What is certain is that in the absence of dialogue, violence erupted. The school burned, multiple fights broke out, whites and blacks were injured, and the lives of six young black men were placed in limbo.

In the end, the tree -- the source of shade and the symbol of separation -- was cut down. Now there is no refuge for anyone, and it feels like Little Rock all over again.

Landrieu's 2005 resolution concludes that we must remember our history "to ensure that these tragedies will be neither forgotten nor repeated." Next time, can we talk about race?

Update: As the mother of an African-American child who has experienced the injustice of the “Justice” system and our current “Police State Mentality” I am appalled by the MSM’s treatment, or lack thereof, of this story. And, by the way, why didn’t Senator Kerry intervene and call off the hounds at the University of Florida? Speaking of Police States!

We need to reevaluate who our putative leaders are and their commitment to the rule of law.


Afghanistan is Going so Well, Not!

Or maybe Afghanistan is not going as well some think, and as Lara Logan reports from Afghanistan. She reports on the most important war the American public has forgotten and its “Success Stories.” She is following the money.

And it is our money folks, not to mention Afghanistan lives.

Trying to Make it Real.

No matter what:

Ah yes, compared to what?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Habeas, Shmabeas!

Why do the Republicans hate America is a refrain you hear often these days. It appears that many actually do hate America and everything it supposedly stands for.

The Senate narrowly rejected legislation on Wednesday that would have given military detainees the right to protest their detention in federal court.

The 56-43 vote against the bill, by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., fell four votes shy of the 60 needed to cut off debate. It was a blow for human rights groups that say a current ban on habeas corpus petitions could lead to the indefinite detention of individuals wrongfully suspected of terrorism.

President Bush and conservative Republicans counter that the ban, enacted last year, was necessary to stem the tide of legal protests flooding civilian courts.

Leahy said he would try again to repeal it, although he was not sure when he would get another chance.

"The truth is that casting aside the time-honored protection of habeas corpus makes us more vulnerable as a nation because it leads us away from our core American values," Leahy said. "It calls into question our historic roll as a defender of human rights around the world."

Are you feeling safer these days? I am not talking about from the “Terrorists.” But from the American Autocrats who wish to make the “Rule of Law” irrelevant. Let’s remember that Judge Mukasey judged it okay for the President to hold Jose Padilla, a natural born American Citizen as an “Enemy Combatant” in custody indefinitely.

Now when we, the people, want and expect legal protections for “enemy combatants” remember that we, the people, are calling for protections for all Americans. Jose Padilla may have been, or may not have been, a “bad guy” but he was an American Citizen, born in the USA. If he can be picked up off the streets and stripped of his Constitutional Rights what’s to say it can’t happen to you?

This is the United States of America and if we can’t protect the rights of the worst of us, how can we protect the rights of the best of us?

I refuse to be a “Good German,” do you?

Update: The original AP link for this story was changed by the WAPO from the Anne Flaherty story to the, I guess, more acceptable one by Jonathan Weisman which doesn’t bring up the pesky Magna Carta 1215 thing!

Senate Refuses to Expand Detainee Rights

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 19, 2007; 11:38 AM

WASHINGTON -- The Senate narrowly rejected legislation on Wednesday that would have given military detainees the right to protest their detention in federal court.

The 56-43 vote against the bill, by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., fell four votes shy of the 60 needed to cut off debate. It was a blow for human rights groups that say a current ban on habeas corpus petitions could lead to the indefinite detention of individuals wrongfully suspected of terrorism.

President Bush and conservative Republicans counter that the ban, enacted last year, was necessary to stem the tide of legal protests flooding civilian courts.

Leahy said he would try again to repeal it, although he was not sure when he would get another chance.

"The truth is that casting aside the time-honored protection of habeas corpus makes us more vulnerable as a nation because it leads us away from our core American values," Leahy said. "It calls into question our historic roll as a defender of human rights around the world."

In 2006, Congress passed and Bush signed into law the Military Commissions Act, which established a military-run tribunal system for prosecuting enemy combatants. The provision barring habeas corpus petitions means that only detainees selected for trial are able to confront charges against them, leaving most military detainees in custody without a chance to plead their case.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., one of the architects of the law, said the system includes checks and balances to determine whether a person is being held unlawfully. Granting a ban on habeas corpus petitions would allow terrorism suspects to go "judge shopping" around U.S. courts to find a sympathetic ear, he said.

Added Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.: "Never has such an unprecedented legal right been granted to a prisoner of war or detainee."

In June, the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the ban on habeas corpus petitions is constitutional, although no argument date has been set.

Specter, the lone Republican to cosponsor the bill, has said he anticipates the court will rule the ban unconstitutional.

Habeas corpus "is a constitutional right that has existed since the Magna Carta in 1215," he said.

Republicans for Democracy, Not So Much!

Once again the majority of Republicans in the Senate have displayed their distain for “Democracy” and “Voting Rights” by voting for “Taxation, Without Representation.”

The District of Columbia, which does not have voting representation in Congress, deserves to have a vote in our Federal Government. That the majority of those putative voters are people of color, and most probably would vote for Democrats, is a big problem for the Republicans who fear the probable outcome of DC’s Franchise. So, they vote against Suffrage and for Autocracy.

How very “White” of them.

Now you have to know how absurd this is when even the Washington Post editorial page takes issue with this vote by the majority of Senate Republicans (is Fred Hiatt on vacation, or does he actually live in DC?). Here is how the Editorial Board sees it:

A 'Palpable Injustice'
The Republican Party blocks voting rights for the District of Columbia.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007; A22

THE U.S. SENATE had a chance yesterday to make history. It chose instead to add another unconscionable chapter to that well-worn volume that could be titled "The Second-Class Status of the People of the District of Columbia." A few Republicans showed enough gumption to vote for principle and against party interest. Most Republicans, led by their leaders and egged on by President Bush -- who talks about democracy from Burma to Zimbabwe but not for his own neighbors -- did the reverse.

That a bid to bring D.C. voting rights legislation to the floor failed by a mere three votes is both heartbreaking and infuriating. What's most upsetting is that the vote was a refusal even to consider a bill that would have given the District a voting member in the House of Representatives, while giving another House seat to Utah. In remarks before the vote, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) made an impassioned plea to his colleagues to, at the very least, engage in a real debate. "My gosh," he said, "when has the United States Senate been afraid to debate a constitutional issue as important as this one?" He got his answer in the 57 to 42 vote that probably kills the bill for this year.

Opponents, mainly Republicans led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have pointed to their belief that the measure is unconstitutional. They say their opposition has nothing to do with depriving a majority-black city of a voice that would most likely be Democratic. No doubt there are strong arguments on both sides of the constitutional question; scholars of renown are divided. But the way to resolve the question is in court. That's why the bill included a provision for expedited review to the Supreme Court. The opponents' unwillingness to go to the court suggests they weren't all that confident in their constitutional argument.

The most cynical aspect of the debate was the lip service Mr. McConnell and other opponents gave to voting rights -- only if done properly, via an amendment to the Constitution. Are we really to believe that they would back a measure that could lead to their worst fears -- two senators from the mainly Democratic District of Columbia? And if so, where have they been all these years? Perhaps D.C. residents should hope that the soon-to-be retired Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), an opponent who said he'll introduce a constitutional amendment, will accomplish in the next few months what he hasn't bothered with during his 30 years in the Senate.

Disappointment in yesterday's outcome should not obscure the fact that a comfortable majority of the Senate, as well as the House, is in favor of voting rights. The bill's progress this year -- and supporters say they are not giving up hope for this session -- is a sign of growing discomfort with what Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) called the "palpable injustice" of D.C. disenfranchisement. The Republican senators who joined with Mr. Hatch to break party lines in a vote for what is right should be commended. They are: Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), Arlen Specter (Pa.), Norm Coleman (Minn.), George V. Voinovich (Ohio) and Robert F. Bennett (Utah).

So, when the purveyors of the “Freedom Agenda” and bringing democracy to Iraq, no matter the cost, are not so much for democracy in their neighborhood, it should raise some questions as to their “Patriotism,” but it won’t. And it won’t, because it has always been about hegemony and it always will be.

But we always knew that, didn’t we?

Update: Is this an example of the bipartisanship that “Dean” David Broder is so fond of and begs the Democrats to embrace? Just asking!

Bring Down That Wall!

And they did!

It is a wonderful thing when reason prevails.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Victor Marrero a Judicial Hero!

Judge Marrero judged the Patriot Act and its abuses and we thank him. Now if only the Congress would make the changes necessary to restore Civil Rights in the United States of America.

The WAPO reports:

Judge Invalidates Patriot Act Provisions
FBI Is Told to Halt Warrantless Tactic

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 7, 2007; A01

A federal judge struck down controversial portions of the USA Patriot Act in a ruling that declared them unconstitutional yesterday, ordering the FBI to stop its wide use of a warrantless tactic for obtaining e-mail and telephone data from private companies for counterterrorism investigations.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in New York said the FBI's use of secret "national security letters" to demand such data violates the First Amendment and constitutional provisions on the separation of powers, because the FBI can impose indefinite gag orders on the companies and the courts have little opportunity to review the letters.

The secrecy provisions are "the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values," Marrero wrote. His strongly worded 103-page opinion amounted to a rebuke of both the administration and Congress, which had revised the act in 2005 to take into account an earlier ruling by the judge on the same topic.

Although a government appeal is likely, the decision could eliminate or sharply curtail the FBI's issuance of tens of thousands of national security letters (NSLs) each year to telephone companies, Internet providers and other communications firms. The FBI says it typically orders that such letters be kept confidential to make sure that suspects do not learn they are being investigated, as well as to protect "sources and methods" used in terrorism and counterintelligence probes.

The ruling follows reports this year by Justice Department and FBI auditors that the FBI potentially violated privacy laws or bureau rules more than a thousand times while issuing NSLs in recent years -- violations that did not come to light quickly, partly because of the Patriot Act's secrecy rules.

"The risk of investing the FBI with unchecked discretion to restrict such speech is that government agents, based on their own self-certification, may limit speech that does not pose a significant threat to national security or other compelling government interest," Marrero said.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the ruling. "We are reviewing the decision and considering our options," said spokesman Dean Boyd.

But Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit in the case, said the ruling "is yet another setback in the Bush administration's strategy in the war on terror and demonstrates the far-reaching efforts of this administration to use powers that are clearly unconstitutional."

Marrero's decision would bar the use of NSLs to demand data from electronic communications companies, a procedure that was the focus of the lawsuit. But the ruling appears to leave untouched the FBI's ability to demand bank records, credit reports and other financial data related to counterterrorism and other probes, because those authorities are covered by other statutes, according to legal experts. Marrero delayed enforcement of his order for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal.

Although the FBI has had the ability to issue NSLs for many years, the Patriot Act, enacted in October 2001, significantly relaxed the rules for using them while increasing the secrecy requirements. The result has been a surge in NSL requests, from fewer than 9,000 in 2000 to nearly 50,000 in 2005, according to Justice Department records.

Yesterday's ruling marks the second time that Marrero has struck down the Patriot Act's NSL provisions. In 2004, after the ACLU filed suit on behalf of the same plaintiff -- an Internet service provider identified as John Doe -- he ruled similarly that the NSL provisions were unconstitutional because they silenced recipients and gave them no recourse through the courts.

While a government appeal was pending, Congress passed legislation in 2005 aimed at solving the problems identified by Marrero. But the judge ruled yesterday that the revisions were not adequate and that under the new law, "several aspects . . . violate the First Amendment and the principle of separation of powers."

The new legislation essentially required the courts to go along with the gag orders as long as the FBI certified that the secrecy was justified. Marrero suggested in his decision that Congress could solve the problems by more sharply limiting the FBI's ability to silence recipients while allowing more oversight from the courts.

Marrero, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1999, warned of "far-reaching invasions of liberty" when the courts refuse to set limits on government power. He pointed specifically to Supreme Court rulings that sanctioned the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II and upheld racial segregation in schools and other public accommodations.

Most lawmakers were quiet about yesterday's ruling. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), the only senator to vote against the original Patriot Act in 2001, said in a statement, "Congress needs to fix the mess it created when it gave the government overly-broad powers to obtain sensitive information about Americans."

Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy group, said the ruling, if it stands, should provoke Congress to enact new legislation. "Congress will need to amend the NSL statute to put in place a system of prior judicial review. . . . That's something it should have done six years ago in the original Patriot Act."

The issue of national security letters poses a dilemma for telecommunications carriers, which want to comply with government efforts to fight terrorism but also want to be seen as respecting customers' privacy, said Herbert Fenster, a director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's National Chamber Litigation Center who has represented major carriers.

"There is a natural tension between good citizenship on the one hand and sound business judgment on the other," he said. "When complying necessitates that they partner with the government, and when it all comes out [in public], it's bad for business."

Fenster said there have been cases in which carriers questioned NSLs and in a few cases, the NSLs were withdrawn. Sometimes, there was a compromise. In some cases, the demand letter was eventually made public.

Justice Department and FBI officials have strongly defended their use of NSLs and say they have implemented numerous reforms to lower the number of privacy violations. Administration officials have also characterized the letters as a crucial method of quickly obtaining information in the early stages of an investigation.

Kenneth Wainstein, head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, told the House intelligence committee earlier this year that NSLs are "important building blocks in national security investigations, and we must continue [to] use them if we are to be successful at heading off the threat of international terrorism in the United States."

And the New York Times Editorial pretty much agrees:

The Wrong Balance on Civil Liberties

Following the dastardly attacks of 9/11, it was evident that the nation had to do some careful thinking about the proper balance between national security and civil liberties. Instead of care and balance, sadly, the Bush administration immediately lunged to claim extraordinary, and largely unnecessary, new powers. Aided by a compliant Congress, the administration repeatedly tried to shield the resulting intrusions on people’s rights from meaningful scrutiny, even by the courts.

Recently, however, a federal district judge in New York declared unconstitutional one notorious outgrowth of the Bush team’s approach: the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s overreliance on informal demands for information, called national security letters, to obtain private records from telephone and Internet companies, banks and other businesses without a court warrant.

The decision by Judge Victor Marrero struck down 2006 revisions to the Patriot Act that expanded the bureau’s power to use national security letters, and a 1986 law that first authorized such letters. The recent provisions not only compelled companies to turn over customers’ records without a warrant, but forbade them to tell anyone what they had done, including the customers involved. The authority of the courts to review challenges to the gag rule was extremely limited.

Judge Marrero took proper umbrage at the attempt to tightly confine the courts’ authority and to silence recipients of national security letters without meaningful judicial review. He declared that the measure violated both the First Amendment and the principle of separation of powers. The deference that the law required courts to give to the executive branch, he stated, could amount to “the hijacking of constitutional values.”

This was not the first time the courts had tried to curtail this new power. Judge Marrero enjoined an earlier version of the law in 2004, and a federal judge in Connecticut did the same in 2005. But Congress, which was still under Republican control, responded with changes that only created additional constitutional flaws.

In the absence of oversight, the number of surveillance letters has mushroomed, and so have the abuses. A report issued last March by the Justice Department’s inspector general found that between 2003 and 2005, the F.B.I. issued an astonishing 143,000 requests using the letters, often in violation of the bureau’s own regulations, and sometimes in violation of the law. Three days after Judge Marrero’s ruling, Eric Lichtblau reported in The Times that the F.B.I. used the secret letters to obtain information not only on individuals it viewed as targets but also on people who came in contact with the targets.

Lawmakers in both parties have voiced disapproval of the F.B.I.’s abuse of national security letters. But they have not made a sustained push to fix the law that created this mess. Judge Marrero’s ruling should change that.

So Dems, get it together and restore our rights!

Ordinary Life in Iraq?

Here is McClatchy reporting without comment:

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Posted on Fri, Sep. 14, 2007

Ordinary life hardly the norm in Baghdad

Leila Fadel | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: September 14, 2007 07:47:21 PM

"Today, most of Baghdad's neighborhoods are being patrolled by coalition and Iraqi forces who live among the people they protect. Many schools and markets are reopening. Citizens are coming forward with vital intelligence. Sectarian killings are down. And ordinary life is beginning to return."

— President Bush in his speech Thursday on Iraq

BAGHDAD — "Ordinary" isn't a word that residents of Baghdad use to describe their lives.

Gunmen are driving people from neighborhoods in the city's southwest. Electricity, depending on which block you live on, is available as little as two hours a day. Running water, if it's available, is unsafe to drink.

Car bombings are down, but most residents won't leave their neighborhoods, frightened that they'll encounter Shiite Muslim militiamen or Sunni Muslim extremists who'll kill them.

Some markets are reopening in the southern neighborhood of Dora under the watch of U.S. soldiers, but no one from outside the neighborhood visits.

As for schools, it's hard to say: The school year hasn't started yet.

Yousef al Mousawi, a 28-year-old Shiite resident of Sadr City, told this story Friday: Two days ago, his friend Mustafa was kidnapped from his computer shop. He was later found dead, shot in the head. It wasn't unusual. In his neighborhood — controlled by the Mahdi Army militia, loyal to cleric Muqtada al Sadr — he sees bodies every day.

Traffic jams terrify him, he said. He was wounded by a car bomb last year and has traveled the region since for medical treatment.

"The Mahdi Army isn't just killing Sunnis now, they are killing Shiites as well," he said. "I go to university, I'm afraid of suicide bombers and car bombs. I come home and I'm afraid of the Mahdi Army. We're living in fear, endless fear."

Even grocery shopping can be risky. Jassim Mohammed, 53, a Sunni from the neighborhood of Sleikh in northern Baghdad, said he rarely left his home, let alone traveled to marketplaces throughout the city.

This week marked the start of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. The evening meal is a feast, and everyone wants his favorite food. But what Mohammed's family eats is up to Abu Ahmed, the lone grocer in his neighborhood. If he's selling okra, they eat okra stew. If he doesn't have yogurt, they don't eat yogurt. As a Sunni in what's become a Shiite capital, Mohammed said, he has no choice.

"It has become a dream for us to shop from any central market," he said. "No way can I roam freely in Baghdad. I can barely get from home to work, there are so many checkpoints manned by people I don't trust."

"By what standards can I consider this life ordinary?" he asked. "Would Mr. Bush consider my life normal if he knew the details? Would any American?"

Muhsin al Ribaawi, 45, a Shiite, lives in Hurriyah, a once-mixed neighborhood in northwest Baghdad that's been devoid of Sunnis since they were forced out in December. The change was good, Ribaawi thinks. He can travel freely through Shiite neighborhoods throughout the capital, though he never ventures into Sunni enclaves. He no longer sees as many bodies dumped on the streets. As a supervisor for roads and bridges in Baghdad, he used to encounter as many as 20 a day. "I'm so happy for that," he said.

Still, life is hardly back to normal. Dirty and disease-ridden, the water that comes from his tap is "terrifying."

Mohammed al Ani, 36, a Sunni, lives in Mansour, in central Baghdad. When he travels elsewhere in the capital, he maps out his route so that he passes only through Sunni neighborhoods.

"If they (militias) have my ID and they see my tribal name, al Ani, I may lose my life," he said. When he returns home at 5 p.m., the neighborhood is already empty and he shuts himself inside.

On Industry Street in central Baghdad, Mariam Shleimoon, a Christian, said she spent her days cowering in her home. Earlier this week, the Mahdi Army called her husband. They said he'd cursed the militia and that the family must pay — $4,000, a princely sum for a poor man who makes his money repairing kerosene heaters, a skill needed only in winter.

Shleimoon and her husband went to the police but no one would help, so they stay in to avoid the militia. She'd like her children to stay home as well. Her daughter, Rita, barely escaped a bombing, and her son watched a man be killed as he waited to buy bread. But the heat is stifling — they have only two hours of electricity a day, one in the morning and one at night — and her children want to get out of the house.

"We are living in fear," she said. "I thought about selling out and leaving the country but my husband said, 'I will live and die here.' "

In Saidiyah, in southwest Baghdad, Ali Mohammed, 30, a Sunni, said nearly all the stores in his neighborhood had closed as Shiite and Sunni gunmen battled to control the area. The only clinic closed three months ago. It didn't have any medicine, anyway, he said.

A university student, he fears leaving the neighborhood because the checkpoints are manned by police commandos, units known to be rife with Shiite militiamen, who alert gunmen in civilian cars to attack suspected Sunnis. Three days ago, a father and son were killed at a checkpoint, he said.

Bush, he said, "is speaking the opposite of what's going on on the ground."

Things That Make You Go HMMM!

It appears according to the article in the LATimes that Left-Wing and Right-Wing brains operate differently. Well, I have to say that I am not exactly shocked, but I would think that it is quite possible that it may be a little more complicated than that. Sure we know that the accepted definitions of liberal and conservative would lead to that conclusion, but I am not sure it is necessarily so.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary a Liberal is defined as “Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.” A Conservative is defined by American Heritage as “Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.”

The article in the LA Times reports:

Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.

In a simple experiment reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information.

Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.

The results show "there are two cognitive styles -- a liberal style and a conservative style," said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, who was not connected to the latest research.

Participants were college students whose politics ranged from "very liberal" to "very conservative." They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M.

Researchers got the same results when they repeated the experiment in reverse, asking another set of participants to tap when a W appeared.

Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Personality and Social Research who was not connected to the study, said the results "provided an elegant demonstration that individual differences on a conservative-liberal dimension are strongly related to brain activity."

Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy.

Sulloway said the results could explain why President Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq war and why some people perceived Sen. John F. Kerry, the liberal Massachusetts Democrat who opposed Bush in the 2004 presidential race, as a "flip-flopper" for changing his mind about the conflict.

Based on the results, he said, liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.

"There is ample data from the history of science showing that social and political liberals indeed do tend to support major revolutions in science," said Sulloway, who has written about the history of science and has studied behavioral differences between conservatives and liberals.

Lead author David Amodio, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University, cautioned that the study looked at a narrow range of human behavior and that it would be a mistake to conclude that one political orientation was better. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said.

Political orientation, he noted, occurs along a spectrum, and positions on specific issues, such as taxes, are influenced by many factors, including education and wealth. Some liberals oppose higher taxes and some conservatives favor abortion rights.

Still, he acknowledged that a meeting of the minds between conservatives and liberals looked difficult given the study results.

"Does this mean liberals and conservatives are never going to agree?" Amodio asked. "Maybe it suggests one reason why they tend not to get along."

From my own experience I have to say that I really don’t understand the right-wing “conservative” mindset. And yet, I consider myself quite liberal and a libertarian and quite conservative all at the same time. The liberal and libertarian thing kind of go together on the liberalism scale. I frankly do not care who you have sex with and though I have very ridged feelings about abortion, I personally believe that you are the only one who should make that decision.

I am however very conservative in that I am not one for change. I like my status quo, not the world’s status quo, but my status quo. I need to be shown a really good reason to change something. But once shown a well thought out cost-benefit analysis, etc., I am willing to try change and then I often whole heartedly adopt it. But I am not one of those who embrace change for change’s sake. I am not on board for the latest technology for instance. I like to wait it out and see the technology prove it self before the latest update and patch.

I do like tradition. Khaki’s are my favorite pants, and pearls my favorite jewelry, need I say more.

But this study does give some credence to what I have always thought about the left and right political discourse.

It also explains why I didn’t understand the accusations of being a “Communist” during the Sixties. I had always thought that we lived in the United States of America and couldn’t understand why being an ardent supporter of Civil Rights and the U.S. Constitution was an act of “Treason.”

I guess it was the “Change and Status Quo” thing!