Monthly Archives: April 2008

Iraq: Still a Mess

We’re still fighting in Baghdad. Goodness, I thought the surge was supposed to end this. Instead…

Until Maliki’s push into the southern city of Basra, U.S. troops were not intensely engaged in Sadr City, a Baghdad neighborhood of roughly 3 million people that was among the most treacherous areas for U.S. forces early in the war.

But the southern offensive set off a violent chain reaction that spread quickly to Shiite sectors of the capital and has severely strained the cease-fire Sadr imposed on his followers in August and recently reaffirmed. U.S. troops, fighting at times Tuesday on foot and backed by air support, are now engaged in the kind of urban battle within Sadr’s stronghold reminiscent of the first years of the war.

Let’s repeat that. We’re engaged in the same sort of urban warfare that we were engaged in during the first years of the war. Just what have we accomplished in Iraq?

Meanwhile, we’re too busy talking about Reverand Wright to talk about the fighting in Iraq:

“Sadr City is under the American hammer and nobody is monitoring it,” said Leewa Smeisim, the head of the Sadr movement’s political bureau.

Iraq is on the brink of an all-out civil war. As I noted before, Sadr has threatened all-out war. His followers are “growing more eager for an all-out war to defend themselves,” as the Washington Post’s story says.

Here we are, in a very dangerous situation. Why doesn’t the press grill John McCain on this? Why do we focus on the Distraction of the Day?

Remember, this is why we’re voting for Obama. To end this endless war.

Tactics and Denial

This is amazing, check out this from Bill Kristol

On Friday in Indiana, Obama talked tough in response to a question: “I get pretty fed up with people questioning my patriotism.” And, he continued, “I am happy to have that debate with them any place, anytime.” He’s happy to have fantasy debates with unnamed people who are allegedly challenging his patriotism. But he’s not willing to have a real debate with the real person he’s competing against for the nomination.

Hm. How about Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia? You can watch the clip of Kingston on that link. Jack Kingston thinks it’s perfectly fine to question Obama’s patriotism.

These people are not unnamed, nor are they “allegedly” challenging his patriotism. There are real Republicans out there attacking Obama on his patriotism.

That’s some real gall, but that’s the modus operandi of the Republican Party. Lie, lie, lie. Say you’re for fiscal conservatism, and yet sanction a trillion dollar, fiscally insane war. Say you’re for rugged individualism, and then get your job through nepotism. Say that no one’s engaging in those sorts of nasty attacks, and then slime slime slime.

Meditation on Epiphanies

Epiphanies never come from nowhere.

I keep journals. I log my life. I log my thoughts. I log my metaphysics.

If I ever have an epiphany, I can always look back and find the seeds of that epiphany. There are always patterns. Hidden amongst other words, between other thoughts, you will find traces of that epiphany. You’ll see it come up over and over. You’ll see the idea in several books you’ve read. In fact, sometimes you’ll find the epiphany explicitly written out, but in a different way.

An epiphany is just when you understand something in a new, profoundly meaningful way.

I find that science and nature are most helpful in creating epiphanies. Imagination is a powerful tool, but it is limited by its inputs. Nature shocks us. Many great discoveries in astronomy did not occur earlier merely because we lacked the imagination to comprehend reality. Our myths, all our great religions, never measure up. Reality is much more mind-boggling than any story. As a result, science helps me look at issues from new angles. Science provides me with new metaphors to understand my life.

The key to the ephiphany is to never give up on your most deeply held questions. Continue to examine them from every angle. Use every different discipline to view your problem through different lenses. Science, sports, martial arts, arts, business — all of these not only have different ways of solving your problem, they have different ways of comprehending your problem. But most importantly, you must stretch yourself. If you seek an epiphany, you must go beyond even where your imagination is comfortable.

Keep writing. When you write nothing down, you never progress. You’re stuck in the same position; you can’t see your problem using new viewpoints.

Themes are born. Themes die. Themes are reborn. This cycle continues until, all at once, you’ve examined a theme from sufficient angles, you’ve fleshed it out enough, to have that epiphany. Instead of disparate strands of knowledge, you have a unified solution. Instead of a jumble of feverish words, you have one profound sentence. There is your epiphany.

An epiphany is nothing altogether new. An epiphany is the result of a thousand rebirths.

The Corrupt Arbiters

In your perfect system, who will be the arbiters? Who will decide how we ought live? Who are these hyper-rational beings who will decide things based only upon logic?

Do realize that this is the road to tyranny.

We are as sure of the corrupting influence of power as we are of the pull of gravity. If indeed your arbiters are human beings, then they will be corrupted.

What human being can resist the temptation of power? What human can resist the lie for his own gain? He who sets the rules will set up rules for his own gain. He will fool the people.

If we set up multiple arbiters, we are still dealing with human beings. They will collude in order to devour the masses, or devour each other. Most likely, both will occur. When they see that much power up for grabs, they will scheme.

No human beings are exactly alike. They will have different forces of will. Factions will arise. Just as surely as galaxies gathered from the gravitational pull of mere differences in density, even if the differences are slight, factions will arise. We have different temperaments. We will like some people more than others. Any council is doomed to disagreement. And any council of arbiters with unlimited power will either explode into war or collapse into one demonic being.

The rational are easy to fool. They fail to notice the devious motivations of others because deviousness is so contrary to their own natures. The sharks easily feed on these guppies. The devious tyrant will overtake any council of rational arbiters.

Or the messianic will captivate the masses. How will you control him except by violence?

People will laugh at your rational arbiters. Any child knows that “because it’s for your own good” is not a very compelling argument. How will you control them except by violence?

The more violent you are, the more you’ll attract the wrong type of people. The more you open yourself up to a War Leader who has actually earned the respect of the masses, more so than your arbiters in their Ivory Tower.

Any system which values the abstract over the contingencies of history and the fickle nature of human beings will end up as either a tyranny or an anarchy. Any absolute system will necessarily use violence to compel the people to do its biddings. Any absolute arbiters will have people who chafe under their rule. These absolute arbiters will inevitably become corrupt.

Human experience has shown that the only way to avoid the problem of corruption is to separate and balance power, like our co-equal branches of government. You must also limit the time people can hold power. It is messy. But I much rather prefer this to rivers of rational bloodshed.


I don’t thnk I can ever be a comedian. I wouldn’t mind telling humiliating stories about myself for laughs, but I don’t have any particularly good stories. I lack the penchant for putting myself in humiliating situations.

Then again, I could always tell humiliating stories about other people.

Tactile Belt

I was thinking about something like this about a month ago. It’s a belt that goes around your torsoe and creates tactile sensations, either through vibration or heat. I’d use it to cheat on tests, by providing me with information I otherwise couldn’t memorize. (Of course, maybe all the time I spent building the belt and developing a language for that belt to communciate in would’ve been better spent studying.)

Looks as if the military’s been working on something similar for a while. Theirs differs in that they’re focusing on remote communication, not cheating on exams.


3 Confessions for April 23

  1. I feel perpetually off-center when I’m at school, and normal when I get home.
  2. Sometimes I get really paranoid that people secretly hate me.
  3. I tell people that I really love pancakes, but I just think they’re okay.

Note: I debated whether to add “Because I secretly hate you” to the second one. I decided against it because 1) it wasn’t true, and 2) it sounded cliche upon second reading.

Big States again

I wish I didn’t have to bring this up again, but it’s frustrating how the media buys into false campaign narratives. They pick up spin in order to make a story. I kept hearing how Obama can’t win big states.

Clinton gets to count New York as a big state, but somehow Illinois doesn’t count even though it has more delegates than Ohio.

Of course Obama couldn’t win Michigan and Florida. Everyone, Clinton included, agreed not to campaign in those states.

That Clinton’s campaign manager McCauliffe insists on counting them shows a despicable lack of regard for rules. I’d like to see what happens when Clinton comes up against laws she does not like. Will she simply spin them out of existence?

Furthermore, Obama won Texas, when you count all the delegates up.

Can we do a count again? There are seven “big” states she has claimed to have won: Texas, Ohio, New York, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan. Florida and Michigan don’t count. New York can’t count if Illinois doesn’t count. She lost the delegate count in Texas. That leaves Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California.

There’s something seriously wrong with the idea that only Clinton can win big states if only 3 out of the 7 supposed wins are legitimate. It’s bullshit.


I’m predicting a 10-point win for Clinton. I know it’s not likely, but I’m hoping for an upset. I long to type: “The nightmare is over.”

Even if Obama wins tonight, though, the nightmare won’t be over until November, when Obama beats McCain.

UPDATE: Clinton is projected to win. I 100% expected that result; I’ve been expecting it for a long time. I should be steeled, but I’m depressed.

UPDATE: 04/23/08 – A 10-point win. A correct prediction, for once.

Sadr Threatens Open Warfare

Sadr has threatened open warfare. I just want to know that if Sadr declares all-out war, can we then consider the war a failure? I’m just curious how far the right moves the goal posts. I mean, we’re supposed to be there to prevent a civil war, right?

They’ll probably argue that we have to help Maliki and his militia-dominated “national” government win. This, despite the fact that the current faction in power has better ties with Iran than al-Sadr. I thought we were supposed to prevent Iran from gaining influence, right?

The article mentions one way in which we are contributing to the tensions: “Tensions have been increased by the construction of a wall in the district by US and Iraqi forces.” I’m confused, isn’t the US supposed to be the stabilizing force in Iraq?

One final thing. Irony alert: “The [Basra] operation was criticised by US commanders as poorly planned and as failing to achieve its stated aims.” Hm. Pretty much like the entire Iraq War.

The right’s entire argument for staying in Iraq is a joke. They bring up the specter of genocide, even though ethnic cleansing occurred while we were there. We’re taking sides in an armed intra-Shiite battle for power; this is the opposite of preventing civil war and the opposite of political reconciliation.

It’s time to leave.

The Book Event, Redux

As I mentioned before, I went to a book event where Glenn Greenwald was beginning his tour for Great American Hypocrites. (Wow, did I seriously just link Amazon?) If you want to know more, here’s an account written by a blogger I met at the event.

There was one thing I wanted to note in particular. A question was asked about “what can we do?” This question is important, but not unique. When people hear someone pointing out injustice or danger, they always ask what can the “little” person do. I’ve heard various answers, some more effective than others.

Greenwald’s answer was an anecdote about how a deluge of e-mails pressured Lee Hamilton to comment on something Michael Mukasey said. (Long story short: Mukasey made up a story about how 9/11 could’ve been prevented if only we’d eavesdropped on a certain phone call, and Hamilton at first refused to comment, and then after the e-mails commented that Mukasey said something the 9/11 Commission had never heard of.) We can also pressure thin-skinned journalist through blogging.

Here’s my addition:

Our political culture is not just sick from the top-down, but from the bottom-up. It’s not just the media’s fault for parroting hoary right-wing caricatures of leftists, but our fault for paying attention.

That is to say, every time you forward an e-mail saying Obama hates America, you make a difference.

But every time you combat such myths, you also make a difference.

After reading a blog post about Obama’s accomplishments in the Senate, I told my friend about how Obama was involved in reforming government and unsexy issues like nuclear non-proliferation. The very same night, when we were engaged in a political debate, he used those same talking points that I had told him.

Even if you make just one person aware, you have influenced the national debate in a powerful manner. What you say will spread.

(Caveat: It will only do so if it’s worth repeating and if it’s easy to repeat.)

The take-home message is, you don’t have to influence powerful people in order to influence the debate.

This kind of one-on-one work is just as important as the other stuff. However, don’t say, “Oh, I’ve convinced one person McCain isn’t as much of a maverick as he seems,” and then rest.

Change needs to be made both from the top-down and the bottom-up.

Keep up the discussion. Talk to your friends; e-mail the pundits and journalists. You’ll make a difference.

A Debate Last Night

So apparently, there was a Democratic debate last night on ABC, which I missed. Maybe you missed it too. That’s okay, I can sum it up in one sentence from this Washington Post article: “The debate also touched on Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, taxes, the economy, guns and affirmative action.”

Iraq, the economy, yes, the most important issues of our time, were merely “touched on.” Instead, they spent most of their time on very substantive issues such as whether Obama wears a flag lapel pin. Never mind that the Bush Administration approved torture and eviscerated the Fourth Amendment. Apparently, our attire is more important than our allegiance to American principles and the Constitution in determining one’s patriotism.

That the sentence quoted above is even a possible formulation is laughable. It’s something you’d expect to excerpt from The Onion, not the Washington Post.

We’re not going to win unless we fight like hell against this freak show.

I thought Obama would coast to victory because of the anger over the Iraq war and the economy, but it’s not going to be enough. That debate is a mere taste of what we’re going to face this election season.

On the Surge

I wrote an op-ed for my school newspaper about the disaster that is the troop surge.

I hesitated sharing it because I do not think it is particularly well-written. I’m not really sure if I know enough to be commenting like that. Furthermore, while the second line is biting, I do not like it.

Book Signing

I went to Glenn Greenwald’s book signing today in DC. They ran out of books, though, so I didn’t have anything to sign. Still, I got to hear him talk and I got to meet him. That’s worth more than any signature in my estimation.

I plan on purchasing his book very soon. I have a feeling it’s going to give me a good framework in which to work.

Note to self: When you go somewhere, make sure you check when the trains get back. Also, expect a delay whenever dealing with trains.

I was totally stranded at the train station and then in the train. I tried calling people, but most of them didn’t pick up. To be honest, I really wanted to call Lloyd because he actually knows who Glenn Greenwald is, but I don’t have his number.

A Day Off

Because of the necessity of working on weekends, I’m having trouble segregating my school life from my personal life.

This is really frustrating. I could work on blocking time to give me more personal time on the weekdays, but I really do need a Sabbath. Without a day off, I’m getting exhausted. The more exhausted I get, the more frustrated I get.

A whole day off. Is that so much to ask?

Sadr City

Alright, I pull up the NY Times front page, and this is what I see: Headline: “Fight for Sadr City a Proving Ground for Iraq Military.”

Then, this: “American commanders see the struggle for control of Sadr City, the stronghold of Shiite militias, as an opportunity to shift more responsibility to the Iraqis.”

I swear, this is the same exact shit they said about Basra and look how that turned out. Defeat, along with high defection rates.

How long do we have to stay in Iraq to fully train one side to fight in a civil war?

Screw Technology

On the one hand, I have determined that I should turn the computer off in order to get more work done. I definitely have a bad addiction to the internets.

On the other hand, I am utterly dependent on the computer. I decided to start one of my homework assignments. I download the problem set from a web site. The first problem asks about density and gives me one solar mass as a unit. I open Google and search for “mass of sun” to find its mass in kilograms. It’s not just that. I need Word to do my writing assignments. I can’t win.

I’m like an alcoholic who needs to drink in order to get anything done.

Curse you, technology! My savior and my devil.