It’s the reality, stupid!

Haven’t we heard this song before?

Some senior Bush administration officials and top Republican lawmakers are voicing anger that American spy agencies have not issued more ominous warnings about the threats that they say Iran presents to the United States.

Some policy makers have accused intelligence agencies of playing down Iran’s role in Hezbollah’s recent attacks against Israel and overestimating the time it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.

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Now 86% Reality Free!

According to recent polls, 50% of Americans believe that weapons of mass destruction were actually found in Iraq, and at least back in December 24% of Americans believed that several of the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11 were Iraqis. And a presumably different 36% of Americans believe it is either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or deliberately took no action to stop them, and another 16% of Americas speculate that the World Trade Center collapsed because of government-planted explosives rather than as a result of burning jet fuel.

So on the right we have fundamental ignorance about the facts (no doubt encouraged by scurrilous politicians) and on the left there’s a rising belief in ill-supported conspiracy theories (no doubt fanned by the Loose Change video). To the remaining 14%, please hang in there — you’re all we’ve got left in an increasingly reality-free nation.

(Links via On The Media.)

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Lack of imagination

The phrase all the newspapers have picked up about the recent foiled terrorist plot:

“Put simply this was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.”

OK, so say their plan was to blow up 12 US-bound flights simultaneously, and say that by some stroke of absolute genius and/or luck they actually managed to succeed in every single case (fat chance, but humor me). If you assume around 259 people onboard each flight (the same number of people as were killed on Pan Am 747-100), that’s 3108 deaths. That would be a tragic loss of life. It’s roughly equivalent to the number killed in the WTC attacks, three times the number of civilians killed so far in Lebanon in the past few weeks, 7.5% of the number of civilians killed so far in Iraq, a third of the number killed every day in Rwanda in from April to July 1994, and only slightly fewer than the number of people killed in the US in auto accidents every month.

That’s a lot, and I’m glad they’ve arrested these guys. But unimaginable? That sounds like a serious lack of imagination.

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The case for fraud in the 2004 election

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. summarizes the huge amount of evidence of malfeasance and outright election fraud that led to Bush’s “win” in 2004, including a whopping 208 footnotes ranging from newspaper reports to court decisions to official investigation findings. The article is the result of a four-month investigation by Kennedy and Rolling Stone magazine (to echo my friend Judith, why the hell do we have to go to Rolling Stone for in-depth political reporting?).

Most of the findings will be old news to those who followed the story at the time, and it’s clearly just one side of the argument, but seeing the case laid out all in one place is still maddening. (I’m actually still reading it, because I can only read about a page at a time before getting too mad to continue.)

Update 6/3/06: As Death comments, Farhad Manjoo responds in Salon that Kennedy’s article has “numerous errors of interpretation and… deliberate omission of key bits of data.”

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Science bashing in politics

Leonard Susskind has a nice quote on the recent anti-science frenzy we’ve seen the past few years. This is from his chapter / essay called The Good Fight, published in Intelligent Thought: Science Versus The Intelligent Design Movement:

What is the reason for the recent upsurge of antiscientific passion? My own view is that it is, in part, a result of the anger, fear, frustration, and humiliation suffered over the years by the losers in the culture wars: those who would have kept women in the kitchen, blacks in the back of the bus, and gays in the closet. It is also a consequence of the deep and terrible universal fear of old age and death. But I don’t believe these emotions, by themselves, could have created the antiscientific backlash of recent years. The fault may well lie in the ease with which these emotions can be cynically manipulated. It is pretty clear that the battle was engineered by provocateurs who may not even have wanted to win the battles they provoked. What seems much more likely, in view of the gingerly way that politicians have skirted such issues as Roe v. Wade, is that the provocateurs want to lose the battles and in that way keep the anger and humiliation at fever pitch.

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Making English the nation’s lingua franca

As I’m sure everyone knows, last week the US Senate voted to make English our “national” language. All through this debate I keep thinking back to when my dad was a professor at Georgia Tech Lorraine, Georgia Tech’s campus in Metz, France.

Back in 1997 Georgia Tech Lorraine was sued for violating a French law forbidding the sale of “goods and services” in France in any single language other than French. The lawsuit was brought by two French organizations, the Défense de la Langue Française and Avenir de la Langue Française Defense de la Langue, because the campus (which taught classes only in English) did not have a French version of their website. I remember smugly thinking how idiotic it was that the French had organizations dedicated to the “defense” of the French language, and how much more sensible we Americans were. Of course, I should have realized my smugness would be short-lived: the French may be known for their jingoism and petulant national pride, but the US has always envied that title.

So now I have to wonder — how would the Senators that voted for “defending our English language” react to the accusation that they’re acting, well, French?

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Two quotes by Justice Antonin Scalia

Comments by Justice Antonin Scalia on whether Guantánamo Bay detainees have protections under the Geneva or human-rights conventions, as quoted by Newsweek (March 8, 2006):

“If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I’m not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it’s crazy.”

Confirmation Testimony of Hon. Antonin Scalia, To Be U.S. Supreme Court Justice (August 5, 1986):

Senator Mathias: “…if a reasonable litigant actually believed that your judgment would be distorted because of some strong personal bias or belief, would that dissuade you from sitting on a case?”

Judge Scalia: I think the statute reads that way, Senator. I have the statute somewhere. I am quite sure that the way you put it is about the way the statute reads, requiring disqualification. If I may, title 28, United States Code, section 455: “Any justice, judge or magistrate of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

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Finally, Bush has a plan for victory…

After three years of bloody war in Iraq, President Bush has finally announced his hitherto super-secret plan for victory. Step 1: elect a more competent U.S. president…

President Bush said yesterday that future administrations will have to grapple with how and when to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, indicating that he doesn’t see an end to U.S. commitments until at least 2009.

“That’ll be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq,” Mr. Bush said at his second press conference of the year, during which he also said Iraq is not in the middle of a civil war and defended his continued commitment of U.S. troops.

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Frist pulling out all the stops to avoid Senate oversight of NSA wiretaping

Wow. Glenn Greenwald has the skinny on how Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is so determined to make sure the Intelligence Committee doesn’t look into Bush’s secret domestic wiretapping program (the vote was already delayed once by the Committee Chair after it became apparent that three Republican committee members were going to vote to hold hearings) that he’s threatening to end the special bipartisan power-sharing arrangement the intelligence committee has had since it was created 30 years ago. Sounds like a smaller version of the so-called Nuclear Option the Republicans were threatening over filibuster.

“If I can’t have my way, I’m just going to take my Democracy and go home…”

(Thanks to Judith for the link.)

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