30 August 2006

From one "Nazi sympathizer" to another

I heard an interesting stat on NPR yesterday. Someone claimed that if the amount of money given to contractors and others to help those affected by Katrina had simply been handed directly to the victims, it would have amounted to 200 grand for every man, woman, and child. Even if we take 20% of this for the infrastructure improvements and toxic clean-up (which is probably more than was actually spent on these efforts), we'd still have enough money for everyone in the city to move inland 20 miles and buy and pay off a house (actually, probably two or three houses)--something I'll probably never accomplish before I die. Amazing! So where did all the money go? Or are we allowed to ask this question?

NPR was also talking about an American citizen who was basically banned from returning to the U.S. (i.e., was placed on the no-fly list while visiting Pakistan). The person had not committed a crime but was banned after refusing to be interviewed by the FBI while hooked up to a polygraph. And in today's news, we have Rummsfeld telling us that those who oppose Shrub are no different than Nazi sympathizers. (Are we allowed to laugh at this point? Has someone checked the Department of Homeland Security's memo on unpatriotic levity? I wouldn't want to run afoul of Executive fiat.)

28 August 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

I just saw Little Miss Sunshine and must say that the movie "clicks." After sitting through 3 or 4 duds this summer, where the biggest draw was the theater's awesome air-conditioning system, I'm pleased to see something that's creative and different. Don't get me wrong--this isn't a high-brow film by any means. Even so, the director has the patience to pause before the punchlines. Like so many good movies, the film lacks "star-power" (i.e., a formulaic script). Abigail Breslin delivers an excellent performance as the cute innocent stuck in a highly disfunctional (=normal) family. Paul Dano plays the angst-ridden teenager with all the subtelty and anger that the part deserves. Anyway, go see this one, while it's in the theaters.

27 August 2006

War Crimes

I saw this in a recent story in the Guardian:

The US is investigating whether Israel's use of American-made cluster bombs in Lebanon violated an agreement that the weapons not be used in populated areas, officials said yesterday. Unexploded "bomblets" from cluster munitions have emerged as the most lethal obstacle to the return of refugees to southern Lebanon after the month-long war between Israel and Hizbullah. The UN said the fist-sized bombs had been found in nearly 300 locations and about two-thirds were American-made.

Cluster-bombs are essentially children-killers. The idea that such tactics can be justified is both ludicrous and appaling.

24 August 2006

Craig Murray article

I came across this interesting analysis of the recent terror threat on Craig Murray's site (August 14, 2006 posting):

The UK Terror plot: what's really going on?

I have been reading very carefully through all the Sunday newspapers to try and analyse the truth from all the scores of pages claiming to detail the so-called bomb plot. Unlike the great herd of so-called security experts doing the media analysis, I have the advantage of having had the very highest security clearances myself, having done a huge amount of professional intelligence analysis, and having been inside the spin machine.So this, I believe, is the true story.None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms. What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth. The gentleman being "interrogated" had fled the UK after being wanted for questioning over the murder of his uncle some years ago. That might be felt to cast some doubt on his reliability. It might also be felt that factors other than political ones might be at play within these relationships. Much is also being made of large transfers of money outside the formal economy. Not in fact too unusual in the British Muslim community, but if this activity is criminal, there are many possibilities that have nothing to do with terrorism.We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why? I think the answer to that is plain. Both in desperate domestic political trouble, they longed for "Another 9/11". The intelligence from Pakistan, however dodgy, gave them a new 9/11 they could sell to the media. The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shovelled. We then have the appalling political propaganda of John Reid, Home Secretary, making a speech warning us all of the dreadful evil threatening us and complaining that "Some people don't get" the need to abandon all our traditional liberties. He then went on, according to his own propaganda machine, to stay up all night and minutely direct the arrests. There could be no clearer evidence that our Police are now just a political tool. Like all the best nasty regimes, the knock on the door came in the middle of the night, at 2.30am. Those arrested included a mother with a six week old baby.For those who don't know, it is worth introducing Reid. A hardened Stalinist with a long term reputation for personal violence, at Stirling Univeristy he was the Communist Party's "Enforcer", (in days when the Communist Party ran Stirling University Students' Union, which it should not be forgotten was a business with a very substantial cash turnover). Reid was sent to beat up those who deviated from the Party line.We will now never know if any of those arrested would have gone on to make a bomb or buy a plane ticket. Most of them do not fit the "Loner" profile you would expect - a tiny percentage of suicide bombers have happy marriages and young children. As they were all under surveillance, and certainly would have been on airport watch lists, there could have been little danger in letting them proceed closer to maturity - that is certainly what we would have done with the IRA.In all of this, the one thing of which I am certain is that the timing is deeply political. This is more propaganda than plot. Of the over one thousand British Muslims arrested under anti-terrorist legislation, only twelve per cent are ever charged with anything. That is simply harrassment of Muslims on an appalling scale. Of those charged, 80% are acquitted. Most of the very few - just over two per cent of arrests - who are convicted, are not convicted of anything to do terrorism, but of some minor offence the Police happened upon while trawling through the wreck of the lives they had shattered.Be sceptical. Be very, very sceptical.

My dogs rant

People often complain of social intolerance of their dogs but as a person who has stepped in my share of dog crap, I have little tolerance for this attitude. Now I realize that you are undoubtedly the exception and that you always pick up your dog's crap, but many people don't. In places with dog crap everywhere (Paris comes to mind), there should be a tax on dog ownership to pay for a large team of poop-scoopers. I personally don't understand people's penchant for keeping pets--especially if you don't live out in the countryside where they can stretch their legs and live a somewhat natural existence.

23 August 2006

2=1

As if there weren't enough reasons for disillusionment with Lieberman, we are now seeing the entrenched Republican establishment abandon their own candidate to fight for Lieberman's cause. Lieberman's going to end up as poster child for the notion that the Democratic and Republican parties have failed to give Americans a choice. And his downfall--even if temporary--is a sign of grassroots disappointment with the sad state of our two-party duopoly.

The Taylor Decision

As we reflect on the recent decision by Judge Taylor on illegal government spying on U.S. citizens, I'd like to remind everyone of some of the facts and circumstances:

(1) Shrub has repeatedly misled the country about NSA spying, which was not carefully targeted. News reports describe thousands of leads given to the FBI right after Sept 11, interfering with normal FBI operations.
(2) It was not done with court orders, as Bush has insisted in talks around the country.
(3) It was not limited to overseas calls, as Bush and Hayden assured us.
(4) This covert spying began before Sept 11, blowing the whole justification out of the water. (5) Gonzales misled the Senate, calling spying "hypothetical" as Feingold made clear.
(6) The domestic spying is part of a broad pattern of lying. It must be called what it is: corruption and a bold challenge to Constitution rights.

Iraq improving? Tell that to the stop-lossed soldiers.

The Christian Science Monitor reports growing strains on US troop levels as evinced by the Marine Corps announcement this week that it will involuntarily activate 2,500 reservists. The call-up comes as the Army moves to accept more soldiers from the "lowest acceptable" category. Of course, all of this flies in the face of those rosy assessments that we would soon be handing the reins to the Iraqis. Troop strength has now risen back to 138,000. The Army is still issuing "stop loss" orders for several thousand troops, extending their tours in Iraq. Personally, I think all this talk of the US getting out of Iraq is pure propaganda. Countries don't build giant permanent bases all over a country if they're planning on leaving in 6 months. I can just about guarantee that the US will be in Iraq forever or until they are kicked out.

22 August 2006

Against Unswerving Loyalty

In the daily televised catechism courses provided by the corporate media outlets, we're told by the rightwing that they are the ones standing up for our rights and freedoms. Why is it then that conservatives are all so willing to abandon these same rights?

I recently came across a post on Glen Dean's site commenting on a Neal Boortz article. The Boortz article uses the popular tactic of constructing an imaginary scenario, with the effete, defenseless, and unswervingly moral U.S. government on one side struggling against the omniscient and omnipotent forces of evil:

Here's something I want you to think about though. Let's consider a scenario. U.S. Intelligence forces are eavesdropping on the cell phone conversations of an Islamic terrorist in Pakistan. It is starting to become clear that this Islamic terrorist is in the final steps of implementing a terror attack on a U.S. target ... let's say a large shopping mall. Our intelligence agents are on pins and needles because it looks like this man is preparing to call the Islamic goons who will carry out the attack and give them the go-ahead. As our intelligence people watch their monitors it suddenly becomes clear that the terrorist is making a phone call to the United States. This could be it! He may be calling his contact to discuss the final details and timing of the attack! Under Judge Taylor's ruling will our intelligence folks have the authority to listen to the conversation, or will they have to hang up? If they can listen, fine. If they have to get a warrant a few days later from that super-secret court, fine. If they have to hang up .. not fine.

Let's ignore for the moment the fact that the post is wildly inaccurate. We all know that retroactive warrants are already provided by FISA. So this isn't an issue (perhaps it should be!) Even with this red-herring aside, there are two fundamental problems with the Boortz article.

First, we're left with the impression that innocence and guilt are to be decided by some non-judicial authority. The intelligence people will figure out who the terrorists really are, we're told. Yeah, right. And if they think it's the next Martin Luther King Junior, our tax dollars will be spent paying for a small army of highly-paid agents to tail and harass the next non-violent preacher who appears on the American scene. It gets worse, this authority isn't a policeman but is instead a covert agent. Talk about lack of accountability. For those who slept through Civics 101, the courts are there precisely to sort things out methodically and bring some accountability into the process. Even with courts, there are tremendous injustices--it's odd to think we'll have a more justice system by jettisoning them.

Second, there's an underlying assumption that our government could never be the enemy. If this is the case, why have rights, laws, or constitutions? We should simply trust daddy to take care of us. But let's really look at this. Beyond all the hype, the U.S. military and government are extremely powerful. The U.S. military could probably fight a war with the rest of the world combined, and we'd knock out every capital on the planet (giving the cockroaches a chance to rule the Earth). U.S. intelligence is a gargantuan bureaucracy. Instead of the Boortz thought experiment, let's try one that is much more likely to occur (and probably does occur dozens of times a day):

Joe Shmoe, all-American secret agent, listens in on a Union organizer in Brazil talking to his American girlfriend. Joe, being the all-American conservative that he is, hates people who support workers and attack big-business, so he figures this guy must be up to something. So he decides that this Brazilian fellow fits "the terrorist profile". He listens in to the phone call and eventually finds information about where the girlfriend is having a political rally. Joe writes a note to himself: (Better go check out that rally. It has connections, after all, to a foreign "terrorist.")

And we all know how this ends (or rather, doesn't end).

The picture comes from the CafePress collection.

21 August 2006

Connecticut for Lieberman Party?

This story just keeps getting better: The wheels are now in motion to kick Lieberman out of the Democratic Party. The grassroots would do well to not stop at Lieberman but get rid of half the people currently in office. At this rate, we might even develop a real two-party system. Taking a cue from the military's "Army of One" slogan (perhaps the most ridiculous military slogan in the last two centuries), Lieberman has created the Connecticut for Lieberman Party. That's a damn-catchy title. But, you know, it's gonna have a hard time facing off against the Karlo and the Rest of the Blogosphere Thinks You're an Idiot Party.

17 August 2006

Bush is breaking the law

U.S. judge rules against government's warrantless eavesdropping
CBC (With AP files): Thu, 17 Aug 2006 (my emphasis)

A U.S. federal judge in Detroit on Thursday ordered a halt to the U.S. government's warrantless wiretapping program. In becoming the first judge to rule against the wiretapping, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor called the National Security Agency's program unconstitutional. She ruled the wiretapping program violated the rights of free speech and privacy. "Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution," Taylor wrote in her 43-page ruling.

This is good news. Contrary to what Mr. Bush believes, the Executive isn't above the law.

The judge ruled on a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers, who claimed the eavesdropping program made their jobs tougher. The program involved the U.S. government listening to conversations between people in the U.S. and other countries. The U.S. government said it was within the president's powers to order the eavesdropping, but argued that proving its point would require disclosure of national secrets.

Secrets that might reveal the full scope of Shrub's end-run around the law? I'm afraid that secret's already out.

14 August 2006

Teaching tongues to the tykes

Language Hat has an interesting post on the number of languages a child should be taught. Personally, I think it should be the mother tongue + Esperanto, but this is another rant that I'll spare you for another day.

13 August 2006

Ashcroft the "consultant"

Anyone familiar with government work can tell you that the private contractors and their government counterparts switch hats so often that it's hard to remember which side of the fence they're on. The government contracting business is a shady world of favors and secret deals on the golf-course. Needless to say, Ashcroft knows which side of the toast is buttered. I don't understand why we don't simply pass a law against this--any firm receiving any government contract must have no former government appointees on its pay-roll or its subcontracts--none. It's that simple. Of course that would take a lot of the fun and excitement out of politics (as well as a helluva lot of money). We wouldn't want that...

Hat tip to Cut-to-the-Chase for the original link to this story.

11 August 2006

Name that wimp game

I heard a rightwing radio host today whining about the pussyfooted Democrats who are turning sour on Iraq. What are these wishy-washy representatives and polical naysayers saying? And just who are these people, anyway? Well, let's play a little game today called "NAME THAT WIMP". Can you guess who said the following?

1. "Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is."

2. "You can support the troops but not the president."

3. "Well, I just think it's a bad idea. What's going to happen is they're going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years."

4. "Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?"

5. "[The] President . . . is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be away from home."

6. "I had doubts about the bombing campaign from the beginning . . I didn't think we had done enough in the diplomatic area."

7. "I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our over-extended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today"

Now let's see how well you did. You get one point per correct response. Now use your mouse to highlight the section below:

(Quotes related to Clinton's Balkan campaign.)

1. -- Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)
2. -- Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)
3. -- Joe Scarborough (R-FL)
4. -- Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99
5. -- Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)
6. -- Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)
7. -- Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

- ends here -

10 August 2006

Now time for some humor...

Lieberman's loss: Help or hindrance?

Louisa Arndt, in response to the question "Will Lieberman's loss help or hurt Democrats?", hits the nail on the head (emphasis mine):

Help. It should wake up both the party leadership and the Democratic candidates themselves to the idea that, in November, they're going to face an electorate sick of the war, frustrated at inaction on global warming, disgusted with politics as usual, and mad as hell and not going to take it any longer.

9 August 2006

Connecticut, I love you! (revised)

Ah, I'm in a fine mood today, a very fine mood. At last, some voters have taken my advice and are swerving leftward, out of the way of the on-coming disaster that looms in front of the nation's current trajectory.

[Guardian] Voters in Connecticut rejected three-term Sen. Joe Lieberman for a political newcomer in the nation's first major test of the depth of anger over the Iraq war.

As "only the fourth incumbent senator to lose a primary since 1980", Joe should go home, lick his wounds, and think about his next job outside of the government (he'd make an excellent Republican lobbyist). Instead, he's going to endure more pies in the face:

But Lieberman, undaunted, vowed to run as an independent against fellow Democrat Ned Lamont. ``For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand,'' he said of Tuesday's Democratic primary results.

How his running as in independent is "for the sake of" his party is beyond me, considering that his party has clearly rejected him. C-Net has an article asking the question: "Did bloggers cost Joe Lieberman an election?" We can only hope that we did our part.



Let's take a quick look at what some of the bloggin' noggins got to say about this on the internets:

Edward Stewart has a typical reaction:

The Lieberman/Lamont primary proved one thing. That the Foil Hat Rebellion is in full force in the DNC. This was not a contest of Joe Lieberman against Ned Lamont. It was a contest between the DNC establishment and the Foil Hat types like DailyKos, Democratic Underground, George Soros, et. al.

All I can say is if any of you want this guy so bad--have him. He already knows the Republicon goose-step so he'll fit right in as you march off to make the world free for non-bid contractors. Of course, we shouldn't write Joe off too quickly. Karl Rove, after all, has apparently reached out to the Lieberman camp with a message straight from the Oval Office: "The boss wants to help. Whatever we can do, we will do." In other words, don't worry Joe--we see you sinking. Grab this anchor and tie it to your life-jacket.

Real Clear Politics had this to say:

Anti-war Democrats and much of the mainstream media continue to confuse anti-war with anti-lose. The incessant commentary that 2/3rd of the country is against the war completely misreads the American public, as much of the negativity towards the war isn't because we are fighting, but rather a growing feeling that we are not fighting to win or not fighting smart.
Democrats went down this road in the late 1960's with Vietnam and they are still carrying the baggage from that leftward turn. Lamont's win is a big step back to that losing formula. During the height of the "progressive" revolt against the war in Vietnam, Americans voted 57% for Nixon and Wallace in 1968, followed by a whopping 60% for Nixon in 1972 against the avowededly anti-war McGovern.


You know the Republicans are in trouble when they try to appeal to people's nostalgia for Nixon. (Any of them "Nixon Now" buttons left?) What horse-shit! You're talking about a president whose corruption has only been surpassed by Shrubby himself--someone who was fighting secret wars and lying about it. Vietnam? A war for freedom? I get so tired of repeating the history for those with a 30-second attention span (just big enough for the last beer commercial) but the initial U.S. involvement in Vietnam was IN SUPPORT OF THE FRENCH OCCUPATION. Enough said. The Vietnamese coalition were freedom fighters. Nixon was a Nazi who didn't have the advantage of a 9/11. Lieberman is a lapdog. As for misreading the American public--get real. We're against the war. The current president is going to go out as one of the most unpopular, corrupt and inept presidents in U.S. history. The idea that the Democratic party is veering left (or that it is left at all) is patently absurd.

8 August 2006

Lieberman losing thus far

With 89 percent of precincts counted, Lamont leading with 52 percent, or 127,786 votes, to Lieberman's 48 percent, or 119,867 votes. Turnout appears to have doubled--a good sign of people's disgust with Lieberman. If he runs as an independent, so much the better--it might lead to some long-needed soul-searching within the Democratic party.

7 August 2006

A few points to consider...

I'd like to bring up a few facts about Iraq as we ponder Lieberman's fate:

Dave Phillips, a State Department analyst for the original "plan" for a new Iraq, has stated that the Pentagon never wanted democracy, they wanted Chalabi, and then Alawi, both US intelligence assets.

General Garner, the first US "governor" of Iraq, was fired in part for his support of early elections. He didn't support foisting a business plan on Iraq.

At the same time, Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric was demanding elections.

Bremer, the second US governor, had veto power over the initial draft of a constitution by the US appointed governing council. A fan of democracy, you say? He also did everything he could to take de facto control of Iraq's government after the US "gave" sovereignty to Iraq.

The US removed the first Prime Minister, al-Jafaari.

At the same time, Bush funneled money to favored candidates (hardly strikes me as a policy of "letting the Iraqi people decide their fate").

The US ambassador vetted candidates in the recent election.

In short, the idea that power-hungry politicos like Shrub and his lackey Lieberman will bring democracy to any place is ludicrous. Prior support for the war must be a litmus test for any candidate at any level: if you supported it, you were wrong and you don't belong in politics.

4 August 2006

News from the front

Those who should know best, say that Iraq has already slid into civil war:

While American politicians and generals in Washington debate the possibility of civil war in Iraq, U.S. officers and enlisted men who patrol Baghdad daily say it has already begun.
Army troops in and around Baghdad interviewed in the last week cite a long list of evidence that the center of the nation is coming undone: Villages have been abandoned by Sunni and Shiite Muslims; Sunni insurgents have killed thousands of Shiites in car bombings and assassinations; Shiite militia death squads have tortured and killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Sunnis; and when night falls, neighborhoods become open battlegrounds.
"There's one street that's the dividing line. They shoot mortars across the line and abduct people back and forth," said 1st Lt. Brian Johnson, a 4th Infantry Division platoon leader from Houston, describing the nightly battleground that pits Sunni gunmen from the Ghazaliyah neighborhood against Shiite gunmen from the Shula district .
. . It's to the point of being irreconcilable; you know, we've found a lot of bodies, entire villages have been cleared out, we get reports of entire markets being gunned down - and if that's not a marker of a civil war, I don't know what is," said Ramon, 33, of San Antonio, Texas . . .

3 August 2006

Frank assessments

Generals raise fears of Iraq civil war By Anne Flaherty, Associated Press Writer

The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East told Congress on Thursday that "Iraq could move toward civil war" if the raging sectarian violence in Baghdad is not stopped.

We can argue over the semantics, but it sounds to me like the civil war has already started.

"I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it," Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said the top priority in the Iraq war is to secure the capital, where factional violence has surged in recent weeks despite efforts by the new Iraqi government to stop the fighting.

Things ain't good when the top U.S. commander in the area admits that the situation has plummeted to an all-time low.

Abizaid, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top military officers testified Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee amid fresh reports that said up to two-thirds of the Army's combat units are unprepared for wartime missions because of the strain of operations in Iraq.

But what about our upcoming four-pronged assault against North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela? Some of those chubby rightwing Limbaugh fans are going to have to heave themselves off their sofa, grab their broken down weapons, and head for the jungle if Pax Americana is to survive!

The Pentagon is trying to convince lawmakers, divided over the war in Iraq, that the mission is not breaking the Army and that extending the tours of some troops is necessary to quell increasing violence in the region.

I suggest we save some money by moving the Pentagon to Baghdad's green zone.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed Abizaid's observation when he told the panel, "We do have the possibility of that devolving into civil war." He added that this need not happen and stressed that ultimately it depends on the Iraqis more than on the U.S. military.

That's reassuring! In other words, if all hell breaks lose, we can ultimately lay the failure at the feet of the Iraqis. What leadership!

"Shiite and Sunni are going to have to love their children more than they hate each other," Pace said, before the tensions can be overcome. "The weight of that must be on the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government."

I cringe when rightwingers start talking about "love".

President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have steadfastly refused to call the situation in Iraq a civil war, although Rumsfeld at a news conference on Wednesday acknowledged that the violence is increasing.

Rumsfeld had said Wednesday he essentially was too busy to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee and would instead attend a private briefing with the entire Senate on Thursday. He changed his mind after hours of criticism and pressure from Senate Democrats, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who said the Pentagon chief should be accountable to the public by answering questions on the war.

You wouldn't want to pull this man away from his real job: lining up lucrative contracts for friends of the administration.

The Pentagon offered no reason for Rumsfeld's change of plans. Earlier, it had said the defense secretary has made an aggressive effort to meet with lawmakers regularly, including testimony at an appropriations hearing earlier this year and at other classified briefings.

Rumsfeld's relations with Congress have been testy at times and he occasionally has resisted testifying publicly on contentious subjects, including the debate over whether high-level officials should be held accountable for the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.

The Pentagon this week announced its decision to extend the tours of an Alaskan Army brigade to bolster security around a volatile Baghdad and push troop levels to roughly 135,000 — dashing the Bush administration's hopes of dropping the figure by tens of thousands by the fall congressional campaigns.

He ain't the only one with "dashed" hopes. I was hoping that Shrub would be hanging from a cherry tree on the White House lawn by this point.

2 August 2006

Grow-your-own home

Instead of building a tree-house, will we soon be living in house-trees?

In the future, homeowners may grow their houses instead of building them. That's the vision of MIT architect Mitchell Joachim of the Media Lab's Smart Cities group. He and his colleagues -- environmental engineer Lara Greden (S.M. 2001, Ph.D. 2005) and architect Javier Arbona-Homar (S.M. 2004) -- have conceived a home that doesn't just use "green" design but is itself a living ecosystem. They call it the Fab Tree Hab. The basic framework of the house would be created using a gardening method known as pleaching, in which young trees are woven together into a shape such as an archway, lattice, or screen and then encouraged to maintain that form over the years.

As the framework matured -- which might take a few years in tropical climates and several decades in more temperate locations -- the home grower would weave a dense layer of protective vines onto the exterior walls. Any gaps could be filled in with soil and growing plants to create miniature gardens. On the interior walls, a mixture of clay and straw beneath a final layer of smooth clay would provide insulation and block moisture. On south-facing walls, windows made of soy-based plastics would absorb warmth in the winter; ground-floor windows on the shady side could draw in cool breezes during hot months. Water collected on the roof would flow through the house for use by people and plants; wastewater would be purified in an outdoor pond with bacteria, fish and plants that consume organic waste.

"The concept of a living house is really incredibly exciting when you think that people in tropical and semitropical locations have fast-growing trees available," said Richard Reames, an Oregon-based "arborsculptor" who uses grafting techniques to grow living furniture.

For now, Joachim is working on MATscape, a house project in California incorporating about half recycled materials and half living materials, such as grasses, plants and soil. But Joachim and his team hope to plan a Fab Tree Hab community someday, creating homes that don't interrupt the surrounding ecosystem but become integrated with it. "Design intervention only guides the growth," he said. "Nature -- life -- does the rest."

hat-tip to futurismic