Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A quirk of physics


McCain Warns Of ‘Hard Struggle’ On The ‘Iraq-Pakistan Border’

Today on Good Morning America, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) refused to call the situation in Afghanistan "precarious and urgent," but admitted that "We have a lot of work to do." He warned of a "very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq-Pakistan border." Watch it:

Of course, Iraq is nowhere near Pakistan. In fact, Baghdad — the capital of Iraq — is over 1,500 miles from Pakistan's capital of Islamabad:


Before McCain repeats his claim to "know how to win wars," he should probably look at a map.

Having the "Best Military" Is Not Always a Good Thing

Reclaiming Our Citizen-Soldier Heritage
By William J. Astore

When did American troops become "warfighters" -- members of "Generation Kill" -- instead of citizen-soldiers? And when did we become so proud of declaring our military to be "the world's best"? These are neither frivolous nor rhetorical questions. Open up any national defense publication today and you can't miss the ads from defense contractors, all eagerly touting the ways they "serve" America's "warfighters." Listen to the politicians, and you'll hear the obligatory incantation about our military being "the world's best."

All this is, by now, so often repeated -- so eagerly accepted -- that few of us seem to recall how against the American grain it really is. If anything -- and I saw this in studying German military history -- it's far more in keeping with the bellicose traditions and bumptious rhetoric of Imperial Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II than of an American republic that began its march to independence with patriotic Minutemen in revolt against King George.

So consider this a modest proposal from a retired citizen-airman: A small but meaningful act against the creeping militarism of the Bush years would be to collectively repudiate our "world's best warfighter" rhetoric and re-embrace instead a tradition of reluctant but resolute citizen-soldiers.

The New New Yorker


The White House wins a disturbing legal victory

Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar legally residing in the United States, was initially arrested in his home in Peoria, Illinois, on ordinary criminal charges, then imprisoned by military authorities.

The government, which says he has ties to Al Qaeda, designated him an enemy combatant, even though it never alleged that he was in an army or carried arms on a battlefield. He was held on the basis of extremely thin hearsay evidence.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, based in Richmond, Virginia, declared that the government could not hold al-Marri, or any other civilian, simply on the president's orders. If it wanted to prosecute him, the court ruled, it could do so in the civilian court system.

That was the right answer. Unfortunately, last week the full 4th Circuit reversed the decision, and with a tangle of difficult-to-decipher opinions, upheld the government's right to hold al-Marri indefinitely. The court ruled that al-Marri must be given greater rights to challenge his detention. But this part of the decision is weak, and he is unlikely to get the sort of procedural protections necessary to ensure that justice is done.

The implications are breathtaking. The designation "enemy combatant," which should apply only to people captured on a battlefield, can now be applied to people detained inside the United States. Even though al-Marri is not a U.S. citizen, the court's reasoning appears to apply equally to citizens.

One more good reason to lift the embargo on Cuba

Let's seize the potential of the nation's sugar-based ethanol -- before China beats us to it.

By Joe Conason

Sugar cane is harvested in Quivicán, south of Havana, Cuba, April 4, 2008.

Listening to the mouthpieces of the oil industry on talk radio and cable television -- as well as in the Bush White House -- one gets the impression that we must start drilling in America's coastal waters immediately. If only we unleash the oilmen to explore and exploit, then the price of gasoline will start to fall, the scheming petroleum cartel will collapse, and the United States will be independent once again. And if we don't unleash the oilmen, then the Chinese communists will siphon off all the oil from the coast of Cuba before we can even launch a rowboat into the Caribbean.

None of that is true, of course. Producing oil from new offshore wells requires decades, and even when those resources come online they will have little impact on world prices, according to the government's own studies. Fouling our shores with clots of tar will bring us no closer to freedom from foreign oil in the near, medium or long term.

And that tale about the Chinese drilling off Cuba is a hoax designed to gull the public into supporting the repeal of laws that restrict offshore drilling. But the phony Cuban oil story raises a pertinent question. If we really want to free ourselves from the death grip of the oil-exporting countries, maybe we should lift the embargo on trade and investment in Cuba.

Fear not, I'll save you


The Myth of a Toss-up Election

"Too close to call." "Within the margin of error." "A statistical dead heat." If you've been following news coverage of the 2008 presidential election, you're probably familiar with these phrases. Media commentary on the presidential horserace, reflecting the results of a series of new national polls, has strained to make a case for a hotly contested election that is essentially up for grabs.

Signs of Barack Obama's weaknesses allegedly abound. The huge generic Democratic Party advantage is not reflected in the McCain-Obama pairings in national polls. Why, according to the constant refrain, hasn't Obama put this election away? A large number of Clinton supporters in the primaries refuse to commit to Obama. White working class and senior voters tilt decidedly to McCain. Racial resentment limits Obama's support among these two critical voting blocs. Enthusiasm among young voters and African-Americans, two groups strongly attracted to Obama, is waning. McCain is widely seen as better prepared to step up to the responsibilities of commander-in-chief. Blah, blah, blah.

While no election outcome is guaranteed and McCain's prospects could improve over the next three and a half months, virtually all of the evidence that we have reviewed - historical patterns, structural features of this election cycle, and national and state polls conducted over the last several months - points to a comfortable Obama/Democratic party victory in November. Trumpeting this race as a toss-up, almost certain to produce another nail-biter finish, distorts the evidence and does a disservice to readers and viewers who rely upon such punditry.

Consider the following.

Except for a few days when the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls showed a tie, Barack Obama has led John McCain in every national poll in the past two months. Obama's average margin has consistently been in the 4-6 point range during this time. By contrast, the polls in 2000 and 2004 showed much more variation over time.

State polling data have also consistently given Obama the advantage. According to, Obama is currently leading in 26 states and the District of Columbia with a total of 322 electoral votes; McCain is currently leading in 24 states with a total of 216 electoral votes. Obama is leading in every state carried by John Kerry in 2004 along with seven states carried by George Bush: Iowa, New Mexico, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, Nevada and Colorado.

Obama is leading in 11 of the 12 swing states that were decided by a margin of five points or less in 2004 including five of the six that were carried by George Bush. And while Obama has a comfortable lead in every state that John Kerry won by a margin of more than five points in 2004, McCain is in a difficult battle in a number of states that Bush carried by a margin of more than five points including such solidly red states as Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, Virginia, and North Carolina.

And remember these June and July polls may well understate Obama's eventual margin.

3 women to be ordained Catholic priests in Boston

Excommunication automatic, church warns
By Michael Paulson
Three aspiring Catholic priests will be anointed and prayed over this weekend in an ordination liturgy that will resemble the traditional in most ways but one: The three being ordained are women.

The ordination ceremony Sunday, at a historic Protestant church in the Back Bay, is the first such event to take place in Boston, one of the most Catholic cities in the nation.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, in accord with Vatican teaching, says the participants in the ordination ceremony will be automatically excommunicating themselves.

Fantastic Contraption show and book


Device is a new art gallery in La Jolla, California created by sculptor Greg Brotherton and his wife Amy. Their next show, Fantastic Contraption, opens July 19 (and runs through Sept. 2). The 18-artist show explores the leaky margins between humans and their machinery and includes some of my favorites: Stephane Halleux, Nemo Gould, Theo Kamecke, and Mike Libby (all of whom have appeared here on Make: Blog).


IDW Publishing has produced Device Volume 1: Fantastic Contraption, a gorgeous art book, to accompany the show. I was thrilled and honored to be asked to write the introduction for it.

The book is 140 full-color pages, sells for $20 ($13.60 on Amazon), and is available for pre-order now.