Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Short Takes

Turkey shot down a Russian warplane.

Two men were arrested in Minneapolis as suspects in the shooting at the Black Lives Manner protest.

The State Department says the global alert for overseas travelers will be in effect until February.

A Chicago police officer has been charged with murder in the death of an unarmed black man.

A federal court has ruled that Wisconsin’s abortion law is unconstitutional.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Short Takes

France and Belgium tighten security measures and restrict civil liberties in response to the Paris attacks.

Veto bait: The House voted a bill to restrict admission to Syrian and Indonesian refugees.

Mexican immigration to the U.S. is actually in the negative; more are leaving than arriving.

Protesters and city leaders plead for calm in Minneapolis in the wake of another unarmed black person killed by police.

Catch of the Day: GMO salmon is approved by the FDA.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Short Takes

Police in Paris raided an apartment in the suburbs and captured a number of massacre suspects after a gun battle.

ISIS published a photo of what they claim was the type of homemade bomb that brought down the Russian airliner.

Migrants in Europe are anxious about the reception they’re getting from the U.S. and other xenophobes.

A report released showed Chicago Police are hardly ever disciplined for misconduct and abuse.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Monday, November 16, 2015

Stop, Look, and Listen

Like a lot of people, I’ve been trying to make sense of not just the attacks in Paris, but of the whole global situation that has brought us to this point.  The endless loop of people saying the same thing while vamping between commercials on cable TV provides the background noise, but there’s very little thought behind what passes now for insight, so the best thing to do about that is either change the channel or shut it off and let the silence descend.  (This isn’t really the fault of the cable channel talkers; they have to do something to fill the time, and there are only so many re-runs of The Big Bang Theory out there.)

That’s the first step: just stop.  Keeping the noise going won’t add any more knowledge, and neither does the input of the presidential candidates who are trying to both grasp the situation and make political gains out of it.  The paid consultants don’t really know more than you do in that they don’t have access to more or different information, and even if they did, it’s probably just as confusing to them as it is to the average person paying attention.  Take a deep breath and think before you say something.

The second step is to look at the whole picture, not the facets or fragments.  It’s not just about the civil war in Syria and the refugees fleeing to Europe, or about the decay of government in Iraq, or the support of various factions by sponsor states, or even the difference between Sunnis and Shi’as.  It is all that plus the ambitions and positions of the governments involved and the local jockeying for advantage and life in the European Union and beyond.  It doesn’t mean winning a war; it means finding a way to peace with all sides at the table.

It also means that we must recognize that extremism isn’t just limited to religious fanatics in the Middle East; we have our own crop of them right here in the good old U.S.A.  Just because it’s been a while since they blew up anything and killed just as many people as died in Paris on Friday night doesn’t mean that they’ve gone away.  Their response to these attacks is just as demented and poisonous as the ones who attacked in the first place.

Finally, just listen.  The voices that need to be heard will make it through all the chatter.  Instant retaliation may feel good — it works in the movies, right? — but in real life there is no credit roll and swelling music.  The politicians and the people we elected to do the job of protecting us have to do their job without all the noise or the easy fixes that can be proposed in a Tweet.  The biggest danger we now face is the overreaction to these acts by those who would exploit it for their own gains both there and here.

Oh, and if changing your Facebook profile picture to add the French tricolor to the background makes you feel better, by all means go ahead.  We all need a little symbolism now and then.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Reading

There Is Only One Way — Charlie Pierce on how to defeat ISIS: Stop sucking up to the nations like Saudi Arabia that support them.

There was a strange stillness in the news on Saturday morning, a Saturday morning that came earlier in Paris than it did in Des Moines, a city in Iowa, one of the United States of America. The body count had stabilized. The new information came at a slow, stately pace, as though life were rearranging itself out of quiet respect for the dead. The new information came at a slow and stately pace and it arranged itself in the way that you suspected it would arrange itself when the first accounts of the mass murder began to spread out over the wired world. There has been the predictable howling from predictable people. (Judith Miller? Really? This is an opinion the world needed to hear?) There has been the straining to wedge the events of Friday night into the Procrustean nonsense of an American presidential campaign. There will be a debate among the three Democratic candidates for president in Des Moines on Saturday night. I suspect that the moderators had to toss out a whole raft of questions they already had prepared. Everything else is a distraction. It is the stately, stillness of the news itself that matters.

The attacks were a brilliantly coordinated act of war. They were a brilliantly coordinated act of pure terrorism, beyond rhyme but not beyond reason. They struck at the most cosmopolitan parts of the most cosmopolitan city in the world. They struck out at assorted sectors of western popular culture. They struck out at sports, at pop music, and at simple casual dining. They struck out at an ordinary Friday night’s entertainment. The attacks were a brilliantly coordinated statement of political and social purpose, its intent clear and unmistakable. The attacks were a brilliantly coordinated act of fanatical ideological and theological Puritanism, brewed up in the dark precincts of another of mankind’s monotheisms. They were not the first of these. (The closest parallel to what happened in Paris is what happened in Mumbai in 2008. In fact, Mumbai went on alert almost immediately after the news broke.) They, alas, are likely not going to be the last.

The stillness of the news is a place of refuge and of reason on yet another day in which both of these qualities are predictably in short supply. It is a place beyond unfocused rage, and beyond abandoned wrath, and beyond unleashed bigotry and hate. It is a place where Friday night’s savagery is recognized and memorialized, but it is not put to easy use for trivial purposes. The stillness of the news, if you seek it out, is a place where you can think, sadly and clearly, about what should happen next.

These are a few things that will not solve the terrible and tangled web of causation and violence in which the attacks of Friday night were spawned. A 242-ship Navy will not stop one motivated murderous fanatic from emptying the clip of an AK-47 into the windows of a crowded restaurant. The F-35 fighter plane will not stop a group of motivated murderous fanatics from detonating bombs at a soccer match. A missile-defense shield in Poland will not stop a platoon of motivated murderous fanatics from opening up in a jammed concert hall, or taking hostages, or taking themselves out with suicide belts when the police break down the doors. American soldiers dying in the sands of Syria or Iraq will not stop the events like what happened in Paris from happening again because American soldiers dying in the sands of Syria or Iraq will be dying there in combat against only the most obvious physical manifestation of a deeper complex of ancient causes and ancient effects made worse by the reach of the modern technology of bloodshed and murder. Nobody’s death is ever sacrifice enough for that.

Abandoning the Enlightenment values that produced democracy will not plumb the depths of the vestigial authoritarian impulse that resides in us all, the wish for kings, the desire for order, to be governed, and not to govern. Flexing and posturing and empty venting will not cure the deep sickness in the human spirit that leads people to slaughter the innocent in the middle of a weekend’s laughter. The expression of bigotry and hatred will not solve the deep desperation in the human heart that leads people to kill their fellow human beings and then blow themselves up as a final act of murderous vengeance against those they perceive to be their enemies, seen and unseen, real and imagined. Tough talk in the context of what happened in Paris is as empty as a bell rung at the bottom of a well.

Francois Hollande, the French president who was at the soccer game that was attacked, has promised that France will wage “pitiless war” against the forces that conceived and executed the attacks. Most wars are pitiless, but not all of them are fought with the combination of toughness and intelligence that this one will require. This was a lesson that the United States did not learn in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001. There are things that nations can do in response that are not done out of xenophobic rage and a visceral demand for revenge. There are things that nations can do in response that do not involve scapegoating the powerless and detaining the innocent.  There is no real point in focusing a response on the people whose religion makes us nervous. States should retaliate against states.

It is long past time for the oligarchies of the Gulf states to stop paying protection to the men in the suicide belts. Their societies are stunted and parasitic. The main job of the elites there is to find enough foreign workers to ensla…er…indenture to do all the real work. The example of Qatar and the interesting business plan through which that country is building the facilities for the 2022 World Cup is instructive here. Roughly the same labor-management relationship exists for the people who clean the hotel rooms and who serve the drinks. In Qatar, for people who come from elsewhere to work, passports have been known to disappear into thin air. These are the societies that profit from terrible and tangled web of causation and violence that played out on the streets of Paris. These are the people who buy their safety with the blood of innocents far away.

It’s not like this is any kind of secret. In 2010, thanks to WikiLeaks, we learned that the State Department, under the direction of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, knew full well where the money for foreign terrorism came from. It came from countries and not from a faith. It came from sovereign states and not from an organized religion. It came from politicians and dictators, not from clerics, at least not directly. It was paid to maintain a political and social order, not to promulgate a religious revival or to launch a religious war. Religion was the fuel, the ammonium nitrate and the diesel fuel. Authoritarian oligarchy built the bomb. As long as people are dying in Paris, nobody important is dying in Doha or Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton. “More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups,” says a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state. Her memo urged US diplomats to redouble their efforts to stop Gulf money reaching extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” she said. Three other Arab countries are listed as sources of militant money: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The cables highlight an often ignored factor in the Pakistani and Afghan conflicts: that the violence is partly bankrolled by rich, conservative donors across the Arabian Sea whose governments do little to stop them. The problem is particularly acute in Saudi Arabia, where militants soliciting funds slip into the country disguised as holy pilgrims, set up front companies to launder funds and receive money from government-sanctioned charities.

It’s time for this to stop. It’s time to be pitiless against the bankers and against the people who invest in murder to assure their own survival in power. Assets from these states should be frozen, all over the west. Money trails should be followed, wherever they lead. People should go to jail, in every country in the world. It should be done state-to-state. Stop funding the murder of our citizens and you can have your money back. Maybe. If we’re satisfied that you’ll stop doing it. And, it goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway – not another bullet will be sold to you, let alone advanced warplanes, until this act gets cleaned up to our satisfaction. If that endangers your political position back home, that’s your problem, not ours. You are no longer trusted allies. Complain, and your diplomats will be going home. Complain more loudly, and your diplomats will be investigated and, if necessary, detained. Retaliate, and you do not want to know what will happen, but it will done with cold, reasoned and, yes, pitiless calculation. It will not be a blind punch. You will not see it coming. It will not be an attack on your faith. It will be an attack on how you conduct your business as sovereign states in a world full of sovereign states.

And the still, stately progress of the news from Paris continues. There are arrests today in Brussels, of alleged co-conspirators. The body count has stabilized. New information comes at its own pace, as if out of respect for the dead. In the stillness of the news itself, there is refuge and reason and a kind of wounded, ragged peace, as whatever rolled up from the depths of the sickness of the human heart rolls back again, like the tide and, like the tide, one day will return.

The Greatest Actor Alive — Terrence Rafferty profiles Max von Sydow.

Max von Sydow 11-14-15The swedish actor Max von Sydow first entered the consciousness of moviegoers as the medieval knight playing chess with Death in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957). For a significant portion of his six decades onscreen, he has been the greatest actor alive. Now, in his 87th year on Earth, he may be on the verge of becoming a pop-culture icon. In December, he’ll be seen in Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens, in a role so fogged in mystery that the fan communities have been half-mad with anticipation. (Could he be Kanan Jarrus, the Last Padawan? Sifo-Dyas, maybe? Or—be still, my heart—Boba Fett?) Sometime next spring, he’ll be joining the high-attrition cast of television’s reigning fantasy-adventure franchise, Game of Thrones, whose almost equally febrile fans at least know whom he’ll be playing—a mentor character called the Three-Eyed Raven. In both parts, it’s probably safe to say, his natural authority onscreen will come in handy. His voice is deep, soft, and rich; his body is long and slender; and he wears fantasy-appropriate costumes (flowing robes, hoods, doublet and tights, whatever) as if he were born in them. His presence is commanding, mysterious. If The Seventh Seal were being made today, von Sydow might well be cast as the other guy at the chessboard, the one playing the black pieces. He’d kill.

He is, in short, having the sort of late career that eminent movie actors tend to have, popping up for a scene or two in commercial stuff that needs a touch of gravity, and receiving, as famous old actors do, the honor of “last billing”: after all the lesser players have been listed, a stand-alone credit that reads “And Max von Sydow.” When actors advance in years, you start to get them in bits and pieces—a moment here, a moment there, and then they’re gone. The ones who have the skill, the craftiness, to make an impression quickly are perfectly at home in these limited parts, and that’s the sort of actor von Sydow has been for his entire career. Even in his Bergman days, he wasn’t always the star. (Bergman, like Robert Altman, had a repertory-company approach to casting, and von Sydow played the lead in only six of the 11 features they made together between 1957 and 1971.)

Besides, being an icon isn’t all that tough, compared with real acting. The audience’s memories of past performances do a lot of the work for you. Von Sydow has appeared in well over 100 movies and TV shows, which makes for plenty of memories. Even relatively casual, non-art-house viewers may recall, say, his sodden King Osric in Conan the Barbarian (1982), or the mute, ornery tenant of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011), or the dapper assassin in the fedora in Three Days of the Condor (1975), or the shifty-eyed bureaucrat of Minority Report (2002). If nothing else, they will surely remember the title character of The Exorcist (1973), in which von Sydow, as a frail, elderly Jesuit, engaged the devil in some pretty fierce soul-to-soul combat.

His role in The Exorcist was in fact the closest he’s come to iconhood before now, and in many ways was a sort of preview of the current “And Max von Sydow” stage of his career. Then in his mid-40s, he aged himself a good 30 years to play the hired-gun demon-fighter Father Merrin; he looks younger than that now. (With his craggy face and receding hairline, and a healthy lack of vanity, von Sydow has never had a problem playing older characters; he seems to relish the challenge.) The role isn’t large—Merrin’s on-screen for only a few minutes at the beginning and then, of course, during the noisy, nausea-inducing exorcism climax—but von Sydow’s quiet power makes the character seem huge, a spiritual force of sufficient size to take on Evil itself. His Merrin combines a gunslinger’s sangfroid and an old man’s terror. During the exorcism, you can feel the effort of will it takes for the old priest to muster his concentration and his strength. What von Sydow brings to The Exorcist is more than the skimpily written part demands, maybe more than it deserves, but this is what he does in even the smallest, poorest roles. Like a novelist, he finds the human details that vivify the character.

Doonesbury — Believe it or not.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Short Takes

Winter weather and tornadoes hit the Midwest.

Over 100 people indicted in Waco biker brawl that killed nine.

Two relatives of Venezuelan president indicted on drug charges.

Another fence is built in Europe to thwart immigrants.

Weather may have caused Ohio plane crash.

Hurricane Kate heads east across the Atlantic.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Short Takes

President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu made nice in their Oval Office meeting.

The Burmese opposition claimed a landslide victory in parliamentary elections.

The president of the University of Missouri system resigned due to protests over racial tensions.

The World Anti-Doping Agency accused Russian athletes, coaches and team doctors of systematic doping.

What is it with Republicans and making up personal history?

Tropical Update: TS Kate pops up north of the Bahamas and heads east.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

End Of The Line

Via TPM:

TORONTO (AP) — The company behind the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S Gulf Coast has asked the U.S. State Department to pause its review of the project.

TransCanada said Monday a suspension would be appropriate while it works with Nebraska authorities for approval of its preferred route through the state. The move comes before the Obama administration was widely expected to reject it.

Historically low oil prices have also undercut the financial logic of the project.

Note that the company asked for a suspension, not a full-out okay-we-give-up, but they might as well; it’s like when a candidate pulling in .05% of the vote in a poll decides to “suspend” their campaign.  It sounds temporary, but it’s over.

And the earth breathes a small sigh of relief.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Short Takes

The Navy sent a ship within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial reefs in the South China Sea.

The Justice Department is investigating the body-slamming incident in South Carolina.

Ben Carson passes Donald Trump in a new national poll.

Walgreen’s bids to buy Rite-Aid.

American Airlines will go “no-frills” on certain routes.

GM to recall 1.4 million cars to repair intake manifold oil leaks (like the one my Pontiac had).

Monday, October 26, 2015