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About that Iranian nuclear threat

AP has a big, exclusive story based on a graph of a simulation leaked by they’re-not-saying-who from they’re-not-saying-where. This is Proof the Iranians are working on a big bad nuke.


(graphic from AP)


Glenn Greenwald seems to be getting exasperated at the silliness of such setups:

even if one assumes that this graph is something other than a fraud, the very idea that computer simulations constitute “evidence” that Iran is working toward a nuclear weapon is self-evidently inane.

Well, yes, there is that.

But there’s one even bigger piece of evidence suggesting that the Iranians aren’t doing much, and for some reason that’s not being mentioned. They have a border with a huge and powerful country. (Well, a mere 200 or so miles away across Azerbaijan.) Russia has zero reason to want powerful Islamic fundamentalists right on its southern border who might encourage friction in other Central Asian majority-Islamic countries.

If the Iranians were really that close to useful nukes, you can bet your Sunday bonnet the Russians would be making noise about it and/or doing something about it.

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Israel has a right to defend itself

Damage from Palestinian rocket in Ashdod, Israel, not far from the border with Gaza.

pothole-sized damage to road

(Nir Elias, Reuters)

Damage from Israeli strike in Gaza.

smoking crater which has demolished several buildings to rubble


(photog. unknown, Reuters)

Israel, like everyone else, has a right to defend itself. Lethal force against vandalism does seem a tad excessive. (Maybe their big friends and good buddies could explain that to them? On second thought, maybe not.)

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I can’t write about this.

Wael, said he had seen a six-year-old die after being tortured and starved.The 16 year-old told the report’s authors: “I watched him die. He only survived for three days and then he simply died.”

BBC News – Syria child trauma ‘appalling’ – Save the Children

What kind of monster can do that? What kind of people are we that such things happen?

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No. We should not respect other people’s beliefs

No. No, no, no. This is not about free speech as opposed to beliefs. It better not be. If it is, we’re headed straight for holy wars.

I’m talking about this sort of thing: BBC News – Film protest: Egypt PM urges US to end ‘insults’.

“At the same time we need to reach a balance between freedom of expression and to maintain respect for other peoples’ beliefs.”

There is no way to “respect beliefs” and have freedom of speech. It’s impossible. Think about it, Minister Qandil, for a microsecond. If my belief is that you speak drivel and should shut up, you can say nothing. If your belief is that I speak drivel and should shut up, neither of us can say anything if we’re both going to be “respectful.” Or, if we both talk and infuriate each other, then the only way to get “respect” is to silence the other. And only the dead are silent.

The malicious film is not a problem because it insults a religion. It’s a problem because its whole and only purpose is to inflict hate on people. It is not making a political statement, it is not arguing about anything. It’s trying to spit in the eye of people it hates. That is hate speech. It is incitement to riot. It is already illegal. It is an abuse of free speech. It is not protected under free speech laws.

The only problem is the growing US inability to understand that religion is a belief system, not an excuse. We should not lose all ability to tell right from wrong just because somebody hangs a judeochristian religious label on crap.

(Although when it involves a Muslim, the FBI seems to see “material support” for terrorists where only criticism exists. One example: Glenn Greenwald on the arrest of a person expressing outrage over the Abu Ghraib atrocities.)

We should take a deep breath, take our courage in our hands, and actually be responsible for some judgment calls. Avoiding responsibility with wishy-washy excuses about not having any right to judge anyone means only handing a blank check to the biggest bully to do their worst.

It’s pretty obvious where that leads. Haters incite hate and before you know it, real people with real families and real friends have died.

That’s why there are laws against hate speech. That’s why there are laws against incitement to riot.

By understanding the real reason why that sort of crap has to be squelched, it becomes clear that it is not criticism of religion which is the problem. Nobody can tell anybody to stop expressing their thoughts on a religion. They can insist on not hearing them. It’s the same as the idea behind the brown paper covers on porn mags. I don’t want to know what’s going on in the sewer of your mind, and you don’t have to tell me.

It becomes hate speech when you insist on rubbing my mind in your hated message. Then the intent is to hurt. Not to communicate. Then it’s hate speech.

That revolting film wasn’t noticed by anyone but the revolting people who made it. Pathetic, but not a huge issue. They didn’t like that. So they paid to have it translated into Arabic. That is hate speech, pure and simple.

We don’t have to slavishly avoid offending every bizarre — or even ordinary — belief system on the planet. We have to enforce our own laws against hate speech and incitement to riot. As a matter of fact, the solution is to be more willing to offend beliefs. When somebody’s beliefs result in hatred and harm we have to be ready to stand up to them and say, “NO.”

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We need anti-pollution laws for free speech

Religious nuts belong in padded cells with the other nuts. They think they can say anything they want, no matter how untrue and nasty it is. And because it’s based on something they call “religion,” nobody wants to deal with them.

There was the kook in Florida who was going to make a big deal out of burning the Koran. Apparently in his mind that shows the superiority of something he believes in. That time people died in the Middle East and Africa.

This time another lunatic’s hate speech has led to more deaths.

Ambassador J Christopher Stevens reportedly died of smoke inhalation after a crowd stormed the consulate.

Three other Americans were also killed and the consulate set ablaze.

Update 2013-05-14: The four deaths at the consulate seem to be unconnected to a specific hate speech event. Hate speech repeatedly incites people to kill, but this is not an example of that as it turns out.

Not only that, but Nigeria, Tunisia, Algeria, Afghanistan, Sudan, and probably a score of other places are having to take steps to prevent — they hope! — violence. That’s effort, time, and money better spent on real needs, not on hysteria whipped up by infectious mental patients.

These troglodytes are a terrorists. We have a whole goddamn department of government to deal with terrorists these days. Why are they asleep at the switch?

The Biblebangers have no right to spew hate speech and incite riots. Why aren’t the creeps thrown in dungeons for their flagrant flinging of poo?

What is it going to take for people to wake up to the fact that we have to stop giving religious nuts a free ride? Religion is a belief system. It’s not an excuse.

Update Sept. 14, 2012: Good background, details, and more recent information by Juan Cole.

Update Sept. 15, 2012: [Following link bad 2015-05-07, but this one has the same points.] Roger Ebert adds some points about the complete lack of merit in the clip and its purely inflammatory nature. One real give-away for the intent to inflame: when it didn’t get enough Muslim attention, our local loonies paid to have it translated into Arabic.

Update Sept. 18, 2012: I can’t resist a you-heard-it-here-first remark. Sarah Chayes opinion piece in the LATimes going into more detail as to exactly how much the Nastiness of Christians film is incitement to riot.

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The Bombs Fall Elsewhere

There’s a bit of a flap over Iran, nukes, Israel, the US, etc., etc., etc. Discussion of sanctions, unexpected strikes, war. In other words, no biggie.

But, this just in, as they say, from Reuters:

But Israel, in weighing military action, faces the risk of a backlash from Congress and the American public if oil prices spike during a still-fragile economic recovery ….

“It’s the law of unintended consequences,” said an outside expert who advises the White House on national security. “This could lead to the first real reassessment in a generation of how America and Americans feel about Israel.”

If gas prices go up, that’s different. That changes everything.

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Iran and nukes

I agree. Iran should not have nuclear weapons.

Neither should China, Russia, North Korea, Britain, France, the US, India, Pakistan, or Israel.

Hello? Those things are either bad, or they aren’t. What kind of quadruple standard are we using here? And don’t tell me that it’s different when sensible countries, who would never actually use mass death against civilians, have them.

Only one country has used nuclear weapons to mass murder civilians. And it currently has more of the things than anyone else and shows no sign of thinking that’s a bad idea.

Could we just tell the truth? Nobody wants Iran to get more power. Iran, on the other hand, does want more power. If you want to stop them, just say so. Enough of this sanctimonious dogwash.

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Iraq isn’t costing three trillion dollars

Remember when Bilmes and Stiglitz published The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict in early 2008? There was much discussion about how it wasn’t true, how they’d overcounted this, and undercounted that. (E.g. 1)

Well, it turns out it was indeed not true.

It’s costing four trillion dollars. ($4,000,000,000,000. Actually, with those sorts of numbers, you’re really supposed to use scientific notation: $4 x 1012.)

That’s just the loss for the USA. It doesn’t count the cost for the troops of other nations. It doesn’t include the costs in Iraq. All told, six or seven trillion dollars’ worth of smoke and rubble is probably a cautious and conservative estimate.

The good news is there was nothing else that needed doing, so it’s not as if it matters.

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They say delay is a sign of depression

(Updated below)

You have to admit, I have plenty to be depressed about. The rule of law has been dead in the US for years. Now, with the killing of al-Awlaki in Yemen, they put a marker on it, a great big gravestone.

“…[T]he Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom the President had ordered assassinated without any due process, and one of those Americans was Anwar al-Awlaki. No effort was made to indict him for any crimes (despite a report last October that the Obama administration was “considering” indicting him). Despite substantial doubt among Yemen experts about whether he even had any operational role in Al Qaeda, no evidence (as opposed to unverified government accusations) was presented of his guilt.

“…[T]he U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment [of the Constitution] was designed to bar (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law).” (Greenwald, Sep. 30, 2011)

And, as far as I can tell, most people here see that as a good thing. That’s the real death. Tumors are just a symptom of cancer. The cause is all the immune system cells, not enough of whom can tell right from wrong.

Update Oct 6: Now I read that there was another person, also a US citizen, Samir Khan, who was killed as collateral damage together with al-Awlaki. The government isn’t even pretending he committed a crime. All he did was write a pro-Al-Qaida blog. And have what my grandmother would have called “bad friends.” Meaning al-Awlaki. But I gather killing Khan is okay because he committed thought crimes. Or something.

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Taking the bin Laden Way

Is it good that he’s dead? I don’t see what difference it makes.

Is it good that the US killed him?


Civilized people live by laws. Bin Laden was the one who thought he could kill at will.

He has now officially won.

It’s time for sackcloth and ashes. Anyone celebrating a victory is on his side.

Update, May 23rd. The following news has been out for a while, but real life prevented me from updating. It’s too relevant not to add, though. The Cost of Bin Laden: $3 Trillion over 15 years. When the US did its best to bankrupt the old Soviet Union by forcing them to spend too much on weapons, that was hailed as a victory. I wonder how Al-Qaeda views the achievement of getting the US to squander $1,000,000 for every measly $1 they spent.

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An Open Letter to the Left on Libya, Seconded

I’ve been trying to articulate why the intervention in Libya against Qaddafi is a good thing. And why the reflexive rejection of it as an imperialist oil grab is just that: some kind of reflex, not thought through.

Luckily, Juan Cole has expressed it much better than I could have, and on the basis of a much broader and deeper knowledge of the situation.

From his closing paragraph, after he’s laid out all the reasons why:

I would like to urge the Left to learn to chew gum and walk at the same time. It is possible to reason our way through, on a case-by-case basis, to an ethical … position that supports the ordinary folk in their travails in places like Libya.

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Women Don’t Need Their Own Revolution

Mary Rogers [2015: link broken. article reposted here.] has made one of the saddest statements I’ve read on the horrible treatment of CNN’s Lara Logan. The gut-wrenching sexism of some of the commentary is sad. One more reminder that we’ve indeed “come a long way, baby.” A long way backward. That such commentary is considered normal — crude, but normal — is sadder. We should, by now, be in a place where it’s unacceptable to think such crap, let alone say it. But the saddest thing of all is a sentence in her article about the crime.

She knows the situation.

If you are a woman living in Cairo, chances are you have been sexually harassed. It happens on the streets, on crowded buses, in the workplace, in schools, and even in a doctor’s office. … 98 percent of foreign women and 83 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed. [That’s the number who would acknowledge they’d been harassed.] … what happened in 1994, shortly after I moved here. … A man walked up to me, reached out, and casually grabbed my breast.

In a flash, I understood what the expression to “see red” meant. … But the satisfaction of striking back quickly dissipated. By the time I walked away, I was feeling dirty and humiliated. After a couple of years enduring this kind harassment, I pretty much stopped walking to and from work.

Of course, harassment comes in many forms. … At times it can be dangerous. … I was walking on the street, when a car came hurtling towards me. Aiming for me!

… women who have been sexually harassed here have been too afraid or ashamed to speak up.

Any woman who’s not in denial doesn’t need to have the situation explained to her. For those men who don’t get it, try this thought experiment. You live in a world where you’re only allowed to go outside naked. No way to hide erections. No way to hide the fact that you’re male. Then, because you’re male, it’s an understood thing that anyone on the street can grab your ass, or poke an umbrella between your legs, or laugh when you double up in pain.

That is not sexy. That is not normal. That is not women expressing their hormones.

It’s a power trip. That’s all. It’s saying, “I’ll put you down because I can. And if you don’t hide, I’ll do it again.”

So, like Mary Rogers, you stop walking to work. You may have rights on paper, but you can only go where you’re allowed to go or people can grope your penis any time they feel like it. (No, you can’t just beat them up. The uppity sometimes get their bits sliced off.) Without freedom of movement, your whole world is limited. There are jobs you can’t do, raises you won’t get, recognition you’ll never see. The price of hiding is that nobody knows you’re there. The price of being a target is that you have no actual rights, no matter what it says on paper.

And don’t forget, being a man, you have to tough it out and pretend none of it matters. If you stop hiding, the humiliation will get worse. Much worse.

One more thing: being a man, you represent half the population.

With all that in mind, I come to the saddest thing Rogers said.

A law regarding sexual harassment will have to wait. The country has greater concerns now — forming a new government; writing a new constitution….

Greater concerns? Greater concerns than the basic human rights of half the human race? Say what?

What chance is there anyone’s going to get it, if even people who aren’t in denial can’t figure out which way is up?

Until people understand what human rights are, they can write constitutions till they’re blue in the face and it’ll just be sound and fury, signifying nothing. After the next round of kleptocrats, they can do it again, and it’ll still signify nothing.

The headline of Rogers’ article is “Egypt’s harassed women need their own revolution.” No, they don’t. The people who need it, of any gender, are the ones who think human rights don’t matter enough to put first.

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Congratulations to Egypt! … But …

Now comes the hard part.

Mohammed El-Baradei talked about the “joy and happiness of every Egyptian at the restoration of our humanity and our freedom.”

Unfortunately, no. The regime is out. The restoration is yet to happen. If the Egyptians manage that, too, then I’ll be really exhilarated. Maybe then they can show us how to do it.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping and hoping that the parking on the left doesn’t just turn into parking on the right.

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Let me just get this straight.

On one side: a few small people who have killed nobody but may have endangered some in the interests of having a real democracy.

On the other side: some enormous people who’ve killed thousands in the interests of creating a friendly country. (Don’t ask me why they’re so worried about comparatively minor intelligence failures when that one’s right out there for anyone to see.)

So who are the bad guys here?

The enormous people, right? They will now be hounded by the media and internationally until they’re brought to justice and stop their evil deeds.

(Why are you laughing?)

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Stealing Iran . . . Stupidly

The statistics don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. The stealing of the Iran’s June 12 election has been obvious from the start. But that’s the nature of statistics; it’s real value is telling you that you what don’t know, it’s eliminating false positives. Walter Mebane of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has done the work to show that this disgraceful event really is a fact. I saw his article (pdf) when it first came out in mid-June, but seeing it again in Science News jogged me to talk about it. From SN:

“[Iranian election data] suggests that the actual outcome should have been pretty close,” says Mebane…. The official results showed Ahmadinejad getting almost twice as many votes as his closest rival.

Mebane cautions that the anomalous statistics could imaginably have an innocent explanation, that limited data is available, and that he is not himself an expert on Iranian politics. Nevertheless, he concludes that “because the evidence is so strikingly suspicious, the credibility of the election is in question until it can be demonstrated that there are benign explanations for these patterns.”

[A couple of paragraphs follow discussing the distribution of numbers in real data, known as Benford’s Law.]

When Mebane studied polling station-level data from Iran, he found that the numbers on the ballots for Ahmadinejad and two of the minor candidates didn’t conform to Benford’s Law well at all.

In any fair election, a certain percentage of votes are illegible or otherwise problematic and have to be discarded. When people commit fraud by adding extra votes, they often forget to add invalid ones. Suspiciously, Mebane found that in towns with few invalid votes, Ahmadinejad’s ballot numbers were further off from Benford’s Law — and furthermore, that Ahmadinejad got a greater percentage of the votes.

“The natural interpretation is that they had some ballot boxes and they added a whole bunch of votes for Ahmadinejad,” Mebane says.

Mebane also received data from the 2005 Iran election that aggregated the votes of entire towns…. If Ahmadinejad fared poorly in a particular town in 2005, you wouldn’t expect him to do especially well there in 2009 either. …

The best relationship the model found produced 81 outliers out of 320 towns in the analysis, a strikingly high percentage. Another 91 fit the model, but poorly. In the majority of these 172 towns, Ahmadinejad did better than the model would have predicted.

“This is not necessarily diagnostic of fraud,” Mebane says. “It could just be that the model is really terrible.” But since the first analysis gives evidence of fraud, the cities the model flags as problematic are the sensible ones to scrutinize.

For me, the new bit of data in all that is just how bad they were at faking it. That gives watchdog groups a big opportunity if they can somehow get at the raw data before it’s destroyed.

I only regret that we in the US, with our long string of elections-as-theater, don’t have the Iranian opposition’s fire, and that we do have much more polished cheaters.

Update, Jul 24, 2009. I see today that there was another excellent article on the BBC on this topic, providing yet more examples of voting anomalies.

Iran, election, fraud

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BBC headline this morning: Bush condemns ‘bullying’ Russia

Iraqis could not be reached for comment. The spokesman was stuck in a traffic jam caused by yet another new checkpoint.

Technorati Tags: Bush, Russia, Georgia, Iraq, bullies

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