Wednesday, 30th April, 2003

MAUREEN DOWD: Hypocrisy & Apple Pie

NYT, April 30, 2003

Richard Perle is at ease with neo-imperial swagger.

At the White House Correspondents Association dinner on Saturday night, the Pentagon's Prince of Darkness lectured Hans Blix as if he were a colonial subject, instructing him on why an invasion of Iraq had been justified even though no weapons of mass destruction had yet been found.

Asked afterward how Mr. Blix had reacted, Mr. Perle replied merrily: "He's a Swedish disarmament lawyer. He's used to a lot of abuse."

When one partygoer told Mr. Perle that she would miss the buzzy, standing-room-only "black coffee briefings" on Iraq held by hard-liners at the American Enterprise Institute, he suggested the neo-cons might hold another round.

"We'll have green tea briefings on North Korea," he said slyly.

On Fox News, Bill Kristol spoke up for a more brazen imperial attitude. "We need to err on the side of being strong," he said. "And if people want to say we're an imperial power, fine. If three years from now, we have beaten back these threats and have a decent regime there, it'll be worth it."

But imperial flair is rare. America is a furtive empire, afraid to raise its flag or linger too long or even call things by their real names. The U.S. is having a hard time figuring out how to wield its colonial power, how to balance collegiality with coercion, how to savor the fruits of imperialism without acknowledging its imperialist hubris.

When Kofi Annan called the Americans in Iraq an "occupying power" last week, Bush officials freaked. Maybe they would have preferred Honored Guests.

The Pentagon once more outgunned the State Department this week, changing the name of a new governing body of Iraqis from "interim authority" to "transitional government" to signal that the U.S. would leave quickly and give its Armani-clad puppet, Ahmad Chalabi, an advantage. But it doesn't matter what euphemistic name is used; if there are too many militant Shiite clerics involved, Rummy, the real authority, will tell them to take their camels and vamoose.

"America is the empire that dare not speak its name," Niall Ferguson, the Oxford professor who wrote "Empire," told a crowd at the Council on Foreign Relations here on Monday. He believes that America is so invested in its "creation myth," breaking away from a wicked empire, that Americans will always be self-deceiving — and even self-defeating — imperialists.

"The great thing about the American empire is that so many Americans disbelieve in its existence," he said. "Ever since the annexation of Texas and invasion of the Philippines, the U.S. has systematically pursued an imperial policy.

"It's simply a suspension of disbelief by Americans. They think they're so different that when they have bases in foreign territories, it's not an empire. When they invade sovereign territory, it's not an empire."

Asked in an interview about Viceroy Jay Garner's promise that U.S. military overlords would "leave fairly rapidly," Mr. Ferguson replied: "I'm hoping he's lying. Successful empires must be based on hypocrisy. The Americans can say they're doing things in the name of freedom, liberty and apple pie. But they must build a civil society and revive the economy before they have elections.

"From 1882 until 1922, the British promised the international community 66 times that they would leave Egypt, but they never did. If they leave Iraq to its own devices, the whole thing will blow up."

Afghanistan offers cautionary lessons. It was the abandonment by the U.S. after Afghanistan's war in 1989 with the Soviet Union that stoked the fury of Al Qaeda. The regime of the American puppet Hamid Karzai is still perilously fragile.

As Carlotta Gall wrote in The Times last weekend, after two U.S. soldiers were killed by Afghan rebels: "In a very real sense the war here has not ended. . . . Nearly every day, there are killings, explosions, shootings and targeted attacks on foreign aid workers, Afghan officials and American forces, as well as continuing feuding between warlords."

Exiled Taliban leaders have called for a holy war against the "occupying forces." The religious police are once more harassing and beating women over dress and behavior, and schools that take little girls are being attacked and threatened.

Until we can get democracy stabilized in our new colonies, Mr. Ferguson offers two words of advice: "Better puppets."

MAUREEN DOWD: Hypocrisy & Apple Pie
logged by alf at 14:41, Wednesday, 30th April, 2003

PAUL KRUGMAN: "Matters of Emphasis"

NYT 29 Apr 03

We were not lying," a Bush administration official told ABC News. "But it was just a matter of emphasis." The official was referring to the way the administration hyped the threat that Saddam Hussein posed to the United States. According to the ABC report, the real reason for the war was that the administration "wanted to make a statement." And why Iraq? "Officials acknowledge that Saddam had all the requirements to make him, from their standpoint, the perfect target."

A British newspaper, The Independent, reports that "intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic were furious that briefings they gave political leaders were distorted in the rush to war." One "high-level source" told the paper that "they ignored intelligence assessments which said Iraq was not a threat."

Sure enough, we have yet to find any weapons of mass destruction. It's hard to believe that we won't eventually find some poison gas or crude biological weapons. But those aren't true W.M.D.'s, the sort of weapons that can make a small, poor country a threat to the greatest power the world has ever known. Remember that President Bush made his case for war by warning of a "mushroom cloud." Clearly, Iraq didn't have anything like that — and Mr. Bush must have known that it didn't.

Does it matter that we were misled into war? Some people say that it doesn't: we won, and the Iraqi people have been freed. But we ought to ask some hard questions — not just about Iraq, but about ourselves.

First, why is our compassion so selective? In 2001 the World Health Organization — the same organization we now count on to protect us from SARS — called for a program to fight infectious diseases in poor countries, arguing that it would save the lives of millions of people every year. The U.S. share of the expenses would have been about $10 billion per year — a small fraction of what we will spend on war and occupation. Yet the Bush administration contemptuously dismissed the proposal.

Or consider one of America's first major postwar acts of diplomacy: blocking a plan to send U.N. peacekeepers to Ivory Coast (a former French colony) to enforce a truce in a vicious civil war. The U.S. complains that it will cost too much. And that must be true — we wouldn't let innocent people die just to spite the French, would we?

So it seems that our deep concern for the Iraqi people doesn't extend to suffering people elsewhere. I guess it's just a matter of emphasis. A cynic might point out, however, that saving lives peacefully doesn't offer any occasion to stage a victory parade.

Meanwhile, aren't the leaders of a democratic nation supposed to tell their citizens the truth?

One wonders whether most of the public will ever learn that the original case for war has turned out to be false. In fact, my guess is that most Americans believe that we have found W.M.D.'s. Each potential find gets blaring coverage on TV; how many people catch the later announcement — if it is ever announced — that it was a false alarm? It's a pattern of misinformation that recapitulates the way the war was sold in the first place. Each administration charge against Iraq received prominent coverage; the subsequent debunking did not.

Did the news media feel that it was unpatriotic to question the administration's credibility? Some strange things certainly happened. For example, in September Mr. Bush cited an International Atomic Energy Agency report that he said showed that Saddam was only months from having nuclear weapons. "I don't know what more evidence we need," he said. In fact, the report said no such thing — and for a few hours the lead story on MSNBC's Web site bore the headline "White House: Bush Misstated Report on Iraq." Then the story vanished — not just from the top of the page, but from the site.

Thanks to this pattern of loud assertions and muted or suppressed retractions, the American public probably believes that we went to war to avert an immediate threat — just as it believes that Saddam had something to do with Sept. 11.

Now it's true that the war removed an evil tyrant. But a democracy's decisions, right or wrong, are supposed to take place with the informed consent of its citizens. That didn't happen this time. And we are a democracy — aren't we?

PAUL KRUGMAN: "Matters of Emphasis"
logged by alf at 14:23, Wednesday, 30th April, 2003

Tuesday, 29th April, 2003

Lucky discovery uncovers cancer-proof mouse

New Scientist 22:00 28 April 03
Shaoni Bhattacharya

A cancer-proof mouse, which can survive being injected with any number of cancer cells, has been discovered by US scientists. The discovery of the resistant mouse could pave the way for future gene or drug therapies if the mechanism by which it fights cancer can be understood

Researchers at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina have now bred a colony of 700 cancer-proof mice from the resistant male they stumbled across while doing other experiments.

Doctors have known for many years that in rare cases, cancers can mysteriously clear up of their own accord. But this is the first time such cancer-killing ability has been shown to be genetic.

"The power of this resistance seems to be unlimited," said biochemist Zheng Cui, the study leader. "You can give them many, many tumour cells and the mice get rid of them."

"This is at a preliminary stage, but very promising," adds pathologist Mark Willingham, another member of the team. "Our hope is that, some day, this will have an impact on human cancer."

The scientists discovered the original cancer-proof mouse by luck during experiments in which mice were injected with soft tissue cancers, called sarcomas. Despite repeated injections, one mouse did not develop cancer.

When this mouse bred with a normal mouse, some of their offspring were resistant. And these resistant mice were also able to confer resistance, for at least seven generations. "The resistance appears to be caused by just one gene, or a cluster of closely related genes," Cui told New Scientist.

The cancer-killing ability of the mice was unusually consistent with different types of cancer. "What's surprising is it appears these mice are able to recognise something in common to all cancer cell lines," said Cui. "Usually it's difficult to find a common theme."

Willingham told New Scientist that the cancer cells are killed by the mice in a "somewhat novel" way. The body's usual first line of defence against invaders - white blood cells called T-cells - were not employed. Instead the body's innate immune system, consisting of cells like neutrophils and macrophages, attacked the tumour cells and ruptured them.

Previous mice bred so that their immune systems could beat cancer went on to develop autoimmune diseases, but that did not happen with these mice.

One significant puzzle that remains is how the mice detect the cancer cells in the first place. Cui speculates that some kind of diffusible factor from the tumour may betray the deadly cells.

The top priority, says Willingham, is to identify the mouse gene responsible for the resistance. "Because of the Human Genome Project, we could then look for a correlate gene in humans," he said.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: (doi/10.1073/pnas.1031601100)

Lucky discovery uncovers cancer-proof mouse
logged by alf at 12:17, Tuesday, 29th April, 2003

Monday, 28th April, 2003

Was Iraq Really A Threat?


by Mark Engler
April 27, 2003

Since Baghdad fell, Defense Department hawks have devoted themselves to gloating about the never-questioned supremacy of the United States' armed forces. However, the rest of the world's attention has shifted to examine the largely forgotten rationale for Bush's invasion: the peril posed by Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction. The April 22 appearance of chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix before the Security Council has only strengthened calls for independent verification of U.S. accusations.

Anti-war activists did not dispute that Saddam was an abhorrent dictator. The tyrant may well have some chemical and biological agents stowed away for investigators to find, and he no doubt wished to make more in the future.

But key arguments against the war remain valid:

Contrary to President Bush's pronouncements and Colin Powell's satellite photos, the world had no reason to believe that the Ba'ath regime presented any real danger to its neighbors, far less to the United States. Saddam's military forces were decimated in the first Gulf War. Subsequent U.N. inspections made significant progress in eliminating what weapons remained, and any hidden stocks of chemical agents would have degraded substantially during a decade of crippling sanctions. In short, Iraq had been effectively contained as a threat.

Beyond that, the new wave of inspections was working. Saddam's on-going ambition to produce banned armaments merited international attention, but hardly a 20 billion-dollar blitzkrieg, a subsequent occupation by the Marines, and the loss of uncounted thousands of lives. Given the hostility with which the Bush Administration treated the idea of allowing Blix's team time to do its job, it was always hard to consider weapons of mass destruction a real concern, rather than a convenient pretext for war.

The media watchdogs at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting captured the irony of the situation perfectly by recalling a March 4 article in The New York Times: "More Missiles Destroyed; Washington Is Concerned Over Complications for Effort to Disarm Iraq." NBC Nightly News correspondent Andrea Mitchell added, "For the US, it's a nightmare situation. If Iraq destroys the missiles, it will be much harder to get support for military action."

Now that George Bush and Tony Blair are again under political pressure to produce incriminating evidence about banned weaponry, we can be sure that fresh charges will be forthcoming. Reports of an unnamed Iraqi scientist claiming to know of destroyed chemical agents qualifies as the military's best lead so far in a search that has heretofore come up empty-handed.

Yet the world still has reason to be skeptical of the military's claims. And Americans concerned with genuine global security have reason to support the global demand for independent investigation.

In the past, the U.S. government has shown itself all too willing to make up the evidence it needs to justify war. And, too often, the press has dutifully followed suit. Perhaps the most famous historical precedent is the 1898 sinking of the USS Maine off the coast of Cuba. Thanks to campaigning on the part of Hearst newspapers, President McKinley was able to blame Spain for the mysterious incident, and thus pursue imperial interests in the Spanish-American War.

The fraudulent 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which President Johnson announced an unprovoked attack by North Vietnamese PT boats on American destroyers, provided an excuse for the U.S. to commence air strikes on North Vietnam. The press corps ate it up. (By 1965, however, Johnson admitted, "For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.")

In advance of the 1991 Gulf War, the first Bush Administration perpetuated accounts of Iraqi soldiers yanking babies from incubators in Kuwait's hospitals. Why anyone would need to make up stories about a regime that already possessed a long history of cruel misdeeds is anybody's guess. Nevertheless, this turned out to be a fake, managed with the help of public relations firm Hill & Knowlton.

Washington's track record for honesty during the current conflict, too, has been poor. U.S. intelligence sources hyped up forged documents in an attempt to strengthen support for an invasion. In a recent interview, Hans Blix pointed to the accusations that Iraq attempted to purchase nuclear materials from the Central African nation of Niger. "This was a crude lie," Blix explained. "All false. The information was provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency by the U.S. intelligence services. As for the mobile laboratories, in attempting to verify the data that was passed on to U.S. by the Americans, we only found some trucks dedicated to the processing and control of seeds for agriculture."

Despite such troubling facts, outlets like Fox News always treated suspicions of illegal weapons as established truth. For them, news items like the April 16 headline in The New York Times reading, "U.S. Inspectors Find No Forbidden Weapons at Iraqi Arms Plant," are only evidence of that paper's egregious wimpiness and lingering Communist sympathies.

Yet, Fox's past headlines like "Iraq Arming Troops With Chemical Weapons" now appear overeager, at best, as justifications for war. They make Bush's "uniquely evil" adversary seem uniquely restrained in not deploying the banned armaments during the war, when he faced a force hell-bent on his elimination.

Government deception and suspect reporting has engendered skepticism even within the intelligence community. The news service Agence France Press recently published an interview with retired CIA intelligence analyst Ray McGovern, who says "Some of my colleagues are virtually certain that there will be some weapons of mass destruction found, even though they might have to be planted."

"I'm just as sure that some few will be found," he argued, "but not in any amount that by any stretch would justify the charge of a threat against the U.S. or anyone else."

The Bush Administration's rejection of independent investigations represents a further step down the road of dangerous unilateralism. Promoting international cooperation and goodwill is vital to any real pursuit of global security, yet these are precisely the things undermined by Washington's belligerence.

Even from a narrow view of America's foreign policy interests, the U.S. government should want independent verification to vindicate its accusations and to dispel lingering doubts. That is, unless the old maxim applies, and truth has once again become a casualty of war.

Was Iraq Really A Threat?
logged by alf at 17:26, Monday, 28th April, 2003

Revealed: How the Road to War was Paved with Lies

Intelligence agencies accuse Bush and Blair of distorting and fabricating evidence in rush to war

By Raymond Whitaker
The Independent UK
Sunday 27 April 2003

The case for invading Iraq to remove its weapons of mass destruction was based on selective use of intelligence, exaggeration, use of sources known to be discredited and outright fabrication, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

A high-level UK source said last night that intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic were furious that briefings they gave political leaders were distorted in the rush to war with Iraq. "They ignored intelligence assessments which said Iraq was not a threat," the source said. Quoting an editorial in a Middle East newspaper which said, "Washington has to prove its case. If it does not, the world will for ever believe that it paved the road to war with lies", he added: "You can draw your own conclusions."

UN inspectors who left Iraq just before the war started were searching for four categories of weapons: nuclear, chemical, biological and missiles capable of flying beyond a range of 93 miles. They found ample evidence that Iraq was not co-operating, but none to support British and American assertions that Saddam Hussein's regime posed an imminent threat to the world.

On nuclear weapons, the British Government claimed that the former regime sought uranium feed material from the government of Niger in west Africa. This was based on letters later described by the International Atomic Energy Agency as crude forgeries.

On chemical weapons, a CIA report on the likelihood that Saddam would use weapons of mass destruction was partially declassified. The parts released were those which made it appear that the danger was high; only after pressure from Senator Bob Graham, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was the whole report declassified, including the conclusion that the chances of Iraq using chemical weapons were "very low" for the "foreseeable future".

On biological weapons, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, told the UN Security Council in February that the former regime had up to 18 mobile laboratories. He attributed the information to "defectors" from Iraq, without saying that their claims - including one of a "secret biological laboratory beneath the Saddam Hussein hospital in central Baghdad" - had repeatedly been disproved by UN weapons inspectors.

On missiles, Iraq accepted UN demands to destroy its al-Samoud weapons, despite disputing claims that they exceeded the permitted range. No banned Scud missiles were found before or since, but last week the Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, suggested Scuds had been fired during the war. There is no proof any were in fact Scuds.

Some American officials have all but conceded that the weapons of mass destruction campaign was simply a means to an end - a "global show of American power and democracy", as ABC News in the US put it. "We were not lying," it was told by one official. "But it was just a matter of emphasis." American and British teams claim they are scouring Iraq in search of definitive evidence but none has so far been found, even though the sites considered most promising have been searched, and senior figures such as Tariq Aziz, the former Deputy Prime Minister, intelligence chiefs and the man believed to be in charge of Iraq's chemical weapons programme are in custody.

Robin Cook, who as Foreign Secretary would have received high-level security briefings, said last week that "it was difficult to believe that Saddam had the capacity to hit us". Mr Cook resigned from the Government on the eve of war, but was still in the Cabinet as Leader of the House when it released highly contentious dossiers to bolster its case.

One report released last autumn by Tony Blair said that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes, but last week Mr Hoon said that such weapons might have escaped detection because they had been dismantled and buried. A later Downing Street "intelligence" dossier was shown to have been largely plagiarised from three articles in academic publications. "You cannot just cherry-pick evidence that suits your case and ignore the rest. It is a cardinal rule of intelligence," said one aggrieved officer. "Yet that is what the PM is doing." Another said: "What we have is a few strands of highly circumstantial evidence, and to justify an attack on Iraq it is being presented as a cast-iron case. That really is not good enough."

Glen Rangwala, the Cambridge University analyst who first pointed out Downing Street's plagiarism, said ministers had claimed before the war to have information which could not be disclosed because agents in Iraq would be endangered. "That doesn't apply any more, but they haven't come up with the evidence," he said. "They lack credibility."

Mr Rangwala said much of the information on WMDs had come from Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC), which received Pentagon money for intelligence-gathering. "The INC saw the demand, and provided what was needed," he said. "The implication is that they polluted the whole US intelligence effort."

Facing calls for proof of their allegations, senior members of both the US and British governments are suggesting that so-called WMDs were destroyed after the departure of UN inspectors on the eve of war - a possibility raised by President George Bush for the first time on Thursday.

This in itself, however, appears to be an example of what the chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix called "shaky intelligence". An Iraqi scientist, writing under a pseudonym, said in a note slipped to a driver in a US convoy that he had proof information was kept from the inspectors, and that Iraqi officials had destroyed chemical weapons just before the war.

Other explanations for the failure to find WMDs include the possibility that they might have been smuggled to Syria, or so well hidden that they could take months, even years, to find. But last week it emerged that two of four American mobile teams in Iraq had been switched from looking for WMDs to other tasks, though three new teams from less specialised units were said to have been assigned to the quest for "unconventional weapons" - the less emotive term which is now preferred.

Mr Powell and Mr Bush both repeated last week that Iraq had WMDs. But one official said privately that "in the end, history and the American people will judge the US not by whether its officials found canisters of poison gas or vials of some biological agent [but] by whether this war marked the beginning of the end for the terrorists who hate America".

Revealed: How the Road to War was Paved with Lies
logged by alf at 17:18, Monday, 28th April, 2003

Blog change

I've made the transition from a Blogger-powered Blog to a Blogworks powered one. What does this mean? A few things:

(1), I am running my own blog engine off a local server rather than relying on blogger's US-based servers. This has already dramatically increased performance and uptimes.

(2) Self-reliance

(3) Ease of use [ok, it's only a slight improvement over Blogger with w.bloggar as interface, but hey, the performance pickup more than makes up for it, which means some stuff that was hard to do is now much easier to manage]

(4) Delinked from Blogger's commercial ambitions.

(5) No more easy to use Blogger templates to rip off.

I will be watching for future functionality and keeping my Blogger acct "just in case".

Blog change
logged by alf at 13:07, Monday, 28th April, 2003

Thursday, 24th April, 2003

Meanwhile: Mankind's first writing, from an accountant

Alberto Manguel
International Herald Tribune
Wednesday, April 23, 2003

MONDION, France In 1989, I traveled to Baghdad to write an article on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which the Iraqi Ministry of Culture planned to have rebuilt. The project never materialized, but I was able to explore Baghdad and its intricate labyrinth. One experience was memorable above all: the discovery, in the National Museum of Iraq, of two small clay tablets from the 4th millennium B.C. that had recently been unearthed in Syria.

Each tablet was the size of the palm of my hand and bore a few simple marks: a small indentation near the top, as if a finger had been stuck into the clay, and below it a stick-drawn animal, meant to represent a goat on one tablet, and on the other, perhaps a sheep. Standing in the museum and staring at these ancient tablets, I tried to imagine how, on an unimaginably remote afternoon, a brilliant and anonymous ancestor recorded a transaction of livestock by drawing on clumps of dirt and in doing so invented for all future times the magical art of writing. Writing, I realized, much to a reader's chagrin, was the invention not of a poet but of an accountant.

The hand that made those first signs has long turned to dust, but the tablets themselves survived until last week, when they disappeared in the looting of the museum. When I first saw them, in their display case, I was overcome by a vertiginous sense of witnessing the moment of my beginning. Historians tell us that other magicians in China and Central America also invented, at different times, systems of writing. But for me, this was the starting point.

The act that made it possible for a shepherd to carry, locked in a piece of clay, the memory of a precise number of goats and sheep, foreshadowed the vast universal libraries in which the memory of humankind is held; the dialogue with a writer 6,000 years old is the model for my own "converse with the mighty dead," as the poet James Thomson described the act of reading.

In those two lost tablets were all future writings: the Book of Job, Superman comics, King Lear, the Sherlock Holmes stories, all mathematical and scientific treatises, Sappho and Whitman, and the very newspaper you are holding in your hand.

The tablets in the National Museum, the volumes in the National Library and in the National Archives, the collection of Qurans kept at the Ministry of Religious Endowment have practically all now disappeared. Lost are the manuscripts lovingly penned by the great Arab calligraphers, for whom the beauty of the script must mirror the beauty of the contents. Vanished are collections of tales, like "The Arabian Nights," which the 10th-century Iraqi book dealer Ibn al-Nadim called "evening stories" because one was not supposed to waste the hours of the day reading trivial entertainment.

The official documents that chronicled Baghdad's Ottoman rulers have joined the ashes of their masters. Gone at last are the books that survived the Mongol conquest of 1258, when the invaders threw much of the libraries' contents into the Tigris to build a bridge of paper that turned the waters black with ink.

Trust in the survival of the word, as well as the urge to destroy it, is as old as the first clay tablets. To hold and transmit memory, to teach through the experience of others, to share the knowledge of the world and of ourselves are some of the powers (and dangers) of books, and the reasons why we both treasure and fear them.

And even from among the ruins, the written word calls out to us. Four thousand years ago, our ancestors in Mesopotamia already knew this. The Code of Hammurabi, a collection of laws inscribed on a tall dark stone stele by King Hammurabi of Babylon in the 18th century B.C. and preserved today at the Louvre, states this in its epilogue:

"In order to prevent the powerful from oppressing the weak, in order to give justice to the orphans and widows ... I have inscribed on my stele my precious words ... If one is sufficiently wise to be capable of maintaining order in the land, may he heed the words I have written on this stele ... Let the oppressed citizen ... have the inscriptions read out ... The stele will show him his case. And as he will understand what to expect, his heart will be set at ease."

Alberto Manguel is author of "A History of Reading."

Meanwhile: Mankind's first writing, from an accountant
logged by alf at 17:52, Thursday, 24th April, 2003