Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas, with a twist

I've been known to enjoy a Christmas song or two. Even though I'm not particularly given to sentimentality, in the past the right song has, on occasion, stirred up some dust in the room.

Still, if you really want to beat a path to my heart, you have to make it weird. That's why I was so delighted when the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society came out with "An Ancient and Abhorrent Solstice", their collection of seasonal carols with a Lovecraftian bent. Now, I may have a new holiday favorite in Norm Sherman's stirring rendition of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas", done in his inimitable, darkly comedic style. You can find it on the latest edition of the Drabblecast, which includes a Christmasy story featuring the world's most successful cryptozoologist, or you can just listen below.

Board of Accountability, Week 12

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Here, in a nutshell

Living in a country largely unknown to Westerners has its good points and bad points. One of the good points is that the location lends itself to conversation fodder. There's always some tidbit of knowledge or travel story that can fill the gaps between updates on various family members' conditions.

One of the bad points is having to repeat the same basic information about the country every time you speak to someone new. No, this is not a theocracy; yes, they let Western infidels like me have a bank account and everything; no, I'm not dodging suicide bombers on my way to work; yes, living here is actually fairly pleasant, if a little on the dull side.

As a service for those curious about the UAE, here are links to some of the biggest stories around the country in the past few months. Some of this is big-picture stuff, some more spot-newsy. For starters:

In the UAE, the United States has a quiet, potent ally nicknamed 'Little Sparta' – Washington Post
“The UAE has gone all-in,” said Anthony Zinni, a former commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East. As U.S. ties with long-standing allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia have frayed, and Egypt and Jordan contend with domestic challenges, the UAE now occupies a unique position in the region. “It’s the strongest relationship that the United States has in the Arab world today,” Zinni said.
It is also the least well known. Although there are about 3,500 U.S. military personnel stationed at Dhafra, and it is the only overseas base with F-22s, the facility has never been identified by the U.S. Air Force in publicly available materials because the UAE government had been concerned that touting the extent of its cooperation with the United States could antagonize some of its citizens.
But UAE officials relaxed those rules during a recent visit by a Washington Post reporter because of growing concern at senior levels of the Emirati government that keeping mum has led to an underappreciation of the country’s contributions beyond what is known in a handful of offices in the Pentagon and at the State Department, particularly as this nation seeks to convince the Obama administration to sell it more advanced fighter jets and adopt a tougher line on Iran.
“We’re different from our neighbors,” said Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE ambassador in Washington, who noted that his country has participated in every major U.S.-led coalition since the 1991 Persian Gulf War — save for the 2003 invasion of Iraq — joining Americans in Somalia, Kosovo, Libya and Afghanistan in addition to the ongoing air campaign against the Islamic State. “We’re your best friends in this part of the world,” he said.
More below the fold.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sticking to sports

I was going to rant about these people who believe athletes should stick to playing sports, that they're too dumb to hold court on matters outside of their job or have no business exercising their Constitutional right to free speech. I was going to point out how protesting and sports have always mixed, and that the history of such mixing in the United States goes back to at least the 1960s, if not earlier. I was going to mention how such protests are hardly limited to US sports, and that authorities have been surprisingly reasonable in allowing athletes to publicly express their support for the families of those caught up in the recent tragedies.

But then, in a scant five minutes, Andrew Hawkins of the Cleveland Browns gave a rebuttal to those meatheads and chauvinists that was so eloquent, so poignant and so heartfelt that it scarcely requires further comment.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

You did WHAT in my name?

For so long, we've been told that Team USA is the good guys, that we're fighting for freedom and democracy, that we respect the rule of law and hold firm to the values that make us great as a nation.

Yeah, well, talk is cheap. Team USA's actions speak much louder and paint a very different picture.
The CIA’s post-9/11 embrace of torture was brutal and ineffective – and the agency repeatedly lied and misled the White House, Congress and the public about its usefulness, a milestone report by the Senate intelligence committee released on Tuesday concludes.
The methods of torture carried out by the CIA were even more extreme than what it portrayed to the George W Bush administration and went beyond techniques already made public through a decade of leaks and lawsuits, which had revealed that agency interrogators subjected detainees to the quasi-drowning known as waterboarding, staged mock executions and revved power drills near their heads.
At least 39 detainees experienced techniques like “cold water dousing”, which the Justice Department never approved, the committee found. It also found cases of “rectal rehydration” and “rectal feeding” – the “lunch tray” for one detainee, which contained hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins, “was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused”, the report says – which in some instances led to anal fissures and rectal prolapse. Investigators also documented death threats made to detainees. And CIA interrogators, the committee charged, told detainees they would hurt detainees’ children and “sexually assault” or “cut a [detainee’s] mother’s throat”.
In case anyone had forgotten, 1) Yes, torture is still illegal under US law; 2) Yes, the United States ratified the UN Convention Against Torture back in 1994; 3) No, torture is not an effective method of acquiring reliable intelligence; 4) That tale spun by "Zero Dark Thirty", that torture produced the information that led to Osama bin Laden's capture, was, like most things coming out of Hollywood, utter fiction; and 5) Yes, false information extracted under torture was used to justify the US invasion of Iraq.

This is how the "good guys" behave? It's difficult to read the list of abuses performed by the CIA and pretend the United States still has anything resembling the moral high ground. The United States isn't cutting off people's heads, yes, but that doesn't make what the CIA did or the mental, moral and legal gymnastics of the US government to justify that behavior not evil. How far has the country fallen when not matching Islamic fundamentalists atrocity for atrocity is considered the baseline for "good"? Successive governments knew human rights abuses that could pass muster as war crimes were taking place at secret prisons overseas at the behest of the United States, yet they did nothing to stop it and seem determined to continue doing nothing. That's not evil? And this doesn't even include the CIA exploiting detainees for their own purposes.