Blogs

Gates on Gays in the Military: I'm Too Busy for this Crap

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 7:03 PM EDT

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared that homosexuality, like adultery, is immoral and the Army shouldn't allow any immoral behavior. I have a few questions left about that. First of all, immoral according to what standard in a secular state? The Bible? Even the Bible takes adultery to be the bigger issue: It made the top 10; biblical pronouncements on homosexuality are tucked away in odd places and not especially clear. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" is pretty clear. And yet, there's no word from the DoD that a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on adultery is forthcoming.

None of these obvious questions has been asked. The media has, however, tackled likely '08 Democratic candidates Obama and Clinton and asked for their opinion on the morality of homosexuality. They hedged. (Clinton had asked for the gay vote just days before at an under-the-radar speech at the Human Rights Campaign.)

Finally, someone has gotten around to asking the Secretary of Defense what he thinks.
Robert Gates veritably brimmed with substance and insight when he said, "I think we should just move on at this point." Asked whether he thought Pace should apologize, Gates said no. Gates went on to say that he was too busy to evaluate whether "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"—which less than half the nation supports and which costs a strapped military 4,000 soldiers a year—is an effective policy.

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Which is Worse, Murder or Genocide?

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 5:41 PM EDT

This is not a moral invective but a scientific fact: We care more about one murder than a genocide.

It's a truth both Joseph Stalin and Mother Teresa lived by. He said, "One man's death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic." She said, "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at one, I will."

The mental flaw responsible for the moral one is exposed in this psychology study: "Donations to aid a starving 7-year-old child in Africa declined sharply when her image was accompanied by a statistical summary of the millions of needy children like her in other African countries. The numbers appeared to interfere with people's feelings of compassion toward the young victim," writes Paul Slovic.

So the more people dead or in danger, the less we care. It's the reason we've said, "Never again," over and over again after the Shoah, then Cambodia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kosovo, and Rwanda. But still so few Americans recognize the name, Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president who has already orchestrated the killing of at least 200,000 people. That's at least 199,999 too many to grasp—are your eyes glazing over already?

For more on "psychic numbing" or "compassion fatigue," check out Slovic's slide presentation. Also watch our photo essay on Darfur.

From a previous Blue Marble post, another explanation for our blindness to injustice is system-justification theory. People want to see the world as fair and just, so they blame the victim to help themselves feel better about the status quo.


Rwandan_Genocide_Murambi_skulls.jpg

Oh, Goodie, Another Bad Review for Black Snake Moan

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 5:33 PM EDT

black_snake_moan.jpg

I blogged a while back about the surprisingly positive reviews the repulsively salacious film Black Snake Moan was getting, with the only exception being the New York Times (that's why I still defend the Times, mostly). The Nation calls attention to yet another hypersexual version of the sexual-abuse victim the movie sets the viewer up to rape all over again:

The icing on this particular cake is a PR campaign featuring a barely clad Ricci...kneeling at Samuel Jackson's feet, accompanied by the soft-porn slogan "Everything Is Hotter Down South."

And, like the New York Times, The Nation takes issue with the particular mix of race and gender in the movie. First of all, let's remember that the hot young thing is chained to the radiator to cure her of nymphomania—which doesn't actually exist, and certainly doesn't cause sweats and chills of oh-so-hot-it-looks-like-an-orgasm kind Christina Ricci's character suffers in the film.

But I digress. Here's The Nation:

The two most powerful symbols of slavery in Black Snake Moan are writ large on Rae's body: the chains around her waist and the rebel flag on her T-shirt. These images evoke the specter of white wrongdoing but also reframe her enslavement--which is supposed to be OK because Lazarus is black and Rae is white…What makes the movie truly offensive is that it employs race to peddle its brand of misogyny....

Misogyny, you ask? Really? Yeah, really. Here are two reviewers' actual edited reviews, published on actual newsprint stolen from some trees in Oregon:

Brewer's camera leaves the viewer free to savor the bared body of a victim of sexual abuse and rape tied to a radiator. And savor the male critics did. "All this envelope-pushing misogyny goes down relatively easily," claims New York Post's Lou Lumenick, who could "practically smell the sex and sweat" in what he dubs a "not insignificant contribution to global warming." Todd McCarthy of Variety predicts that the movie "will find its most eager audience among college-age guys hot to ogle the young star in some very raw action."

So the film's claim to cure the woman of her nymphomania is an excuse for men to eroticize a young someone who's been so abused she no longer has any meaningful form of consent to give. Who has the problem, again?

Bush Administration Endangers Species List

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 5:08 PM EDT

On Friday the Department of the Interior quietly issued a new interpretation of the Endangered Species Act on its website. In it the DOI essentially redefines what is an "endangered species," quibbling with the meaning of terms such as "significant" and "portion" and "range," which, in the original act, mandated that an "endangered species" is "any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range."

Under the new opinion, an animal will no longer be classified as "endangered" if a population thrives in any part of the nation. For example, the gray wolf would be delisted in Montana and Idaho where it survives in stable populations, but remain "endangered" in Wyoming. (Never mind that Montana and Wyoming and Idaho are all neighbors and their gray wolf populations don't pay attention to borders.)

Because of this new definition of "endangered," the Center for Biological Diversity estimates that 80% of current species on the federal endangered and threatened lists may be dropped, along with the protection the list provides them. (The CBD found that 77% of the 108 species that have gone extinct since the Endangered Species Act was enacted did so during the lengthy listing process.)

The opinion also makes no provisions for animals who have been driven out of prior habitats. "It's just so clearly illogical and anti-wildlife that I can't wait to get this before a federal judge," said Kieran Suckling, policy director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "They are rewarding industry for driving populations extinct. Because as soon as you drive a population extinct (in a certain area) it is no longer on the table. It no longer counts toward whether a species is endangered."

The opinion reasoned that:

"The phrase 'in danger' denotes a present-tense condition of being at risk of a future, undesired event. Hence, to say a species 'is in danger' in an area where it no longer exists--i.e. in its historical range--would be inconsistent with common usage .... the Secretary must consider the 'present' or 'threatened' (i.e. future), rather than the past 'destruction, modification, or curtailment' of a species' habitat or range."

Unfortunately, the DOI's opinion may stick. As a previous case dictated, if a word like "endangered" is ambiguous, the federal court must accept the department's definition, "even if the agency's reading differs from what the court believes is the best statutory interpretation." "This policy will do more to promote the purposeful killing of imperiled species than anything else this administration has ever done," said Suckling.

Possibly Suckling hasn't seen the even more questionable Endangered Species Reform Act of 2007, introduced to the Senate last month, that would require lengthy research, numerous reports, petitions, and government confirmation of all that information before a rapidly-disappearing species could even be listed as "endangered" in the first place.

—Jen Phillips

Which is Worse, Murder or Genocide?

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 5:07 PM EDT

This is not a moral invective but a scientific fact: We care more about one murder than a genocide.

It's a truth both Joseph Stalin and Mother Teresa lived by. He said, "One man's death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic." She said, "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at one, I will."

The mental flaw responsible for the moral one is exposed in this psychology study: "Donations to aid a starving 7-year-old child in Africa declined sharply when her image was accompanied by a statistical summary of the millions of needy children like her in other African countries. The numbers appeared to interfere with people's feelings of compassion toward the young victim," writes Paul Slovic.

So the more people dead or in danger, the less we care. It's the reason we've said, "Never again," over and over again after the Shoah, then Cambodia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kosovo, and Rwanda. But still so few Americans recognize the name, Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president who has already orchestrated the killing of at least 200,000 people. That's at least 199,999 too many to grasp—are your eyes glazing over already?

For more on "psychic numbing" or "compassion fatigue," check out Slovic's slide presentation. Also watch our photo essay on Darfur.

From a previous Blue Marble post, another explanation of our blindness to injustice is system-justification theory. People want to see the world as fair and just, so they blame the victim to help themselves feel better about the status quo.


Rwandan_Genocide_Murambi_skulls.jpg

Fratellis Release Single on USB Stick

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 4:04 PM EDT

mojo-photo-usb.jpgUK trio the Fratellis have released their new single, "Baby Fratelli," on cute little USB memory sticks today, reports NME. 7000 of the things were made and sent around to HMV stores in the UK. In this era of digital downloads, any physical manifestation of a single seems oddly regressive, especially for a band whose main American claim to fame is being on an iPod commercial. But those little USB drives are so cute and teensy, and so fast with the up- and downloading and all. The drives are not, however, eligible for inclusion in the top 40 charts. Apparently UK band Keane have also put out a limited-edition USB drive release. Whether artists releasing USB singles are required to be derivative and boring has not yet been determined.

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Nowhere To Run To...But Really This Time

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 3:50 PM EDT

Last week, Germany's Spiegel Online reported Iraqi refugees stand to have yet another door slammed in their faces. The Syrian government, which has absorbed the majority of the refugee burden since the beginning of the war -- and even more so since Jordan has closed its doors -- is bursting at the seams. Syria has taken in 1.2 million of the nearly 4 million Iraqis who have fled their homes in the past four years. (2 million have fled to other countries and 1.8 million have been displaced throughout Iraq.) Spiegel reminds us that for a country of 19 million (the pop. of Syria), that is quite a bit, six percent to be exact. The United States would have to take in nearly 18 million Iraqi refugees to bear a comparable burden (we have taken in less than 500 in the past four years). The article reads:

"Syria's economy is now groaning under the strain. The population suffers from water scarcity, electricity blackouts, increased competition for jobs and higher rent and food prices."

But regardless of this burden, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) in Syria, Lauren Jolles, says, the country does not complain even though the international community has "abandoned [it]." Jolles acknowledged that things have to change and that a United Nations aid conference set to happen in April in Geneva will have to yield a very "large aid package."

As I have written many times before, Iraqi refugees face very few asylum options. If Syria can no longer be a haven for the country's citizens, the outcome will be devastating. The United States needs to pick up the slack as well. As Liz wrote last week, the Bush administration "has decided to let in 7,000 this year, which, with 2 million Iraqis already displaced, is next to nothing." As David Case writes in our current issue, on the newsstands now, "Refugees International labels this the world's fastest-growing humanitarian crisis." The international world seriously needs to get moving.

Hard Times at Pfizer

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 2:33 PM EDT

When Pfizer vice chair Karen Katen got passed over in her bid to become chair of the giant drug maker, she prepared to bail out and will leave the company at the end of this month. The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog rummaged through an SEC proxy statement to add up her compensation package: "Katen's eligible for a pension accrued over a 32-year career that, if taken as a lump sum, would be worth about $40.7 million. Her 401(k) retirement savings plan and some deferred stock are worth another $21.8 million. Add in bonuses, previously disclosed severance of $5.5 million, some stock awards and the like and you come up with the balance of the $76.8 million." She will get an additional $178,000 for unused vacations.

Sounds like a lot, but as the Health Blog points out, Karen's pay out seems like small potatoes compared with former chair Henry "Hank" McKinnell, who got $200 million on his departure.

The Only Terrorist Attack KSM Didn't Confess to Has Now Been Solved

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 1:57 PM EDT

Plamegate continues, the surge in Iraq is tanking, U.S. attorneys say the administration bullied them to make political indictments. What to do?

Release information that terrorists have been caught, of course!

In addition to the absurd laundry list of confessions the government extracted (by questionable means) from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, today they've given word that Mohammed Bin Attash has confessed to planning the attack on the USS Cole. No word on when the confessions actually happened.

As SNL's 80s character the Church Lady would say, "Well, isn't that conveeeenient?"

My only question is, if we've got the guys who've planned every attack since the 70s, does that mean we no longer have anyone to take the fight to in Iraq?

We Continue to Jab Iran With a Sharp Stick, Iran Gets Upset

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 1:16 PM EDT

Three of Iran's top officials in the Revolutionary Guard have disappeared, and the Iranians are blaming the United States.

The first sign of a possible campaign against high-ranking Iranian officers emerged earlier this month with the discovery that Ali Reza Asgari, former commander of the Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force in Lebanon and deputy defence minister, had vanished, apparently during a trip to Istanbul.
Asgari's disappearance shocked the Iranian regime as he is believed to possess some of its most closely guarded secrets. The Quds Force is responsible for operations outside Iran.
Last week it was revealed that Colonel Amir Muhammed Shirazi, another high-ranking Revolutionary Guard officer, had disappeared, probably in Iraq.
A third Iranian general is also understood to be missing — the head of the Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf.

Who knows if the United States is really kidnapping Iranian officials when the officials make foreign trips -- this could be an elaborate game orchestrated by the Iranians. Or someone else could be kidnapping these folks and relishing in the misplaced blame.

But hey, if the U.S. didn't actually kidnap these folks, you know what would enable us to convey that message? Diplomacy. Sorry, I mean more diplomacy.