Thursday, November 02, 2006

Trust but clarify

In the Cold War era, the US and Russia eventually agreed to reducing their stockpiles of nuclear weapons. The agreeements included a "trust but verify" policy where each side allowed the other to witness or monitor the dismantling of weapons. It seems to me that we need a similar policy for George Bush's statements about the War on Terror. Bush said again today that, "the US does not engage in torture". But it has become clear that we do. In a separate interview with Scott Hennen, Cheney today confirmed that the CIA used waterboarding techniques on captured senior Al Qaeda suspects.

George W Bush's preferred communication style is the "truthiness" approach (otherwise known as lying). This allows the party faithful to go on believing even when the facts say otherwise. I think the press and US citizens should demand a "trust but clarify" policy where unclear statements made by the president and his administration must be verified so that there is no more truthiness... only truth or lies.

With friends like these...

I couldn't believe the news this morning about John Kerry's bungled joke about education and the Iraq War. I'm not sure it would have been funny even if he hadn't bungled it. He told the joke while giving a campaign speach for Phil Angelides. Angelides has almost certainly lost the election against Arnold already but Kerry's joke sealed his fate. In a skit on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart and company were mocking the fact that the Democrats are ahead in the polls despite having no coherent strategy. There was a mock TV ad for a democratic candidate that literally featured no message. After seeing Kerry's botched joke on the news, I couldn't help thinking, we could probably win this thing if John Kerry would just shut the f@*k up.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dusk Falls at the BSB

This is looking west out of the Shoreline Amphitheater... the sun setting and the perimeter lights backlighting the wandering crowd. The view looked interesting but the low-res Sidekick photo makes it look almost mysterious.

on "the grass" @ the Bridge School Benefit

The crowd chillin at Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit concert. Gillian Welch is on stage who, despite her comments that they play, "downer acoustic rock" is jammin with some great guitar riffs. Its shaping up to be a great night... Dave Mathews, Pearl Jam, the Foo Fighters and more Neil still to come.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Saying is believing

When the Mark Foley scandal hit, the hypocrisy of the Republican Party finally became clear to many formerly firm believers. What was truly amazing was not that Mark Foley was gay, or that he was initiating inappropriate relationships with teenage boys or that his fellow Republicans attempted to cover it up. What surprised me the most was that he was leading a committee charged with protecting children while trying to have sex with exactly the underage boys he was supposed to be protecting. It seems like the low-hanging fruit for him would have been to at least resign this committee.

What I often find frustrating about the Republicans is that what they say and what they believe are often two different things. Only in the Republican Party will you find a gay man going against gay rights. This is not the case with the Democrats. You can even find straight Democrats who support gay rights because while not gay themselves, they believe in gay rights. I don't believe that all these Republicans are so against the gay community. I don't believe that all of them are as religious as they say they are. I can believe that most Republicans (like Democrats) think abortion is unfortunate and to be avoided if at all possible. But I don't believe that all these Republicans think abortion should be illegal knowing that many poor women would be forced to seek secret and often dangerous alternatives. And I wonder if all the Republicans who say they are religious believe that invading Iraq was the right thing to do now that over 600,000 Iraqis have been killed. Is it right to be a deeply religious person and still believe that all this killing is what God would want us to do?

It seems to me that a Republican will say whatever they need to say to win the vote. Not only are they good at this gaming of the political process but they are also good at uniting on which issues are key. Democrats seem to be on-the-whole, much truer to their beliefs. What they say matches what they really believe. You would think this would be an easy recipe for success... spawning passionate candidates who easily beat Republicans feigning their beliefs. But the inividual passions of all these Democrats results in a 1000 issues being raised against the 8 - 10 the Republicans consistently rally around.

In the last six months, many heartfelt Republican issues have finally been exposed as political strategies and not deeply held convictions. Issues like, "We're winning the Iraq War", Bush's true feelings about religious conservatives, Mark Foley's concern for the security of our youth, and the motivation behind the Healthy Forests Act. Hopefully this will be the undoing of several incumbant Republicans running for re-election. Then, all we have to worry about is getting the Democratic party to recognize that we can't take on all the issues at once. And we need to make it clear that when we take on an issue, we really believe in it. You don't have to be saying you are the morally superior party to be it... you just have to believe.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Interview with Frank Rich

This is a good interview with Frank Rich, author of, The "Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina."

Until a few years ago, Frank Rich was the lead Broadway Theater Critic for the New York Times. What's interesting about his switch to a serious political writer is its relevance to the Bush Administration's approach to the truth. He makes the case that the way Bush has tried to manipulate the truth is very similar to staging a theater production with one thing being acted out on stage while a completely different truth is going on back stage.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Symmetrical Diplomacy

Given a flawed blueprint, nature will sometimes use symmetry as a stand in. I learned this at a lecture by Greg Lynn on mutations in nature. One of his observations was that organisms attempt to create features even when they lack a complete instruction set. Lynn showed several examples of symmetrical mutations including a human hand with two mirrored thumbs. What initially appeared as just a random deformity now had a logical (albeit flawed) reasoning. Over the last year, as I have read story after story on Bush’s strategy for fighting terrorism, it reminded me of Lynn’s talk. In many ways, Bush is behaving like a mutation of American policy. In the absence of a rational blueprint, he is slowly and steadily resorting to symmetry as his instruction set for international policy.

Symmetry as a concept is not new to international policy. For years, the Pentagon has labeled the battle techniques used by terrorists as “asymmetrical warfare”. It was mentioned frequently in the wake of 9/11 and is a classic example of egocentric military thinking. The assumptions embodied in the term are absurd when you break them down. Asymmetry refers to the techniques, scope and technologies employed between two military opponents. Our preferred style of military engagement, the “shock & awe” approach, involves aircraft carriers, fighter jets, nuclear submarines, the best radar systems in the World, tanks, and the highly coordinated efforts of large ground forces. Their approach involves small, independent cells of fighters initiating small-scale attacks with homemade weapons. Asymmetrical warfare implies that the enemy has chosen not to engage us on a similar scale… as if they had a choice! I suspect that the Pentagon has finally stopped using the term because there is no other country capable of engaging us in symmetrical warfare. Symmetry also implies a kind of aesthetic judgment… as if two opposing symmetrical militaries was the only proper way to fight. You can almost hear the British Generals in the Revolutionary War complaining that the Minutemen did not know how to stand up and fight like gentlemen.

Symmetry as a policy for international diplomacy also has its problems. The Geneva Convention attempts to minimize the horrors of war by asking all nations to adhere to certain policies and restrictions. Things like civil treatment of prisoners, avoiding the killing of innocent civilians, and refusing to use chemical and biological weapons. When adhered to evenly by nations at war, the policy benefits everybody. The problem arises when so-called “non-state actors” like Al Qaeda engage in warfare since killing innocent civilians is core to their military strategy. They were never asked nor are they interested in signing the treaty. Given its focus only on recognized nations, the Geneva Convention starts to become an asymmetrical policy that favors Al Qaeda over participating countries. In this situation, what should the US do?

Alberto Gonzalez called the Geneva Convention, “quaint.” We remain a signer, but our day-to-day actions seem to be mirroring rather than countering the tactics of our enemies Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. We invaded Iraq because we said Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons and might be preparing to use them again. President Bush said that someone who would consider such diabolical behavior should be removed from power. But few Americans know that America employed chemical weapons during the battle of Falujah inside Iraq. We denied it until we were faced with clear evidence to the contrary and finally admitted to it. How can we justify using the very technique we are seeking to eliminate?

We have said that Saddam Hussein killed innocent civilians, imprisoned suspected militants without due process and engaged in torture. Again a policy that is antithetical to the principals the US was founded on. The policies remain ours of record but not action. We put captured Al Qaeda militants in Guantanemo to avoid due process rules and then proceeded to treat them inhumanely. By putting captured Iraqi insurgents in the Abu Graib Prison and then torturing them, we have literally followed in Saddam Hussein’s footsteps. Again, we denied doing it until the pictures came out to prove it. New pictures have recently surfaced that confirm the behavior continues.

In perhaps the biggest example of hypocrisy yet, we have been considering using our nuclear weapons to stop other countries from making their own. The original stated reason for invading Iraq was to rid them of their WMDs. We continue to condemn Iran and North Korea for seeking to develop nuclear weapons. But we do so as the World’s second largest possessor of nuclear weapons. The average American hopes we never use another nuclear weapon. But under Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s direction, we debated the use of small-scale nuclear weapons in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to penetrate under-ground bunkers. In Iran, we are again considering using our nuclear weapons to destroy their nuclear weapons facilities. I don’t know if this is ironic or shameful. So far, reason has prevailed but to have even considered it as part of our public discourse is highly hypocritical.

In all of these examples it appears that the US policy has moved from one that lives by the ideals set by our founding fathers to one that mirrors the policies of those that we oppose and detest. The average American still believes that the USA is a good country and in their own personal lives, most Americans are. But as Americans, we also have to take responsibility for the actions of those we put into power. There has been much discussion on the relationship between Al Qaeda and Islam. Moderates in the Middle East and here agree that it is not the religion but the few radical Islamic fundamentalists that are causing the problems. Our hope in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Iran is that the moderates will rise up and overcome this radical minority. Isn’t it time for the moderates of this country to rise up and get us back on the right course.

As a designer, it’s always interesting to see design terms used to describe something else. In design, symmetry is still used today for everything from wallpaper to typographic layouts. But one thing is always true about symmetry in design. It’s only worth copying something if you find the original beautiful and worth repeating. Al Qaeda is not the aesthetic choice.