Tinsel Wing

Monday, July 31, 2006

Traces of Mr. Smith found in Washington

Two cheering developments on the Russell Tice front.

First, his lawyers have successfully got his Grand Jury appearance postponed, on the grounds that the subpoena did not inform him whether he was a target or a witness, and did not give him sufficient time to prepare.

Second, it may be illegal for the government to spend any money investigating him. may be illegal for the government to spend any money investigating him.
That conclusion is based on the interplay between two key whistleblower laws. First, under the Lloyd Lafollette Act of 1912, it is illegal to obstruct communications with Congress. For over 25 years, it has been accepted in the law that media disclosures qualify as communications with the government.

Second, the anti-gag statute shields speech protected by Lloyd Lafollette and other good government laws from any government spending on retaliatory investigations against the whistleblower. It has been passed annually in appropriations legislation since 1988. It states that free speech rights listed in certain good government laws supersede any other restrictions against unclassified disclosures. The government violates the anti-gag statute if it spends money to implement or enforce the superseded policies. Under the Anti Deficit Act, officials responsible for the illegal spending are personally liable to repay the Treasury.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Can't You You Can't Hear That Whistle Blow


If a whistleblower whistles in a forest, and no one is permitted to hear, does (s)he make a sound?

I've mentioned Russell Tice, the would-be NSA whistleblower, who knows about agency domestic spying programs yet unrevealed to Congress, and has had a hard time getting the beans properly spilled.

Tice's closed testimony before the House Armed Services committee is probably the source of the faux indignation from Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Goosestep) on May 17, over not being told about some unspecified "program". Hoekstra quieted down once he'd made his point, which was presumably that he'd better get an extra portion of pork for awhile, if the White House expected him to jolly their lawbreaking along.

(Hoekstra also made the front pages by acting as stage magician Rick Santorum's lovely assistant, when Rick went before the cameras to perform his most crowd-pleasing trick: making the elephant WMDs appear. Despite the fact that every elephant on the stage was a fake, the crowd was most appreciative. Over the following weeks, the percentage of Americans deluded into the belief that Saddam actually had WMDs at the start of the war leapt from 38% to 50%.)

The entrails tell this augur that Hoekstra and the White House are back on the best of terms, and ready to work in tandem to quash all inquiry into whatever it is that Tice knows. The federal intimidation machinery cranked into high gear yesterday, issuing a subpoena to haul Tice before a Grand Jury to testify about "violations of criminal law" - which is the term the Feds now use for informing the public about the Government's violations of criminal law.
In a statement issued by the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, of which Tice is a member, he declared "This latest action by the government is designed only for one purpose: to ensure that people who witness criminal action being committed by the government are intimidated into remaining silent."

Quietus for the status quo

I'm going to do what no would-be pundit should ever do. Stand back, Jeanne Dixon. I'm going to make a prediction.

President Bush famously declared back in March that when American troops leave Iraq will be "decided by future presidents." The statement was widely interpreted to mean troops would be there for at least 2 and a half years. In point of fact, the plural "presidents" meant troops would be there for at least six and a half years.

Conventional wisdom in the mainstream media has agreed for a long time, that our GIs will be tied down in the Green Zone for at least a decade.

On the other hand, John Murtha, whose humint within the military runs deep and wide, predicted in January that troops would be drawn down under 100,000 by midsummer. Murtha underestimated the Administration's capacity for bullheadedness; likewise its fear of doing anything that looks like cut-and-run prior to the fall elections. But strong signs are beginning to justify his analysis, if not its precise timing.

First, we have one of the rawest-throated of the war cheerleaders, former Dubya speechwriter David Frum, saying that it's time to take Murtha's advice, and pull troops over the horizon (to Kurdistan, rather than Murtha's more logistically informed Kuwait). Not that Frum admits it's Murtha's advice, of course; nevertheless his capitulation to the reality based is complete.

Second, we have the Reuters report a week ago Friday, that the Iraqi parliament has begun quiet negotiations on the partitioning of Baghdad into a Sunni quarter west of the Tigris, and a Shia quarter to the east. That would be the trickiest - and in the event of an expanded civil war, the most lifesaving - element of the three-way partition some (like Peter Galbraith in the NY Review of Books) have been urging for some time as the only way to salvage some kind of stability in the end.

Okay, my prediction. The status quo simply cannot possibly be maintained beyond the end of 2006. By then, at least one of the following three events will have occurred:
  1. Open and public negotiations begin for the country's partition. Omnia Babylonia in tres partes divisa est.
  2. Evacuation of most American troops out of the Green Zone to some set of over the horizon bases.
  3. A massive air campaign against Iran.
The Administration will do everything in its power to prevent either of the first two from happening before the congressional elections. Since any Republican bounce due to yet another war will last for weeks at best, the third is also likely to be postponed until at least late October; but should facts on the ground turn clearly desperate, it will be the fallback.

The three options are not mutually exclusive. No doubt the gang that can neither shoot straight, nor refrain from shooting, would like them to occur in the order mentioned. In particular, should the third precede the second, the Green Zone's southern logistic lifelines would be snapped, and the carnage on our troops would make Iraq Part Deux look like a Sunday School outing. But the gang tcnssnrfs is not exactly in full control of events any longer.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Same old show. More expensive seats.

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 431 BCE:
The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man. A conspirator who wanted to be safe was a recreant in disguise. The lover of violence was always trusted, and his opponent suspected.

The weapons grow more terrible, the costs more insupportable. But the ugliness and inhumanity of war never change. And the traits of a nation caught up in war fever never change either.

The country's growing weary of the Iraq war, so the trusted lovers of violence are in the kitchen cooking up the next one, a fresh new shiny one, with its riveting new cast of scary villains. Their eye on fat juicy ratings, the media will once again pick up their trumpets and join the parade. But maybe, just maybe, it's a little too soon since the last scam. This time, maybe, just maybe, the rest of us won't fall into lockstep behind them.

I would like to find an old snapshot of the America I grew up in. A country where even the poorest had a roof over their heads. A country that wasn't afraid of its own shadow; that did not kidnap and disappear people; that did not run secret torture chambers; that did not eavesdrop on all of its citizens' conversations; that did not wage bloody Blitzkrieg on nations which posed no threat to it. I'd like to put that snapshot on milk cartons all over the land, asking "Have you seen me?"

Maybe some kind soul would find that strong, generous, friendly country, perhaps sleeping in an alley among the bombed-out and homeless, or sheltering between the pages of a forgotten Constitution, gather her up, give her a square meal of unfiltered information and fortified civil liberties. And bring her back to us.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Eyeless in Gaza


While Lebanon and northern Israel suffer, the suffering in Gaza hasn't stopped. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz summarizes activities there. the last couple of days. (The story is a little bloglike; they keep adding paragraphs at the beginning of the page.) Note this part of the account (my emphasis), from Wednesday:
Wednesday's death toll in Gaza was the highest in two weeks.

Medics said two girls, one an infant, died when a tank shell struck a house near Jabalya, a Hamas stronghold. A three-year-old girl was killed earlier in the day.

Nearly 60 people were wounded, including a cameraman for Palestinian television. Six were in a critical condition.

IDF troops have pursued an offensive in Gaza while fighting on a second front in Lebanon, but have failed to stop rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel.

Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, called on the world to remember the plight of the Palestinians despite the conflict in Lebanon.

"This is the forgotten war," he told Reuters. "We urge the international community to intervene."

The IDF, which withdrew its forces from Gaza in 2005, confirmed that it had carried out strikes against miliants.

At least 30 IDF tanks and other armored vehicles pushed more than two kilometers into the northern Gaza Strip overnight as part of Operation Samson's Pillars. The troops clashed with militants on the edge of the Jabalya throughout the day.
What struck me was the name the IDF chose for the operation.

In the book of Judges, Samson was a mighty warrior against the Philistines (after whom Palestine is named.) A name could have been chosen from other Samsonian (Samsonite?) episodes - Operation Righteous Jawbone, Operation Burning Brand. When Samson pulled down the pillars of the Philistine temple, he destroyed the Philistine elite; but he himself died with them. And, incidentally, he was in chains and blind at the time. His enemies had put out his eyes years before.

So what kind of gallows humor was this, on the IDF's part? Was it an acknowledgement that they were going into the operation blind? Or even of the way that mutual hatred has blinded both sides for decades? That for all their military supremacy they feel chained, imprisoned by history, grinding year in and year out at the same bloody mill wheel? Were they expressing a worry that things have escalated so far that, no matter how many Arab murderers and Arab innocents Israel crushes, she herself will be doomed by those same apocalyptic victories?

Maybe it's just me. But I sense a different feeling in the air from any preceding stage of the long rapacious melodrama. It's as if none of the combatants any longer expects any good end, any fruit from their pain. They are just reflexively, robotically, going through the motions of war, the motions of rage, the motions of grief. They can do this in their sleep by now. They can do it with their eyes closed.

Except for Hezbollah, Hamas, and the neocons. The worst remain full of passionate intensity.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Some folks sure know how to put the pang into birth pangs

Woah. I just became anonymously famous again.

There's been a fair amount of scorn leveled at Condi Rice on the left blogosphere for her chirruppy talk about the death and destruction raining down on Israel and Lebanon right now as the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East. No one seems to have noticed it was code talk, that had a potentially sinister edge to it, for those with ears to hear .

So when, in the discussion of Soros's new book at Firedoglake, Digby mentioned it again as an instance of the Bushies' cockeyed optimism, I dropped in a comment (#178). "Birth pangs" are of course the way that Jesus talks in Q, the ur-document for the gospels, about the "wars and rumors of wars" that will precede the hour of His return. Thus, Condi was quietly reassuring Bush's fundamentalist base that his support of the Lebanon war, and his refusal to feign interest in a cease-fire, were just him doing his bit of midwifery, as an upstanding Christian, to hasten the Apocalypse.

Now Digby has catapulted the meme, crediting "one of the commenters". What an unpredictable megaphone this Internet medium is.

For the fundamentalist base, more wars - especially in the Middle East - is a good thing, because it will usher in a more rapid Rapture. For the neocons, more wars - especially in the Middle East - is a good thing, because it constitutes "creative destruction", hastening the final secular showdown in which American nukes will decide the issue.

For the rest of us, it's hard to distinguish where Condi's "birth pangs" end and Cheney's "last throes" begin. The span of human life they appear to envision between the two is nasty, brutish, and short.

More on signing statements

True blue Illinois blogger ellenofthetenth, who writes more goodish than either (in rapidly ascending order) myself or Glenn Greenwald, has a useful brief roundup of thoughts and links on the signing statements issue, in the context of a local house race.

Monday, July 24, 2006

If there were no terrorists, they'd have to invent them

Are you too tall? Too short? Too round? Too square? Too conspicuous a color of iPod in your ear? Then you, too, may already have won a slot on a terrorist watchlist, that you can never be taken off of.

But it's all in a good cause. If you were allowed to fly, some poor air marshal in Las Vegas would have been deprived of his bonus, or even his promotion. As channel 7 in Denver reports:

The air marshals, whose identities are being concealed, told 7NEWS that they're required to submit at least one report a month. If they don't, there's no raise, no bonus, no awards and no special assignments.

"Innocent passengers are being entered into an international intelligence database as suspicious persons, acting in a suspicious manner on an aircraft ... and they did nothing wrong," said one federal air marshal.

These unknowing passengers who are doing nothing wrong are landing in a secret government document called a Surveillance Detection Report, or SDR. Air marshals told 7NEWS that managers in Las Vegas created and continue to maintain this potentially dangerous quota system.

What does that mean, quota? You mean, like, some kind of vague affirmative action? Or are we talking hard numbers?
...several air marshals object to a July 2004 memo from top management in the Las Vegas office, a memo that reminded air marshals of the SDR requirement.

The body of the memo said, "Each federal air marshal is now expected to generate at least one SDR per month."

Oh. But no pressure, right?
A second management memo, also dated July 2004, said, "There may come an occasion when you just don't see anything out of the ordinary for a month at a time, but I'm sure that if you are looking for it, you'll see something."

Another federal air marshal said that not only is there a quota in Las Vegas for SDRs, but that "it directly reflects on (their) performance evaluations" and on how much money they make.

For example, one marshall decided that a passenger who snapped a photo of the skyline as the plane took off looked suspicious enough for him.

I had a boss once whose hobby was touristing around Iron Curtain countries on his summer vacation. Bulgaria, Romania, wherever, the second his camera came out, all of a sudden there was a crappy little two-passenger black sedan following him around.

We don't do it that way here in America. If you get classified as an Al Qaeda wannabe because you came within the orbit of an agent suffering a slow month, it'll be sooo much less annoying. Instead of the black sedan, you (and all your friends and relatives) just get a little ol' NSA wiretap on your cell phone. Forever. Or until Senator Specter's Go Ahead And Wiretap Whoever The Hell You Like And We'll Keep The Judges Out Of Your Hair Act of 2006 expires. Whichever comes first. (See analysis of the act's contents here, by Anonymous Liberal, who links to several other analyses.)

And just to be on the safe side, how about a wire on that funny colored iPod, too?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

To boldly backtrack where none has backtracked before

The NASA mission statement as it was drawn up, with massive input from scientists around the country, in 2002:
To understand and protect our home planet.
To explore the Universe and search for life.
To inspire the next generation of explorers...
as only NASA can.

The NASA mission statement, as it was imposed last week from the top down:
To advance and communicate scientific knowledge and understanding of the earth, the solar system, and the universe.
To advance human exploration, use, and development of space.
To research, develop, verify, and transfer advanced aeronautics and space technologies.

The earth gets a one-word mention. We only want to "understand" it now, not to "protect" it. As befits the eternal Bush mantra: we are deeply concerned about global warming, which is why we want to study it very carefully for another few decades before we, you know, do anything about it. Not that there's any real interest even in the "understanding" part. Last month, you may recall, the Bush administration deep sixed two previously approved programs to monitor moisture and climate.

This has, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with top NASA climatologist Jim Hansen's frequent reference to the old mission statement as he has spoken out about the dangers of climate change.

Still more disturbing, I feel, is the demotion of Earth from its former status as "home planet." How painful must be the pinch of exile felt by members of this Administration from their own home planet. But rather than terraform Mars, they are soldiering bravely on to bring our own blue-green globe under the rule of Mars, the god of war. Above, a photo snapped by our crack correspondent on location in the future, of downtown Washington D.C., once they've succeeded.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

No list of the fallen

I caught Richard Linklater's film A Scanner Darkly (q.v., q.v., q. very much v.), based on Philip K. Dick's mostly autobiographical novel of the same name. It verified what I have come to regard as a law of physics, that it is impossible to make a bad flick from PKD's fiction. But of the several such flicks out there (Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and the French rarity Barjo), this is the one that fully captures Dick's humanity, humor, darkness, and paranoia. The rotoscoping lends just the right air of reality cum unreality to the proceedings.

Phil Dick was honest about the drug scene as no one else I know of ever was. He gets the coolness, the fun, and the camaraderie. He gets the unchanging idiocy of the drug war and the Rotarian squeaky clean horror not just of what the drugs can do to people, but of the people it does them to. He gets the tragedy of decaying mental powers, from the inside. If D.A.R.E. were really daring, it would throw out the whole anti-drug curriculum, and just show this film. It would be ten times as effective as what they do.

But they won't. Because the kids viewing it would be left to come to their own sympathies and their own conclusions.

One narc, who like the protagonist Robert Arctor has a foot in both sides of the war, surveys the wreckage as the novel winds down:

If God has an M.O., he reflected, it is to transmute evil into good. If He is active here, He is doing that now, although our eyes can't perceive it; the process lies hidden beneath the surface of reality, and emerges only later. To, perhaps, our waiting heirs. Paltry people who will not know the dreadful war we've been through, and the losses we took, unless in some footnote in a minor history book they catch a notion. Some brief mention. With no list of the fallen.

We of the Left in America are privileged, at least for the moment. Because our polity is so far only, to use John Dean's word, proto-fascist, these words do not apply to us. I look at the failed states in which America's fear of terrorism is working its dark magic on numberless victims invisible to us, and the only part of that passage that doesn't ring true is the part about evil being transmuted into good.

I can pray, though, that it fails to ring true only because I am watching it unfold in a glass darkly.

After interesting times

The apocryphal Chinese curse has caught up with us, and we are living in interesting times. I earnestly hope that downright fascinating times are not next for us, though William Kristol and Newt Gingrich have begun lobbying openly for World War III to begin. They represent a large chunk of the thinking within the Administration, "thinking" conducted by two organs slightly forward from the epididymus, and may get their way.

Some parts of the planet have leapfrogged ahead of us, and are already in Bill And Newt's Wonderful World of Fascination. The two of them are exhilarated by the same scenes, in Haifa and Beirut, which chill the rest of us. (I am reminded of the old Charles Addams cartoon of a darkened movie theater, its patrons frozen in various attitudes of shock, grief, and horror, while one fat fellow in the middle orchestra is laughing his head off.) Kristol's little-boy grin was ingratiating once. Coupled with calls for a war that will, at a minimum, kill hundreds of thousands, it's just creepy.

You can find photos of gore and broken bodies around the Net if you care to go looking for war porn; and video of the bodies being rapidly deposited into mass graves in Tyre. For me, these pictures of a broken Beirut and its stolid refugees suffice.
Ground zero #1
Ground zero #2
Terrorists using a school for cover
It's all there. Just add a pinch of imagination. Add another pinch, and you'll find the future the neocons are preparing for us all.

Friday, July 21, 2006

There once was a man who said "Um"

I was peacefully napping when the messenger appeared at my bedside. The wings and the flowing robe accorded with tradition, but there was something slapdash about her. Maybe it was the strands of tinsel no one had bothered to brush out of her hair.

"It has come to our attention," she said, "That you've blogged a few poems."

"True enough," I admitted, wondering what sort of infraction that might be.

"Not all that many bother with poetry anymore," she said. "As a reward, you are being blessed with a Visitation. That would be me. Let me introduce myself. My name is Nevergotintogranta, and I am an Adjutant Assistant Inferior Muse. The Literaturnichtsohauptamt has authorized me to inspire you. In a small way, of course." With a slightly embarrassed duck of her head, she withdrew a tiny scroll from under her robe, placed it by my pillow. "You may find this of comfort," she said, "on those days when the stupidity and apathy are about to drive you to despair." Then she vanished in a puff of Pine Needle Scent.

And so this limerick came into being.

There once was a man who said "Um",
Sat down, and proceeded to num-
Ber lives that would end
Should survival depend
On removing one's ass from one's thumb.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

It ain't just the humidity

First half of 2006 was the hottest in history for the continental U.S.

The average temperatures of the first half of 2006 were the highest ever recorded for the continental United States, scientists announced today.

Temperatures for January through June were 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average.

Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri experienced record warmth for the period, while no state experienced cooler-than-average temperatures, reported scientists from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.


Heat map.

Most of us live on the thick end of the wedge

Okay, so Dubya doesn't like stem cell research. But why does he assign it such an over-the-top priority that it becomes the only veto of his two terms?

For the same reason that, although he couldn't lay aside his vacation to deal with Katrina until three days into the catastrophe, he leapt onto a plane back to Washington at a moment's notice to sign the Schiavo bill. The culture war is largely bogus. Most Americans are agreed on most issues, and the party that agrees with them has a kick and a bray. (Would that it kicked harder and brayed louder.)

So it's necessary to pump air into the culture war, which is made up of often artificial, mostly backburner issues, and always in danger of deflating if left to the course of nature. It has top priority for the kleptocrats, because if they don't catapult the social issues propaganda, the media spotlight might turn onto the real concerns of Americans. Who might become informed.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., in an interview at BradBlog:
I made the conclusion many years ago that there's not a huge values difference between Red State Republicans and Blue State Democrats. The distinction is really informational. 80% of Republicans are just Democrats who don't know what's going on

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Surf's up

Tired of surfing the same old URLs? Here's two places to go to kickstart a wider foray into the blogosphere.

First, we have Nature magazine's list of the top 50 science blogs. Self explanatory, and there's some fine browsing in there.

For a less focused tour, try the interactive blogosphere map. On this graph, each node is a blog, the size of the node indicates its traffic level, and blogs that reference one another cluster together. Node color codes the domain - for example, red is blogspot, and orange is typepad.

Jesus wants me for a snowflake

Today George W. Bush proudly vetoed a stem cell research bill. The debates on this are old and tired now; everybody knows everybody else's talking points, everybody has seen everybody else's dog and pony shows.

For opponents of embryonic stem cell research, the cutest puppies and the high-steppingest colts are photos of the "snowflakes" - embryos scheduled for discard, who have been "adopted" by right-to-lifers, implanted in the adoptive mother's womb, and in the (thereafter) natural course of things, turned into post-born babies.

Like all babies, they are of course cute as the dickens. But it's hard to see exactly what that's supposed to prove. They are no cuter than the already post-born babies, languishing in orphanages and crying out for homes, whom those same eager parents decided to shove aside in order to make a space in their lives for the "snowflakes."

That's not the only thing that bugs me about the phenomenon. The theory upon which this callous disregard of the already post-born in favor of the single frozen cell is justified has been clearly articulated: each frozen egg is already a full human person in every sense, and it would be murder to discard it with the rest of the day's medical waste.

Okay, then - why not "adopt" the frozen egg, and never implant it? After all, there's a reason why all those extra fertilized eggs are lying about in fertility clinics. The reason is that each infertile couple needs several eggs to work with since, once implanted, most of them fail to come to term. Less gently put, the process of implantation kills most of them.

You see where this is going. According to their own logic, the "snowflake" parents have been murdering children. On average, murdering several children to produce each bouncing, cooing child that is displayed before the Senate cameras. By their lights, how could that ever be justified? Especially when they could "adopt" dozens and dozens of frozen eggs, and keep them alive forever, just by maintaining the lab fees, for far less effort than it took them to kill several eggs, and shepherd one to adulthood.

Yes, each "snowflake" that survives the uterine gauntlet gets to do things like breathe, sleep, eat, gurgle, things it could never have done back in the petri dish. But that scarcely makes it right to kill its siblings off to give it the luxury of experiencing those things. After all, it was already a full and complete human being back in the freezer. These little add-ons are merely the kind of "quality of life" trappings that the right to life movement is always telling us pale into insignificance beside the stark difference between preserving life, and committing murder.

While I wait for those happy adoptive parents to grasp the logic of what they've done, and spend the rest of their natural lives curled up in a ball of horrified remorse - no doubt a very long wait - let's turn to the latest scientific breakthrough.

Another staple of opponents of embryonic stem cell research has been the flatly false canard that adult stem cells can do anything that embryonic stem cells can do. (In reality, some kinds of adult stem cells are multipotent, coaxable into forming several kinds of tissue, but none are pluripotent as embryonic stem cells are.) But of course every gene that's in an embryonic stem cell is present in an adult stem cell - and for that matter, present in every adult cell. Pluripotency should be a simple matter of turning on the embryonic genes that got turned off as pluripotency was lost. If only one could determine which set of genes that is.

At the end of last month, Shinya Yanamaka of Kyoto University announced the production of "embryonic-stem-cell-like cells" from adult mouse cells. They are capable of generating some tissues from each body layer (ecto-, meso-, endoderm), and pump out at least one of the proteins that appears only in embryonic stem cells. It takes a concoction of just four enzymes to pull it off. Considerable work remains to be done to double check all this, and then to try it out with human cells.

The hope is of course that, several years down the road, stem cells from this new process could replace embryonic ones, and cut the Gordian knot of the current stem cell debate. And that would be great. Stem cell research is a fine wedge issue for the left, but I'd rather see the wrangling end, and the medical miracles begin to roll in.

But would it really stop there? If there's a magic formula for making an adult cell revert to a pluripotent form, there's probably another magic formula that goes all the way. By providing the right nutrient bath, an adult cell could probably be made to revert to totipotent form - to the precise equivalent of a fertilized egg, capable of generating not just arbitrary tissues, but the whole organism.

Voila! - the Gordian knot retied. All that keeps a frozen embryo from becoming a baby is the lack of a nurturing environment. And at that point all that would keep any adult cell from becoming a baby is the lack of a (slightly enhanced, by a handful of extra chemicals) nurturing environment. It therefore becomes immoral, under the axioms of the Right To Life movement, not to preserve every cell of flaked skin or fallen hair root, every cell of every biopsy or excised tumor, so that the life all those pre-born babies will not be lost.

When that Rubicon of knowledge is crossed, Jesus will not just want you for a snowflake. He will want you for thousands and thousands of them.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Calico Women and Larry Summers: part deux

Okay, so assuming I haven't been tarred, feathered, and defenestrated: Where do calicos come into it?

This is the fun part. Calicos explain why males enjoy a standard of deviation that makes them more deviant and less standard than their opposite numbers.

As you probably already know, all calico cats are female. No toms ever sport that colorful patchwork fur. What you may not know is that all female mammals, including all women, are calicos. Here's how it works.

Most chromosomes come in two copies. The copy from Dad will differ in minor ways from Mom's copy, but they code for pretty much the same genes. A certain amount of that gene's product, not too much and not too little, is needed for the proper functioning of the cell. So all of the cell's deliriously complicated little gene expression mechanisms work together to guarantee that each chromosome pumps out enough messenger RNA to get half of the optimal amount of the protein in question built. Jointly, they fill the quota.

But when it comes to the sex chromosomes, there's a snag.

The Y's all right. Nobody, in the ordinary course of things, has more than one copy. Anything it produces, it will have to produce all of, so the gene activation machinery just doubles the order. But what to do with the X?

Sometimes (in girls) there'll be two copies of the X, sometimes (in boys) there'll be only one. But most of the X genes (unlike Y) have nothing to do with sexual characteristics. A protein that functions well at one concentration will starve or overwhelm its target process at half or double that concentration. It wouldn't do to have all the guys spending their lives in hypoglycemic shock, or all the girls with blood sugar counts off the charts. (Just a for instance, the gene for insulin lies elsewhere.)

Evolution's solution to the problem was to set the gene expression thermostat at male levels. And then, in the females, to turn off one X chromosome in every cell, so that its genes never get expressed. As it happens, it doesn't get around to doing this until the fertilized egg cell and its daughters have divided quite a few times. And then it picks at random which X chromosome to turn off. Half the cells will now express Dad's X genes, half will express Mom's. The embryo has become what's called a "chimera": its body is composed of two kinds of cells, which are genetically different. Two intermingled and interspersed parts of its body have, in effect, become fraternal twins.

The choices of X are frozen. As the cells divide and the embryo grows, each Daddy-X cell produces only Daddy-X daughters, and each Mommy-X cell only Mommy-X daughters. The fetus, and eventually the infant, is patched together from big clumps of cells of one kind or the other. How big are those clumps? Look at the coat of a calico cat, and you'll see the patches written out on her fur.

In humans, skin and hair color aren't coded on the X chromosome, sparing girls some serious wardrobe compatibility headaches. What has emerged from the human genome project, though, is the fact that X contains a higher than usual density of genes which are expressed only in neural tissue. Brain genes. Consequently, while a man's brain runs on only one parent's X-genes, a woman's contains regions expressing her mother's X-genes, and other regions expressing her father's. You could say that women have twice the brains.

One would expect this to have a smoothing effect. Any brain protein from the X that makes her brother particularly smart, or dumb, or impulsive, or cautious, would have its effects moderated in her case by the version of the same protein she inherited from her other parent. Presto! The lower standard of deviation, in IQ and what have you, among females.

Last I heard, they'd pinned down which X proteins are expressed only in nerves. Learning the functions of them all is going to be a long hard piece of gumshoeing. So my previous graf's final sentence is just speculation at this point. The rest is solid.

Calico Women and Larry Summers: part one


I don't get very exercised over feminist issues. I don't know why, unless it's a vague feeling that the sisterhood can handle the jerks on their own. But Larry Summers' ramblings early last year about women just not being up to math and science is on my mind this week. Partly because I stumbled across the neat blog On being a scientist and a woman. And partly because of a news feature in last week's Nature, "Does Gender Matter?" Ben Barnes has an advantage writing on the topic. As a transgendered scientist, he's looked at it from both sides, now. I think he gets the core of the reason for the disparities in academia spot on.

Having looked at it only from the male side, my experience throughout my professional life among engineers and 'puter nerds had always been that the talents and ideas of women were regularly discounted and brushed off: usually by men and often by themselves. I could see the male brains clicking off when the girl began to speak at a staff meeting. Other guys mostly swore this wasn't happening. I'm sure they were sincere; it was part of the ground for them and not the figure, just the sea they had always swum in, and they never saw it. Then I got to MIT - and I was delighted with the difference. There, every professional was listened to; when a woman voiced a problem or brainstormed a solution, the group never had to wait until a guy said the same thing before taking it seriously.

And yet, even in Bucky Beaverland, which seemed to me to have made a miraculous leap forward into a more enlightened century, when Nancy Hopkins performed a ground breaking survey of how science department resources were allocated, she found that women faculty came up with the short end of the stick. By wide margins. Even after adjusting for things like years of experience, papers and citations. Though even I, who had always prided myself on my sensitivity, got nary a blip on my sexism radar, the discrimination was still there, pervasive, massive, readable in cold hard numbers. I am therefore certain that Summers was dead wrong in placing "socialization" factors dead last among the causes of gender disparity in science faculty positions. And Barnes is dead right in placing it first. To the extent that there's any difference in mean aptitude for science and math between men and women, it lies way way down in the noise. So far down that there's no more reason to suppose that the tiny difference, if it exists, favors men than there is to suppose it favors women.

That said, here's where I make myself a pariah.

One of Summers' points - perhaps the one he felt at the time was his central point, though it was overshadowed by blunderbusses he fired elsewhere in his speech - may have a lot to it. He spoke specifically of a difference in innate ability "at the high end". Most of the heat and light in the subsequent hue and cry flashed over the question of whether males typically have more innate aptitude than females at math and science. To which the answer is certainly "not so's you could tell." But that's a completely different question from whether a higher percentage of males than of females have extremely high innate ability. One is a question about means; the other is a question about variances. And there is no dispute that the male population exhibits a larger variance on a batch of mental characteristics (notoriously including IQ) than the female population does. Many more male dumbos; many more male whizzes. You'd therefore expect the upper reaches of any profession requiring someone to excel in one of those mental characteristics to be topheavy with males. Just as you would also expect to see more males spending their careers at the wrong end of a broom.

Frankly, I don't see any way around that logic. How to quantify it is another issue. I certainly hope the point continues to be overlooked, cause it's a whacking great excuse for administrators all over academe to do nothing about the very real discrimination that's out there. (You just know that West Rattail Community College will think of itself, for these purposes, as "the upper reaches" of the profession.)

Okay, so assuming I haven't been tarred, feathered, and defenestrated: Where do calicos come into it?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Catchup post


Some useful links, collected over recent days (or weeks):

Sorry, no comment

Woops.

I finally figured out that comment moderation was turned on. And , not knowing that, I hadn't been moderating.

My apologies, and thanks, to those of you who were kind enough to leave remarks. I've turned moderation off, and from now on you should see instant feedback.

It'll never get as far as YouTube


Every few mornings, my subconscious informs me that it's time to wake up by tossing a brief snippet my way, a phrase or an image too startling to let me go back to sleep. This morning's minidream was longer than usual, a twenty second political spot.

Night shot of an urban street. Broken porch posts, boarded windows, litter blowing in the rain. Voice over: "Crime. Dirt. Decay." Somber pause. "It doesn't have to be this way. There's one candidate we can count on to clean it up. He's as fed up as you are with the filth in Springfield's streets."

A blur of blazing orange comes barreling forward. It's a golden retriever. Following behind him saunters a small army of people, carrying brooms, hammers, and saws. "Because it makes the tires taste funny."

Rapid voice over, as the crowd parts for a delivery truck, and the retriever takes off after it: "Paid for by the Springfield Max For Mayor committee." Cut to close up of the retriever's head, barking happily into the camera. At the bottom, the crawl for the canine-impaired reads: "My name is Max, and I approved this ad."

Update: Photos of the real Max, aka Captain Retardo Dog, from the town of not-Springfield, North Carolina, may be viewed here.

I like his style. He has, however, declined the Committee's nomination.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The RAPT file

RAPT stands for "Republicans Are Patriots Too".

John Dean came out with a new book this week, "Conservatives Without Conscience". In it, he examines the willingness of most elected Republicans and established conservative pundits to embrace a set of policies on the part of the Bush administration which are not at all conservative, but profoundly radical: both in the way they massively increase governmental power, concentrated in the executive branch, and in the way they base foreign policy on a grandiose vision of preventive war and unilateral interventions.

Dean is a lifelong Goldwater conservative. His positions, he says, have not changed, but now he finds himself classified as a "liberal", because of his criticism of the Bush administration's departure from conservative principles.

Here I'm interested in the complementary phenomenon: conservatives with a conscience.

From the moment when 9/11 handed Bush and Cheney the tools with which to frighten the American public into agreeing with pretty much anything they proposed, there have been principled conservatives who have pointed out the folly of the Iraq adventure, and the danger to the Constitution of the new dedication to secrecy and to the supremacy of the executive branch. But the Republican establishment laid down a narrative claiming that all criticism of these policies was coming from "the far left", "the Bush haters", and from partisan motives.

The mass media supinely accepted that narrative. In the runup to the war, on the rare occasions when they invited opponents of invasion to speak, they selected people like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, leftists far out of even the liberal mainstream, who could be counted on to go off on tangents about all the horrible things "American imperialism" had done in times past. They did not invite conservatives who were cautioning against the war: Brent Scowcroft, the Cato Institute, Pat Buchanan. That would only have confused the public, which had to understand and accept that no one but America haters could possibly object to the onset of Shock and Awe. And now the same "only partisans and America haters object" narrative is being used in an attempt to silence critics of mass warrantless eavesdropping, torture, rendition, denial of habeas corpus, presidential nullification of laws by "signing statement", and so on.

I believe it is critical to counter that narrative. So I have begun to collect a little list of pieces by writers with solid Republican, solid conservative credentials, who understand the danger of Bush's New World Order, and his campaign to eliminate all constitutional checks and balances on executive power. I disagree strongly with much of the political philosophy of these individuals. But our disagreements fall within the long and honorable tug of war between liberal and conservative, whose balance has kept our ship of state on a pretty even course over two hundred odd years. What George Bush, under the tutelage of Vice President Cheney, has undertaken in the past five years is to bore holes in the hull of the ship of state: the seaworthy hull known as the Constitution, which until now had framed and bounded the country's central political disageements.

This honor roll of conservatives - and there are many more I will never get to - has put patriotism above party. That takes a special order of moral courage, and I am grateful for each one who has stepped forward.

The first batch aren't in chronological order:

  • William Sessions, named by Reagan as head of the FBI, in a Seattle Post intelligencer op-ed: Bush Stretches Executive Power

  • Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's chief of staff, in the Baltimore Sun: "Is US Being Transformed Into a Radical Republic?". Mirrored by Truthout
  • .
  • Bob Barr was one of the House managers who argued the case for impeachment against Bill Clinton before the Senate: "Patriot Act Games: It Can Happen Here.

  • Bruce Fein, Associate Deputy Attorney General under Reagan. Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the NSA warrantless wiretapping program.

  • The Cato Institute, a conservative think tank:"Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush".

  • The Financial Times, a stolidly pro-business paper in the UK. Behind subscription wall, cached here and here.: "Bush administration’s telephone snooping".

  • On Iran, even Henry Kissinger advises against pre-emption, and acknowledges that democracy is not the natural result of eliminating a dictatorial regime.

  • Andrew Bacevich, formerly a writer for Weekly Standard and National Review, author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War. A two part interview in Tomdispatch,Part one, "The Delusion of Global Hegemony", and Part two, "Drifting Down the Path to Perdition."

  • Ronald Bailey of the libertarian Reason magazine, explains why he's voting Dem for the first time since 1972.


I will update this post periodically over here, to add links to accounts about or by Republicans who are standing up against the Cheney Administration's seizure of extraconstitutional powers.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Meanwhile, back at the other war...

I can't process the horror unfolding from Beirut to Gaza City. I've read a dozen commentators, left and right, and still can't imagine what kind of game plan, if any, Ehud Olmert is pursuing, or whether he is a pawn caught up in a self-sustaining maelstrom. Nor can I fathom why Washington has settled on a policy of sitting back to watch while the theater of war enlarges - unless the powers that be have subscribed to the Ledeen vision of some cleansing apocalypse that will dismantle all the region's unsavory regimes at once.

Back in Baghdad, an older, more familiar horror is expanding. American media continue to shield us Yanks from the true state of things on the ground. But the Internet gives access to eyewitnesses who won't make it onto Tim Russert's show.

Riverbend, the young Iraqi woman who blogs at Baghdad burning, lost a friend this week in one of those neighborhood sweeps by the ethnic cleansers.

He usually left the house at 7 am to avoid the morning traffic jams and the heat. Yesterday, he decided to stay at home because he'd promised his mother he would bring Abu Kamal by the house to fix the generator which had suddenly died on them the night before. His parents say that T. was making his way out of the area on foot when the attack occurred and he got two bullets to the head. His brother could only identify him by the blood-stained t-shirt he was wearing.

People are staying in their homes in the area and no one dares enter it so the wakes for the people who were massacred haven't begun yet. I haven't seen his family yet and I'm not sure I have the courage or the energy to give condolences. I feel like I've given the traditional words of condolences a thousand times these last few months, "Baqiya ib hayatkum… Akhir il ahzan…" or "May this be the last of your sorrows." Except they are empty words because even as we say them, we know that in today's Iraq any sorrow- no matter how great- will not be the last.

I've been following her intense, humane, ground-level blog for two years now. Like thousands around the world, I've come to feel that I know her. And for the first time, I am worried that she will disappear without a trace. The violence, the torture, the men and children turning up at the morgues in batches, with electric drill holes through their bodies, are spiralling out of control. The west of the city is the worst, but there's no safety anywhere.

Here's the testimony of James Hider, the Baghdad correspondent for the London Times, a paper which leans center right. (Shorter James Hider: the war in Iraq is over, and chaos won.)

Baghdad starts to collapse as its people flee a life of death
By James Hider, of The Times, from Baghdad

As I hung up the phone, I wondered if I would ever see my friend Ali alive again. Ali, The Times translator for the past three years, lives in west Baghdad, an area that is now in meltdown as a bitter civil war rages between Sunni insurgents and Shia militias. It is, quite simply, out of control.

I returned to Baghdad on Monday after a break of several months, during which I too was guilty of glazing over every time I read another story of Iraqi violence. But two nights on the telephone, listening to my lost and frightened Iraqi staff facing death at any moment, persuaded me that Baghdad is now verging on total collapse.

Ali phoned me on Tuesday night, about 10.30pm. There were cars full of gunmen prowling his mixed neighbourhood, he said. He and his neighbours were frantically exchanging information, trying to identify the gunmen.

Were they the Mahdi Army, the Shia militia blamed for drilling holes in their victims’ eyes and limbs before executing them by the dozen? Or were they Sunni insurgents hunting down Shias to avenge last Sunday’s massacre, when Shia gunmen rampaged through an area called Jihad, pulling people from their cars and homes and shooting them in the streets?

Hider quotes sources who say that over 800,000 Iraqis have given up and fled the country, flooding Syria and Jordan, but the exodus is only just beginning:

Fares al-Mufti, an official with the Iraqi Airways booking office, told The Times that the national carrier had had to lay on an extra flight a day, all fully booked. Flights to Damascus have gone up from three a week to eight to cope with the panicked exodus.

Muhammad al-Ani, who runs fleets of Suburban cars to Jordan, said that the service to Amman was so oversubscribed that that prices had rocketed from $200 (£108) to $750 per trip in the past two weeks.

Despite the huge risks of driving through the Sunni Triangle, the number of buses to Jordan has mushroomed from 2 a day to as many as 40 or 50.

And what is the American army doing to stem these waves of killing? Sitting tight in "Emerald City", waiting for Iraqi police to call them in. But the police have stopped bothering to call.

I've dithered some, but so far mostly I've agreed with the Pottery Barn crowd. Yes, conditions for ordinary Iraqis are horrific; yes, they're only going to get worse; yes, the presence of our troops pours oil on the fires. But if the U.S. pulls out, the bloodshed could turn still worse by orders of magnitude. Does that line of thought makes sense, when we are do nothing about the rising tide of blood anyway, except to observe it? I'm beginning to lose sight of the relevancy of the Pottery Barn argument.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Iraq: the opportunity cost, and the opportunity to contribute


Sometimes I'll blog because I have something to say, or something overlooked to display. Sometimes just to provide myself with a handy attic I can search for information that was well known to the blogosphere at the time.

"Balancing Act", at Firedoglake today, had two chunks of information worth keeping at my fingertips. First, there's Murtha's list, at first startling and then sobering, of all the neglected Homeland Security that various tiny pieces of what we spend on the Iraq war could buy. For example, five years after 9/11, Congress still hasn't been able to scrape up the dough to give all the country's first responders compatible comm systems. The price? $350 million dollars. AKA 1.2 days of the war.

Second, it tells you two routes by which you can send reading matter to the troops. (When you do, consider packing a few pairs of absorbent socks.) Progressive political material is good; sci fi and mysteries and thrillers are golden. Few stand in greater need of escape literature.

When perusing Murtha's list, bear in mind that this time three years ago, a couple months after the Mission was Accomplished, the monthly tab for Iraq was 2 billion. Now it's eight billion. It's not hard to speculate on the reasons for the quadrupling. We now have to figure in equipment replacement costs, which were a freebie back then when we were working through our initial supplies. We are now paying a huge army of mercenaries, in roughly one to one ratio with our GIs, and each privateer costs several times what a regular Government Issue does.

Finally, for three long years the Republican Congress has heroically refused to peek under the hood of any sweetheart contracts - except when, like the now jumpsuited Representative Duke Cunningham, it was to extract the lobbyist kickbacks nestled under the carburetor. Which guarantees that since George's triumphal strut down the deck of the Abraham Lincoln, graft and war profiteering have surely risen by some large multiple. (Hand out fliers to the foxes announcing that the henhouse doors are always open, and a Great Fox Flock will be attracted to the neighborhood.)

All clear enough. But it would be lovely to get a handle on how much each of these factors has contributed to the flood of simoleons chasing each other daily down the sewer of Cheney's Folly.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Seven at the Golden Ager's Shovel

This month's edition of Poetry magazine is the humor issue. Much of the contents are a demonstration that, even for pretty good poets, funny isn't easy.

John Updike's dry, wry, appreciative account of a colonoscopy is as neatly observed as you'd expect. X. J. Kennedy, a serious poet who does make funny seem easy, serves up a slick collection of "Famous Poems Abbreviated". For instance:

Of man's first disobedience, and its fruit
Scripture has told. No need to follow suit.

Rebecca Hoogs penned my favorite, Another Plot Cliche, which I will refrain from quoting in full only to stay within bounds of fair use. Instead of grasping for the laugh track, it exhibits a clear eyed, rueful humor.

Another Plot Cliché
by Rebecca Hoogs

My dear, you are the high-speed car chase, and I,
I am the sheet of glass being carefully carried
across the Street by two employees of Acme Moving
who have not parked on the right side
because the plot demands that they make
the perilous journey across traffic,
and so they are cursing as rehearsed
as they angle me into the street...

I know i'm done for; there's only one street
on this set and you've got a stubborn streak a mile long.
I can smell the smoke already.
No matter, I'd rather shatter
than be looked through all day. So come careening. I know
you've other clichés to hammer home: women with groceries
to send spilling, canals to leap as the bridge is rising.
And me? I'm so through. I've got a thousand places to be.

Finally, this is the one piece that had me laughing out loud. (You may find its revered model here.)

We Old Dudes
by Joan Murray

We old dudes. We
White shoes. We

Golf ball. We
Eat mall. We

Soak teeth. We
Palm Beach; We

Vote red. We
Soon dead.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The breadth of Hamdan

When the Supreme Court ruled against Rumsfeld in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, it did so on two principal grounds. The first was, that Congress had not authorized the President to set up any special form of tribunal. Supporters of the imperial presidency are now working overtime to put their stamp of approval on as many denials of due process as they can, and promise to have some excrescence or other along those lines drafted by the time they return from August recess.

But the second ground for the Hamdan ruling is going to cramp their style. The five justices stated unambiguously that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to prisoners taken in the course of the War on Terror. I'm no legal eagle, but the most illuminating commentary I've seen on the question is from Marty Lederman of Georgetown University Law School:
Top Ten Myths About Hamdan, Geneva, and Interrogations".

The whole thing deserves to be read, and worn in the breast pocket to ward off the small arms fire of Republican talking points to come. There's too much meat to summarize here. But the central point is that Common Article 3 does not merely lay out boundaries for tribunals. There are a host of policies and deeds that the president's casuists have been coating with a noxious veneer of pseudo-legality, applied over a thick slather of secrecy; Common Article 3 names them for what they always were: crimes.

The provision of Common Article 3 at issue in Hamdan was a portion of subsection 1(d) that prohibits all signatory states from passing sentences or carrying out executions "without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court." (The Court held that the President's commissions were not "regularly constituted.")

But even more significantly, subsections 1(a) and (c) of Common Article 3 also prohibit the following, "at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to [persons who are out of combat as a result of detention]":

"violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture"; and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."

These standards establish what CA3 itself specifically refers to as "a minimum" code of conduct that parties are "bound to apply."

The nutmeg of isolation

Let's see, now. Forearms bulging like Popeye's as he twisted delegate's arms at the state convention couldn't keep his challenger Ned Lamont off the primary ballot. Not by a factor of two. Hillary led a slowly swelling parade of prominent Dems who have said they will support the party's nominee from the Connecticut primary, whoever that may be. His campaign ads have turned out to be unintentionally funny; while Ned's latest displays winningly self-deprecatory humor.

And one can just picture the woe on that classic nutcracker face of his, upon learning that Joe Biden accidentally on purpose missed the train that was going to carry him to the Real Democrats Follow Orders Rally for Little Joe, disappointing the nearly thirty enthusiastic supporters who did show up.

Chuck Lawhorn, bassist for the great Celtic band Iona, suggests:

If Lamont wins the primary, he should run an ad showing someone in a "Connecticut for Lieberman" t-shirt walking in to a restaurant, and the host asking, "Party of one?"

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Signing statements: the top ten list


On April 20, 2006 the Boston Globe broke the story of President Bush's extensive use of signing statements, in a front page piece, "Bush Challenges Hundreds of Laws", under the byline of Charlie Savage.

There was a text box in the story which was not included in the online version of the story, summarizing the most significant signing statement instances. (It is available in the Globe online, if you know just how to search for it.)

In the interests of wider accessibility and future preservation, here's the list.

Examples of the president's signing statements

Since taking office in 2001, President Bush has issued signing statements on more than 750 new laws, declaring that he has the power to set aside the laws when they conflict with his legal interpretation. The federal government is instructed to follow the statements when it enforces the laws. Here are 10 examples and the dates Bush signed them:

March 9, 2006: Justice Department officials must give reports to Congress by certain daes on how the FBI is using the USA Patriot Act to search homes and secretly seize papers.
Bush's signing statement: The president can order Justice Department officials to withhold any information from Congress if he decides it could impair national security or executive branch operations.

Dec. 30, 2005
: US interrrogators cannot torture prisoners or otherwise subject them to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
Bush's signing statement: The president, as commander in chief, can waive the torture ban if he decides that harsh interrogation techniques will assist in preventing terrorist attacks.

Dec. 30: When requested, scientific information "prepared by government researchers and scientists shall be transmitted [to Congress] uncensored and without delay."
Bush's signing statement: The president can tell researchers to withhold any information from Congress if he decides its disclosure could impair foreign relations, national security, or the workings of the executive branch.

Aug. 8: The Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its contractors may not fire or otherwise punish an employee whistle-blower who tells Congress about possible wrongdoing.
Bush's signing statement: The president or his appointees will determine whether employees of the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can give information to Congress.

Dec. 23, 2004: Forbids US troops in Colombia from participating in any combat against rebels, except in cases of self-defense. Caps the number of US troops allowed in Colombia at 800.
Bush's signing statement: Only the president, as commander in chief, can place restrictions on the use of US armed forces, so the executive branch will construe the law "as advisory in nature."

Dec. 17: The new national intelligence director shall recruit and train women and minorities to be spies, analysts, and translators in order to ensure diversity in the intelligence community.
Bush's signing statement: The executive branch shall construe the law in a manner consistent with a constitutional clause guaranteeing "equal protection" for all. (In 2003, the Bush administration argued against race-conscious afirmative-action programs in a Supreme Court case. The court rejected Bush's view.)

Oct. 29: Defense Department personnel are prohibited from interfering with the ability of military lawyers to give independent legal advice to their commanders.
Bush's signing statement: All military attorneys are bound to follow legal conclusions reached by the administration's lawyers in the Justice Department and the Pentagon when giving advice to their commanders.

Aug. 5: The military cannot add to its files any illegally gathered intelligence, including information about Americans obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches.
Bush's signing statement: Only the president, as commander in chief, can tell the military whether or not it can use any specific piece of intelligence.

Nov. 6, 2003: US officials in Iraq cannot prevent an inspector general for the Coalition Provisional Authority from carrying out any investigation. The inspector general must tell Congress if officials refuse to cooperate with his inquiries.
Bush's signing statement: The inspector general "shall refrain" from investigating anything involving sensitive plans, intelligence, national security, or anything already being investigated by the Pentagon. The inspector cannot tell Congress anything if the president decides that disclosing the information would impair foreign relations, national security, or executive branch operations.

Nov. 5, 2002: Creates an Institute of Education Sciences whose director may conduct and publish research "without the approval of the secretary [of education] or any other office of the department."
Bush's signing statement: The president has the power to control the actions of all executive branch officials, so "the director of the Institute of Education Sciences shall [be] subject to the supervision and direction of the secretary of education."

Photo credit: Starange Waze

Update: Ellen Beth Gill writes in the context of Illinois 10th district politics, but her post on signing statements deserves wide readership. Not just professional commentary, but several useful URLs for anyone who wants to dig deeper.

Update 2: Now that the ABA has issued its unanimous report (pdf at link) denouncing the President's practice of issuing these statements, and a bill has been introduced in the Senate to correct the situation, the web dialogue keeps moving forward. See coherentbabble for exhaustive text of signing statements to date, and a whole lot more.