A Room Fit for a Diplomat

A BookFace friend of mine linked me to this amazing bedroom today:

Home Designing: Travel Themed Bedroom for Seasoned Explorers

 

I’ve never put much in the way of interior design on this blog, but it’s inherently part the aesthetic I create for my well-being. I always put the maximum amount of effort into designing my bedroom. I’ve found in sharing the last 2 or 3 places I’ve lived with other people that one’s own bedroom is almost a sanctuary from a stylistic perspective. Common areas are great because often you’ll have a clashing of artistic styles of the various inhabitants, which in its own right turns into an interesting composition. For example, I have a large portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven in my living room sitting right below an Ansel Adams portrait of Mount McKinley.

I like public spaces and the unique style they are capable of creating. But as I was saying, bedrooms are a totally different story… assuming it is not shared with another single, permanent inhabitant. Multiple inhabitants are totally okay haha. But I think it’s a place to escape to… the space and the walls become an extension of your mind and you are free to form them into what you want. When you look at your books on their shelves or your artwork on the walls its almost like looking through a window into your soul. Things (material possessions) can become a part of who you are as long as their are imbued with intrinsic value — that is beyond the superficial. I think Bertrand Russell would agree with me that having things that remind you of your passions… of the things that profoundly interest you is totally legit.

I think it can totally be to the benefit of an individual’s mental health to have things on their walls that inspire that sort of interest and inquisitiveness. All my walls are occupied with artwork. I’ve got an old French travel poster of Angkor Wat. A color lithograph of the French Revolution. A 1886 map of Syria and the Levant. I would imagine these pieces take on a life of their own. That simply their mere presence could inform my tranquility of my dreams. The same goes for a good bookshelf, where one’s tomes can be completely visible to the naked eye. Don’t you see them calling out. Each one – some fantastic story you’ve previously read – just begging for you to return.

And that’s how I see bedrooms, and the importance of furnishing them as an extension of yourself. At the end of the day they call you back from wherever you’ve been. Call you to return to a single solitary place, where no one can enter unless you implicitly invite them.

 

The State of the Republic

A close friend of mine on Facebook linked to this fascinating article in the Washington Post:

Ezra Klein’s Wonk Blog: 14 Reasons Why This Is The Worst Congress Ever

If you want clear, irrefutable evidence that the House Republicans deserve the majority of the blame for stalling the recovery and shaming our most directly elected institution, look no further than the statistics provided in that article.

I mean, they voted 33 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

I can understand maybe once or twice… but 33 fucking times. Who the fuck are these people and how did they get into that chamber. They are all fucking school children. All of them.

Here is the nugget that I find particularly intriguing:

3. They’re incredibly polarized.

The best measure of congressional polarization — which is to say, the distance between the two parties — is the DW-Nominate system developed by political scientist Keith Poole. DW-Nominate works by measuring coalitions. It looks to see who votes together and how often. And it works. Its results line up with both common sense and alternative ways of measuring ideology, like the scorecard kept by the American Conservative Union.

So what does it say about this Congress? Well, the 112th Congress is the most polarized since the end of Reconstruction:

Let me emphasize what this graph shows again. *Ahem* MOST POLARIZED CONGRESS SINCE THE RECONSTRUCTION.

If you’re asking yourself, ‘wait, are you telling me that the last time Congress was this polarized was right after we had a civil war?’, you are absolutely right.

So, does the most polarized congress since the end of the Civil War bode well for the future of this great Republic?

I certainly think not. Yet, I don’t think people really grasp what this means. We think we are so damn superior in comparison to the way other countries handle their political disputes. I wrote about this in my previous post. We think we are more “civilized” because of the way our institutions function. That they are somehow superior, because they are not marked by outright violence or threats.

But the real question is, how far are we away from that? We seem to be approaching yet another era of McCarthyism with Congresswoman Bachmann’s totally unsubstantiated attacks upon Huma Abedin’s supposed links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and infiltration of our government.

I think the concern goes deeper than mere paranoia about Islamic infiltration of our government. It is not just a question of whether a few nutjobs in Congress will try to recast Islamists as the new Communists in terms of Enemy No. 1 to the nation.

If we continue along this same path, with Congress becoming more and more polarized and its level of popularity falling to unprecedented lows, how long will it be until the idea of another type of government becomes more popular in the minds of our citizens? How long until certain social issues and class divisions begin to pry open the fissures long thought closed since the Civil War?

Do we really thing we are above another civil conflict? Anyone who says yes is a complete fool. We are a young Republic compared to other countries on this globe that have undergone numerous internal conflicts and transformations. We are above none of them.

Can you even begin to imagine how an internal civil conflict would play out in this day and age?

I don’t even want to start. But my point is simply that we cannot underestimate where our current course may lead us to. When you have one of the major political parties hijacked by special (read: religious) interests, a showdown is inevitable.

Just look at Number 4 in the article:

4. They’ve set back the recovery.

In 2011, congressional Republicans came closer than ever before to breaching the debt ceiling and setting off a global financial crisis. In the end, they pulled back moments before we toppled into the abyss. But by then, they had already done serious damage to the recovery.

Early in the year, the economy seemed to be gathering momentum. In February, it added 220,000 jobs. In March, it added 246,000 jobs. In April, 251,000 jobs. But as markets began to take the Republican threats on the debt ceiling more seriously, the economy sputtered. Between May and August, the nation never added more than 100,000 jobs a month. And then, in September, the month after the debt ceiling was resolved, the economy sped back up and added more than 200,000 jobs.

Hmm… Golly Gee, I wonder if they did that purposely to damage President Obama’s popularity and the ability of his administration to do… anything effectively.

These people are crazy. You want to talk about hardliners? We don’t even need to look at the Islamic Republic of Iran… all we need to do is take one long look in the mirror to understand the kinds of people we have elected to Congress.

I honestly don’t know who is to blame. You and me? When it comes down to it, maybe. After all, Congress is the only directly elected national institution in the country. If the citizens who mobilized to elect these crazies during the last Congressional elections were mostly white evangelical Christians… then… where were we? Where was the rest of the country to balance out their clearly misguided beliefs and disastrous agenda? Nowhere to be seen. I don’t remember what the statistic was for percentage of voter turnout in the last Congressional election, but the reason these crazies were put into office in the first place is because the people who wanted them there in the first place were the majority who voted.

It is almost a vicious cycle from this perspective. The more people feel that Congress is not working, and thus respect it less and less, the more it will come only to be beholden to radicalism and thus represent what is really a minority of the country. Basically, the only people who will continue to mobilize and vote in congressional elections (read: evangelical white Christians) will be those who want to keep Congress in a state of complete polarization.

I haven’t even gotten around to noting how un-representative Congress is compared to how much the country has grown in the last century. There should be far more elected representatives than there currently are. This might solve the problem as well. Open the floodgates. Lets have a Congress of 800 in the House and see what happens to the current level of polarization.

Going back to what I was saying earlier about the vicious cycle and the level of respect and popularity Congress maintains with the citizen body – my gut feeling is that the state of the Republic has come to resemble the last days of the Roman Republic more than anything. I’m not talking about the Fall of the Roman Empire. I’m talking about the last days of the Republic and its dramatic transformation into an Empire.

The last years of the Roman Republic were characterized by much the same sort of behavior that characterizes our Congress today. Blatant attacks on the character of individual members. Complete and utter polarization. A complete lack of respect for how the institution is supposed to function (read: 33 ACA repeals).

At some point, Caesar must have thought the same thing. There was no way he could work with a senate and Consul (Pompey) who presented him with an ultimatum to return to Rome without his army and face trial for his supposed transgressions, the majority of which were probably political inventions.

His only choice was to work outside the system, which he did by crossing the Rubicon with a Roman Army and proclaiming himself dictator.

When people no longer feel bound by the traditional rules and regulations that govern an institution, what happens then?

We cross the Rubicon.

Tribalism in American Politics

An excellent piece in today’s Beast discussing tribalism in American politics…

The Daily Beast: The Tribal Election

Obama’s gambit creates an election in which turnout and mobilization—a fittingly military concept—of the faithful may be more important than the art of persuasion. It also guarantees a very ugly campaign, filled with even more than its usual share of innuendos, smears, and outright lies aimed at enthusing his base or—particularly for the GOP—discouraging members of unfriendly tribes from showing up to vote.

I would hesitate to say our politics are so different than those we often gawk at in the Middle East and other parts of the world. We shouldn’t consider our “civilized” elections to be anything of the sort. Our sectarianism is the same here simply in a different form. Perhaps it lacks outright violence, but the willingness of presidential election campaigns to attack and smear the character of their opponents knows no equal in the world.

I found this posted yesterday on Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish:

The original posting of the full image is here:

Mapping the Nation: Charting the Flow of Political Power

Keeping in mind that this map only goes up until 1876, I am undoubtedly sure it’s makers would be surprised to learn that the two parties (Democrats and Republicans) it ends with are still the same parties competing for power today. It makes one wonder why we can’t return to the earlier days of the Republic where the two party structure was not always seemingly a fact of life.

The more our institutions, including the ones that are supposedly above politics (read: Supreme Court), continue to have their ranks filled by tribal loyalists, the less our government will be able to function and thus our Republican ideals achievable.

Remains of the Day

From the International Society for Human Rights…

 

The image of Ahmadinejad was around back in 2009 for the protests over the Presidential elections in Iran – always been a favorite – he looks like a scared kitty.

Courtesy Gizmodo – This is What Dictators Are Really Scared About

Here’s a ridiculously awesome video of a solar flare…
Gizmodo: You Have Never Seen The Sun so Close

Another expose of the brutality of Arab regimes…
The Daily Beast: Horrific Libyan Prison Exposed

Money quote…

As the two are talking, a handful of other former prisoners gather around and compare notes, some rolling up sleeves or pant legs to show scars and lumps from the torture they endured. There is a round of morbid laughter when many of them realize they were routinely given the “Hyundai” treatment. Barghati then flashes the other prisoners a quick smile to show off two rows of false teeth, a permanent reminder of his time at the facility. During one interrogation session, Barghati’s hands were cuffed from behind and he was blindfolded. A guard then grabbed the back of the blindfold and rammed his mouth into the edge of a table, knocking out all his front teeth. The guards called that move the “Ray-Ban,” for the brand of sunglasses. “Allah brought us comfort then and Allah is with us now,” Barghati says, raising his voice. “This country will be free.”

Not to make light of such atrocities and gross abuses of human rights, but I recall a scene from The Mummy where they recall how Imhotep was subjected to the “Hyndai” for consorting with the Pharoah’s mistress – basically he was buried alive in a coffin full of scarab beetles. Neither treatment seems particularly appealing.

I’ve been spending some time reading through The Arabist – a new blog I’ve discovered that follows events in the region, so I’ll have some links from there shortly. I may also start writing on here in Arabic, if I can find the time.

From the Middle East

I decided to separate out my coverage of events in the Middle East from the usual stuff I find on the internet and repost here in Amateur Diplomat. After all, the primary focus of this blog is supposed to be on America’s foreign affairs, and not random items of amusement, however interesting they may be. I actually haven’t been doing my job very well (ironically, I’m actually writing this at my professional job) but, what I mean, is that analysis of foreign affairs is not just the reposting of articles others have written, however brilliant or insightful they may be. I should really be providing some sort of coherent critique here.

First off, there’s been a lot of discussion in the national media regarding the Obama Administration’s response to the situations in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and now Libya. President Obama didn’t even mention Egypt in his State of the Union and three days after Mubarak was taken out of power. Obviously, the issue inside of the administration right now is attempting to reconcile the interests of the United States, especially when it comes to maintaining regional relationships regarding resources and defense, with our principles, which dictate that we support human rights, democracy, liberty, and the rule of law. Regardless of how this balancing act has played out recently, it occurred to me recently, that I honestly don’t think the Obama Administration, nor perhaps any institution that has a hand in U.S. foreign policy making, had contingency plans in place to answer the fundamental questions of “what do we do if…. regimes are toppled by popular unrest – and the Middle East is swept by a wave of democratic uprisings”. I think our foreign policy establishment was entirely unprepared to answer that question. It’s pretty clear that was the case given the sporadic and inconsistent response by the American government to each of the revolutions in the Middle East. It’s somewhat startling as well. Think about how much time and effort the Bush Administration devoted to its “Freedom Agenda” – two wars and billions of dollars later and where did we stand? Worse off than where we began. The Obama Administration began its tenure in office by initiating a 6-month review of the Afghan War. I mean, was there really no preparation done to answer the question of what the U.S. should do if revolution started of its own accord in the Middle East? It’s slightly mind-boggling, and makes me wonder if there was some sort of mis-guided perception that’s dominated the American perspective of world affairs that essentially causes us to view outside events through the prism of American/Western action – basically – that major events such as these don’t take place without some sort of catalyst on our part.

I don’t know.

Anyway, here is some of the latest and most interest coverage of events in the Middle East…
In Cradle of Libya’s Uprising, the Rebels Learn to Govern Themselves

On Thursday, the fruits of that effort were beginning to take a rough shape. A judge, still wearing his robes, wandered through traffic, ordering drivers to put on their seat belts. At another intersection, three young men helped an elderly police officer direct a traffic jam.

In Benghazi’s new order, the court building overlooking the Mediterranean has become both a seat of rebel power and the town hall.

U.S. Trying to Pick Winners in New Middle East

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was unable to reach the foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, Mr. Crowley said, citing a technical glitch.

That’s also my cat’s name.

The administration has urged Saudi Arabia not to impede King Hamad’s attempt to undertake reforms in Bahrain, an island connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway and dependent on the Saudis for political and economic support.

I also wonder if that does not include military support as well. It’s not just the military support Saudi Arabia receives from the United States, in terms of weapons and other defensive equipment, but also the reliance of Bahrain’s ruling family on an internal security service composed primarily of foreigners. I recently heard a suggestion that perhaps Saudi was sending some of its notorious religious police into Bahrain, over the bridge connecting the two countries.

An incredible video from CNN’s only correspondent in Libya, Ben Wedeman…
Gawker: The Incredible First News Footage from Liberated Benghazi, Libya
Look at all those people hallucinating on Nescafe.

WSJ: Our Bargain With The New Gadhafi

Gadhafi’s vicious regime has left Libya far worse than he found it on the day of his coup in 1969. King Idriss was at least a unifying figure for a country that had not long been unified and had been independent only since 1951. Gadhafi has established no national institutions, not even allowing a fake parliament of the Mubarak or Ben Ali variety that could perhaps be turned into something real.

Nor is there an army such as in Egypt, with the prestige and unity to intervene, restore calm and (we all hope) set the country on a better path. Gadhafi, who took power in a military coup, was too clever to allow a well-organized army that might do the same to him. Many units are organized along tribal lines, which has kept Gadhafi safe but may be his undoing now. If the tribes are central to defeating him, the next government will have to balance them carefully, using Libya’s oil wealth to buy support and time to address its many crises.

Like Idi Amin and Emperor Bokassa, Gadhafi will soon join the pantheon of grotesque dictators who leave their countries in ruins. Given the last years—when quiet disapproval replaced forceful denunciation as U.S. policy—we can only hope that Libyans remember the decades when we were Gadhafi’s worst enemy.

Roger Cohen’s latest Op-Ed in the Times…
NYT: From Oklahoma to Tobruk

I could only think of the long journey traveled by the United States from its “original sin” of slavery, through the civil war and Jim Crow, on through the long civil rights campaign and the King assassination, to the once unthinkable thing: the election of an African American to the nation’s highest office.

It takes a long time — centuries — to establish that all men really are created equal; and that “certain unalienable rights” belong to all citizens rather than to all citizens except those of a certain color.

The Arab world has embarked on a very long road to enfranchisement. It will be tempestuous but the direction taken is irreversible.


 

The Friday Find

I heard this classical percussion piece on the way to work this morning on Boston’s classical radio station… it’s pretty fantastic.

Urban city planning is always cool…

British reporters are always exuberantly enthusiastic and fun to watch… I love the way he says “industrial” at the end. So British.
Courtesy Gizmodo: Helsinki’s Underground Shadow City

U.S. News

Clearly following Obama’s State of the Union focus on importance of education and the role of teachers in our society, the school board in Providence, Rhode Island votes to terminate all of its 1,926 teachers. Hmmm yes.
The Providence Journal: Board votes to dismiss all Providence teachers

The Big Story coming out of Rollingstone…
Another Runaway General Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators

Money Quotes:

The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the U.S. command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war. According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psy-ops – the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors – are supposed to be used exclusively on “hostile foreign groups.” Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a “propaganda rider” that also prohibits such manipulation. “Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows you’re not supposed to target Americans,” says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s what you learn on day one.”

“Propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors”… could also describe the media blitz over WMD in the run-up to the Iraq War. But, I think it’s a valid point. Propaganda and tactics of persuasion have usually been required to push a democratic population toward the prospect of war. If the military can do it to our elected leaders, they can certainly do it to us.

And finally – a sweet new ad from Mercedes-Benz…

Found

Salon.com has an insightful article on Obama’s Justice Department’s decision to no longer stand by the Constitutionality of certain statutes of the Defense of Marriage Act…
Obama Sets Marriage Trap… for Republicans

Money Quotes:

In the end, the opponents of same sex marriage were reduced to a perfectly circular argument that would not survive a freshman philosophy class, much less law school. They asserted that the meaning of marriage was a union between opposite sexes, then concluded that allowing any other union would destroy the meaning of marriage as they had just defined it. They were forced to employ such twisted logic because there is no empirical evidence to support the exclusion of gays from marriage; the prohibition is the last vestige of the religious belief that homosexuality is sinful, a rare application of the language of the Old Testament to otherwise victimless behavior in a secular society. (One of the hardest things about talking to God is finding an expert to give a proper deposition.)

From the Middle East:

Gawker covers Muammar Gaddafi’s many fashion statements throughout the years…
Muammar Gaddafi’s Most Memorable Fashion Moments

I think this one is my favorite…

For anyone interested in the comparison between the revolutions of 1848 in Europe and those happening today in the Middle East here’s some essential background… from Wikipedia
Revolutions of 1848

An interesting twist from Yahoo India on the case of a CIA Agent? being tried in Pakistan…
“CIA Spy” Davis was giving nuclear bomb material to Al-Qaeda, says report

Money Quotes:

Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) is warning that the situation on the sub-continent has turned “grave” as it appears that open warfare is about to break out between Pakistan and the United States, The European Union Times reports.

The most ominous point in this SVR report is “Pakistan’s ISI stating that top-secret CIA documents found in Davis’s possession point to his, and/or TF373, providing to al Qaeda terrorists “nuclear fissile material” and “biological agents”, which they claim are to be used against the United States itself in order to ignite an all-out war in order to re-establish the West’s hegemony over a Global economy that is warned is just months away from collapse,” the paper added.

I have yet to read this article… but Robert Fisk has written his first dispatch from Libya, probably just as extraordinarily insightful as most of his work is… will probably break down with comments at a later point.

The Independent: Robert Fisk with the first dispatch from Tripoli – a city in the shadow of death

 

The Cool Stuff…

Mark Zuckerberg now stars as the hero of a comic…
The Mark Zuckerberg Comic Has Arrived

*A side note – “Gurl, that boy is one hot mess, and not just because of his billions in cash”

I wish I could play violin as good as this Toyota robot…

And finally, this is probably the coolest video I’ve seen all day… I’m definitely going to grow a beard like that when a) I begin writing a dissertation or b) am deployed to a remote village with the Peace Corps. He’s pretty hot to boot – I have a thing for guys with beards and nice lips… mmm… yeah I could marry him in a heartbeat

The World Today

Well, I haven’t written on cars recently… so here is a stunning car in an equally stunning locale:

Jalopnik: These Photos Are Too Beautiful for Craigslist

What is it? A 1973 European-spec BMW 3.0CSi

Some Interesting Statistics:

Gizmodo: The Massively Intimidating Size of the Internet Visualized

Amateur Diplomat would like to congratulate America’s Evangelical Christian establishment for its work in Uganda:
NYT: Ugandan Gay Rights Activist Is Beaten To Death

“David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. Evangelicals in 2009,” said Val Kalende, the chairperson of one of Uganda’s gay rights groups, in a statement. “The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood!”

 

Plants Are Cool…

A shout-out to the University of Colorado, well Colorado State, to be more specific – Gawker: These Plants Can Detect Bombs

Apart from this lady’s perennial focus on ferreting out “bad guys”… the implications and applications are clearly interesting, from use in home settings to those in public. Putting aside the obvious fear of a mutant plant takeover, this is the kind of innovation President Obama was talking about in his State of the Union.

NYT Magazine Preview: Julian Assange

Dealing With Assange and The Secrets He Spilled

The Times has published a fascinating account of its dealings with the man behind WikiLeaks, Julian Assange… some select quotes…

Assange was transformed by his outlaw celebrity. The derelict with the backpack and the sagging socks now wore his hair dyed and styled, and he favored fashionably skinny suits and ties. He became a kind of cult figure for the European young and leftish and was evidently a magnet for women. Two Swedish women filed police complaints claiming that Assange insisted on having sex without a condom; Sweden’s strict laws on nonconsensual sex categorize such behavior as rape, and a prosecutor issued a warrant to question Assange, who initially described it as a plot concocted to silence or discredit WikiLeaks.

I came to think of Julian Assange as a character from aStieg Larsson thriller — a man who could figure either as hero or villain in one of the megaselling Swedish novels that mix hacker counterculture, high-level conspiracy and sex as both recreation and violation.

Another time he called to tell me how much he disliked ourprofile of Bradley Manning, the Army private suspected of being the source of WikiLeaks’s most startling revelations. The article traced Manning’s childhood as an outsider and his distress as a gay man in the military. Assange complained that we “psychologicalized” Manning and gave short shrift to his “political awakening.”

Because of the range of the material and the very nature of diplomacy, the embassy cables were bound to be more explosive than the War Logs. Dean Baquet, our Washington bureau chief, gave the White House an early warning on Nov. 19. The following Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, Baquet and two colleagues were invited to a windowless room at the State Department, where they encountered an unsmiling crowd.

Unlike most of the military dispatches, the embassy cables were written in clear English, sometimes with wit, color and an ear for dialogue. (“Who knew,” one of our English colleagues marveled, “that American diplomats could write?”)

And it was important to remember that diplomatic cables are versions of events. They can be speculative. They can be ambiguous. They can be wrong.

The broader public reaction was mixed — more critical in the first days; more sympathetic as readers absorbed the articles and the sky did not fall; and more hostile to WikiLeaks in the U.S. than in Europe, where there is often a certain pleasure in seeing the last superpower taken down a peg.

Although it is our aim to be impartial in our presentation of the news, our attitude toward these issues is far from indifferent. The journalists at The Times have a large and personal stake in the country’s security. We live and work in a city that has been tragically marked as a favorite terrorist target, and in the wake of 9/11 our journalists plunged into the ruins to tell the story of what happened here. Moreover, The Times has nine staff correspondents assigned to the two wars still being waged in the wake of that attack, plus a rotating cast of photographers, visiting writers and scores of local stringers and support staff. They work in this high-risk environment because, while there are many places you can go for opinions about the war, there are few places — and fewer by the day — where you can go to find honest, on-the-scene reporting about what is happening. We take extraordinary precautions to keep them safe, but we have had two of our Iraqi journalists murdered for doing their jobs. We have had four journalists held hostage by the Taliban — two of them for seven months. We had one Afghan journalist killed in a rescue attempt. Last October, while I was in Kabul, we got word that a photographer embedded for us with troops near Kandahar stepped on an improvised mine and lost both his legs.

A free press in a democracy can be messy. But the alternative is to give the government a veto over what its citizens are allowed to know. Anyone who has worked in countries where the news diet is controlled by the government can sympathize with Thomas Jefferson’s oft-quoted remark that he would rather have newspapers without government than government without newspapers.

The intentions of our founders have rarely been as well articulated as they were by Justice Hugo Black 40 years ago, concurring with the Supreme Court ruling that stopped the government from suppressing the secret Vietnam War history called the Pentagon Papers: “The government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.”

Ninety-nine percent of what we read or hear on the news does not profoundly change our understanding of how the world works. News mostly advances by inches and feet, not in great leaps. The value of these documents — and I believe they have immense value — is not that they expose some deep, unsuspected perfidy in high places or that they upend your whole view of the world. For those who pay close attention to foreign policy, these documents provide texture, nuance and drama. They deepen and correct your understanding of how things unfold; they raise or lower your estimation of world leaders. For those who do not follow these subjects as closely, the stories are an opportunity to learn more. If a project like this makes readers pay attention, think harder, understand more clearly what is being done in their name, then we have performed a public service. And that does not count the impact of these revelations on the people most touched by them. WikiLeaks cables in which American diplomats recount the extravagant corruption of Tunisia’s rulers helped fuel a popular uprising that has overthrown the government.

He spun out an elaborate version of aU.S. Justice Department effort to exact punishment for his assault on American secrecy. If he was somehow extradited to the United States, he said, “I would still have a high chance of being killed in the U.S. prison system, Jack Ruby style, given the continual calls for my murder by senior and influential U.S. politicians.”

Today in the World

Well, the Arab world is falling apart – Tunisia is still roiled by protests which have now spread to Egypt and Lebanon, where Hezbollah has officially installed their own puppet to form a new government. I’m tired of reading about angry Arab youth. Don’t get me wrong – its an incredibly exciting and fundamentally significant time in the Middle East – concerning the developments that are going on. I guess I’m just bitter that I’m not there to witness them myself. I’m out in the cold here in New England, where it was below 7 degrees the other day. So lets take a short break from the normal prerogative of this blog to focus on what is clearly more important…

First off, I love this picture… I don’t care much for Sarah Jessica Parker, but Pierce Brosnan is always cool, and even cooler when he’s eating a New York pretzel, which are some of the best in the world…

Humor –

– according to Gawker – Stoners Will Now Have Their Own Soft Drink

I just love the photo they got for this. So funny.

Other Articles of Interest:
The Atlantic: How to Stop James Bond from Getting Old

Gawker: Ten Sundance Movies People Are Talking About

Gizmodo: Can You Imagine Your Cellphone Passing Any of These Stress Tests?

The Latest in Attempts at Historical Revisionism:

The Atlantic: Shame on The Kennedy’s

But in the past month we’ve also been treated to widespread news reports about the death of Teddy Kennedy’s 13-year-old dog, Splash; weepy commentary about how this month marks the first time in sixty years that there hasn’t been a Kennedy in Congress; and Camelot-coated ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s swearing-in as Attorney General.  (Really?  The 50th anniverary of a cabinet officer’s swearing-in? Please.)  This sort of thing is orchestrated by the Kennedy family and their legion of acolytes and media flacks.

Here’s what seems increasingly wrong about all this.  The Kennedys don’t deserve this attention and adulation if they’re not willing to be open with the truth, if they remain intent on having the public see only the attractive side of Robert Kennedy’s legacy.  They don’t deserve the unstinting praise and the undying devotion if they’re not willing to come clean.  If they were to do so, they might deserve the attention that comes their way now by constant management and manipulation of the family image.  Enough.

In Other News…

For a gay political media correspondent, Andersen Cooper and his boyfriend make a cute couple: