Archive: Misc.

Signing Off

I intended to write this weeks ago. At the time, I couldn't figure out how to say it. Even now, the words still elude me -- but as with just about every pressing assignment throughout high school and college, it's way past due. I must bid you farewell, whether I can find the words or not. I've started a new job with Washington Post Radio. It's a totally new area for me, requiring all my time and attention. And so I am putting The Debate to bed. A nice, long nap sounds pretty good to me, too, actually. The Debate was always just a fraction of my job; most of my time was spent coordinating the hundreds of op-ed submissions sent to The Post each week, leaving only late night hours for the intensive research necessary in order to have an informed discussion the next day. I've been exhausted since...

By Emily Messner | July 24, 2006; 08:31 AM ET | Comments (23) | TrackBack (0)

Is the Media Propping Up the Propaganda?

Debater Sully makes an excellent point. Sully agrees that the focus on gay marriage is just a successful bit of propaganda designed to distract us from what really matters. But he* rightly points out that media outlets are only serving to disseminate the propaganda "saying that they HAVE to cover it in detail since Congress is discussing it." Granted, that's a silly justification. Congress talks about incredibly important things all the time, and plenty of it gets overlooked. In some cases, that's probably because the lawmakers manage to keep it in the shadows, but most because it seems impossible to explain it in a way that would be comprehensive yet not stupifyingly long and dull. (I tend to think blogs -- and the Internet in general -- offer a key outlet for this sort of reporting and analysis.)...

By Emily Messner | June 9, 2006; 11:40 AM ET | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)

Dr. Straightlove


or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the War on Marriage

Anyone else having flashbacks to last year's War on Christmas? This race to rescue marriage bears an eerie resemblance to the compulsion politicians felt back in December to "protect" that poor, endangered holiday. (Why is it that politicians characterize a war as inexcusably destructive and call for its immediate end pretty much exclusively when no actual war of any sort is involved?) In his 2004 State of the Union address, President Bush called marriage one of the "pillars of civilization." The very next month, he said marriage is "the most fundamental institution of civilization." He repeated those exact words again this week, causing a flurry of news stories (although none I saw mentioned that he's just recycling an old line.) Although many disagree with the president, the idea is not completely irrational. What is irrational, however, is the idea that marriage is under a brutal attack it cannot possibly survive...

By Emily Messner | June 6, 2006; 09:36 AM ET | Comments (116) | TrackBack (0)

Thank You, Debaters!

I love you guys. Really, I do. Your kind words and reminiscences helped me get through a very tough time, and for that, you have my everlasting gratitude. You've also once again demonstrated that across the political spectrum -- liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist, those of us whose beliefs defy labeling -- we can always find common ground somewhere. To those Debaters who commented on my last entry: Thank you. Each one of your comments gave me comfort. I'm now looking for constructive ways to honor MoMo's memory -- and even though some might think that's silly, I know a lot of you understand completely. Droopy, Angel, China, Meowzers, Rebel, Baby and the rest of the furry companions you mentioned in your comments will always be with you, just as MoMo will be with me. Now, back to The Debate....

By Emily Messner | May 25, 2006; 12:26 PM ET | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Bye Bye, MoMo (A Personal Aside)

It's been a rough couple of weeks, and this weekend was the worst. Our beloved pup Monte Carlo (MoMo) died in my arms Saturday night. If I seem a little out of sorts -- or out of commission entirely -- over the next couple of days, please forgive me. For more of MoMo's story, read on. For more fun debatey-type-stuff, give me a day or two and I promise to bring you some fresh meat....

By Emily Messner | May 22, 2006; 11:52 AM ET | Comments (30) | TrackBack (0)

Never Underestimate the Fallability of Technology

I'm not saying that conspiracy theories are always bunk, but I do think that people assume nefarious intentions just a wee bit too quickly sometimes. Yes, comments have been appearing and disappearing at random over the last couple of days, but no, it wasn't an attempt at censorship. (If it were, it would have been an awfully clumsy one. One look at the pattern of deletions -- and the unpretty way we've managed to patch it all up -- makes that glaringly obvious.) I hope by now the regular Debaters know me well enough to see that it really matters to me what you have to say on the big issues we examine here. In fact, I spent a good chunk of yesterday copying and pasting comments into text files on my computer. As far as I could tell, there were 171 comments from the initial posting on May 15...

By Emily Messner | May 18, 2006; 09:41 AM ET | Comments (33) | TrackBack (0)

Use Less Oil vs. Find More Oil (Part III)

For advocates of finding more oil, like Debater Jon M, the obvious answer to foreign oil dependence is domestic drilling. There should indeed be more oil production here at home, agrees Debater Mike Deal, explaning why he's not surprised at the shortcoming. Among proponents of using less oil, domestic drilling could be a viable option for anyone solely worried about inadvertently funding terrorism. But those concerned with damage to vulnerable ecosystems have two complementary goals: developing alternative energy sources and conserving oil. Debater Chris Ford doesn't think conservation is terribly helpful. He says, "America can influence price a little by reducing our demand, but any conservation moves limited to America will eventually be supplanted" by demand from rapidly developing nations, such as China. But even from an economic perspective, the primary purpose of conservation is not to spend less by deflating prices; it's to spend less by using less. (Biking...

By Emily Messner | April 30, 2006; 02:24 PM ET | Comments (74)

Use Less Oil vs. Find More Oil (Part II)

Why a part II? (And, soon, a part III?) First, it must be noted that when it comes to giving authoritarian regimes undue leverage and financing dictators -- and possibly some terrorists as well -- there's widespread agreement that these consequences of foreign oil dependence are bad. The concern over them differs in intensity and semantics, but the general idea holds. Crystallizing the themes in the comments here, the opinions in the blogs and the ideas of columnists reveals a more fundamental battle: those who want us to conserve and find alternatives to oil vs. those who think we simply need to drill for more. The London-based World Energy Council labels the two sides in the debate over oil resources the pessimists and the optimists. In fact, both could probably be described as realists -- they just happen to rely on radically different estimates of how much oil the Earth...

By Emily Messner | April 28, 2006; 02:26 PM ET | Comments (57)

Use Less Oil vs. Find More Oil (Part I)

One anonymous commenter belittles those concerned about the Alaskan wilderness and argues that the way to bring prices down is to drill in ANWR. That might be a short term solution, but eventually that's going to run out, too. The fundamental problem -- that oil is a finite resource -- remains. Debater Jaxas harkens back to an old Midas muffler commercial: "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later." America characteristically decided "to defer payment until later," Jaxas writes. "Well, now it is later." If your refrigerator was losing more and more of its cooling abilities with each passing day, you wouldn't wait until you were driven from your house by the stench of rotted food, would you? You'd get it fixed -- assuming you had the money to do so, of course. In the United States, we have tremendous financial resources to dedicate to finding alternatives...

By Emily Messner | April 27, 2006; 04:35 PM ET | Comments (63)

The Ethanol-Powered Bandwagon

After years of stubbornly dishing out gas-guzzling SUVs in the face of ever-rising oil prices, American car companies are slowly shifting gears to produce cars that aren't entirely dependent on gasoline. The latest to get on the bandwagon is Chrysler, putting "flex-fuel" engines in some of its models, with the ethanol-capable Jeep Cherokees and Dodge Dakota pickups rolling onto the market in September. (For some background on how American companies fell behind foreign car manufacturers like Toyota when it comes to this sort of innovation, check out this story by the Post's Anthony Faiola.) The Hybrid Car blog looked at GM's move toward hybrids back in June, using the rest of the post to discuss the idea that "cheap gas is a fiction" and our dependence on foreign oil needs to end. There's vast agreement on that -- but much disagreement over the solution. When it comes to getting from...

By Emily Messner | April 26, 2006; 06:28 PM ET | Comments (49)

Take It From the Soviets: Safety First

Back at the beginning of this debate on nuclear energy, Debater Jaxas said we needed to consider "how we are going to regulate it, control it, monitor it and manage it sufficiently to the point that the troglodytes on this planet don't use it to destroy us all." Regulation is indeed fundamental, argues the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board -- and the rules must effectively cover threats from terrorist attacks, sabotage and theft of nuclear materials. The Inquirer editorial highlights a GAO report suggesting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's standards may be well below par. Nuclear energy regulation in the Soviet Union was also not up to par at the time of Chernobyl's meltdown. Mikhail Gorbachev contends it was the weakness displayed then that set the stage for the Soviet Union's downfall a few years later. Although some environmentalists have concluded that nuclear waste is the lesser of two evils when compared...

By Emily Messner | April 23, 2006; 05:37 AM ET | Comments (6)

Radioactive Man, Woman and Child

Radioactivity: Just something to think about. What do you think?...

By Emily Messner | April 20, 2006; 07:54 AM ET | Comments (10)

The Toxic Waste Version of Shrinky Dinks

AP Photo/Kyodo News, Yumi Ozaki At this nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in northern Japan, more than 10 gallons of water containing plutonium and other radioactive material leaked inside the compound on March 12. The plant's operator announced that no radioactivity was released into the atmosphere. One of the dominant themes in the comments yesterday was the safety of nuclear energy. Today's nuclear plant designs are much safer than in the past, notes Debater Ben. Point well taken. But for many debaters, the plants are not the problem -- it's what to do with the highly radioactive waste they produce. Where should it go for disposal? Can we reduce the waste's volume? How about its toxicity? Patrick Moore says reprocessing reduces radioactivity, but he doesn't say by how much. Reprocessing separates the unused uranium and plutonium from the waste left behind. So it extracts the useful bits to reuse for...

By Emily Messner | April 18, 2006; 04:52 PM ET | Comments (19)

Endangering Americans From Inside a Jail Cell?

Over at USA Today's On Deadline blog, a comment by Ray raises the possibility that if Zacharias Moussaoui were sentenced to life in prison, Islamic extremists might one day try to use hostages as leverage to win his freedom.* Earlier this week, Debater on the plantation suggested such a scenario would indeed be likely if Moussaoui weren't put to death. This idea of Moussaoui being the target of a prisoner exchange is a fairly common argument from those who favor executing the 9/11 conspirator. Let's take a closer look. If Moussaoui is dead, is it any less likely that terrorists will take Americans prisoner? The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, for one, doesn't think the lack of a prisoner to bargain over is too much of an obstacle for hostage takers. Even if Moussaoui is alive and ripe for a convict-for-hostage deal, do the followers of fanatical Islam really care about him...

By Emily Messner | April 14, 2006; 03:11 PM ET | Comments (49)

Enigma in an Orange Jumpsuit

Moussaoui took the stand again today, denying claims -- including those by his own lawyers -- that he's actively seeking martyrdom via execution. He lambasted defense attorneys for not requesting a change of venue. He accused them of being more concerned with keeping the high-profile case than with saving his life -- a feat he says would have been more easily accomplished farther away from the Pentagon, in a state that doles out the death penalty a little less often than Virginia. In light of these latest statements, could it be that Moussaoui really would prefer life in prison over "death at the hands of the infidels"? Or has he been baiting the court all along -- trying to goad the jury into choosing capital punishment? If the latter, today's testimony could indicate that he realized people were catching on, and he's now trying to convince the jury that a...

By Emily Messner | April 13, 2006; 03:57 PM ET | Comments (66)

A Quick Commentary on Connectedness

"Ben Chappel" was the tenth most popular search on Technorati Tuesday night. Just saw it out of the corner of my eye as I was searching for blogs on CAFE standards. I clicked on the name, wondering ... could it possibly be ...? Yes. The same Ben Chappel I had a crush on in sixth grade. I am constantly amazed at how interconnected we all are these days -- due to the Internet, yes, but specifically blogs. Ten years ago -- even five years ago -- there is no way I would have found out what happened to Ben. And I never would have had any idea what a cool guy he grew up to be. (Seriously, how loved must he have been to turn up as one of the top 10 searches on one of the Web's most visited search engines?) My thoughts are with Ben's family and friends....

By Emily Messner | April 6, 2006; 01:06 AM ET | Comments (4)

A Note About The Debate

As a couple Debaters pointed out, my earlier post was dull. News flash: I know. Those who have been participating in The Debate for a while now understand that early in the week (Monday or Tuesday), I spend a day on the facts -- just the facts, nothing but the facts. Yes, I agree that facts can be pretty dry, but the reason I do these Facts posts is so we can have an informed debate on the subject at hand. Sure, I could just throw my personal opinions at you all week, but that wouldn't produce a productive discussion; it would only lead to polarization and flame wars....

By Emily Messner | March 21, 2006; 04:41 PM ET | Comments (16)

What About the Fans?

Hardcore baseball fans seem to be pretty well split on this issue. Roman Modrowski, blogging at the Chicago Sun-Times, contends most fans don't care whether a player used performance-enhancing drugs. Debater Alex Ham, however, most definitely does care. He says Major League Baseball used to be his favorite sport, but that feeling has faded over the past few years of steroid scandals: "It's disgusting and an insult to greats like Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, and Roger Maris." Dave Adelman makes the good point that there are plenty of factors besides steroids that have contributed to better performance by players over the years, including smaller ballparks, the "juiced" ball and year-round athletic conditioning. These factors have made for more spectacular hits, and arguably, happier fans. (Most of us have been to games that are still 0-0 in the eighth -- and not because of impressive defensive plays. As a lifelong Orioles...

By Emily Messner | March 15, 2006; 02:25 PM ET | Comments (18)

Enhancing the Team, or Just the Individual?

The earliest news item I can find that includes the term "performance-enhancing drugs" is a New York Times article from Oct. 27, 1982, the headline of which poses an interesting question: "Is Sportsmanship on the Decline?" Let's evaluate. Sportsmanship means fairness. PEDs provide athletes with an unfair advantage over their competition -- and their teammates. Widespread use of PEDs with minimal repercussions encourages the abuse and tacitly pressures non-users to turn to steroids just to keep up. (Some have argued that's all the more reason to open sports up to steroid use. I'm not convinced.) Sportsmanship means taking losses graciously. By not playing fair, PED-using athletes prove that they aren't good losers. Otherwise, why take such a win-at-any-cost approach? Sportsmanship means being a team player. Unnaturally beefing up (allegedly, that is) might be helpful to the team as a whole, but Barry Bonds's and Mark McGwire's home run records and...

By Emily Messner | March 15, 2006; 09:49 AM ET | Comments (12)

The Facts: Outsourcing Port Management

This paragraph from a New York Sun story pretty much sums up American reaction to the $6.8 billion purchase of a British company that would put the operations of six U.S. ports under the management of United Arab Emirates-based Dubai Ports World: "On its face, this looks like f-- insanity to me," the Republican minority leader of the City Council, James Oddo, told The New York Sun, though he said he was not familiar with the specifics of the deal. [emphasis mine] Sounds like knee-jerk xenophobia to me, and you can bet that's how it sounds in the Middle East, too. And, frankly, it's not fair. One can't assume that a country poses a security risk just because it has "Arab" in its name. Today's Washington Post editorial attempts to provide a bit of factual context. Here's the executive summary, in italics, with some extra facts after each item:...

By Emily Messner | February 22, 2006; 03:36 PM ET | Comments (104)

Debaters Speak Out on Cartoons

Debater Chris Ford points to the hypocrisy of the response to the cartoons being directed at Europeans (and America and Israel, because let's face it, a flag burning is the Middle East just isn't a flag burning without an American and an Israeli flag.) Chris notes that the blogs Rantings of a Sandmonkey and Freedom for Egyptians provide scans of an Egyptian newspaper that published the Mohammed cartoons back in October and met with no violent protest. On the subject of whether Western newspapers should reprint the cartoons, your reasoned debate has demonstrated that there is no one right answer to that question. It's a valid decision to publish material that some find grossly offensive; it's also perfectly reasonable to refrain from gratuitously insulting a particular segment of the population. But fear of violent retaliation is not sufficient reason to keep potentially offensive material out of print; in fact, that...

By Emily Messner | February 10, 2006; 11:15 AM ET | Comments (157)

Should U.S. Media Reprint the Cartoons?

Jumping head first into the Mohammed cartoon controversy: First, for a good summary of how the whole cartoon mess started, read this story by Kevin Sullivan. It seems the big debate in the United States at the moment is over whether American newspapers should reprint the cartoons. But does it really matter, since you can easily find the cartoons on the Internet? (The Face of Muhammed blog has an image of the original newspaper page, and at cryptome.org, you'll find each of the cartoons at a readable size.) Some papers, including the Post, have covered controversial artwork in the past without actually showing the artwork itself. Remember the crucifix-in-urine uproar a decade and a half ago? Other papers have printed photos of art that could be deemed offensive by Christians while not publishing the controversial drawings of Mohammed. The New York Times today published a photo (page B8) of the...

By Emily Messner | February 8, 2006; 12:46 PM ET | Comments (268)

A Long, Long War Away

Regret the Error provides a screen capture of a whopper from the Web site of Canadian broadcaster CTV, where an article describes one of the controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohammed as featuring a "Soviet star" and crescent. Obviously, the crescent and star combo found of the flags of many Muslim countries is not the same thing as the Communist hammer and sickle and its accompanying gold star. For the record, the mistake has been fixed in the original story, as was the right thing to do. But it's nonetheless a telling slip. Have we finally conflated the War on Terrorism with the Cold War in our collective subconscious?* Over time, a people tends to conflate its enemies. 1984 provided a perfect illustration of this, as Eurasia and Eastasia faded into one another (with plenty of assistance from the government, of course) for the citizens of Oceana, who were operating...

By Emily Messner | February 4, 2006; 01:47 PM ET | Comments (167)

And the Winner Is ... Hamas!

The official results won't be announced until later today, but Hamas has declared victory in the Palestinian legislative elections, and the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia along with his entire cabinet suggests the outcome is not in dispute. Palestinians voted against the corruption of the late Yasser Arafat's Fatah party, though in so doing they voted for an organization known more for its involvement in terrorism than for its political experience. That said, besides just voting against corruption, Palestinians were voting for a group that has made community improvement part of its mission, taking on projects like installing street lights and paving roads. That, unsurprisingly, won a fair bit of loyalty from Palestinians who for years had watched the chairman of the PLO live a life of relative luxury, while they couldn't so much as get a pothole filled. Yaakov Katz reports that some Israeli army officers are saying...

By Emily Messner | January 26, 2006; 08:22 AM ET | Comments (76)

Osama Conspiracy Theories

Wow, the Flat Earthers really came out of the woodwork to join the debate over the weekend on Osama bin Laden's latest message. Among the theories floated in the busy comments section of the last post: · From the Debater who calls himself Impeach Bush (no secrets about political leanings there): Bush and bin Laden "have to be working together, why else hasn't he been caught. The average length it takes to catch a fugitive is 9 months, and that's when you just use available police and FBI resources." Bin Laden is Bush's boogeyman "to scare the American people into doing what he wants." · Another Debater (whose name I couldn't even attempt to divine) writes, "everytime the Bush administration needs a boost, more votes, wants to push something through, the 6'6" unseeable-diabetic arab manages to stagger out of his bed in Riadyh and tape another message for his boss...."...

By Emily Messner | January 24, 2006; 12:01 AM ET | Comments (223)

Eurasia Freezing, Australia Burning

Dual explosions rocked a gas pipeline serving Georgia and Armenia yesterday, cutting off Russian gas supplies to thousands of people during a particularly cold winter. According to Interfax, Russian investigators suspect an "extremist group" operating in the area was behind the sabotage. Mikheil Saakashvili, president of the Republic of Georgia, suspects the Russians of blackmail. This is not the first time Saakashvili has accused Russia of manipulating energy supplies to bend its neighbours to its political will. The Georgian president wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he noted that Putin's sudden push for "market rates" in Ukraine is disingenuous at best. There is nothing "free market" or "market rate" behind Russian energy prices. Manipulation of energy prices and supplies is a critical tool of those in Russia who believe that hydrocarbons are the best means of political influence. In Georgia, both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two areas...

By Emily Messner | January 23, 2006; 04:31 AM ET | Comments (33)

Bin Laden: Rumors of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated ...

All the speculation of Osama bin Laden's death -- intensified by the release of a videotaped message from bin Laden deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri earlier this month -- must have finally gotten to him. The terrorist mastermind has offered "a long-term truce on fair conditions" in a new audiotape (listen/transcript), parts of which were broadcast on Al Jazeera yesterday. Mack at Bruised Orange wonders what a truce would really entail: The prospect of a truce is interesting only as an academic exercise. What would the political and cultural landscape look like under a truce with al-Qaeda? In every treaty there is compromise. What exactly would they be willing to compromise? What would we be willing to compromise away to al-Qaeda? Bill over at the Citizen Journal blog asserts that the tape "is a stunning message to the US that the notion the left's attempts to undermine President Bush 'emboldens our enemies'...

By Emily Messner | January 20, 2006; 10:38 AM ET | Comments (237)

And Iran, Iran So Far Away (I Couldn't Get Away)

Guess it's about time we talk about Iran. This is the one story I've been able to follow on every stop of my vacation, largely thanks to the availability of BBC World in East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, and here in Oz. (BBC World, the respectable offspring of BBC News in the U.K., holds the distinction of being more mind-numbingly repetitive than MTV. The ten stories and four self-promoting commercials the channel has on any given day are on perfectly interesting subjects, but by the eighteenth news loop, they kind of lose their appeal.) Thanks to BBC, I was able to watch the live press conference with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad right from my hotel room in Bali. (More on Bali and the fight against terrorism in another post.) Given that Ahmadinejad is known for his outlandishly inflammatory statements -- and his freakish lust for the apocalypse -- it seemed he...

By Emily Messner | January 18, 2006; 12:21 PM ET | Comments (385)

What the Constitution Really Says

G'day (and all that other Aussie lingo) from Adelaide! While I'm here in the opposite hemisphere, The Debate is going to be a little more free form. Today, we have a thought-provoking post from Guest Blogger Jason Scorse, a professor who decided to take a closer look at the document that provides the foundation of our democracy. * * * The U.S. Constitution, like the Bible, is oft-quoted but rarely read. I recently decided to reread the document to see what the Founding Fathers had in mind for our government and society in their own words. I discovered some very illuminating things, which are sure to irritate both conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans: Article. I. Section. 8. The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States ......

By Emily Messner | January 17, 2006; 08:38 AM ET | Comments (113)

Who You Callin' A Traitor?

In delivering the Supreme Court's opinion in the Plamondon case of 1972, Justice Lewis Powell acknowledged that eavesdropping technologies could be used legitimately to maintain public order. "But a recognition of these elementary truths does not make the employment by Government of electronic surveillance a welcome development -- even when employed with restraint and under judicial supervision," Powell wrote. "There is, understandably, a deep-seated uneasiness and apprehension that this capability will be used to intrude upon cherished privacy of law-abiding citizens." "The price of lawful public dissent must not be a dread of subjection to an unchecked surveillance power," he continued. "Nor must the fear of unauthorized official eavesdropping deter vigorous citizen dissent and discussion of Government action in private conversation. For private dissent, no less than open public discourse, is essential to our free society." Powell recognizes the fundamental risk of eavesdropping without a warrant: Absent checks on executive...

By Emily Messner | January 12, 2006; 09:20 AM ET | Comments (75)

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted ...

I am officially on vacation. I'll try to post now and then, including a bit more about the domestic surveillance debate and some cool posts on various other subjects written by a few fine Debaters, but for now, there's a flight to Malaysia that's waiting for me. While I'm gone, I'll be keeping up with the Alito hearings via the Post's Campaign for the Court blog. I'd offer some more, but the plane is boarding, so gotta run. (If you're at all interested in my trip so far -- and I have no idea why you would be -- click the link to read more.)...

By Emily Messner | January 9, 2006; 02:57 AM ET | Comments (22)

Nine Arguments for War

A lot has been written on the case for war so far, but the Chicago Tribune's editorial truth squadding is among the most comprehensive. The conclusions are so heavily fortified with facts and context that even if you don't agree with them, you've got to admire their effort. The Tribune editorial board has identified nine major areas of argumentation advanced by the Bush administration in making the case for war. For each general rationale, the board is producing an expansive editorial to deconstruct the arguments, examining what was said then and exploring what we know now. So far, the first three in the nine-part series have been published. The first of these ginormous editorials, which ran on Nov. 20, examined administration claims about Iraq's biological and chemical weapons capabilities and assessed how much of a threat Iraq really was in that area. The editorial concluded that although there may not...

By Emily Messner | November 30, 2005; 12:53 PM ET | Comments (36)

Iraqis Torturing Iraqis

Want a concrete example of why the U.S. government sanctioning torture is harmful? It leaves us with no moral standing to denounce this. That's right, 173 Sunni Iraqis -- visibly malnourished, some apparently victims of torture -- were found in a secret prison in the basement of the Iraqi Interior Ministry. The RollingDoughnut blog says of the discovery of the Iraqi prisoners, "turning Iraq from a tyrannical pro-torture government into a democratic pro-torture government isn't much of a win." John Hudock expressed a similar sentiment nearly a year ago, in a post supporting clear codes of conduct for soldiers in charge of prisoners: "We should also insure that Iraqis will follow similar proscriptions before prisoners are handed to them. Having Saddam's torture chambers replaced with non-Saddam torture chambers will be no improvement." Were the Iraqis at the Interior Ministry prison torturing Sunni detainees because they were Sunnis (like Saddam torturing...

By Emily Messner | November 16, 2005; 12:03 PM ET | Comments (18)

Does Torture Work?

One of the biggest points of contention in the torture debate is this: Does torture work? Opponents say it doesn't; proponents insist that it does. The truth probably lies somewhere in between: It would yield key information in a few cases, but would prove ineffective -- and decidedly harmful -- in a vast many others. An informative Slate piece on torture includes this line: "Assuming that harsher interrogations can produce valuable intelligence -- an open question -- Congress and the president must weigh that benefit against the enormous strategic cost of operating a facility like Guantanamo." So let's stipulate for the purposes of this post that the reliability argument is a wash -- that is, neither side is going to win it. Torture might or might not work as intended. Working under that assumption, the most logical question to ask is, what is the best method to extract key information...

By Emily Messner | November 15, 2005; 04:29 PM ET | Comments (36)

Abuse at Abu Ghraib: Just Having 'A Little Fun'?

I recall receiving this "message from the ghost of General Patton" (warning: it's a stomach-turner) by e-mail several months ago, and it disturbs me as much now as it did then. (If you can handle looking at it, I'd be interested in your take.) "Patton" compares the abuse at Abu Ghraib with the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl and the attacks of September 11, 2001, and says the American abuses are minor in comparison. Above a photo of a smiling Lynndie England and boyfriend posed, thumbs up, with a bunch of naked detainees piled on top of one another, the Patton message says in gigantic type, "THIS is not 'torture' or an 'atrocity'. This is the kind of thing fratboys, sorority girls, and academy cadets do to newcomers." Below the photo are the words, "A little fun at someone else's expense. Certainly no reason to wring your...

By Emily Messner | November 11, 2005; 12:18 AM ET | Comments (169)

Ode to Civilized Debate

Debater Salt made a comment late last week that I wanted to share: I hope all bloggers will take care not to be abusive at any time in any way. Political discussions should always be conducted with a large dose of humility. We all believe what we believe, but we should all write with the fact in the back of our minds that [we] can be wrong. This is what makes America great, not the bile and hate that spews forth in our political media of all forms. The Debate has hosted terrific discussions on some very complicated subjects, with persuasive comments from Debaters holding wildly varying political beliefs. I want this to be a blog where informed opinions are shared and, of course, debated. Perhaps through this dialogue, we can all come to understand each other a little better, and maybe even -- dare I say it? -- find...

By Emily Messner | November 7, 2005; 09:00 AM ET | Comments (6)

Thank You, Debaters!

Just wanted to say thanks to those who took the time to send me post-armed-robbery good wishes, especially Bob in Denver, who suggested I take a spa day. The thought was a nice one, but I decided it could prove difficult without a wallet. As it happens, though, I feel fine. A colleague suggested my post-traumatic stress -- or whatever it's called -- just hasn't set in yet. I don't think so. I truly feel it was not a big deal. It's really all about perspective, right? So a guy threatened me with a knife and took my bag, which contained mostly stuff that was useful to me and no one else -- like my glasses. (Hopefully someone who's a big fan of Bollywood music will buy my iPod.) It was an expensive loss for me personally, but a miniscule loss in real terms, particularly as compared to what so...

By Emily Messner | October 31, 2005; 05:13 AM ET | Comments (3)

Rove, Libby, and Tom DeLay's Mug Shot

Please forgive my tardiness with this post -- I'm doing that whole working-while-sick thing and all the coughing and sniffling and medicine-taking is really cutting into my blogging time. But for now, onward! The big news in the Plame leak case today is that Karl Rove told the grand jury that Scooter Libby, Cheney's top aide, may have been the one who initially informed him that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Of course, the key question in the investigation remains, "Was a crime actually committed?" The law is very narrow about the ways in which unmasking an undercover agent can constitute a crime, and it's still unlear whether the actions of Libby, Rove or anyone else rose to that high threshold. Nonetheless, Rove's testimony "confirmed that Rove and Libby were involved in a conversation about [Plame] before her identity became public. The disclosure seemed to further undermine the...

By Emily Messner | October 20, 2005; 05:24 PM ET | Comments (29)

A Defense of "MSM" Iraq Constitution Coverage

According to Bullwinkle at the Random Numbers blog, the Associated Press is pushing an "agenda" with photos from Iraq that are universally negative. He posts two such photos to prove his point. One shows a grieving mother, another a group of Iraqi prisoners. But if you go to the article where Bullwinkle finds these two photos, you'll have to scroll down to see them -- the photo at the top of the story on Saturday's voting is of stacks of boxes containing ballots to be counted. Oh, the horror and bias of it all! Bill (From the Swamp) points to another photo from the Associated Press in a post titled, "Look Here, Democracy." Near as I can make out, the point of his post is that the photo, of an Iraqi reading a newspaper with a pro-constitution advertisement on it, demonstrates that democracy is flourishing in Iraq. Yet in spite...

By Emily Messner | October 18, 2005; 05:16 AM ET | Comments (44)

Maureen Dowd: Champion of Women's Rights?

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is a long-time supporter of women's rights, including the rights of women in Iraq. In this August op-ed, for example, she writes: "America has caved on Iraqi women's rights. In fact, the women's rights activists supported by George and Laura Bush may have to leave Iraq. ....Yesterday, the president hailed the constitution establishing an Islamic republic as ''an amazing process,'' and said it ''honors women's rights, the rights of minorities.'' Could he really think that? Or is he following the Vietnam model -- declaring victory so we can leave?" So, I was disappointed that Dowd's Wednesday column on the Miers nomination repeatedly invoked negative stereotypes of women in the public arena. The column reads like one of those particularly juvenile Saturday Night Live skits that's funny for 20 seconds, then proceeds to drag on for six minutes. (You can find the full text by...

By Emily Messner | October 14, 2005; 03:25 PM ET | Comments (115)

One Iraqi's View of the Constitution

It's the details that matter in Baghdad Burning as often as the opinions expressed. You can almost taste the messy tooki fruit, and picture the old swing, the fence and the frustrating neighbor behind it. The author of the blog goes by Riverbend, and her work is full of gems -- some uplifting, others disturbing -- about life in today's Iraq from the perspective of a 20-something Iraqi woman living in the capital. (Here's a bit about her and her blog, and about the spoof blog that once tried to take her on.) Her discussion of the proposed constitution, like her writing over the last two years, is nuanced and compelling. It seems, for example, that Iraqis share with Americans the widespread attitude that one little vote doesn't really matter. Riverbend relates her neighbor's reaction when encouraged to read the text of the proposed constitution -- she used it to...

By Emily Messner | October 14, 2005; 09:25 AM ET | Comments (11)

Ann Coulter Isn't Completely Wrong

Stop the presses! (Or, um, stop the data transfer?) Ann Coulter said something sensible. No, not the part about Bush nominating Barney the Scottish terrier to the Supreme Court ... and no, it's not the bit where she says it is a "good rule of thumb" to hate people from elite universities. It's just past that. It's right around the cheap shot at John Kerry. Sane comment #1: "Bush has no right to say 'Trust me.' He was elected to represent the American people, not to be dictator for eight years." Sane comment #2: "Being a Supreme Court justice ought to be a mind-numbingly tedious job suitable only for super-nerds trained in legal reasoning like John Roberts. Being on the Supreme Court isn't like winning a 'Best Employee of the Month' award. It's a real job. "...

By Emily Messner | October 7, 2005; 02:30 PM ET | Comments (19)

Appearances Matter -- At Least for Female Nominees

Wonkette conducted a poll to determine whom Harriet Miers looks like. The winner? Strangers With Candy's Jerri Blank. Apparently the write-in favorite was Emperor Palaptine. The Palpatine resemblance is a bit unnerving, but I'd probably have to go with Florence Henderson -- it's uncanny. And O.K., the smile does have a sort of The Joker thing going on. But I'll leave it entirely to scathing fashion critic Robin Givhan to critique the eye makeup. All that said, it figures that we'd immediately judge the woman candidate on her appearance, while discussion of Roberts's looks pretty much ended with "clean cut." (Robin Givhan's assessment, focusing more on Roberts's children, is something of an exception.) Note that Wonkette isn't the only blog writing about Miers's looks .......

By Emily Messner | October 6, 2005; 03:05 PM ET | Comments (26)

Global Warming an Act of God?

Why is there such disagreement on global warming? Why does one person view the scientific facts so differently from how another person sees them? Back in May, Karen Street dug deeper into that question in her blog A Musing Environment, and came up with some interesting thoughts on why we have such varied ideas about science. Views on an issue like global warming are influenced in large part by one's personal experiences and memories, Street explained. Of course, political leanings also play a big role -- a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that "two-thirds of all Democrats said they were convinced global warming was occurring, and nearly as many Republicans disagreed." But the influence of religion is as important as political affiliation, if not moreso....

By Emily Messner | October 3, 2005; 06:05 AM ET | Comments (4)

Katrina Animal Care and Rescue

While human life remains the top concern, there were other victims of Hurricane Katrina, too, including some animals who were left to drown in shelters. As evacuations progress and resources are beginning to reach the hurricane's survivors, attention is turning to the animals left behind in the storm. Update: Unacceptable brutality. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is this article reporting that dogs were shot to death by police because they were "deemed too big or dangerous" to be evacuated with their owners. Absolutely, completely, entirely inexcusable. Here's an update on conditions in Louisiana, from the point of view of the ASPCA. And this heartbreaking Washington Post photo gallery tells the animals' side of the story....

By Emily Messner | September 9, 2005; 05:00 PM ET | Comments (20)

Bloggers Kept Lines Open During Hurricane Katrina

A recent Washington Post editorial makes this observation: "In a society hooked on access to instant and overwhelming quantities of information, it was remarkable how much was unknown about the scope of the disaster wreaked by Katrina; the storm had simply destroyed much of the information network." Yes, electricity and phone lines were knocked out throughout the region, and much was and is unknown, but there were some sources of information that remained unfiltered and undeterred by damage to conventional communications. These sources were blogs. Plenty of bloggers were following the storm from different parts of the country, but the ones that stick out in my mind were right in the middle of it. One such writer, Kaye Trammell, wrote in an op-ed in Saturday's Post about blogging through power outages while waiting out the storm in her Baton Rouge home. I admit, I had no idea that was even...

By Emily Messner | September 4, 2005; 04:00 PM ET | Comments (6)

$3 ($4?) a Gallon and Rising: Katrina Hits Energy Markets

Since Wednesday night, regular unleaded at the gas station across the street from my home has been going up an average of 10 cents a day, with faster price increases reported in many regions. By Friday evening, it was still rising, and I fully expect it to go up sharply, but I think it's safe to say that we as a nation have got far bigger problems on our hands. Nonetheless, gas prices are consistently cited as a top concern of voters. Even with Bush's decision to dip into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try to offset prices, serious problems still remain. It wasn't just oil drilling platforms that were shuttered during the hurricane; key refineries, pipelines and ports are out of commission. When they will be able to reopen, much less return tofull capacity, is anyone's guess. Do you think Bush was right to open the reserve? What do...

By Emily Messner | September 3, 2005; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (10)

Hurricane Katrina: Going Overboard

One might wonder how it would be possible to go overboard in describing the devastation that could have occured had Hurricane Katrina come ashore just a few dozen miles west of where she did. Nonetheless, CNN managed the feat. The network talked to Ivor van Heerden, identified as an expert from Louisiana State University, who actually speculated that people stranded by flooding would be eaten by fire ants. If anyone from CNN is reading this, I'd really like to know: Is this guy serious? Fire ants?? I really want to believe that at least that part was van Heerden's attempt at a joke -- albeit a morbid one -- but there is no indication in the online story that he is anything but sincere. Far be it from me to discount the danger of fire ants; they're nasty little buggers. But if my house disintegrated around me and I found...

By Emily Messner | August 31, 2005; 01:00 PM ET | Comments (36)

 

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