Musings of a Philosophical Scrivener...
Idle ramblings of an intermittently philosophical nature... Apologies to Martin Gardner, whose The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener is one of the best books you've (probably) never read.

An Idle Thought...
What a misfortune, and injustice, for the University of Tennessee College of Law that [Glenn "InstaPundit"] Reynolds should now be their best-known faculty member.
--Brian Leiter, Professor of Law and Philosophy, University of Texas, Austin

About Me (the condensed version)
A member of the tail end of the boomers; a middle aged recovering lawyer turned professional computer geek. Native of St. Louis, Missouri, transplanted to Memphis, Tennessee. Avid reader, amateur philosopher, St. Louis Cardinals fan, one of the last Renaissance men.

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Frederick W. Benteen
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And in case you're interested, here's how many other 'net denizens need a life, or at least more compelling reading:

A blog worth reading:

Bloggus Caesari (Julius Caesar's Warblog)

Two blogs worth reading that I'll plug because the blogger is another Linux geek and a fellow Cardinals fan besides:

Frankly, I'd Rather Not

Other links of interest (to me, at least), in no particular order:

The Daily Howler
Bill Maher Blog
The Progressive
The O'Franken Factor
Majority Report Radio
The Gadflyer
Daily Kos
Steve Gilliard's Blog
Whiskey Bar
Just a Bump in the Beltway
The Village Gate (formerly The Right Christians)
Juan Cole *Informed Comment*
Christopher Orlet
The Online Gadfly
The Crisis Papers
Ted Rall Online
The Smirking Chimp
Talking Points Memo
Molly Ivins
This Modern World, By Tom Tomorrow
Tom the Dancing Bug, by Reuben Bolling
Bob the Angry Flower
Conservatively Incorrect, by Rack Jite
Media Whores Online
Butterflies and Wheels
The Leiter Reports
Nathan Newman
Brief Intelligence
Half the Sins of Mankind
The Swing State Project
Glorfindel of Gondolin
Turquoise Waffle Irons in the Back Yard
Missouri Liberal
different strings
Shock and Awe
Gotham City 13
Pen-Elayne on the Web
Empty Days
Censored Story of the Day
Roger's Profanisaurus
Rhonda & Jane present: 525 Reasons to Dump Bush
The Bush Scorecard of Evil
Sherman P. Wright's Moderate Weblog
Quaker in a Basement
World Phamous
NLSO Subic Bay (Navy unit alumni blog.)
Iraq Coalition Casualty Count
Bracing against the wind
Rants Vitriol and Spleen – JRI
Apostate's Weekly
Redbird Nation
Go Cardinals
The Cardinals' Birdhouse
The Birdhouse Minor League Report
The Cardinals Fan Site
St. Louis Cardinals Ultimate Fan Site
RedBird Central
Get Up, Baby!
Royalties and Cardinalate (an all-MO baseball blog)
Pro Sports Daily: St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals news
Rob Neyer's column
The Hardball Times
The Baseball Widow
Management by Baseball
The Nashville Files (RTB member in waiting?)
Madeleine Begun Kane's Notables Weblog
The Select Group of Toys
Pesky the Rat
I, Cringely
The Gripe Line Weblog, by Ed Foster
The Register
Evil Empire
Watching Microsoft Like a Hawk
Three Years of Hell to Become the Devil
Public Defender Dude
Punishment Theory
Savage Cruel Bigots
Treason Online
Hell for Halliburton
Hollywood Lost and Found
Popdex Citations

Rocky Top Brigade:

RTB Lounge
NationStates Region

A Little More to the Right
A Moveable Beast
A Smoky Mountain Journal
Beyond the Whispers
Big Stupid Tommy
Bjorn, Again
Bully Pulpit
Busy Mom
Celtic Grove
Classless Warfare Jane
Conservative Zone
Dagley Dagley Daily
Damn Art Diary
Damn Foreigner
Democratic Veteran
Doc B
Doug McDaniel
Drawing Dead
Elephant Rants
Filthy Hippy Speak
Frank Cagle
Free Speech News
Granny Rant
Growth Spurt
Guy Montag
Hypotheses Non Fingo
In a Mays
Inn of the Last Home
Jaded Journal
Johnson City Stories
Lay Lines
Lean Left
Les Jones
Loco Parentis
Long Pauses
Mike Hollihan
Mike Reed
Mind Warp
Missives Anonymous
Mr. Lawson
My Quiet Life
Newton's Kumquat
No Quarters
One Hand Clapping
Pathetic Earthlings
Philosophical Scrivener
Queen Medb's Castle
Rebel Yell
Rex Hammock
Rich Hailey
Road Warrior
Sick of Bush
South Knox Bubba
Southern Reporter
Straight White Guy
Team Rock
The Golden Calf
Up For Anything
Voluntarily in China
Wandering Hillbilly
William Burton
InstaPundit (link removed, because I think Reynolds is an idiot, and he doesn't need the linkage. If you really want to waste your time reading his drivel, you know where to find him.)
Adam Groves (MIA)
Fat Ass Politics (MIA)
Oz's Lion (MIA)
Rapmaster (MIA)
Rush Limbaughtomy (MIA)
Secret City Scene (MIA)
Twelfth Parsec (MIA)
Uncommon Sense (KIA)
Underground Man (MIA)
Xyon's Rambles (MIA)

Memphis Blogs not in the Rocky Top Brigade

Signifying Nothing
m e m p h i s . c o o l (Jon W. Sparks's personal blog)
Sparks on Memphis (Jon W. Sparks's CA blog)
Peggy Phillip
Tread lightly on the things of earth
Rachel and the City
Well, I think I'm funny
Voice of Golden Eagle
when you're 21, you're no fun

The League of Liberals:

Democratic Veteran
The Spy Game
Cosmic Iguana
People's Republic of Seabrook
Philosophical Scrivener
The Mahablog
WTF is it NOW?
blunted on reality
Happy Furry Puppy Story Time
All Facts and Opinions
Dubya's Daily Diary
ARMACT Action Alerts
Cup O' Joe
Grateful Dread on the Web
The Poison Kitchen
Indigo Ocean
The Felonious Elephant
Sick of Bush
Arms and the Man
Rick's Cafe Americain
A-Changin' Times(ACT)
Estimated Prophet
Gotham City 13
Officially Unofficial
The Gunther Concept
The Mudshark
Screaming Points
Ink from the Squid
Left Is Right
Byte Back
The Huck Upchuck
The Sesquipedalian
DeanLand - Dean Landsman's Weblog
Turquoise Waffle Irons in the Back Yard
Wilson's Blogmanac
Ayn Clouter
Anarchy Xero

The Liberal Coalition

01/01/2003 - 01/31/2003
02/01/2003 - 02/28/2003
03/01/2003 - 03/31/2003
04/01/2003 - 04/30/2003
05/01/2003 - 05/31/2003
06/01/2003 - 06/30/2003
07/01/2003 - 07/31/2003
08/01/2003 - 08/31/2003
09/01/2003 - 09/30/2003
10/01/2003 - 10/31/2003
11/01/2003 - 11/30/2003
12/01/2003 - 12/31/2003
01/01/2004 - 01/31/2004
02/01/2004 - 02/29/2004
03/01/2004 - 03/31/2004
04/01/2004 - 04/30/2004

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Sunday, November 30, 2003

Light blogging ahead...
for the next few days, as the demands of Real Life™ catch up to me. I'll probably get the "Thought of the Day" posted in the mornings, and a few posts in the evenings, but the end of the semester at UT means that I have some pressing tasks that need doing.

In the meantime, check some of the fine blogs in the blogroll. Or even some of the not-so-fine ones; I'd hate to be losing readers to better writers than me.


Stageleft tells us about...
a Latvian student who took a tour of the Middle East, but wound up being beaten by U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Said student's conclusion:

If America really wants to fight terrorism, it should launch first two missiles at the White House in Washington.

pharyngula is incensed...
Why is it that looting is considered a war crime, but back home the Repugnicans can loot states that voted Democratic?

BYTE BACK lists...
The Top Ten Issues of the Day.

Sick of Bush...
is also sick of hypocrisy. Of course, that means being sick of Bush too.

What better reason to give thanks...
than the successful completion of a job well done. Indigo Ocean finishes her first novel (a NaNoWriMo project). Congratulations!

A Geekgasm?
I remember the feeling. Probably overdue for it; I do need to upgrade my home box sometime. Over at The Poison Kitchen, there's a new computer.

I like N. Todd's attitude...
His version of an old cliche: When life hands you lemons, throw them back at life's head screaming, "I don't want your damn lemons!"

Damn. I don't get fan mail...
But Maru does.

Another great read
Over at the Mahablog, there's a great analysis of some important psychological considerations which may prove critical in the coming election: The Daddy Mystique and Electability:

If you peel away American susceptibility to phony "heroes" like Bush, you find lurking at a subconscious level some regressive, oppressive, even fearful memes about masculinity. And to win the 2004 election, the Democrats will have to deal with masculinity memes, like it or not.

Just consider most of the past several presidential elections in terms of a John Wayne factor. War hero Dwight Eisenhower beat out egghead Adlai Stevenson, twice. In the Kennedy-Nixon debates, the televised image of the handsome, confident, robust JFK won over sweaty, shifty-eyed Tricky Dick, although those listening to the debates on television thought Nixon did the better job. Later, Commie-fighter, tough-on-crime Nixon beat the progressive Hubert Humphrey and the pacifist George McGovern. In spite of his age, tall-in-the-saddle Ronald Reagan was the personification of testosterone itself next to opponents Jimmy Carter and Fritz Mondale. Poppy Bush beat out Michael Dukakis on manliness, particularly after the unfortunate tank video, but the rakish Bill Clinton clearly out-manned Poppy.

Not exactly good news
Over at The Spy Game, we learn that The Valerie Plame coverup appears to be working.

Alas, too true...
This from a mail list I'm on; the listowner has a habit of sending a monthly post at the end of every month listing various holidays (with a focus on the more obscure holidays) of various religions, sects, cults and nations:

Dec. 25 Christmas. Not much to say as you almost never hear anything about this obscure least not much before the 20th of October when they start banging the sales drum.

I don't pay enough attention...
to Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen. Today he has a wonderfully accurate assessment of the war in Iraq: Iraq becomes Operation Sitting Duck

A few days ago, two American soldiers in Iraq were shot, dragged from a truck and viciously beaten with concrete blocks. Their bodies were left on a dusty street in Mosul, a city once considered one of the safest for U.S. forces.

The murder and mutilation was carried out not by hardened operatives of al Qaeda, but by a gang of Iraqi teenagers, the very generation for whom we've been battling to ''liberate'' the country.

For any civilians to act so barbarously shows a depth of hatred that is chilling. As the months drag on, and the flag-draped coffins of fallen Americans keep arriving at Dover Air Force Base, the mission in Iraq makes less sense than ever.

What are we doing there? Who are we fighting? How do we get out? The only question that now seems hollow is why we ever invaded in the first place.


Whether the war was launched on false pretenses or merely faulty intelligence will be argued endlessly. The grim fact is that we're there now, and we're stuck.

In Afghanistan the mission was so clear. We were responding to a brazen attack against Americans on American soil. We knew who did it, and where they were hiding. The international community was virtually united behind us.

Iraq is another story. Saddam Hussein was a despicable tyrant, but not even the White House claims that he played a direct role in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Picked off by snipers

The hijackers themselves weren't Iraqis, nor were those who planned the crime. The man who approved it, Osama bin Laden, was known to detest Saddam.

Yet here we are mired in Iraq, our troops getting picked off by snipers, sappers and roadside rocket jockeys. Call it Operation Sitting Duck.

The hawks in the administration gripe that the media is focusing only on the bad news out of Baghdad, but where's the good news?

Dammit, Carl, hadn't you heard? The schools and hospitals are open, and Chief Wiggles is giving toys to Iraqi kids. Surely that balances out a few hundred American dead and thousands wounded and maimed.

Bringing the troops home, however, will be a long time in coming. As long as Saddam Hussein remains at large, Bush will keep a sizeable fighting force on the ground.

His insistence that occupying Iraq is central to the war on terrorism grows more preposterous by the day. Saddam has disappeared, but the much larger evil of al Qaeda has been lethally busy in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, bin Laden himself is still alive and making dire threats. He's certainly not in Iraq, and nothing that happens in Iraq will bring us closer to catching him.


Troops who were trained to wage war are now courageously trying to wage peace. In such a role they must be visible and ubiquitous in a land where they aren't universally welcome.

The results have been deadly though not unanticipated. The question for Bush is how long before the American people decide that the best exit plan is to elect a president with an exit plan.

From the AP via the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Iraq Scientists: Lied About Nuke Weapons. Not to us. To Saddam:

Iraqi scientists never revived their long-dead nuclear bomb program, and in fact lied to Saddam Hussein about how much progress they were making before U.S.-led attacks shut the operation down for good in 1991, Iraqi physicists say.

Before that first Gulf War, the chief of the weapons program resorted to "blatant exaggeration" in telling Iraq's president how much bomb material was being produced, key scientist Imad Khadduri writes in a new book.

Other leading physicists, in Baghdad interviews, said the hope for an Iraqi atomic bomb was never realistic. "It was all like building sand castles," said Abdel Mehdi Talib, Baghdad University's dean of sciences.

Yep. We really needed to take out Saddam before he exploded a nuke in New York (or gave a nuke to Al Qaeda to explode in New York).

The best comic strip in the history of the comics...
is, and will always be, Bill Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes" (the best one panel comic in the history of comics is and will always be, of course, "The Far Side"; don't ever, ever make me try to decide which of the two was the best; I don't think the question can be answered, and my brain will explode from trying. And I don't think an exploded brain is of very much use to anyone).

This article (from the Cleveland Scene website) catches us up with what Bill Watterson has (not) been doing since his retirement: Missing!

Thank you Big Stupid Tommy for the link to that one.

Today's musings....
inspired by today's (and yesterday's) installments in Spike TV's James Bond movie marathon:
  1. Who is/are the evil "genius/es" (though "moron/s" seems more applicable to me) who thought that the character of "Jaws" (the assassin with stainless steel dentures played by Richard Kiel) was a good thing (in even one movie, much less two of them)?

  2. Has the statute of limitations for crimes against humanity run, or can we still haul the bastard/s in front of an international court for that crime?

Thanks for keeping me up to date....
Thanks to Turquoise Waffle Irons in the Back Yard for giving me more insight into the lack of character of (regretfully) my U.S. senator, Dr. Bill "Cat Killer" Frist: Yet Another Example of Bill Frist's Hypocrisy.

He also reminds me that I really need to throw some money Al Franken's way, and buy his book. Soon.

Former Asscrack aides and supporters jumping ship...
on the issue of detention of "enemy combatants", including, interestingly enough, the chief architect of the Patriot Act. This from TalkLeft: Creator of Patriot Act Criticizes Enemy Combatant Detentions.

The Repugnican catechism
I blatantly steal this from Things you have to believe to be a Republican today.

  • Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you’re a conservative radio host. Then it’s an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery.

  • The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.

  • Government should relax regulation of Big Business and Big Money but crack down on individuals who use marijuana to relieve the pain of illness.

  • “Standing Tall for America” means firing your workers and moving their jobs to India.

  • A woman can’t be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multi-national corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.

  • Jesus loves you, and shares your hatred of homosexuals and Hillary Clinton.

  • The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches while slashing veterans’ benefits and combat pay.

  • Group sex and drug use are degenerate sins unless you someday run for governor of California as a Republican.

  • If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won’t have sex.

  • A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our long-time allies, then demand their cooperation and money.

  • HMOs and insurance companies have the interest of the public at heart.

  • Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy. Providing health care to all Americans is socialism.

  • Global warming and tobacco’s link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.

  • Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush’s daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him and a bad guy when Bush needed a “we can’t find Bin Laden” diversion.

  • A president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense. A president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is solid defense policy.

  • Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.

  • The public has a right to know about Hillary’s cattle trades, but George Bush’s driving record is none of our business.

  • You support states’ rights, which means Attorney General John Ashcroft can tell states what local voter initiatives they have a right to adopt.

  • What Bill Clinton did in the 1960s is of vital national interest, but what Bush did in the ’80s is irrelevant.

  • Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.

And the hits just keep on coming...
from Nathan Newman, who's now recently posted the third installment in what has come to be a series on whether the apparent economic upturn is sustainable: Is Growth Real III?

I find this installment especially fascinating, since it refers us to two New York Times op-ed pieces which again reflect the age old wisdom: figures don't lie, but liars use figures. The first piece Newman refers us to is by Morgan Stanley chief economist Stephen S. Roach: The Productivity Paradox (given his job, you can just tell that Roach is another one of those kneejerk, Bush hating liberals, right?). According to Roach, we have very good reasons for being skeptical of the assertions that the economy is on the royal road to recovery:

Despite the economy's stunning 8.2 percent surge in the third quarter, the staying power of this economic recovery remains a matter of debate. But there is one aspect of the economy on which agreement is nearly unanimous: America's miraculous productivity. In the third quarter, productivity grew by 8.1 percent in the nonfarm business sector — a figure likely to be revised upwards — and it has grown at an average rate of 5.4 percent in the last two years.

This surge is not simply a byproduct of the business cycle, even accounting for the usual uptick in productivity after a recession. In the first two years of the six most recent recoveries, productivity gains averaged only 3.5 percent. The favored explanation is that improved productivity is yet another benefit of the so-called New Economy. American business has reinvented itself. Manufacturing and services companies have figured out how to get more from less. By using information technologies, they can squeeze ever increasing value out of the average worker.

It's a great story, and if correct, it could lead to a new and lasting prosperity in the United States. But it may be wide of the mark.

Why is it wide of the mark? Like pretty much most of economic analysis, there's a lot more art than science involved in the question of productivity analysis:

Productivity is calculated as the ratio of output per unit of work time. How do we measure value added in the amorphous services sector?

Very poorly, is the answer. The numerator of the productivity equation, output, is hopelessly vague for services. For many years, government statisticians have used worker compensation to approximate output in many service industries, which makes little or no intuitive sense. The denominator of the productivity equation — units of work time — is even more spurious. Government data on work schedules are woefully out of touch with reality — especially in America's largest occupational group, the professional and managerial segments, which together account for 35 percent of the total work force.

For example, in financial services, the Labor Department tells us that the average workweek has been unchanged, at 35.5 hours, since 1988. That's patently absurd. Courtesy of a profusion of portable information appliances (laptops, cell phones, personal digital assistants, etc.), along with near ubiquitous connectivity (hard-wired and now increasingly wireless), most information workers can toil around the clock. The official data don't come close to capturing this cultural shift.

This is something that I've been noticing in my own personal experience since I joined the IT industry full time back in 1996. As my co-workers began to get the shiny new tech toys like Palm Pilots, laptop computers and cell phones, I noticed that these admittedly fun new gizmos came at a cost--the more "connected" once seemed to get, the more the company seemed to lay claim to more of one's waking hours, and the more one seemed to sacrifice one's leisure time to the whims of the company.

The ironic thing about this is that, if anything, productivity may actually be decreasing:

Productivity is not about working longer. It's about getting more value from each unit of work time. The official productivity numbers are, in effect, mistaking work time for leisure time.

This is not a sustainable outcome — for the American worker or the American economy. To the extent productivity miracles are driven more by perspiration than by inspiration, there are limits to gains in efficiency based on sheer physical effort.

But the bad news doesn't stop there, alas. The other factor fueling corporate productivity in the recent "recovery" is cost cutting. And probably one of the most important cost cutting strategies that most American companies have been using is the strategy of offshoring--moving high paying American jobs overseas, where labor costs are cheaper. But this, as a long term strategy, makes as much sense as trying to lose weight by hiring a surgeon to simply cut the muscle and fat mass off your body:

When better earnings stem from cost cutting (and the jobless recovery that engenders), there are limits to future improvements in productivity. Strategies that rely primarily on cost cutting will lead eventually to "hollow" companies — businesses that have been stripped bare of once valuable labor. That's hardly the way to sustained prosperity.

Many economists say that strong productivity growth goes hand in hand with a jobless recovery. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the 1960's, both productivity and employment surged at an annual rate of close to 3 percent. In the latter half of the 1990's, accelerating productivity also coincided with rapid job creation.

In fact, there is no precedent for sustained productivity enhancement through downsizing. That would result in an increasingly barren economy that will ultimately lose market share in an ever-expanding world.


Productivity growth is sustainable when driven by creativity, risk-taking, innovation and, yes, new technology. It is fleeting when it is driven simply by downsizing and longer hours. With cost cutting still the credo and workers starting to reach physical limits, America's so-called productivity renaissance may be over before Americans even have a chance to enjoy it.

In the latter half of his essay, Roach focuses on the issue of employment as a critical factor in sustainable economic growth. The second op-ed that Newman points us to is The Unemployment Myth by Austan Goolsbee, professor of economics at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (obviously, he's another foolish liberal moonbat and Bush hater). This one focuses on employment statistics, and guess what, people: the bAdministration is misleading us again! The employment statistics are most likely being cooked to minimize what is probably a very serious problem in the U.S. labor sector:

The government's announcement on Tuesday that the economy grew even faster than expected makes the current "jobless recovery" even more puzzling. To give some perspective, unemployment normally falls significantly in such economic boom times. The last time growth was this good, in 1983, unemployment fell 2.5 percentage points and another full percentage point the next year. That's what happens in a typical recovery. So why not this time? Because we have more to recover from than we've been told.

The reality is that we didn't have a mild recession. Jobs-wise, we had a deep one.

The government reported that annual unemployment during this recession peaked at only around 6 percent, compared with more than 7 percent in 1992 and more than 9 percent in 1982. But the unemployment rate has been low only because government programs, especially Social Security disability, have effectively been buying people off the unemployment rolls and reclassifying them as "not in the labor force."

In other words, the government has cooked the books. It has been a more subtle manipulation than the one during the Reagan administration, when people serving in the military were reclassified from "not in the labor force" to "employed" in order to reduce the unemployment rate. Nonetheless, the impact has been the same.

George Carlin once made a very perceptive comment: "The word bipartisan usually means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out." It turns out that the underreporting of unemployment in the U.S. economy is a bipartisan effort; both the Democrats and the Republicans have benefited from it, and a larger-than-usual deception has been carried out:

Unfortunately, underreporting unemployment has served the interests of both political parties. Democrats were able to claim unemployment fell in the 1990's to the lowest level in 40 years, happy to ignore the invisible unemployed. Republicans have eagerly embraced the view that the recession of 2001 was the mildest on record.

The solution to the problem: the truth. The truth may hurt, but the truth can also make one free. But in order to get to the truth, we need take the time, effort and money to uncook the books that have been cooked for so long:

The situation has grown so dire, though, that we can't even tell whether the job market is recovering. The time has come to correct the official unemployment statistics to account for those left out. The government agencies that can give us a more detailed and accurate picture of the nation's employment situation — the Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis — need additional funds and resources from Congress to do their jobs.

Otherwise, announcements about a rebounding economy will continue to show only half the picture.

Excellent analyses. Go read both, and ponder them well...

Thought for the Day:
Commander Lock: "Not everyone believes what you believe."
Morpheus: "My beliefs do not require that they do."

Characters are always talking like this in "The Matrix Reloaded," which plays like a collaboration involving a geek, a comic book and the smartest kid in Philosophy 101. Morpheus in particular unreels extended speeches that remind me of Laurence Olivier's remarks when he won his honorary Oscar--the speech that had Jon Voight going "God!" on TV, but in print turned out to be quasi-Shakespearean doublespeak. The speeches provide not meaning, but the effect of meaning: It sure sounds like those guys are saying some profound things.
--Roger Ebert

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Blogging about recent developments in military justice
have me remembering my own career as a military lawyer. I was wanting to post about this experience, and I remembered that during my tenure on the Cult of Father Darwin mailing list (back in 1998) I had sent a post about it to that list. I see no reason completely to do something I'd done rather well the first time around, so I dug back into the archives of the list, and found my original post. This is pretty much the post, verbatim, with some editing.

It's really easy to hold an opinion about the justice system in the abstract. It's quite another thing to keep that opinion when the system comes after you, personally. I was privileged to observe this in action. I spent four years as a Navy Judge Advocate (ObNonMilitary: military lawyer), most of that as a defense counsel in courts martial. When I was in the Navy (and it may still be this way today), defense counsel negotiated plea agreements with the commanding officer who convened the court. I spent a tour of duty overseas, at a shore station Somewhere in Asia which I won't further identify. The Commanding Officer of this station was a Captain (equivalent to Colonel for those of you more familiar with Army/Air Force ranks) who was such a bastard that he was known among the local defense counsels as "Jabba the Hutt" (the name stuck because of a definite physical resemblance between the two). Whenever we had to negotiate plea agreements with Capt. Jabba, it was his perogative to assail us for at least 15 minutes with a standard oration about how the rights of the accused were nothing but technicalities, that if he were king of the world he'd revoke all of the rights of the accused at a court martial, and leave the accused with only one right, namely, the right to be informed how big a dildo would be rammed up his ass at the end of the proceedings.

Anyway, Capt. Jabba was the Naval Service's answer to Leona Helmsley, one of those senior officers who believed that rules and regulations applied only to underlings. It turned out that he had broken certain regulations governing the importation of privately owned automobiles into foreign duty stations, and he had the distinct pleasure one afternoon of hosting a party of Naval Investigative Service (NIS) agents whose first words to him were to inform him that he was suspected of violating a number of articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, that he had the right to remain silent, and that he had the right to representation by detailed military counsel before and during any questioning.

Capt. Jabba was evil. He was not stupid, however, and he realized that having a lawyer at this time would be a Very Good Thing. The rumor mill on a military base is an amazingly efficient machine, and it so happened that approximately 15 minutes before the official request was made of our office, the defense counsels present in the office knew that Capt. Jabba was under investigation, and that he would be requesting military counsel. In a pissing match between NIS and Capt. Jabba, all of us would be rooting for the NIS, which is why all the defense counsels determined to make themselves scarce for the remainder of the afternoon. All except, unfortunately, me, who happened to be having some routine maintenance work done at the base dental clinic when the shit started hitting the fan. Which explains why, when I arrived at my office from the dental clinic, I was greeted by my own Commanding Officer (never a harbinger of good tidings) and told that if I wanted any hope of promotion anytime in the next century I'd better get my ass over to Capt. Jabba's office 5 minutes ago. In other words I had been tagged and was It. I had been detailed Capt. Jabba's military counsel.

My subsequent visit to Capt. Jabba was the most bizzare 15 minutes of my life, as this man--who had never said one positive word about the Bill of Rights, the rule of law, or of the rights of the accused in his life--proceeded to harangue me about how the rights of the accused in a criminal proceeding were the most important safeguard of the liberties of the individual against the encroachment of State Power. In effect, I had been charged by The Old Bastard to invoke on his behalf every right, privilege and technicality that he'd damned me for invoking on the behalf of sailors under his command.

FWIW, there wasn't a Darwinian end to this episode. The Navy is really a class conscious organization, and very few senior officers want to see another senior officer sent to cohabit with Bubba, or those of Bubba's cousins who were doing military service when he got caught. Capt. Jabba got convicted, dismissed from the service, and merely forfeited pay and
retirement benefits.

This kills me... this absolutely kills me....
Steve Gilliard cites an interesting NY Times article on the planning (or more accurately, the lack thereof) which the bAdministration engaged in for the postwar occupation of Iraq. In the article (read the whole thing) the authors state:

Besides, the plan for after the Iraqi government fell assumed that Iraqi troops and police officers would stay on the job — an assumption that proved wrong. "The political leadership bought its own spin," said one senior Defense Department official involved in the planning, in part because it "made selling the war easier."

Now wait a fucking minute here. I distinctly recall that it was the United States occupation authority that disbanded the Iraqi army. I don't have such a distinct recollection, but I'm reasonably sure that the U.S. authorities probably disbanded most Iraqi police forces too. If the postwar planners were counting on having native troops and police forces to help keep order, how in the name of The Great Googly Moogly did the occupation authorities justify cashiering the Iraqi Army and local police forces?

If we didn't disband the police, please correct me on that. There's plenty of precedent for me being wrong, just ask my ex-wives.

Interesting analysis, part 2
I'd earlier mentioned Nathan Newman's analysis of whether adjustments to the the GDP figures overstated the evidence of growth in the economy. Newman revisits the subject in another post this weekend: Is Growth Real II?. Basically, it appears that inflation may be being underestimated (thus resulting in an overestimation of economic growth) by the way the CPI measures housing costs. Check it out; interesting read.

A comment by Steve Gilliard...
on the story from Iraq that an attack on Spanish intelligence agents killed 6, with Iraqis kicking the corpses while they lay in the street after the attack:

Kicking the bodies.

You know, I'm coming to the conclusion that the Iraqis tell us one thing, and say something completely different between each other. And it isn't pro-Coalition.

I don't like the looks of this.

And some folks think we're the pinnacle of evolution...
Looking over this story--Experts say big city bears in peril--my eye was naturally attracted to the very end of the story:

Already this year, Bryant has recorded 17 bear deaths on the California side of the lake, compared to 15 last year, many involving vehicles.

Then there are the people: One older woman set out a batch of syrup-slathered pancakes for the bears, and some parents smeared peanut butter on their children's faces so they could photograph cubs licking it.

"The problem is not the bears," Bryant said. "The problem is the people."
[my emphasis--LRC]

Can we say "Darwin award nominee"?

Interesting turnaround...
for Matthew Yglesias, who has realized now that his support for the war in Iraq was mistaken, not because getting rid of Saddam was such a bad idea (I agree it isn't), but because it isn't right to do the right thing by following a deeply flawed plan for the wrong reasons--and because the Bushites and "the war party" in the bAdministration were "dishonest, immoral, and detached from reality".

The cause of Yglesias's conversion is this article in The New Yorker about War after the war: What Washington doesn't see in Iraq. Well worth reading.

Thought for the Day:
While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively simple. Santa lives with his wife in a remote polar village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you're bad, he leaves you coal. If you're good and live in America, he'll give you just about anything you want. We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, "Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before you go to bed. The former bishop from Turkey will be coming along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you in a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don't know for sure, but we want you to be prepared." This is the reward for living in Holland. As a child you get to hear this story, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution--so what's not to love about being Dutch?
--David Sedaris

Friday, November 28, 2003

According to a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a number of German and Irish musical groups thought they were playing at a cultural festival, only to find out that Eurofest 2003 was really a recruiting drive for a white supermacist organization:

When German and Irish musical groups gathered for a folk festival in south St. Louis earlier this month, they were hoping for a night of food and fun. Instead, the unsuspecting musicians found themselves performing at a recruitment rally sponsored by a white supremacist organization that the FBI says presents "a continuing terrorist threat."

Now, the performers are angry because they had been duped into thinking that Eurofest 2003 was simply an ethnic celebration.

"We obviously had no idea what this event was before we played, or we wouldn't have performed there," said Matt Pantaleoni, leader of the Invera'an Pipe Band, a local bagpipes group.

Pantaleoni said that, after the band played, he noticed a few men in the crowd with "White Power" and two lightning bolts - the symbol of the German Nazi Waffen SS - tattooed on their bodies.

The men were members of the National Alliance, a group that the local Anti-Defamation League office calls "the BMW of neo-Nazi groups." They were among an audience of about 250 on Nov. 8 at the meeting hall of the German Cultural Society, near Jefferson Avenue and South Broadway.

Eurofest 2003 was supposed to be about celebrating traditional music, dancing and food. Or, that's what the leaders of several local ethnic heritage groups thought. Instead, the event was intended to attract new members to the National Alliance, which held another Eurofest last year in St. Louis.

A SecurityFocus columnist muses: So when will Linux vendors charge for security fixes?

You figure it has to sell well in Memphis
On the TV they're advertising the new Elvis CD: "Elvis--2nd to None", featuring a new remix of "Rubberneckin'". I didn't pay attention to the last Elvis CD to be released ("Elvis: 30 #1 Hits"), but as I recall it included another remix of one of Elvis's chart toppers. More money into Lisa Marie's pockets (and I suppose there are worse places that it can go). I find it amazing that Elvis has now had a longer, and arguably more successful, career as a corpse than he had alive.

Though as my boss (a native Chicagoan, not a native Memphian) likes to put it, Memphis makes more money off some live ducks and a dead rock star than any other city on Earth.

Thought for the Day:
And the Europeans accept chaos and know how to live with it. I came away from France believing in the strong faith of the French people, not because of their magnificent cathedrals, but because I saw them drive around L'Arc du Triomphe. As they careened around this monument in vehicles that were little more than motorized Altoid containers, they looked like a network run by Linux servers: little packets hurtling within inches of each other, traveling together for a time, separated by other packets coming from other sources, reassembling as they sped out of the circle and onto the Champs Élysées. It's no surprise to me that much of the interest in IPv6 is coming from France--if they don't understand delay-sensitive traffic in France, they understand it nowhere.
--Frank Willison

Thursday, November 27, 2003

A damn good read:
Damage: Global Warming Catastrophe - New Evidence

Yet another reason I could never be a Repugnican:
Daily Kos refers us to a Bob Novak column which demonstrates what evil, despicable, Machiavellian, worthless excuses for human beings that the GOP leadership is:

During 14 years in the Michigan Legislature and 11 years in Congress, Rep. Nick Smith had never experienced anything like it. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, in the wee hours last Saturday morning, pressed him to vote for the Medicare bill. But Smith refused. Then things got personal. Smith, self term-limited, is leaving Congress. His lawyer son Brad is one of five Republicans seeking to replace him from a GOP district in Michigan's southern tier. On the House floor, Nick Smith was told business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote. When he still declined, fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, Duke Cunningham of California and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat.

If Smith voted the way his constituency wanted, he should advise his son to leave the GOP and run as an independent, and then campaign hard on this blatant influence peddling by the GOP leadership. If these Michiganders are independent thnkers rather than GOP sheeple, maybe they can parlay that into a victory.

Kudos to Nick Smith for putting principle above mere self-interest (and family interest).

More on the cowardice of George aWol Bush...
This via Joe Conason's Journal (premium content; you have to view a short ad to see it). Basically, Dumbya loves free speech as long as he doesn't have to hear any of it. Let Joe tell the story:

"Freedom is beautiful," as the president quips when asked about protesters and other critics, but freedom isn't always convenient. That stricture applies with particular emphasis to whatever exercise of freedom might embarrass him and his administration, as reporters learned when he visited Fort Carson.

According to Rocky Mountain News columnist Mike Littwin, everyone covering the presidential "photo op/pep rally" at the Colorado Army base got the "rules" in advance:

"No talking to the troops before the rally.

"No talking to the troops during the rally.

"No talking to the troops after the rally.

"In other words, if I've done the math right, that means no conversation at all -- at least, while on base -- with any soldiers. After all, who knows where that kind of thing could lead?"

As Littwin mischievously suggests, "It could lead to a discussion about why the president has time to get to so many fund-raisers and no time to attend a single funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq."

Several interesting items from TalkLeft:
Whatever other criticisms of Der Governator you might have (and I've seen plenty that look quite justified), you have to give him credit on his parole policy. Apparently Arnie just paroled another prisoner, which puts him well ahead of Grey Davis in that regard.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi general dies during U.S. interrogation (so I wonder if anyone will get court martialed over that), and the U.S. takes hostages, in violation of the Geneva conventions and the law of war. Of course, the bAdministration is already guilty of crimes against humanity for which we executed Nazi German and Japanese leaders right after World War II; what is a little hostage taking compared to that?

And if you're interested in the Thanksgiving Day menu at Guantanamo (for both prisoners and U.S. servicepersons), TalkLeft serves up that info as well.

From League o'Libs member member pharyngula:
Thanksgiving synchronicity; or, the Fine-Tuning Argument revisited. Apparently, the running length of the extended version of "LOTR: The Two Towers" is exactly the roasting time of a 12 pound turkey.

Spike TV is doing a James Bond movie marathon today...
which they call "He spies... She spies..." An airing of "The World Is Not Enough" started it yesterday, and that was pretty cool (I didn't see it in its initial release; the woman I was dating at the time wasn't into Bond flicks, and I decided that I'd rather spend time with her than go to see it alone), but the marathon is hosted by three women calling themselves "the She Spies". Their appearances are getting seriously annoying, as I don't know what connection these women have to the Bond films. Are they actually "Bond girls", or are they just three "Charlie's Angels" wannabes who have been enlisted into playing faux Bond girls for this purpose?

Damn, I really need a life, don't I?

UPDATE: They just explained the "She Spies" though an ad. Apparently "She Spies" is a syndicated series, a "Charlie's Angels" knockoff of sorts, three sexy ex-cons who are enlisted by the Federal government. If you're interested (I'm not, frankly, since TV won't let the sex get explicit enough to really interest me, and from what I'm getting from the "She Spies" spots during the Bond marathon it appears that sex scenes are probably their acting specialty), you can check out the website.

I suppose credit must be given where due...
given the way he ran to Nebraska like a whipped puppy on 9/11/01, and the incredible security arrangements surrounding the trip to London, I'd have never, ever dreamed that George aWol Bush had enough guts to make a suprise visit to Iraq to serve Thanksgiving dinner to some select troops and officials of the CPA.

Of course, things are going so well in Baghdad that Bush only spent 2 hours and 32 minutes there. I've had airline layovers that were longer than that.

UPDATE: Steve Gilliard's take (scroll to 11/27 entry titled: "Bush surprises troops in Baghdad"):

So we're all supposed to be impressed he snuck into Baghdad at the dead of night, took a few feel good pictures, and then went home two hours later?

Hey, it's a nice thing to do, and of course, it trumps Hillary's trip to our forgotten war in Afghanistan. But I would be more impressed if he had gone to Walter Reed's Ward 57 instead. I think they need a presidential visit more than the rear area troops eating dinner in one of Saddam's palaces.

Karl Rove: weakened, but still dangerous.

UPDATE 2: Daily Kos points to some appropriate comments by dKos alum Steve Soto:

But while the media slavishly covers this for maximum White House benefit, they conveniently forget that Clinton visited another war zone on Thanksgiving only four years ago, and he was able to travel into a war zone only five months after the US-arranged coalition secured the liberation of Kosovo. My how quickly they forget. The big difference was that Clinton was warmly received by a large contingent of troops in Kosovo, but more importantly was also warmly received by the natives prior to the event, who thanked him for their liberation.

Bush was unable to visit with the locals today, for obvious security reasons, and instead had to settle for a staged event in front of 600 troops that gave (from the look of the NBC video) a relatively subdued response.

Unprecedented and extraordinary indeed.

I don't know who I think less of...
The Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, for being stupid enough to share computer systems with, and to store sensitive files on a computer system shared with, Repugnican members of the Committee, or the Repugnicans on the committee for apparently being willing to steal the sensitive documents and make use of them. The Hill has been running with the story, and it notes that there is "a renowned counter-espionage and anti-terrorism expert... join[ing] the investigation of the alleged theft of internal Democratic documents from a committee computer system"

If the Repugnicans are the theives that I suspect they are (anyone remember Nixon and "Watergate"?), they may be sweating bullets now.

UPDATE: Nathan Newman had a good comment on this case:

But having voted for the Patriot Act's open-ended political investigations of political activists, the Senate GOP leaders seem to have suddenly discovered the virtue of limited government investigatory power.

That hearkens back to the old legal wisdom: in issues of criminal procedure, a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, while a liberal is a conservative who's been indicted.

I actually got to see an example of that during my career as a Navy JAG. I'll have to blog about that experience soon. It'll make a good independent post, not to mention it'll make a good entry into the next Volunteer Tailgate Party. While you're here anyway, follow that link and check out some of the blogging of the Rocky Top Brigade. Special kudos to buddy don, the host, who's encapsulated the Tailgate Party into a brilliant piece of doggerel, or, as he puts it, "bloggerel". Well worth the visit to buddy don's blog to read that, even if you don't sample the offerings of the Rocky Top Brigade.

Interesting analysis...
by Nathan Newman: Is Growth Real?

Walking my dog today, I noticed (passing a Commercial-Appeal vending box) a headline that apparently GDP figures are up. While that is probably good news, Newman notes that it is in part unsurprising, given increased government debt, tax cuts and increased personal debt in the form of increased home equity borrowing. What's troubling about the increase in GDP is that it doesn't seem to be matched by an increase in employment. That raises two questions. The first, of course, is whether the GDP growth is sustainable; after all, if fewer people have jobs and therefore cannot afford to buy goods and services, sooner or later fewer goods and services are going to be produced. But Newman also suggests that the government might be playing games with the GDP figures through the applications of "adjustments" to spending to reflect the quality of goods and services being bought (often referred to as "hedonic pricing).

In some sectors, for example computer technology, it's apparent that $1000 spent on a computer today buys you much more computing power than $1000 spent in, say, 1993. What the government does when calculating GDP in this case is to adjust spending on computer equipment upwards by a factor, to reflect the fact that each dollar being spent is actually purchasing more computing power (and presumably, more productivity) than in earlier years. While this is legitimate for certain economic analysis purposes, it presents a problem in interpretation of the data, particularly for economically unsophisticated folks (like myself) who are not aware of this adjustment for hedonic pricing. Quoth Newman:

Read the text carefully-- despite the whole late 90s tech boom, business is not spending any more on tech equipment than in the mid-90s. The government just counts what's being bought as more valuable because of getting more power and quality for the same price. That's good news for quality of life, but it goes against the intuition that growth in GDP measures "more stuff" being made.

Newman cites a San Francisco Chronicle article which makes the point very well:

All well and good. The problem arises when naive analysts try to draw conclusions about tech sector business conditions from the gross domestic product data.

"The gross domestic product data can significantly overstate what's happening with sales of tech equipment," said John Lonski, chief economist with the research firm Moody's Investors Service.

For example, last year's 18.3 percent rise in business spending on tech equipment looks pretty good until you realize that the growth was largely a product of statistical adjustments for quality improvements. Luckily, the Commerce Department also keeps track of actual dollars invested. Those data show that spending on computers and related gear was unchanged, staying at $74. 2 billion in both 2001 and 2002.

To confuse matters, the Commerce Department calls the adjusted numbers real and the actual dollars spent nominal.

That difference between the so-called real and nominal numbers clears up a mystery of the past few years. Even as the government was saying that real tech spending was rising, manufacturers were moaning about falling sales.

The thing is, the "real" numbers are sometimes less real than the "nominal" numbers:

Savvy researchers wouldn't dream of using the adjusted spending numbers to analyze company results. "You don't pay yourself in real GDP, and you can't take real GDP to lunch," Lonski said.

Moreover, tech companies themselves don't put much stock in the gross domestic product numbers.

"To my knowledge, performance improvements in processing power have never figured in Hewlett-Packard's analysis of market strength," said spokesman Brian Humphries. "We focus on units shipped in a given period."

Still, misleading interpretations of the data are sometimes fed to the public by uninformed commentators. Wall Street analysts and economics writers often cite adjusted data on technology spending, thereby exaggerating the sector's gains.

I'm thinking that a closer eye needs to be kept on job growth, if there is any such thing recently....

Political correctness gone too far...
Where is it written that people have an inalienable right not to be offended? Especially when the offense arises from their own hypersensitivity?

In technology, you often have a situation where one or more devices are under the control of another device. By longstanding convention, the controlling device is referred to as the "master", and the controlled device(s) is/re refered to as the "slave". In Los Angeles, we discover, that naming convention is considered offensive:

Los Angeles officials have asked that manufacturers, suppliers and contractors stop using the terms "master" and "slave" on computer equipment, saying such terms are unacceptable and offensive.

The request -- which has some suppliers furious and others busy re-labeling components -- came after an unidentified worker spotted a videotape machine carrying devices labeled "master" and "slave" and filed a discrimination complaint with the county's Office of Affirmative Action Compliance.

In the computer industry, "master" and "slave" are used to refer to primary and secondary hard disk drives. The terms are also used in other industries.

"Based on the cultural diversity and sensitivity of Los Angeles County, this is not an acceptable identification label," Joe Sandoval, division manager of purchasing and contract services, said in a memo sent to County vendors.

"We would request that each manufacturer, supplier and contractor review, identify and remove/change any identification or labeling of equipment components that could be interpreted as discriminatory or offensive in nature," Sandoval said in the memo, which was distributed last week and made available to Reuters.

Early reports that I read suggested that this was a binding directive, but it appears that the heat got too bad, and Mr. Sandoval decided to get out of the kitchen:

Faced with an avalanche of complaints from vendors and the general public, Sandoval told Reuters in an interview that his memo was intended as "nothing more than a request" and not an ultimatum or policy change.

"I do understand that this term has been an industry standard for years and years and this is nothing more than a plea to vendors to see what they can do," he said. "It appears that some folks have taken this a little too literally."

Sandoval said that he had already rejected a suggestion that the county stop buying all equipment carrying the "master" and "slave" labels and had no intention of enforcing a ban on such terms with suppliers.

I'm wondering how such a ban can be enforced. Perhaps I just lack imagination, but "master" and "slave" is so descriptive and appropriate to the "relationship" between such devices that I can't think of another pair of terms which would be adequate. But even so, is there ever going to be some reasonable limitation on this silliness? Given enough ingenuity on the part of someone looking to be offended, almost anything can be offensive. Doesn't seem to me to be a good enough reason to cripple the language.

UPDATE: Anthony Rickey at Three Years of Hell takes up the story (which he got from The Volokh Conspiracy, which I never read); apparently the folks in LA aren't just "suggesting" to vendors that they stop using the terms "master/slave"; apparently they're also spending the time and money to tape over the "offensive" terms" wherever they appear on County equipment.

Jebus! First the recall election, now this? Must be something in the water there in California...

Thought for the Day:
My tribe is better than your tribe! It’s the oldest, dumbest pre-human instinct, hard-wired into our weak little brains by millions of years of natural selection. And to this day, dumb-asses believe what Prager said—they believe that “thinking people” agree with their views, and that people who disagree with their views are automatically irrational or devious. It’s tribalism at its dumbest—and it rules the world of the talk-show right, where the Limbaughs serve their credulous listeners frightening tales about “The Liberals.” Is my tribe good, and your tribe evil? Intelligent people know better.
--Bob Somerby

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

They started trying to hit him up for espionage...
And now, it looks like all the Army can gin up against Chaplain Yee is charges of adultery and storing porn on a computer. Gene Fidell's involved in this one directly (he's Yee's civilian lawyer), and he's making statements similar to the statements he made in connection with the Pogany case:

Captain Yee's civilian lawyer, Eugene R. Fidell of Washington, said the fact that the new charges seemed to have nothing to do with national security demonstrated that military authorities had made a major error when they held up Captain Yee as a potential spy at Guantánamo, where he ministered to the mostly Islamic prisoner population.

Mr. Fidell said the initial set of charges of failing to obey a lawful order by taking classified information home without proper covers was not a serious infraction. The new charges, he said, showed that the military was persecuting Captain Yee to cover up its mistake.

"They have destroyed this man's reputation for what turns out to be no good reason," Mr. Fidell said, "and now it appears they are pursuing matters in a completely vindictive manner."

Damn, I feel so much more secure knowing the Army is protecting us against adulterous chaplains who collect computer porn.

A judicial opinion worth listening to...
after all, the British invented the Anglo-American common law. From The Guardian: Law lord castigates US justice: Guantanamo Bay detainees facing trial by 'kangaroo court'

A senior law lord last night delivered a scathing attack on the US government's and the American courts' treatment of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, branding it "a monstrous failure of justice".

Lord Steyn, one of the most senior judges in Britain's highest court, described the military tribunal for trying the detainees as a "kangaroo court".

The term, he said, implied "a pre-ordained arbitrary rush to judgment by an irregular tribunal which makes a mockery of justice". He asked whether the British government should not "make plain, publicly and unambiguously, our condemnation of the utter lawlessness" at Guantanamo Bay.


The Red Cross had described the camp at Guantanamo Bay as principally a centre of interrogation rather than detention. Officials had been reported as saying that the techniques of interrogation were "not quite torture, but as close as you can get".

"The purpose of holding the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay was and is to put them beyond the rule of law, beyond the protection of any courts, and at the mercy of the victors," Lord Steyn said.

"The procedural rules do not prohibit the use of force to coerce prisoners to confess," he went on. "On the contrary, the rules expressly provide that statements made by a prisoner under physical and mental duress are admissible 'if the evidence would have value to a reasonable person', ie military officers trying enemy soldiers."

Lord Steyn said the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay had no access to the writ of habeas corpus to determine whether their detention was even arguably justified. The military would act as interrogators, prosecutors, defence counsel, judges and executioners. Trials would be held in secret, with none of the basic guarantees for a fair trial.

For those of you playing the home game, a Law Lord in Britain is the functional equivalent of a Supreme Court justice here.

Orrin Hatch: bought, paid for, and completely owned by the pigopolists...
I almost wish I lived in Utah so I could have the pleasure of voting against the bastard. This from La Reg: MPAA, RIAA seek permanent antitrust exemption

Just weeks after an antitrust suit was filed against the RIAA by webcasters, the music labels' lobby group, is, along with Hollywood, seeking a permanent exemption from similar litigation. The proposal seeks to extend the exemption to anything covering mechanical copyright: a sweeping extension of the copyright cartel's immunity.

It's buried away in a piece of legislation co-sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch called the EnFORCE Act, or the Enhancing Federal Obscenity Reporting and Copyright Enforcement Act of 2003. With 12-year old girls being threatened with $150,000 fines, and the computer industry embracing social engineering technologies such as locked music, you would think the last thing that the nation's cultural heritage needs is stricter enforcement by the copyright cartel.

Hatch said the big studios and major record labels need the exemption because of "market realities...The bill authorizes appropriations to ensure that all Department of Justice units that investigate intellectual property crimes have the support of at least one agent specifically trained in the investigation of such crimes," he said last week.

We need another anti-trust exemption like we need another hole in our collective heads. I have a suggestion for Congress: if you really have to dick around with anti-trust exemptions, the last thing you need to do is grant a couple more. What you need to do is get rid of the one we have: take away the exemption that was granted to Major League Baseball.

Oh Jebus! And these bastards want you to trust your vote to them...
From El Reg: Nachi worm infected Diebold ATMs.

Keep in mind, Diebold is one of the firms that builds electronic voting machines.

That's it, I think that casting votes via paper and pen is perfect. No muss, no fuss, no worms, no Windows (or Microshaft products of any kind behind them), no security holes, and the original verifiable paper trail.

William Saletan and Jacob Weisberg....
of Slate run a very interesting dissection of the recent RNC attack ads which just started running. Quoth Saletan:

The ad consists of video clips from Bush's most recent State of the Union address, backed by ominous music and interspersed with on-screen text messages known as chyrons. In the first clip, Bush points out that a chemical, biological, or nuclear attack on the United States could be catastrophic. Fair enough. In the next clip, he says, "Our war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power." I agree. We have to fight back.

It's the chyrons that do the dirty work. The second says, "Some are now attacking the President for attacking the terrorists." Bull. Not one leading Democrat in Congress or in the presidential campaign has criticized Bush for attacking terrorists. They've criticized him for not attacking terrorists. Specifically, they've faulted him for attacking Iraq and pretending that this was a blow against terrorism when the evidence indicates that Saddam Hussein gave no more support to al-Qaida—and in some cases, less support—than other regimes did. Meanwhile, Osama Bin Laden remains at large.

We can argue about the wisdom of the Iraq invasion all day. But of all the arguments for that invasion, the notion of "attacking terrorists" remains the weakest. It's true that U.S. troops are now fighting terrorists in postwar Iraq, but it's false that Democrats are against winning that fight. What irks them is the dishonest way Bush got us into that fight in the first place and how badly he has waged it.


In the next clip, Bush complains that his critics "have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?" After 9/11, this is an understandable view. Basically, Bush is saying we should err on the side of shooting first and asking questions later. But I can't think of a less appropriate time to make that argument than right now, in the wake of a war in which we shot first, then asked questions and found out that we needn't have shot.

Weisberg agrees that the spot is deceptive, and sees a glimmer of hope for the Democrats in the ad:

I thought Bush would do this. I thought he'd run ugly, dishonest ads questioning the patriotism of his Democratic opponents. That's what Republicans do in campaigns (see Saxby Chambliss vs. Max Cleland, 2002). That's what the Bushes do when they're running for President (George H.W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis, 1988). But I didn't think Bush would run red-baiting ads a year ahead of the election, before a single vote had been cast for any Democratic candidate.

That the RNC has launched this ad so prematurely may be a hopeful sign for the Democrats. It suggests that the Bush administration recognizes a deep vulnerability on Iraq and is getting panicky. When you're panicked, you can make mistakes that help the other side. That's what I think is happening here. With this spot, Bush and the RNC insult the integrity of anyone who has qualms about the war—and the intelligence of everyone else. According the ad, believing that the invasion of Iraq was not central to the war on terrorism is equivalent to "attacking the President for attacking the terrorists." Arguing that we should occupy Iraq with more support from our allies or the United Nations makes you one of those who "call for us to RETREAT putting our national security in the hands of OTHERS." The scoundrels are seeking their last refuge before the first shot has been fired by a Democratic nominee.

"Pre-emptive self-defense" has a double meaning here. It's not just a label for Bush's policy in Iraq. It's his strategy in the presidential campaign: Brand all criticisms of your policy as disloyal and maybe you won't have to answer them. What effect will this arrogant, aggressive stance have? My instinct is to think that it may do what Bush's arrogant, aggressive stance has done internationally. It will not only energize opponents of the war, but also alienate a good number of fence-sitters and potential supporters.

I hope that Weisberg is correct in thinking that this ad was launched prematurely, and that it focuses too much attention too early on how Dumbya has botched the whole Iraq question. My fear is that the Repugnicans are going to get down and dirty on the issue of "family values", specifically "defense of marriage", and tar the Democrats with a brush dipped deep in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's recent gay marriage decision. Unfortunately, national polls are showing very strong opposition to that decision across the country, and it'll be an easy tack to follow. Is the opposition to the decision strong enough to ultimately give Bush the edge? Time will tell; forgive me for being a bit pessimistic on the issue.

The old saying has it:
"Fast. Cheap. Good. Pick two." Well, according to Dan Crane of Slate,, don't even consider adding "healthy" to that list when you're talking about fast food. By his reckoning, the new "healthy" menu items at some of the nation's fast food restaurants are pretty unappealing. And to add insult to injury, some of them aren't even that healthy:

The new McDonald's salads ran the gamut in taste from nearly inedible to almost delicious. The salad line leaps dramatically in taste when one moves from the salty, arid, and bland Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad (the option lowest in fat and calories of all the chicken salads, with 210 calories and 7 grams of fat)—which is sprinkled with plastic-tasting Parmesan cheese flourished with frisée and topped with Newman's Own low-fat balsamic vinaigrette (with 40 calories and 3 grams of fat of its own)—to the surprisingly tasty Crispy California Cobb, which comes with blue cheese, bacon bits, and hard-boiled egg (as well as 380 calories and 23 grams of fat). Adding the packet of butter-and-garlic croutons that accompanies the Cobb salad (50 calories, 1.5 grams of fat) and the Newman's Own ranch dressing (290 calories, 30 grams of fat) made the numbers skyrocket to 720 calories and 54.5 grams of fat. Predictably, the Crispy Chicken California Cobb was the only salad for which I'd consider a trip back through the Golden Arches, but then I might as well have eaten what I wanted in the first place: a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a medium fries—160 more calories, but 3.5 fewer grams of fat.

I'm about ready to join the "eat as much of what you want when you want and die happy (if a bit younger)"; all this fussing about keeping myself alive longer might add years to my life, but at the rate it's going those years aren't going to be very enjoyable (especially with the Repugnicans doing all they can to make sure I have no access to medical care and no job when I get to that point, anyway). As Mark Twain said:

I quit smoking when they told me that it would add seven years to my life. Then I realized that those seven years wouldn't be worth living without tobacco, so I started smoking again.

Thought for the Day:
Lyman and Varian measured information in bytes, i.e., the amount of space the information would take up on a computer. A single typewritten page would take up 2 kilobytes (i.e., 2,000 bytes). A novella would take up 1 megabyte (i.e., 1 million bytes). The collected works of William Shakespeare would take up 5 megabytes. All the Chatterbox columns posted on Slate in 2002 occupy 9.9 megabytes. (As you can see, quantity isn't everything.)
--Timothy Noah []

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

New inductees
We welcome four new inductees into the Rocky Top Brigade this month:

Good lord...
I happen to like "sliders", as White Castle hamburgers are known (Krystals, which is what is available here, is but a poor substitute). But I never though I'd ever see this: White Castle fans give thanks for slider stuffing:

For John Wellen, Thanksgiving became pretty much the perfect holiday a few years back.

That's when he discovered he didn't have to stop eating those small square hamburgers known affectionately as "sliders" served at White Castle restaurants just because he was having turkey at his parents' house.

Because that's when he started making his special turkey stuffing. Slider stuffing.

"It's excellent," said Wellen, 28, of Forest Park, a suburb just outside Chicago. "We were amazed how much we liked it and we've been making it ever since."

Wellen is part of a small but devoted army of White Castle aficionados who love the burgers so much they make the trip the day before Thanksgiving or that morning, order a sack of sliders -- without pickles, of course -- and turn them into an integral part of their Thanksgiving celebration.

"You get a couple of extra so you can eat them," advised Wellen, who as a systems engineer knows something about problem solving.

Mom is probably turning in her grave...

Slow blogging today...
spent the morning with the dog at the vet's, where we dealt with her recent bout of the Hershey squirts, including a couple accidents in the apartment... I'm told that "bless her heart" is an appropriate Southernism for this type of occasion, but I'm refraining from using it. Mostly I directed a few choice curses at myself, since I was ignoring the obvious signs that an emergency was about to happen. C'est la vie.

Anyway, I've got some work (as in real, the-kind-of-thing-I-get-paid-to-do work) to do this afternoon. Hopefully we'll have some witty commentary or other droll observations later this afternoon or this evening. But more likely, we'll have more of the same old boring crap you've come to look for from me.


Another Vietnam parallel...
Well, I hope not. But with this crew in power, I'm not too optimistic. Billmon takes a look at the new, American built Iraqi security forces and dubs them The New ARVN:

That's short for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam -- the pathetic excuse for a military force fielded by the pathetic excuse for a government of South Vietnam. The butt of any number of nasty jokes during the Vietnam War. If you saw Full Metal Jacket, you may remember one of them:

"Wanna buy an ARVN rifle? Never been fired and only dropped once."


Maybe the New Model Iraqi Army currently being rushed into production will turn out better than this particular lot. But if the neocons are counting on Yusuf and his comrades to salvage their little imperial adventure, then they should either start making evacuation plans now, or figure out a way to keep 130,000 American troops in Iraq until hell freezes over.

Because I've got a feeling that sometime soon there are going to be a whole lot of unfired and rarely dropped rifles available for purchase in the arms bazaars of the Sunni Triangle.

Thought for the Day:
Arthur Dent: Can we trust him?
Ford Prefect: Myself, I'd trust him till the end of the Earth.
Arthur Dent: Yes, but how far is that?
Ford Prefect: About twelve minutes.
--"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"

Monday, November 24, 2003

George aWol Bush: ugly American
And apparently the Queen is pissed: Ground Farce 1: Queen's fury as Bush goons wreck garden

THE Queen is furious with President George W. Bush after his state visit caused thousands of pounds of damage to her gardens at Buckingham Palace.

Royal officials are now in touch with the Queen's insurers and Prime Minister Tony Blair to find out who will pick up the massive repair bill. Palace staff said they had never seen the Queen so angry as when she saw how her perfectly-mantained lawns had been churned up after being turned into helipads with three giant H landing markings for the Bush visit.

The rotors of the President's Marine Force One helicopter and two support Black Hawks damaged trees and shrubs that had survived since Queen Victoria's reign.

And Bush's army of clod-hopping security service men trampled more precious and exotic plants.

Unfortunately, the Queen had to learn the hard way what Tony Blair never realized: when you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

This week's tour of the League of Liberals
Blogger is hosed right now, so I have to skip all the League blogs that are hosted on Blog*spot. Not only that, but I won't be able to post this until they're back up.


However, when you read this, you'll know Blogger's back up.

I had a boss who always said...
that you were't doing your job correctly if you weren't pissing everyone off. It appears that, while leftist civil-libertarians are angry at Attorney General Asshole and the Justice Department for infringements on civil liberties such as the Patriot Act, Asscrack's Religious right allies are pissed at him for not doing more to crush the porn industry. From the L.A. Times (free registration required): U.S. anti-porn effort is found wanting.

Does this mean I have to concede that Asscrack is doing a good job? I hope not...


The last word...
on the "What would Jesus do?" fad. From a mail list I'm on:

The other day, I was in a movie theater and some guy's cel phone rang, and he actually answered it and proceeded to carry on a conversation.

I got really angry and I was about to shout abuse at him, but then I thought, "what would Jesus do?"

So I withered his limbs and cast him into a lake of brimstone and fire for all eternity. And you know what? I
did feel better...

Here's your guide to understanding the probable GOP campaign next year....
courtesy of South Knox Bubba: Voter's guide to GOP Bizarro World politics.

What if he gave a keynote, and nobody came?
From Groklaw, a note on Darl McBride's keynote address to CD Expo:

Guess how many people went to hear Darl McBride's keynote address at CDXPO? No, really. Guess.

According to Todd Weiss of ComputerWorld, there were only 80 people. Count them. 80. Bill Gates had thousands at Comdex, with an overflow room.

I'll bet Jupitermedia Corp. was surprised and disappointed. I don't need to bet or guess. They said they were "a little disappointed in the turnout for the keynote speeches." Here they invited the most hated executive in the IT world, probably thinking it would boost attendance, and it flopped.

See, that's why it's always better to stick to your principles. If you have any. That way, even if things go south, at least you still have your self-respect. Nobody in the IT world takes Darl seriously. No, wait. 80 people are at least curious. That should tell the press something vitally important about SCO's claims. We know what he is talking about, and we dismiss him.

Thank heaven; I'm not the only one who feels this way...
Glorfindel of Gondolin has his say on The Christmas That Ate Thanksgiving: Creeping, cancerous, Christmas

The more I think about Thanksgiving, the more I depend on my childhood memories to keep me safe from the bald cynicism that the modern version of the holiday inspires.

Even Thanksgiving consumerism isn't what it used to be. I remember when autumn's progress could be measured by the progression of holiday decorations in the stores -- the witches and black cats of Halloween, followed by the turkeys and cornucopeia of Thanksgiving, and then (finally) the trees and Santas of Christmas.

Now, the Christmas consumer orgy has broken the traditional Thanksgiving barrier, and it's a rare store or public place that bothers to put out the cardboard turkeys and pilgrims. The naked consumerism of Christmas is already lapping up against the shores of Halloween, and in a few years I won't be surprised if the Christmas lights and reindeer get brought out after Labor Day and the jack-o-lanterns of Halloween start to seem like a quaint anachronism.

The Law of Unintended Consequences...
is something that political strategists should take more cognizance of. According to Manish at Damn Foreigner, the Bush campaign's "Democrats are soft on terrorism" ads that they are releasing in New Hampshire are having an unintended consequence:

In response, both and Howard Dean sent emails to their supporters looking to raise money to counter the ads. was looking for $500,000 and Dean was looking for $360,000. As of this writing, is at 230% of their goal. Dean put out a fund-raising deadline of Tuesday at midnight EST. As of Sunday midnight EST, they are at just under $370,000. The RNC should do this more often.

Well, in context it really isn't a contradiction...
Today's Daily Mislead contrasts George aWol Bush's profession of support for free speech with the recently revived COINTELPRO program (which I've recently blogged about here):

President Bush has expressed repeated support for protestors' rights to express themselves, exclaiming to the Australian parliament in October, "I love free speech." But federal law enforcement is showing up at political demonstrations, routinely monitoring such protests for the first time since the 1970's.

Last week, the president responded to interviewer David Frost's question about the protestors expected to greet his presence in London, "Freedom is a beautiful thing, I would first say, and aren't you lucky to be in a country that encourages people to speak their mind. And I value going to a country where people are free to say anything they want to say."

The New York Times reported Sunday, however, that a weekly bulletin published by the FBI and distributed to local law enforcement included information about organizing tactics of anti-war demonstrators in cities such as Washington and San Francisco. One FBI official was quoted as saying, "We're not concerned with individuals who are exercising their constitutional rights. But it's obvious that there are individuals capable of violence at these events."

But the memo details and analyzes legal activities, such as using the Internet for fundraising, and tactics used by organizations to recruit demonstrators.

Indeed, the administration has sent mixed signals on free speech after September 11th. Weeks after the attacks, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said that Americans, "need to watch what they say, watch what they do." And Attorney General John Ashcroft, came under heavy criticism for saying that critics of the Patriot Act "aid terrorists."

Reports of the FBI's monitoring have drawn comparisons with the program known as Cointelpro, created during the Cold War and in effect until the 1970's, when the FBI routinely sent agents to infiltrate organizations protesting the Vietnam War.
[Sources redacted; find them at the linked page, above--LRC]

However, the Daily Mislead doesn't perceive the important distinction here: basically, Dumbya positively loves freedom of speech--when it's exercised by damn foreigners who can't vote for his Democratic rival in 2004. But let American citizens try and exercise their free speech rights, and then it's an entirely different story. Then, he thinks, we'd better nip that shit in the bud; we can't have these treasonous Dean/Clark/Edwards/Kerry/Kucinich/[insert favorite Democratic contender here] supporters sabotaging the War on Terra™, by their activities in trying to get Anyone But Bush elected to the Presidency.

A sneak peek into the Clinton household?
I think Big Stupid Tommy may be on to something here: Clinton's Favorite Books

Because everybody's been waiting for it, here now is a link to Bill Clinton's favorite books.

I don't have a lot to say about the list, though the inclusion of Hillary's book Living History is pretty funny. The list is 21 books long.

I picture this: Bill makes his list of his 20 favorite books. Hillary walks into the room, takes his writing pad from him, looks it over and asks "Why the Hell isn't my book on your list, you assbag?"

And Bill (whom I can't hear in my head now without hearing Darrell Hammond's impression rather than the real thing) takes the list back, smiles and says "I wasn't done, honey." And the list becomes the Top 21.

Dammit, this isn't right!
From a mailing list I'm subscribed to. The context is a mention of the Mike Myers movie of "The Cat in the Hat":

I saw a bookstore display promoting Cat In The Hat movie-related
stuff the other day. They had the Book of the Movie, the Movie
Storybook, books about Thing One and Thing Two, books about the Fish,
colouring books, activity books... Many drawn in Seussian style,
but by another artist, and all with "Based On The Movie!" somewhere
on the cover... But there was one thing missing.

There were absolutely no copies of "The Cat In The Hat". There
wasn't even an empty space where there
had been copies of "The Cat
In The Hat". There was no evidence in the display that there had
ever been a book called "The Cat In The Hat".

In a sense, I'm glad Ted Geisel didn't survive to see this...

Thought for the Day:
Here's Elvis in an East Texas nursing home. Here's Ossie Davis, a fellow resident, who fancies himself to be President John F. Kennedy. These two codgers are our last best hope against an evil Egyptian entity who has chosen their long-term care facility as his happy hunting ground. If ever a movie sounds like it stars Bruce Campbell, "Bubba Ho-Tep" would be it.
--Mark Ramsey []

Sunday, November 23, 2003

I spoze they could teach me something about home economics...
I can't very well feed myself on $1.08 a day, but that's what Alabama spends to feed its prisoners:

The prisoners call it chicken explosion.

It arrives dehydrated. Just add water and boil.

The multicolored dish is the centerpiece of Tuesday lunch at Kilby Prison, and one of the many mysterious items that Food Service Director M.A. Warren serves to cut costs.

He can feed a prisoner on $1.08 a day. That's three meals, two on Sundays and holidays. It's another reason Alabama's prison costs are the lowest in the country, $9,100 per inmate per year.

Prisons in surrounding states can't touch Alabama's food frugality. Statewide, Alabama spends 91 cents per prisoner per day on meals. Mississippi spends $1.75 per day, Georgia $1.55 and Tennessee $2.60.

This is a puzzlement....
I was doing one of my periodic (preferably once daily, but sometimes I'm derelict in my duty--so court martial me!) runs through the League of Liberals when I stumbled across an interesting post over at Rick's Cafe Americain--it seems Rick discovered that his blog was being traded on BlogShares. I found this kind of interesting since, silly me, I thought that one's blog wouldn't be traded on BlogShares unless the owner thereof actually registered it. Apparently not, since, on a lark, I looked up my own blog to discover that, lo and behold, Musings of a Philosophical Scrivener is also being traded on BlogShares. Apparently, someone put it into the system back on November 10--beyond that I only know that on November 16 someone named Carrie (proprietor of Family Bound) bought 1250 shares of my blog, which she unloaded today. I hope for a profit, though I wouldn't know since I have no idea what BlogShares is all about or what drives the "valuation" of blogs in the market.

I'd be interested in having a list of who owns shares of my blog (according to the records if I'm reading them right, there's 5000 shares in total, of which 4000 are apparently outstanding), but I don't seem to be able to find that information anywhere. Oh well.... I never was much for investments anyway.

As goes California, so goes the nation....
or so we can hope. The good news: California is the first state to mandate that voting machines provide an accessible, voter-verifiable audit trail. You can read the California Secretary of State's press release here (.pdf, requires Adobe Reader).

The dark cloud surrounding that silver lining? It won't go into effect completely until July of 2006. Plenty of time for the folks at Diebold to steal California for Bush.

Ha ha only serious....

(thanks to League o'Libs member different strings for that reference.)

In a world in turmoil...
it's good to know that there are some constants in life. At this moment, Food TV is showing an "Iron Chef" episode featuring (what else?), a turkey battle.

That's the conclusion a WaPo article makes: Terrorism, Inc.

Leaders of the al Qaeda terrorist network have franchised their organization's brand of synchronized, devastating violence to homegrown terrorist groups across the world, posing a formidable new challenge to counterterrorism forces, according to intelligence analysts and experts in the United States, Europe and the Arab world.

The recent attacks in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Iraq show that the smaller organizations, most of whose leaders were trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, have fanned out, imbued with radical ideology and the means to create or revitalize local terrorist groups. They also are expanding the horizons of groups that had focused on regional issues.

With most of its senior leadership killed or captured and its financial structure under increasing scrutiny, Osama bin Laden's network, now run largely by midlevel operatives, relies increasingly on these groups to carry out the jihad, or holy war, against the United States and its allies. Al Qaeda has turned to inspiring and instigating such attacks.

Probably predictable. The real question is, is there any action that we could have taken which would have prevented this from happening? I have no answer to that question, but pessimist and cynic that I am, I suspect not.

The metaphor for our times
This from The Texan Who Should Be In The White House, Molly Ivins: What's that nasty smell?

I suggest that the epitaph for this entire era should be: "The fish rots from the head down."

The latest round of corporate scandals -- Hollinger, the growing mutual fund mess and the foreign exchange dealers who ripped off their own companies -- provide an elegant summary of the pattern.

Adjust your tinfoil bonnets, folks...
Antonia Zerbisias makes this conspiracy theory sound very convincing: Michael Jackson story is a plot.

Maybe the conspiracy theorists are right after all.

Maybe they're just wrong about the particular conspiracy.

No, U.S. president George W. Bush and his posse of world dominators did not plot and plan the 9/11 attacks so that they could unleash their dogs of war — not to mention American carpetbaggers — on Iraq's oilfields.

But perhaps, along with their pals in the boardrooms of Big Media, they've hatched a scheme to dumb down the nation so that they can inflict their will upon the world while American voters are transfixed on "Bachelor Bob" burning the beef on the barbecue.

How else to explain last Thursday's orgy of Michael Jackson coverage on CNN — hours of choppercam shots of airport runways and police station parking lots — on the day that Bush was being trashed in effigy in London, 27 people were killed and 400 injured by truck bombs in Turkey, a U.S.-Canada task force report on the causes of August's massive blackout was released and who knows how many U.S. troops were becoming casualties in Iraq?

Was CNN merely pandering to the stupid for commercial reasons — or deliberately avoiding the news? Has last spring's "That's Mili-tainment!'' revue reverted to "That's Info-tainment!'' Have the networks run so far from serious reportage on domestic, economic and international affairs that they no longer know how to do anything but scandal? Or — and here comes my conspiracy theory — is there something else afoot, and people are too catatonic to recognize it?

Consider that,
still, most Americans are convinced that Saddam's boys rammed those planes into the towers.

Yes, they really love us there in Iraq
So much so, that when soldiers are shot in a raid, the Iraqis gather around them and either slit their throats or pummel their bodies with concrete blocks.

But at least the schools are open, right?

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. --George Santayana
We had one of these back in the 60's. It was called COINTELPRO. And it didn't work then. From the New York Times: F.B.I. Scrutinizes Antiwar Rallies.

Of course, Massachusetts is liberal...
The Boston Globe reports very solid support for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in favor of gay marriage in Massachusetts itself: 50% in poll back SJC ruling on gay marriage.

Update on the Pogany case...
which I blogged earlier this month in three parts (here's Part I, and if you feel so inclined you can chase the pointers to Parts II and III). The Denver Post just published a pretty good news article on the case: GI faces shame of cowardice accusation, and their columnist Jim Spencer weighs in with his own opinion in a piece titled Army turns against one of its own. This one also has a link to an earlier Spencer column, GI's trauma continues with charges, which adds some additional perspective to the case.

The news piece has a few more facts than what I had to work with when I blogged the case earlier, and the column adds a few more personal details. Right now, though, I don't see anything in the column that would make me change my analysis of the case. The Post article implies that the charge is still up as willful dereliction, since they say that the maximum punishement is 6 months confinement, total forfeitures and a bad conduct discharge (the maximum punishment for dereliction through neglect is only 3 months confinement and two thirds forfeitures with no punitive discharge). I doubt that this can be tried on a theory of wilful dereliction; from what I see if the Army had any evidence that Pogany is wilfully behaving this way the proper charge would be malingering, not dereliction.

However, while the punishment to which Pogany is exposed isn't as serious as the cowardice charge would merit, the sad truth is that the real damage to Pogany has already been done. The Post's news article quoted military law expert Eugene Fidell (whom I met very briefly during my own tour as a Navy JAG; Fidell has forgotten much more about military law than most of us will ever know), who characterized the dereliction charge as "cowardice lite" and then went on to say:

Destroying a man's reputation and then to back down - properly, I might add - is worse than never having done it at all.

(Thanks to TalkLeft for the reference to the Post article and column.)

Thought for the Day:
I am not responsible for what other people think. I am responsible only for what I myself think, and I know what that is. No idea I've ever come up with has ever struck me as a divine revelation. Nothing I have ever observed leads me to think there is a God watching over me.
--Isaac Asimov

Saturday, November 22, 2003

I'm depressed...
I have cell phone service through Sprint PCS, which includes (of course) text messaging and email service (what cell phone provider doesn't provide that kind of service nowadays?).

Just 30 seconds ago I received my first spam via my cell phone. Time to call Sprint, I see...

Here's what "states rights" really means...
Nathan Newman posts about some federal legislation which is being rushed through Congress in order to pre-empt tougher state legislation on financial privacy and suppression of email spam: Financial Privacy: GOP Assaults States Rights. Quoth Mr. Newman:

I mean, the GOP talking about "states rights" is a joke at this point, after Bush gutting local civil liberties with the Patriot Act, passed his nationalized education policy, and promoted tort "reform" to gut state consumer rights, but just for a reminder, check out this story on how the new "financial privacy" law is designed to gut tougher state laws, such as in California....


Similarly, the new federal "anti-spam" bill approved in the House would kill the much tougher anti-spam law that was passed in California. In fact, the law is being pushed through quickly specifically with the goal of killing that California law....


Let's be clear-- "states rights" when said by conservatives means "anti-black", nothing more, nothing less. For any issue other than civil rights, conservatives promote the destruction of state power on behalf of their corporate allies at every turn.

They have NO principled view of local control. The only time they like local control is when it means local bigots have more freedom to oppress the less powerful.

I have seen the future, and it's a lot like the past, only longer and more expensive
Robert X. "The Real Bob" Cringely has a frightening article on his website: Natural Deselection: Not Even Microsoft Will Last Forever, But They Plan To Try. Some of the article actually makes me feel good in spite of myself; as Cringely points out, Microsoft's trying to screw over its business partners (including their certified service providers like my former employer Quilogy. When MS eventually puts Quilogy out of business (or moves it out of the technology services business), I'll be able to gloat a little bit):

Symptomatic of this pathological need to take business from other companies, Microsoft is now in competition with the very people who recommend its products -- independent computer and software consultants. These Microsoft-certified folks are the guys and gals who got your Windows business systems up and running in the first place, and have often kept them running. Now Redmond wants them to die in favor of its own not very good support system.

The key to that programmed annihilation is Microsoft's TechNet, a support database that is distributed on CDs and online. Microsoft consultants subscribe to TechNet, where they generally find the answers to their technical questions. Or they used to, because today TechNet appears to be broken.


Why would Microsoft hobble TechNet and in doing so hurt its small to medium-sized customers? Microsoft simply wants its customers to buy support contracts. They want the bucks and just don't want third parties interrupting their money flow.

Not that long ago, if you bought a support contract from Microsoft, the support technician pretty much used TechNet to help you when you called in a problem. What you got for your money was someone to type in the query for you and read you the answers. Now TechNet is useless, and if you access support information from Microsoft's public web site you will find almost no useful information. Important problems and answers are not available for free anymore. But Microsoft isn't just making it hard for the small, independent contractor. The big outsourcing firms have similar problems. Even though they buy the expensive support contracts, there are times when even these big companies like IBM and Accenture can't register problems on their customer's behalf. Both the outsourcing firm AND the customer must have a support contract and register the problem before Microsoft will help. You have to pay twice to get help once.

Talk with authorized Microsoft business partners and resellers, and you find they aren't too happy either. They'll tell you Microsoft is very good at collecting their money each year. But they also know if they need any help from Microsoft, they won't get it. Basically, the money they spend on Microsoft allows them to market themselves as someone Microsoft likes and that's all.

Microsoft has always treated its partners poorly. The independent consultants are actually lucky because until now, they have been too small to catch Microsoft's attention. If they had been on Microsoft's radar screen, there would have been a more deliberate effort by Microsoft to squeeze them out of business before now.

But the motto of Microsoft might as well be the same as the motto of the Bond (James Bond) family: "The world is not enough". Once MS has captured the entirety of the Windows support market, then the only place left to go is to use Digital Rights Management technology to turn all of us into Windows subscribers. As Bob says, you may want to hold onto your old Windows 98 CDs--they'll be worth a lot:

A key part of Microsoft's product strategy for the next decade is Digital Rights Management (DRM), which they couch primarily in terms of protecting the intellectual property of others. But what about the intellectual property of Microsoft, itself? It's nice to get business from protecting movies and music from being pirated, but DRM is for Microsoft mainly a means to get more revenue from customers like us.

Remember that Microsoft is moving to monthly security updates. The next step is denying us those updates unless we pay for them, and the step after that is making our software unusable if we don't install updates that must be paid for. Nearly every Microsoft user is online at some point, and at that point, their system reaches out for those automatic Windows updates. There are many ways to make sure customers pay up, and Microsoft isn't alone in implementing them. I have an old iMac, for example, that runs MacOS System 9.1. Though the iMac runs Software Update every Monday night at midnight, there hasn't been a System 9.X update to download in almost a year. That's Apple's way of forcing me to upgrade to OS X if I want that Mac to remain stable. Microsoft does the same kind of thing.

But with DRM it goes further. Imagine a remote procedure call that goes out every time you are online. The RPC doesn't do anything but act as a key. The call goes out to some Microsoft server, but it is only returned if your OS and applications are legit and up-to-date. This is how piracy goes away, and how Microsoft plans to make more money by turning us all into Windows subscribers whether we want to or not. We'll see it first when you try to play a bootleg MP3 or that VCD image downloaded from Finland, but eventually your system won't work at all if you aren't on some kind of support contract and Microsoft gets paid twice. Products that are late, products that don't work, products that people don't really want or need won't matter anymore as the money flows in no matter what. That's when the price of old pre-DRM Win98 CDs will start to rise.

Reread the Digital Millennium Copyright Act with this in mind, and you'll see that the new copyright law not only enables this kind of behavior, it enforces it. Circumventing this Windows RPC will be illegal.

Suddenly, the stakes in the SCO v. IBM lawsuit look a lot bigger than they did.

What are we doing in this handbasket, and where are we going in it?
This from the email version of Bob Park's "What's New?" newsletter:

No problem, just stop producing technologies. More than any other major power, the United States requires foreign scientific talent to sustain our technology-driven economy. In fact, many American Nobel Prize winners were not born here. They often came to the U.S. because of the openness of research. But since 9/11, the State Department has placed foreign scientists and engineers under greater scrutiny, according to a State Department spokesman quoted in the NY Times. "We take a closer look at the technology-transfer issues involved," he explained. The problem is there is going to be less technology to transfer. Even growing our own scientists has been made more difficult; the formula by which the Department of Education distributes financial aid was revised this spring, effectively barring about 84,000 Pell students.

Thought for the Day:
Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats, We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
--Helen Keller

Friday, November 21, 2003

How'd I miss this?
A very, very happy birthday to St. Louis's favorite resident: Stan "The Man" Musial, who turned 83 today.

Talk about Zen detachment...
I almost have to wonder if this is healthy. From the AP again: Young surfer who lost her arm to shark recalls seeing red in water. According to the story:

Bethany Hamilton was lying on her surfboard, taking a break after catching some early morning waves, when the gray blur emerged near her left arm as it dangled in the Pacific.

Bethany was suddenly being jerked back and forth.

"I looked down at the red water," she recalled. "Right away I knew it was a shark, and I knew my arm was gone."

The 13-year-old lost more than half her blood and all but four inches of her arm, though those who witnessed the attack say Bethany never screamed or panicked.

"There's no need for that," she told The Associated Press nearly three weeks after the Halloween attack, in one of the first in a series of interviews and TV appearances. "I wasn't that scared. I didn't think I was going to die or anything."

Before the attack, Bethany was a top amateur surfer who was expected to turn pro. Now she is unsure whether she will ever surf competitively again. But she said she would not give up her passion.

This I can believe; the attack was probably so sudden that whe wasn't aware of what was happening until she saw "the red water", and from what I recall of massive trauma such as this pain doesn't kick in for approximately 30 minutes or so after the injury. In the Navy I remember hearing the story of Chester Nimitz, who lost the tip of a finger when a glove he was wearing got caught between a couple of gears on a submarine he was assigned to as a junior officer. As I heard the story, Nimitz told the Navy physician who gave him immediate treatment that he felt fine, and wanted to go back to duty after being bandaged. The physician is said to have told Nimitz to wait 30 minutes, and if he still felt that way the physician would clear Nimitz to return to duty. Shortly before the 30 minutes were up, Nimitz passed out as the pain of the injury finally made itself felt.

What I find almost unbelievable, however, is the girl's reaction to her injury:

Tall and lean, with blond hair and a tan, Bethany has accepted her misfortune with remarkable serenity.

"There's no time machine," she said. "I can't change it. That was God's plan for my life, and I'm going to go with it."

I have to admit I don't know exactly how to read this. Either this young woman is almost incredibly wise beyond her years (anyone want to nominate her for Zen master?) or she's in incredibly serious denial right now.

All we can do is wish her the best of luck, though with an attitude like that (giving her the benefit of the doubt and assuming that she's not in serious denial) she'll probably go far with or without our best wishes.

The beast that cannot be sated, redux
Continuing the silliness I noted earlier, we hear from the AP that some radio stations are going to an "all Christmas music, all the time" format as early as this month, with another 200-300 expected to do the same thing in the next several weeks.

Just a few years ago, it was unorthodox for DJs to start spinning holiday tunes more than a day or two before Christmas. Playing "Deck the Halls" before Thanksgiving was considered downright taboo -- worse than opening all your presents on Christmas Eve.

I think the writer is misremembering here; in my experience it was quite common for radio stations to start playing Christmas music at some point after Thanksgiving, but on a fairly sporadic basis. On the lines of, say, several holiday tunes every hour, perhaps increasing the frequency up to Christmas day. On Christmas day (or Christmas eve in some cases) radio stations would play all Christmas music all the time, a format which would end on Boxing Day (that's December 26 for you non-Anglophiles).

According to the article, this is being driven by the market; purportedly people are demanding nonstop holiday music from now 'til December 26 or so. Somehow I find that hard to believe; when you come down to it there aren't that many discrete Christmas tunes to hear, and I can't imagine that the seemingly infinite variations on those themes will be sufficient diversity to keep one's interest for over a month. But then again, I'm not a Christian, and the older I get, the more indifferent to Christmas I become. I can't bring myself to believe that this is not manufactured "demand". But then again, maybe the public is just getting what they want....

Get God out of government, and back in the homes where s/he belongs...
We have a new fad in Tennessee, it seems. It involves county commissions voting on resolutions declaring "God as the foundation of our national heritage" , or something like that. Near as I can tell, the silliness started in Greene County, Tennessee, where the resolution was first proposed and passed, and then spread like a virus when the Greene County mayor took it on himself to send copies to every other county mayor in Tennessee with a note that said something like, "Isn't this a great idea? Why don't y'all do something like it in your county right now."

South Knox Bubba tells us, that apparently the virus has spread to Blount County, and directs us to an article in the Maryville (TN) Daily Times which fills us in on the thrilling debate in the Blount County commission. In the article, we get this interesting passage:

Before the last vote on the resolution, as written by the Greene County Commission, Commissioner Jeff McCall read a statement.

He paused, then explained why he was about to vote no, at times stopping to choke back tears.

Yes, he believed that God was the foundation of America's heritage.

"God is our creator,'' he said. "God is and always will be.

"There is nothing I can do, or that we collectively can do, that will elevate God to any higher stature than he already has.''

Thus, McCall didn't think the resolution was necessary. By considering it, the commission was attempting to address a problem in America with governmental action, he said, a problem more appropriately a matter of individual responsibility.

He continued, "If there is a danger of our nation forgetting and our children never knowing that God is our foundation, it will be because we fail as children of God to share his love with our community as we should, and because we fail as parents to teach our children about God and introduce them to his son, Jesus.

"I can say with little hesitation that my children will never read the minutes of this county commission to see what resolutions did or did not pass. But they will read, day in and day out, how their father acts, who he puts his faith in, and whether or not he loves his neighbor.''
[emphasis mine--LRC]

I've mentioned on these pages from time to time that my own religious orientation is agnostic with atheistic leanings (i.e., I don't know whether God exists or doesn't, and I don't think the question is capable of being answered by mere mortals, at least in this lifetime, though I strongly suspect that there is no God). As a result, it's rare that I agree with believers on theological issues. But Commissioner McCall's statement is worthy of quotation, and I'm in wholehearted agreement with him. The boldfaced statement, in my opinion, says it all. If there is a God, s/he's the most powerful being there is, the creator of us all and the one to whom (according to standard Christian theology) we're going to have to account for how we lived our lives. There is nothing that we can do to make God any more important than s/he already is. That's why exercises like this "God resolution mania" in Tennessee are so stupid. As Commissioner McCall further notes, what matters is not that our governmental bodies pay lip service to the existence of and sovereignty of the creator, it's that believers live their lives according to that belief, and pass on to their children how important that belief is. All the governmental resolutions in the world aren't going to advance that goal one tiny bit.

Bravo, Commissioner McCall. If you you were a Shelby County commissioner you'd have my vote.

The new Evil Empire?
Well... it's a tossup between them and Microsoft.... Via Damn Foreigner, a Fast Company expose of the true costs of shopping at Wal-Mart.

Steve Dobbins has been bearing the brunt of that switch. He's president and CEO of Carolina Mills, a 75-year-old North Carolina company that supplies thread, yarn, and textile finishing to apparel makers--half of which supply Wal-Mart. Carolina Mills grew steadily until 2000. But in the past three years, as its customers have gone either overseas or out of business, it has shrunk from 17 factories to 7, and from 2,600 employees to 1,200. Dobbins's customers have begun to face imported clothing sold so cheaply to Wal-Mart that they could not compete even if they paid their workers nothing.

"People ask, 'How can it be bad for things to come into the U.S. cheaply? How can it be bad to have a bargain at Wal-Mart?' Sure, it's held inflation down, and it's great to have bargains," says Dobbins. "But you can't buy anything if you're not employed. We are shopping ourselves out of jobs."

Interesting reading....
A new blog, Anarchy Xero offers up this interesting selection: Iraq = Death

A very excellent Salon interview...
with Max Cleland.... (premium content; go ahead and view the ad, which today is for the PBS "Great Performances" airing of "Oklahoma!", which looks like a must-see) He's mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore!

What was your reaction when you saw President Bush landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in May to give a victory speech of sorts?

I'll tell you the truth. I thought, "Oh my God." A man who deliberately got out of going to Vietnam by hiding out in the National Guard and who did not even complete his National Guard tour of duty, now walks onto an aircraft carrier in a flight suit with helmet under his arm, as if he's Tom Cruise in "Top Gun," and "Mission Accomplished."

What do you think now?

The president ought to be ashamed because real soldiers are out there fighting and dying for a disastrous policy that he created. I'm telling you this is serious business. And that has now all been acknowledged as a sham. We're in a helluva mess. And the worst part is the kids are getting killed every damn day, that's what gets me.

Go read the whole thing, though, it's well worth it.

Who violated the Unix™ IP?
As El Reg reports, it was some hacker outfit called "Caldera". Oh, wait a minute.... Caldera changed its name to "SCO" a little while back, didn't it?

UPDATE: Check the comments (especially the last) for the straight dope on how Caldera came to be called "SCO"; I'm not going to back down from my assertion that Caldera changed its name to "SCO", but as always, the truth is a tad more complex. Thanks to old blogfriend and reader "rlrr" (the maintainer of Turquoise Waffle Irons in the Back Yard) for keeping me straight on that.

The last word on gay marriage?
Of course not. But Dahlia Lithwick, in Slate, has an excellent piece on what's really undermining the sanctity of marriage, and it sure ain't the specter of married gays and lesbians.

Do you want to know what's destroying the sanctity of marriage? Phone messages like the ones we'd get at my old divorce firm in Reno, Nev., left on Saturday mornings and picked up on Monday: "Beeep. Hi? My name is Misty and I think I maybe got married last night. Could someone call me back and tell me if I could get an annulment? I'm at Circus Circus? Room—honey what room is this—oh yeah. Room 407. Thank you. Beeep."

It just doesn't get much more sacred than that.

Here's my modest request: If you're going to be a crusader for the sanctity of marriage—if you really believe gay marriage will have some vast corrosive, viral impact on marriage as a whole—here's a brief list of other laws and policies far more dangerous to the institution. Go after these first, then pass your constitutional amendment.

1. Divorce
Somewhere between 43 percent and 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. If you believe gay marriage is single-handedly eroding a sacred and ancient institution, you cannot possibly be pro-divorce. That means any legislation passed in recent decades making divorce more readily available—from no-fault statutes to the decline of adultery prosecutions—should also be subject to bans, popular referendum, and constitutional amendment.

2. Circus Circus
In general, if there is blood in your body and you are over 18, you can get married, so long as you're not in love with your cousin. (Although even that's OK in some states). You can be married to someone you met at the breakfast buffet. Knowing her last name is optional. And you can be married by someone who was McOrdained on the Internet. So before you lobby to ban gay marriage, you might want to work to enact laws limiting the sheer frivolousness of straight marriage. You should be lobbying for an increase in minimum-age requirements, for mandatory counseling pre-marriage, and for statutory waiting periods before marriages (and divorces) can be permitted.

3. Birth Control
The dissenters in the Massachusetts decision are of the opinion that the only purpose of marriage is procreation. They urge that a sound reason for discriminating against gay couples is that there is a legitimate state purpose in ensuring, promoting, and supporting an "optimal social structure for the bearing and raising of children." If you're going to take the position that marriage exists solely to encourage begetting, you need to oppose childlessness by choice, birth control, living together, and marriage for the post-menopausal. In fact, if you're really looking for "optimal" social structures for childrearing, you need to legislate against single parents, poor parents, two-career parents, alcoholic or sick parents, and parents who (like myself) are afraid of the Baby Einstein videos.

4. Misc.
Here's what's really undermining the sacredness of modern marriage: soap operas, wedding planning, longer work days, cuter secretaries, fights over money, reality TV, low-rise pants, mothers-in-law, boredom, Victoria's Secret catalogs, going to bed mad, the billable hour, that stubborn 7 pounds, the Wiggles, Internet chat rooms, and selfishness. In fact we should start amending the Constitution to deal with the Wiggles immediately.

Thought for the Day:
The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.
--Bertrand Russell

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Big Stupid Tommy seems to find the most interesting quizzes...
I had a feeling as I was doing this one that this was going to be the answer.

Robert Heinlein
Robert Heinlein wrote you - you stranger in a
strange land, you.

Which Author's Fiction are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Ok, now I'm confused...
According to USA Today (McPaper), People magazine just anointed Johnny Depp as their annual "Sexiest Man Alive". If that were it, I'd not consider that news worthy of mention here. I'd not even consider it news worthy of my notice, period; I only noticed it because of a joke post at Redbird Nation. But then the McPaper story went on to mention that People went on and named a list of the "Top 10" sexiest men.

It seems to me that if you're naming the 10 sexiest men, your "sexiest man alive" should be at the top of that list; otherwise, what meaning does "sexiest man alive" have? Or, for that matter, what meaning should "10 sexiest men" have (though the "10 sexiest men" list doesn't have an explicit restriction to living men, which means (among other things) that both John F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy, Jr. (himself a People "sexiest man alive" at some point in his career) might both have a shot at hitting that list)?

Depp's name is nowhere to be found on the top ten list. Not at all. This might make sense if formerly sexy corpses were in the running; it's quite possible that the ten sexiest men who ever lived are all deceased. HOWEVER, the list as produced by People has nary a corpse among the bunch. Oh hell, I know you're just dying for that top ten list (besides, it gives me a chance to play with the HTML for ordered lists, which Blogger doesn't support directly):
  1. Brad Pitt (like he really needs yet another "sexiest man" title)
  2. Ashton Kutcher (obviously the fact that Demi Moore will fuck you counts for a lot in the sexy sweepstakes)
  3. George Clooney (after seeing "Intolerable Cruelty" I can buy that one)
  4. Lenny Kravitz
  5. Justin Timberlake (obviously, being the guy that cracked Britney Spears's cherry is a feat that gives you a leg up in these contests)
  6. Hugh Grant
  7. Russell Crowe
  8. Hugh Jackman
  9. Denzel Washington
  10. Colin Farrell (obviously, wanting to fuck anything with a pulse and minimal brainwave activity helps one in the sexy sweeps, too)

As I said, nary a corpse among the bunch (though, based on his acting, I think Ashton Kutcher's EEGs could probably be mistaken for those of a corpse). So that raises the question of who is sexier, Johnny or Brad? After all, how can Brad be numero uno on the sexiest men list if Johnny is the "sexiest man alive", considering that both Brad and Johnny are, last I looked, alive (or a reasonable facsimile thereof)?

I'd better stop thinking about this before I go crosseyed..... Damn! Too late!

More from the League of Liberals:

The blind doing the work for those who keep their eyes closed?
Also from Brian Leiter: A link to a report showing "how the most scientifically advanced nation in the world is being led by corrupt ignoramuses." Just the examples Leiter gives are scary, the source article is even scarier...

Fascinating numbers....
Got this link from Brian Leiter's blog. Brian Weatherson lays out some figures concerning privately versus publicly funded health care systems. His conclusion: I was stunned by one of the things that springs out of the data - health care systems that are government run or funded tend to be cheaper despite being just as effective in every respect, and more effective in some respects. I'm sure someone somewhere has analysed the data properly, but even a crude analysis suggests the empirical case for having a government run or funded health care system is quite strong.

Well, if the first step to solving a problem is to admit you have one...
maybe there's some hope for the bAdministration: Perle admits to London audience that Iraq invasion was illegal under international law.

You've really gotta wonder sometimes
Discussing books and movies with friends it's been something of a joke among us that the ellipsis is probably the most popular punctuation mark among movie or book publicists. After all, when faced with a review that reads something like "The most incredible and unbelievable plotline that I have ever seen, this film is a masterpiece of incompetence which will take its place near the bottom of the list of the worst movies in Western filmmaking. You must see this film in order to truly appreciate how truly awful a film can be", all it takes is a few ellipses, and the poster or newspaper ad can read: "incredible... this film is a masterpiece... You must see this film..."

In today's Daily Howler, one of Bob Somerby's incomparable email correspondents hands us an example of quotemongering that probably takes the cake. This week, Bob's been taking Bernard Goldberg to task, and deservedly so. One of Bernard's sins was quoting Howell Raines as saying that "Reagan couldn’t tie his shoelaces if his life depended on it." It turns out that this quote was lifted out of any reasonable context by Brent Bozell and his fellow bozos at the Media Research Center: the quote is from Raines's book Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis, the context is really about fly fishing and fly tying (some presidents could tie flies, some couldn't, and Reagan, whatever other redeeming qualities he may or may not have possessed, definitely couldn't tie a fly), and, as it turns out, Raines was quoting someone else who said the "shoelaces" line (see the Howler of 11/19 for substantiation). That's bad enough, but then Bob's email correspondent tells us, things were really screwy with the MRC's use of that Raines "quote". Let's let Joe (Bob's correspondent) tell the story from here:

One more note on the “shoelaces” quote that Goldberg lifts from the MRC.

The Howler from today notes: “As we noted, the MRC is pathologically dishonest; the influential org holds every world record for pulling ‘quotations’ out of any sane context.” Luckily, the magic of the Internet gives us the tools to put that thesis to the test.

The earliest cite of the shoelaces quote delivered by the MRC’s own search engine comes from May 5, 1994. In its long-running “Notable Quotables” feature, the MRC shows us Howell Raines’ unspeakable bias:

“Then one day in the summer of 1981 I found myself at the L.L. Bean store in Freeport, Maine. I was a correspondent in the White House in those days, and my work—which consisted of reporting on President Reagan’s success in making life harder for citizens who were not born rich, white, and healthy—saddened me…My parents raised me to admire generosity and to feel pity. I had arrived in our nation’s capital [in 1981] during a historic ascendancy of greed and hard-heartedness…Reagan couldn’t tie his shoelaces if his life depended on it.” —New York Times editorial page editor (and former Washington Bureau Chief) Howell Raines in his book
Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis.

However, having read my Howler regularly and taken its lessons to heart, I questioned that last ellipsis. The logic of the passage doesn’t seem to flow very well from “a historic ascendancy of greed and hard-heartedness” to “Reagan couldn’t tie his shoelaces.” So what’s missing in between? Nothing much—
just 28 pages of text! The portion of the “quote” before the ellipsis occurs on page 56 of Raines’ book. The “shoelaces” reference appears on page 84. What do the journalistic stylebooks say about this rather loose abuse of three little dots?

An ellipsis standing for a deletion of 28 pages of text? The mind begins to boggle.

UPDATE (11/22/03): Bob Somerby, in today's Daily Howler, identifies "Joe", who made the above astute observation, as Joe Moran of Quaker in a Basement.

Finally, a reasonable critique of the insanity defense
Dirk Olin, in Slate last Tuesday, provides a surprisingly perceptive criticism of the insanity defense and how it's administered: Nuts to Whom?

Prior to the 19th century, guilt was more frequently judged according to causation than intent. If your cart ran over my foot, it didn't matter whether you meant to do it or not. You were adjudged blameworthy. As an appreciation of criminal motivation took hold, however, a door was opened to a greater variety of defenses. In 1843, the modern insanity defense was born after a Scottish psycho named Daniel M'Naughton tried to shoot British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, killing his secretary instead. A jury was persuaded by the testimony of various psychiatrists who said M'Naughton was delusional. The next year, a panel of judges created the standard that's been largely used in America ever since—that a defendant is not guilty if he or she didn't know what they were doing or didn't know it was wrong. (Competence to stand trial is weighed separately, because the defendant's mental state may have changed one way or the other since commission of the offense.)

Seems fair. But after John Hinckley was acquitted by reason of insanity in 1982—because he had shot President Reagan in an effort to impress actress Jodie Foster (a motivation that Dennis Miller would no doubt find squarely within the bounds of sanity), various lawmakers started twitching. Reactionaries essentially equated insanity pleas with Twinkie defenses, and they wanted their constituents to know they weren't going to stand for any mollycoddling of criminals. So, many states passed statutes that created pleas of "guilty but mentally ill." Under such systems the deranged, if deemed guilty, are incarcerated in prisons with "sane" inmates (though they may be accorded special pharmaceutical arrangements). Failing to differentiate these populations is like treating all illnesses with a blanket quarantine. Whether any cures are possible is still an open question, of course, but one we're much less likely to answer via unvariegated warehousing.

It was society's previous failure to think through this issue that made the system susceptible to such ineffectual changes. The "guilty but mentally ill" plea represents an ill-advised lurch toward a standard that feels both righteous and firm. But out of an understandable desire to heighten accountability came a logical absurdity: You're guilty—but you're not. You are sick and thus not wholly accountable, yet you are treated exactly the same as the guilty. The mutual contradiction inherent in such a construct takes the "oxy" out of oxymoronic.

One thing Olin correctly points out is consistently missed by laypersons: it is rare that the insanity defense is actually used, and even rarer when it "works". In my 10 years of law practice, and observation of close to 1000 criminal cases (mine, and those of other lawyers I knew), only a handful involved the insanity defense in any way. Few cases tried on an insanity plea actually prevailed; most of the "successful" insanity pleas involved the prosecution's concession (following, usually, a report from the state's psychiatric experts that the defendant was weirder than a three dollar bill and should be hospitalized immediately) that the defendant is mentally ill and acceptance of the insanity plea. And, as Olin also notes, a defendant found not guilty by reason of insanity is probably going to be institutionalized longer (in the cases I've handled, a lot longer) than a defendant found guilty after trial. There were several cases I've seen where a lawyer had a client who was in all probability legally insane, but because the crime charged was not a very serious one (a misdemeanor or very "light" felony meriting less than 5 years imprisonment) the attorney didn't bother with interposing the insanity defense. At the very worst, a maximum sentence on the crime was most likely a far shorter term of imprisonment than the likely institutionalization in the event the case was won on the insanity defense.

Getting one's priorities straight
Today's Dr. Science Question of the Day:

Dear Doctor Science,
If you could travel back in time and meet any one person of your choice, how much would it cost?
-- D A Beckham from Moscow Mills, Missouri

I'm glad to see that price is uppermost in your so-called value system. Most people would have wondered who that special person of yesteryear might be, but to you, all that matters is cost. You'll go far in today's world. Back before the nineteenth century, people cared more about quality than price, but then the concept of "branding" came about, and the advertising industry, like a giant parasite, began to spend billions of our dollars to create the illusion of difference between essentially identical items. Your question lets us know that you have learned your consumer lessons well. It doesn't matter who you meet back then, because people are all pretty much the same - what matters is how much it costs to get there. See you at the top!

Interesting to see that today's question du jour comes from a resident of Moscow Mills, which is a real place--a small town in Lincoln County, MO a bit north of St. Charles. Didn't even know the Internet had reached Moscow Mills yet. ;-)

Thought for the Day:
Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that man can never learn anything from history.
--George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Silly Quizilla quiz time
Actually, I'm surprised by how accurate this one is.

More from the League of Liberals...

I have decided...
I'm going to declare my favorite Christmas movie to be.... [drum roll]... "The Thin Man", with William Powell and Myrna Loy as The Most Perfect Screen Couple Ever, Nick and Nora Charles.

It's set during the Christmas season. That qualifies it in my humble opinion. Besides, I don't know how many more times I can stand seeing "It's A Wonderful Life" or "Miracle on 34th Street".

Though my two, absolute must see Christmas themed shows of all time are the classic "Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (the classic Chuck Jones animated version, not the Jim Carrey live action version (which I have yet to see)) and "Blackadder's Christmas Carol". Come Thanksgiving weekend these are coming out to be viewed--most likely several times.

The most realistic portrayal of a Navy JAG, IMHO...
is still the Tom Cruise/Demi Moore/Jack Nicholson flick, "A Few Good Men". One of my favorite movies (Jack Nicholson is God, period, end of discussion), and one of the few legally themed movies I can watch without becoming nauseous.

Don't misinterpret me; the whole movie is hardly realistic. In fact, there's only one scene that's realistic, but it's the single most realistic legal movie/TV scene ever (civilian or military, not that there are many military legal themed movies or TV shows out there to choose from). If you have the Special Edition DVD of "A Few Good Men", go to the "Scene Selection" menu and pick the scene titled "The Right Man for the Job". The scene I'm talking about is the scene where Cruise is at the softball diamond, hitting the ball for fielding practice for his team while negotiating the plea bargain for a court martial. I know that this is a realistic scene, because I've done it myself (though I wasn't doing the Cruise role, I was doing the prosecutor role (though as defense counsel; the prosecutor was doing the Cruise part of hitting balls for fielding practice), and the negotiation wasn't nearly as intense the one portrayed in the film).

I bring this up because Redbird Nation, in the same post about the St. Louis County bond issue for a new stadium, mentions that Barry Zito is going to be guest starring in the TV series "JAG", playing a Navy pitcher charged with assault after he hits an opposing batter with a beanball. If you want to talk about totally unrealistic (on the order of "The X-Files", as I ranted yesterday), "JAG" is it. I've just about gotten to the point where I hate to tell people that I've been a Navy JAG, somehow they expect me to tell them that I regularly parachuted behind enemy lines "just like Harm", armed only with a .45 automatic, in order to investigate one of my cases. And let's not even get into the fact that women Marine officers do not look anything like Catherine Bell. (Any women Marine offficers that think they do look anything like Catherine Bell and want to convince me that my assertion above is wrong may feel free to forward me photographic evidence via email.)

A propos the Wesley Clark Faux Snooze video clip...
I agree with Missouri Liberal: I'd love to see Clark debate Bush. Preferably one on one. On foreign policy issues.

Fascinating... in more ways than one
Thanks to Glorfindel of Gondolin for pointing out a fascinating web page at the Brookings Institution: The Iraq Index.

Giving the page a glance, I found this interesting: Polling Baghdad Public Opinion. Supposedly the Gallup organization polled 1,178 Iraqi adults between Aug. 8 and Sept. 4. I find myself puzzled by some of these results:

  • Will Iraq be in a better condition five years from now than it was before the U.S.-led invasion? 67% answered "Yes", only 8% answered "No". Um, excuse me, but that leaves (by my arithmetic, which is always suspect) 25% of the respondents unaccounted for...

  • Is Iraq better off now than it was before the invasion? Again, 67% answer "Yes" and 8% answer "No", leaving 25% unaccounted for. I wonder if they are the same 25% that's MIA in the last question. Maybe these are the "Baathist remnants" who didn't want to blow their cover by being seen talking to an American pollster?

  • Was ousting Saddam worth the hardships endured since the invasion? 62% answered "Yes". What I find really noteworthy is that the figure given for "No" is listed as "N/A". Um, come on guys. This is at worst a three valued question. Even I can take better care of data than this.

  • Would you like to see U.S. troops stay longer than a few more months? "Yes": 71%, "No": 26% This strikes me as being the most straightforwardly reported item.

  • Are there circumstances in which attacks against U.S. troops can be justified? Here, it strikes me that we veer off into the Twilight Zone. 19% of the respondents say "Yes", 17% of them say "Sometimes", and the "No" responses are listed as "N/A" I'm wondering here if the majority of the remaining 64% replied, "Is the Pope Catholic?" Or maybe they said, "Does a bear shit in the woods?" Or perhaps a mixture of the two.

  • Have you been afraid at times to go outside your home during the day within the past four weeks? Now we have 60% of the respondents saying "Yes", and the "No"s are listed as "N/A". Again. WTF? Were the remaining 40% of the respondents corpses that have died in the rampant street violence or something?

I don't know... there's something that doesn't ring true in these numbers. I did find one telling number though: Under "US Troop Fatalities" we see the November fatalities at 63. 60 killed by hostile action, 3 in non-hostile "incidents". Prior to November, there were no more than 35 killed by hostile action. The sad thing is, November isn't close to being over yet.

If the troops can keep the "non-hostile" fatalities down, though, the misAdministration has a great spin point: "Why isn't the media reporting that we lost fewer troops by accident than ever?"

I think I may change my references to "InstaWhore" now...
InstaShill has a column on Tech Central Station, if I'm not mistaken. I caught Josh Marshall's mention in Talking Points Memo of Nicholas Confessore's article in The Washintgon Monthly establishing that Tech Central Station is basically a creature of lobbying organization DCI Group. Confessore's article is very good, but it didn't do much for me beyond confirm me in my high estimation of my taste (because I pay practically no attention to TCS at all). But then Nathan Newman had to come up with just the right title to make me sit up and take notice: Tech Central: Lobbyist's Whore.

I'm sure a writer just lives for inspiration like that. sigh

Out of the mouths of babes...
Since I have a well justified dislike for Attorney General John Asscrack (I lived through his less than stellar performance of his duties as Missouri state auditor, state attorney general, governor and U.S. Senator before Asscrack lost the election to a corpse just before I migrated down to Memphis "Home of the Blues, Birthplace of Rock and Roll(TM)", Tennessee), I'm happy to pass on this John Asscrack joke (from Brian Leiter):

Attorney General John Ashcroft visits an elementary school. After speaking for 15 minutes he says, "I will now answer any questions you have."

Bobby stands up and says: "I have four questions, sir:

1. How did Bush win the election with fewer votes than Gore?

2. Why haven't you caught Osama bin Laden?

3. Why are you using the American Patriot Act to destroy civil liberties?

4. Where are the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Just then the bell goes off and the kids are sent out to play. Upon returning, Mr. Ashcroft says: "I am sorry we were interrupted. I will answer any questions you have."

A little girl named Julie stands and says: "I have six questions:

1. How did Bush win the election with fewer votes than Gore?

2. Why haven't you caught Osama bin Laden?

3. Why are you using the American Patriot Act to destroy civil liberties?

4. Where are the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

5. Why did the bell ring twenty minutes early?

6. Where is Bobby?

I suppose it depends on whose ox is gored...
but in an interesting twist (especially after Sen. Bill "Cat Killer" Frist's recent slumber party), The Hill reports that we have the Repugnicans dragging their feet on a Bush judicial nominee.

Come on guys, make up your minds here. Either the President is entitled to confirmation of his nominees without Senate cavil (which is, I understand, the Repugnican position when a Democrat isn't warming the desk chair in the Oval Office) or he isn't.

There's an advantage to a "mature technology"...
like paper ballots marked with a pencil and counted by hand: it may take longer, but there's a lot less to go wrong. Scott Granneman of SecurityFocus casts an eye on electronic voting machines, and I'm not sure he likes what he sees. The more I think about it, the more I'm inclined to cast my ballot by absentee ballot, especially if Memphis moves to electronic voting machines. At least then I can avoid the damned machines. From Granneman's essay; he provides links to citations for the facts he cites at the webpage I link to above):

An election held in Houston just a few days ago was marred when election judges incorrectly set up twelve eSlate voting machines, resulting in a malfunction. The paper ballots that were supposed to be present were not, so judges gave voters pieces of paper torn in half and told them to write their votes down. Other voters simply left without casting their ballot. Some voters were told that they should come back later in the day, when the machines would be working, thereby casting their ballots twice.

The Oakland Tribune reported last week that several thousand voters in Alameda County used electronic voting machines made by Diebold that were never certified for use by state and county voting officials. Diebold altered the software running on the machines prior to the election, but never bothered to submit the software for testing or even notify the state that the software update had been made.

Another election last week also displayed troubling irregularities. After Rita Thompson, a school board member who lost a close race in Fairfax County, Virginia, complained, tests were performed on a WINvote machine made by Advanced Voting Solutions of Texas. Lo and behold, one out of every hundred votes for Thompson actually resulted in a subtracted vote for the candidate. But there's more. Ten machines broke down during the day, so they were brought to the county government center, repaired, and sent back to be used by voters ... with no oversight. But there's still more. At 7 p.m., most of the 223 precincts in the county attempted to report tallies. At the same time. The system, overworked, crashed. "Fiasco" is not a word I would disagree with in describing this situation.

In Georgia during the 2002 elections, some voters using Diebold machines tried to vote for one candidate, but the machine would instead register a vote for the opponent. It got weirder in Georgia in 2002. There were six electoral upsets in that election, including one in which the incumbent senator, who was far ahead in the polls, lost by 11 points. Diebold had changed the software used by the voting machines seven or eight times, without anyone examining it, and then after the election the company immediately overwrote the flash memory of all the cards used by those machines, so it is now impossible to know what the vote counts really were.

Also during the 2002 elections, machines made by Omaha-based Election Systems & Software erroneously reported that no one in several large Florida precincts had voted for governor. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

I have a Canadian email acquaintance, and he always likes to brag that they conduct their elections in Toronto with paper ballots, hand counting, and absolutely no confusion about who won when the dust settles. Unlike the continuing problems with the Diebold machines, where it appears the dust will never settle. Only get thrown in our eyes.

The economics of spam
A propos a comment of mine yesterday... La Reg today reports on a study by Andrew Leung (of Telus, a Canadian telco firm), which examines the economics of spam in great detail. The depressing conclusion? Even though response rates to spam are something on the order of 50 responses per million emails sent, the cost structure of spam (just about free to the spammer no matter how many emails are sent; all of the costs (both monetary and opportunity costs) are borne by the recipient and by the owners of the network infrastructure that passes the spam along) is such that, in one estimate it only takes a response rate of about one per million emails for a typical spam campaign to be profitable. So a spammer who gets 50 replies per million isn't just making money, s/he's actually doing very well.

For those of you who are interested in sources, you can get a copy of Leung's paper in .pdf format here.

A reader (I'm out to a conference the next couple days, and blogging and responding to email during breaks, etc., so my reply to you will be a bit late; sorry for any inconvenience) wrote to mention another possibility, which has been floated around a lot, namely the institution of some sort of bulk email fee structure to pass at least some of the costs back to the spammers. I hate to see things come to this, but it's probably the one solution to the problem that I've seen that stands a chance of working. I hope that a means to distinguish between mere righteous individuals (like Your Humble Scrivener) and commercial entities (like those rat bastard spammers) can be found so that we righteous individuals don't have to pay through the nose for the sins of the profligate, but until we make spammers pay for the privilege of wasting our time and money they simply have no incentive to stop.

Thought for the Day:
The right wing is not just anti-marriage for gay people, they're against gay people period. If we were asking for oxygen, they'd be against it.
--Evan Wolfson, Executive Director, Freedom to Marry, on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling of 11/18 on gay marriage

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Around the League of Liberals tonight:
Some interesting happenings around The League of Liberals:

Background noise right now...
is the Sci-Fi showing of "The X-Files" on Tuesday nights (I'm waiting for dinner to finish so I can pop Catch-22 into the DVD player). I've never been a fan of "The X-Files", mostly because I've known real FBI agents in my career as a lawyer, and I know that any real life Fox Mulder would have gotten his sorry ass bounced out of the bureau within two months, max.

Anyway, what's showing right now is the Scully/Mulder "replacement team" (Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish as Dogget and Reyes). They are so-so (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson at least had the sexual tension working for them; Patrick and Reyes are as sexy as dishwater), but they have a supporting character who's supposed to be a younger FBI agent. She's a real babe, but she's seriously annoying. If I were Dogget, I'd have slapped her silly several times by now, and we're only 40 minutes into the episode.

I notice that the IMDB trivia for "X-Files" says that Chris Carter was inspired to create "The X-Files" by the old Darren McGavin TV movies/series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker". I wish he'd not been so inspired; "Kolchak" is a gem, in large part because it went for comedy as well as horror, and was never meant to be taken seriously. "The X-Files" tries to play it seriously, and as a result is simply too unbelievable (for me) to be entertaining.

As an old girlfriend of mine used to say, "I am willing to suspend my disbelief, but I won't hang it by the neck until it's dead."

Sorta depressing, sorta encouraging...
but the bottom line is that it looks to me like St. Louis doesn't get the All Star Game anytime soon, if I'm reading this post at Redbird Nation correctly (scroll down to "NOTHING GROUNDBREAKING"). Apparently, the local public officials got some sense and cast a jaundiced eye on the Cardinals attempt to get public funding for a new ballpark.

I'm of two minds about this; a new "Camden Yards" type retro-park downtown would be fun, but I begin to see red and fume at the ears whenever a sports team owner threatens and wheedles and cajoles and snivels and manages to get a large infusion of public funds towards the construction of their staduim/arena/ballpark. I have to admit that I'm glad the legislature held firm, even if the city and county knuckled under.

Even if it does cost us the All Star Game.

UPDATE (11/19): Redbird Nation now informs us that apparently St. Louis County's going to $45 million bond issue to help the Cardinals get their new ballpark. At least the bonds are to be repaid out of the proceeds of the STL County hotel/motel tax, so at least visitors to Paradise-on-the-Mississippi will be paying more to the Cards than the locals will.

I hope they fold myself...
From La Reg: SCO admits: Linux jihad is ruining our business

By law, companies must provide apocalyptic forward-looking scenarios in their SEC filings. They need to show they've thought of everything, to fend off potential class action suits just in case the sky really does fall in.

But in a filing yesterday the SCO Group gave a strong hint that while it anticipates riches from IP licenses, its current business is falling apart. Deeply embedded in the risks portion of the filing is this statement:

"We are informed that participants in the Linux industry have attempted to influence participants in the markets in which we sell our products to reduce or eliminate the amount of our products and services that they purchase. They have been somewhat successful in those efforts and similar efforts and success will likely continue. There is also a risk that the assertion of our intellectual property rights will be negatively viewed by participants in our marketplace and we may lose support from such participants. Any of the foregoing could adversely affect our position in the marketplace and our results of operations. "

Which boils down to two admissions. SCO has already lost business from its loyal customer base. And it expects to lose more.

It's all guesswork in a white coat. --George Carlin
A Changin' Times has a good post on how medical attitudes towards fats keep changing.

I like Lewis Black's analysis the best:

There are two general rules of health that I've thought of, that I think work. First is that the good die young, and pricks live forever, and if you masturbate--and I know this for a fact because I did the work in my own lab (I was wearing a lab coat at the time)--if you masturbate 20 times a day, you'll never get out the door. You may get out the door but then you'll fall down.
--Lewis Black

And now, thanks to the U.S. Government.... astro-turfing Islamic moderation...
From Nathan Newman: a New Zealand paper reports that the CIA both recruited willing mullahs (Islamic leaders) and planted agents (i.e., fake mullahs) to preach a doctrine of Islamic moderation in the wake of 9/11 and in the run up to the Iraq war.

Quoth Nathan:

Of course, there are two big dangers.

First, if moderate mullahs are now suspected of being bought and paid for by the United States, it may discredit the legitimiate theological moderates.

Even more dangerously, we may delude ourselves based on media quotations from our own paid agents that the US is more respected and in less danger than reality. Or the administration will just flat out create disinformation for domestic consumption, using paid puppets in the middle east to electioneer.

The bottom line is the next time you hear a mullah praising the US occupation in Iraq, you may just be hearing paid propaganda.

Jeez, we just never learn, do we....

And I wonder when the firestorm begins....
Just received this reference on a mail list I belong to: Massachusetts backs gay marriage

Massachusetts could become the first state to recognise gay marriage.

But the Supreme Judicial Court stopped short of ordering that marriage licences be issued to seven gay couples who challenged the law.


The Massachusetts court ruled that barring same-sex couples from the benefits of civil marriage was "unconstitutional."

Courts in Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont have made similar rulings, yet gay marriage remains illegal.

What has me curious is why the SJC didn't order the marriage licenses be issued. I'll have to see if I can hunt down a copy of the opinion to see if it has an explanation of that.

UPDATE: Got a reference to the CNN coverage of the ruling. The court is apparently allowing the legislature 6 months to get their act together with respect to the necessary changes in the laws. The CNN story also gives a link to FindLaw where one can get a .pdf of the slip opinion in the case. Still haven't had a chance to actually read the ruling, yet.

If the election were conducted like the Ecosystem...
We'd be saying "President Dean". According to Turquoise Waffle Irons in the Back Yard, Dean's website has more (waaaaaaay more, 7010 to 2640) pages linking to his official website than to the next most popular (the website of the Miserable Failure).

BTW, according to the Miserable Failure Project Page, the Miserable Failure meme is still hanging in there at number 2 on the Google search list.

A messed up shipment, no doubt.
First saw this on Randy Cassingham's This is True, but also picked up by League o'Libs member Dohiyi Mir: the Indianapolis Star reports that in Boone County, Indiana they had an election. The electronic voting machines dutifully recorded about 144,000 votes cast.

Trouble is, Boone County has fewer than 19,000 registered voters, and a little over 5200 of them actually came out to the polls that election day.

Randy Cassingham, in his tagline to that story, said what I was thinking (remember, I lived in Chicago for three years while in law school): obviously, Boone County got the shipment of voting machines that were supposed to be delivered to Cook County, Illinois.

Welcome back....
to The Mahablog, after a few days bereavement leave. You were sorely missed.

If this doesn't say it all....
concerning the Episcopal Church's "gay bishop" controversy, it's close. This is from a post in a mail list I subscribe to:

Found on the web:

"The consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop of the New Hampshire Diocese of the Episcopal Church is an affront to Christians everywhere. I am just thankful that the church's founder, Henry VIII, and his wife Catherine of Aragon, and his wife Anne Boleyn, and his wife Jane Seymour, and his wife Anne of Cleves, and his wife Katherine Howard, and his wife Catherine Parr are no longer here to suffer through this assault on traditional Christian marriage."

Spamming the spammers... a workable strategy?
An interesting proposal here... the main issue is, is it worth the work that it'd take to actually implement this? Unless, that is, some brilliant übergeek figures out some way to automate this...

We've been going about it all wrong. We need to start responding to spam.

Spamming is based on statistics. At X positive responses per million, an income of $P per positive response and a reasonably low cost per million emails sent, their income is effectively based on the number of spams they can send out (we all know that). The current model of spam-fighting has been to increase the cost of sending spam. Unfortunately, that's mostly only increased the fixed costs for sending spam. Since most of the per-message costs of sending spam come from the cost of bandwidth, this simply forces spammers to increase their volume of spam until gross profits exceed fixed costs (i.e. contrary to our real intent).

What we need to do now (and what we should have been doing all along) is raising the cost per email to the spammers by raising the variable cost of processing the responses

In the last few years, the spamming industry has managed to raise the signal-to-noise ratio of my email from less than 1% to well over 90%. This ignores mailing list emails that are easily filterable and leaves spam competing against the ad-hoc emails that (for me) are generally among the most valued. This raises the very real risk of throwing out some of my most valued emails having mistaken them for one of the least-valued. (Yes, I use spamassassin and Mozilla's mail filters. The 300 spams are mostly filtered by them, but I still have to worry about false positives).

Spamming is based on statistics. It's workability is also based on the presumption that was, until recently, valid for email -- that communications have a good signal-to-noise ratio. More specifically, spamming is dependent on the presumption that 99.99% of spams that get tossed out are simply and silently tossed out. However: what would happen if instead of silently ignoring all of the spam we received, we simply chose a very small percentage to respond to with red-herring data?

Pretty simple -- they'd have the same problem that SPAM causes with E-Mail ... a bad signal-to-noise ratio. If the success rate on calls for people interested in mortage renewals fall below 1%, mortage companies currently buying from spam clearing houses might as well turn back to cold calling.


Current intelligence indicates that most of the spam we receive comes from a small band of virulent spammers -- perhaps a few hundred of them. If every member of this community were to respond to one spam per day with red-herring data, then each spammer would be inundated with thousands of false responses which they would have to filter for the handful of true positives. My guess is that spammers would start to drop like flies, and this would result in a concentration of our daily response on the few remaining spammers. The number of false positives received by each spammer would quickly rise in an almost geometric progression. With them would rise the per-spammer costs.

The nice thing about this system is that it feeds off of the intrinsic power of the Internet. It is entirely distributed, and self-limiting. There is no AOL administrator randomly determining that your innocent query is a spam and cutting off your account. There is no spamhaus to DOS into oblivion. If somebody sends off a legitimate bulk email and accidentally includes me, there's currently less than a 1% chance that I'll respond with false data. If somebody sends off a 'legitimate' email to 10 million people without doing due diligence to ensure that their recipients really are going to want to hear from them ...... that's their problem.

More Microsoft "innovation"
Bill Gates gave (as he usually does, if my memory serves me correctly) the keynote at Comdex this year. La Reg had someone there (of course), and here's their report on one of the themes of Bill's keynote: Microsoft aims to 'shift the tide' in war on spam.

Microsoft is porting its anti-spam technology to the latest version of its Exchange messaging platform.

Early versions of Microsoft's SmartScreen spam-filtering technology have already been introduced in Outlook 2003, MSN 8 and Hotmail. The technology will be available as an Exchange Server 2003 add-on, called Microsoft Exchange Intelligent Message Filter, in the first half of next year.

The anti-spam product announcement was made yesterday by Bill Gates during his Comdex Fall keynote. The Microsoft chairman spoke of the technology as a means to "shift the tide" in the war against spam.

Microsoft defines its SmartScreen technology as a "patented technology based on a machine-learning approach, where decisions regarding whether email would be considered spam are made by email customers themselves and then incorporated into a feedback loop to train the filter to know what to look for".

Um, Bill? You think this is new? It's been done ahead of you. Just do a Google search on "Bayesian spam filter", and you'll see that people have already been working in this approach. The latest version of Eudora, if you want to shell out the money for it (I did, just recently) incorporates just such a filter, and it's damned good. Better than anything Microsoft will come up with, I'm sure (remember, that Microsoft is still part of that "initiative" that wants to define "trusted commercial email" for us; in other words, in Bill's mind, it's not spam if we don't want it, it's only spam if we can't trust it).


Thought for the Day:
Citizens in a democracy tend to confuse two concepts. They think that their right to hold their own opinions somehow makes all opinions equal. . . .
--Alexis de Tocqueville

Monday, November 17, 2003

George aWol Bush....
is an immature, cowardly prick. A few commentators have mentioned this: Bush: Give me a standing ovation, or I won't come speak.

Georgie, go take your fucking football and go home. To Crawford. Find a real man to do your job. You make me sick.

Wonderful. Just wonderful...
but then again The Producers is one of my favorite movies. This quote via Futurballa. Apparently Rosie O'Donnell has produced a (Broadway?) play, titled "Taboo" (about, God help me, Boy George), that has been getting universally bad reviews. Quoth one critic:

If Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom had produced "Taboo" instead of "Springtime for Hitler," they'd have stayed out of jail... .

Whoa.... is that bad, or is that bad?

I can die happy. But not quite yet...
It arrived today. I am the proud possessor of The Complete Far Side: 1980-1994 by Gary Larson. Two volumes, hardcover, slipcased, 1250 pages and about 18 pounds of Every Far Side Cartoon Ever Published (And Quite A Few Never Published In Book Form Ever).

If this blog gets silent for a few days soon, you can figure out why.

UPDATE (11/18/03): I'm not the only one who's ecstatic over the arrival of his Complete Far Side. Check out Aussie comedian Steve Davis, pictured here with both his volumes.

Great post by fellow Liberal Leaguer...
People's Republic of Seabrook: A real leader could do this, but then we're talking about George W. Bush here....:

Once upon a time, and not so very long ago, America and it's "Big Stick" was respected as a bastion of freedom and fair play. Then came Ronald Reagan and Bush pere and fils. No longer do you hear "American" and "credibility" ever being used in the same sentence. This is what the "America first, last, and always" policy of three Republican Presidents has brought us to.

Unfortunately, I ignore too many blogs in the blogroll....
Or else I'd have seen this 11/12 post by fellow RTB member Peggy at A Moveable Beast. Peggy is also doing the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) thang (like several other acquaintances of mine; I'm not nearly that creative, or hard working). Her travails with her novel are the source of an absolutely wonderful list of things-to-do-while-waiting-for-the-inspiration-to-strike: 25 Degrees of Procrastination.

Thanks to BartCop for this one...
Today was Veteran's Day, a day to honor those brave Americans who have fought to defend our country — or in our president's case, a day to freak them out. Bush commemorated Veteran's Day by attending a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, then signing the National Cemetery Expansion Act, which basically establishes new burial grounds for veterans. So happy Veteran's Day — we wanted to give you health insurance but ...
--Jon Stewart

Ok, so I'm biased, but...
I come away from a viewing of this clip thinking that Gen. Clark gave much better than he got. Here's a direct link to a video clip of Gen. Wesley Clark being interviewed by some Faux Snooze talking head. The Faux Snooze droid tries to do the usual "twist his words around" hatchet job on Clark, and the good General refused to be snowed by it.

I'm still on the fence regarding who'd be the best Democratic candidate, but the party could do a lot worse than Clark (can you say "Gephardt"? I knew you could...).

Tonight is "Stargate SG-1" Night on Sci-Fi...
and tonight they're plugging the hell out of "Sasquatch", a Sci-Fi original movie. The trouble is that it looks like they are trying to do it in the manner of "The Blair Witch Project" (i.e., first person film/video of the terrified film makers, though if the commercials are to be believed we'll see much more of the Sasquatch in this one than we saw of whatever it was that killed the kids in "Blair Witch"). Frankly, the "Blair Witch" folks did it probably about as well as it's going to be done (and I have to confess that even that wasn't as good as it was hyped to be). I can't see that this is going to be anything close to being as good as "Blair Witch"....

News to me...
St. Louis has a complex over being named "Most Unhealthy City" in the U.S., the title Memphis held a year ago. Apparently, Memphis managed to improve their standing markedly in the intervening year. Thing is, I don't recall hearing of any of the programs that they initiated to improve that standing. Shows how well connected I am.

Rush is back...
though it sounds like the jury's out as to whether he really learned something from his ordeal. From the AP via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Limbaugh returns to mike after drug treatment:

The conservative commentator thanked his listeners for their concern, and assured them that his ordeal would not affect his radio program.

"I've not been phony here, I've not been artificial on the program," he said. "I was all of that elsewhere."

Limbaugh had not appeared on the air since Oct. 10, before going into a rehabilitation program in Arizona.

"I spent five intense weeks, probably the most educational and intense five weeks on myself that I have ever spent. I would have had no idea how to do this myself," Limbaugh said at the start of his syndicated radio program.

Limbaugh has said he started taking painkillers "some years ago" when a doctor prescribed them following spinal surgery. Back pain stemming from the surgery persisted, Limbaugh said, so he kept taking pills and became hooked.

Admitting he was powerless over his addiction, Limbaugh said he learned more about himself during rehab than he ever had. He called it as important as the first grade.

"I am no longer trying to live my life by making other people happy," he said, broadcasting from a Manhattan studio. "I can no longer turn the power of my feelings over to other people."

I don't know. This doesn't sound promising, though...

UPDATE: Steve Gilliard seems to agree:

First of all, 30 days in rehab isn't nearly enough to break his addiction. My bet is that he'll be outside the Target scoring dope within a month. A relapse is pretty likely given his refusal to admit that he'd done anything wrong and is still blaming the Enquirer for lying on his racist, pill-popping junkie ass.

Second, there is still the matter of the criminal investigation into dope habit. How did he get so much freaking dope for so long? If he doesn't roll over on his suppliers, he should still be facing years in jail. So this is far from over for America's favorite junkie.
(On Steve's blog page, scroll down to the 11/17 post titled "America's favorite racist pill-popping junkie returns to work".)

At any rate, the legal mess has yet to get resolved. Things could get more interesting, but in my experience the courts can become incredibly flexible trying to bend over backwards on behalf of rich whites. Rich, white, politically influential radio mouthpiece? I'm not going to bet my farm on jail time yet.

As AmEx used to say, membership has its privileges...
I'm glad to see that old blogfriend, more-or-less regular reader and now fellow League of Liberals member Turquoise Waffle Irons in the Back Yard has apparently moved in the Ecosystem from Slimy Mollusc to Marauding Marsupial in just about two days (11/15 and 11/16) after joining the League. So even if the Bear thinks I'm just trying to inflate his link figures a bit I think I'll throw a few more links his way. Like my own Thought for the Day, his Quote of the Day changes daily. I've always been fascinated by what web servers the presidential campaigns are running their websites on, and I'm always happy to be given yet another reason to drink Guinness.

I thought it was only the Soviets who changed history via the airbrush and judicious editing....
Brian Leiter's been continuing the discussion of legal realism on his blog. I found this passage very, very disturbing, though:

I am reminded of an extraordinary anecdote courtesy of Judge Posner when he was in Austin two years ago. He recounted the story of his own confirmation hearing, at which Senator Thurmond asked him the obligatory question, "If confirmed to the bench, would you view it as your duty to apply the law rather than make the law?" to which Posner--being more intellectually honest, and less cowardly, than most--replied, "Well, Senator, it's a bit more complicated than that," and then proceeded in to a lengthy explanation of the necessity of judicial law-making, the ambiguity of the kinds of cases that require appellate review, and so on.

When Posner a few weeks later got the transcripts of his confirmation hearing, the exchange appeared as follows:

"Thurmond: If confirmed to the bench, would you view it as your duty to apply the law rather than make the law?

Posner: Yes."

Posner's actual answer was expunged because it obviously conflicted with the official line of the Reagan era--namely, that Reagan was nominating judges who would apply the law, not make the law, in contrast to those "activist" Warren Court liberals --and because the public culture, as I noted originally, is unaware of the realist claim that is obvious to lawyers....

Lies, damned lies and statistics...
Nathan Newman brings our attention to the story that the Heritage Foundation may be playing games with the "jobs created" data: (More) GOP Lies on Jobs.

In default of any Federal action these days...
New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is about the nearest thing we have to a Federal regulatory agency, or at least so it seems. In today's New York Times Spitzer has a good op-ed piece well worth reading: Regulation begins at home

With two decisions in the last two weeks, the Bush administration has sent its clearest message yet that it values corporate interests over the interests of average Americans. In the Securities and Exchange Commission's settlement with Putnam Investments, the public comes away short-changed. In the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to forgo enforcement of the Clean Air Act, the public comes away completely empty-handed.


The public expects and deserves the protection that effective government oversight provides. Until the Bush administration shows it is willing to do the job, however, it appears the public will have to rely on state regulators and lawmakers to protect its interests.

At last....
a minimum wage that Repugnicans can support: Congress Raises Executive Minimum Wage to $565.15/Hr.

Congress approved a bill to increase the executive minimum wage from $515.15 to $565.15 an hour, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) announced Monday. The move marks the first increase in the wage since 1997.

"This is good news for all Americans who work in the upper levels of commerce," DeLay said. "Almost a third of America's hard-working executives toil at corporations day after day, yet still live below the luxury line. It was about time we gave a boost to the American white-collar worker."

The wage was calculated to help executives meet the federal standard-of-easy-living mark of $1.1 million a year. DeLay said that, although his goal is to ultimately reach an executive minimum wage of $800 per hour, he was satisfied with what he characterized as a "stop-gap measure."

"Many of the thousands of Americans overseeing the nation's factories, restaurant chains, and retailers can't even afford a jet," DeLay said. "It's our long-term goal to ensure that no one who sees to it that others work hard for a living will have to go without the basic necessities of the good life."

The only problem I have with The Onion's stories is that they are getting more and more believable day by day....

I'm still sitting on the fence myself...
and I don't watch the Sunday morning "public affairs" shows, most especially Meet the Pest.. uh.. Press... but it's interesting to see that Missouri Liberal caught Wesley Clark's appearance on MTP and came away very favorably impressed.

As a former Missouri liberal (now a Tennessee liberal (if that isn't an oxymoron) owing to a corporate transfer a couple years ago) from the St. Louis area I wish I could generate even Missouri Liberal's level of minimal enthusiasm for my fellow St. Louisan Richard Gephardt. I'm sorry, Dick, I'm really, really sorry, but even though you were my congresscritter for more years than I can recall now, the phrase "President Gephardt" doesn't exactly fill me with excitement. To tell you the truth, "President Gephardt" doesn't inspire me with much more than an overpowering feeling of ennui.

I wonder if getting Dick an eyebrow transplant would help?

This week ain't shaping up very well for free speech, it seems...
In the beginning, there was the LangaList flap, where some self-deprecating military humor was tagged "treasonous" by some wingnut that probably hasn't come closer to actual service than watching [enter title of your favorite war or military-themed movie here; mine would be Patton, in case you're wondering] on his/her VCR. Then, Roger Ebert (in his generally wonderful "Movie Answer Man" column) had to deal with the strenuous objections of some clown who was moved to high dudgeon over Billy Bob Thornton's "anti-American" portrayal of a U.S. president in the recently released fluff comedy "Love Actually". And now, my Monday's reading of the always rewarding Democratic Veteran was sullied by Jo's reportage that the wonderful "A Marine's Girl" had received threats from some bozo claiming to be a retired Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant, telling her that he'd reported her to various USMC authorities for purportedly "divulging some intel". At the time Jo picked up the story, Marine's Girl was claiming that she'd close her blog shortly, but in the interim she's picked up quite a bit of support , including email purporting to be from a sympathetic USMC Captain. For the latest developments, check "A Marine's Girl", and I have no doubt that Democratic Veteran will be keeping tabs on the situation too.

How soon before we have an officially sanctioned informants program? I thought we managed to get that slapped down when the "TIPS Program" got shit-canned. Some of us really need to do some reading in modern history; I suggest Nazi Germany and the USSR under Stalin for starters....

If we can't be consistent, can we at least be principled in our inconsistency?
Michael Kinsley, in Slate last Thursday, had a generally good piece on George aWol Bush's seeming turnaround in his attitude towards "nation building" and promoting democracy overseas: The Limits of Eloquence: Did Bush mean a word of his speech about democracy?

America's proper role in promoting democracy and freedom in the world was a big issue in the 2000 presidential election. One of the candidates was a Wilsonian idealist, arguing that the prestige and even the military strength of the United States should be used to remake other governments in our image. The other candidate was contemptuous of this woolly-minded notion, saying American blood and treasure should be spent only in humanitarian emergencies or to protect our own narrowly defined self-interest.

The idealist won the election, in the opinion of many. But the skeptic took office. And then, guess what! The skeptic became a woolly-minded idealist! Democracy's a funny thing.


And what should you do if you are a supporter of a politician who changes his mind on one of the fundamental questions of democratic government? George W. Bush's powers of persuasion are apparently so spectacular, at least to some, that almost all the pro-Bush voices in Washington and the media have remained pro-Bush even when "pro-Bush" means the opposite of what it did five minutes ago. The Comintern at the height of its powers, in the 1930s, couldn't have engineered a more impressive U-turn. If places like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page had been as enthusiastic about nation-building back in 2000 as they are now, Al Gore might be president today.

Wait a minute. Maybe he is.

Thought for the Day:
There are some sights you don't want to live long enough to see. John Goodman dropping trousers while dancing on a bar is one of those.
--James Berardinelli [on the film "Coyote Ugly"]

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Images of Afghanistan
Courtesy Shock and Awe.

The intelligence of Bush and his puppetmeisters is made manifest...
as Josh Marshall reports. There was a plan launched by the CPA in Iraq ot find useful employment for Iraq's former weapons scientists. Better to have them doing something for us than providing weapons assistance to someplace like Iran, or Syria, or maybe Al Qaeda, after all. But the plan was basically underfunded and held up in interagency feuding. Meanwhile we're dumping buckets o'money into a search for the WMDs that never were.

Marshall informs us today that apparently Saddam's top missile development scientist has gone to Iran.

Nice going guys.

What do you expect from a man who ran out on a National Guard obligation?
Steve Gilliard (scroll to 11/16 post titled "Bush and his security") had an interesting comment on Bush's security demands for his British visit:

What is becoming evident is that Bush has embraced a security regime which calls his personal courage into question. He doesn't meet with crowds, he's sheltered from protestors, in some countries, he's unable to do more than touch down and leave. At some level, the President, as commander in chief, has to place his life at risk. Not unreasonable risk, but some risk. The idea is not to hide from threats, but assess them and react to them. There is no threat to the President which requires a minigun outside Iraq or Afghanistan. What message does it send to the terrorist that our president is frightened of a bunch of London protesters? What are they going to do? Throw beer cans at him? He's suppose to represent the US, not cower in fear. Reagan didn't get this kind of security after he was shot.

On the other hand, we have a commander-in-chief who pulled family strings to keep from going to Vietnam, and then dodged that duty by deserting before his tour of duty was finished. Surely, an objective observer could have called Bush's personal courage into question long before this.

The Holy Grail of cryptology found?
From the AP via the Tampa Tribune: Encryption Revolution: the Tantalizing Promise of 'unbreakable' Codes

Americans may need a serious attitude readjustment...
A propos of the LangaList flap over Treasonous military humor, I see this in this week's Movie Answer Man by Roger Ebert:

I just saw "Love Actually" and thought it was a very good movie. But one scene I found offensive and unnecessary -- Billy Bob Thornton as the president, showing him as a disreputable womanizing bully. That scene and the press conference were totally anti-American. Michael Leone, Port Washington, N.Y.

It was a funny scene involving a cleverly realized fictional character inspired in equal parts by Clinton and Bush. The British prime minister's putdown at the press conference was fueled by his jealousy, because he also had a crush on the young woman targeted by the president. When did we get so thin-skinned that any depiction of the president short of idolatry is "anti-American?" What happened to our sense of humor?

I'm really beginning to think that we can blame incidents like this on the right wingnuts who scream "treason" at the slightest hint of criticism of the politicians and policies which they favor. After hearing that specious "reasoning" enough, people are, alas starting to swallow it. What's worse, they're starting to think (or rather, avoid thinking by adopting that position) in that manner.

Americans need a serious crash course in critical thinking. Soon....

Thought for the Day:
When the presence of William Shatner is the best thing about a movie, you know the production is in trouble.
--James Berardinelli [on the film "Showtime"]

Saturday, November 15, 2003

A winning Democratic message?
Daily Kos mentions attending a conference of the New Democratic Network, at which the following potential "mission statement" (or "theme") was proposed for the Democratic party:

The Democratic Party is the party of progress. Progress means strengthening our defenses and strengthening our alliances. Tax policies that help working people and the middle class, closing loopholes for corporations and making sure that wealthy Americans do not get all of the benefits. Investing in people so all those who make the grade can afford a college education or the training the need to get ahead. Moving people from welfare into the workforce through training they need to get ahead. Moving people from welfare into the workforce through traininng and job placement. Making American energy independent while cleaning our environment. And progress means ensuring that all Americans have access to healthcare and are able to save for a secure retirement.

Of course, it's too long for a 30 second campaign spot. But still, according to Kos, when polled, a number of voters seemed to respond favorably to it. According to his cited figures (see linked post), 78% of those polled answered that this mission statement made them much more likely or somewhat more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate.

Distill this theme, stay on message, and we might just have a winner in 2004....

From the New York Times
One more reason to look askance:The Wal-martization of America.

Something I've always wondered, if "a rising tide raises all boats", how come the rich keep getting richer and the poor getting poorer? Maybe we should try making the poor a bit richer, so they can buy the goods and services that the companies that the rich invest in produce?

Nah....Too simplistic, right? It'll never work. ;-)

What some people need is some perspective....
I subscribe to "The LangaList", a twice weekly newsletter devoted to computing technology, with plenty of useful information packed into every issue (more if you pay for the "Plus" edition). It's not all technology though; in every issue Fred Langa, the editor, includes something lighthearted in a "just for grins" section of the list.

A few weeks ago (so I'm behind in my reading; if you don't like it sue me), Fred Langa put this item in the "Just for Grins" section:

The Differential Theory of US Armed Forces (Snake Model)

Upon encountering a snake in the Area of Operations (AO)...

1. Infantry: Snake smells them, leaves area.

2. Airborne: Lands on and kills the snake.

3. Armor: Drives over snake, laughs, and looks for more snakes.

4. Aviation: Has 12-digit grid coordinates of snake from GPS. FAC gives steer to target. Can't find snake. Returns to base for refuel, crew rest and manicure.

5. Ranger: Plays with snake, then eats it.

6. Field Artillery: Kills snake with massive Time On Target barrage with three Forward Artillery Brigades in support. Kills several hundred civilians as unavoidable collateral damage. Mission is considered a success and all participants (inc. cooks, mechanics and clerks) are awarded Silver Stars.

7. Special Forces: Makes contact with snake, ignores all State Department directives and Theater Commander Rules of Engagement by building rapport with snake and winning its heart and mind. Trains it to kill other snakes. Files enormous claim for travel pay settlement upon return.

8. Combat Engineer: Studies snake. Prepares in-depth doctrinal thesis in obscure 5 series Field Manual about how to defeat snake using countermobility assets. Complains that maneuverforces don't understand how to properly conduct doctrinal counter-snake ops.

9. Navy SEAL: Expends all ammunition and calls for naval gunfire support in failed attempt to kill snake. Snake bites SEAL and retreats to safety. Hollywood makes fantasy film in which SEALS kill myriad extremist snakes.

10. Navy: Fires off 50 cruise missiles from various types of ships, kills snake and makes presentation to Senate Appropriations Committee on how Naval forces are the most cost-effective means of anti-snake force projection.

11. Marine: Kills snake by accident while looking for souvenirs. Local civilians demand removal of all US forces from Area of Operations.

12. Marine Recon: Follows snake, gets lost.

13. Combat Controllers: Guides snake elsewhere.

14. Para-Rescue Jumper: Wounds snake in initial encounter, then works feverishly to save snake's life.

15. Supply: (NOTICE Your anti-snake equipment is backordered.)

16. Transport pilot: Air-drops expired snakebite kits two grid squares away on roof of children's hospital.

17. F-15 pilot: Misidentifies snake as enemy Mi-24 Hind helicopter and engages with missiles. Crew chief paints snake kill on aircraft fuselage.

18. F-16 pilot: Finds snake, drops two CBU-87 cluster bombs, misses snake target, demolishes embassy 4 km east of snake due to weather. Cites inclement weather (Too Hot, Too Cold, Clear but overcast, Too dry with Rain, Unlimited ceiling with low cloud cover etc.) Suggests procurement of million-dollar, air-to-ground anti-snake bomb.

19. AH-64 Apache pilot: Unable to locate snake, cold-blooded snakes don't show well on infrared. Infrared only operable in desert AOs without power lines or SAMs.

20. UH-60 Blackhawk pilot: Finds snake on fourth pass after snake builds bonfire, pops smoke, lays out VS-17 to mark Landing Zone. Rotor wash blows snake into fire.

21. B-52 pilot: Pulls ARCLIGHT mission on snake, kills snake and every other living thing within two miles of target.

22. Missile crew: Lays in target coordinates to snake in 20 seconds, but can't receive authorization from National Command Authority to use weapons.

23. Intelligence officer: Snake? What snake? Only four of 35 indicators of snake activity are currently active. We assess the potential for snake activity as LOW.

24. Judge Advocate General (JAG): Snake declines to bite, citing grounds of professional courtesy.

When I first read this, I though nothing of it, save to laugh. Basically, this is the kind of humor that you're going to find service persons telling about themselves; I strongly suspect that it was written by a soldier or marine. And of course number 24 is simply a lawyer joke that's been adapted to the military legal service (JAGs); having been a Navy JAG I found it the funniest of all the entries.

Obviously, some of Fred's readers haven't served in the military. Hard as it is to believe for me as a veteran, there were actually some folks who found this offensive. Let's let Fred take it from here:

Man, the world just gets weirder and weirder.

Last issue's "Just for Grins," containing military humor, provoked many angry emails accusing me of a lack of patriotism(!) and, well, let's call it moral turpitude. One of the more printable criticisms was:

     I believe you owe your readers as well as our armed forces an
     apology for disseminating such a diatribe as this.

Sigh. Google shows almost a million sites (literally) devoted to or about military humor (, and many of those sites were even done by people in, and formerly in, the military. Gosh, our armed forces even invented the terms "snafu" and "fubar," if you recall (see ), as healthy humor, making fun of military inefficiencies.

But somehow, in the current political climate here in the US, that kind of humor is now taken as something traitorous. Unbelievable!

Fortunately, I also got a few emails like this:

     As a new member of the Plus letter, I found some very useful
     information in it, Buuuuut, what made me laugh out loud was
      the extra that you placed there with the Military and the
     snake. Being a 100% Service connected disabled vet, I can
     honestly tell you that every one of these; as funny as they
     are, are oh so very true and sounds completely like some
     people I served with. Thanks for the laugh and the trip down
     memory road. *large grin* ---Daniel E.Gray

I wrote a short note to Daniel: "Thanks. I'm getting flak from some readers who believe I'm somehow being unpatriotic by running that item. The times we live in...."

I assumed that was that, but Daniel came back with a roar:

     BULLHOCKY!!! If I can find humor in it and I served, then tell
     the others to blow it out their ears! I guess then their next
     step is to contact Readers Digest and complain about the
     "Humor in Uniform" that they run every month? Or maybe they
     should contact the Military Times Publishing in Virginia and
     demand they stop running cartoons that show military life? Or
     maybe they should contact the bookstores and library in their
     area and demand they remove the old WW2 cartoons that show two
     tired GI's complaining about military life? Maybe these idiots
     should actually get a life! And you can quote me on this!

Thanks, Daniel. I did. 8-)

Having served, there are times that universal military service starts looking like a good thing. This is one of those times. There's a peculiar tone to military humor. I suppose I can see where a civilian with absolutely no military experience could think that this type of humor was insulting to those who served. But there's something about a term of service that gives one a perspective on human frailty and foolishness that comes in handy.

Especially nowadays.

Thought for the Day:

Is human life entirely based on sex, or is that only what it seems like on cable television?
--Roger Ebert

Friday, November 14, 2003

Andy, if you want a job done right, do it yourself
Jo Fish at Democratic Veteran let's Andrew Sullivan have it, and as usual, Sullivan richly deserves it: Where's Baghdad again?

Legal realism: (sadly) the best kept secret about appellate jurisprudence?
Brian Leiter has a good post (sort of a reprint) on "What is 'legal realism'?", a topic which is quite relevant at this particular point in time, with Senate Republicans sponsoring slumber parties to protest Democratic lack of cooperation in Bush's court packing plan.

Perhaps it's the fact that civics education in the US sucks, but very few non-lawyers have a real good idea of what appellate courts really do. How many times have you heard that age-old saw, "Courts aren't supposed to make law, they're merely there to interpret it"? Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings here, but the lawmaker hasn't been born yet (no, not even Hammurabi) who could possibly enact laws to cover every possible situation that can arise; human experience is too infintely variable to allow for that. Thus it's important to know that appellate courts do make law; they can't avoid it even if they want to.

Leiter makes some very good points:

Those who are realists about law, and more particularly, courts, think that the kinds of "legal reasons"--appeals to doctrine, precedent, statutory text, and the reasoning by analogy, by which courts bring the doctrine etc. in to contact with the facts of a case--that judges offer in their opinions largely obscure the actual grounds of decision. Legal reasons don't really explain the decisions; legal reasons are often indeterminate, and equally good legal arguments can be given for very different outcomes. What really explains the decision is the judge's commitment to non-legal norms (moral, political, economic).


Suitably qualified (for the full scale of the qualifications, see my Blackwell essay), I find it hard to fathom that anyone disputes the truth of legal realism (lawyers don't, it's strictly some academics). It should hardly be surprising that legal realism is the correct descriptive account of appellate decision-making, if only for the simple reason that the cases selected for appellate review are disproportionately the ones where the legal reasons are indeterminate, and so the necessity for political and moral judgment is inescapable.


It's hard not to feel that our public culture, and our public discourse about law, would be a lot healthier if the truth of legal realism were more widely acknowledged. Consider the battle over federal court nominations: if we're realists, then we can say plainly that these are battles over life-time appointments of government agents who will be called on to make moral and political judgments, by which the force of the state will be brought to bear against the parties so judged. Ergo, it is perfectly reasonable, indeed, appropriate, for Senators to oppose nominations on moral and political grounds. The surprising thing, then, about the defeat of the Estrada nomination is not that he was defeated, but that so many others were given a free pass. These aren't battles over appointing the best "legal technicians"; these are battles over the appointment of mini-legislators. If the President doesn't nominate reasonably bipartisan legislators to the federal appeals courts, a Senate with a differing political cast of mind shouldn't approve any of them. Isn't it that simple? Well, it is if you're a legal realist.

Why is the bAdministration pushing Iraqification so strongly now?
Simple, says Josh Marshall; it's trying to avoid Democratization in the U.S. in 2004:

No doubt about it. We are in a really bad position. We should have given our operation a stronger and more
durable international footing when we could act from a position of relative strength in the spring and early summer. We should also have created a road-map for the transition to at least nominal Iraqi sovereignty that was clear, predictable, and rapid.

But things which make sense when done with consideration and from a position of strength don't necessarily make sense when done at gunpoint. Let's not fool ourselves. The calculus at the White House is being driven by an effort to ward off a potential political transition in the United States rather than an effort to lay the groundwork for one in Iraq. This is political -- as many of the original architects of this war are now realizing and ruing.

Silly number tricks
An article in the Chicago Sun-Times refers us to The Probability of God, a book by Stephen Unwin, which ultimately combines Pascal's wager with Bayes's Theorem to conclude that the probability of God's existence is about 67%.

I suppose I'll have to see if I can find Unwin's book in a library somewhere; I'd like to take a look at it, but frankly I don't think that I'll want to waste good money on it. On the other hand, the reader reviews at Amazon seem to indicate that Unwin, regardless of the soundness of his ultimate reasoning, makes Bayesian probability understandable, which would be valuable in and of itself for me. We'll have to think it over.

End of an era, or adolescent rebellion?
Interesting article in the Toronto Star concerning the decline and fall of psychoanalysis: Freud goes up in smoke. Even Freud's granddaughter is dissing him:

In the film Neighbours: Freud And Hitler In Vienna, which opens the Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival tonight, Freud's granddaughter Sophie reminisces about her famous relative. "In my eyes, both Adolf Hitler and my grandfather were false prophets of the 20th century."

Though there are some who think that Freud may still have some viability:

New York psychiatrist Kenneth Porter, of the Center for Spirituality and Psychotherapy, is even more respectful.

"Right now society is in a stage of adolescence with regard to Freud," he says. "It's how our teenage kids relate to us: `You're crazy, you don't know nothing, you're outdated.'

"When they're little, they think of us as god, which was how we thought of Freud for the first 40 years. I think society is going to come to a more mature relationship with Freud. So much that he taught us is so healing."

Sure, he made mistakes, says Porter, "but he figured the whole thing out himself and never even had an analyst to help him!"

Porter is probably still a bit too charitable to Freud. Basically, Freud was the Joseph Smith of psychology (in this respect, Sophie Freud's comment is quite perceptive): basically, he let his imagination run away with him (just as Smith let his imagination run away with him, called it "revelation" from God, and founded the various Latter Day Saint movements), came up with a system that seemed to hang together "logically", but which had little if any objective basis in evidence and fact. I doubt that, when the dust settles, that we'll find much worth keeping of Freud's thought, though it is important in context (just like, say, Ptolemy in astronomy and Hippocrates in medicine are important in context). Even Freud himself knew that; he once predicted that the disorders he explained and treated through psychoanalysis would after his death be explained thorough brain chemistry and physiology and treated through drugs.

It was only a matter of time...
You had to figure that someone would come up with a way of making sure you could do something on the 'net after you died. La Reg tells us about a service called "", where you can file a last email that will be forwarded to your loved ones (or your loathed ones) after you die.

The Microsoft way: why develop good products when you can market your way to success?
La Reg passes on an analysis by Richard Forno addressing some of the company's woes with respect to security (or rather, the lack thereof) in MS products:

Security (or lack thereof) in Microsoft's products has adversely impacted corporate profits for years, and finally is beginning to affect Microsoft's future profit potential as well. As a result, Microsoft suddenly is committed to improving security, despite its years of sitting idle. Hence the company's mad rush to inject "security" into every product, speech, and statement to reassure its customers that Windows is still a worthy operating environment to spend money on. It's even sponsored an upcoming report critical of Linux security to help spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about Microsoft's chief competitor and underscore why Windows is a better product. Sadly, rather than address its own problems, the company is content to use creative marketing as a substitute for good security and software development.

The problem isn't that virus-writers are exploiting Windows, it's that Microsoft makes Windows easy to exploit by anyone with a modicum of programming know-how -- and instead of accepting responsibility, the company is trying to pass the blame for such problems off onto others. Creating a rewards program is a clever, low-cost way of diverting public attention away from the many problems resulting from its history of exploit-friendly programming practices so it doesn't have to address the root causes that forced the creation of the rewards program in the first place. It also allows the company to portray itself taking the moral high ground (albeit illusory) in its approach to proactive product security.


Microsoft chairman Steve Ballmer recently said the company's rewards program makes it clear that Microsoft is "taking security seriously." What he meant to say was that it's clear that Microsoft is taking its security
reputation seriously. That's a big difference.

Thought for the Day:
Moral indignation - jealousy with a halo.
--H.G. Wells

Thursday, November 13, 2003

And what's the odds of this happening?
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Lottery winner gets twice the jackpot as second winning ticket is found

Two winning tickets bought in the same batch, at the same time, in the same store. The mind boggles, doesn't it?

Today's horror of the day:
A Photographic History of Michael Jackson's Face: With blithering, yet witty commentary.

Words fail me. Just go read it yourself.

Generally, I like living in Tennessee....
particularly in Memphis, "Home of the Blues, Birthplace of Rock and Roll"(TM). Memphis is basically an old river town, and as such it feels a lot like my hometown of St. Louis, once you get used to the fact that the Cardinals are 4.5 hours away (but at least the Redbirds are the AAA affiliate) and that Memphis lies on the "wrong" side of the river. Since I orient myself with respect to the Mississippi River, that means I say "east" for "west" and vice versa much more often than I'd like.

There are also downsides to life in Tennessee, though. Like the fact that I have to claim Sen. Bill "cat killer" Frist as one of my (well, not mine, really, since I didn't vote for him) U.S. Senators. But at least Frist can be credited with one good thing: inspiring an excellent post by And Then...: Late Night With Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

UPDATE: When And Then... likens it to late night television, he's being more perceptive than perhaps he realized. From WTF is it Now?: A television stunt orchestrated for Fox News Jebus.... Apparently the Senate GOoPers are taking their stage directions from Faux Snooze....

UPDATE, TAKE 2: ink from the squid was all over this story too....

Interesting story at the Newsweek site....
which is really MSGOP, I know, but.... "I went with the facts..." Fascinating glimpse of what goes on inside a jury room (and why they acquitted Durst).

It's metaphors like this which give religion a bad name...
I briefly touched on an aspect of this story when ragging on one of my hated alma maters, Bishop DuBourg High School of south St. Louis. Basically, I gave voice to some rejoicing because Clayton High School, when facing Bishop DuBourg in a football game, kicked the living snot out of them, defeating DuBourg by the score of 55-7.

Basically, if you followed the link in the earlier post, you read about how Clayton High School had its perfect 10-0 season's record placed in jeopardy because they fielded an ineligible player in 9 of those 10 games (fortunately from my perspective, they didn't play the ineligible player in the DuBourg game, so that victory still stands). If you kept up with the story, you've heard that the Missouri State High School Activities Association ruled that Clayton had to forfeit every game in which the ineligible player played, turning that perfect 10-0 to a 1-9 record (as I said, at least the 55-7 spanking of DuBourg still stands).

[In case you want to know the brief details, basically one of the St. Louis Rams coaching staff lives in some other St. Louis County community, but elected to send his son to Clayton because (and this is beyond dispute) Clayton is a damn good school academically. They can do that, but they have to pay tuition to the district to do so, which they could certainly afford on an NFL coaching staffer's salary. Anyway, MSHSAA rules state that in this situation (student non-resident in the school district but paying tuition to attend the school) an athlete has to sit out an entire year before being eligible to play; Clayton fielded the Rams staffer's son without having him sit out the year. As you might guess, the Rams staffer is looking for a home in Clayton now.]

Anyway, one of the results of Clayton's forfeiture of 90% of its victories was that DuBourg's hated rival on the South Side, St. Mary's High School, got to go to the Missouri State 4A HS Football Tournament in place of Clayton. Which is why I read this on the Post-Dispatch website today:

"We saw it as God intervening," said St. Mary's quarterback Mike Greaving, who rushed for an 80-yard touchdown in the second quarter. "Coach said the only way we could get in the playoffs was a modern miracle. Our modern miracle came through."

I hope Mike's religion teacher flunks him this semester, if he really believes God gives a sh*t about a damned high school football game.

But hey--did any of the guys pray to Mother Teresa for that "miracle"? If so, somebody call the Pope quick. He's looking for another miracle to attribute to Mother so he can hurry up and canonize her before he kicks the bucket.

Alabama's judicial panel does the right thing....
and removes Chief Justice Roy Moore from office.

Proving that every silver lining has a dark cloud, however, I sadly note:

1) Of course, the radical religious right is going to use this as one more of their "proofs" that there is blatant discrimination and bigotry against Christianity, thereby once again proving the correctness of the observation that, while in fact incredible deference is paid to religion in general and Christianity in particular in the United States, the religious right keeps pushing the specious claim of "persecution" in order to keep the rank and file motivated, since it's hard to work oneself into a high dudgeon and take action when things are going well, and

2) as noted in the daily Kos Moore is perfectly positioned to run for governor, and his political future in Alabama is probably assured.

Another interesting Harper's Index fact
From the same source as the earlier post:

Percentage of Americans who will save less than $100 on their 2006 federal taxes as a result of this year's tax cut : 88

Average amount these Americans will save : $4

I repeat: Feh.

It stands to reason...
when you coddle criminals, they keep committing their crimes. And that includes white-collar criminals. This from Harper's Index for October 2003:

Amount in "disgorgement" that the SEC has ordered a former Xerox CEO to pay in connection with alleged fraud : $7,600,000

Percentage of this payment that Xerox will cover : 100

It would seem that the "right" thing to do, from a deterrence aspect if not some ideal of justice, is to make sure said former CEO pays every penny of that disgorgement that he can (yes, I mean reduce him to penury) before letting the company pick up the balance. But no.....he gets to keep his ill gotten gains and stick the shareholders with the bill.


Conservative doubts about job growth
Nathan Newman also points us to an analysis by "supply-sider" and Reagan advisor Paul Craig Roberts. Quoting Roberts:

Only a few of the 116,000 private sector jobs created in October provide good incomes: 6,000 new positions in legal services and accounting – activities that reflect corporations gearing up to protect their top executives from Sarbanes-Oxley.

The remainder of the 116,000 new jobs consist of temps, retail trade, telephone marketing, and fund raising, administrative and waste services, and private education and health services...

Many of the new jobs do not pay enough to support a family. The temp and retail jobs are 40 percent of the total...

Some industry experts argue that the United States has lost so much of its core industrial capability that advanced manufacturing skills are disappearing in this country. The United States lacks mass production ability in critical areas of high-tech manufacturing.

Scary. Very scary.

SCO v. IBM: the subpoenas are flying!!
A fairly good summary: SCO, IBM battle heats up

Apparently, IBM, finding SCO less than forthcoming on discovery requests, have started issuing subpoenas to various financial analysts and investors who may or may not have seen the "infringing code" on which SCO has based its lawsuit. Meanwhile, apparently because Darl McBride suddenly realized he hasn't yet done everything he can to piss off the open source movement, SCO has subpoenaed Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman.

Things look interesting.

Why Dean got the Union nod
Nathan Newman gives the details, and he's right on the money, I think.

Why did Dean get the SEIU endorsement?

Apparently, he can follow directions.

Newman cites an article pointing out that each of the candidates was given a "roadmap to the endorsement" by the Union prez. Apparently, only Dean took it to heart and actually followed it. Newman continues:

Dean took the bottom-up roadmap to heart and went and solicited support from all the local leaders to build support for his candidacy-- something that the D.C.-dominated campaigns of his rivals just couldn't or wouldn't bother to do apparently.

As I said, I don't know what electability means, but one thing it does entail is listening-- listening to groups and constituencies on what they require to support you, then following through.


Real leadership is not making prepared speeches that sound good-- hell, we've seen enough of that in the last couple of years to know that's not leadership. Real leadership is real organic engagement with people and organizations, listening to what they need, shaping a response that channels the energy of the population, and then implementing the plan. By that score, Dean deserves a lot of credit as a leader.


Somehow I have the sense that if France and Germany had laid out the requirements for what it would take to get them on board for fighting global terrorism, Dean would listen closely enough to build the coalition organization that they would join.

Listening is an underrated leadership skill, but one that is all the more needed in the world today.

Thanks to Glorfindel of Gondolin for pointing this one to me.

The Bush invasion of Great Britain
From Collective Sigh, via Democratic Veteran:

Don't Leave Home Without It

What do you need for a three-day trip to Great Britain, all expenses paid (by the taxpayers)?

250 Secret Service agents
150 National Security advisors
60 White House political aides
200 representatives from other U.S. departments
15 sniffer-dog teams
1 personal chef and his team of 4 cooks
2 identical Boeing 747-200s and a 3rd chartered jumbo jet
1 Sikorsky Sea King helicopter
1 Black Hawk helicopter
2 identical motorcades of 20 armored vehicles, including limousine

(Click here for a good perspective)

That's not a three-day trip, that's an
invasion. And I hope he's leaving those "God Save the Queen" cowboy boots at home.

Every blogger's nightmare?
From The Onion: Mom Finds Out About Blog

According to Widmar, there's "no fucking chance" that Lillian will simply give the site a cursory look and never return.

"Mom loves hearing every boring detail of her kids' lives," he said. "She'd want to know what I'm eating for dinner every night, if she could. This blog is like porn for her."

"Come to think of it, why do I sometimes write about what I ate for dinner?" Widmar asked.

UPDATE: I found this one on my own today, but it looks like League of Liberals member Futurballa beat me to it yesterday. Still a good excuse to throw a gratuitous link his way.

Thought for the Day:
I'm happy to tell you there is very little in this world that I believe in. Listening to the comedians who comment on political, social, and cultural issues, I notice most of their material reflects an underlying belief that somehow things were better once and that with just a little effort we could set them right again. They're looking for solutions, and rooting for particular results, and I think that necessarily limits the tone and substance of what they say. They're talented and funny people, but they're nothing more than cheerleaders attached to a specific, wished-for outcome.

I don't feel so confined. I frankly don't give a fuck how it all turns out in this country - or anywhere else, for that matter. I think the human game was up a long time ago (when the high priests and traders took over), and now we're just playing out the string. And that is, of course, precisely what I find so amusing: the slow circling of the drain by a once promising species, and the sappy, ever-more-desperate belief in this country that there is actually some sort of "American Dream," which has merely been misplaced.

The decay and disintegration of this culture is astonishingly amusing if you are emotionally detached from it. I have always viewed it from a safe distance, knowing I don't belong; it doesn't include me, and it never has. No matter how you care to define it, I do not indentify with the local group. Planet, species, race, nation, state, religion, party, union, club, association, neighborhood, improvement committee;I have no interest in any of it. I love and treasure individuals as I meet them, I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to.

So, if you read something in this book that sounds like advocacy of a particular political point of view, please reject the notion. My interest in "issues" is merely to point out how badly we're doing, not to suggest a way we might do better. Don't confuse me with those who cling to hope. I enjoy describing how things are, I have no interest in how they "ought to be." And I certainly have no interest in fixing them. I sincerely believe that if you think there's a solution, you're part of the problem. My motto: Fuck Hope!
--George Carlin

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Bill Maher's not an economist....
but he is asking a very important question about the economy, one that we'd do well to ponder long and hard next November:

The economy - yes, it's up, and I root for it to stay up; I don't root for it to fail so George Bush will look bad. But it's not hating to ask about this economy: for how long, and at what cost? Stimulating the economy in the short term is kind of like toppling Saddam in Iraq: no one really doubted we could do that part of it - the short range, easy part of it - it was winning the peace, or in the case of the economy, putting it on sound footing for the entire next generation, not just till November 6, 2004, that was the real question.

Science marches on
From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Truth about orgasms

More on Gertrude Jones, she of the "defeat Bush" obituary
Dying Wish seeks Bush 2004 defeat

Latest teen sex fad...
or so they say. From Amorous Propensities: Teen sex fad sweeps nation!

Damn. And to think when I was at that age I was more concerned with baseball. Come to think of it, I'm even more concerned with baseball now than I was at that age. I suppose one can argue that this is not A Good Thing.

A 12-step program I'd like to see take off
From League o'Libs charter member Rush Limbaughotmy: Free Yourself from Right Wing Talk Radio: 12 Steps to Recovery

It's working. Dammit, it's working....
From Turquoise Waffle Irons in the Back Yard comes this update on the Miserable Failure "create a meme, or at least a Google #1 result" Project:

Miserable Failure's biography is the number 2 result when searching for "miserable failure" with Google. You can also check this page to keep track of the the status of the Miserable Failure Project.

Go Google it yourself and see (or follow the link on the cited blog entry).

Hmmmmm....haven't gotten my marching orders from League HQ yet....
But this Showcase post will get a vote from me: Catholics Out of Touch with the Real World. I'm not Catholic anymore, but any Catholic that can think for himself on this issue deserves my support.

WHAT? In your dreams, Steve and Bill. In your dreams....
From InfoWorld: Microsoft prepares security assault on Linux: Company will criticize Linux for taking too long to fix bugs

Um, guys.... April Fool's day isn't for another 4 1/2 months....

Required reading....
MedAct is, according to their own description

...a charitable organisation of doctors, nurses and other health professionals who are concerned about major threats to health such as violent conflict, poverty and environmental degradation.

These issues are of both global and local concern. Medact shows the relationship between them, educating policy-makers and the public on the measures needed for their prevention.

They have just released a report that, I think, should be required reading for all thoughtful persons, regardless of their position on the war: Continuing Collateral Damage: The health and environmental costs of war on Iraq. (The link is the the homepage for the report; the actual report is in .pdf format, so make sure you have Adobe Reader or the equivalent.) The executive summary reads:

The war on Iraq and its aftermath exacted a heavy toll on combatants and civilians, who paid and continue to pay the price in death, injury and mental and physical ill health. Between 21,700 and 55,000 people died between March 20 and October 20, 2003 (the date on which this report went to press), while the health and environmental consequences of the conflict will be felt for many years to come.

Of course, the wingnuts are just going to come back with, "well, I guess you think we should just put Saddam back in power, then?"

At least they aren't deluging me with such email.

More "dog bites man" news

Delay, deny and deceive -- the trinity of George W. Bush's presidency -- can be found everywhere these troubled days.

First, the news before it happens.

"In a 5-4 vote, the United States Supreme Court has ruled President Bush does not have to turn over subpoenaed documents to the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"The same justices who supported Bush's position selected him to be president in the disputed 2000 election. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, declared, 'When you come right down to it, the president is king and he can do what he wants. The rule of law is overrated, especially when our president demands his way during times of danger. We put him in power for a reason and protecting him from outside scrutiny serves our national interests.'"

Back to the present.

The bipartisan federal commission has voted to subpoena documents the Bush administration has failed to produce. The Bush crowd initially opposed the creation of the independent commission to investigate the intelligence and law enforcement failures prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Under pressure from the families of the victims, the president relented and ostensibly supported the commission, but since then his minions have engaged in a pattern of deliberate delays and stonewalling.

The 10-member panel, headed by Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, has encountered "serious delays" in getting information from the Defense Department. Specifically, the panel wants to examine the actions or failures to take action involving the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

What was NORAD doing the morning of Sept. 11 when it became known hijacked planes were in the air? How did the Defense Command react and carry out its responsibility to protect American airspace? Could anything have been done to prevent the attacks?

Those are vital questions that must be answered for the American people to better understand what happened and how to prevent future attacks. The commission wants to look at documents, transcripts and tapes. How else could the job be done?

But the panel said, in announcing the subpoena, "In several cases, we were assured that all requested records had been produced, but we then discovered, through investigation, that these assurances were mistaken. We are especially dismayed by problems in the production of records of activities of NORAD and certain Air Force Commands on Sept. 11."


What the Justice Department, the Defense Department, the National Security Council, the CIA and White House staff were doing about terrorist threats in the eight months prior to Sept. 11 gets to the heart of the questions and issues George W. Bush would like to see disappear.

When asked about cooperation with the commission, the president said, ever so disingenuously, "I want to be helpful," while his people are doing everything possible not to be helpful.

But Bush might have inadvertently let the cat out of the bag when he expressed concern that review of the requested documents would get "politicized."

Well, if the CIA reports show warnings were ignored, mistakes were made and there were major screw-ups, of course there will be political implications. Those things happen in an open and free society.

That one brought to my attention by The Felonious Elephant

You don't tug on Superman's cape/You don't spit into the wind/You don't pull the mask off the ol'Lone Ranger/And you don't mess around with Bill....
Ok so the rhyme sucks. But anyway.... I was interested to see on Futurballa this story of a judge getting a thrashing on "The No-Spin Zone" for issuing what O'Reilly thought was a stupid opinion.... the judge getting the reaming by ol' Bill was none other than the judge who dismisssed his frivolous lawsuit against Al Franken.

I wonder when he's going to ream Terry Gross on his show?

But dammit, don't they realize that the schools are open?
CIA: Iraq security to get worse.

"I've got a bad feeling about this." --Han Solo

On the other hand, if it does come down this way I'll have the pleasure of seeing InstaShill and the other apologists try to spin that one optimistically. After all, the worse the situation gets the better it is, since that's a sign of "desperation".

Thanks to League o'Liberals member The Spy Game for this one.

Mom said there'd be days like this, but I wish she'd clued me in that there'd be so many.
In my Real Life(TM) I am basically a professional computer geek--I do a bit of webmastering, a bit of simple web application development, a bit of system administration, a bit of help desking and a bit of computer security.

In this morning's work email, I had 8 emails waiting for me. Seven of them were warnings of security problems with Microsoft products.

That says something to me, and what it says is that if Microsoft really had to compete in a truly competitive market instead of leveraging a combination of lucky breaks and monopoly power, Steve Balmer wouldn't be doing his monkey dance (if that link is too slow you can find a list of mirrors here), and Bill Gates would really be working for a living.

Thought for the Day:
To be a persecuted genius, you not only have to be persecuted, you also have to be right.
--Isaac Asimov

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Growing like a weed....
It's time to welcome some more new members to the League of Liberals:

Your secret decoder rings and pocket communicators will be issued soon.

Powers of Ten

Start 10 million light years from earth, and end up face to face with quarks. An interesting way of gaining some perspective on the universe....

I don't believe in miracles....
and this story isn't a miracle, except in a metaphorical sense, but if this woman is who I think she is (and the name isn't the most common in the world), the happy ending couldn't have happened to a nicer or more deserving person (the shame is that she had to go through the hell she did to get to the happy ending. The Helen Gelhot I knew was a nice, attractive and pleasant young woman who was a high school classmate of mine; she wasn't a really close friend but I vaguely recall being in a high school play with her and I recall hearing that she'd gone to medical school. Apparently while shortly into her anesthesiology residency a freak reaction to anesthesia gases brought on a rare disorder (Stevens-Johnson syndrome) which left her blind for 14 years. A newly developed type of contact lens has allowed her to regain her sight, and now a world of opportunities opens up again. I doubt she'll see this, but I wish her the best for as full a recovery as possible.

Sight for Sore Eyes

New Contact Lens Lets Blind See (This includes a picture which, unfortunately, does nothing to confirm for me whether this is the Helen Gelhot I went to school with or not.)

Who'da thunk it?
I've never associated Eastern Orthodoxy with liberalism and tolerance for gays, so you can imagine my (very pleasant) surprise when I stumbled across this note in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gossip column of Jerry "I brake to kiss lawyers' asses" Berger (you may have to scroll down past the "breaking schmooze" that George aWol Bush will be doing a $20K/table fundraiser in January):

[T]he Rev. Doug Papulis of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church said on the sidelines that members of the Episcopal Church upset about the consecration of openly gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson ignore the fact that gay men have served more quietly as Episcopal priests and bishops for years. "Reverend Robinson has been honest; for shame on members of the hierarchy (who are protesting)," exclaimed Father Papulis.

Honoring Our Veterans
From today's Daily Kos. Kos is, by the way, an Army veteran:

Some wondner why I am so vociferous in my condemnations of our administration and its dogged pursuit of Bush's War.
Unless you have been a veteran, you don't know what it's like to wear our nation's uniform. The sense of pride, the sense of responsibility it inspires. We love our country, and put our lives on the line on its behalf. We believe in what our country stands for -- notions of democracy, and freedom, and truth and justice. We are most intimately aware of the ultimate sacrifice paid by so many of our brothers in arms, because we ourselves were prepared to pay it.

Yet few of the people in charge made that sacrifice. Rather, they went out of their way to avoid serving their country. Cheney had "better things to do", Bush went AWOL. Virtually all of the "pundits" cheerleeding this war found creative ways to avoid serving. Wars are for the poor and the stupid to fight. Not for exhalted members of society like themselves.

Well fuck them.

Today is not for them. It's for those of us who wore that uniform, and those who continue serving our country even as their leaders fail them, lie to them, and use them as pawns in their great political and economic chessboard.

And for those of our brothers and sisters in uniform who gave their lives on behalf of noble causes, and those not so noble.

Nobody dare take out their frustrations on our men and women in uniform. They are doing their job, best they can, under impossible conditions.

The political "leadership", on the other hand, can rot in hell.

Another real American Hero:
From South Knox Bubba. Long, but worth every minute it takes to read.

A real American hero...
George Soros: donated $15.5 million of his own money in the fight to defeat Bush.

Soros believes that a "supremacist ideology" guides this White House. He hears echoes in its rhetoric of his childhood in occupied Hungary. "When I hear Bush say, 'You're either with us or against us,' it reminds me of the Germans." It conjures up memories, he said, of Nazi slogans on the walls, Der Feind Hort mit ("The enemy is listening"). "My experiences under Nazi and Soviet rule have sensitized me," he said in a soft Hungarian accent.

Kudos to The Mudshark for the head's up.

Also for Veteran's Day
Paul Krugman tells us how George aWol Bush "supports" the troops. It's not a pretty sight.

Anyway, many analysts now acknowledge that the administration never had any intention of pursuing a conventionally responsible fiscal policy. Rather, its tax cuts were always intended as a way of implementing the radical strategy known as "starve the beast," which views budget deficits as a good thing, a way to squeeze government spending. Did I mention that the administration is planning another long-run tax cut next year?

Advocates of the starve-the-beast strategy tend to talk abstractly about "big government." But in fact, squeezing government spending almost always means cutting back or eliminating services people actually want (though not necessarily programs worth their cost). And since it's Veterans Day, let's talk about how the big squeeze on spending may be alienating a surprising group: the nation's soldiers.

One of George W. Bush's major campaign themes in 2000 was his promise to improve the lives of America's soldiers — and military votes were crucial to his success. But these days some of the harshest criticisms of the Bush administration come from publications aimed at a military audience.

For example, last week the magazine Army Times ran a story with the headline "An Act of `Betrayal,' " and the subtitle "In the midst of war, key family benefits face cuts." The article went on to assert that there has been "a string of actions by the Bush administration to cut or hold down growth in pay and benefits, including basic pay, combat pay, health-care benefits and the death gratuity paid to survivors of troops who die on active duty."

At one level, this pattern of cuts is standard operating procedure. Just about every apparent promise of financial generosity this administration has made (other than those involving tax cuts for top brackets and corporate contracts) has turned out to be nonoperational. No Child Left Behind got left behind — or at least left without funds. AmeriCorps got praised in the State of the Union address, then left high and dry in the budget that followed. New York's firefighters and policemen got a photo-op with the president, but very little money. For that matter, it's clear that New York will never see the full $20 billion it was promised for rebuilding. Why shouldn't soldiers find themselves subject to the same kind of bait and switch?

Yet one might have expected the administration to treat the military differently, if only as a matter of sheer political calculation. After all, the military needs some mollifying: the Iraq war has turned increasingly nightmarish, and deference toward the administration is visibly eroding. Even Pfc. Jessica Lynch has, to her credit, balked at playing her scripted role.

Today is Veteran's Day...
and as a Navy veteran (who, incidentally, got farther in my career (I got to the rank of full Lieutenant (O-3)) than George aWol Bush (1st Lieutenant (O-2)) got in his), I occasionally like to call it "my" day. But it's not just "my" day; today I want to salute the men and women who gave up a lot more then I did: in terms of time in the service, in terms of hardships faced, in terms of limbs lost and lives shattered, and in terms of having made the final, full sacrifice.

Thanks for all you've done.

Thought for the Day:
But it turns out that there are at least a handful of people who don't really buy the idea that a bucket of fried chicken is healthy eatin'. Well, of course it's not. Here's a little secret about advertising: It can be misleading. (You may not know this, but in real life, there is no brand of chewing gum or hair gel that will instantly transform you into a pulsing object of sexual desire. For instance.) After all, pretty much every ad for a weight-loss scheme or potion features not a picture of a pile of millet, but a shot of that one huge slice of chocolate cake or obscenely large steak that you're allowed to scarf down if you follow all the other rules.
--Rob Walker

Monday, November 10, 2003

Another musical interlude
MadKane has another great filk (i.e., song parody) at her site: St. Reagan's Song (to the tune of "Just you wait" from My Fair Lady, a favorite of mine....

A stupid wingnut has an attack of diarrhea of the brain...
and the U.S. Marine Corps is the loser. Marine Corps Intel NCO forced out of the Corps for liberal views.

So, I am not alone. There are countless other upstanding citizens whose views correlate with mine. And if I had it to do all over again, nothing would change. I would still write that letter and I would still complete my service standing tall and proud. I don't have a disloyal bone in my body and most likely never will. Having said that, it's a shame that because of my political views this country lost one more honest service member protecting its borders. In closing I would also like to make one more point. In my letter I said, "… what you failed to state was that with a new war in Iraq, terrorism will not only 'exist' but flourish. The terrorists are winning, and with a unilateral step into war, they will have the biggest recruiting boom in the history of al-Qaeda." As sad as it is, not one of my assumptions have been proven incorrect. So maybe it's not my "liberal views" that will get people killed, but a zealous leader quick to judge.

Adolf Hitler put it best when he said, "What good fortune for those in power that people do not think."

I hope SGT Ferriol lands on his feet; he's too good for the Corps.

Kudos to Cosmic Iguana for the reference.

Great minds think alike....
Sherman Wright, in his Moderate Weblog, has run with the "Canonization of St. Ronald" metaphor... but his wingnuts find steenkin' liberals in the unlikeliest places....

This makes one wonder....
how inaccurate is "The Reagans"?

Tim Noah, in a couple remarkable pieces in Slate (Saint Ronald and Saint Ronald, Part 2) noted that at least one of the "problems" that the wingnuts had with "The Reagans"--its portrait of Reagan as being a bit, uh, "detached" and forgetful--was a portrait which had quite a bit of support from Reagan's aides and allies. As Noah noted in "Saint Ronald":

Among the miniseries's themes that drew particular complaint, Jim Rutenberg reported in the Oct. 20 New York Times, was that Reagan "suffered moments of forgetfulness" and took a "laissez-faire" stance in handling the White House staff... Reagan was no doddering fool, but his rather extreme mental and emotional detachment were at the time noted not only by his critics but by many of his political allies. Liberals like Chatterbox who struggled to persuade themselves that Reagan had more on the ball than he seemed saw their worst suspicions confirmed in the memoirs of former Reagan aides.

Noah then goes on to cite passages from memoirs by Reagan chief-of-staff Donald Regan, speechwriter Peggy Noonan, and communications director David Gergan, noting after that review:

All these former aides went on to say, in one way or another, that in the end things somehow managed to work out for the best. That's a topic for legitimate debate. But none seemed to disagree with the proposition that President Reagan was not all there.

In "Saint Ronald, Part 2" Noah notes that the memoirs of Reagan NSC staffer Richard Pipes also confirms doubts about Reagan's mental clarity. And now today, in the incomparable Daily Howler, Bob Somerby takes on another bete noir of the Reagan apologists, the line in the mini-series where Ronald Reagan supposedly justifies his inaction on the AIDS epidemic by saying "They that live in sin shall die in sin." The GOoPers try with might and main to maintain that this line is "a lie", but Bob points out that Edmund Morris, Reagan's authorized biographer, quotes Reagan in Dutch (Reagan's authorized biography) as once having said, “Maybe the Lord brought down this plague [because] illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.” Bob continues:

Did Reagan actually make this statement? Here at THE HOWLER, we aren’t really sure. Morris took remarkable liberties when he wrote Dutch—but he’s also a capable, honored historian, and now he reaffirms the claim that Reagan made this remark. So, assuming that Morris’ claim is accurate, just compare a pair of statements. Compare what Reagan actually said to what he would have said in the movie:

      WHAT REAGAN ACTUALLY SAID: Maybe the Lord brought down this plague
      [because] illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.

      WHAT REAGAN WOULD HAVE SAID IN THE FILM: They that live in sin shall die in

To state the obvious, it’s hard to parse a significant difference. But according to Frankel, this movie was wicked because of that statement. That statement was a “forgery”—a “lie.”

If you ask me, the problem the wingnuts have with "The Reagans" isn't that the mini-series is "a lie". What I suspect is that the problem the wingnuts have with "The Reagans" is that the truth hurts.

When it absolutely, positively, has to be there overnight....
Another one from the Post-Dispatch: Body parts found in FedEx package.

I'm debating with myself; my first glance at the headline brought to mind that old saying: "It had to happen in real life, because if you read it in a novel you'd never believe it." Or expressed another way: "Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction is constrained by believability."

No laws were broken when three human body parts were mailed via Federal Express to a man's home in the city, Kirkwood police said Thursday.

The body parts -- two legs and an arm -- were sent from a Las Vegas donor research company to the man, who acts as a broker for doctors needing body parts for research projects, said police spokeswoman Diane Scanga.

Things that make you go hmmmmmmm...
  1. Why in the world is there a stuffed gorilla (or even more bizzarely, a mannequin dressed in a gorilla suit) outside the entrance of Tri-State Vacuum (vacuum cleaner sales and service) on Madison in Midtown Memphis?

  2. I just received a letter from Mid-America Volkswagen in St. Louis, addressed to my old address in Marion, Arkansas (my last change of address not having caught up with them), offering me $1000 off my best negotiated price on a new VW. Forget for a moment that I haven't paid the old VW off yet; what in the name of heaven makes them think that I'd drive four and a half hours up to St. Louis to buy a new car?

UPDATE (11/11/03): I should be ashamed of myself. Through the Wonders o'the Web, Elayne Riggs managed to find a reference in the Memphis Flyer's answer to Cecil Adams, who answers the pressing question: Why is there a stuffed gorilla in front of Tri-State Vacuum? Basically, it's ancient marketing wisdom, just like there's no such thing as bad publicity, anything that makes your shop stand out from the crowd is good for business:

Introducing Rufus

Dear Vance: Please tell me why there is a big stuffed gorilla standing in front of that vacuum-cleaner shop on Madison. I just don’t get that. -- F.M., Memphis.

Dear F.M.: Well, you’d “get it” if you were a vacuum-cleaner shop -- or any other business, for that matter -- and wanted some way to make people remember you. “It’s kind of a landmark,” explains John Hardin, manager of Tri-State Vacuum. “People come in from out of town and it helps them find the place -- you know, the one with the gorilla out front.”

Hardin told me that the gorilla was the idea of the shop’s former owner, a fellow named Robert Hogwood.

“It’s just something he did when he bought the place,” says Hardin, and it’s been standing in front of 1583 Madison for almost 40 years now.

The old gorilla even has a name. They call him Rufus, and they do bring him in every night, in case you were wondering how he spends his evenings.

When I strolled over to Tri-State one morning to take a better look at Rufus, I made a surprising discovery. Inside the store, half hidden behind boxes of Eureka vacuums and Hoover uprights, stood a second gorilla, apparently the mate to the first, dressed in a fetching gingham dress and straw hat.

Like the gorilla outside, this one is no longer in operating condition. “At one time Rufus used to work -- bend and raise his arms a bit,” says Hardin, “but he’s pretty much worn out now.” Some of my co-workers, I know, say the same things about me.

Well, seems to me that Tri-State ought to put Rufus's mate out there as well. If a stuffed gorilla catches the attention of prospective customers, think of what a stuffed gorilla in a fetching gingham dress and straw hat ought to do for business.

Brash Promises Department: For that little piece of detective work, if Elayne and her handsome and multi-talented spouse ever find themselves in Memphis for any reason, I pledge that I'll take them by Tri-State, introduce them to Rufus, and then adjourn across Madison to The P & H Cafe ("The beer joint of your dreams") and buy the libations for the rest of the evening.

Joe Bob says it best...
in his email newsletter, "The Joe Bob Briggs Report"; Joe Bob has this to say about the cancellation of the mini-series "The Reagans":

Robert Allan Ackerman, director of the CBS miniseries "The Reagans," quit the project after the network continued to demand changes and alterations and re-edits. James Brolin, who plays Reagan in the show, then refused to promote it because of the changes. And finally CBS President Les Moonves decided not to air it at all, calling it "biased" but giving it to sister network Showtime instead. Republicans think the series is unflattering to President Reagan and were demanding that it be changed or censored, especially because it would be insensitive to Nancy Reagan and the Reagan family. Okay, step back JUST A MINUTE HERE. Does anybody remember any of the NINETEEN miniseries made about President Kennedy and the Kennedy family that have run over the years? The ones about affairs with Marilyn Monroe, and CIA plots, and ties to the Mafia, and explosive scenes inside various Kennedy marriages that couldn't possibly be verified--and this all when Jackie and her children were all alive, not to mention the man's mother? Excuse us, but when did historical accuracy become part of the goal here?

But then again, the wingnuts never have been big on "consistency".

No, guns don't kill people...
mentally disturbed 6 year olds kill people. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Child suspected of killing his grandfather.

A 6-year-old boy suspected of shooting his grandfather to death with a .22-caliber rifle had a history of mental illness and attacking family members, authorities said.

James Zbinden, 59, was found dead at his Cole County home Friday afternoon after his grandson ran into the street and flagged down a passing neighbor, Cole County Sheriff John Hemeyer said.

The boy, who has not been identified, is being evaluated at a central Missouri mental-health facility.

"We believe, at this time, that he killed his grandfather intentionally," Hemeyer said. An autopsy Saturday morning showed Zbinden bled to death from a single gunshot wound near his armpit.

Hemeyer said Zbinden and the boy were alone together Friday when the boy apparently found a gun that family members thought had been disposed of years ago. Hemeyer said it's unclear what led up to the attack. "This is a kid who has attacked family members before with no provocation," Hemeyer said.

On the Monday before Zbinden's death, the boy had been released from a central Missouri mental-health facility where he had been admitted for treatment after he attacked another family member, Hemeyer said.

Hemeyer said the boy has a history of mental problems, and past assaults have involved the boy's younger siblings and his parents. He also said the boy has used knives during previous attacks.

I'm not going to go off on a gun control rant right now because, even though I'm a "card-carrying" liberal who believes in regulation of gun-ownership, I've been related by blood and marriage to a number of gun sportsmen and hunters, and I'm not strictly anti-gun on principle (though when the NRA fights for the right of private citizens to own assault rifles I'll concede that they have probably gone too far. But anyway...) But fer Gawd's sake, there's "disposing" of a firearm and then there's disposing of it. There is simply no excuse for the kind of brain fart that happened in this case. I hope the surviving members of the family think long and hard about who screwed up in this matter, and how.

I don't give a crap about their perfect season being in jeopardy....
I just like the fact that this article mentions that Clayton High School kicked the snot out of my alma mater, Bishop DuBourg H.S., 55-7.

Those of you playing the home game have, I'm sure noticed that I've mentioned that I really detest Northwestern University Law School, another alma mater of mine. Before you ask the obvious question, "Does Len ever like any school he attended?", I will point out that I was most happy to attend Washington University in St. Louis, where I got my bachelor's degree (though they disappointed me greatly by giving a prominent appointment to Jim Talent, the current junior U.S. Senator from Missouri and a first class asshole if there ever was one, and then really, really fucked up by giving an adjunct professorship in their law school to Talent's wife, who is not only an asshole but an idiot as well), and I have a soft spot in my heart for the University of Missouri, St. Louis and the Graduate School of Business Administration there, where I picked up my MS in MIS.

So no, the animus against Northwestern's law school is personal. And particular to the law school; I bear Northwestern University no ill will whatsoever.

From hero to goat in what? 2.5 months?
Billmon has been following the Jessica Lynch situation. Seems the bitch wouldn't play ball the way the wingnuts want her to play, and she may be in for a trashing.

Pinning down the truth about Lynch's ordeal has always been like trying to nail jello to the wall. The original story -- of a heroic Private Lee, holding off a division (or whatever) of Saddam's commandos until her ammo ran out -- has long since been scrapped. Her filmed rescue, which seemed to have been directed and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, has also been panned for its thin plot and overreliance on special effects.

And the ambiguity is getting worse, not better. Over the past few days, the tabloids have been having a field day with the story, playing off pre-publication tidbits from Lynch's new book, the as always questionable accuracy of NBC's made-for-TV movie, and leaked quotes from Lynch's interview with Diane Sawyer (to be aired Tuesday.)

Was Lynch raped, or wasn't she? Was she cruelly abused by Saddam's goon squad, or tenderly cared for by the Iraqi equivalents of Florence Nightengale and Dr. Kildare? Was Iraqi attorney Mohammed Odeh Al-Rehaief really her savior, or just a clever operator who managed to write himself into the story? Is Lynch still a good little soldier, or has she morphed into an angry anti-war critic, bitter about the way she was exploited by the Pentagon's propaganda machine?

All of the above, it seems. Or maybe none of the above -- since each version of events has been contradicted by one or more of the people involved. So instead of an action flick, we've got
Rashomon remade as a war movie. (Actually, they already did that in Courage Under Fire, but this time we don't have Denzel Washington to dig out the truth for us.)


Interestingly enough, Lynch -- who was never more than a passive participant in her capture and rescue -- suddenly has taken an active role in that bigger story. In her interview with Sawyer, Lynch supposedly says she believes she was manipulated and exploited by the military to build support for the war.

This immediately poses a problem for the people who did the manipulating and the exploiting -- and for the people who believed them. Having a pretty blonde soldier (GI Barbie) to dress up as a war hero is one thing. But having a
talking Barbie, and one that doesn't just repeat the little catch phrases burned onto her chip, is another.

So now Private Lynch has to be lynched, a job which the vast right-wing conspiracy has taken up with gusto. A reader wrote in yesterday to tell me that attacking Lynch has suddenly become the topic de jour on conservative talk radio:

      One guy just called in and said "Lynch is a disgrace and proof that women shouldn't be in the

      One caller says he "wanted to punch her teeth out."

      Caller just said "She ain't no hero."

It seems our true-blue hawks, who only a few months ago were insisting Jessica Lynch was an American hero, and that anyone who doubted her story was a stinking terrorist lover, are now telling us that Lynch is a national disgrace, and that anyone who believes her is a stinking terrorist lover.

If, as Marx once said, anti-semitism is the socialism of idiots, then clearly, talk radio is the
fascism of idiots. (I know, I know -- what other kind is there? But even for idiots these people are idiots.)

Was the Lynch rescue staged? Damn straight it was...
if the comments left at TalkLeft are to be believed. Sounds very plausible to me.

Once upon a time, it was "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute..."
Now it's "Millions for top DoD officials to fly first class, but not one cent to get GIs on R&R back to their homes..."

I get seriously conflicted about these kind of stories. On the one hand, I admire the generosity and the goodwill of the millions of ordinary folks who donate their frequent flier miles to GIs trying to get home from Iraq on leave, and who seem to try to move heaven and earth to, say, collect soda can pull tabs to get time on a dialysis machine for an unfortunate kidney disease sufferer, but on the other hand I get enraged that so many people are so dense that they don't realize that reasonable contributions of their tax dollars could do so much more, and probably at less cost to themselves.

Speaking of Working for Change
Today, Tom the Dancing Bug takes on Rush, in a manner of speaking: Lucky Ducky in "Rush to Judgement"

"War is hell." -- W.T. "Cump" Sherman
From Tom Tomorrow: Chickenhawk Down (Premium content; either steel your nerve to sit through an ad for noted frauds MCI, or else catch it tomorrow on the Working for Change website for free).

Ya gotta admire...
a school that can keep its good humor about such a thing.

Via fellow Liberal Leaguer bluntedonreality (who was musing on last weekend's 77-0 massacre of Texas A&M by Oklahoma) we get a reference to a website all about the most lopsided game in college football history, Georgia Tech's 222-0 dismantling of Cumberland. Treats include a play by play account of this classic "match".

One of the best response lines of all time...
courtesy of Big Stupid Tommy.... Go take a look at this story ("The Best Thing I've Heard Anybody Ever Said to Anybody Else"); I've not stopped laughing yet....

Terrorism: fantasy and reality
From an ongoing thread on the SKEPTIC mailing list (about how easy it would be for terrorists to start massive brushfires in Southern California):

The government would like us to believe that each graduate of Osama State receives a Junior Terrorist Kit complete with atom bomb, a jar of anthrax, 500 kilos of Semtex, and a month's supply of RPGs. In reality, would-be terrorists have to make do with what they can get in the area they operate in. A bunch of guys were able to hijack airplanes with boxcutters not because they were clever and stealthy, but because boxcutters were perfectly legal to carry on airplanes, and Americans had come to believe that the best way to get out of a skyjacking alive was to cooperate.

Well, now we're "at war," so the government can confiscate knitting needles from little old ladies at the airport, and the number of easy opportunities for terrorists is (in theory) greatly diminished. Ever wonder why we haven't seen any AQ
[Al Qaeda --LRC] car bombs in this country? Because real explosives are difficult to get, and the stuff to make your own is watched (in theory). Go down to Home Depot and ask for 500 pounds or ammonium nitrate and six cases of motor oil, and you're probably gonna have to explain yourself to some humorless feds.

We're used to seeing clever action heroes in films make a nuclear weapon out of an empty beer can and a radium watch dial, but in real life, building even moderately lethal weapons is just not that easy, it takes a HELLUVA lot more than instructions you downloaded off the Net (which were probably written by a guy who currently goes by the nickname "stumpy.").

But Dumbya would LOVE for us to believe that it is only the eternal vigilance of his crack PATRIOT teams and the bit-by-bit dismantling of the constitution that is keeping America from an orgy of terrorism that would make 9/11 look like a love-in.

I for one don't buy it.

It wouldn't have taken an Evil Genius to have figured out a couple weeks back that adding a little "help" to the existing fires would have been an awesome and yet trivially-obtained blow against the Great Satan.

So if there really IS a communist...ooops, I mean a TERRORIST under every bed like Dumbya says, what were they waiting for? Some nosy landlady to drop a dime on that "shifty-looking bunch always hanging around unit 4C?" Some FBI guy to get lucky? Opportunities for big splash with minimal risk like this don't come around very often.

And if you'll recall, the conclusion that they don't exist was not my only one (although it's the one I favor). Another possibility is that there ARE some AQ cells still in the US, but they are nowhere near as dangerous as they've been made out to be.

Keep in mind that we don't even know for sure just how active AQ still is worldwide. Every time something goes boom elsewhere in the world and the Palestinians don't claim credit for it, we're told that AQ did it. Dunno about you, but I'm just less and less inclined to believe ANYthing I hear from the current administration.

"Criminals are stupid.. That's why they get caught." --Jon R. Waltz, Professor of Law, Northwestern University, August, 1979
From The Register comes the heartwarming story of a woman who turned the tables on a 419 scammer: Canadian '419er' arrested.

Today's forecast: light blogging today until the noon hour....
followed by more light blogging until evening. Professional committments limit my online time today, so blogging is going to be necessarily light today. While I'm sure my regular readers (both of you) will be disappointed, the Republic will, I'm sure, manage to endure.

Thought for the Day:
From my close observation of writers...they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.
--Isaac Asimov

Sunday, November 09, 2003

We'll throw away a vote...
for non-political blog in the New Blog Showcase (I already voted in the political category; a no brainer since one of our League of Liberals members was one of the entries). I'm sure this isn't the real "Mr. Cranky", Noted Sarcastic Movie Critic, but another "Mr. Cranky" tells us why Halloween is his favorite holiday.

More from the League of Liberals
[Lately, I've been discovering for myself the limitations of Blogger; you certainly can't post long articles or weird things begin to happen. This is part two of the post that started as The wide ranging interests of The League of Liberals; my fourth post to break Blogger in three days. Must be a new world's landspeed record.]

At Cup o'Joe: a cartoon on still being a part of the process.

Rick at Futurballa isn't a fool (not by a long shot!), but occasionally he links to one.

thorswitch at different strings wonders how Rumsfeld can deny saying what he's on record as saying. If I may be so bold to suggest, it just might be an application of The Big Lie. Others have discovered that no matter how big the whopper, if you say it loud enough and long enough, someone will believe it.

In spite of my very vocal temper tantrum on the subject, MadKane gets into the holiday spirit a bit early with "Dubya's Don't Blame Me Song", which is sung to the tune of the Christmas classic "Good King Wenceslas" (which, by coincidence, is the only piece of music that I can pick out on the piano. Well, the first two lines, anyway).

Of course, once Ann(thrax) Coulter started trying to resurrect Joe McCarthy's honor, you had to see this coming. The blacklisters are on the rise again, as Pen-Elayne on the Web tells us.

Look out Gallup and Harris: All Facts and Opinions gives us the results of her poll: Should religious denominations accept openly gay clergy? 55% of Natalie's readers say yes, which leads me to suspect that she's not on very many Christian Coalition blogrolls. ;-)

The story of Canadian Maher Arar is particuarly disgusting; not only has the U.S. smeared itself with shit in the matter (which, given this bAdministration, can only be expected), but I'm hearing rumors that the Canadian government (or at least the RCMP) may be involved as well. Kynn at Shock and Awe is all over it.

Who needs "Entertainment Tonight" when Happy Furry Puppy Story Time--Australian for "Crap" can give you Your Entertainment Minute/Ordeal.

At first glance, this sounds like a "Dog bites man" headline, but Hell for Halliburton is onto something more substantive: U.S. bungling in Baghdad.

Unfortunately, it doesn't involve a long prison term for her, but Annthrax Coultergeist of Treason Online informs us that Ann Coulter is on Trial... a trial run in the Erie Times-News. Unfortunately, it looks like the verdict may be pro-Ann.

Cheney spoils Bush's party, says Savage Cruel Bigots. Apparently, Cheney may be a liability to the re-election campaign.

blunted on reality has got the bAdministration pegged: They're not listening.

I wonder if MadKane is worried; NTodd at Dohiyi Mir jumps into the song parody business with this excellent effort: Howard Dean, Superstar.

Hmmmmm... is it real, or is it faked? Still, could be interesting: Maru at WTF Is It Now? directs our attention to a link to the script for the "cancelled" Reagan mini-series.

And this is always good news to me: T. Rex's Guide to Life refers us to the Marist College poll that shows that more folks plan to vote against Bush than for him.

Yet another shady Bush deal: it's bad enough that the land on which The Ballpark at Arlington was acquired by shady means, but now Barbara at The Mahablog tells us that some of that land is now going to be donated for construction of the George W. Bush Presidential Library, if the Texas Rangers and some of Bush's Houston cronies have their way.

Over at the People's Republic of Seabrook, they've just presented another coveted Dumass Award to another deserving wiener.

At Georgia Tech, Wesley Clark's critique of the bAdministration's handling of the Iraq situation has impressed a couple Army intel vets, Cosmic Iguana tells us.

At The Spy Game, we hear that a top former intel analyst has let the President have it: "No President has lied so baldly and so often and so demonstrably".

Rush Limbaughtomy asks the burning question: When Limbaugh returns, can we expect any change?

Last but most definitely not least, Democratic Veteran takes a look at the Bush bAdministration's commitment to education, and notes how sadly it falls short: Children is our future.

The wide ranging interests of The League of Liberals
Hammerdown reveals (via the Guardian) that apparently the Pentagon planners put about as much thought into the postwar occupation as I put into my daily meal selection: Operation Seat-of-the-Pants.

The Mudshark is getting a bit ticked off by William Saletan's "Whack-a-Pol" "game", and for the same reason (perceptive gent, he is!).

The Gunther Concept comments on the battle over Texas schoolbooks. This is an important battle, even if you don't live in Texas; because Texas schools buy so many textbooks, what the Texas school authorities find acceptable for use in Texas schools has a disproportionate impact on the textbooks that are offered to the schools in other states of the Union.

Officially Unofficial has fun with Church Signs and the Pope Countdown.

18 1/2 Minute Gap asks the $64,000 Question: How much more of this success can we stand?

Been wondering about the perfect metaphor for the relationship Bush has with the press? Wonder no more: Gotham City 13 has it exactly right.

Don't know if he's an economist or expert in political finances, but Estimated Prophed has an interesting analysis of Money in Politics.

Ideally, you learn something new every day. Today, A Changin' Times clues us in to 5 Myths about the Fourth of July.

And Then... laments the end of bipartisanship in Washington.

The proprietor always engages in lively chat here; at Rick's Cafe Americain Rick asks the question that's puzzled me for quite some time: What's so great about Dubya, anyway?

Hey ladies! Looking for Mr. Right? Can you stand a bit of press attention? Clarefied tells us about the first presidential campaign "personal ad".

Major Barbara at Arms and the Man refers us to a LA Times article on how the US occupation is drawing An anti-labor line in the sand.

Offline, I've heard a lot about Al Gore's speech. Sick of Bush gives us a nice summary.

One way to get my attention is to put "strip club" somewhere in your blog post. The Felonious Elephant got my attention with this piece: Family-values Rethug nailed in strip club pay-offs.

I'm very pleased to see that Speedkill is another Calvin and Hobbes fan.

Indigo Ocean updates us on her entry in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Looking good!

The Poison Kitchen is impressed by the lunar eclipse. Makes me sorry I didn't take the time out to see it.

Grateful Dread on the Web not only casts a vote in the Showcase, but urges us to take some action about it too.

Uh, you all might want to check your calendars, guys...
While I take care of business here, I've got AMC on; their "Best Vets" Veterans' Day Marathon of war movies is showing "Midway", which is one of my favorites in that genre. They just showed a commercial for a big 75th anniversary gala in honor of the Orpheum Theater here. Looked like a real good show, and I briefly considered getting tickets. Very briefly considered it when they announced the date of the gala: Saturday, November 8. And what is today guys?

Yep... good purchase of ad time there.

Once again...
I repeat something I have said several times over: Molly Ivins is the Texan who should be in the White House. Today, she weighs in on the Reagan mini-series brouhaha, pointing out that it's a distraction from some more important issues which are being spun right over our heads. As usual.

Having devoted much of this column to the very piffle I am deploring -- in addition to watching the right for sophistry, misinformation and lying, one must keep a sharp eye for misdirection -- may I bring us back to some stuff that actually matters?

On Iraq, we are now in a weird new political configuration in which the professional patriots who so nastily accused those who opposed this venture of being "unpatriotic" and insisted that we must "support the troops" at any price are now sort of dismissing dead soldiers. Dead soldiers are not a big story -- a big story is all the progress we're making in Iraq.

Dead soldiers worry me. Here's something that may be even worse: It's not that one or two convoys or patrols are attacked every day -- it's that after each successful attack, Iraqis gather around the site and cheer.

If that doesn't worry you, you aren't old enough to remember Vietnam. (I have no hesitation about using the Vietnam analogy. Of course, Iraq is not Vietnam, and a million facts on the ground are different. But there it is.)

And a few days ago, Molly examined the mutual-fund mess, and gave the Democratic contenders some advice that the'd be well advised, in my humble opinion, to take:

So what's been going on with your money in mutual funds? Late trading, short trading and insider trading. And in a depressingly familiar pattern, the regulators who were supposed to be watching mutual funds didn't notice a thing until after New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer jumped in and started talking criminal fraud charges.

If there were a Democratic candidate with a brain, he'd be talking about making Spitzer either head of the Securities and Exchange Commission or attorney general. We are talking about billions of dollars in total rip-offs.

The Freeway Blogger...
is at it again. Billmon featured one gem, but for the the full effect, see

Sometimes I wonder if the world is really "safer"...
Josh Marshall, in his column in The Hill and in his "Talking Points Memo" blog has been taking the bAdministration's supporters to task over their latest word games: claiming that they'd never misled us on the run-up to the war because "nobody in the administration used the term 'imminent threat' to describe the dangers posed to us by Iraq under Saddam". As Marshall puts it very nicely (this from The Hill):

It’s true that administration officials avoided the phrase “imminent threat.” But in making their argument, Sullivan and others are relying on a crafty verbal dodge — sort of like “I didn’t accuse you of eating the cake. All I said was that you sliced it up and put it in your mouth.”

Well, Andrew Sullivan is at it again, posting his "response" to Marshall on his blog: Marshall comes up empty. Sullivan's defense of the right wing word games is typically (for him) lame, but then we read this:

Of course a country has the right to defend itself when it is faced with an imminent threat. The debate is over how seriously to take the threat we now face. The strongest argument of the anti-war crowd is that we now know that the WMD threat from Saddam was much less than almost everyone (including most of them) believed. They're right - at least from the evidence so far. But that doesn't resolve the question of what we should have done before the war, when we had limited knowledge and information. Josh implies we should have risked it, and kept Saddam in power, with fingers crossed. But then Josh wasn't president. He wasn't responsible for guessing wrong. The question we have to answer is a relatively simple one: do we want a president who will veer on the optimistic side when it comes to Islamist terror, or do we want a president that will veer on the side of caution and aggression? Do we want one who will hope for the best or one who will act, assuming the worst? I thought 9/11 ended that debate. It clearly hasn't. But it's the central debate of the coming election.

A couple things about this bother me. First, of course, is the selective use of the phrase "limited knowledge and information"; it's pretty clear now that our intelligence, far from being limited, was pretty accurate, and that it was clear that there was not any sort of threat from Iraq; at best the bAdministration acted sincerely on the basis of "faith based" intelligence, picking and choosing what it wanted to believe, and at worst, the bAdministration outright lied and misled the country. The second is the phrase "do we want a president that will veer on the side of caution and aggression?" I blogged earlier about a blog post by UT Austin law/philosophy professor Brian Leiter, when he addressed the issue of why Europeans think that the United States was a greater threat to world peace and global security than Saddam's tyrrany:

They not only believe it, they're actually justified in believing it; indeed, the only thing to marvel at here is that anyone with an 8th-grade education doesn't believe it. After all, the Europeans, not being as thoroughly cowed and indoctrinated, may have noticed that the US outspent Iraq on warfare preparations by a ratio of 400 to 1; indeed, that the US outspends the next ten biggest spenders on warfare preparations; that the US has nuclear weapons, biological weapons, chemical weapons, while Iraq does not; that the US has invaded or overthrown governments in more than a dozen countries, unleashing ruthless reins of terror unparalleled outside Stalin's Russia in the 1930s, while Iraq, as a third-rate power, had merely invaded one country, and had unleashed terror only against its own population (with essential help and support from the US); that the US war machine is now run by religious zealots, while Iraq was a secular state, and so on.

All this might have led someone modestly rational to conclude that the US was a far greater threat to world stability than some absurd second-world dictator, who had fallen out of America's good graces.

But Sullivan justifies this threat to global security as "veer[ing] on the side of caution and aggression". Well, he did get "aggression" right. But as I recall my history, we hung a number of Nazi leaders for veering on the side of aggression.

It's that time again...
We have some new members gracing the ranks of The League of Liberals :

A hearty welcome to each and every one of you!!!

Thought for the Day:
Captain Edmund Blackadder: Baldrick, what are you doing out there?
Private Baldrick: I'm carving something on this bullet sir.
Captain Edmund Blackadder: What are you carving?
Private Baldrick: I'm carving "Baldrick", sir.
Captain Edmund Blackadder: Why?
Private Baldrick: It's a cunning plan actually.
Captain Edmund Blackadder: Of course it is.
Private Baldrick: You see, you know they say that somewhere there's a bullet with your name on it?
Captain Edmund Blackadder: Yes?
Private Baldrick: Well, I thought if I owned the bullet with my name on it, I'd never get hit by it, 'cos I won't ever shoot myself.
Captain Edmund Blackadder: Oh, shame.
Private Baldrick: And, the chances of there being two bullets with my name on them are very small indeed.
Captain Edmund Blackadder: That's not the only thing around here that's "very small indeed". Your brain, for example, is so minute, Baldrick, that if a hungry cannibal cracked your head open there wouldn't be enough inside to cover a small water-biscuit.
--"Blackadder Goes Forth"

Saturday, November 08, 2003

The first casualty is always the truth...
as was evident during the bAdministration's run-up to the war. But I wish that they'd stop using Private Lynch for their own purposes.

A while ago I blogged a mention of an AP story stating that Lynch's authorized biography alleges she'd been raped by her Iraqi captors. If true such an allegation wouldn't surprise me; war is a nasty business and things like that happen. However, passages like these:

Jessi lost three hours. She lost them in the snapping bones, in the crash of the Humvee, in the torment her enemies inflicted on her after she was pulled from it....

The records do not tell whether her captors assaulted her almost lifeless, broken body after she was lifted from the wreckage, or if they assaulted her and then broke her bones into splinters until she was almost dead...

which strike me as unsurpassed in their purpleness, suggest to me that Rick Bragg, the author of the biography, might well be given to, um, exaggeration, shall we say?

Anyway, another AP wire service report (this reference courtesy of the New York Times) suggests otherwise: Doctors dismiss Lynch bio rape claims. Granted the doctors doing the dismissal are the Iraqi doctors, and I suppose it's possible that the medical records from the military medical facilities might tell a different story, but right now given Bragg's obvious motivation to skew facts and exaggerate the sensational to goose his sales, contrasted with the Iraqi physician's apparent professionalism, I'm inclined to believe the doctor, thank you.

Awaking from the nightmare: SSGT Pogany, Part III
Note: read Part I and Part II below.

Well, more like Part II.V (if only the Romans had invented decimal notation for times like these....)

One of the "advantages" (though it doesn't seem like it at 6 in the morning on a workday) of owning a dog (in my case, a German Shepherd) in a small apartment is that it forces you to walk the beast regularly. That means not only fresh air and regular exercise, but the opportunity to think things over while the beast attends to her business. While taking Joli (that's the beast's name) for her midday walk, I devoted the time to a bit more musing over the SSGT Pogany affair. While so musing, I realize that I don't think I've expressed my conclusions about the probable outcome of the dereliction charges as clearly as I'd like to. Hence this little addendum.

As we've seen in Part II there are two ways one can be derelict in the performance of duties in violation of Article 92(3) of the UCMJ: either willfully (i.e., intentionally) or through neglect or through culpable inefficiency. "Culpable inefficiency", as explained in the Manual for Courts Martial, 2002, is "inefficiency for which there is no reasonable or just excuse." And while I mentioned this in passing, dereliction of duty through culpable inefficiency is a less severe offense than willful dereliction. The maximum punishment for willful dereliction is a bad conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for a maximum of 6 months. The maximum punishment for dereliction through neglect or through culpable inefficiency is forfeiture of two-thirds pay per month for 3 months and confinement for 3 months (no punitive discharge authorized).

As I've said (though not this explicitly), one of the problems I see with the charge of dereliction is that I'm very unsure that the Army officials can draft charges and specifications that will sufficiently allege the duty that SSGT Pogany is accused of being derelict in performing. The Army can't just get by with a general allegation that SSGT Pogany was unable to perform "his duties"; they have to allege that on a specfic date at a specific time SSGT Pogany was derelict in the performance of a specific duty, one that can be described with a great deal of particularity so that SSGT Pogany is fairly informed of the nature of his dereliction and thereby prepare his defense thereto. All of the "evidence" (as described in the news reports on the case) seems to indicate is that SSGT Pogany informed his superiors that his psychological condition was such that he was unable to perform his (generalized) duties without psychological support and assistance. I can't see from this how the Army can allege dereliction in performance of a specific duty; basically SSGT Pogany preempted that (as far as I can see) by informing his chain of command prior to his assignment to a specific duty that he was psychologically incapable of performance. A fairly good analogy can be made here to a case of physical illness. If a soldier or sailor were to inform his top sergeant/division CPO that s/he was feeling faint/nauseous/physically ill, and that illness was interfering with her/his doing her/his job, there would be no justification in writing up the soldier or sailor for dereliction, and for the same reason. Stating, "I can't do this because of circumstances beyond my control" isn't the same as not doing it.

It seems to me that a charge of willful dereliction isn't going to wash, either. All the facts as provided by the news media indicate that SSGT Pogany suffered a psychological stress reaction to the sight of seeing the mangled demi-corpse of an Iraqi insurgent. This is backed up by at least one Army psychologist who consulted with SSGT Pogany. If the psychologist is correct in his diagnosis, this is not something that is within SSGT Pogany's control, and as such can't possibly be the basis for a charge of willful dereliction of duty. If the psychologist is wrong, we are faced with the possibility that SSGT Pogany is faking the psychological stress reaction to avoid duty. However, it's clear from the charging decisions made by the Army up to this point that none of the Staff Judge Advocates who have reviewed the case believe that SSGT Pogany is faking; if they had any credible evidence to that effect I am certain that the charge preferred against SSGT Pogany would be malingering in violation of Article 115 of the UCMJ:

Any person subject to this chapter who for the purpose of avoiding work, duty, or service--
(1) feigns illness, physical disablement, mental lapse or derangement; or
(2) intentionally inflects self-injury;
shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
[emphasis added]

I'll note in passing that given the original charges of cowardly conduct which were referred to the original Art. 32 hearing, it is certain that if the Army had evidence that SSGT Pogany were feigning his psychological problems the Article 32 hearing would not have been cancelled: malingering in a hostile fire pay zone or in time of war (and I can't imagine that Iraq isn't a hostile fire pay zone) is punishable by a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for up to three years. This is most assuredly a general court martial GCM case, and that SSGT Pogany isn't being referred to a Article 32 and GCM is compelling evidence that the Army has no credible evidence that SSGT Pogany is willfully feigning his problems.

That leaves us with the issue of dereliction through neglect or culpable inefficiency. Once again, viewing the evidence that has appeared in the news media, it is (for me) impossible to see how the Army can establish that a soldier, disabled from the performance of duty owing to a psychological stress reaction, is being "neglectful" or "culpably inefficient". It's a well established rule in the criminal law that we subject a person to liability to criminal punishment only for conduct which is within the willful control of that individual. "Neglect" is something over which an accused has control; the accused who is derelict through neglect is capable of performing her/his duties, but because of lack of care fails to do so. "Culpable inefficiency", being inefficiency "for which there is no reasonable or just excuse", is clearly inefficiency over which the the accused has some control; the accused can be more efficient but for whatever reason elects not to be. In order for the Army to allege that SSGT Pogany is neglectful or culpably inefficient because he failed to react in the Army "approved" manner when faced with the sight of a horribly mangled corpse of a enemy combatant, is to attempt to force the concept of "reasonable or just excuse" into a container so small that it certainly must rupture. Having no control over his reactions to the psychological trauma of seeing the Iraqi corpse, his reaction under the circumstances was most certainly a reasonable and just excuse under the law.

I hope that the Army gives up on this one. If SSGT Pogany is psychologically unfit for combat duty, he can be reassigned, and if his unfitness renders him useless to the Army (though I fail to see how that is possible) there are mechanisms by which he can be discharged honorably, without an unjustified stain on his character. To attempt to stain his character by labeling his understandable, natural reaction to a horrifying sight as "criminal" is itself unjust and unreasonable conduct. The United States Army can be better than that, I'm sure.

Cause and effect.... stimulus and response....
From Bob Park's "What's New?" newsletter (published under the auspices of the American Physics Society):

Why not let the dumb tax payers buy you a luxury cement truck for Christmas? This year's tax cut set out to stimulate the economy by giving small businesses a deduction of up to $100,000 for new equipment; that includes new work vehicles if they weigh 3 tons or more. Three tons! Suddenly, SUVs started weighing more than 6,000 pounds, if they had to use lead tires.

You gotta wonder sometimes...
From the AP via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: New Hampshire Supreme Court rules wife's lesbian affair not "adultery" within meaning of the NH divorce law.

Damn, I'm glad Missouri had no-fault divorce when my marriages came to an end.

Thought for the Day:
This fall, we'll be seeing a new, redesigned $20 bill. This is part of an anti-counterfeiting program to redesign all of our old currency, which has become too easy to duplicate with modern color photocopiers - a fact that was made all too clear when Xerox, in its 1997 annual report, reported profits of '$850 trillion, mostly in 50s.
--Dave Barry

Friday, November 07, 2003

Excellent news...
Some rich people do justify their estates, occasionally. Joan Kroc gave a huge bequest to NPR in her will.

Interesting strategy
Prince Charles is denying he did "it", but nobody is (or apparently can) talking about what "it" is that he hasn't done. Prince Charles denies claims that newspapers can't report

Of course, it involves sex:

British newspapers devoted long -- if vague -- stories to the allegations Friday. The Independent referred to "an allegedly compromising incident," although The Times wrote of "a sexual incident involving a former royal servant."

And the Missouri carry concealed law goes to the Missouri Supreme Court...
as could be expected. Judge continues order against concealed guns

Remember, the guy died; some guys just can't handle celebrity...
Woman sentenced in cathedral sex case

NEW YORK (AP) --A woman accused of having sex with her boyfriend inside St.
Patrick's Cathedral as part of a radio show stunt was sentenced to five days of
community service.

Loretta Lynn Harper, 36, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on Thursday.

Harper and Brian Florence were arrested in August 2002 after a police officer
listening to the "Opie and Anthony Show" heard producer Paul Mercurio say
on the air that he was speaking on a cell phone while watching the couple
copulate in the cathedral.

Florence, 38, died of a heart attack in September. Mercurio, 43, pleaded guilty
earlier in the day to disorderly conduct. The judge ordered him to perform
seven days of community service.

The stunt, part of a regular feature in which couples could win prizes for having
sex in public places, resulted in WNEW-FM firing DJs Greg "Opie" Hughes
and Anthony Cumia and a $357,000 fine against Infinity Broadcasting.

The legal nightmare of SSGT Pogany, Part II
Note: read Part I below first.

According to the latest AP report:

The Army dismissed a cowardice charge and filed a lesser count against an Army interrogator who sought counseling after he saw the body of an Iraqi man cut in half by American fire.

Staff Sgt. Georg-Andreas Pogany was charged with dereliction of duty, according to a statement released Thursday afternoon by Fort Carson officials. A military court hearing set Friday for Pogany was canceled.

The new charge was filed by the company commander after military judges dismissed the cowardice charge, officials said. "He believes that this charge is most appropriate to address the alleged misconduct based upon the evidence that is currently available,'' an Army statement said.

The Manual for Courts Martial sets forth a listing of "lesser included offenses" to a charge of cowardly conduct. A "lesser included offense" (LIO) is a crime, other than the one charged which (a) is assigned less punishment than the punishment assigned for the charged offense, and for which (b) proof of all elements of the lesser included offense either is provided by or is necessarily implied by proof of the elements of of the greater offense. The LIOs of cowardly conduct, according to the MCM, are:

(5) Cowardly conduct.
(a) Article 85--desertion with intent to avoid hazardous duty or important service
(b) Article 86--Absence without authority
(c) Article 99--Running away
(d) Article 80--Attempts

Notice that "dereliction of duty" is not given as a LIO of "cowardly conduct". It appears to me most likely that the staff judge advocate for the officer who would eventually decide whether or not to refer the Pogany case to trial by general court martial (GCM) (the so called "GCM convening authority") realized that, at best, the facts supported an orders violation, most probably dereliction of duty.

Dereliction of duty is proscribed by Article 92(3) of the UCMJ:

Any person subject to this chapter who--
(1) violates or fails to obey any lawful general order or regulation;
(2) having knowledge of any other lawful order issued by any member of the armed forces, which it is his duty to obey, fails to obey the order; or
(3) is derelict in the performance of his duties;
shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

The Manual for Courts Martial outlines the elements of the offense:

(3) Dereliction in the performance of duties.
(a) That the accused had certain duties;
(b) That the accused knew or reasonably should have known of the duties; and
(c) That the accused was (willfully)(through neglect or culpable inefficiency) derelict in the performance of those duties.

(MCM, 2002, IV-23)

and also provides the following explanations:

(3) Dereliction in the performance of duties.
Duty. A duty may be imposed by treaty, statute, regulation, lawful order, stadard operating procedure, or custom of the service.
Knowledge. Actual knowledge of duties may be proved by circumstantial evidence. Actual knowledge need not be shown if the individual reasonably should have known of the duties. This may be demonstrated by regulations, training or operating manuals, customs of the service, academic literature or testimony, testimony of persons who have held similar or superior positions, or similar evidence.
Derelict. A person is derelict in the performance of duties when that person willfully or negilgently fails to perform that person's duties or when that person performs them in a culpably inefficient manner. "Willfully" means intentionally. It refers to the doing of an act knowingly and purposefully, specifically intending the natural and probably consequences of the act. "Negligently" means an act or omission of a person who is under a duty to use due care which exhibits a lack of that degree of care which a reasonably prudent person whould have exercised under the same or similar circumstances. "Culpable inefficiency" is inefficiency for which there is no reasonable or just excuse.
Ineptitude. A person is not derelict in the performance of duties if the failure to perform those duties is caused by ineptitude rather than by willfullness, negligence, or culpable inefficiency, and may not be charged under this article, or otherwise punished. For example, a recruit who has tried earnestly during rifle training and throughout record firing is not derelict in the performance of duties if the recruit fails to qualify with the weapon.

(MCM, 2002, IV-24, IV-25)

Perhaps I'm biased by the fact that my time as a Navy JAG was pretty much spent as a defense counsel (both trial and appellate), but assuming competent expert psychological/psychiatric testimony, I'm going to be really surprised if such a charge can be proved at trial. A couple immediate points of attack present themselves to me (no doubt with more time, and after payment of a suitable fee, I could come up with even more. :-) ). First, the Army is going to have to allege and prove the specific duties that SSGT Pogany is alleged to have been derelict in the performance of. Getting around that, the critical issue at trial seems to me to be whether SSGT Pogany was derelict in the performance of those duties either willfully, or through culpable negligence. The facts of the case, as presented in the media up to this time, seem to be clear that SSGT Pogany went to his chain of command and informed them that, due to the psychological trauma of seeing the severely mutilated body of the dead Iraqi, he felt that he was no longer capable of doing his duties without psychological assistance. I don't see how the Army can prove that this is either willful refusal to perform (assuming that SSGT Pogany isn't malingering (which is another offense under the UCMJ) as he has no control over his psychological reaction to seeing the horribly mutilated corpse of an enemy combatant), or "culpably negligent" (since it's clear to me under general principles of criminal liability that psychological factors interfering with one's ability to perform one's duty in no way rise to the level of "culpable negligence").

With qualifications, I wish SSGT Pogany the best of luck. The qualification is, of course, that we've only heard his side of the story, and it's possible (though based on my reading of both the charges as (probably) preferred and of the facts, interpreting against SSGT Pogany's interests, it is highly unlikely) that the Army has evidence which will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is either willfully or negligently derelict in the performance of his duties. I can understand how a senior officer in the Special Forces might, under the circumstances, seek to file charges in this situation. What surprises me is that there's any competent Army Staff Judge Advocate who has let things get even this far. Fellow League of Liberals member Democratic Veteran mentions the possibility of an Article 15 UCMJ Non-judicial punishment proceeding (NJP), though he thinks that this is unlikely. I don't think it's as unlikely as Jo does. Referral of charges of dereliction means that the case would be referred to trial, if at all, by a special court martial, since the maximum punishment for willful dereliction (bad conduct discharge, full forfeitures and 6 months confinement) is within the maximum allowable at a special court. However, I can't imagine any trial counsel (military prosecuting attorney) wanting to touch this case, and therefore the authorities might be tempted to let the commander simply dispose of it via NJP, in the hopes that SSGT Pogany will do what the vast majority of soldiers facing NJP do, namely take their punishment without (official) complaint. If the Army decides to go the NJP route, I hope that SSGT Pogany and his attorneys think long and hard about his option of declining NJP and demanding a trial by court martial. The odds are as good as any I've seen that the Army might just cave on that if forced to undergo that public relations nightmare.

(Some final thoughts in Part III, above)

The legal nightmare of SSGT Pogany, Part I
Given my background which includes a law degree and several years of practice as a Navy Judge Advocate, it's probably not surprising to hear that I've been keepiing an eye (unfortunately, due to a number of professional and personal commitments only one eye) on the case of Army SSGT Georg-Andreas Pogany, whom the Army was, until very recently, contemplating charging with cowardice under the UCMJ. Unfortunately, the amount of attention I can give the case out of one eye is somewhat restricted, and what isn't helping matters much is that most of the information out there (that isn't pretty much blathering in the blogosphere) appears to be pretty much regurgitation of some very mangled facts in the AP wire service report. After digesting what appears to be the most reliable reports (pretty much the reportage in the New York Times, the Colorado Springs Gazette, and the U.K.'s Guardian (which is itself merely passing on the latest AP story, I see)), let me try to digest the facts as I understand them and see if I can make heads or tails out of what's going on. Sorry that I'm not citing sources here (I read most of the coverage over the last couple days, and let it digest overnight; unfortunately I didn't think of noting down my cites when I read them. If you're source obsessed, a quick Google search can no doubt uncover most of them. One reason I've not bothered taking down the citations though, is that to anyone that has practiced military law it's pretty clear that the wire service reporters (in particular) got a lot of their facts bass-ackwards, so the facts as related have to be taken with a grain of salt).

The facts near as I can tell, aren't all that slippery, and the only thing that gives me pause in relating them is that, as the news stories make clear, the only persons talking about the facts of the case are SSGT Pogany and his attorney; near as I can tell nobody in the Army has officially commented on the case, and I've not seen any evidence that anyone in the Army has leaked anything to the press. So understand that the facts of the case, as known to the public, have been filtered through SSGT Pogany and his attorney, which means that it's understandable if one cast a slightly cynical eye on them.

Apparently SSGT Pogany, though not himself a member of the Special Forces, has been attached to the 10th Special Forces Group, Ft. Carson, CO, as an interpreter. Apparently, the 10th SFG (or at least an element of the command to which SSGT Pogany was attached) deployed to Iraq. On his second night in Iraq, personnel of SSGT Pogany's command engaged Iraqi insurgents (some reports say an Iraqi attacked the soldiers with a rocket propelled grenade). Soldiers in a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) apparently opened fire on the Iraqi, killing him, and then brought the corpse, or what was left of it, back to their base camp. Apparently, "what was left of it" was a more accurate description; some reports indicate that what was brought back was pretty much missing from about the waist up. If I recall correctly, the Bradley IFV is equipped with a large caliber machine gun which is fully capable of cutting "a man in half", as some of the reports described the dead Iraqi.

What is fairly clear is that SSGT Pogany was deeply disturbed by the sight of the Iraqi corpse (or what was left of it). According to the reports I read, Pogany suffered what he described as "a panic attack", vomited, shook for hours, and became (quite understandably) obsessed with thoughts of his own mortality, and afraid of being killed himself. Apparently he informed his team sergeant that he was "headed for a nervous breakdown" and unable to function. It appears that superior NCOs and (possibly) at least one commissioned officer "counseled" SSGT Pogany, mostly by reminding him that this could adversely affect his career. Some stories say that he was also given a couple sedatives ("sleeping pills") and told to "get over it". When this "counseling" didn't have the desired effect, he was sent back stateside. While back in the US, he did apparently recieve consultations with an Army psychologist, who assessed SSGT Pogany as having a normal combat stress reaction. The psychologist's recommendation was several days rest followed by SSGT Pogany's return to duty with his unit while receiving supportive training to help cope with combat stress. SSGT Pogany was apparently returned to duty with the 10th SFG at Ft. Carson, though not sent back to Iraq (which he apparently requested at least once, perhaps several times). At some point during this ordeal, superiors in the 10th SFG labelled SSGT Pogany a suicide risk (something which he denies; an Army psychologist has backed him up in that denial), and apparently he was put on a suicide watch while back at Ft. Carson. Sometime in the midst of this flailex, someone in the chain of command forwarded charges of "cowardice" against SSGT Pogany, and he was referred to an Article 32 investigation (in the military justice system, this is analogous to either a grand jury proceeding or a preliminary hearing; and is required before any charges can be referred to a general court-martial, which is the "highest" type of court-martial, in that it is not restricted in the punishment that it can impose). That hearing was to be held today (November 7), though late breaking reports ("Army Dismisses Soldier Cowardice Charge", Associated Press, November 7, 2003) state that those charges have been withdrawn and new charges preferred.

The Law

The legalities of the situation seem to me to be quite complex, and the fact that I was a Navy JAG rather than an Army JAG means that I may not have all the nuances down pat, but I think I can draw a few conclusions that are closer to the mark than a lot of the reportage out there. Pretty much all the news stories I've seen describe the charges as "cowardice". Confusing the issue is that the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) doesn't specifically have an article criminalizing "cowardice". Most likely, the charges that were referred for investigation were two: violation of Article 99 of the UCMJ ("Misbehavior before the enemy") and violation of Article 134 of the UCMJ (the so-called "General Article"). Article 99 provides:

Any person subject to this chapter who before or in the presence of the enemy--
(1) runs away;
(2) shamefully abandons, surrenders, or delivers up any command, unit, place, or military property which it is his duty to defend;
(3) through disobedience, neglect, or intentional misconduct endangers the safety of any such command, unit, place, or military property;
(4) casts away his arms or ammunition;
(5) is guilty of cowardly conduct;
(6) quits his place of duty to plunder or pillage;
(7) causes false alarms in any command, unit, or place under control of the armed forces;
(8) willfully fails to do his utmost to encounter, engage, capture, or destroy any enemy troops, combatants, vessels, aircraft, or any other thing, which it is his duty so to encounter, engage, capture, or destroy; or
(9) does not afford all practicable relief and assistance to any troops, combatants, vessels, or aircraft of the armed forces belonging to the United States or their allies when engaged in battle;
shall be punished by death or such punishment as a court- martial may direct.

Article 134 reads:

Though not specifically mentioned in this chapter, all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and crimes and offenses not capital, of which persons subject to this chapter may be guilty, shall be taken cognizance of by a general, special or summary court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and shall be punished at the discretion of that court.

Needless to say, the Army has not publicized the exact charges (i.e., the citation of the specific provision of the UCMJ which the accused is said to have violated) and specifications (i.e., the summary of the facts alleged to make up that violation) which were referred to the Article 32 investigation which was recently cancelled. It seems to me most likely that the cowardice charge alleged a violation of Article 99(5), UCMJ, "cowardly conduct". While none of the news stories that I read mentioned a charge under the general article, referring such a charge and specification would be almost a reflex action by any Staff Judge Advocate who manifests minimal brainwave activity and who is capable of inflatiing his/her lungs without mechanical assistance, so I can't imagine that this wasn't also referred for investigation as well. For this part of the analysis, I want to concentrate on the "cowardly conduct" charge, as this is the "meat" of the accusations against SSGT Pogany (as I see it); any charges under Article 134 are pretty much parasitic to the charges under Article 99.

The Manual for Courts Martial (MCM; by the way, this link is to a .pdf file; Adobe Reader plugin required) discusses the offense of cowardly conduct (I hope my citations, which I believe are to page references in the MCM, are accurate; the MCM was substantially revised in 2000, about 14 years after I left the Navy JAG Corps, which means it's an entirely different Manual than the one I worked with):

The elements (the facts that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to win a conviction) of the offense of cowardly conduct are:

(5) Cowardly Conduct.
(a) That the accused committed an act of cowardice;
(b) That this conduct occurred while the accused was before or in the presence of the enemy; and
(c) That this conduct was the result of fear.

(MCM, 2002, IV-34)

The Manual goes on to explain the elements thusly:

(5) Cowardly conduct.
Cowardice. "Cowardice" is misbehavior motivated by fear.
Fear. Fear is a natural feeling of apprehension when going into battle. The mere display of apprehension does not constitute this offense.
Nature of offense. Refusal or abandonment of a performance of duty before or in the presence of the enemy as a result of fear constitutes this offense.
Defense. Genuine and extreme illness, not generated by cowardice, is a defense.

(MCM, 2002, IV-35)

Once we read the relevant passages here (Article 99 itself and the accompanying MCM explanatory material), it becomes blindingly obvious to all but the most prosecution oriented analyst why the charges were withdrawn from the Article 32 investigation. Assuming arguendo that SSGT Pogany's conduct would otherwise constitute "cowardly conduct" within the meaning of the UCMJ, it's quite clear that SSGT Pogany was never "before or in the presence of the enemy" (i.e., involved in combat operations at the time the alleged offense was committed). This is borne out by the subsequent actions of 10th SFG chain of command.

(continued in Part II and Part III, above)

I want to be British....
I'm obviously there in attitude. This just in on the Internet Movie Database breaking news page: "Titanic" voted worst film ever.

"Titanic" may be the biggest box-office hit of all time, but in Britain it may also be the most despised film of all time. The 1997 film was voted worst film ever by viewers of the BBC show Film 2003 with Jonathan Ross. In second place was Steven Spielberg's sci-fi drama "A.I." Rounding out the top five were: "Pearl Harbor", "Vanilla Sky", and "The Blair Witch Project".

What is wrong with us?
Apparently, the Will Ferrell holiday flick Elf starts today (though, for all I know it may have started Wednesday in an attempt to take out The Matrix Revolutions). I know I've seen several TV ads touting the coming of Santa at at least one Memphis area mall today. I should keep an eye out; the TV specials "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" will probably be showing next week.

WTF is going on? It's only a week after f*cking Halloween, for Gawd's sake!!!! We still have Thanksgiving to go, dammit!!!! Why in the name of all that is holy (if it there were such a thing as holy (which there isn't)) are we extending the Christmas season into fall? What next? The candy canes and holly wreaths going up in the stores right after Labor Day (and you know then that the next year some idiot--most likely the bastard in charge of Wal-Mart's in-store promotions--will have the Christmas crap up right after Independence Day....)?

My grandmother, before she died, had a favorite coffee mug that she used to bring out of storage with the Christmas decorations. It was a Christmas mug, of course, with an iconic Santa Claus (not the Coca-Cola Santa, but a more generic, non-commercial Santa (if such a thing is possible)) on it. Usually the mug got put away in January with the rest of the Christmas decorations. One year (not long before she moved down to Chattanooga to live with my aunt (her surviving daughter)), while the tree and the rest of the decorations were put up, the mug stayed out, and Grandma drank her coffee out of that Santa Claus mug all the year through until (and past) the next Christmas season.

At the time, I was inclined to chalk that up to Grandmas's failing memory (at the time she was, while not older than God, getting invitations to attend high school reunions at which she and God were a couple of the last surviving members of the class). The more I think of it though, the more I think the old broad was just ahead of the game.

Lewis Black was on to something in his last CD, when he told his audience, "With Christmas, you Christians have created a beast which cannot be satisfied."

Breaking News: Dog bites man; Defendant abused in traffic court
In Slate yesterday William Saletan amused us with his stories of being a typical defendant in DC Metro area traffic courts: I Fought the Law

Thought for the Day:
In recent years, the line between special effects-focused blockbusters and computer games has been shrinking, and "The Matrix Revolutions" further narrows the gap. All that's missing is a joystick on the theater seat arm rest. The battle for Zion should be tense and suspenseful, but the obviousness of the computer generated animation during these sequences damages the ability to suspend disbelief. I didn't ever believe that I was watching humanity's last stand. Instead, I felt like I was watching a non-playable demo for a "Matrix Revolutions" videogame - shoot down as many sentinels as possible before being overwhelmed. The human element is limited to a few familiar faces rather than legitimate characters we actually care about.
--James Berardinelli

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Not surprising if true, but...
this raises a big red flag in my brain. From the AP, vial the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Lynch was raped

The authorized biography of former prisoner of war Pfc. Jessica Lynch says she was raped by her Iraqi captors, a family spokesman said Thursday.

"The book does cover the subject," spokesman Stephen Goodwin told The Associated Press. "It's a very difficult subject."

The book - "I am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story" - is being released by Knopf publishing on Tuesday, Veterans Day. Reporter Rick Bragg, who wrote the book, tells Lynch's story.

Medical records cited in the book indicate that she was raped, the Daily News of New York reported in its Thursday editions. Officials have said Lynch has no memory of her ordeal.

"Jessi lost three hours. She lost them in the snapping bones, in the crash of the Humvee, in the torment her enemies inflicted on her after she was pulled from it," writes Bragg, according to the Daily News, which obtained a copy of the book.

"The records do not tell whether her captors assaulted her almost lifeless, broken body after she was lifted from the wreckage, or if they assaulted her and then broke her bones into splinters until she was almost dead," Bragg continues.

The purpleness of Bragg's prose makes me wonder how much of this is true, and how much is exaggeration to goose the sales. I'm remembering those gunshot wounds which, in retrospect, were discovered to be not exactly real, either. But if the story is true, that shouldn't surprise anyone. I wonder what the point is of bringing it out in such a lurid fashion?

In his column in The Hill...
Josh Marshall explodes the silly GOoPer spin point that "nobody in the Administration ever said Iraq was an 'imminent threat'": Silly word games and weapons of mass destruction.

It’s true that administration officials avoided the phrase “imminent threat.” But in making their argument, Sullivan and others are relying on a crafty verbal dodge — sort of like “I didn’t accuse you of eating the cake. All I said was that you sliced it up and put it in your mouth.”

The issue is not the precise words the president and his deputies used but what arguments they made. And on that count, the record is devastatingly clear.

I don't want to see this happen...
but when it does, I'll be interested in seeing how InstaShill spins it: Waiting for the command to start killing Americans (Premium content; start the ad and then go get a Coke or a snack.)

I met Ithir yesterday when I visited Sadr City, the poor, crowded area in northern Baghdad that is home to more than 2 million Shiites. Ithir works in a small shop that sells an eclectic combination of inexpensive items: stationery, pens, plastic clocks embellished with plastic flowery geegaws, picture frames rimmed with hearts, some Barbie paraphernalia, and brightly colored prints depicting the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Though the young Shiite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr has attracted a lot of attention lately for his strong (albeit inconsistent) opinions about the American occupation, al-Sistani remains the most widely followed and respected Shiite leader in Iraq. Ithir, who holds a master's degree in computer science, is devoted to Sistani. He goes to his local mosque regularly and, like any good Muslim, is fasting for the month of Ramadan.

However, one issue leaves him at odds with Sistani. Ithir desperately wants his ayatollah to declare jihad on the Americans, so that he can start killing American soldiers.

Attaboy Albert!
Players' choice? It's Pujols

This is faith based policymaking at work
Nicholas Kristof: Death by Optimism

Ultimately, Saddam's rule collapsed in part because he couldn't read Iraq and made decisions based on hubris and bad information.

These days, President Bush and his aides are having the same problem. Critics complain that they lied to the American public about how difficult the war would be, but I fear the critics are wrong: they didn't just fool us — they also fooled themselves.

Evidence suggests that Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney may have actually believed that our troops would be, as Mr. Cheney predicted, "greeted as liberators." The administration chose to rely not on intelligence but on wishful thinking, and it became intoxicated by the siren calls of Ahmad Chalabi, a silver-tongued charlatan.

I wish administration officials were lying, because I would prefer hypocrisy to delusion — at least hypocritical officials make decisions with accurate information.

UPDATE: And from Whiskey Bar, who also discusses the Kristof article. Kristof wrote:

Brash optimism perhaps has its roots in Mr. Bush's hometown, Midland, Tex., an oil town that regularly rewarded hard work with a gusher, a place where everybody you meet displays this same hearty can-do confidence. In Midland, Mr. Bush unfortunately absorbed the lesson that risks in the desert pay off.

To which Billmon responded:

But this is -- to say the least -- a rather gross misrepresentation of Shrub's misspent youth. Grandson of a Senator, son of a Congressman/UN Ambassador/CIA Director/Vice President/President, little Bush never had the chance to learn about "risks in the desert," because nothing he did before the age of 45 involved taking risks.

I mean, what kind of lessons has Bush's career actually taught him?

  • That if your Dad is a wealthy and successful Yalie, you, too, can get into Yale.

  • That if your Dad is a big cheese in the Republican Party, you can get into the Harvard Business School.

  • That if you're afraid you're going to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, Dad's friends can always find you a slot in the National Guard. And if you want to go AWOL and work on a political campaign in Alabama, they'll can make that happen, too.

  • That if you start an oil company and it goes bust, your Dad's friends will make sure another company buys your stake and gives you a seat on its board.

  • That if you want to sell your shares in your new company because it looks like it might be in trouble, the Harvard Endowment will be happy to buy them from you.

  • That if your insider trading gets into trouble with the SEC, one of Dad's employees can make your problem disappear.

  • That if you want to be president and part owner of a baseball team, some of Dad's friends will be happy to oblige -- with only a minimal down payment on your part.

  • That if you decide you want to be governor, Dad's friends will make sure you have all the money you need.

  • That if you run for president and lose, Dad's friends -- and your loving brother, the governor of Florida -- will make sure you don't really lose.

Hell, if I'd learned those lessons in my life, I'd probably be a wild-eyed optimist, too!

From today's Doctor Science newsletter:
Dear Doctor Science,
Cows seem to have a lot of leisure time. What do they think about all day?
-- Jim Land from Minneapolis, MN

Most are political analysts, and many are on the payrolls of conservative think tanks. Rumor has it that George Will was once a cow, and William Safire was a Wisconsin heifer of some repute. Dr. Edward Teller, the self-proclaimed "Father of the H-bomb" lived his final days on a bucolic Nebraska prairie, slowly chewing his cud and feeling vaguely guilty for his role in the arms race. I wouldn't envy the cow its pastoral existence. What seems to be serenity is actually acute denial, and the deceptively tranquil scene of a massive beast blinking into the wind is that of a tortured soul longing to figure things out once and for all.

Once again, my two favorite reviewers disagree...
on The Matrix Revolutions. Berardinelli didn't seem to care a lot for it, while Ebert gave it three stars in the Sun-Times (which translates to a "thumb's up" in the "Ebert and Roeper" rating system), though frankly some of the passages from Ebert's review seemed to me damning with faint praise:

My admiration for "The Matrix Revolutions" is limited only by the awkward fact that I don't much give a damn what happens to any of the characters. If I cared more about Neo, Morpheus, Niobe and the others, there'd be more fire in my heart. But my regard is more for the technical triumph of the movie, less for the emotions it evokes. Neo is no more intended to have deep psychological realism than Indiana Jones, but the thing is, I liked Indy and hoped he got out in one piece -- while my concern about Neo has been jerked around by so many layers of whether he's real or not, and whether he's really doing what he seems to be doing, that finally I measure my concern for him not in affection but more like the score in a video game.


But the thing is: A movie should not depend on the answers to questions like this for its effect. The first "Matrix" was the best because it really did toy with the conflict between illusion and reality -- between the world we think we inhabit, and its underlying nature. The problem of "Matrix Reloaded" and "Matrix Revolutions" is that they are action pictures that are forced to exist in a world that undercuts the reality of the action.

Of course I'll go. Having invested about what? Four hours or more of my life in the first two Matrix episodes, I need to know how it all comes out. We'll see how it impresses me, and maybe give a few thoughts then.

Scary. Very scary...
Taking a gander at a Roger Ebert movie review that interested me, I see this sponsored link at the bottom of the page:

Christian Government -
Free books and articles on Christian rule and theocracy.

(Website not hyperlinked because I don't want to give the bastards any more hits; as it is, copying and pasting the link text caused me to click on their sponsored link three times, much to my dismay.)

What I wonder is if Ebert (who strikes me as a moderate to liberal Catholic, based on what I have read of his opinion pieces) knows that this crap is sponsoring his reviews, and what is his opinion of that?

Let's all get behind this worthy effort!
From Lake Superior State University comes this year's edition of The List Of Banned Words.

Why don't we just have the Pope canonize him and get it over with, then?
Ron Reagan and Mother Teresa: it'd make a helluva double feature. Anyway, Tim Noah also had this to say apropos of CBS's failure of nerve in pushing The Reagans off to Showtime:

It isn't especially troubling that CBS would bow to angry protesters in canceling The Reagans, given that the miniseries itself, if at all typical of the genre, is likely a piece of hackwork. (Those who live by popular tastes, die by popular tastes.) But it is troubling that the public, or at least a highly influential segment of it, has apparently ruled any criticism of President Reagan out of bounds. When did the Gipper become St. Ronald?

Noah makes an interesting point later in his column, though, and given the high dudgeon that most of Left Blogistan has manifested over the CBS capitulation it'd be nice to think, as Noah argues, that the right wingnuts may have shot themselves in the foot by getting the miniseries cancelled:

Ironically, conservatives like Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, who called on CBS to cancel The Reagans, were probably acting against their own interest. Airing a miniseries about Ronald Reagan on network TV would likely have enhanced the aura of glamour that already surrounds him. According to Rutenberg in the Times, the miniseries "does give Mr. Reagan most of the credit for ending the cold war and paints him as an exceptionally gifted politician and a moral man who stuck to his beliefs, often against his advisers' urgings." So what if it fails to credit President Reagan with creating a lengthy economic expansion (though not as lengthy as the one overseen by Bill Clinton) or with "delivering the nation from the malaise of the Jimmy Carter years" (achieved mainly by a drop in oil prices)? Even its clearly false notes could easily burnish rather than harm Reagan's image. For instance, its apparent picture of Reagan as a homophobe ("They that live in sin shall die in sin," he says by way of justifying inaction on AIDS) is much more flattering than the truth, which is that Reagan was (in Hendrik Hertzberg's exquisite formulation) a "closet tolerant" who back-burnered the AIDS issue out of political expediency. Biographies and TV dramas about the Kennedys have grown steadily more critical and salacious over the years, but they don't seem to have diminished the nation's Camelot obsession. By rendering criticism of Ronald Reagan taboo, conservatives act against their long-term interest in maintaining his status as a culture hero. It's very difficult to sustain passion, over time, for a plaster saint.

In case you were wondering why you feel a bit overwhelmed...
Timothy Noah, in one of his Slate columns, summarizes some research which shows that, in 2002, the total amount of information that was created was about 5 exabytes (5,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes).

No wonder you needed a new hard disk drive this year, eh?

Thought for the Day:
To describe it as "Gonzo" journalism is to ignore the influence of all the other muppets.
--Ben Moor [on Hunter S. Thompson]

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Back online...
Is And Then... who seems just a little depressed over yesterday's election returns.

The best argument against the existence of a just and loving God:
Linda Tripp committed a felony (lied to the DoD about her arrest record, in order to receive a security clearance), and now she's over a half million richer for it. (And who says crime doesn't pay?)

If there were a just and loving God, she wouldn't allow that to happen.

Music to my ears...
From UT Law/Philosophy prof Brian Leiter, the reigning guru in the ranking of elite law schools and elite philosophy Ph.D. programs: Will Northwestern University Law School Still be a Top Law School Ten Years from Now?

In effect, what we've witnessed at Northwestern is a reverse NYU: while NYU Law over the last decade repeatedly hired faculty from peer and better institutions, to the point that it is now competitive with Columbia--something that would have seemed unthinkable a generation ago--Northwestern has repeatedly lost its best faculty to peer and inferior institutions (as well as a handful to better institutions).


My assessment: there is now a real risk that Northwestern's law school--which does, indeed, have the best facilities of any urban law school in the country--may be about to slip out of the ranks of elite law school faculties.

In other words: Northwestern's law school is going into the toilet. And I say, good. May it slide right down to the bottom. Or even better, close. Serves the bastards right.

Can you tell I don't care for the place?

From TalkLeft....
let's put some of the right wing spin in perspective. This from one of TalkLeft's correspondents, a Vietnam Vet turned criminal defender:

History repeats! Sh*t happens! Found an interesting piece today by William F. Buckley, Jr., on the subject of why we shouldn't get too worked up about one little helicopter full of dead soldiers. The analysis has a certain appeal for us cynics who see all those pesky "Iraq is Vietnam" parallels, because, here, for the first time since right after the 1968 Tet Offensive, a conservative columnist is patiently instructing us--again--that if you'll just compare the number of soldiers killed in a given period of time (like, five minutes for example) to the number of Americans killed in car accidents in a year, you will not feel particularly upset about the dead soldiers (especially if none of them happens to be you, your kid, your father, mother, sister, brother or anybody else you actually used to play golf with at the country club). I can distinctly remember a fat guy in a hard hat making that car wreck argument back in 1969. It didn't work for me, but then I actually knew a bunch of the dead soldiers, so I guess I didn't really have the proper perspective.

In any event, now that Mr. Buckley has resurrected this argument, I'm wondering if I can use it as a defense in my next murder case? Sample opening statement: "Ladies and Gentlemen, please put the charges against my client 'into perspective.'" There were 43,000 'Mericans killed in car wrecks last year, not to mention 16 people killed in one helicopter wreck, and my client is merely accused of killing one little family of four..."

Think it'll work?

The World According to the League
What? You were expecting Garp?

Pen-Elayne on the Web has finally gotten the rules for the TTLB New Blog Showcase worked out, and though it appears that she is a New Yorker she shows the political smarts of a Chicago native as she votes early and often.

MadKane gives us a little laughter, a little law. And we always can find a little laughter in the law, if we know where to look. Meanwhile, it appears that Dubya's having another one of those daze... [Mom always told me there'd be days like that; the thing I haven't forgiven her for yet is not telling me there'd be so damn many of them.]

thorswitch of different strings gives us a pointer to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Rick at Futurballa clues us into an interesting discussion of jargon: To blog or not...

ARMACT Action Alerts urges us to Help Halifax! Considering the hospitality that the people of Halifax showed American travelers stranded by the airport closures following the 9/11/2001 attacks, it's the least we could do.

Cup o' Joe is smiling: his blog gets more hits than Jerry Pournelle's.

Grateful Dread on the Web is also Blogging for a Cure.

Meanwhile, The Poison Kitchen urges us to go give our answer to one of the eternal questions at South Knox Bubba's poll (at the risk of giving a spoiler, I still think that SKB should have let us answer "both", though I see his point that it was too easy a way out).

Indigo Ocean gives us an update on the progress of her entry for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) celebration.

Speedkill weighs in on the consecration of an openly gay Episcopal bishop (actually, the controversy, as I understand it, isn't just that he's openly gay, but actively gay: he lives with a significant other with whom he has an "intimate relationship").

The Felonious Elephant tells us why Lincoln is probably spinning in his grave.

Sick of Bush informs us that Irony is Dead.

Arms and the Man tells us how much it costs to train Iraqi Police recruits. Once I saw the figure, I wish I'd have gone into that line o'work....

Clareified points out a most puzzling anomaly in how Blogger's spell check works, and she also muses about the 15 GIs dead by invitation of George W. Bush.

Everyone goes to Rick's. Well, they do if they're cool enough to want to learn about how trickle-up economics works.

And then... is having technical problems. I almost saw an interesting post on the Kobe Bryant case when, refreshing the page to see if it'd render correctly the second time around, the page got replaced with what appears to be a picture of a polar bear in a blizzard. We'll have to visit here later.

A Changin' Times notes the disturbing confluence of science fiction and reality in Flying in the face of privacy.

Estimated Prophet tells us to reclaim democracy by saying no to corporate governance.

And Gotham City 13 gives us the rundown on that ol' Bush administration and their bag o'sneaky tricks.

Last, but not least in this week's tour, The 18 1/2 Minute Gap gives us his impressions of the Democratic stable o'challengers after seeing 30 seconds over MTV.

Does Bar need a reality check?
Alan Bisbort of the Valley Advocate seems to suggest so:

Last and least, former first lady Barbara Bush recently described the 12 Democratic candidates for president as a "sorry group." The Democratic lineup contains two decorated war veterans, a Rhodes Scholar, a top West Point grad, a longtime legislator, a successful mayor and governor, and numerous other public servants, none of whom warrant such an undignified characterization. Especially not from the matriarch of three substance-abusing grandchildren, a felonious whoremonger son (Neil), ethically challenged son (Marvin), HMO-fund-embezzler and election thief (Jeb), coke-sniffing AWOL Air Guard pilot son (W.), vehicularly homicidal daughter-in-law (Laura) and father- and grandfather-in-law who traded with Nazi Germany.

Frankly, Barbara Bush has always been, for me, smack in the middle of a group of folks that included such "lumenaries" as John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and even Dumbya himself, the "What The Hell Do People Like About These Shits?" Club. Barb's been there ever since she called Geraldine Ferraro a bitch--not directly, but by saying she'd call Ferraro something "that rhymes with rich".

But if you look at the seriously dysfunctional offspring of Poppy and Bar, you realize there's some serious gold in that family for some enterprising psychohistorian to mine sometime.

And another hearty welcome...
To new Liberal Leaguer The 18 1/2 Minute Gap, who snuck in just after my last welcome message.

And this has the advantage of not being one o'those Quizilla quizzes...
The Geek Test.

I scored: 33.92505% - Total Geek

For what it's worth, the scale is:

  • Geekish Tendencies

  • Geek

  • Total Geek

  • Major Geek

  • Super Geek

  • Extreme Geek

  • Geek God

  • Dysfunctional Geek

Alas, I'm depressed that I didn't hit at least Extreme Geek, but at least I do have a Geek Code....

Well, if Madonna could make losing one's virginity pay as a career move...
it shouldn't be too surprising that attempted suicide might be a smart career move. A surprising conclusion? See: The Economics of Suicide.

Previous studies had demonstrated that as personal incomes rise, the propensity for suicide falls (presumably, money does buy some happiness). Marcotte's insight was that individuals contemplating suicide do not just choose between life and death. Rather, they choose between three alternatives: life, death, and the gray area of unsuccessful suicide, which may be negative (expensive injury and permanent disability) or positive (a "cry for help" that elicits attention).

The resulting formula contains a somewhat paradoxical conclusion: Attempting suicide can be a rational choice, but only if there is a high likelihood it will cause the attempter's life to significantly improve.

Marcotte couldn't test the relative "life improvement" of successful suicides—since they were, of course, dead—but he could study those who had failed at suicide to determine if their lives improved after the attempt. The results are surprising. Marcotte's study found that after people attempt suicide and fail, their incomes increase by an average of 20.6 percent compared to peers who seriously contemplate suicide but never make an attempt. In fact, the more serious the attempt, the larger the boost—"hard-suicide" attempts, in which luck is the only reason the attempts fail, are associated with a 36.3 percent increase in income. (The presence of nonattempters as a control group suggests the suicide effort is the root cause of the boost.)

Why should suicide be an economic boon? Once you attempt suicide you suddenly have access to lots of resources—medical care, psychiatric attention, familial love and concern—that were previously expensive or unavailable. Doubters may ask why the depressed don't seek out resources earlier. But studies have demonstrated that psychological and familial resources become "cheaper" after a suicide attempt: It is difficult to find free medical care when you are sad, but once you try to kill yourself, it's forced on you.

Suddenly the calculus of suicide has become even more complicated. Now attempting suicide seems a rational choice, as long as the attempt isn't too successful. But this conclusion alarms suicidologists: Treating suicide as a logical act runs counter to everything they have been advocating for the past 40 years.

Thought for the Day:
The word 'politics' is derived from the word 'poly', meaning 'many', and the word 'ticks', meaning 'blood sucking parasites'.
--Larry Hardiman

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Viewing the world with the League of Liberals:
The Democratic Veteran bemoans yet another apparently successful GOP wingnut attempt to stifle free discourse in this country: More Republican Whining.

Meanwhile, Rush Limbaughtomy asks about something we've not heard anything about: The Cost of War includes contractor worker deaths - Why aren't they reported?

The Spy Game discusses a very interesting story (if, like me, you've got a dirty mind): Feds used PATRIOT act to bust strip clubs. Your Federal Taxes at work....

Yesterday, Cosmic Iguana clues us in on an Army Times article: apparently DoD families are mad as hell, and they're not gonna take it anymore (or so we can hope...)

The People's Republic of Seabrook has some good comments about the bAdministration's firing up the draft machinery...

The Mahablog gives us a look at the state of affairs in left Blogistan.

T Rex's Guide to Life gives us a look at The Party of Hatemongers.

WTF Is It Now? It's that things are goin' great... if you swallow the bAdministration's twisted logic.

Dohiy mir tells us in no uncertain terms: Dean Rocks The Vote

blunted on reality refers us to a pretty cool shockwave animation: The End of the World.

Savage Cruel Bigots tells us about Brokers admit shady trading. Kinda sounds like dogs admitting they bite men, eh? Hell for Halliburton follows up on that story.

Happy Furry Puppy Story Time tries to play Roger Ebert; here's Special Movies to Avoid Edition--The Last Samurai Part One and Part Two.

Shock & Awe reminds us that this is Protection from Crappy Porn Week of Resistance

Meanwhile, Natalie at All Facts And Opinions is Blogging for a Cure. Let's give her our support!

Damn, we never get to vote for fun things like this in Memphis....
From CNN: Voters to decide on lap dancing ban

To paraphrase Tom Lehrer: It's unfortunate that, owing to the Constitution and the laws, the civil liberties types who are fighting this battle have to frame the fight in terms of the First Amendment and freedom of expression, but we all know the real issue involved here: lap dances are fun.

I think these Quizilla things are silly....
But I couldn't resist this one. Thanks, Big Stupid Tommy!

You're Colin!
You are Colin Powell! You're the odd duck of
the Bush White House - the reasonable diplomat.
Every administration's got one!

Which member of the Bush Administration are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

OK, OK, I've neglected my blogroll....
so sue me.

Anyway, we've had a few new members join the League of Liberals since the last time I drafted one o'these things. I'd like to give a warm, hearty welcome to:

Ok guys, don't let the enemy get hold of your secret decoder rings, and we'll be getting you your keys to The Great Hall Of Liberals just as soon as the locksmith cuts them for us.

Does judicial ideology still matter?
Damn straight it does, according to Carey Cuprisin at Glorfindel of Gondolin. Pretty thoughtful piece by an MD-now-first-year-law-student. Check it out.

Dahlia may need to get out in the real world more...
Slate's legal editor, Dahlia Lithwick, generally knows her shit where the law is concerned, but one of her latest columns, Crackseat Driver, shows that she may need to learn a bit more about the segment of society that generates most of the interesting Supreme Court criminal law and procedure cases. Discussing a case before the Supremes, Dahlia tells us:

Joseph Pringle made several mistakes on Aug. 7, 1999. One was being the passenger in a car with a driver who consented to a police search. Another was hiding the big wad of $763 in cash in the glove box of that car—where the license and registration lived. Another was hiding the five baggies of crack cocaine in the back seat, cleverly jammed behind the armrest. Another was later confessing at the police station that yes, the drugs were his and that he was hoping to trade them for sex at a party (I always find that "Nice dress" or "Great party, huh?" works OK, too).

Dahlia probably has a lower level of resistance to charm than I would if I were a woman (or maybe she's just lucky that all the men she's ever met in her life are drop dead gorgeous studs), but in the social circles that I'd guess Mr. Pringle travels in, it's been my observation that a stash of crack and the willingness to spread it around is going to get a guy more sex than "Nice dress" or "Great party, huh?" It's also been my observation that the general quality of the women that will put out for crack cocaine isn't exactly what I'd feel particularly eager to have sex with, but to cite a few cliches, variety is the spice of life, and difference of opinion is what makes a horse race.

However, this passage makes me regret that I never got the chance to argue before the Supremes:

Gary E. Bair argues for Maryland this morning, and Bair seems to believe that the state has probable cause to arrest everyone in a drug-mobile because it's always a reasonable assumption that they all know about the drugs. Bair apparently lives in the Land that Knows No Carpools. And he thus spends most of his time this morning resisting the planes, trains, and automobiles hypotheticals put forth by the justices:

What if the drugs had been found closer to the driver, rather than in the backseat, asks Sandra Day O'Connor. Could all three passengers still be arrested? Yes, says Bair, because the car is a common area. What if the drugs were found in the trunk, asks Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Well, says Bair, if there were a "large quantity of drugs in the trunk, or a dead body in the trunk …"; Ginsburg reminds him that this is her hypo and there is just a Ziploc bag in the trunk, not a dead body.

Then it's O'Connor's turn with the innocent-grandma hypo: "What if it's a high-crime area and some mother gets a ride from her son and doesn't know he's involved with drugs?" Can she be arrested? "Supposing it's the middle of the day," she adds. "And she's going to the grocery store?" Bair can't quite make himself say "lock the old drug-mom up." So he mumbles something about a "totality of the circumstances test."

Justice John Paul Stevens has a hypo, too. What if there were four passengers in the car instead of three? No different says Bair. "What if there were six?" asks Stevens. Same. Stevens, undaunted: "What if it's a minivan and there are eight people?" he asks. Lock 'em up. Stevens takes a breather while Ginsburg takes over: "What if it had been a bus?"

Bair seems ready to concede that he would not seek to arrest all the passengers on a bus just because someone had drugs. Prompting Antonin Scalia to enter the bidding war to ask if the result would be different if it were a public bus or a charter bus. He appears to be asking this question purely for recreational purposes.

Thank God for Nino. Without him, whatever would we do for comic relief?

In fairness...
I know that there have been parts of the blogosphere mentioning the Center for Public Integrity's "Windfalls of War" report, which purports to show that there's a clear link between contributions to the Bush campaign and awards of contracts for Iraq reconstruction (I want to say I mentioned it here at some point, but a quick scan of the archives the last week or so doesn't reveal a pertinent post). Yesterday, University of Chicago political scientist Daniel Drezner published an article in Slate arguing otherwise.

Windfalls of War (the CFI report)

Fables of the Reconstruction (the Drezner analysis)

Read both and decide for yourself.

Now how more Fair and Balanced can one be?

Thought for the Day:
Courtesy of Fred Kaplan's "War Stories" column in Slate: Err War--The Army Buries Its Mistakes

In other words, intelligence-gathering and intelligence-analysis teams are held in such low esteem that they're supplied with mismatched computer systems, they're manned by junior officers (or more senior officers who've received little training), they're assigned to risky raid operations that have nothing to do with their missions, and, as if to place an exclamation point on their dispensability, they're put in the raid-team's most dangerous slot.

And then the Army wonders why our intel in Iraq and Afghanistan sucks?

Monday, November 03, 2003

We Sherlockians can be an, uh, interesting bunch....
I stopped to blog this only because I know the gentleman in question; he's a fellow member of the Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn (and maybe a couple other Sherlockian societies in the St. Louis area as well). He also leads a second life: as Sir Karl Kindt, knight errant on a quest to restore chivalry to its rightful place of honor.

G'luck, Karl.

The old Europeans ain't dumb...
From Brian Leiter's blog: "No ideas and the ability to express them", Part II (wherein Leiter lets Thomas Friedman have it, and deservedly so).

And what then of the French and Germans, "old Europe" (that's in contrast to the "new Europe" of such powerhouse US allies as Albania and Lithuania)--what was their motivation? Friedman, in his idiot savant way, actually provides the answer, without noting it as such. He remarks in passing: "Many Europeans really do believe that a dominant America is more threatening to global stability than Saddam's tyranny."

They not only believe it, they're actually justified in believing it; indeed, the only thing to marvel at here is that anyone with an 8th-grade education doesn't believe it. After all, the Europeans, not being as thoroughly cowed and indoctrinated, may have noticed that the US outspent Iraq on warfare preparations by a ratio of 400 to 1; indeed, that the US outspends the next ten biggest spenders on warfare preparations; that the US has nuclear weapons, biological weapons, chemical weapons, while Iraq does not; that the US has invaded or overthrown governments in more than a dozen countries, unleashing ruthless reins of terror unparalleled outside Stalin's Russia in the 1930s, while Iraq, as a third-rate power, had merely invaded one country, and had unleashed terror only against its own population (with essential help and support from the US); that the US war machine is now run by religious zealots, while Iraq was a secular state, and so on.

All this might have led someone modestly rational to conclude that the US was a far greater threat to world stability than some absurd second-world dictator, who had fallen out of America's good graces.

But no one modestly rational writes for the NY Times. Which brings us back to Karl Kraus: "No ideas and the ability to express them: that's a journalist." And that's Thomas Friedman.

Rather circuitous route here...
I got this from Missouri Liberal, who got it from Common Dreams, who show a copyright notice from The Progressive (and Matthew Rothschild is editor in chief of The Progressive, IIRC): Arsonist Burns Peace Activist's Home. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, though a family is left homeless.

Note to the arsonists: when, next time you kill someone it ain't going to be a good defense at law to whine to the Judge, "We didn't mean to kill anyone." If they ever catch you after you kill someone, I'm going to reconsider my opposition to capital punishment.

MadKane is at it again....
She'd been travelling, and we'd missed her. But the wait was worth it. Today's entry: The Spinning Song.

Interesting Juxtapositions Department:
According to my usually impeachable sources, today is the mutual birthday of Michael Dukakis and Dennis Miller.

Adjust your tinfoil hats....
A report in the UK's Sunday Herald suggests that Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, had advanced knowledge of the 9/11 attacks and in fact had people in the New York area filming it as it came down. I'm going to shelve this on the "just implausible enough to be convincing" shelf for now; it'll be interesting to see if the story develops legs.

Why not just pull the plug on email and get it over with?
This from The Register: The conspiracy against our in-boxes. Basically, the government and certain IT heavyweights (including Microsoft, of course) are trying to redefine "spam" from "unsolicited commercial email" to "unsolicited commercial email not from a 'legitimate organization'". Or, as the Reg article puts it, they want to create a new class of "trusted spam" that isn't going to be interfered with:

Through parallel developments, the US government and IT heavyweights are working to redefine spam as fraudulent - and not just unwanted - bulk email.

This month the US Senate voted unanimously to support measures that would attempt to stop spammers remaining anonymous and providing false return email addresses. All well and good, but the measures also legalise opt-out spamming, so e-marketers don't need to ask permission before sending out commercial email.

UK politicians attempted to persuade the Senate that the US should adopt a more restrictive opt-in approach. They failed. Call us cynical, but comments from members of the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group that identical legislation on both sides of the Atlantic is not needed simply do not ring true.

Meanwhile we learn, via the Washington Post, that Microsoft, America Online, Yahoo and EarthLink are close to the completion of their trusted sender programme.


We don't buy the idea that e-marketing groups are concerned about the nuisance value and time wasted dealing with unsolicited messages - if they did they would support the opt-in approach.

With opt-in, e-marketers need to seek permission of consumers before they send out commercial emails. By contrast, under an opt-out approach a person would have to ask to be removed from a particular mailing list. The latter more lax approach is favoured by the Direct Marketing Association and many of the most prolific bulk mailers currently in operation.

Instead their primary concern is that fear of fraud has a big effect on response levels to commercial mail.

Assuming that the trusted sender programme does what it says on the tin (a big question in itself) particularly given the resourcefulness of Dark Side spammers - then what next?

We fear they'll start to focus on why spam filters block these legitimate "marketing messages" from "trusted senders" from getting through to their intended recipients.

From there it's only a short step to restraint of trade lawsuits against filtering technology suppliers. Maybe it won’t come to this, but we’re heading for in-box meltdown so long as the interests of the Direct Marketing Association hold more sway than those of the consumer.

Thought for the Day:
Another important aspect of this debate has been obscured by Bush's allegedly colorblind approach to affirmative action. It won't significantly affect the representation of whites on many campuses. At the most selective institutions, the elimination of affirmative action would have an acute impact on the admissions of African-Americans and Latinos but would likely increase the chances of white admissions by just 1.5 percent. In other words, although there is a widespread perception that masses of white students are losing their seats because of affirmative action, in reality, race-conscious policies have a negligible impact on whites. As a matter of basic math, affirmative action cannot begin to account for the number of unsuccessful white candidates, because the sum of minority students admitted under race-conscious policies is dramatically less than the number of white candidates denied admission.
--Elsie Boddie

Sunday, November 02, 2003

More proof that InstaShill is full of bullshit....
David Rieff in the New York Times Magazine today paints a vivid picture of the American Occupation. Unfortunately, it's not at all a pretty one:

On the streets of Baghdad today, Americans do not feel welcome. United States military personnel in the city are hunkered down behind acres of fencing and razor wire inside what was once Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace. When L. Paul Bremer III, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, leaves the compound, he is always surrounded by bodyguards, carbines at the ready, and G.I.'s on patrol in the city's streets never let their hands stray far from the triggers of their machine guns or M-16 rifles. The official line from the White House and the Pentagon is that things in Baghdad and throughout Iraq are improving. But an average of 35 attacks are mounted each day on American forces inside Iraq by armed resisters of one kind or another, whom American commanders concede are operating with greater and greater sophistication. In the back streets of Sadr City, the impoverished Baghdad suburb where almost two million Shiites live -- and where Bush administration officials and Iraqi exiles once imagined American troops would be welcomed with sweets and flowers -- the mood, when I visited in September, was angry and resentful. In October, the 24-member American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council warned of a deteriorating security situation.


I have made two trips to Iraq since the end of the war and interviewed dozens of sources in Iraq and in the United States who were involved in the planning and execution of the war and its aftermath. It is becoming painfully clear that the American plan (if it can even be dignified with the name) for dealing with postwar Iraq was flawed in its conception and ineptly carried out. At the very least, the bulk of the evidence suggests that what was probably bound to be a difficult aftermath to the war was made far more difficult by blinkered vision and overoptimistic assumptions on the part of the war's greatest partisans within the Bush administration. The lack of security and order on the ground in Iraq today is in large measure a result of decisions made and not made in Washington before the war started, and of the specific approaches toward coping with postwar Iraq undertaken by American civilian officials and military commanders in the immediate aftermath of the war.

Despite administration claims, it is simply not true that no one could have predicted the chaos that ensued after the fall of Saddam Hussein. In fact, many officials in the United States, both military and civilian, as well as many Iraqi exiles, predicted quite accurately the perilous state of things that exists in Iraq today. There was ample warning, both on the basis of the specifics of Iraq and the precedent of other postwar deployments -- in Panama, Kosovo and elsewhere -- that the situation in postwar Iraq was going to be difficult and might become unmanageable. What went wrong was not that no one could know or that no one spoke out. What went wrong is that the voices of Iraq experts, of the State Department almost in its entirety and, indeed, of important segments of the uniformed military were ignored. As much as the invasion of Iraq and the rout of Saddam Hussein and his army was a triumph of planning and implementation, the mess that is postwar Iraq is a failure of planning and implementation.
[my emphasis]

This is what we get for "electing" someone who values faith over reason. However, when George aWol Bush told us he believed in faith-based initiatives, he never told us that his foreign and military policies would also be faith-based.

This is completely outrageous...
This from The Washington Monthly's Who's Who (if you follow the link, scroll down to the last item on the page):

The outing by senior administration officials of Valerie Plame, an undercover C.I.A. counter-terrorism expert and wife of Bush critic and former ambassador Joseph Wilson, is undoubtedly the signature example of contemporary GOP vindictiveness. But there are others. For instance, there is Eric Massa, until recently on the majority staff of the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). Massa was a lifelong Republican whose first taste of politics was serving as a page to candidate Ronald Reagan during the 1976 presidential race. But before joining the committee staff, Massa had served in the armed forces, where, among other things, he was a top aide to Gen. Wesley Clark (Ret.) during Clark's tenure as NATO supreme commander. The two were close, so when Clark came to Washington in early October to meet with Democratic congressional leaders at a private residence a few blocks from the Capitol, Massa walked over to say hello. But as the former comrades-in-arms greeted each other warmly on the street just outside the event--Massa never went inside, say other attendees--Republican operatives stationed nearby noticed his presence, and reported back to his staff director, Robert Rangel. Soon after, sources tell "Who's Who," Hunter and Rangel repeatedly told Massa that, given his friendship with Clark, he could no longer work at the committee, but when reporters from a few big-name newspapers heard the story and began calling around, Hunter claimed that Massa had never actually been fired. Fed-up, Massa resigned. No one from Hunter's office was available for comment. Contacted by WW, Massa commented, "I don't hold ill will for anybody. This is about issues, and Clark the man, and I'm going to do everything I can to get him elected."

This is the problem with the chickenhawks: never having been in the military, the can't understand how service in uniform can build respect and friendship that can transcend political differences. For God's sake, Massa was an aide to General Clark--this is about as close as one can work with a man. What did they expect Massa to do? Spit in Clark's face?

I'm glad to see, though, that Massa is taking the right tack: don't get mad, get even.

Good post...
at fellow League of Liberals member blog People's Republic of Seabrook: This nation-building thing isn't all it's cracked up to be, is it?? I think these paragraphs make an excellent point about the dangers of analogizing from history:

I think it's nonproductive to be using words like "quagmire" and "Vietnam" to describe what is happening in Iraq. Vietnam was a much worse and significantly bloodier war. We're also not supporting a corrupt government in Iraq the way that we were in Vietnam. Those realities aside, Iraq has become the political equivalent of a Chinese finger trap- easy to get into, but significantly more difficult to extricate yourself from. Perhaps it's time for the Bush Administration to figure out just how we're going to leave Iraq. We may have a respsonsibility to "finish the job" in Iraq. However, if the natives are going to condone guerilla warfare against the army that liberated them from Saddam Hussein, perhaps it's time we let them solve their own problems.

Is the dilemma we find ourselves in now worth the continued war of attrition that seems to be accomplishing little except ended the lives of young Americans? What, exactly, is the plan here? How are we to know when our work is finished? How do we leave- and more importantly, WHEN do we leave? It's time that all of us begin demanding answers to those questions.

I hope I'm not misinterpreting here when I say that I do disagree with the sentiment that "perhaps it's time we let them solve their own problems." Iraq was a bloody mess before our intervention there; now because of our failure to think through the ramifications of that intervention it's an even bloodier mess, and there seems to be no significant improvement in sight. Iraqis are probably not quite ready to begin solving their problems, but it's quite clear that they're not exactly doing double backflips in their enthusiasm for letting us solve their problems for them. It seems clear to me that the United States, in order to do the right thing, should transition governance of Iraq from the CPA to an appropriate international organization. Given the politics of the situation, I'd prefer the United Nations take over peacekeeping and traditional duties in Iraq. But at the rate things are going, turning the mess over to the Arab League would result in a better resolution (for Iraqis). Unfortunately, the George aWol Bush bAdministration is more interested in doing the "right" thing for Halliburton and their other cronies, rather than for the Iraqi people. But hell, they're just brown folks who didn't have the sense to be born in the US....

Pretty good reading, I think....
I'll throw another Showcase vote to Bush & Baghdad Bob: Bosom Buddies?, an entry with no votes yet but which is, IMHO, richly deserving of a few.

And while we're at it, we'll note that our friend ink from the squid is leading the Showcase vote. Since we can't vote Chicago style (i.e., early and often) we're forced to go with the old fashioned "get out the vote push", but do consider getting some of your friends to vote for that entry. Looks like the Mighty League of Liberals may yet bring another deserving blog to victory in the Showcase.

The truth hurts sometimes....
Alas, because N.Z. Bear has decided to discount multiple links in the Ecosystem, I have (quicker than overnight) been demoted to a mere Adorable Little Rodent in the TTLB Ecosystem. Other than the wound to my pride (bullshit; I knew that my status as "Large Mammal" was inflated, but I was willing to enjoy the status while it lasted) it's not a big deal. I'd rather be right than President. Especially the current one. :-)

Just when you'd thought you'd seen it all....
that there was no other subject that could possibly have a web page devoted to it.... you discover you're wrong.

This one courtesy of Big Stupid Tommy: Urinal Dot Net (thought BSTommy linked directly to The Urinals of Wrigley Field; I don't recall the urinals at The Friendly Confines looking that nice, but it's been literally decades since my last visit there).

Fun with memes Department:
From Turquoise Waffle Irons in the Back Yard, here's a scorecard for the "Miserable Failure" project..

And while I'm at it, I'll just point out that I think George W. Bush is a miserable failure, but not just because Dick Gephardt (my old Congresscritter) said it first.

Well, I have to say you could knock me over with a feather...
I wouldn't have thought that Wolfowitz had enough balls to take questions that weren't pre-screened. Anyway, this from Melanie at Daily Kos (source transcript here):

In other news, Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz spoke at Georgetown University on Friday and and took questions. (hat tip Juan Cole.)

      Q: Hi, Mr. Wolfowitz. My name is Ruthy Coffman. I think I speak for many of us
      here when I say that your policies are deplorable. They're responsible for the
      deaths of innocents and the disintegration of American civil liberties. [Applause]

      We are tired, Secretary Wolfowitz, of being feared and hated by the world. We
      are tired of watching Americans and Iraqis die, and international institutions cry
      out in anger against us. We are simply tired of your policies. We hate them, and
      we will never stop opposing them. We will never tire or falter in our search for
      justice. And in the name of this ideal and the ideal of freedom, we assembled a
      message for you that was taken away from us and that message says that the
      killing of innocents is not the solution, but rather the problem. Thank you.
      [Applause and jeers]

      Wolfowitz: I have to infer from that that you would be happier if Saddam
      Hussein were still in power. [Applause]


      Q: I'd just like to say that people like Ruthy and myself have always opposed
      Saddam Hussein, especially when Saddam Hussein was being funded by the
      United States throughout the '80s. And -- [Applause] And after the killings of the
      Kurds when the United States increased aid to Iraq. We were there opposing
      him as well. People like us were there. We are for democracy. And I have a

      What do you plan to do when Bush is defeated in 2004 and you will no longer
      have the power to push forward the project for New American Century's policy of
      American military and economic dominance over the people of the world?

      Wolfowitz: I don't know if it was just Freudian or you intended to say it that
      way, but you said you opposed Saddam Hussein especially when the United
      States supported him.

      It seems to me that the north star of your comment is that you dislike this
      country and its policies.

      And it seems to me a time to have supported the United States and to push the
      United States harder was in 1991 when Saddam Hussein was slaughtering
      those innocents so viciously.

By coincidence, I happen to have started reading Joe Conason's Big Lies, and in this little "dialogue" we see Wolfowitz using one of the right wing propaganda techniques that Conason analyzes: let's just cast aspersions on the patriotism of those who disagree with us: It seems to me that the north star of your comment is that you dislike this country and its policies. And then, of course before that, I have to infer from that that you would be happier if Saddam Hussein were still in power. The tired old "Well, if you disagree with us you must wish that Saddam were back in power" card.

Lewis Black just released his newest CD, Rules of Enragement, and the last couple tracks are an extended riff on the Iraq war. Black, who (like me) is old enough to remember the Vietnam era, puts it well when he points out that we should have learned from that era that just because one is against a war that doesn't mean that one is supporting the other side. But Wolfowitz's knee jerk reaction indicates that the bAdministration can't just say the equivalent of "We goofed; we took out Saddam on evidence that we now know was wrong" (of course, maybe I should give them credit for at least being honest enough not to lie about that), or worse, is so cynical that that they feel it's sufficient to just parrot the wingnut talking points, playing to the dittoheads in the belief that the dittoheads will then fan out and do their usual best to squelch opposing points of view.

Sometimes, I wonder if it's too late to raise the level of rational discourse in this country.

UPDATE: Missouri Liberal has a few things to say about this matter that are, IMHO, well worth reading.

UPDATE 2: Another good discusson by fellow Liberal Leaguer different strings has some good observations on this incident, too, including catching Wolfowitz in a contradiction.....

Thought for the Day:
He knows nothing and thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.
--George Bernard Shaw

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Steve Gilliard....
on the puff piece on George aWol Bush's "actions" on 9/11 (scroll to 10/31 entry titled "On The Road"):

In two months, demonstrably false versions of events have made on to TV. First, there was DC 9/11, a fictional recounting of the heroism of George W. Bush. After all, any movie with Bush ordering Dick Cheney around is as real as a Jenna Jameson porno. No worse, since she really IS blonde and her first name really IS Jenna. DC 9/11 doesn't even have that level of credibility.

Thought for the Day:
I used to think the brain was the most wonderful organ in the entire body... then I realized who was telling me this.
--Emo Philips