Monday, May 31, 2004

Cicadas: spacecraft or phaser?

Heh. The east coast debate on whether the roaring of the cicadas sounds more like Star Trek's phasers (original series) or the descending flying saucers from Invaders from Mars leads to a great question for the Answer Man:

In a recent article, a woman identified as "one of the country's premier cicada experts" described the insects' sound as "flying saucers from a 1950s sci-fi film." I mentioned this to a guy I work with and he said, "Yeah, 'Invaders From Mars.' " I looked up "Invaders From Mars" and found that it was made in 1953, which was a year that Brood X emerged. Can Answer Man find out if the sound effects guy for that movie recorded periodical cicadas?

Alas, the Answer Man reports that the sound in Invaders from Mars doesn't even sound like Cicadas.

Blogs: the new wasteland?

Apparently many people are feeling the need to undercount the number of blogs they read - shades of 'we don't watch TV - well, except for the Discovery Channel'. See Kevin Drum's blog for more. Just don't tell anyone.


... is apparently the new 'mendacity'.

Read today's WashPost story, headlined: From Bush, Unprecedented Negativity. The subhead is a little more specific: Scholars Say Campaign Is Making History With Often-Misleading Attacks

What follows the headlines is an example of 'truth-squading' of the campaign ads, and frankly, the authors have to twist into all kinds of shapes to avoid having to say l-i-e. For example:

The charges were all tough, serious -- and wrong, or at least highly misleading. Kerry did not question the war on terrorism, has proposed repealing tax cuts only for those earning more than $200,000, supports wiretaps, has not endorsed a 50-cent gasoline tax increase in 10 years, and continues to support the education changes, albeit with modifications.
and further:
But Bush has outdone Kerry in the number of untruths, in part because Bush has leveled so many specific charges (and Kerry has such a lengthy voting record), but also because Kerry has learned from the troubles caused by Al Gore's misstatements in 2000. "The balance of misleading claims tips to Bush," Jamieson said, "in part because the Kerry team has been more careful."
and yet still further:
One constant theme of the Bush campaign is that Kerry is "playing politics" with Iraq, terrorism and national security. Earlier this month, Bush-Cheney Chairman Marc Racicot told reporters in a conference call that Kerry suggested in a speech that 150,000 U.S. troops are "universally responsible" for the misdeeds of a few soldiers at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison -- a statement the candidate never made. In that one call, Racicot made at least three variations of this claim and the campaign cut off a reporter who challenged him on it.
and "The campaign ads, which are most scrutinized, have produced a torrent of misstatements. " and
"Senator Kerry," Cheney said, "has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all. He said, quote, 'I don't want to use that terminology.' In his view, opposing terrorism is far less of a military operation and more of a law enforcement operation."

But Kerry did not say what Cheney attributes to him. The quote Cheney used came from a March interview with the New York Times, in which Kerry used the phrase "war on terror." When he said "I don't want to use that terminology," he was discussing the "economic transformation" of the Middle East -- not the war on terrorism.

and ultimately:
On Wednesday, a Bush memo charged that Kerry "led the fight against creating the Department of Homeland Security." While Kerry did vote against the Bush version multiple times, it is not true that he led the fight, but rather was one of several Democrats who held out for different labor agreements as part of its creation. Left unsaid is that, in the final vote, Kerry supported the department -- which Bush initially opposed.
Why is it so hard, when someone is spinning you a lie, for reporters to accurately report: 'the campaign spokesman lied when he said...'? Calling something a misquote, a mischaracterization of someone's position, an 'untruth', an 'exaggeration' and all the other weasel-words at their disposal effectively allows the propagator of the lies to escape any responsibility.

Come on, guys (and I use 'guys' in the gender-neutral sense here)in the newsrooms - as long as you let the campaigns continue to get away with it, with perhaps a wrist-slapping 'mendacity' or two, it's gonna get a hell of a lot worse. How low can they go? If the past is prologue, pretty low. Hold your nose as the summer progresses.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Not much blog-worthy going on

... so I'm reduced to quoting other blogs. This from the DailyKos, on Bush's fetishizing "Saddam's Gun", as reported here:

Is there any more appropriate illustration of the fundamental differences between Bush and Clinton than the fact that George takes people into that little room to show off his gun, while Clinton took them in there for oral sex?


Brief Blips

The NYT 'public editor' writes a mildly blistering self-examination of the Times' pre-war and mid-war coverage, which he (quite correctly) characterizes as 'credulous'.

He identifies many of the worse practices; reliance on anonymous sources, who may or may not have a dog in that particular hunt (think Chalabi), the breathless rush to print on page A1 and correct on page A10, and the failure to revisit a story that has been disproved by subsequent events.

He includes this charming assessment: "Times reporters broke many stories before and after the war - but when the stories themselves later broke apart, in many instances Times readers never found out. Some remain scoops to this day. This is not a compliment."

Read the whole thing and wonder - why wasn't this level of clarity possible a year ago?

The NYT also features an editorial on the lack of visibility into the testing of electronic voting machines. This is a must-read.

Finally, the WashPost features an editorial by a retired Marine Major General who calls for the resignation of the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, the Deputy SecDef and assorted "senior uniformed leaders". Failing that,he concludes:

Absent such a change in the current administration, many of us will be forced to choose a presidential candidate whose domestic policies we may not like but who understands firsthand the effects of flawed policies and incompetent military strategies and who fully comprehends the price.


I crack myself up.

Introducing - the newest product in my Prairie Angel's Loot shop:

The Venus of Willendorf Baby-doll Tee. (It's, like, ironic, geddit?)

Saturday, May 29, 2004

A collection of Prison Tales

The Texas Pre-cursor

The Abu Ghraib prison scandal has become a watershed event in the Iraq war, but President Bush has experience handling the political fallout from prison abuses — experience gained in a situation that occurred while he was governor of Texas.

It might now be just a historical footnote, except the lawyer who represented two of the prison guards accused of attacking the inmates, Guy Womack, is now representing Spc. Charles Graner, the prison guard accused of mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Womack says he'll be taking the lessons of Brazoria County into the courtroom with him in Iraq. “There are quite a few parallels between the two cases,” he said. “Of course, the first one that jumps out at me is that in both cases the only people who were identified to be prosecuted were the junior-most people." In Texas, he argued that the guards acted lawfully — and he says in Iraq he'll argue that the guards thought they were following lawful orders. “Of course, if the cases are so parallel, the defense should be somewhat parallel as well."


And here’s what Gov. Bush said in a local TV interview back in 1997: "I think ‘appalling’ is the right way to describe the treatment of those prisoners." And in 1997, Bush emphasized the power of the images. "There's no question that the videotape, though, shows that we didn't act strong enough, the videotape is clearly an indictment of the process," said the governor. "I think in retrospect, had I known the videotape existed, and I'm confident had other state officials known the videotape existed, we would have pushed for harsher action, quicker action."

You see what the true issue is, of course. Not the behavior, but the irrefutable documentation of the behavior. Memo to self: Carry digital camera at all times.

more at link.

Gitmo lends its expertise

WASHINGTON, May 28 — Interrogation experts from the American detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were sent to Iraq last fall and played a major role in training American military intelligence teams at Abu Ghraib prison there, senior military officials said Friday.

The teams from Guantánamo Bay, which had operated there under directives allowing broad latitude in questioning "enemy combatants," played a central role at Abu Ghraib through December, the officials said, a time when the worst abuses of prisoners were taking place. Prisoners captured in Iraq, unlike those sent from Afghanistan to Guantánamo, were to be protected by the Geneva Conventions.

The teams were sent to Iraq for 90-day tours at the urging of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, then the head of detention operations at Guantánamo. General Miller was sent to Iraq last summer to recommend improvements in the intelligence gathering and detention operations there, a defense official said.

The involvement of the Guantánamo teams has not previously been disclosed, and military officials said it would be addressed in a major report on suspected abuses by military intelligence specialists that is being completed by Maj. Gen. George W. Fay.

More at link.

Makes you wonder what kinds of pictures could be taken at Guantanamo, doesn't it?

Juxtapose with preceding story

Here's an update on the Chaplain Yee story: link.

Here's a name that may ring a bell:

The decision to jail Yee was made by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, then commander of Guantanamo's detention camp. He oversaw the espionage investigations of all four men. He has since been transferred to Iraq, where he is now engulfed in the controversy involving prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
I quote the following (altho' you should read the entire story) because it represents an unusual event...

Bob Barr, a Republican and former Georgia congressman, sees the Yee case as part of a disturbing trend in the handling of terrorism-related cases. He cites some cases brought by U.S. prosecutors against groups accused of laundering funds for terrorists. The cases got headlines but collapsed, Barr says.

"What we're seeing in Guantanamo, and perhaps in this case, is what happens when you've removed any judicial oversight over what the government is doing," says Barr, who has criticized the administration's policy of detaining some terrorism suspects indefinitely without charging them.

... the unusual event? Agreeing with Bob Barr on anything

Tin-foil hat time: here's a theory. What if Chaplain Yee had images on his computer of the same kind of behavior that we've all now seen taking place at Abu Ghraib, only the pictures were taken at Gitmo? What if a religious person (I presume a chaplain would be religious) was moved by his faith to attempt to blow the whistle on abominable behavior, and got caught? The images from Abu Ghraib certainly qualify as pornography in anyone's estimation, and 'downloading porn' was one of the only things the government ultimately charged Yee with.

Inquiring minds want to know: what was the nature of the 'pornography' the government was accusing Yee of 'downloading'? Could it possibly have been pictures of naked prisoners treated to sexual humilation american-style? Is there anyone in the media brave enough to ask the question?

Finally, a gutsy columnist

Last, this from Jane Wallace Claymore of the WV Gazette, writing on the importance of understanding history and the humanities:

Another example? Lynndie England, being set up by Secretary of Offense Rumsfeld. Those pictures were posed for purposes of blackmailing the Iraqi captives (90 percent of whom are estimated by the Pentagon to be “innocent,” i.e., rounded up in the general chaos that is Iraq these days.) In the mercifully few generally available photos published in the mainstream American press, as culturally blind as it is, we were treated to blurred-out genitals of the male captives. The idiot American media are as much afraid of a little weenie as Janet Jackson’s breast, but it published the faces of the men! Hey, folks, meet your future terrorists! This is the gravest insult of all back in Iraq, or all of Islam.

I particularly like her last paragraph (minus the PS):

Abu Ghraib should be bulldozed forthwith. Rumsfeld, he with the lack of conquest planning, and Powell, with the lack of guts, should both resign. The Shrubhead should be impeached for being the lying or credulous, but certainly incompetent, bag of treason he is.
You go, girl.

Early news feed

More released from Abu Ghraib

The US released another 600 prisoners from the now-notorious Abu Ghraib prison on Friday.

The U.S. military has released more than 2,000 prisoners in the past month and plans to free another 800 by June 30, when occupation officials are scheduled to turn over limited authority to an interim Iraqi government.

Col. Karl Goetzke, the Army staff judge advocate who oversees the detainee release board for Abu Ghraib, said a team of senior officers has reviewed case files of more than 7,500 detainees. Those not deemed to pose a security threat, he said, would be freed.

Question for the Colonel: If they're 'deemed not a security threat', why are they still there to be released?"

The released prisoners said conditions inside the prison improved dramatically after the abuse scandal broke. Ali said his relatives brought him a local newspaper during a visit and showed him the pictures of the soldiers humiliating the detainees. "Their treatment changed after the pictures were shown on TV and newspapers," he said.
Please recall that the US found out about the abuses in late 2003 and it was reported in the media as early as January of this year. Only when the pictures were leaked did anything (repeat anything) change.

... in case you were ever wondering about the value of a free press.

More at link.

Those infallible forensics

The WashPost has an OpEd about the Achilles Heel of Fingerprints by a law professor at UVA.

Three highly skilled FBI fingerprint experts declared this year that Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield's fingerprint matched a partial print found on a bag in Madrid that contained explosive detonators. U.S. officials called it "absolutely incontrovertible" and a "bingo match." Mayfield was promptly taken into custody as a material witness. Last week the FBI admitted that it goofed; the print actually belongs to Ouhnane Daoud, an Algerian.

Fingerprint evidence has long been considered an infallible form of proof, powerful enough to support a criminal conviction even without any other evidence. But when three top experts manage to blow such an important identification, our longstanding faith in fingerprints must be questioned. Nor is this the only such mistake to come to light in recent months. In January a Massachusetts conviction was overturned when the fingerprint identification, the cornerstone of the case, was shown to be erroneous.


Fingerprinting, unlike DNA evidence, currently lacks any valid statistical foundation. This is gravely troubling. Even if we assume the unproven hypothesis that each fingerprint is unique when examined at a certain level of detail, the important question is how often two people might have fingerprints sufficiently similar that a competent examiner could believe they came from the same person. This problem is accentuated when analyzing a partial print, as those recovered from crime scenes frequently are. How often might one part of someone's fingerprint strongly resemble part of someone else's print? No good data on this question exist.

The Mayfield misidentification also reveals the danger that extraneous knowledge might influence experts' evaluations. If any of those FBI fingerprint examiners who confidently declared the match already knew that Mayfield was himself a convert to Islam who had once represented a convicted Taliban sympathizer in a child custody dispute, this knowledge may have subconsciously primed them to "see" the match. Fingerprint identification as it is now practiced is not like a double-blind scientific study. Examiners, typically law-enforcement employees, are frequently privy to outside knowledge about a case, which creates a genuine risk that their examination will inadvertently be contaminated. There is simply no excuse for failing to develop internal procedures to protect examiners from extraneous knowledge.

I draw your attention to "this knowledge may have subconsciously primed them to "see" the match." Sounds kind of like how sure we were that Saddam was behind 9/11?

A triumph of taste over ratings

Finally, this:

Fox television said Thursday it has canceled plans to air a two-hour special titled "Seriously, Dude, I'm Gay," in which two straight men compete for $50,000 by trying to pass themselves off as homosexuals.

A network spokeswoman said the reality show, which had been slated to air June 7, was pulled off the schedule "for creative reasons" after Fox executives previewed the program.

The real reason, of course, is that Fox Execs realized that they had no way of 'testing' the straight guys for straightness that was not open to spoofing, outside of on-camera sex with a female, and while this would no doubt have won them shares in their timeslot, they would have run afoul of John 'no-boobies-please-we're-american' Ashcroft.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Oh Drat, there goes my scoop

I thought I had a scoop with my Christian Exodus story, but find out that BlondeSense was all over it yesterday. Go read: Link.

Stephen King, you're next

SAN FRANCISCO – The California Supreme Court is deciding whether to let stand the criminal conviction of a 15-year-old boy who was expelled from school and served 100 days in juvenile hall for writing a poem that included a threat to kill students.

The case weighs free speech rights against the government's responsibility to provide safety in schools after campus shootings nationwide.

The Thought Police - whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

More here: Link

Today's Krugman - Must read. Link

Choice quote: " But it's not just Iraq, and it's not just The Times. Many journalists seem to be having regrets about the broader context in which Iraq coverage was embedded: a climate in which the press wasn't willing to report negative information about George Bush. "

'Bout time someone said it.

Onward, Christian Soldiers

Apparently the gay-marriage thing has proven to be Just the Last Straw for many of God's Chosen within our nation; now they are planning to secede.

Oh, I know some of the nuttier have tried this before, in Texas and Idaho, but they didn't have a website!

Check out Christian Exodus: Link.

The plan is to migrate to a predisposed state (the unfortunate South Carolina being their promised land, apparently) and once they've managed to grow to a majority, politically divorce themselves from the rest of the union.

I've looked all over this site looking for signs that it's a hoax, but it appears to be as serious as ... well, a crutch.

I'm even thinking it's not a bad idea, if not for the current natives of SC who may not choose to live in a totalitarian theocracy. Oh well - maybe the rest of the Union can set them up in refugee camps until they can be relocated.

News Briefs

First, identify the problem

The always-righteous Jesus' General finds a mote of sympathy for poor Rep. Graves of Blue Springs, MO, whose district recently returned most of a grant he procured to fight the 'goth problem'. The General says:

You are to be applauded for your innovative thinking. While everyone else in your caucus was scrambling for the limited pot of funding available to persecute traditionally oppressed groups like homosexuals and Muslims, you had the foresight to open new territory by targeting alienated teenage misfits. It's that kind of eliminationist entrepreneurship that has made our nation great.

Your plan still has promise. You just need to choose a new target. There must be other unpopular groups of teens living in Blue Springs. Have you considered going after fat or "geeky" kids?

News article here: Link.

Can I hear you say Amen?

NYT columnist Bob Herbert has this revelation:

It has always been easy to make fun of Al Gore. But if there's any truth to the thunderous criticism he's turned loose on the Bush administration this week, it's time to dispense with the jokes and listen seriously to what the man is saying.

Congratulations! it's a ... planet!

From today's WashPost: "One of NASA's space telescopes has discovered what scientists believe may be the youngest planet ever spied -- a celestial body that at 1 million years old or less is a cosmic toddler. "

Hey, 'interrogations' can be considered 'information technology', can't they?

CACI International is being investigated by the GSA to find out how the Army managed to buy the services of civilian 'interrogators' under an Information Technology contract. Story here: link.

Man, the courseload kids have to suffer through these days... Data Structures 201, then Graphic Interface Design lab, and then an Information Extraction Practicum, featuring hoods, wires and dogs... no wonder college kids drink.

More news later - I'm still slogging thru the papers.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Fun with Photoshop

Well, I opened a Cafepress shop, so I could sell fun things I photoshopped. You can find my shop here: link.

Here you can find tees and mugs featuring my lovely Prairie Angel image, as well as a mug featuring this logo:

More products will be forthcoming as I develop them.

Yet another book rec

For those who liked The Da Vinci Code, another contemporary/Renaissance mystery.

The Rule of Four features a book written in 1499, and four friends at Princeton trying to decipher its many mysteries. Because beneath the surface tale are riddles, cyphers, clues and ultimately (of course) betrayals and treasures galore.

The book at the base of all the mystery is real:

It has been called the most beautiful book in the world, and the most unreadable. Its hero has sex with buildings. It also has a nearly unpronouncable title, "The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili." The book was published in Venice in 1499, and there are perhaps 260 copies in existence, among them one in the rare book library at Princeton University.

"The Hypnerotomachia" is written in many languages, including Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldean, Italian, invented words and hieroglyphics, and it was not even fully translated until 1999, when the first complete English edition appeared. No one is quite sure what it is about, or even who wrote it.

But now Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, both 28 and best friends since the third grade, have written "The Rule of Four," a novel in which they have invented a solution to both mysteries. And though it is filled with esoteric Renaissance scholarship and initially put off publishers, "The Rule of Four" (Dial Press) is flying off the shelves.


In the real "Hypnerotomachia" this much is understood: a character, Poliphilo, dreams of his beloved Polia, and of his journeys in search of her. The title can be translated as "the struggle for love in a dream." Poliphilo has dreams within dreams, and when he has sex with buildings in at least one case his ecstasy is returned. The book is illustrated with exquisite woodcuts of the swooning hero and heroine, enchanted gardens, strange creatures, cherubs and nymphs.

The key to the true authorship of "The Hypnerotomachia" may lie hidden in the beautifully ornate letters at the beginning of each chapter, which spell out the words "Brother Francesco Colonna greatly loved Polia." There were two men with that name known at the time, one a Dominican monk in Venice, the other a Roman noble. There is also a theory that the book was written by the great Renaissance humanist and artist Leon Battista Alberti.

Quote is from NYT story about the 28-year-old authors, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, best friends since they were eight.

Compulsively readable, full of collegiate and renaissance lore, worth a sleepless night while you stay up to finish it.

Oh, now he tells us...

LONDON, England—One of the ideological architects of the Iraq war has criticized the U.S.-led occupation of the country as "a grave error."

Richard Perle, until recently a powerful adviser to U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, described U.S. policy in post-war Iraq as a failure.

"I would be the first to acknowledge we allowed the liberation (of Iraq) to subside into an occupation. And I think that was a grave error, and in some ways a continuing error," said Perle, former chair of the influential Defence Policy Board, which advises the Pentagon.

With violent resistance to the U.S.-led occupation showing no signs of ending, Perle said the biggest mistake in post-war policy "was the failure to turn Iraq back to the Iraqis more or less immediately.

"We didn't have to find ourselves in the role of occupier. We could have made the transition that is going to be made at the end of June more or less immediately," he told BBC radio, referring to the U.S. and British plan to transfer political authority in Iraq to an interim government on June 30.

This public criticism of U.S. policy from one of the leading advocates of the war — and a firm political ally of U.S. President George W. Bush — indicates just how much Bush's political fortunes are being damaged by post-war chaos.

With Perle off the reservation... who's left on it?

More at link.

News roundup

Zogby: Kerry Leading in battleground states

For those of you who are wondering if perhaps our long national nightmare might be drawing to an end, a ray of hope.

George Bush has had a warning shot from the crucial battleground states likely to decide the outcome of the presidential election where his rival John Kerry is surging ahead.

Less than six months from election day, polls suggest that Mr Kerry is leading the President in 12 of the 16 so-called swing states. In some states the lead is slight, but in places such as New Hampshire, which Mr Bush won in 2000, Mr Kerry has a lead of almost 10 per cent.

Though polls offer only a snapshot in time, pollster John Zogby, who made the latest survey, said if the present leads in these 16 states hold true - and Democrats and Republicans hold on to the states each party won easily in 2000 - Mr Kerry will win with a margin of 102 electoral college votes. In 2000, Mr Bush beat Al Gore by 271 to 267.

More here.

On the Importance of Interrogations

where in this instance, the word 'interrogation' can include activities up to and including murder. Today's NYT reports:

The questioning of hundreds of Iraqi prisoners last fall in the newly established interrogation center at Abu Ghraib prison yielded very little valuable intelligence, according to civilian and military officials.

The interrogation center was set up in September to obtain better information about an insurgency in Iraq that was killing American soldiers almost every day by last fall. The insurgency was better organized and more vigorous than the United States had expected, prompting concern among generals and Pentagon officials who were unhappy with the flow of intelligence to combat units and to higher headquarters.

But civilian and military intelligence officials, as well as top commanders with access to intelligence reports, now say they learned little about the insurgency from questioning inmates at the prison. Most of the prisoners held in the special cellblock that became the setting for the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib apparently were not linked to the insurgency, they said.

But isn't it at least nice to know that they got all the techniques worked out so well?

Priorities matter

In case you were wondering what the Bush Adminstration thinks of domestic spending, the WashPost today reports:

The White House put government agencies on notice this month that if President Bush is reelected, his budget for 2006 may include spending cuts for virtually all agencies in charge of domestic programs, including education, homeland security and others that the president backed in this campaign year.

Administration officials had dismissed the significance of the proposed cuts when they surfaced in February as part of an internal White House budget office computer printout. At the time, officials said the cuts were based on a formula and did not accurately reflect administration policy. But a May 19 White House budget memorandum obtained by The Washington Post said that agencies should assume the spending levels in that printout when they prepare their fiscal 2006 budgets this summer.


The Women, Infants and Children nutrition program was funded at $4.7 billion for the fiscal year beginning in October, enough to serve the 7.9 million people expected to be eligible. But in 2006, the program would be cut by $122 million. Head Start, the early-childhood education program for the poor, would lose $177 million, or 2.5 percent of its budget, in fiscal 2006.

The $78 million funding increase that Bush has touted for a homeownership program in 2005 would be nearly reversed in 2006 with a $53 million cut. National Institutes of Health spending would be cut 2.1 percent in 2006, to $28 billion, after a $764 million increase for 2005 that brought the NIH budget to $28.6 billion.

Even homeland security -- a centerpiece of the Bush reelection campaign -- would be affected. Funding would slip in 2006 by $1 billion, to $29.6 billion, although that would still be considerably higher than the $26.6 billion devoted to that field in 2004, according to an analysis of the computer printout by House Budget Committee Democrats.

From the Will Wonders Ever Cease Department:

The NYT actually almost apologizes for taking its news tips directly from sources who have reasons to peddle lies (*kaff* Chalabi *snort*)

Read the quasi-mea culpa here: link

Notice that the name Judith Miller appears nowhere in the story. Alas, it sort of gives the lie to their optimistic ultimate paragraph: "We consider the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight."

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

We're all wearing the tin foil now

If someone had told me five years ago that US soldiers would hide prisoners from the International Red Cross, I would have given them the URL for the Lone Gunmen Nut Club.

That was then. This is now.

Now when John Ashcroft warns us of a potential terrorist attack on US soil this summer, I adjust my tin foil hat and mutter, 'don't you just wish, John?' Alas, credibility isn't the fungible asset that our SecDef declares our soldiers to be, and the supply is getting awfully scarce on the ground these days.

Is there anyone who thinks this is anything but an attempt to innoculate the administration against blame if an attack does occur? They're not raising the 'threat level', they're not alerting the first responders, big cities which are logical targets such as NY and LA report no more detailed information has been released to them than the general 'be on the lookout' that the public received. (More here.)

Pardon my cynicism, but why do I get the feeling that if we are attacked, the administration's first response is going to be, 'see, we warned you - you can't blame this on us.'

Well, yes we can.

The purely optional war in Iraq has been a huge recruiting tool for our enemies (see link). If I really deserved this tin-foil hat I'm wearing, I'd suspect that Bush was working in league with bin Ladin for some kind of joint global domination plan like supervillains in a DC comic.

And if we are attacked, say, in a major metropolitan area, who's going to be there to respond? The National Guard? I don't think so; they're off Guarding our Nation in Bahgdad and environs. Western states are wondering how they're going to be dealing with forest fires this year, with up to sixty percent of their usual responders on the other side of the world. (See link.)

If this bumbling group of 'grown-ups' intended to destroy the security and credibility of the United States, they couldn't have done a better job than what they're doing now. Coincidence?

Cue theme from Jaws.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

New Book Recs

You'll notice a couple new books have appeared on the right column under Recommended Reading. I just finished A Spectacle of Corruption, and recommend it and the book that precedes it (which I have yet to read).

The protagonist is Benjamin Weaver, an ex-pugilist (boxer) turned thief-taker in the early part of the eighteenth century. Thief-takers are 'law for hire' in a severely socially stratified period, when Justice is something the poor can only dream about. The story takes place in 1722 (three years after the previous book), and Weaver has been set up for murder. In spite of his proving the witnesses against him had been paid to lie, the judge instructs the jury to find him guilty, which they duly do. As he's being taking away to prison, a totally unfamiliar woman casts herself weeping into his arms, wailing at his fate and managing to pass a set of lockpicks to him.

In short order, he has liberated himself, and now faces the puzzle - one faction wants him hung and one faction wants him saved. Who are these people and why are they variously for and against him?

Going 'undercover' as a rich merchant recently returned from Jamaica, Weaver crashes the upper crust, in the midst of a parlimentary election. The election process is the Spectacle of Corruption of the title, and will remind the astute viewer of Florida, although in the modern case, the Pretender is ON the throne and not trying to gain it. (Yes, Jacobians figure into the plot.)

The milieu of the London slums is almost over-realized, in all its fetid stinking splendor. Still, Weaver is an appealing character and one in whose company you won't mind visiting the slums, especially since you fortunately will not be able to smell them.

If you like mysteries set in historic periods, this is your next book.

Polls - koolaid wearing off?

From today's WashPost:

A month ago Bush's job approval rating stood at 51 percent, and virtually all of the decline since then is attributable to a drop of 7 percentage points among Republicans. Just 20 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of independents approve of how he is handling the presidency.

Le Mot Juste du Jour

From EJ. Dionne on touchscreen voting anomalies: "This would be about the worst moment in our history to have the Supreme Court pick the president two times in a row."

Truly no shit, sherlock.

More signs of sanity returning

From today's NYT editorial on Bush's speech:

If President Bush had been talking a year ago, after the fall of Baghdad, his speech at the Army War College last night might have sounded like a plan for moving forward. He was able to point to a new United Nations resolution being developed in consultation with American allies, not imposed in defiance of them, and to a timetable for moving Iraq toward elected self-government. He talked in general terms of expanding international involvement and stabilizing Iraq. But Mr. Bush was not starting fresh. He spoke after nearly 14 months of policy failures, none of them acknowledged by the president, which have left Iraq increasingly violent and drained Washington's credibility with the Iraqi people and the international community. They have been waiting for Mr. Bush to make a clean break with those policies. He did not do that last night. The speech reflected the fact that Mr. Bush has been backtracking lately, but he did not come close to charting the new course he needs to take. His "five steps" toward Iraqi independence were merely a recitation of the tasks ahead.


It's regrettable that this president is never going to admit any shortcomings, much less failure. That's an aspect of Mr. Bush's character that we have to live with. But we cannot live without a serious plan for doing more than just getting through the June 30 transition and then muddling along until the November elections in the United States. Mr. Bush has yet to come up with a realistic way to internationalize the military operation and to get Iraq's political groups beyond their current game of jockeying for power and into a real process of drafting a workable constitution.


The president still has a number of speeches left to deliver before June 30. We hope he will use them to come up with a more specific plan, to stop listing the things we already knew needed to be done and to explain to us how he intends to do them. An acknowledgment of past mistakes would be nice.

Memo to NYT: don't hold your breath.

Nothing like cutting to the chase:

Tom Shales, WashPost TV critic, on the speech:

"We're makin' progress," Bush said in his colloquial way. "You're makin' speeches," a skeptic might justifiably have retorted.

Scaring up recruits

Reports that inactive reservists are being threatened with Iraq if they don't re-enlist in the reserves can be found here: link.

Misc Readings

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo gives Mitch McConnell a well served set-down.

Atrios of Eschaton points to a blog that reports that Texas has reverses themselves on the previously reported ruling that Unitarians aren't a religion.

Loudoun County (my Home of Record) is on the lure for a baseball team? read this: link.

White buffalo born in Flagstaff

PHOENIX - The owners of a small bison herd in northern Arizona were surprised to find one of their rare white buffalo had given birth to something even rarer: a white calf.

It's a 1 in 10 million occurrence, Spirit Mountain Ranch spokesman Keith Davis said of Saturday's birth.

"This is so rare specifically because she was born white," Davis said. "The others were born red (like normal buffalo) and turned white."

The birth of a white bison is meaningful for many American Indian tribes who consider it a symbol of rebirth when the world's people are in troubled times.

More here.

White buffalo are considered avatars of White Buffalo Calf Woman, who brought the peace pipe (among other things) to the native people of North America, along with the teaching that all people are one.

If you want to know more, do a google-search on White Buffalo Calf Woman - here's a link to three versions of the tale.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Monday Cat Blogging

Maybe I'll have something to say about politics later. It's time for the important stuff - Monday Cat Blogging!

These are the Deck Kittens, and their mom, Miss Momma.

Deck Kittens at night

Prairie Angel's Aperiodic Award Show

Note to viewers at home - I'm wearing Very Little as I present these awards. Maybe Drudge will give me a flashing light?

The no-duh award goes to:

... Col. Henry Nelson, Army psychiatrist, writing about the soldiers who abused prisoners under their control. From the Washpost article:

A vindictive attitude was not the only psychological problem, Nelson wrote. "Clearly some detainees were totally humiliated and degraded" by people who were practicing a "perversive dominance." He said the events were "a classic example" of the formula that "predisposition plus opportunity" can produce criminal behavior.

"Inadequate and immoral men and women desiring dominance may be attracted to fields such as corrections and interrogations, where they can be in absolute control over others" in the absence of appropriate supervision, Nelson wrote. He noted that two men suspected as "ringleaders" in the abuses, Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr. and Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, "both had experience in corrections."

The say-what? award goes to:

...Hastert spokesman John Feehery, who says: " "It's extremely difficult to govern when you control all three branches of government." I guess it's easier to get things done when... what? you don't control anything? Fortunately, that can be arranged.

The Family Values Award goes to:

... 'Washingtonienne', Hill Staffer and sex blogger recently fired by her boss, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), for blogging on company time. According to the Washpost's Reliable Sources, the professional vixen declined to identify the "chief of staff at one of the gov agencies, appointed by Bush," who reportedly pays her $400 for lunchtime favors. Bless her heart, she's "not trying to ruin his life."

The Too Little, Too Late award goes to:

The State of Pennsylvania, whose legislature is defying calls to name an Official State Soil. Really. I'm not making this up: link.

The Barn Door Closing award goes to:

... SecDef Rumfeld for banning mobile phones with digital cameras in US army installations in Iraq. For those of you who missed it, news reports were being filed on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib as far back as January. Why didn't these reports cause any outrage? No pictures. This move to ban cameras is further proof, if anyone still needs it, that the Office of the Secretary isn't concerned with the abusive behavior, but with being caught treating 'liberatees' like animals.

Also note that this news report is published in Australia, quoting sources in London. I can find no trace of this in the US news wires.

and last, but not least, the 'Bout Time, Buddy award goes to:

Prince Bandar, Ambassador from Saudi Arabia, and our good, close personal friend. " Saudi Arabia has assured the United States that it will supply up to 2 million barrels a day in additional crude oil if the market demands it, the U.S. energy secretary said Sunday. " (link) Prince Bandar, you may recall, was overheard by Bob Woodward promising Bush that the Saudis would insure that gas prices in the US fell this summer in time for Bush to take credit for great economic leadership during the campaign. Nothing like putting everything off to the last minute, but hey, any help is appreciated, Bandar. I mean that sincerely.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Looking at the news

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

A new article in the WashPost details the "President Plans Drive to Rescue Iraq Policy";

President Bush will launch an ambitious campaign tomorrow night to shift attention from recent setbacks that have eroded domestic and international support for U.S. policy in Iraq, particularly the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the escalating violence, and focus instead on the future of post-occupation Iraq.

A close read of the article shows that the campaign is pretty much an ad campaign. The administration isn't planning to do anything differently, just attempt to change the perception of what they are doing.

More on Polling

James Galbraith has an article in Salon that discusses Bush's plummeting polls (which Galbraith says have not yet registered the effects of Abu Ghraib); the general thesis of the article is that perhaps Americans are waking up and smelling the proverbial coffee. (If you're not a Salon subscriber, you have to sit through a commercial to get to the content, but it's worth it, and then all Salon content is available to you for the rest of the day.)

Galbraith ponders how far below 50% the 'hardwood floor' is; that is, what percentage of the population would support Bush even if he sprouted horns and ate a baby on live TV.

In that same vein

Two recent events seem to bolster Galbraith's thesis: Republican Senator Richard Lugar lambasted the Bush Administration's go-it-alone policies (link), and Michael Moore's Bush anti-valentine Farenheit 9/11 took the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival (link).

speaking of sprouting horns

Recently released transcripts of interviews with the Abu Ghraib prison guards, in which they admitted that frequently they weren't even torturing the prisoners to acquire information, but for sport, leads to an inevitable question. Have the investigators into the torture allegations looked into the freezers of the guards in question? (Think Hannibal Lecter.)

Man vs Machine?

Bush came off his trail bike today. " As he departed from the presidential helicopter with his wife, scrapes were visible on the president's right temple and on his chin. Close-up shots taken by photographers revealed other scrapes above his lip and on the end of his nose. When he waved to the crowd greeting him at the airport, a small bandage could be seen on his right palm." (link)

You notice how many 'accidents' this guy suffers that mark up his face? How many times is he going to 'run into a door' before the press starts asking the obvious question: Does Cheney beat him?

Friday, May 21, 2004

Politics as usual?

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

SPRINGFIELD -- For the past 10 days, U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama hasn't been able to go to the bathroom or talk to his wife on his cell phone without having a camera-toting political gofer from his Republican rival filming a few feet away.

In what has to be a first in Illinois politics, Republican Jack Ryan has assigned one of his campaign workers to record every movement and every word of the state senator while he is in public.

That means Justin Warfel, armed with a handheld Panasonic digital camcorder, follows Obama to the bathroom door and waits outside. It means Warfel follows Obama as he moves from meeting to meeting in the Capitol. And it means Warfel tails Obama when he drives to his campaign office. "It's standard procedure to record public speeches and things like that," Obama told reporters as the bald, 20-something operative filmed away. "But to have someone who's literally following you a foot and a half away, everywhere you go, going into the restrooms, standing outside my office, sitting outside of my office asking my secretary where I am, seems to be getting a little carried away."

Warfel interrupted Obama several times with heckling questions, but wouldn't respond when reporters asked him about who he was and why he was filming Obama's every move.

"You'll have to speak to the campaign office," Warfel said tartly to practically every inquiry.

Some senior Republicans were turned off by the tactic.

"I don't care if you're in public life or who you are," Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson (R-Greenville) said. "You deserve your space, your privacy. I don't think it's appropriate."

But Jason Miller, Ryan's campaign manager, insisted Obama's public movements are fair game and the point is to make sure Obama doesn't contradict himself with his public statements.

"If he's having a phone conversation, then Justin is not trying to tap into the conversation or record what he is saying or something like that," Miller said. "He's monitoring because you never know when ... a reporter comes up and starts asking questions."

I guess Ryan is hoping to find something to, like, campaign on. (This is all over the blogosphere; comments at Talking Points and Eschaton etc are fun reading.

Must Read

Hal Crowther at the Independent Weekly. Choice Bits:

But if this is not the worst year yet to be an American, it's the worst year by far to be one of those hag-ridden wretches who comment on the American scene. The columnist who trades in snide one-liners flounders like a stupid comic with a tired audience; TV comedians and talk-show hosts who try to treat 2004 like any zany election year have become grotesque, almost loathsome. Our most serious, responsible newspaper columnists are so stunned by the disaster in Iraq that they've begun to quote poetry by Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen. They lower their voices, they sound like Army chaplains delivering eulogies over ranks of flag-draped coffins, under a hard rain from an iron sky.

Yeats' "blood-dimmed tide is loosed." The war news had already deteriorated from bad to tragic to pre-apocalyptic, which left no suitable category for these excruciating reports on the sexual torture of Iraqi prisoners. Fingers, be still. In less than a year, the morale of the occupying forces had sunk so low that murder, suicide, rape and sexual harassment became alarming statistics, and now the warriors of democracy--the emissaries of civilization--stand accused of every crime this side of cannibalism. Osama bin Laden has always anathematized America's culture, as well as its geopolitical influence. To him these atrocities are a sign of Allah's certain favor, a great moral victory, a vindication of his deepest anger and darkest crimes.


The irreducible truth is that the invasion of Iraq was the worst blunder, the most staggering miscarriage of judgment, the most fateful, egregious, deceitful abuse of power in the history of American foreign policy. If you don't believe it yet, just keep watching. Apologists strain to dismiss parallels with Vietnam, but the similarities are stunning. In every action our soldiers kill innocent civilians, and in every other action apparent innocents kill our soldiers--and there's never any way to sort them out. And now these acts of subhuman sadism, these little My Lais.

Since the defining moment of the Bush presidency, the preposterous flight-suit, Fox News-produced photo-op on the Abraham Lincoln in front of the banner that read "Mission Accomplished," the shaming truth is that everything has gone wrong. Just as it was bound to go wrong, as many of us predicted it would go wrong--if anything more hopelessly wrong than any of us would have dared to prophesy. Iraq is an epic train wreck, and there's not a single American citizen who's going to walk away unscathed.

The shame of this truth, of such a failure and so much deceit exposed, would have brought on mass resignations or votes of no confidence in any free country in the world. In Japan not long ago, there would have been ritual suicides, shamed officials disemboweling themselves with samurai swords. Yet up to this point--at least to the point where we see grinning soldiers taking pictures of each other over piles of naked Iraqis--neither the president, the vice president nor any of the individuals who urged and designed this debacle have resigned or been terminated--or even apologized. They have betrayed no familiarity with the concept of shame.


Kerry made a courageous choice at least once in his life, when he came home with his ribbons and demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. But Sen. Kerry could turn out to be a stiff, a punk, an alcoholic and he'd still be a colossal improvement over the man who turned Paul Wolfowitz loose in the Middle East. The myth that there was no real difference between Democrats and Republicans, which I once considered seriously and which Ralph Nader rode to national disaster four years ago, was shattered forever the day George Bush announced his cabinet and his appointments for the Department of Defense.


Does it bother you even a little that the personal fortunes of all four Bush brothers, including the president and the governor, were acquired about a half step ahead of the district attorney, and that the royal family of Saudi Arabia invested $1.476 billion in those and other Bush family enterprises? Or, as Paul Krugman points out, that it's much easier to establish links between the Bush and bin Laden families than any between the bin Ladens and Saddam Hussein. Do you know about Ahmad Chalabi, the administration's favorite Iraqi and current agent in Baghdad, whose personal fortune was established when he embezzled several hundred million from his own bank in Jordan and fled to London to avoid 22 years at hard labor?


I don't think it's accurate to describe America as polarized between Democrats and Republicans, or between liberals and conservatives. It's polarized between the people who believe George Bush and the people who do not. Thanks to some contested ballots in a state governed by the president's brother, a once-proud country has been delivered into the hands of liars, thugs, bullies, fanatics and thieves. The world pities or despises us, even as it fears us. What this election will test is the power of money and media to fool us, to obscure the truth and alter the obvious, to hide a great crime against the public trust under a blood-soaked flag. The most lavishly funded, most cynical, most sophisticated political campaign in human history will be out trolling for fools. I pray to God it doesn't catch you.

Much much more at link. Read it, share it.

Selected Readings

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing column, Washpost:

Here is a summary of what today's news stories say did not happen during President Bush's hastily-arranged visit with Republicans on Capitol Hill yesterday:

• He didn't provide any new details about the June 30 transition of sovereignty in Iraq.

• He didn't persuade a handful of balking Senate Republicans to go along with his tax plans.

• He didn't dissuade House Republicans from approving provisions in the defense bill he has threatened to veto.

• He didn't talk about embattled Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld or Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi.

• He didn't comment on the prison-abuse scandal.

• He didn't come up with a new speech.

• He didn't take any questions.

• He didn't say anything new.

Oh, and of course:

• He didn't meet with Democrats at all.


• He didn't talk to reporters.

Oh well - I'm sure the Republicans were suitably grateful for any little attentions.

Howard Kurtz on new details from Abu Ghraib:

Man, the latest Iraqi prisoner photos are just revolting.

One set of pictures, obtained by ABC News, show two American soldiers grinning like clowns as they stood over the ice-packed body of a dead Iraqi--one who died after being questioned by U.S. forces.

I don't want to hear about how the soldiers lacked the proper "training." And I don't want to read any more interviews in which neighbors say how nice they seemed. Anyone with half a brain would find this sort of thing sadistic. And they can't exactly argue that they're trying to extract information from a recalcitrant trainee, since the subject in question is quite clearly deceased.

No shit, Sherlock.

From the WashPost article:

"Do you pray to Allah?" one asked. "I said yes. They said, '[Expletive] you. And [expletive] him.' One of them said, 'You are not getting out of here health[y], you are getting out of here handicapped. And he said to me, 'Are you married?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'If your wife saw you like this, she will be disappointed.' One of them said, 'But if I saw her now she would not be disappointed now because I would rape her.' "

He said the soldiers told him that if he cooperated with interrogators they would release him in time for Ramadan. He said he did, but still was not released. He said one soldier continued to abuse him by striking his broken leg and ordered him to curse Islam. "Because they started to hit my broken leg, I cursed my religion," he said. "They ordered me to thank Jesus that I'm alive."

I would be very interesting in finding out what important 'intel' this interrogation netted us.

The incomparable Molly Ivins:

AUSTIN, Texas -- It's quite difficult to convince people you are killing them for their own good. That's our basic problem in Iraq.

You can try explaining that you are killing them in order to bring freedom and democracy to their nation -- "Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in the world. And as the greatest power on the face of the earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom," said President Bush. However, this argument is less than convincing if an American bomb or bullet has just killed your child. Or if you were among the 70 percent to 90 percent of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib who were there by accident.

Team, our national debate on this occupation is approaching the hopelessly dotty. This is no longer a matter of trying to decide if the glass is half-empty or half-full, or whether our media are looking at this through rose-colored glasses or through a glass darkly. What is, is. The trend lines get steadily worse.


The dotty part of the debate comes from the neocons, whose idea this was in the first place. A few weeks ago, Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, said, "I think no one can properly assert that the failure to find Iraqi WMD stockpiles undermines the reasons for the war." Really? Well then let me assert it improperly. You told us that it was why we had to go to war, and you can't just stand there and lie about it now. This is like trying to debate the Red Queen.

Sometimes it's more a matter of the neocons not being able to get their act together. Paul Wolfowitz, my fave, said the other day, "No one ever expected this would be a cakewalk." Actually, those were the very words rather famously used by his neocon buddy Ken Adelman, who predicted the war would be a cakewalk. But nothing tops Wolfowitz's classic declaration, "There is no history of ethnic strife in Iraq."

Just FYI - I'm out of town this week to do a gift show, so posts may be sporadic.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Soldiers cavort with corpse

From WashPost:

NEW YORK -- Photos of two American soldiers posing with thumbs up near a body packed in ice at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison were shown on ABC-TV.


The detainee, whose badly bruised corpse was in a body bag packed with ice, died in the prison's showers while being interrogated by the CIA or other civilian agents, ABC reported Wednesday. It said the Justice Department is investigating the death.

In an account published Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the victim had been brought to the prison with his head covered by an empty sandbag. It said he died in the midst of intensive questioning in the shower by military intelligence officials. After he collapsed, the interrogators removed the bag and then saw severe head wounds that had not been treated. ... Womack told ABC News the photo of his client represented inappropriate "gallows humor."

Given that the commander in chief has been known to make fun of people he was about to execute, why would anyone find this behavior on the part of the armed forces surprising?

more pot-kettle-ism

From the WashPost:

BAGHDAD, May 20 -- U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police on Thursday raided the home of Ahmad Chalabi, a Governing Council member who was once the Pentagon's pick to run post-war Iraq, and two office buildings used by his Iraqi National Congress.

U.S. troops detained three guards and seized computers, dozens of rifles, and files from the offices of the INC, a coalition of parties headed by Chalabi that opposed Saddam Hussein from exile.

Hours after the morning raids, a U.S. official and an Iraqi judge disclosed to reporters that arrest warrants had been issued for 15 people on charges of kidnapping, fraud, and "associated matters."

Eight of the people on the list have been declared fugitives, the judge said. Each of them is associated with the INC. The judge said the men had illegally detained and tortured people, stolen government cars for personal use, and illegally taken over government facilities.

Chalabi is, if you'll recall, the Iraqi whose word on conditions in Iraq the adminstration chose to believe over more informed sources because he was telling them what they wanted to hear. And don't overlook this paragraph:

INC officials said about 100 U.S. soldiers arrived in the neighborhood before the raids began, and that Iraqi police carried out much of the search at the direction of an American in civilian clothes whom they identified as an official with Central Intelligence Agency.

Interesting that they're actually reporting who's really in charge here.

Hoagland is such a pollyanna

Americans are too individualistic to have great natural talent for warfare. But they learn from their mistakes quickly and adjust decisively. That point is said to have been made by Nazi Germany's greatest general, Erwin Rommel, after he watched U.S. troops turn the fortunes of World War II in North Africa.

The Bush administration stretches the thesis attributed to the Desert Fox to the breaking point with its failure to adjust to mistakes and miscalculations in Iraq. It has been unable to stabilize the position of strategic strength it established a year ago by removing Saddam Hussein's hated regime.

Instead the administration stumbles toward a June 30 transfer of "sovereignty" that is cloaked in confusion and manifest insincerity. The moral clarity that President Bush promised as the centerpiece of his foreign policy is being jettisoned in Iraq, where the obligation and opportunity to demonstrate such clarity were greatest.


This sequence of failure and mishap has robbed the administration of the credibility abroad and national unity at home it needed to carry out its most ambitious regional goals. It must now be realistic and honest about what it can still salvage.

Realistic? honest? In a parallel universe, maybe.

Tone Deaf at the Top

Who are the geniuses in charge of symbolism in this f*cked-up administration, anyway? First comes news that the US is renaming the Abu Ghraib Prison 'Camp Redemption' (wags suggest the strategic addition of the word "Shawshank"); now we learn of a government project to measure one's 'terrorism quotient' that was called the "Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange", or 'MATRIX' for short.

NEW YORK - Before helping to launch the criminal information project known as Matrix, a database contractor gave U.S. and Florida authorities the names of 120,000 people who showed a statistical likelihood of being terrorists  sparking some investigations and arrests.

The "high terrorism factor" scoring system also became a key selling point for the involvement of the database company, Seisint Inc., in the Matrix project.

Public records obtained by The Associated Press from several states show that Justice Department officials cited the scoring technology in appointing Seisint sole contractor on the federally funded, $12 million project.

Seisint and the law enforcement officials who oversee Matrix insist that the terrorism scoring system ultimately was kept out of the project, largely because of privacy concerns.

However, new details about Seisint's development of the "terrorism quotient," including the revelation that authorities apparently acted on the list of 120,000, are renewing privacy activists' suspicions about Matrix's potential power.

"Assuming they have in fact abandoned the terrorist quotient, there's nothing that stops them from bringing it back," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology and liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union , which learned about the list of 120,000 through its own records request in Utah.

Matrix  short for Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange  combines state records and data culled by Seisint to give investigators fast access to information on crime and terrorism suspects. It was launched in 2002.

Because the system includes information on people with no criminal record as well as known criminals, Matrix has drawn objections from liberal and conservative privacy groups. Utah and at least eight other states have pulled out, leaving Florida, Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The AP has received thousands of pages of Matrix documents in records requests this year, including meeting minutes and presentation materials that discuss the project in detail.

Not one indicates that Matrix planners decided against using the statistical method of determining an individual's propensity for terrorism.

When the AP specifically requested documents indicating the scoring system was scrapped, the general counsel's office for Florida state police said it could not uncover any.

Even so, people involved with Matrix pledge that the statistical method was removed from the final product.

More at link, including this pot-calling-kettle paragraph: "Seisint Inc., is a Boca Raton, Fla., company founded by a millionaire, Hank Asher, who stepped down from its board of directors last year after revelations of past ties to drug smugglers." What's your Terrorism Quotient, citizen?

Department of Maximum Gall

Hastert, alumnus of the wrestling locker room, lectures McCain, alumnus of the Hanoi Hilton, on sacrifice.

Hastert: "If you want to see the sacrifice, John McCain ought to visit our young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda. There's the sacrifice in this country. We're trying to make sure they have the ability to fight this war, that they have the wherewithal to be able to do it. And, at the same time, we have to react to keep this country strong."

The concept of Hastert actually knowing anything more about sacrifice than McCain.... where do they go to get their gall-injections, anyway? And can anybody get some?

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

News you might have missed:

Yeah, I'm a little late getting to the computer today - packing up to go to a gift show this weekend. Pshew! Anyway, here's a few bits of news/analysis you might have missed:

Email scammer gets four years.

An Internet scammer who used e-mail and a fraudulent Web site to steal hundreds of credit card numbers was sentenced to almost four years in jail Tuesday, one of the stiffest-ever penalties handed down for online fraud.

Houston, Texas federal court Judge Vanessa Gilmore sentenced Houston resident Zachary Hill to 46 months in jail for his role in duping consumers into turning over 473 credit card numbers.

The Justice Department said the sentence is "one of, if not the longest" ever handed down against an e-mail scammer, said spokesman Michael Kulstad.

Hill, 20, used a "phishing" scheme to make his e-mail look like it came from America Online, the nation's largest Internet service provider, or PayPal, the online payment subsidiary of auction giant eBay. The message told victims that their accounts had lapsed and that the companies required their credit card numbers and passwords to restart them.

More at link.

WashPost editorializes: Leave no Rich Child Behind:

THE HOUSE of Representatives plans to take up a bill this week that would provide new tax breaks to families earning as much as $309,000, while doing next to nothing for those at the low end of the income scale. The bill, which could come up as early as today, is the most egregious part of a House tax-cutting spree that altogether would add more than $500 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years, according to estimates by the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center.

The House would not only make permanent the $1,000-per-child tax credit enacted as part of the 2001 tax cut but would dramatically increase the income limits for eligibility. Currently, married families with incomes of up to $110,000 receive the full credit; the bill would more than double the income ceiling, to $250,000. Under existing law, families with two children and incomes up to $149,000 receive a partial tax credit; the bill would make that partial credit available to families with two children and income of between $250,000 and $289,000; families with three children would be entitled to the partial credit up to an income of $309,000.

This is unnecessary, misguided and irresponsible. Families at that income level have already enjoyed significant benefits from the recent tax cuts; they don't need an extra subsidy to help support their children. While tax cut proponents argue that lowering marginal tax rates or cutting dividend and capital gains taxes helps promote economic growth, there is no such claim to be made for the child tax credit. And the increase in the income ceiling would cost $69 billion through 2014, $87 billion if you count increased interest payments on the extra debt.

(More, again, at link)

Texas Decrees - Unitarians not a church:

AUSTIN, Texas - (KRT) - Unitarian Universalists have for decades presided over births, marriages and memorials. The church operates in every state, with more than 5,000 members in Texas alone.

But according to the office of Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, a Texas Unitarian church isn't really a religious organization - at least for tax purposes. Its reasoning: The organization "does not have one system of belief."

Never before - not in this state nor any other - has a government agency denied Unitarians tax-exempt status because of the group's religious philosophy, church officials say. Strayhorn's ruling clearly infringes upon religious liberties, said Dan Althoff, board president for the Denison, Texas, congregation that was rejected for tax exemption by the comptroller's office.

"I was surprised - surprised and shocked - because the Unitarian church in the United States has a very long history," said Althoff, who notes that father-and-son presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were both Unitarians.

More at link. Look out, Buddhists, you may be next.

The answer, of course, is to forget tax-exempt status for all churches, but that'll be the day, huh?

Something Different

You'll notice down the right of the page that I have a few book links. I have never intended that this blog be all politics (after all, I want to have something to talk about after we defeat the Boy King), so I thought I'd throw in a few book reviews. These won't necessarily be new books, just books I think deserve more attention than they may have recieved, or goodies that I have discovered in the library or thriftshops.As long as the reviews are on the 'front' page, I'll keep the links in the sidebar - as the reviews scroll to archive, I'll move the links to the posting itself to keep the sidebar from getting all cluttered up.

If you're only here for the politics, scroll past this entry.

My first pick to recommend is the Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

I have recommended this book to many people as one of the most intriguing grownup first-contact stories out there. The author is not a science fiction writer, and many readers who primarily read sci-fi are the nitpickiest about this book. There are lengthy conversations about the meaning of faith, and the nature of God. That said, the premise is compelling, the characters are intriguing and the situation is heart-breaking. Sometime in the near future, when the human race is moving around in the solar system (bases on a few planets, mining in the asteroids, etc), we discover incontrovertible proof of alien life in a near-by system. While the governments of Earth debate what to do about it, the Jesuits quietly organize a mission to the system. From the introduction:

It was predictable, in hindsight. Everything about the history of the Society of Jesus bespoke deft and efficient action, exploration and research. During what Europeans were pleased to call the Age of Discovery, Jesuit priests were never more than a year or two behind the men who made initial contact with previously unknown peoples; indeed, Jesuits were often the vanguard of exploration.

The United Nations required years to come to a decision that the Society of Jesus reached in ten days. In New York, diplomats debated long and hard, with many recesses and tablings of the issue, whether and why human resources should be expended in an attempt to contact the world that would become known as Rakhat when there were so many pressing needs on Earth. In Rome, the questions were not whether or why but how soon the mission could be attempted and whom to send.

The Society asked leave of no temporal government. It acted on its own principles, with its own assets, on Papal authority. The mission to Rakhat was undertaken not so much secretly as privately--a fine distinction but one that the Society felt no compulsion to explain or justify when the news broke several years later.

The Jesuit scientists went to learn, not to proselytize. They went so that they might come to know and love God's other children. They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the furthest frontiers of human exploration. They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God.

They meant no harm.

Read to see what happens when people with the best intentions in the world stumble into a situation they don't understand and try to make sense of it. If more 'men of God' had the morals and ethics of Father Emilio, I would have a lot less 'issues' with organized religion today.

I include a link to the sequel, Children of God, which sends the devastated Emilio back to Rakhat, against his will, to attempt to repair the damage caused by humanity's last incursion. It's not quite as good as the first book - the author seriously pulls her punches at the end, eschewing a powerful ending for a cozy one. But if you want to know more about Emilio and the aliens, you'll want to read this.

I am rather annoyed to discover, on Russell's website, that the story, which had previously been optioned by Antonia Bandaras, has now been picked up by director George Miller, to star (gag) Brad Pitt. Oh, no - say it ain't so!

I recently read Angel Seeker, by Sharon Shinn, which is also linked in the sidebar. This isn't quite in the same league as The Sparrow, being more what I'd call A Good Read than a great one. This is the fifth (or so) in her Samarria books; Samarria being a human colony of the future in which humans live among 'angels', mortal winged people who interface directly with the diety 'Jovan' through their singing. The series started with the so-called Archangel trilogy (Archangel being the first of the three books), which gives you all the background on how angels and humans interact and why.

Samarria is home to a variety of 'clans' or tribes of people, all of whom seem to have their counterparts on Earth. The Edori, for instance, are nomadic, clean living, happy people who talk directly to the diety, whom they call Yovah, and are clearly modelled after Native Americans. The Jansai are desert-nomads, who hide their females behind walls and veils and are obviously middle-eastern Muslims. There is a 'merchant' clan who facilitate all commerce on the world - I'm not sure if they're supposed to be the Merchant Princes of the Italianate City States, or Jews Without the Pograms. This most recent entry into the Samarria ouevre features an angel Obidiah falling (literally) from the sky and into the life of a sheltered young Jansai woman, Rebekkah. I include this book for your reading pleasure in case anyone wants to read a book in which the Muslim surrogates are so clearly the bad guys; you can boo their Taliban-like treatment of their women and cheer their ultimate comeuppance without being politically incorrect.

I include a link to the first Samarria book, Archangel, for readers who want to start at the beginning of the series.

(Like book reviews? Hate 'em? let me know in the comments, or, if you're shy, via the email link at the top of the page.)

Edit: Book links moved from sidebar to post:

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

More news

It's all about the banner. Is it like the Sports Illustrated curse or something?

When President Bush visited a Timken Co. ball-bearing plant in Canton, Ohio, a year ago, he told workers that their optimism about the future of their company inspired his optimism about the future of the economy.

A photo from his talk at Timken leads the White House Web site's "Building America's Economy Photo Essay." It shows Bush standing in front of a glorious red, white and blue "Jobs and Growth" banner.

As he said at the time, the "greatest strength of the American economy is found right here, right in this room, found in the pride and skill of the American work force."

Last week, Timken announced that the folks right there in that room are getting fired. Timken, the world's largest industrial bearings maker, whose chairman is a major donor and fundraiser for the Republican Party, plans to shut down three factories in Canton and eliminate 1,300 jobs.

If you see Karl Rove headed your way with one of those damned hokey banners, run, run like the wind.

Sky fallen yet?

Hundreds of gay couples leap at the chance to get married.

I'm sure Pat Robertson has a thundercloud or earthquake to send their way, generous gift-giver that he is.

The General goes to the movies

Jesus' General watches Troy and has an embarrassing encounter.

Josh Marshall's Source in Iraq

I've just been assuming that everyone who's reading here is of course reading Talking Points Memo at least daily, but in case you're not, I'd like to draw your attention to his latest communication from a friend currently working in Iraq; among other things he ends with:

About the Army - Man, it hurts my heart to write this about an institution I dearly love but this army is completely dysfunctional, angry and is near losing its honor. We are back to the Army of 1968. I knew we were finished when I had a soldier point his Squad Automatic Weapons at me and my bodyguard detail for driving down the street when he decided he would cross the street in the middle of rush hour traffic (which was moving at about 70 MPH) ... He made it clear to any and all that he was preparing to shoot drivers who did not stop for his jaunt because speeding cars are "threats."

I also once had a soldier from a squad of Florida National Guard reservists raise weapons and kick the door panel of a clearly marked CPA security vehicle (big American flag in the windshield of a $150,000 armored Land Cruiser) because they wanted us to back away from them so they could change a tire ... as far as they were concerned WE (non-soldiers) were equally the enemy as any Iraqi.

Unlike the wars of the past 20 years where the Army encouraged (needed) soldiers, NGOs, allies and civil organizations to work together to resolve matters and return to normal society, the US Forces only trust themselves here and that means they set their own limits and tolerances. Abu Ghuraib are good examples of that limit. I told a Journalist the other day that these kids here are being told that they are chasing Al Qaeda in the War on Terrorism so they think everyone at Abu Ghuraib had something to do with 9/11. So they were encouraged to make them pay. These kids thought they were going to be honored for hunting terrorists.

Winning hearts and minds wherever they go...

Morning readings

The NYT's Krugman is great today on The Wastrel Son:

He was a stock character in 19th-century fiction: the wastrel son who runs up gambling debts in the belief that his wealthy family, concerned for its prestige, will have no choice but to pay off his creditors. In the novels such characters always come to a bad end. Either they bring ruin to their families, or they eventually find themselves disowned.

George Bush reminds me of those characters - and not just because of his early career, in which friends of the family repeatedly bailed out his failing business ventures. Now that he sits in the White House, he's still counting on other people to settle his debts - not to protect the reputation of his family, but to protect the reputation of the country.

This pretty much sums what I dislike about the current WH resident in a nutshell - spoiled spawn of privilege who never learns from his mistakes because he's shielded from the consequences. Some tough love in his early career might have prevented him from dishonoring our country. (Or, to be completely fair, it might not have.)

Half the age, twice the smart

If you're not reading Pandagon, you should be. Here's Jesse on Zell Miller:

Oh, Just Kiss My Ass

Zell Miller compares the torture at Abu Ghraib to having to shower in gym class .

Yes, I remember the first time I had to shower in a locker room. It was my first time naked (or with a towel on) in front of other men. I was embarassed a little bit. However, since nobody locked the door, put a bag over my head, beat me, sodomized me with broomsticks and light sticks, forced men into sexual acts with other people, threatened my life, and took pictures of the whole thing for their amusement, I never thought to compare it to what happened in Iraq, because it wasn't even in the same galaxy of occurences.


IRS may help DoD find reservists

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

FORT WORTH, Texas - The Defense Department, strapped for troops for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, has proposed to Congress that it tap the Internal Revenue Service to locate out-of-touch reservists.

The unusual measure, which the Pentagon said has been examined by lawyers, would allow the IRS to pass on addresses for tens of thousands of former military members who still face recall into the active duty.

The proposal has largely escaped attention amid all the other crises of government, and it is likely to face opposition from privacy rights activists who see information held by the IRS as inviolate.


Part or all of nine of the Army's 10 active-duty divisions are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and 167,000 members of the reserves or National Guard are on active duty, with thousands more on alert for mobilization.

Unknown to most Americans, though, is the existence of the Individual Ready Reserve, which has more than 280,000 members.

The IRR is a distinctly different animal than the drilling reserves or National Guard.

Those in the IRR are people who have completed their active-duty tours but are subject to involuntary recall for a certain number of years. For example, a soldier who serves four years on active duty remains in the IRR for another four years.

During that time, however, they receive no pay, do not drill with a unit and are otherwise completely civilian.

The problem for the Pentagon is that the whereabouts of 50,200 of those veterans are unknown to the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. The largest number - 40,700 - are former Army GIs.

Isn't it nice to know that when we're running out of cannon fodder, we can always find more?

Monday, May 17, 2004

In other news:

Two-Thirds Of Federal Workers Get a Bonus

Almost two-thirds of 1.6 million civilian full-time federal employees received merit bonuses or special time-off awards in fiscal 2002, according to a comprehensive examination of federal records obtained by The Washington Post.

Of the 62 percent who got awards, half received $811 or more. The typical bonus amounted to 1.6 percent of salary. The awards ranged from less than $100 to more than $25,000. At some agencies, more than 90 percent of General Schedule workers collected a bonus. Government-wide, about 2,900 employees received cash bonuses totaling more than $10,000 each.

Sounds a little bit like Lake Woebegone, where all the children are above-average.

The Valerie Plame investigation is still out there.

A special prosecutor investigating whether administration officials illegally leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative sought yesterday to interview two Washington Post reporters in connection with the probe.

Special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald told Post lawyer Eric Lieberman that he wants to talk to Post reporters Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler but declined to discuss the information he is seeking, Lieberman said. Lieberman said he told Fitzgerald he would respond to the request next week.

The request to interview reporters may suggest the probe is winding up, because Justice Department guidelines require that prosecutors exhaust all other avenues before taking the step of calling reporters before a grand jury. If that is the case, as some attorneys for witnesses believe, it is not clear whether Fitzgerald is moving toward seeking indictments in the case or whether he is preparing to complete it without bringing criminal charges.

I'll be interested to see if the admin's heat-shields deflect this.

Fox insulted at being called 'conservative'.

Fox News is demanding a correction from the New York Times for an article describing it as "the conservative cable network." Since the Times makes no reference to "liberal" networks, is that, well, fair and balanced? "It is either the writer's editorial opinion, which should not have been evidence in a news story, or an intentional attempt to mislabel Fox News," spokesman Robert Zimmerman wrote the paper about Alessandra Stanley's piece.

Times culture editor Steven Erlanger says: "Our decision was that Alessandra, writing as a critic, is well within her rights to call Fox pretty much whatever she wants." He told Fox there was no need for a correction.

Says Stanley: "I think I owe the reader a better definition of Fox and other networks than what they put in their own promotional ads." Besides, she says, "I don't see why they find the label 'conservative' so insulting."

Heh. Word.