Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Opening Salvo

I, and a lot of other people, have been yelling for a while about our shiny new computerized, touchscreen voting machines, and how they're totally unauditable and un-recountable. The vote is what the machine says it is. Period.

No problem, say the people pushing the machines. They've all been tested and certified. Uhh, by who? To what standards? What's really in there? Sorry, proprietary information.

Well, Diebold, for one, is getting their feet held to the fire. Their little security breach doesn't give anybody a warm fuzzy feeling; the Powers that Be in places like Maryland look to me like they're frantically covering their tails, after giving Diebold a boatload of tax money. I can't believe that the code that escaped was production code. Nobody uses Microsoft Access for anything more important than a Christmas card list

Well, anyway, this brings us to last Tuesday. Election Day in a number of places, including Fairfax County, Virginia. As well as having the slowest vote count on record, there were a number of severe irregularities. It seems that a bunch of machines malfunctioned, were taken offsite, repaired, and returned, in a gross violation of procedure. The woman who lost has gotten an injunction sealing the machines until they can be checked over Fat lot of good it'll do her.

Even more ominous, some voters noted that the machines seemed to reject votes for one particular candidate.

... it seemed to subtract a vote for Thompson in about "one out of a hundred tries"
... and she lost by less than 1% of the vote.


Big oops. This time, something may actually get done. Both of the defeated candidates are Republicans ....

Now, I work professionally with systems like this. It would be perfectly straightforward to design a system where the hardware and software were available for inspection, with random audits to make sure that the checked software is actually in the machines and the hardware corresponds to the prints. Add in any amount of NSA-grade crypto. You can have any amount of testing before election day. And I could still make the results come out any way I want to.

The WaPo reference is from They are the group that seems to be doing a lot of the nitty-gritty organizing in fighting these monsters.

Sunday, October 12, 2003


All the usual excuses. New job. Outrage overload. No time.

In any case, no updates.

One thing that is worth noting, however, is the new kid on the block in Baghdad. Riverbend is an acquaintance of Salam Pax. Pax has gotten a lot less active in the blogosphere, with his column in the Guardian and his book.

Riverbend is a lot sharper and more critical of the Americans than Salam ever was. Salam spoke very carefully, and tried very hard not to offend American sensibilities. Riverbend is less restrained, especially in her descriptions of how Americans, whether through ignorance or design, are stepping all over Iraqi cultural sensibilities.

Some of it seems like it's right out of Robert McNamara's "how to create terrorists" handbook, developed by much hard work in Vietnam. River, the word you're looking for is "defoliation"

Anyway, go read.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Bottom Line

So Iraq is going to cost us $87 billion. Well, if that's what it's gonna cost, we're stuck with it. We broke it, we bought it. We've had no luck getting the "Coalition of the Willing" to help us out, and asking the UN for help is just silly.

Now, how do we present this? The Government and the Press just hit us with the number, but it doesn't mean anything. The Democrats had this problem in 2000 and 2002. They'd say that Bush's tax cuts would go mostly to the top 1%, but nobody knew what they meant. So people making less than $40,000/year thought they were in that magic 1%. If anybody phrased it as "making over $300,000/year", I missed it.

So what's $87 billion? Wampum has a nice tabulation of what $87 billion is in terms of other Government programs:

In fact, the budgets of the departments of Energy ($19.8 billion), State ($11.0 billion), Interior ($10.4 billion) and Justice ($22.2 billion) combined ($63.4 billion) will probably come in less this year than operations in Iraq.

As Ev Dirkson put it, "Pretty soon you're talking real money".

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Friendly Hints

Iraqi advice for Americans suffering from power blackouts. Hey, who should know more?

Maybe there are followers of Saddam Hussein who are sabotaging their power stations. That's what happens here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003


What the heck. Bandwagons are fun. At least for now, I've added the "Fair and Balanced" subhead to the blog title.

Seems that Leftie humorist Al Franken is coming out with a book called Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Problem is, Fox News claims a trademark on the phrase "Fair & Balanced", so they're suing Franken and his publisher. This is, of course, ridiculous. So somebody in the Blogosphere (Neil Pollack?) decided that August 15 should be "Fair and Balanced Day". Political blogs of all stripes are sprouting the phrase in question. So I'm jumping on too, in my inimitable day-late-and-dollar-short fashion.

Fox News should really know better. Lies promptly went to number 1 on's bestseller list, even though the book won't be out for a month. General consensus is that Franken is going to hand Fox News their arse on a plate. Reasons:

  • Fox News's trademark is "Fair & Balanced". Franken's title uses "Fair and Balanced". Little things like this matter with trademarks.
  • You can't copyright book titles. I dunno about trademarks here.
  • It's a parody. There's lots of latitude for parody.

The Blogosphere's resident law professors Balkin, Reynolds, and Volokh all say that this is a crock. Should tell ya something -- they're not exactly left wingers, but law and sense trump politics for honest people.

I'm sure we can look forward to Franken's book being every bit as "fair and balanced" as Fox News.

What's with it with Franken and titles, anyway? The only title I've seen that's worse than Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them is Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, also by Franken. Al, playground taunts like these went out in the sixth grade. Titles like this aren't funny and just make you look like a jerk.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Conservative vs. Conservative

John Derbyshire over at National Review mentions the case of some Mexican immigrants who were burned out of their house by some people who don't like Mexicans very much.

Derbyshire's point is that the reporting of the incident never mentions whether the victims are legal or illegal immigrants. To him, this is a vital point -- sort of whether they should be considered human or not. I give Derbyshore credit -- he comes across as a normal, compassionate human who feels that he has to shoehorn his normal feelings into an ideological mold. There's far too much of that going on nowadays, and has been simce I got interested in politics in the 1960s.

The "illegal immigrant" business points up an interesting conflict among the various flavors of conservative. On one hand, the "classic" conservatives say "keep the immigrants out". California's Proposition 187 (which says basically "no state services for illegal immigrants") is a "classic" position. However, we also now have the "cheap labor conservatives", who just love illegal immigrants. Illegals work cheap and don't dare complain.

It's also a conflict of ideology vs pragmatism. Check who does most of the housekeeping, childcare, and lawn care. When it comes to getting their own lawn mowed, an amazing number of people jump into the "cheap labor" camp. Our immigration laws are a horrible mess and the enforcement is a disaster (made worse by shipping everything over to the "Department of Homeland Security") Nothing is going to get done until some of those "cheap labor conservatives" (some of whom consider themselves to be quite liberal!) get busted for employing illegals for child or lawn care.

(Link via TBOGG)

Friday, August 01, 2003

Telemarketing, Again

One of the raspberries that's been directed at the Republicans is that they have outsourced some of their telephone fundraising to India.

Republican spokesman Kevin Sheridan issued a carefully worded denial:

Any report that the Republican National Committee has hired HCL eServe -- the firm mentioned in the original Business Standard article -- is a case of bad reporting, bad business practices or both. The RNC has no affiliation with HCL. Any inference to the contrary is flat out wrong. The RNC has informed both HCL and of the inaccuracy of this report.

Fascinating. This disclaimer is as narrow as it is possible to be. It also contains a gratuitous slap at the folks reporting this -- IMHO, uncalled for.

Look at what he didn't say:

  • He didn't say that the RNC hadn't hired other Indian telemarketers
  • He didn't say that RNC consultants, or firms working with the RNC, hadn't hired HCN or other Indian telemarketers
  • He didn't say that the RNC had never hired HCN.
  • He didn't say that the RNC had notified the Business Standard (original souirce of the report) that their report was incorrect.

Hmm. Looks to me like he missed a chance to do a bit of pro-America rahrah. If they're using only American telemarketers, why not brag about it? If they aren't using Indians, of course.

Yah, I know this is kind of old news. I just found the pointers, OK? Anyway, it goes with the previous item.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Telemarketing Fraud

Ah, the telemarketers are fuming and sputtering over the National Do Not Call List. It's expected. After all, the only reason that people sign up for the list is that they are so weak-willed that they are afraid that they'll buy everything that they're offered. At least according to the telemarketers. Couldn't be that people just don't like being pestered; everybody loves getting phone calls, right? Especially during meals.

Two million jobs lost, they claim. I think that number is rather wildly inflated -- I don't think that too many businesses will dry up and blow away if they have to find a new advertising channel. Even counting part-timers there can't be that many phone jockeys around. Doesn't matter that the people who are not on the DNC list are presumably more favorably disposed to the calls, or at least less likely to scream at the poor drelbs with the headphones. Gotta make it look like a coming bloodbath.

I got four telemarketing calls today. All the callers had strong Indian accents. One I assume was a telemarketer; he was simply incomprehensible. Another one got trapped in a "language loop":

May I plis spik to Mister Lightning?
May I plis spik to Mister Lightning? (exact same inflection)
May I plis spik to Mister Lightning? (again, the exact same inflection)

Now, I've been in the computer business for a long time. There are a lot of Indians in the computer biz; always have been. Like anybody else, some are fireballs, some are jerks, and most are in between. Prejudice against Indians is something that simply doesn't fly, like prejudice against blacks in sports or Jews in law. When I say I can't understand somebody's accent, this is saying something.

Telemarketing isn't going away. It's moving to India. Many telemarketing firms are going to go away or become simple brokerages. No conspiricy here; just the latest quirk in the corporate outsourcing binge.

And the "do not call" list gets the blame for the loss of American jobs. Convienent.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Place Your Bets!

Much hoohah about DARPA's plan to try to predict terrorist activity by a "futures market". Supposedly, asking people to "bet" on things gives much more accurate results than simply asking them for an opinion.


It's an interesting question, and one I've noticed myself. Joe Blowhard will pontificate for hours, saying that, if we do "X", then "Y" is absolutely sure to happen. According to Joe, his result is as certain as the sun coming up in the West tomorrow morning. But just say "I've got twenty five cents, cash money, that says you're wrong. C'mon, put your money whare your mouth is. And no, I will not take your IOU. Cash. US currency." It's amazing how fast Joe will fade into the background.

What DARPA is assuming is that this "futures market" will somehow have a better result than other ways of using expert opinions. Personally, I doubt it. The problem depends on the nature of a futures market.

To those of the Libertarian persuasion, of course, markets are ironclad examples of Laws of Nature, not really different from the Law of Gravity. However, when you look at them more closely, markets are as artificial as the Infield Fly Rule. They are ruled by arbitrary social constructs and tradition that govern anything else. Futures markets, in particular, require a very delicate balance of information flow among the participants.

Let's look at the futures market in a commodity; say, coffee. Basically, what a futures trader is doing is making a bet that coffee will sell for a specific price at a specific time. Now, the actual price of coffee at the sale time is determined by all sorts of things like weather and local politics. The "futures price" is a guess. Now, as time goes on and the due date comes closer, the price of coffee starts to zero in on the final price, and the value of "futures" goes to zero. (The Chicago Board of Trade has a brief futures tutorial, if you want more info.) The gimmick for futures traders is that, the way margin requirements work, you can make (or lose!) a lot of money on very small price swings.

Now, look at the information required to make this work. Everybody has to know something about what's happening with the commodity, but there has to be some information that is confidential. If there was no information, or if there is full information, it reduces to a total game of chance. Professional brokers (and professional poker players) don't deal with games of chance. Keeping the appropriate amount of inside information makes the system work. (Technically, this is called "controlling transparency"). This is why, traditionally, the commodities markets are regarded as the fastest possible way to lose your money. The Big Guys have the information. You don't.

Now, how does this relate to terrorism? Durned if I know. In a commodity futures market like coffee, everybody knows when the due date is, when little pieces of paper get traded for sacks of beans. If we are trying to predict terrorism, there is nothing that has to happen. So what this will reduce to is simply a bunch of experts making their best guesses. How is that different from what we have now? Worse, I'd assume that they will all be working from the same intellegence assessments and listening to the same briefings.

So what we end up with is just another version of The Common Wisdom. But maybe the Blowhard Effect will kick in, and the experts will say what they really mean.

LATER -- Another little problem that I haven't seen discussed is that, to be useful, the "values" of the market have to be public. Otherwise, the whole thing degenerates into yet another Poll of the Experts, of which we already have a plentiful sufficiency. This means that the terrorists can track them too ...

STILL LATER -- WOOHO! Poindexter is going to resign over this mess. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. However, he still has to go through the process of actually resigning. We'll see how honest he is -- my bet is he will either weasel out or find somebody worse to replace himself..

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

WMD, Again

Well, still no <echo_chamber>Weapons of Mass Destruction</echo_chamber>. Looks like we started a war, ticked off the whole world, got ourselves stuck in a no-win occupation, for something that wasn't there, and hadn't been there for years. What happened?

Well, Digby has a possible answer. It seems like all of our intelligence was based on data from 1998 or before. What happened in 1998? Well, that's when the UN inspectors left. Why did they leave? We were getting ready to bomb the crap out of Saddam. We did so at the end of 1998, in Operation Desert Fox.

Since the inspectors were gone, we didn't really have "on the ground" data on just how effective those strikes were. Digby's hypotheses is that we wiped out both the stored WMD and the facilities needed to manufacture them, to the level that it wasn't practical to rebuild them.


BushCo has this interesting blind spot. To them, the years between 1993 and 2001 seem to never have happened. Their hatred for all things Clinton blinds them to the possibility that he might, just possibly, have done something right.

"Wag the Dog, Wag the Dog" cried the Right at the time. "It's just to try to divert attention from Impeachment". It'd be really funny if this blind spot brings down Georgie. Face it, this situation ain't gonna get any prettier. It largely depends on the attention span the Press can muster.

Starting a War

"It wasn't all about the WMD" goes the bleat from the Right. "We rescued the Iraqi people from a horrible tyrant". Well, we did. But that's not an excuse for a war. Other places, like Burma, are worse (and the Burmese junta claims to be Communist, to boot!). In any case, the Right has never displayed any compassion for Oppressed Peoples before.

There are two reasons to go to war, in international law:

  1. Clear and present danger.
  2. A recognized international organization gives the go-ahead.

Bush & co failed miserably on reason 2. The runup to this war was, frankly, the most howlingly inept piece of diplomacy I've ever seen. Yeah, BushCo claims that the UN resolutions were sufficient. The rest of the UN disagrees -- and it's their opinion that counts,not ours.. This leaves the first. Now, not even the most deluded right-wingnut believed that Saddam was going to invade the US. The "clear and present danger" came solely from his possession of WMD. No WMD, no danger. No danger, no justification. And the continuing hoohah over the African uranium demonstrates that at least some of the data that we used to justify the invasion was known to be bogus.

"So what?" says the Right. Well, it's an established legal principal that you don't just make up evidence against Bad Guys, no matter how Bad they are. If you do, you'll get called on it. In a criminal case, the Bad Guy will propbably go free if you get caught at it. We had a case here locally where a cop perjured herself to lock up some Bad Guys. They walked. (So did she, but the damage was done.)

So what will the repercussions be? It's too early to tell, but it looks like the rest of the world won't give us a pass on this one. Enough groveling and arse kissing might get us some international cooperation, but it would be 'way out of character for BushCo.

We'll see.

LATER -- Here's an editorial on the bigger picture -- the whole "Bush Doctrine" of preemptive war. This is a much bigger issue than figuring out if Georgie was clueless, misinformed, or lying in his teeth in the State of the Union speech. (link via TalkLeft)

Friday, July 18, 2003

Half a Secret

Judicial Watch is an interesting organization. It was one of the "yap dogs" financed by Richard Mellon Scaife specifically to harass the Clinton administration. Scaife is probably the most influential political actor of the late 20th century. Never heard of him? He likes it that way ... Now, one of the hazards of putting together an idealistic- looking organization to do your dirty work is that some of your phony idealists may actually turn out to be real idealists. It looks like Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch is one of those "stealth" idealists. With the Clinton administration gone, he is applying the same standards of conduct to the Bush administration. Oops.

Now, one of the early kerfluffles in the Bush administration concerned the White House Energy Policy, put together by VP Cheney. Basically, a lot of folks were concerned at the involvement of Ken Lay, President of Enron and a good friend of Georgie Bush. In the runup to the 2000 election through the early Bush administration, Lay was a close advisor to Bush, acting essentially like a cabinet secretary or corporate VP. For example, he interviewed all of the candidates for Bush's cabinet. When Enron collapsed, there were a lot of (legitimate, IMHO) concerns that the Energy Policy was simply a rubber stamp for Enron's interests. However, Cheney and company clammed up and refused to deliver their working papers, even under court order. Judicial Watch, among others has been trying to get their hands on these papers.

Well, they got some. (link via Tom Tomorrow) In particular, they got maps of "Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals". There are similar maps for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Note that at the time the report was written (March 2001) Iraq was still under embargo and would be for the foreseeable future.

Now, the question is what this "really means". We won't know, of course, until we get a hold of the full document. Cheney and company are still fighting this tooth and toenail; it'll be a while. A big problem is that this is isolated information -- there's no indication why this information was in the papers. It's easy to yell "See! It really was all about the oil!", but that's not necessarily the case. It does look really bad, however.

Now, I can see concerns both ways, here. In general, I think that it's a Bad Idea to release preliminary working papers. People need a chance to thrash out ideas (especially bad ideas) in private before throwing them out to the public. On the other hand, Enron's business model for its energy trading business was based on the lack of transparency in the energy market -- essentially trading on inside information. Involvement in the White House Energy Policy would give Enron the ultimate in insider information, as well as giving them a chance to write national policy to maximize their own advantage. Note the similarity to the Teapot Dome scandal of the Harding administration.

Now, what we have here is half a secret. We know that the Energy Task Force discussed Iraqi oil, but we don't know why. If we'd never found out, we'd never know anything. If we knew the whole story, it might be completely harmless. Or it might be another Teapot Dome. There's no way to tell without the rest of the secret.

Unfortunately, one of the main characteristics of the Bush administration has been its secrecy fetish. The Energy Task Force is far from the only thing that's being kept secret for no discernible reason if there's nothing to hide. Where there's a secret, people naturally assume the worst. When, as now, we have half a secret, people really assume the worst.

The only thing that would quiet this down is for the Administration to release the working papers, as the courts ordered them to do. Not likely; they'll just spin it until it goes away. Will it? The docile US press is showing signs of waking up ...

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

I Feel So Much Better Now!

The Department of Homeland Security has gotten a lot of flak for not doing anything visible except for their color coded "Threat Advisories" that seem to rise and fall between Lemon and Mango with no particular reason. Well, that's all over. They're on the job.

They have a new seal. Now, as we all know, nobody can do any kind of a job without proper graphics. Most of the US productivity increase in the 1990s, for example, is due to the use of Microsoft Powerpoint and similar tools to create bullet-point slides. The Enron debacle can be traced directly to poor choice of logos for some of their shell companies.

It's a start. DHS is also falling behind in the Catchy Acronym department. Need some work there, guys.

Hey, at this rate, we'll get the important stuff out of the way in just a few more years. Then it'll be just minor cleanup, like visa reform, first-responder support and co-ordination, port security, and suchlike trivia.

I understand that DHS head Tom Ridge has a memo of intent with Osama bin Laden that al Qaeda will hold off on any further attacks until we have all of our graphics and acronyms in place.

(Link via South Knox Bubba.)

Monday, July 14, 2003

Don't Be Silly

Of course Georgie knew. Or, more accurately, the White House knew. Georgie believes what they tell him. It's interesting to see the squirming as the <echo_chamber>Weapons of Mass Destruction</echo_chamber> move farther and farther from Iraq, but anybody who has been paying attention knows what's going on.

How do we know? Watch what the'they've been doing, and think about what their behavior implies. Without going into the tinfoil-hat zone, there are three basic possibilities for the WMD:

  1. There never were any WMD, and everybody knew it.
  2. There never were any WMD, and the CIA blew it bigtime.
  3. There were WMD, but they're gone now.

Now, how would we expect Georgie and company to respond?If Case 2 or 3 were true, when we moved into Iraq, we'd have had many WMD teams loaded with sensors and trained to deal with whatever nasties they found. They'd be combat troops, prepared to fight their way into storage facilities, secure the contents, and hold off counterattacks. The whole point is to keep them from being used.

If Case 2 were true, I would expect to see blood running in the halls at the CIA. Now, Bush & Co. don't like CIA Director George Tenet one little bit. He is, after all, a Clinton appointee, which automatically puts him on the side of the Powers of Darkness. They wouldn't mind getting rid of him one little bit. His current mea culpa is far milder than I would expect; I would expect not only his resignation but a purge of any high level officer (and probably some low level ones) that came anywhere near Iraq. Bush & Co are not tolerant of people who do things that make them look bad. In this case, we would have pissed off the whole world and gotten ourselves into a long term, no-win committment (can't say the Q word ...) on the CIA's bad information.

If Case 3 were true, I'd expect to see the WMD top people running around like so many headless chickens. This is the Nightmare Scenario; the exact thing that the entire war was supposed to prevent. Where did they go? Iran and Syria have their own chemical weapons; they don't need more and they certainly don't want to give the US an excuse to come hunting. The sub-possibilities here are:

  1. they're very well hidden in Iraq, or
  2. somebody has taken them away.
If case a, we'd see the WMD teams digging up all sorts of unlikely places. If b, we'd see a massive hunt for terrorists, to make the post-9/11 investigations look perfunctory. Osama bin Laden would presumably have the capability to do some real damage now ...

What about Case 1? Well, since we know that there are no WMD to be found and our troops are not at risk, we don't have to put too much effort into it. Let's have a few WMD teams to look like we're really looking. No need to use combat troops; they can wait to do their "investigations" until the regular troops have the area secured. We'll let them poke around in some ammo dumps and pesticide factories for a bit and send them home.

Well, what did we do? The Case 1 scenario above pretty much describes it. There never were any WMD, and everybody knew it.

Now, note that this is a considerably nastier conclusion than the way the press is currently playing it. The way it's being reported, Bush & Co basically "cherry picked" the intellegence reports to paint a picture supporting their beliefs. If that were indeed the case, we'd have a variation of Case 2, without the purge at the CIA. We'd still have seen a massive effort to find WMD in the early part of the invasion.

Nope. They knew full well that there were no WMD of any kind to find.

LATER: Here's an article on the tension between Tenet and the White House. (Link via Body and Soul)

Saturday, July 05, 2003

In, Out, and Back Again

A few days ago, the Army Times published an editorial that was quite critical of the Bush administration. This was unusual; it is Standard Operating Procedure for the Times (and the military generally) to stay away from politics.

It's a myth, BTW, that the military is all hard-line Republican. The troops' political views pretty much mirror the communities that they come from. From what I've seen, the folks who talk the most about "military prejudice" never seem to actually know anybody in the military.

The editorial itself didn't say anything that anybody who pays attention to things didn't already know (Bush & co generally deliver the opposite of what they promise). What was interesting was that the editorial was pulled. Look for it, all you would get was a blank page. Fortunately, a number of sites mirrored it. Note to the Powers that Be: Once it hits the Web, it's out of your control. Trying to get it back just makes you look like jerks.

It's back now. I don't know what's more interesting: who ordered it pulled, or why it came back.

Duel of Wits

All right: where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right and who is dead.
But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you. Are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet, or his enemy's?
He studies the Man In Black now.
Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I'm not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool; you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
(And now there's a trace of nervousness beginning)
You've made your decision then?
Not remotely. Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows. And Australia is entirely peopled with criminals. And criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me. So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.
Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.
Wait till I get going! Where was I?
-- The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

Well, Karl Rove, Georgie Bush's Svengali, has a favorite Democratic presidential candidate. He likes Howard Dean:

As a dozen people marched toward Dana Place wearing Dean for President T-shirts and carrying Dean for America signs, Rove told a companion, "Heh, heh, heh. Yeah, that's the one we want," according to Daniel J. Weiss, an environmental consultant, who was standing nearby. "How come no one is cheering for Dean?"
Then, Weiss said, Rove exhorted the marchers and the parade audience: "Come on, everybody! Go, Howard Dean!"

One of the side-scandals in Watergate was the revelation that the Committee to Relect the President (CRP) (Doesn't anybody say these out loud before they start using them?) had funneled a fair amount of money to George McGovern, who CRP considered the weakest of the Democratic candidates.

Is Rove saying this because he thinks it's true, or because he's really afraid of Dean? No way of telling. So what to do? If we spend our time trying to psychoanalyze Rove, we're not going to get anything done. Best to ignore it and go on.

Oh, and be sure to remember how the scene in the movie ends:

(a final glance back toward Vizzini)
To think -- all that time it was your cup that was poisoned.
They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Happy Fourth!

Happy fourth! Looks like it's going to be a nice day; the sun is out (I got really tired of rain, there). Herewith some random thoughts, apropos of nothing in particular.

Pre-9/11, the only people who put up flags anytime but the Fourth or on Flag Day (remember that?) were the "ultra-patriot" right-wing types. Not nice people, in general. Now, it's everybody. When I was in elementary school, I was a Flag Monitor. I got to put the flag up in the morning and take it down after school. It was a big honor. Now, one of the things that a Flag Monitor had to do was learn Flag Etiquette. This includes such things as never letting the flag touch the ground, never letting it fly in the rain, never flying it at night unless it's illuminated, how to fold it, etc, etc, etc. With all the flags flying currently, seems that nobody really knows about that stuff any more. My next door neighbor, who is retired military, bought and installed a flagpole immediately after 9/11, put up a flag, and left it there until it fell apart. He's on flag #3 now, I think.

Now, patriotism is one of those things that seems to mean different things to different people. For far too many on the political Right, it means "shut up and sit down. It's unpatriotic to criticize." Now, I love this country, with all its natural beauty and wild and crazy people. This does not mean that any part of it is above criticism. I think of it as maintenance. Refusing to fix the fanbelt or radiator hose on your car isn't "respecting" the car; it's just stupid. We've got a fair number of those funny squeaky-thump noises coming from underneath things; ignoring them or claiming that it's the windshield wipers is asking for Real Trouble.

I think that the people who get all bent out of shape over things like "unpatriotic criticism" are really unsure of their own patriotism; they're trying to "prove themselves". To most of us, patriotism is such an integral part of our personalities that it simply doesn't need to be exercised, or taken out and waved around. One side effect of this is that, because I love my country, I consider it as natural and as useful as rain in springtime that other people love their countries, too. P. J. O'Rourke did an article (can't find the reference right off hand) about a trip up the Volga that he took with a bunch of old-line Socialists shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union (why???). On the same boat were a bunch of ex-Marines from New Mexico. The "all hail the Proletariat" Socialists snubbed the boat crew pretty thoroughly; the Marines and the Russians ended up getting drunk together and singing patriotic songs. For some reason, some people find this unusual.

When I was a kid, I spent summers with my grandparents in an itty-bitty town in Kansas. I would save up my money and buy a big pile of fireworks, and spend the whole day shooting them off. Some of the "night" fireworks were pretty, but the high point was always firecrackers. I never got any of the really big ones: M80s, Silver Salutes, or Two Inchers, which had the explosive force of a small piece of dynamite. While I have heard scare stories about the "inch and a half" firecrackers that I favored, they were always distant and never had any immediacy. (I've had them go off in my hand. No big deal.). Scare stories for the big ones were all too common. They really would take off a piece of your hand if they went off in it (happened to the kid brother of a friend. It wasn't a very big piece, but still.)

Now, I don't think that anybody allows firecrackers any more. Some of the rules are concerns about fire; I suspect more is simply that the people in power simply don't like loud noises. There's also the problem that firecrackers seem to create a particular kind of stupidity in some people. The kid I mentioned above found a two-incher in the oven in his kitchen; it blew up when he took it out. I had a close call with a Silver Salute one time. Looking back, somebody threw one out of a passing car and it landed at my feet. I didn't see it land, said "Oh, a Silver Salute that didn't go off", and reached down to pick it up, just as it went off. Military types -- what do they tell you about unexploded ordinance?

Ah, well. Time to head off to the picnic. Hotdogs, ice cream, and beer. Fireworks later. All nicely "safe and sane", shot off by professionals. Only thing to worry about are mosquitos.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003


What the heck! Give 'em a try. Let's see what wanders in.

I'm using HaloScan even though it's rude, crude, and nasty. In particular, I find the lack of a "preview" function to be seriously obnoxious. I tried Enetation first, but it flat-out doesn't work. It spews errors like something has crashed. Hey, the're free. Ya get what ya pay for. (Not really true. But you certainly don't get what you don't pay for.)


Always gotta have a Policy. (Why? It's "policy".)

  • This comment thing is totally experimental. If it doesn't work, it'll change or go away. In particular, if I can find a better comment program, I may change -- and there's no way to migrate comments from HaloScan to anything else. If you want to make sure that your deathless prose really is deathless, make your own copy. Cut 'n paste into your favorite text or HTML editor and save it locally.
  • You post something here, the contents are your responsibility. Not mine or anybody else's. Yours.
  • Please remember that this is a public forum. Don't say anything here that you don't want to be read by your significant other or boss. Or, for that matter, made the subject of a Special Report on Fox News. Want to tell me something on the QT? Send mail.
  • I'm pretty tolerant. I only plan to delete trolls, gratuitous attacks, blatant falsehoods, and illegal stuff. But I will delete them. Friendly hint: Don't push it.
  • Policy policy: I reserve the right to change this policy at any time, for any reason, without notice. Sorta makes the whole thing useless, doesn't it? However, you'll find that every other Web policy, including far more critical sites like banks and ISPs, has this clause in there somewhere.

Okay! Have at it!

Monday, June 30, 2003

No Such Agency, Redux

Many years ago, when I first started tangling with the wonderful world of the Spooks, the story was that Government information operators would not give out the phone number of the National Security Agency (NSA). "NSA", they would (supposedly) say, "is a special code for No Such Agency. It's a code used when somebody tries to reach an agency that doesn't exist." Also, people who worked at NSA were told to tell people who asked that they worked for the Army at Fort Meade. Fort Meade was, officially, a tank base. Lotta really high tech tanks, there. Even now, if somebody says "I work for the Government", they're probably NSA. People in other areas of government will tell you "I work for the Department of Agriculture" or "I work for the Navy". Even CIA people will say "I work for the State Department."

Now, the NSA is the US's prime codebreaking and electronic intelligence gathering organization. It's one of the largest employers in the state of Maryland. It's hard to hide. By and large, the've given up trying. It doesn't work and just makes them look silly.

The CIA also tried the secrecy business. When they opened their headquarters in Langley, Virginia, they didn't have a sign on the main road. The sign on the main road said "Virginia Department of Transportation Maintenance Yard." To get to the CIA, you had to drive around back of all the parked bulldozers and road graders.

Of course, this fooled nobody except legitimate visitors. Supposedly, a reporter for a local newspaper wanted to know what the impact of the new CIA building was going to be on local traffic. He called the CIA. "Sorry", they said. "Classified information". So he called the Soviet Embassy. They told him.

So what brings up this bit of ancient history? NSA and CIA have listings in the local phone books and signs on the main roads. Security that depends on keeping the presence of a major office building secret is no security at all.

Well, our newest security agency doesn't seem to have learned the lesson. Basically, the Hartford Advocate reporter, after getting FAXs from Homeland Security without a return FAX number (as required by law), tried to get in touch with HS's Press Secretary, whoever that might be. He failed. (Link via Scratchings)

What's going on here? It could be that we simply have yet another bunch of wannabe spooks pretending that they don't exist. I don't think so. Homeland Security is a completely new agency, and a rather large one at that. It takes a while (years) for something like this to settle in. They haven't got the bugs worked out of their systems.

Now, this is not comforting at all. After the biggest terrorist attack of all time, it was obvious that Something Had Gone Wrong, and that Something Must Be Done. Unfortunately, this Urge to Reorganize left us with the folks responsible for our security not knowing who their boss was, or even where the nearest coffee machine is.

How are we better off, now, with our shiny new agency? I'm not optimistic. Some of the obvious things that needed to be done were:

  • Better coordination between the CIA (legally forbidden to do anything within the US) and the FBI. Status: Done. This is one of the good features of the mostly odious PATRIOT act. Note, however, that neither FBI nor CIA has been subsumed into Homeland Security.
  • "First responders", ie, cops, firemen, and related people like harbor patrol. They need lots more resources and coordination. Status: Not done. Interestingly enough, the only one who still seems to be talking about this is Hillary Clinton.
  • Airline security. Status: Not done. They've just made things a lot less convienent, and we seem to be having weekly scandals about the screeners. Strengthening cockpit doors? I'll give them that. Armed pilots? Well ....
  • INS. We've known for a long time that our visa and immigration system was very badly broken. It needs reform on all levels, from Congressional action to an internal housecleaning. Status: Not done. They've changed the name and department. Now they can't find the coffee machine, either.
  • Medical preparedness. Status: Not done. If the recent outbreak of monkeypox had been a biological attack, we'd all be dead by now.

The only thing that's really visible from Homeland Security is all the cute color-coded warnings, which seem to have no relationship to anything at all. I really do hope there's more ....

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Damage Control

Finally got around to reading Monday's WaPo piece on PFC Jessica Lynch. Phrase that came to mind was "Damage Control City!" The Post has gotten a lot of mileage out of the Lynch story, starting with a really lurid story of Lynch's capture and rescue. Unfortunately, it didn't happen that way. So now the Post has to explain themselves.

Basically, the story now is that the 507th had a truck break down and got 'way behind the rest of its unit. It never got the message that the route they were supposed to follow had changed. They ended up going through the middle of downtown Nasiriyah and got creamed. PFC Lynch was injured when the Humvee she was riding in hit a jackknifed truck at about 50 mph.

An interesting thing about this article is that it points out a number of problems with our military operations. Hey, that's why we have these little exercises in kitten-drowning. Lets us test our our procedures and gear.

  • The radio that they used to communicate with the rest of their unit only had a range of 10 miles. This is a Known Problem -- the troops have to futz with a pile of different radios, depending on who they want to talk to.
  • The original plan had them going through downtown Nasiriyah. Now, Nasiriyah isn't some random collection of mud huts -- it's a city with a population of over half a million. That's the size of Denver or Seattle (without suburbs, of course). Whoever came up with the idea of going through it needs to have a letter of repremand in his personnel folder.
  • While trying to get out of town, they got lost. I've heard elsewhere that the GPS units that are supposed to tell you where you are had trouble in Iraq due to a lack of maps. It'll still give you your coordinates, but you don't want to have to futz with a paper map (or even a laptop computer) while you're running like hell from an army of Bad Guys.
  • At the time of the ambush, some of the troops had been awake for 60 hours straight. Note to brass -- don't let this happen. It kills people. I don't believe the 60 hours number. It's 'way too close to the limit of human endurance. Besides, one of the main talents that a soldier has to learn is the the ability to catnap, anytime, anyplace. But there's no doubt that they were crtitically short of sleep.
  • Her weapon jammed. Hey, I've heard that one before. Like, Vietnam? I thought they fixed that. Note to U. S. military -- look up a guy named Mikhail Kalashnikov. License his design. It doesn't jam. Ever.

The article is also interesting for some spin on the whole thing. There are still coy references to the possibility of her being beaten by Iraqis. No evidence, of course, and no overt claims. But it's there. Propaganda 101. Always keep the idea in front of the audience.

Meanwhile, PFC Lynch herself is still being kept incommunicado. I suspect that the military is trying to "protect" her from the Press (not necessarily a bad idea), and is being clumsy about it. When she is allowed out, I'm sure she will say whatever the military wants her to say.

So everybody involved is trying to cover their butt. Big surprise, right?

Monday, June 16, 2003

More on David Nelson

In the LA Daily News. I wrote about this a while back, and it wasn't new even then.

Frankly, this kind of crap is easy to fix. Just be more definite about who you're looking for, and why. Put in a simple appeals process. The only reason not to do it is either 1) nobody cares or 2) the Powers that Be are doing it deliberately to emphasize their power over us. Neither is encouraging.

I still think it sounds 'way too much like The Lottery.

(Link from Hesoid)

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Iraqi Sitcom

(I suspect that this routine actually predates sitcoms. Plautus?)

You've seen it a million times. Lucy does something really, really stupid, like answering an ad to Make Big Bucks by raising alligators. She wants to keep Ricky from finding out about the three dozen baby alligators in the kitchen, so she concocts all sorts of elaborate schemes to keep him out of the kitchen. She enlists Fred and Ethel to help with the deception, even though they don't approve of (or even understand) what she is doing. The thing that makes it comedy is that Lucy is an utterly incompetent liar. She stutters, rolls her eyes, and yells "AAAAAAAAAA" a lot. Fred and Ethel can't agree on the story, even from sentence to sentence. Ricky, of course, doesn't notice a thing until the whole thing falls apart. Everything gets fixed. Ricky forgives Lucy. Fred and Ethel go home to bandage their alligator bites and fix the hole in their roof where the bowling ball went through.

This is the basic story line of every sitcom ever made. Unfortunately, it is also turning out to be the story line for the Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

Georgie Bush (Lucy) wants to invade Iraq and kill the guy that tried to assassinate his father. He comes up with a cock-and-bull story to convince the American public and Congress (Ricky) that Saddam Hussein (the alligators) has <echo_chamber> Weapons of Mass Destruction</echo_chamber>. He gets Tony Blair (Ethel) and the US Press (Fred) to go along, although they don't realize what they're getting into. Lucy counts on the fact that Ricky will always love her no matter what crazy stunts she pulls; Georgie counts on the fact that the American public and Congress will still listen to what the Rove political machine says, rather than look at what is actually happening. Is this true? I'm very much afraid that it is. Tony Blair and the press are extras; any problems they have as a result of this are of no interest to Georgie & company. And the bowling ball hasn't shown up yet. There's always a bowling ball in there somewhere ...

With Ronald Reagan, we had a Western. (Hey, I liked Death Valley Days.) With Georgie Bush, we have a sitcom. Tells ya something.

(A tip of the hat to Billmon, who came up with a whole script for a more modern comedy ...)

Saturday, June 14, 2003


One of the joys of SiteMeter (the little icon at the bottom of the page) is that it lists "referrers" -- the page that a reader was on when he or she (or it; there are robots out there, too, you know) was on before coming here. In particular, if somebody comes to this site from a search engine, the referrer will contain the search terms that were used to find the page.

Some of them can get pretty bizarre. The Preacher, as usual, has the champion

I just got a contender. "pocket sized witch detectors", from MSN. The hit was on this page. I have a strong feeling that this was not what the person putting in the query was looking for. But what were they looking for? Hint -- learn to use quote marks in your queries. Otherwise, you won't get phrases. Blogs can be especially nasty, as pages tend to cover many posts with widely different subjects.

Nostalgia! My first blog posts!

Some others:

  • oops flashes
  • lightningbug movie
  • small flashes (in Finnish??)
  • funny flashes
  • very scary flashes
  • hesoid blog
No end of fun. I had to extract these by hand; supposedly, the pay version of Site Meter extracts them for you. Almost worth it.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Angry, Too

Normally, I hate "me, too" posts, but Emma at Late Night Thoughts has one that I've just gotta pile on.

The anger has outgrown the misdeeds of the administration, and the greed of big corporations, and the vacuousness of the media, and even the intransigence of people who would rather die than compromise. I'm angry in bigger yet more personal ways. I have a subterranean river of rage that bursts out in great galaxy-sized eruptions that cannot be aimed at anything concrete, so they burrow inwards and cry havoc in my sleep and destroy my peace of mind.

Yah, Emma, they get to me too.


The whole Fundie business -- antiabortion, creationism, school prayer, "faith-based initiatives", Puritanism -- has been a particular peeve of mine since I got thrown out of the Baptist Church, 'way back when. (Yeah, I know. Nobody's got a trademark on the name "Baptist". However, all the other Baptist churches I've dealt with since then have had the same, uhh, quirks, that ran me out.)

Fundies (technically, fundamentalist-literalist Protestant Christians) were bad enough back in the 1960s and 1970s, when all they did was harass school boards over biology texts and write nasty letters about "immorality" (My favorite was a campaign that forced Sears to recall a whole bunch of catalogs because one of the models for maternity wear wasn't wearing a wedding ring. No, they don't have a life. At least, not one of their own.) Unfortunately, they've taken over the Republican Party. This was not some secret backroom coup -- they did it the hard way, by being there to do all the scutwork connected with electioneering, over a period of maybe twenty years. After doing this much work, they feel that they deserve some payback. At last, they're getting it. Look at the judges that the Bush administration is nominating, for example.

The really scary ones are the ones that think that they are doing God's Work by destroying the environment and working to promote global war to "Promote God's Plan for the End Times". Yo! Listen up! God doesn't need your help. Your part is to follow the rules -- you know, work for peace and justice, don't kill people, be a good steward of the environment.

Many years ago, when a young man was looking for a fight, he would put a chip of wood on his shoulder and dare anybody to knock it off. If somebody knocked it off, this was an acceptance of the challenge and fisticuffs ensued. I tend to think that the Fundie "beliefs" are in the same category. I have a hard time believing that anybody with any knowledge of how the workd works really believes that crap. "I say that the world was created in six days, and I'm gonna make you respect my "belief", even though I don't believe it myself".

A Fundie is a person who is trying to buy his way into Heaven with other peoples' souls.


The economy is in horrible shape translation: I'm out of work and the reason isn't hard to see. Investor and consumer confidence just isn't there. People aren't spending money, so people who make Stuff have to lay off staff. The laid off workers don't buy stuff. Other people get nervous about their own jobs and save their money instead of buying . There's plenty of money available -- Alan Greenspan is practically giving away toasters at the Fed. So why the vote of No Confidence? It's not just the Internet Bubble, although that was the trigger.

Let's look at some problems:

  • Bankruptcies triggered by massive management fraud and accounting trickery
  • Officers and directors making astronomical amounts of money, often in companies that are losing money or just plain falling apart.
  • Massive "downsizing", requiring the remaining workers to put in much longer hours
  • Massive "outsourcing" of major parts of the company overseas
Corporations aren't supposed to work this way. Why should Joe Investor trust his money to a company that is paying more in executive bonuses than they are making in profit, whose accounting is questionable, and who is working their employees like slaves? As to outsourcing, as we saw in the 1960s and 1970s with home electronics, when you outsource all of your manufacturing, it's only a short time before your company is simply the marketing arm of a manufacturing company in Taiwan or wherever. You're not making policy any more.

Basically, it's a tight little game where the insiders make all the money and the suckers take all the risks. And it's tightly tied to


The Republican Party's core constituents are Fundies and big corporations, and this shows in its priorities. Basically, anything a big corporate donor wants, it gets. Eliminate the forty-hour week? OK. Gutting environmental regulations? Cool. School vouchers? Groovy. Faith-based charities? Great as long as the dough only goes to Good Christians(tm).

There are negative results, too. Since the Republicans took over the House and Senate in 1994, it's been Payback Time. Bush & Co have brought this to new heights (Username/password = laexaminer)

My take on politics is that it should be like chromosomes in cell division -- for elections, everybody divides up into two parties; at all other times, everybody works together on the Government's business. Unfortunately, the Republican ambition is to reduce the US to a single-party system. And we know just exactly how well that works elsewhere in the world, right?

Then, there are our shiny new audit-proof, recount-proof computerized voting machines. Brrr.

Insult to Injury

There's no escape from this crap. I seem to be developing a sensitivity to alcohol; I can't even get drunk.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Crocodile Tears

I'm getting really sick of this. InstaPundit just put up yet another in his endless series of posts, to the effect of "It was OK for Bush to lie about Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction because we needed an excuse to invade Iraq because Saddam is Not A Nice Man".


Right wingers don't care squat about Human Rights. Never have, don't now. All you ever hear from the right of center is the occasional mild disapproval of Castro or Palestinian suicide bombers. Never a peep about China. Mention Guatemala and they look at you like you're crazy. Mention what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians and you'll get an explanation of Why They Deserve It. Burma? A bit disturbing, but no worse. Zimbabwe? You can get some heat here, because a lot of the violence is black-on-white –- maximum scare factor for right wingers. Only in the furthest-out fringe of the nut groups do you see explicit calls for "recolonilaization" of "countries incapable of self-rule". (This is what we would need to do if we put in an explicit policy of Fixing Everything around the world.) Tut-tutting doesn't count for anything.

The only time a right winger will ever even mention human rights is when denouncing a country/dictator who is already on the shit list. Iraq is the current obvious example; Cuba and Nicaragua were others.

Hell, right wingers don't care about human rights in this country. After all, they're only immigrants or blacks or people in prison -- not like anybody we know. Nobody who matters, certainly.

Yo! Right Wingers! Listen up! During the whole runup to the invasion of Iraq, every anti-war blogger had to start every post with a disclaimer, to the effect that, yes, Saddam is Not A Nice Man. It's turnabout time. From now on, every time you say "It was OK because Saddam was Not Nice", I want to see a similar disclaimer on why you don't want to see an invasion of Burma, Uzbekistan, Belarus, or any of the other human-rights pestholes around the world. You might also throw in an explanation about why it's OK to do business with China -- after all, it's a Communist country with a government that killed probably more people than any other government in history.

Every time, remember. And with at least as much heat as you use in denouncing France.

As an aside, I'm really surprised to see this attitude from Insty. He is, after all, a law professor. I'm sure he would be the first one up in arms if the Government put in a policy of convicting Bad Guys on faked evidence.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Investing While Democrat

Nice little tidbit on the Martha Stewart indictment here. Turns out that she's a major Democratic campaign contributor.

Explains why the SEC is suddenly so hot and bothered to throw her in jail for such a small infraction ($45,000, if I remember correctly). With "biggies" like Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling (Enron) and Bernie Ebbers (WorldCom) still running around free, it's surprising that they want to spend the effort. Yeah, Martha's a jerk, but so are most billionaires. Comes with the territory. If being a jerk were a crime, we'd all be in big trouble at one time or another.

Looks like we have a new version of DWB ("Driving While Black"). The Supreme Court held recently that cops can make traffic stops based on race anytime they want, as long as the driver has committed a "real" traffic violation. Now, the SEC can go after Democrats at will, as long as they've committed a "real" crime. Problem is that the offences that the SEC is concerned with are things like "insider trading", which is sort of the stock market version of obscenity. ("I know it when I see it.") They didn't even get Martha on this; they went for "obstruction of justice" (ie, she really ticked off the investigators.)

So what do we call this? "Investing While Democrat"? Awkward.

How long before the charge is "donating money to a terrorist organization"?

(Via Charles Dodgson)

LATER -- Turns out that the "fraud" that she committed was simply declaring her innocence. This isn't "Orwellian" any more -- it's a witch hunt. "If she floats, she's a witch. If she sinks, she's innocent." (via Hesoid)

Somebody Gets It

At last.

New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt introduced a bill to require that new voting machines produce an auditable, recountable paper trail.

You'd think that this would be wildly noncontroversial. You'd be wrong. The folks making the "recount-proof" voting machines have very strong political connections. Republican connections. "Trust us" they say. "We have Procedures In Place to make sure that Nothing Can Go Wrong". What are they? "Sorry. Proprietary Information". Anybody who has had a six-month battle with a credit card company over a bogus charge (like I have) won't buy the "The computer can't be wrong" shuck-and-jive.

My thoughts on the subject are here. Important Websites are Sanford Professor David Dill's and Rebecca Mercuri's

(via Atrios)

Friday, May 23, 2003


Kinky Friedman's response to the Dixie Chicks.

WARNING: Do not click immediately after eating. Not suitable for children or invalids. Cover all fishbowls. May be hazardous to small animals. Do not use near open flame. Do not operate machinery after clicking.

Coulda been worse. I'd head that Michael Moore was threatening to do this if the recall campaign got serious.

(via The Sideshow)

Monday, May 19, 2003

"David Nelson, You Have A Call from Mr. bin Laden ..."

I wrote about this a while back. We have a "no fly" list; people who aren't allowed on airplanes for any reason. We also have a much longer list of people who are allowed to fly only after an absurd amount of hassle. Supposedly, this is "for security reasons", but nobody will say who's on the list or why. There's no way to get off of it. It's an observational fact, however, that some people get hassled beyond any point of sense.

David Nelson, for example. Which "David Nelson"? After all, "David" and "Nelson" are both common names. Why, all of them, of course. If your name is David Nelson, you must be a Bad Guy. What kind of Bad Guy? Can't tell you, but we sure can't let you on an airplane without harassing you.

If your name is David Nelson, I'd seriously recommend checking into some good fake ID. It's completely legal unless you intend to commit fraud or tax evasion with it.

I see this stuff and remember "The Lottery", by Shirley Jackson. We have to have a show. Somebody has to be selected at random and torn apart for no other reason than to show the Power of the State.


Friday, May 16, 2003

Good Theater

The rescue of PFC Jessica Lynch from a hospital in Nassiriya was definitely the cinematic high point of the war in Iraq. It had all the elements of a Hollywood war action movie - troops moving in under heavy fire to rescue a comrade who had gone down fighting, a brave native risking his life to gather intelligence information. Good stuff.

According to the Guardian, it had something else in common with a Hollywood action movie.

It was staged. There was no opposition. The guns were firing blanks. Doctors and patients were carefully kept out of the way.

This story has gotten no play in the US media (one squib in the Seattle Post-Intellegencer, and I rather suspect this is as far as it will go. The BBC is supposed to air this story on Sunday; we'll see what happens.

So now we see the future. No matter how bad the real situation gets, our beloved Government will have cheerful, staged, media events to keep our minds off of our troubles. Scary thing is, this will probably work. To most people, what they see on the Toob is more real than their own lives, and we seem to have a collective attention span of about two weeks. The war in Iraq is already Old News; nobody's interested in it any more.

(Link via Atrios)

LATER - Turns out this is old news. The Toronto Star published essentially the same story on 5 May.

STILL LATER – Older news! Here's an article from the London Times that's more than a month old.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

So What Are They Doing?

You can do anything with a bayonet except sit on it.

-- Talleyrand

Let's see. We didn't stop the looting of the Baghdad Archaelogical Museum or the National Library. Yeah, the damage seems to be a lot less than we thought. Excellent news, but still no excuse.. We didn't protect hospitals, banks, or Government or Ba'ath Party records. We didn't secure known nuclear materials, which have disappeared. Our WMD teams are going home. Iraqi civilians are rooting through the latest batch of mass graves looking for family members instead of waiting for forensic help that would give much better results. Looting proceeds apace; many Iraqis are afraid to leave their homes. The "shoot to kill" order is an admission of failure. In these situations, you always shoot the wrong people.

So what are we doing in Iraq? We have, what, 150,000 troops "in theatre"?

Well, my guess is that the combat troops are doing patrols looking for an army, the maintenence guys are doing maintenence, the logistics guys are schlepping supplies around for the rest of the military. The brass is holding meetings.

In short, just what they've been trained to do. They have no training with "nation building" whatever the <bleep> that means. They have no training as cops. Very few of them speak any Arabic at all.

We base our operations on "war games". When the "game" is over, everybody goes home and writes their "after action report". Well, we've achieved our objective. Our training says that, when the exercise is over, it's over. No more need be done. We have no training for dealing with an occupation.

The "occupation" seems to have no planning at all behind it. Except, perhaps, "Move Chalabi into Iraq. He'll do what's necessary."

It's too early to call this a "quagmire". What we have here is a mess. If we don't find the handle on this soon (and I see no signs of this), we will have a quagmire on our hands.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Stuff I Read

Note the new "Stuff I Read" block over on the right, replacing the "war info" links.

The original Useless Web Pages were inspired by some guy posting a listing of his CD collection as a Web page. This seems to be the classic "Who cares?" item. My "Stuff" list is probably in this category, but what the heck, it's my blog. I read 'em, but they're not in the category of "things that I think that you should read".

Of course, I reserve the right to move them around, add or delete items, and move them in and out of the "must read" block at whim. I will try to keep them current; far too many folks' "blogrolls" never get maintained and are full of dead links and blogs that haven't been updated for years.

Anyway, here they are. Enjoy. Or ignore. Your call.

Looking in the Right Place

Seems like we've been looking in the wrong place for Saddam's <echo_chamber>Weapons of Mass Destruction</echo_chamber>.

Guys, this is the Twenty First Century. Internet Era. Global Economy. Get with it! Digging around through caves is absolutely nineteenth century.

Billmon has the scoop.

Note that Billmon's Whiskey Bar has been added to the list over on the right of Blogs That You Should Read. He has a mixture of humor and analysis like I try to do, but he does it better.

Friday, May 09, 2003

President AWOL; Some Background

Orcinus has a summary of the hoohah over Georgie Bush's military record. It's good. Go read it.

Basically, Georgie's photo op on the Abraham Lincoln dredged up the story of his military service, and this time the story seems to have gotten enough legs for the Republican propaganda machine to have taken a bit of notice. The Ornicus post has pointers to most of the relevant "hard" info. Georgie could end the whole thing by simply releasing his military records, but to do so would be absolutely un-Republican.

However, a lot of the "soft" info has gotten lost in bad or selective memory or wishful thinking. The Vietnam war was not a pleasant national experience. Herewith, some recollections:

"Don't Get Shot"

Remember, we had this thing called "the draft". This seems to be one of the things that has dropped into the memory hole. It was the central item in the life of any male from the age of about sixteen to 26, or until he got a permanent deferment or went into the military. Basically, the Government would tell you to report for duty, and you did, Or Else. Draftees generally got the really nice jobs, like clearing minefields. Nobody has ever adequately explained to me how this isn't "involuntary servitude" as in the context of the Thirteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court's response to challenges to the draft translate as "pthhhht!"

Basically, the idea that college boys had (not men; can't vote, can't drink, can't sign contracts) was to avoid getting shot (some believed in the war and signed up; we're not talking about them). The options were:

  • Get a deferment. Student deferments were easy to get, but didn't last forever. Medical deferments are the best; ideally, you could get a letter from your own doctor about any medical condition that would keep you out. Ideal ailments were those that didn't show and tended to come and go. Rush Limbaugh's "pilonidal cyst" is about ideal.
  • "Conscientious objector" status got a lot of play, but is effectively impossible unless you were a devout, lifelong Mennonite or a member of a similar religious group. And yes, they took the "lifelong" and "devout" parts seriously. Also, COs tended to get drafted anyway and get shipped to non-combatant jobs in combat zones (medical, generally). Basically, you still got shot at but you couldn't shoot back.
  • Go to jail. The "politically correct" option. Nobody I knew took this option. The problems are obvious, starting with the sad fact that the sentence for draft evasion was wildly variable - up to 25 years depending on how nasty the prosecutor and judge wanted to get.
  • Arrange to be out of the country on your eighteenth birthday. If this is the case, you register for the draft with the local American consulate. You'd still be officially part of the draft pool, but the "overseas" draft quota was zero. This is how Bill Clinton stayed out of the draft. If I remember correctly, you had to be out of the country for an appreciable time - day trips to Canada or Mexico didn't count.
  • Go to Canada. Unfortunately, it wasn't that easy. Canada was not pleased at being an escape hatch, and had all kinds of restrictions about who could hold a job. Other countries (Sweden was popular) were even stricter about who they let in.
  • Draw a high number. In an attempt to make the draft "more fair" (there was considerable evidence that the draft was anything but random. Protest on Monday, drafted on Tuesday.), the Selective Service established the "draft lottery". Every man of draft age got a number, based on his birthday. Guys got drafted in numerical order. Draw a high enough number, and you're effectively exempt. Unfortunately, this is a gamble, and, near as I can tell, nobody was ever able to "game" the system. Also, there's the problems that "high enough" depended on the particular draft board you'd registered with.
  • Get drafted. Not good. The draftee hitch was two years instead of the standard Army three or Navy or Air Force four, but you were treated like utter garbage by the entire military organization. Basic training was cheap, and there was an effectively infinite supply of draftees. You're an expendable munition.
  • Join up. A bit better chance at a "good" stateside job, but it's three or four years chopped out of your life. Also, there's no guarantee that you won't end up in 'Nam. They need file clerks/radio techs/whatever there, too. The fact that you're not carrying an M-16 through a rice paddy doesn't mean that you can't get caught in a rocket or mortar attack.
  • ROTC sounds like a good idea, until you look at it too closely. After all, if you're going in anyway, you might as well go in as an officer. Unfortunately, what they wanted were infantry officers - exactly what you don't want to be.
  • National Guard. This is the ticket! It's military, so you're not officially "evading your commitment". The commitment is six years instead of four, but it's "military lite". Basically, the politicos gave an ironclad guarantee that the Guard would never be sent to Vietnam. The downside? There's a waiting list. A long waiting list. And VIP's kids bypass the list. Nice political plum to hand out - "support the war and your sons won't have to fight in it".

Effectively, for most guys, there were only two ways to avoid getting shot:

  1. Get a deferment.
  2. Join the Guard.

The first took money and you really had to have a "deferrable" problem. The draft boards generally didn't check up on letters describing medical conditions, but doctors could get into really serious trouble for writing fake letters. For example, Ménières syndrome was regarded as the "perfect" problem. Episodically disabling, but essentially impossible to prove. Even if you had it, the draft board probably wouldn't accept it. Too many fakes.

The second one took political "pull". This Georgie Bush had in abundance. Not only did he get in, ahead of the waiting list, but he got fighter pilot training, the biggest plum the Guard can offer.

Fighter Jocks

I've known a few fighter jocks. The one thing they have in common is a total obsession with flying. They'll do anything to stay flying.

Georgie got the E ticket. And he blew it off. To me, this is one of the most puzzling aspects of the whole affair. The usual hypothesis is that either

  1. The Guard had started requiring drug tests at pilots' physicals.
  2. Georgie was doing "community service" for an offence that was expunged from his record. He couldn't get back in time to take the physical.
Both are true, but I don't like either as an explanation. The first falls on the fact that early drug tests were a joke. They might detect opiates or barbiturates. Anything else, forget it. The second falls because this would seem to be a "legitimate excuse"; Georgie almost certainly could have rescheduled. The military does not like losing pilots to administrative problems.

The only thing I can think of that makes sense is that Georgie simply got tired of his shiny new toy and went on to other things. Another thing that supports this hypothesis is that he never got a private pilot's license. This fact alone tells me that he was never a "real" fighter jock. Also that he had serious pull. Your friendly average military type (of whatever rank!) doesn't have the option of simply blowing off an assignment, especially one that involves some very expensive training.

The Guard

During the Vietnam war, the National Guard did not have a good reputation. Their exemption from duty in Vietnam did not sit at all well with the other services. I have no personal knowledge of what went on in any Guard unit, but muckraker extraordinaire Jack Anderson did many columns on the Guard. They described incompetent officers (mostly silly-incompetent, not nasty-incompetent), enlisted men who screwed off all the time and smoked vast quantities of pot, and crooked but amazingly incompetent supply officers. The Texas Air National Guard came in for particular criticism. We have no equivalent of Jack Anderson any more. Alas for American journalism.

The Current Military

Let's just say that nobody with any brains is pining for a return to the Good Old Days of the draft. The current military, from absolutely all reports I've heard, is vastly superior in every respect to the Vietnam era military. The only ones pushing for a new draft are boneheads who want a whiter military. (Am I saying that the people calling for a new draft are racists? Yes. Also stupid.)

Another Handy Household Item

To go with your household explosives.

Build your own golem. This is a project that could have some real use -- a golem sounds to be a lot more tractible, and probably less destructive, than the usual run of illegal or semi-legal "help" that you can hire normally.

Unfortunately, it seems to work only for Jews of the highest level of spiritual purity and religious devotion. This is the usual religious escape clause. "Faith can move mountains." Mountain didn't move? Not enough faith.

(Via Making Light)

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Pax is Back!

Salam Pax has returned! Before the Iraq war started, he was the only one posting from Baghdad who wasn't "embedded", didn't have a "minder", wasn't connected with a news organization, didn't seem to have a political agenda, and who speaks Arabic.

Welcome back!

There's been speculation (mostly from Right Blogistan) that Pax is the creature of somebody's imagination. There have been fake blogs before now, and there are others that are suspect. Personally, I think Pax is real. The feeling of reality comes from the utter ordinariness of what he is describing. He doesn't rub elbows with The Great (well, mostly. See the new entry for 26/4.) He isn't really a Witness to History, except in the way that all of us are, and that he's in a place that until recently, was getting bombed. He doesn't have a Recognizable Political Point -- Saddam sucked, war sucks, things are a mess. Nothing that would interest an ideologue. For them, he should presumably sound like Information Minister al-Sahhaf or like Fox News.

Anyway, welcome back! Keep in touch.

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