Archive for September, 2005

The Greet Simoon of 1859

Friday, September 30th, 2005

Courtesy of Doc Searls, who despite his odd persistence in remaining within the Dave Winer Reality-Distortion Field, and his failure to appreciate the degree of duplicity evidenced by Aaron Broussard’s second Meet the Press appearance, is still a pretty cool guy, and is a neighbor, anyway, comes word of this: Google Answers: Weather; freak heat wave in Santa Barbara, CA, around the year 1900.

Doc (and I) were noticing how hot it got around here yesterday with the Santa Ana winds we were experiencing. But it turns out yesterday’s 101 (or whatever it got up to) was nothing; in a freak “simoon” condition that took place on June 17, 1859, Santa Barbara experienced temperatures of 133 degrees fahrenheit (!) for several hours, before the sea breeze kicked in and the temperature dropped back to the 70s.

“Birds,” we are told, “plummeted dead from the sky.” Wild.

More (Negative) Progress in Iraq

Friday, September 30th, 2005

While true believers like Donald Sensing continue to find reason to believe that things are getting better all the time in Iraq, the steady drip, drip of reality tells a different story. From the AP (via The Guardian): U.S. gen. pulls back on Iraq withdrawal.

WASHINGTON (AP) – The number of Iraqi battalions capable of combat without U.S. support has dropped from three to one, the top American commander in Iraq told Congress Thursday, prompting Republicans to question whether U.S. troops will be able to withdraw next year.

Gen. George Casey, softening his previous comments that a “fairly substantial” pull out could begin next spring and summer, told lawmakers that troops might begin coming home from Iraq next year depending on conditions during and after the upcoming elections there.

“The next 75 days are going to be critical for what happens,” Casey told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Bush administration says training Iraqi security forces to defend their own country is the key to bringing home U.S. troops. But Republicans pressed Casey on whether the United States was backsliding in its efforts to train Iraqis.

In June, the Pentagon told lawmakers that three Iraqi battalions were fully trained, equipped and capable of operating independently. On Thursday, Casey said only one battalion is ready.

“It doesn’t feel like progress,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post’s Robin Wright weighs in with this cheery item: More violence to follow, Bush warns.

Oh, hey, thanks for the warning, Mr. President. But you know what? We actually knew that already. In fact, we’ve known it for, oh, say, the last two years.


I found this part of the article especially disturbing:

For all the public confidence, however, the Bush administration in private is nervous about this sensitive last stage, which will establish whether Iraq’s disparate religious and ethnic factions can stay together in a single nation — and whether civil war can be avoided, according to U.S. officials and experts on Iraq.

The administration has come under growing pressure at home and abroad over the past two weeks, with dire warnings from Arab allies and a prominent international group about the looming disintegration of Iraq. In an unusual public rebuke of U.S. policy, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister called a news conference in Washington last week to predict Iraq’s dissolution. He said there is no leadership or momentum to pull Iraq’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds back together and prevent a civil war. Other countries have expressed similar concerns in private, according to U.S. and Arab diplomats.

Attention Bush team: You’re not getting Humpty back together again. He’s an omelette. In fact, he was an omelette in the summer of 2003. Now he’s a blackened crust that has charred onto the surface of the pan.

Bush is out of options. Iraq has been systematically turned into a failed state that will serve as a breeding ground for anti-US terror for years to come. Or, to trot out still another metaphor, Iraq is Louisiana, and Bush is Michael Brown on the weekend after the storm, doing the deer-in-the-headlights thing as he repeats the same empty phrases into the camera.

More on Gore

Friday, September 30th, 2005

From Andy Ostroy of The Ostroy Report: Al Gore could be our next president. Now there’s a pleasant fantasy.

Familiar Quotations

Friday, September 30th, 2005

Pop quiz: Which political leader said the following:

America is committed to the defense of ____ until an honorable peace can be negotiated. We shall stay the course.

And this:

Our nation was not born easily. There were times in those years of the 18th century when it seemed as if we might not be born at all. Given that background, we ought not to be astonished that this struggle in ____ continues. We ought not to be astonished that that nation, wracked by a war of insurgency… has not already emerged, full-blown, as a perfect model of two-party democracy.

And this:

What happens in ____ is extremely important to the nation’s freedom and it is extremely important to the United States’ security.

And this, at a Rose Garden ceremony at which a fallen soldier’s parents received his posthumous Medal of Honor:

Be assured that the death of your son will have meaning. For I give you also my solemn pledge that our country will persist – and will prevail – in the cause for which your boy died.

Check your answers here, courtesy of Douglass K. Daniel of the AP.

Kos’ Hunter Rants at Noonan

Friday, September 30th, 2005

In my recent round of trolling for Aaron Broussard commentary, some of the worst examples of knee-jerk, ill-informed Broussard support that I found were in the diaries and comments at Daily Kos. At this point I pretty much rank the site as the equivalent of right-wing sites like Free Republic and Powerline, at least in terms of the reliability of the information you’re going to find there.

But I still kind of enjoyed this item, in which Hunter responds to an actually-fairly-inflammatory piece by right-wing propagandist Mark Noonan by going ballistic: Cries from the Lake of Fire.

It’s a guilty pleasure.

MRIs for Lie Detection

Friday, September 30th, 2005

An interesting-to-me article from Nature, as summarized in Newsday, shows that research subjects asked to lie exhibit a telltale MRI signature. Lying, it turns out, is harder than telling the truth: Study: Your brain can’t handle the lies.

I liked this part:

Testing an act of deception is tricky, [Dr. Daniel Langleben, an assistant professor of psychiatry] added. His first study involved instructing participants to lie. But he realized he needed to create a test that added secrecy to the mix. “Otherwise it’s more like theater than deception,” he explained.

In his latest study, two playing cards were given to volunteers and Langleben told them to pick one and offered them money to deny having it once inside the scanner. Moments later, the scientist hooking them up to the scanner told them to tell the truth. Then, the volunteer, choosing between conflicting instructions, answered questions about the cards while brain activity was recorded.

Dawkins’ ‘Viruses of the Mind’

Friday, September 30th, 2005

Another essay by a prominent scientist and science popularizer, this one by arch-nemesis of Creationists everywhere, Richard Dawkins: Viruses of the mind.

In this 1993 essay, which helped establish the field of memetics, Dawkins attempts to answer a question that obviously bugs him: why do people persist in believing silly religious myths?

A beautiful child close to me, six and the apple of her father’s eye, believes that Thomas the Tank Engine really exists. She believes in Father Christmas, and when she grows up her ambition is to be a tooth fairy. She and her school-friends believe the solemn word of respected adults that tooth fairies and Father Christmas really exist. This little girl is of an age to believe whatever you tell her. If you tell her about witches changing princes into frogs she will believe you. If you tell her that bad children roast forever in hell she will have nightmares. I have just discovered that without her father’s consent this sweet, trusting, gullible six-year-old is being sent, for weekly instruction, to a Roman Catholic nun. What chance has she?

Gould’s ‘The Median Isn’t the Message’

Friday, September 30th, 2005

I hadn’t read this before, but came across it the other day, and liked it. By the late Stephen Jay Gould, an essay describing his initial diagnosis with cancer, and what he came to realize about what the mortality statistics for his condition actually indicated: The median isn’t the message.

So, What _If_ Bush Is Drinking Again?

Friday, September 30th, 2005

Mark A. R. Kleiman wonders aloud why it is that the media conspires to keep leading politicians’ drinking problems private: Should we care if Bush is drinking again?

Meanwhile, Dwight Meredith of Wampum has some interesting discussion of just what, if anything, might follow from a verified revelation that admitted-former-hard-drinker Bush has fallen off the wagon: XXV Amendment.

Howler on Broussard

Friday, September 30th, 2005

One last Broussard link before I relinquish the obsession: Bob Somerby of Daily Howler helps restore my faith in (some) people’s ability to see what’s really going on: A letter writer helps us recall what’s at stake in that Times report. Somerby and his editorial tapeworm had this to say:

Given the huge publicity this appearance received — and given Broussard’s partisan tilt on September 4 — we don’t see why Russert shouldn’t have had him back to clarify what occurred. This Sunday, it would have been perfectly easy for Broussard to say that he simply got his chronology wrong in the chaos and emotion of that first week. But instead, he played the demagogue, questioning the motives of those who have corrected him and still asserting that the woman drowned on the Friday night. Sorry, we thought Broussard’s performance this Sunday was phony. We think Dems will get rid of leaders like this if they want to be widely trusted — if they want to be able to criticize pseudo-cons for their endless dissembling and faking.

Abu Ghraib Photos Ordered Released

Friday, September 30th, 2005

A federal judge has ruled that additional Abu Ghraib photos, which the government had sought to keep secret for various lame, self-serving reasons, must be released in response to an FOIA request: Judge orders release of Abu Ghraib abuse photos.

Even if it gets delayed or overturned as it works its way into the upper ranks of the judiciary, it’s heartening to see someone willing to articulate truths like these:

Suppression of information is the surest way to cause its significance to grow and persists. Clarity and openness are the best antidotes, either to dispel criticism if not merited or, if merited, to correct such errors as may be found. The fight to extend freedom has never been easy, and we are once again challenged, in Iraq and Afghanistan, by terrorists who engage in violence to intimidate our will and to force us to retreat. Our struggle to prevail must be without sacrificing the transparency and accountability of government and military officials. These are the values FOIA was intended to advance, and they are at the very heart of the values for which we fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is a risk that the enemy will seize upon the publicity of the photographs and seek to use such publicity as a pretext of enlistments and violent acts. But the education and debate that such publicity will foster will strengthen our purpose and, by enabling such deficiencies as may be perceived to be debated and corrected, show our strength as a vibrant and functioning democracy to be emulated.

Playing with Toy Rockets. BIG Toy Rockets.

Friday, September 30th, 2005

It’s been a while since I posted a good net.kooks entry. Here’s a nice one: XPRS – a photoset on Flickr.


Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

So, I think I’m just about ready to stop obsessing about Aaron Broussard and move on to a new topic. But before doing so I wanted to mention one more thing about the whole affair: The depression I’ve experienced at seeing so many leftist webloggers willing to excuse Broussard and attack Tim Russert for challenging Broussard’s false statements. The righteousness with which they cheer Broussard for his performance at his second Meet the Press interview is causing me oodles of cognitive dissonance, because I watch that performance and see political spin, and I’d like to think that the bloggers of Leftyland wouldn’t be so easily fooled by it.

Here’s a quick roundup of webloggers who have been bumming me out:

And, lest it be thought that the entire universe is crazy, or deluded, here’s someone who apparently has more familiarity with Broussard’s shtick, and doesn’t buy it:

Shadow’s analysis is pretty right-on in terms of pointing out that Broussard’s behavior in his second appearance is really hard to reconcile with the “he just made an honest mistake” scenario. But that analysis loses something from Shadow’s apparently getting the specific nature of Broussard’s false statement exactly backwards: Broussard didn’t place Eva Rodrigue’s death too early, but too late.

But whatever.

I think the whole thing depresses me so much because it cements in my head the futility of expecting that the majority of people will ever succeed in seeing through hucksters who know how to tell them what they want to hear, and make it credible. For many of the people so completely taken in by Broussard, it’s the apparent sincerity of his tears, and their own emotional reaction to them, that short-circuits all subsequent logic. They feel for him, sympathize with him, and so are simply unable (or unwilling) to consider that he might be consciously manipulating them via those sympathies.

No, it’s not the biggest story in the world. Mike Brown is spinning for all he’s worth before Congress (as he continues to be paid as a consultant by FEMA), Tom Delay is under indictment for illegal campaign-fundraising hijinks, and we may be closing in on the big reveal in the Valerie Plame/Karl Rove reality show we’ve been following.

But it was a big deal to me, because I had that same strong emotional reaction to Broussard’s initial appearance, and then sat down and said hey, wait a minute. Is he jerking me around? And came to believe, step by step, that yeah, he probably was. So I’ll be more careful the next time a politician starts crying on camera as he tells an improbable story, even if the larger point he’s driving home is one I agree with. Maybe especially if his larger point is one I agree with.

Russert and Broussard, Take 2

Monday, September 26th, 2005

In case you missed it, Tim Russert had another round with Aaron Broussard on Meet the Press last Sunday. Relevant links:

The segment was interesting for me in that it provided the closest thing I’ve ever heard to an on-air mention of True, Russert only referred obliquely to bloggerdom, and even then he probably had in mind folks like John at Wuzzadem, not my humble Bush-hater self, or even valued commenter trg34221, who actually got the ball rolling, pretty much, by posting links to the relevant articles in the comments here. That got me to post about it, and update the Aaron Broussard page at Wikipedia, which is where John of Wuzzadem got his info.

It’s also interesting to me that there are two people I think highly enough of to have in my blogroll who have posted about this item, but both of whom disagree with my take on Broussard.

Basically, at this point I think it’s clear that Aaron Broussard is one of two things:

A) A more-or-less honest guy who has been doing his best under very trying circumstances, and who as a result told an untrue story about how federal authorities failed to rescue Eva Rodrigue on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, and on Thursday, and on Friday, or,

B) A cynical politician who used (twice, now) an on-camera emotional meltdown and blatant lies to manipulate public perception.

If the truth were (A), I would have expected him to use his second Meet the Press appearance to apologize for the error and move on to his larger point about the failures that occurred and the need for accountability. But he didn’t do that. Instead he engaged in what comes off (to me at least) like self-serving political spin, repeating the falsehood that Eva Rodrigue died on Friday (rather than on the previous Monday, which is when all media accounts, quoted authorities, and her son Tom have said she died), and, while not quite acknowledging error and apologizing, making responses designed to allow those who don’t know the facts to retain their belief that his version of events is the factually correct one.

To me, that argues pretty persuasively for (B). No, I’m not sure he was intentionally lying. But the things I have to believe in order to believe explanation (A) are a lot more of a stretch for me than the things required by explanation (B).

If we’re willing to give someone a pass on accountability just because he’s on our side, we’re really no better than the Bush supporters. Which would be pretty sad.

Controversial Books: They Aren’t Just For Burning

Sunday, September 25th, 2005

It’s that time of year again. September 24th to October 1st is Banned Book Week, sponsored by the American Library Association. This is a great week to go to your neighborhood independent book store and pick up a banned book.

My personal favorite has to be Captain Underpants for “offensive language and modeling bad behavior”. Have a sense of humor folks, seriously.

Yanking Our Chain

Saturday, September 24th, 2005

In the spirit of the manifesto, I want to weigh in on a story that is getting some mention on other Bush-hater weblogs. From the National Enquirer (yeah, I know): Bush’s booze crisis.

Family sources have told how the 59-year-old president was caught by First Lady Laura downing a shot of booze at their family ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he learned of the hurricane disaster.

His worried wife yelled at him: “Stop, George.”

Following the shocking incident, disclosed here for the first time, Laura privately warned her husband against “falling off the wagon” and vowed to travel with him more often so that she can keep an eye on Dubya, the sources add.

Worth a chuckle in the checkout line at Vons, along with the stuff about alien babies with two heads, but not much more, right? Well, watch how the chain gets forged, link by link:

Capitol Hill Blue (who I’ve previously pledged never to link to, on the grounds that they are “lying fucktards“, but I think linking to them to dismiss what they’re saying is an exception) links to the National Enquirer piece from Dangers of a drunk Dubya. Then the otherwise-sensible Thomas More of Utopia links to CHB: Drinking again? And now I’ve seen the same thing being mentioned casually in comments at Daily Kos, and I’m sure it will continue to make the rounds.

So, for the record, allow me to state that I am not one of those who is at all swayed by this. Sure, it’s possible that George Bush is drinking again. But neither the National Enquirer nor Capitol Hill Blue’s speculation to that effect counts in any way as evidence for it. I link to it here not to spread the meme, but only to call bullshit on those who are doing so.

And I hereby do so: This story is bullshit.

Update: And now, having actually poked around some more, I’m forced to climb down a rung or two from my snooty pronouncement. The Wikipedia entry for the National Enquirer makes the case that the tabloid is actually more reliable that I was giving it credit for being. It tends not to do the “space aliens ate my brain!” stories, but instead focuses on celebrity gossip. Because of the risk of being sued, goes the theory, they actually have upgraded their sourcing and fact-checking since 1981, when Carol Burnett famously won a libel case against them for charging that she had been seen drunk in public.

Among other things I’d forgotten is the fact that the Enquirer originally broke the Monica Lewinsky story.

Anyway, having given it a second look, I’m no longer prepared to cite the article as bullshit, or those linking to it uncritically as co-bullshitters. (Besides the people I mentioned previously, see also Steve Gilliard: Is Bush drinking again?) I’m not saying I believe the Enquirer article to necessariy be accurate, but I now think it represents an interesting data point.

Plumer: No Viable Exit Strategy

Saturday, September 24th, 2005

Bradford Plumer boggles at a recent article in Time magazine (Saddam’s revenge) that includes the following:

More than a dozen current and former intelligence officers knowledgeable about Iraq spoke with TIME in recent weeks to share details about the conflict. They voiced their growing frustration with a war that they feel was not properly anticipated by the Bush Administration, a war fought with insufficient resources, a war that almost all of them now believe is not winnable militarily.

Plumer’s comments (Just perverse) actually focus on this quotation from later in the article:

Another hot debate in the intelligence community is whether to make a major change in the counterinsurgency strategy–to stop the aggressive sweeps through insurgent-riddled areas, like the recent offensive in Tall ‘Afar, and try to concentrate troops and resources with the aim of improving security and living conditions in population centers like Baghdad. “We’ve taken Samarra four times, and we’ve lost it four times,” says an intelligence officer. “We need a new strategy.”

But the Pentagon leadership is unlikely to support a strategy that concedes broad swaths of territory to the enemy. In fact, none of the intelligence officers who spoke with TIME or their ranking superiors could provide a plausible road map toward stability in Iraq. It is quite possible that the occupation of Iraq was an unwise proposition from the start, as many U.S. allies in the region warned before the invasion.

“Quite possible”? Um, no. It is now conclusively demonstrated that the occupation of Iraq was an unwise proposition from the start. The only people still arguing otherwise are the political equivalent of the Flat Earth Society, willing to dismiss any amount of contradictory evidence in order to avoid the cognitive dissonance that would accompany an admission of error.

In that, they are pretty much indistinguishable from their chosen man in the White House. And our country’s current run of incredible “bad luck” will predictably continue until they, and the awful decision-maker they elected, have been removed from the levers of power.

Drum, Burke on New Human Rights Watch Report of US Prisoner Abuse in Iraq

Saturday, September 24th, 2005

Recommended reading for those who believe the United States has a claim to moral superiority in the War on Swarthy Foreigners: From Kevin Drum: A few bad apples. And from Timothy Burke: How many bad apples before you blame the farmer?

You can also skip the commentary and go straight to the source, which in this case is a new Human Rights Watch report on US soldiers’ abuse of prisoners at a base near Fallujah in 2003 and 2004: New accounts of torture by US troops.

George Bush’s Watch

Friday, September 23rd, 2005

George Bush said the following yesterday in his appearance at the Pentagon:

The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon the mission. For the security of the American people, that’s not going to happen on my watch.

That phrase jumped out at me. It’s classic George Bush: sounds good, but falls apart on closer inspection.

What does it actually mean when someone says that something is “not going to happen on my watch”? In essence, it says that the speaker is taking broad responsibility. He’s committing himself not to try to weasel out of the blame for any failures that might occur. If something were to happen “on his watch,” he’s saying, he would be responsible, regardless of his level of direct involvement or non-involvement. No excuses, period.

It’s a noble sentiment. But it’s a sentiment that is contradicted by pretty much the entire history of the Bush presidency.

Let’s look at some of the things that have happened on George Bush’s watch:

  • 9/11: The deadliest attack ever on American soil by an outside enemy.
  • The failure to capture Osama bin Laden: Four years after 9/11, he remains at large.
  • The Iraqi WMD intelligence debacle: No Iraqi WMD, a war launched on mistaken (to give Bush more credit than he deserves) or fraudulent (to be more honest) pretences, the cost in blood and treasure mounting daily, a majority of the US population now believing it to be a mistake.
  • The federal budget deficit: After Clinton presided over record budget surpluses, Bush turned things around practically overnight, leading a Republican-controlled Congress to pass tax cuts and hike spending to create a deficit that has ballooned to Biblical proportions.
  • The dismantling of the federal disaster-response capability: As revealed by Katrina, four years after Bush pledged to make America safer from disasters both natural and man-made, the federal disaster-response apparatus has become a cesspool of cronyism and incompetence.

I could go on, but those are the highlights. I’m well aware of the arguments that explain why those failures are not actually Bush’s fault. Some of those arguments have merit; others don’t. But that so much of our national conversation consists of making excuses for the guy tends to undercut the effectiveness of a Bush promise that some particular bad thing is “not going to happen on my watch.”

What hasn’t happened on his watch? Pretty much the only worse thing I can think of at this point would be a nuclear war. And at the rate he’s going, he just might pull off one of those, too.

After all, he has three years left on his watch.

British Soldiers Attack Iraqi Police

Monday, September 19th, 2005

I’m not sure what, exactly, is going on with this story, but it’s definitely up there on the wacky scale: British soldiers clash with Iraqi police in Basra.