Archive for December, 2005

GameSpot Reviews Real Life

Thursday, December 8th, 2005

The degree of difficulty on this one wasn’t very high, but GameSpot editor Greg Kasavin gets points for nice execution: Real life: The full review.

Unlike in other MMORPGs, combat actually isn’t a major factor for most players in real life, though players are bound to engage in a few skirmishes early in their lives. Interestingly, though, real life does offer an amazingly intricate combat system, featuring complex hand-to-hand and ranged combat options that a character may learn and even specialize in. Combat-oriented characters lead exciting but sometimes short lives in real life.

That being the case, you’d think more players would be drawn to combat in real life, and in some territories, they are. However, the PVE (player vs. environment) aspect of real life is relatively unpopular, and the PVP (player vs. player) portion, while interesting, is far too risky for most of the population. That’s on account of the game’s very strict death penalty and punitive system–you may freely attempt to harm or kill any other player at any time, but you will then likely be heavily punished by the game’s player-run authorities.

Benyam Mohamed’s Penis

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

I acknowledge that Guardian Unlimited isn’t necessarily the most reliable media source out there; it has an editorial bias that makes the charges of the wingnut bridage that there’s such a thing as “the liberal media” at least borderline credible. And with all the uproar in Europe over their having been tainted by the Bush administration’s too-cozy relationship with torture, I wouldn’t be surprised if some aspects of this story are being played up or down in order to craft a particular effect.

But with all that said, to the extent the events described are true (and I think that has to be at least a working hypothesis, given what we know at this point), this is really awful: ‘One of them made cuts in my penis. I was in agony’.

They continued with two or three interrogations a month. They weren’t really interrogations, more like training me what to say. The interrogator told me what was going on. “We’re going to change your brain,” he said.

I suffered the razor treatment about once a month for the remaining time I was in Morocco, even after I’d agreed to confess to whatever they wanted to hear. It became like a routine. They’d come in, tie me up, spend maybe an hour doing it. They never spoke to me. Then they’d tip some kind of liquid on me — the burning was like grasping a hot coal. The cutting, that was one kind of pain. The burning, that was another.

The Iraq Shower Rules Rebus

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

Say what you will about the literacy of the latest generation, they’ve got fair cartooning skills. That’s the impression I get from this item, at least, which shows a sign near a shower at a US military installation in Iraq, with three images representing the same proscribed activity. From Neatorama: Iraq shower rules.

Parsing Condoleeza Rice on Torture

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

As depressing an exercise as it is to parse the Bush administration’s words on state-sponsored torture (and I continue to boggle at the fact that the “state” in that phrase actually refers to the US), we really have no choice but to do so. The Europeans have come to that realization, and it’s high time that the holdouts in this country did, too.

Re: those skeptical Europeans, from the NY Times’ Richard Bernstein: Skepticism seems to erode Europeans’ faith in Rice.

“It’s clear that the text of the speech was drafted by lawyers with the intention of misleading an audience,” Andrew Tyrie, a Conservative member of Parliament, said in an interview. Mr. Tyrie is chairman of a recently formed nonpartisan committee that plans to investigate claims that the British government has tacitly condoned torture by allowing the United States to use its airspace to transport terrorist suspects to countries where they are subsequently tortured.

Parsing through the speech, Mr. Tyrie pointed out example after example where, he said, Ms. Rice was using surgically precise language to obfuscate and distract. By asserting, for instance, that the United States does not send suspects to countries where they “will be” tortured, Ms. Rice is protecting herself, Mr. Tyrie said, leaving open the possibility that they “may be” tortured in those countries.

Others pointed out that the Bush administration’s definition of torture did not include practices like water-boarding – in which prisoners are strapped to a board and made to believe they are about to be drowned – that violate provisions of the international Convention Against Torture.

Andrew Mullin, a Labor member of Parliament, said he had found Ms. Rice’s assertions “wholly incredible.” He agreed with Mr. Tyrie that Ms. Rice’s statement had been “carefully lawyered,” adding: “It is a matter of record that people have been kidnapped and have been handed over to people who have tortured them. I think their experience has to be matched against the particular form of language the secretary of state is using.”

The ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ Story

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

The LA Times’ Meg James has written an item in honor of tonight’s airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. The article recounts the story of the show’s making, which is a pretty good story if you haven’t heard it before. From You’re a good magnet for holiday ads, Charlie Brown.

When they finished about a week before the show’s December premiere, Mendelson and Melendez were disappointed with the show’s slow pace.

“We thought that we had ruined Charlie Brown,” Mendelson recalled.

CBS executives thought the show was awful, Mendelson said. They complained that there wasn’t enough action and that the jazz soundtrack was all wrong for a children’s show. Besides, they asked, what kids would talk in such a grown-up manner?

With the premiere broadcast just days away, it was too late to pull the plug. But as others braced for a flop, there remained one true believer in the little Christmas show.

“Sparky liked it from the beginning,” Mendelson said.

In December 1965, the first viewers tuned in to see snowflakes gently falling on a frozen pond…


The show was an immediate success. Nearly half of all homes with TV sets tuned in that night in 1965, and the show would go on to win an Emmy for best animated special.

Over the years, the show would bring in more than $50 million to the producers, United Media, Schulz and, later, his estate, and the two networks that have broadcast it.

Last year, ABC raked in $5.75 million in ad revenue for its two telecasts of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” according to TNS Media Intelligence, which tracks ad spending. More than 13.6 million people watched the show, which led its time slot in all key demographic groups.

More than 30 companies bought ad time, collectively forking over five times the nearly $1 million in license fees that ABC paid to run the show.

ABC is anticipating another big audience tonight, and, thus, more happy advertisers. Companies that committed to buying time during the show last summer paid about $170,000 for a 30-second spot. Now, with so much demand, the price tag for latecomers has topped $200,000.

That’s almost getting up to the range where, Superbowl-like, the commercials would be sort of interesting to watch in their own right. But we won’t be doing that around here; like any normal person, we have the show on DVD.

Divert the Trolley, Lose the Pants, and Leave the Organ Donor Alone

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

From onegoodmove, here’s a pointer to an interesting piece of research on the failure of people’s religion to influence their decisions on a series of contrived moral dilemmas: Morality without religion.

Consider the following three scenarios. For each, fill in the blank with morally “obligatory,” “permissible,” or “forbidden.”

1. A runaway trolley is about to run over five people walking on the tracks. A railroad worker is standing next to a switch that can turn the trolley onto a side track, killing one person, but allowing the five to survive. Flipping the switch is ____________.

2. You pass by a small child drowning in a shallow pond, and you are the only one around. If you pick up the child she will survive and your pants will be ruined. Picking up the child is _________.

3. Five people have just been rushed into a hospital in critical care, each requiring an organ to survive. There is not enough time to request organs from outside the hospital. There is however, a healthy person in the hospital’s waiting room. If the surgeon takes this person’s organs, he will die but the five in critical care will survive. Taking the healthy person’s organs is _________.

What I find especially interesting is that judging by the responses, there exists a rough working consensus as to which answers are “correct,” even among people who presumably are pretty divided on the big moral/religious issues.

The Forbes Fictional 15

Sunday, December 4th, 2005

From Forbes magazine, profiles of the 15 richest people who don’t actually exist (or something): The Forbes fictional 15.

Khaled Masri: Less Than Human

Sunday, December 4th, 2005

I weep for my country.

Dana Priest in the Washington Post: Wrongful imprisonment: Anatomy of a CIA mistake.

In May 2004, the White House dispatched the U.S. ambassador in Germany to pay an unusual visit to that country’s interior minister. Ambassador Daniel R. Coats carried instructions from the State Department transmitted via the CIA’s Berlin station because they were too sensitive and highly classified for regular diplomatic channels, according to several people with knowledge of the conversation.

Coats informed the German minister that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned one of its citizens, Khaled Masri, for five months, and would soon release him, the sources said. There was also a request: that the German government not disclose what it had been told even if Masri went public. The U.S. officials feared exposure of a covert action program designed to capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them among countries, and possible legal challenges to the CIA from Masri and others with similar allegations.


Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip. Their destinations: either a detention facility operated by cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, or one of the CIA’s own covert prisons — referred to in classified documents as “black sites,” which at various times have been operated in eight countries, including several in Eastern Europe.


Masri said his cell in Afghanistan was cold, dirty and in a cellar, with no light and one dirty cover for warmth. The first night he said he was kicked and beaten and warned by an interrogator: “You are here in a country where no one knows about you, in a country where there is no law. If you die, we will bury you, and no one will know.”

Masri was guarded during the day by Afghans, he said. At night, men who sounded as if they spoke American-accented English showed up for the interrogation. Sometimes a man he believed was a doctor in a mask came to take photos, draw blood and collect a urine sample.

Back at the CTC, Masri’s passport was given to the Office of Technical Services to analyze. By March, OTS had concluded the passport was genuine. The CIA had imprisoned the wrong man.

At the CIA, the question was: Now what? Some officials wanted to go directly to the German government; others did not. Someone suggested a reverse rendition: Return Masri to Macedonia and release him. “There wouldn’t be a trace. No airplane tickets. Nothing. No one would believe him,” one former official said. “There would be a bump in the press, but then it would be over.”

Once the mistake reached Tenet, he laid out the options to his counterparts, including the idea of not telling the Germans. Condoleezza Rice, then Bush’s national security adviser, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage argued they had to be told, a position Tenet took, according to one former intelligence official.

“You couldn’t have the president lying to the German chancellor” should the issue come up, a government official involved in the matter said.

Senior State Department officials decided to approach Interior Minister Schily, who had been a steadfast Bush supporter even when differences over the Iraq war strained ties between the two countries. Ambassador Coats had excellent rapport with Schily.

The CIA argued for minimal disclosure of information. The State Department insisted on a truthful, complete statement. The two agencies quibbled over whether it should include an apology, according to officials.


Masri can find few words to explain his ordeal. “I have very bad feelings” about the United States, he said. “I think it’s just like in the Arab countries: arresting people, treating them inhumanly and less than that, and with no rights and no laws.”

Yeah, I’d say that pretty much sums it up. George Bush: The president who destroyed the United States.

Komsomolskaya Pravda: Squirrels Kill Dog

Sunday, December 4th, 2005

It was a slow news day in the Siberian town of Lazo. That is, until a pack of ravenous squirrels descended from the trees and then attacked, killed, and ate a stray dog.

(In)competence Matters

Sunday, December 4th, 2005

There are two (well, at least) very different philosophies for how to make hiring decisions in staffing an organization. One approach is to hire based on competence: whoever is the best-qualified to do the actual work gets the job. It’s pretty simple. The other approach is to hire based on some other criteria, and this approach can get pretty complicated, because there are a lot of potential things to look at: who the candidate knows, how much the candidate needs the job, whether the candidate is willing to have sex with the person doing the hiring, and so on.

Organizations that take the first approach tend to be led by people who are themselves competent. Such leaders are confident in their own abilities, and aren’t threatened by having others challenge their ideas. Indeed, they want others to challenge their ideas, because they recognize that that’s a good way to improve those ideas, and come up with the best possible solutions.

Organizations that take the second approach, on the other hand, tend to be led by people who are themselves not terribly competent. These often are people who arrived in their position not on the basis of their own merits, but on the basis of who they knew or who they slept with and so on. They tend to be insecure and defensive about underlings’ abilities, to avoid hiring people who will challenge them, and to prefer hiring people who will offer dishonest feedback about how marvelous the leaders’ ideas are.

So, guess which approach characterizes the Bush administration?

I’ve talked about this issue before (see Hiring practices), but I saw a stray factoid today that reminded me of it. From today’s LA Times story by Connie Mabin on the recent document release by Lousiana Governor Kathleen Blanco (Gov. Blanco releases Katrina memos):

Three days after the storm, Blanco wrote Bush asking that the 256th Louisiana National Guard Brigade be sent home from Iraq to help. She also asked for more generators, medicine, health workers and mortuaries.

Five days later, Bush assistant Maggie Grant e-mailed Blanco aide Paine Gowen to say that the White House did not receive the letter.

“We found it on the governor’s website but we need ‘an original,’ for our staff secretary to formally process the requests she is making,” Grant wrote. “We are on the job but appreciate your help with a technical request. Tnx!”

I’ve written, and read, a lot of email. I’ve been participating obsessively in online communities for 20 years, and have become pretty good, I think, at reading between the lines of electronic communications, building up a picture of the person at the other end.

In 38 words, Maggie Grant (more-specifically identified with a little googling as Margaret M. Grant, special assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs (governors), a position she’s held since 2003 and for which she’s pulling down $90,000/year) , uses both a set of superfluous ‘scare quotes’ and an AOL/SMS-ism (‘Tnx!’), either of which, by itself, would raise a red flag in my mind about the competence of the user in question. Finding both together in such close proximity makes those suspicions stronger.

I don’t think the incompetence that characterized the White House’s response to Katrina was all the result of a single former manager of horse-show judges. I think that sort of incompetence is pervasive in the White House these days. And I don’t think it’s an accident. I think it is, rather, the direct result of the Bush team valuing loyalty and ideological purity over competence when making hiring decisions.


McCain: Anybody Else Want to Negotiate?

Sunday, December 4th, 2005

Sounds like we won’t be getting that first-ever Bush veto just yet. From the LA Times’ Janet Hook: White House seeks deal on torture ban.

A White House spokesman said Saturday that national security advisor Stephen Hadley had met three times over the last month — most recently Thursday night — with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chief sponsor of an amendment setting new restrictions on U.S. treatment of war prisoners.

A McCain aide confirmed that the subject of those talks was the anti-torture amendment, which passed the Senate by a landslide despite heavy opposition from the White House and personal lobbying by Vice President Dick Cheney.

“They [administration officials] have assured me this will get worked out,” said a senior Senate Republican aide who, like others, did not want to be identified because the matter was still being negotiated in private. “It passed the Senate 90-9, and everyone agrees that if it came to a vote in the House, it would pass overwhelmingly. The trend lines are all in the Senate direction.”

If the White House capitulates or makes major concessions to McCain, it would be a significant retreat for an administration that argued vehemently that the measure would limit the president’s flexibility in fighting terrorism.


The recent meetings between McCain and Hadley were first reported Saturday by the Wall Street Journal. Frederick Jones, spokesman for the National Security Council, confirmed that Thursday night’s discussion was the third one-on-one meeting between the two men. Jones would not confirm the topic of the meetings, but he did point to recent statements about the amendment by Hadley that struck a conciliatory note.

“We’re working with Sen. McCain to reach accommodation in Congress,” Jones said.

The torture ban is just one of several issues in Congress on which Republicans are showing more independence from the White House than they typically did during Bush’s first term. But Eric Ueland, chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), denied that any concession by Bush on the torture ban was a sign of second-term weakness.

“It has nothing to do with broader events,” Ueland said. “There is a serious and sharp difference of opinion about the best way to proceed in this area. The administration holds one view and Congress holds a different one.”

Well, yes. And the administration’s view in this case is idiotic, immoral, and unconscionable.

Onion: CIA Realizes It’s Been Using Black Highlighters All These Years

Saturday, December 3rd, 2005

It says something when an artist’s (or a team of artists’) creative output has such a characteristic style that you can recognize it even with the identifying information removed. I thought about that the other day when Janus/Onan quoted the following headline: CIA realizes it’s been using black highlighters all these years. Of course, I knew immediately where it must have come from, as do you. And I knew that the actual execution of the piece would exceed my expectations, which it of course did. A brief excerpt:

“It is unclear exactly why CIA bureaucrats sometimes chose to emphasize entire documents,” the report read. “Perhaps the documents were extremely important in every detail, or the agents, not unlike college freshmen, were overwhelmed by the reading material and got a little carried away.”


Saturday, December 3rd, 2005

Just engaging in a little wishful thinking. The big game just started, with the noble Bruins 21-point underdogs to those loathesome Trojans. They’ll probably go down in flames, just like Luke will be destroyed rather than taking out the death star, Frodo will succumb rather than tossing the Ring into the Crack of Doom, and so on.

Kevin Drum, alumnus of the much-hated University of Spoiled Children, can crow all he wants in a couple of hours. But for me, for now, it’s Go Team!


John Callender
UCLA Class of ’85

Donald Rumsfeld: Secretary of Idiocy

Saturday, December 3rd, 2005

Dana Milbank in the Washington Post had an excellent piece the other day on Donald Rumsfeld’s recent press briefing, in which he tried to deny the Iraqi insurgents the “legitimacy” of being referred to as such, and ran into trouble with Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace: Rumsfeld’s war on ‘Insurgents’.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, standing at Rumsfeld’s side, evidently didn’t get the memo about the wording change. Describing combat in Iraq, he paused and said, “I have to use the word ‘insurgent’ because I can’t think of a better word right now.”

” ‘Enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government’ — how’s that?” Rumsfeld proposed.

“What the secretary said,” Pace continued, to laughter. But Rumsfeld’s new description — ELIG, if you prefer an acronym — didn’t stick with the general. Smiling, he uttered the forbidden word again while discussing explosive devices.

The secretary recoiled in mock horror. “Sorry, sir,” Pace explained. “I’m not trainable today.”


When UPI’s Pam Hess asked about torture by Iraqi authorities, Rumsfeld replied that “obviously, the United States does not have a responsibility” other than to voice disapproval.

But Pace had a different view. “It is the absolute responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene, to stop it,” the general said.

Rumsfeld interjected: “I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it’s to report it.”

But Pace meant what he said. “If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it,” he said, firmly.

Ever since seeing Kurt Vonnegut’s Daily Show appearance, in which he called Donald Rumsfeld “the dumbest man at the top of our government,” I’ve been taking a closer look, and coming to the conclusion that Vonnegut might well have a point.

But still, the Secretary of Everything can sure do spin. Just maybe not much else beside that.

Victory Bush’s Victory Strategy Victory for Victory Victory Victory

Saturday, December 3rd, 2005

From the NY Times’ Scott Shane: White House seeks a strategy for victory, at home and in Iraq.

While White House officials said the National Security Council document contained contributions from many federal departments, its creation and presentation strongly reflected the public opinion research of Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who joined the N.S.C. staff as a special adviser in June.

Dr. Feaver was recruited after he and Duke colleagues presented to administration officials their analysis of polls about the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004. They concluded that Americans would support a war with mounting casualties on one condition: that they believe it would ultimately succeed.

That finding, which is questioned by other political scientists, was clearly reflected in President Bush’s speech, in which he used the word victory 15 times and the podium was festooned with signs declaring “Plan for Victory.” The strategy document was infused by the same mantra, with victory repeated six times in the table of contents alone and sections labeled “Victory in Iraq is a Vital U.S. Interest” and “Our Strategy for Victory is Clear.”

“This is not really a strategy document from the Pentagon about fighting the insurgency,” said Christopher F. Gelpi, Dr. Feaver’s colleague at Duke and co-author of the research on American tolerance for casualties. “The Pentagon doesn’t need the president to give a speech and post a document on the White House Web site to know how to fight the insurgents. The document is clearly targeted at American public opinion.”


The role of Dr. Feaver in preparing the strategy document came to light through a quirk of technology. In a portion of the document usually hidden from public view but accessible with a few keystrokes, the plan posted on the White House Web site showed the document’s originator, or “author” in the software’s designation, to be “feaver-p.”

According to Matt Rozen, a spokesman for Adobe Systems, which makes the Acrobat software used to prepare the document, that entry indicated that Dr. Feaver created the original document that, with additions and editing, was eventually posted on the Web. There is no way to know from the text how much he wrote.

To head off the predictable objections of rational Bush supporters, I’m not claiming that this is some huge scandal, and yes, I’m aware that all politicians craft their public statements with an eye to manipulating public opinion. What I find noteworthy about this is that it adds to the growing weight of evidence that for the Bush White House, domestic politics, the gaining and holding of power, is the only thing they actually focus on. Mayberry Machiavellis, and all that.

Faced with eroding public support because the war is turning out to be a dumb idea, does the Bush team focus on figuring out how to actually win the thing? Maybe by making some tough decisions, like replacing the architects of the current failure with some of those smarter people who were predicting this outcome from the beginning? By changing course, maybe, to something that seems more likely to succeed?

No, of course not. That would involve a tacit admission of error, and the Bush team is so focused on maintaining the illusion that he’s qualified to be president that they avoid such admissions at all costs. Instead of doing something that might actually increase the odds of victory, the Bush team prefers to continue with the same failed policy, while running a new ad campaign to convince the public that down is up.

It’s the same thing a big HMO does in the face of eroding customer satisfaction: Don’t spend money on actually improving the quality of care. Instead, spend money on slick TV ads in which caring “doctors” gently touch the shoulders of smiling “patients.”

I love the smell of public relations in the morning. It smells like… victory.

Thomas Hawk on the PriceRite Bait-and-Switch

Saturday, December 3rd, 2005

Thomas Hawke learns a lesson about the sleazy operators who do business on the net. Caveat clicktor: PriceRitePhoto: abusive bait and switch camera store.

At this point I thanked him and informed him that I would be writing an article about my experience with his company. It was at this point that he went ballistic. He first told me that if I did this that he would not cancel my order but just never fill it. If I cancelled it he said he’d charge me a 15% restocking fee. When I told him that that would be unethical he went nuts. He accused me of trying to “extort” him and said that he was going to have two local police officers come over and arrest me. He then went on to say that as a “professional photographer” I should have known better than to try and buy a camera this way and that he was an attorney and would sue me if I wrote an article about my experience.

He told me that I had no idea who I was dealing with and that as he had my work contact info that he was going to call both my immediate supervisor and the CEO of my company and tell them that I was trying to extort him.

“I will take this very personally,” he said.

Drum on Menand on Tetlock’s ‘Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It?’

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

I really liked Kevin Drum’s droll snark at the end of his item on Louis Menand’s review in the New Yorker of Philip Tetlock’s new book, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?: Foxes and hedgehogs.

So there’s your lesson for the day. Avoid ideologues on both left and right. Stay away from people who have unshakable faith in their convictions. The more confident someone sounds, the more likely they are to be wrong. Steer clear of cranks with big theories. Pay more attention to statistical and actuarial formulas than to expert opinion. And ignore the folks at Power Line. They aren’t due to be right again for a long time.

Sounds like a pretty solid set of guidelines.

Telegraphing Cheney’s Exit?

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

One of the ways in which the Bush administration is dishonest is the way it complains regularly about how leak-prone Washington is, while using near-constant leaking itself as a tool for gaming the media and manipulating public perception.

The more general form of this dishonesty is the way they will often take two different types of things (chemical and biological weapons, on the one hand, versus nuclear weapons, for example) and lump them together into a big catchall category (WMD) that helps them pull off the logical equivalent of a bait and switch (saying “everyone agreed that Saddam had WMD,” while obscuring the fact that very much not everyone agreed that he had, or had the means to acquire, nukes).

Their alleged hatred of leaking is similar. There really are two sorts of things (at least) that can be described as “leaking”; a whistleblower divulging something that higher ups wouldn’t want divulged, doing it secretly to avoid reprisals; or divulging something with the full knowledge of higher-ups, pushing some piece of information on the sly to give an illusion of verisimilitude, while avoiding the potential for embarrassment if the information plays badly, or turns out to be a lie, or whatever. Plamegate is the canonical example of that, and it may well be the most egregious in terms of the potential legal consequences for the leakers, but my opinion is that the Bush team uses such officially-sanctioned faux leaking pretty much all the time.

Anyway, my suspicious nature leads me to believe that the following represent examples of that sort of “leak.” First, from Steven C. Clemons’ Washington Note: Bush gossip & tonight’s Ten Minutes on Air America’s Majority Report.

Barbara Bush is allegedly TICKED off at Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Andy Card, nearly all of them — except Karen Hughes — for how her boy is faring in the hearts and minds of Americans.

The matriarch of the Bush clan is colder than North Pole ice right now to those around her son who she thinks have undermined him. I’ll tell who my sources are if Patrick Fitzgerald gives a call and makes me — but the sources are very close to Poppa Bush (41), who has been traveling a bit with some of his old entourage, including Brent Scowcroft and others of the first Bush regime.

While TWN has been able to confirm that Laura Bush’s mother-in-law wants to do more than put coal in the stockings of the Vice President and the other top handlers of her son’s White House, we have not been able to confirm a slightly stronger bit of the rumor, which is that Barbara — not Laura — was planning to call on Nancy Reagan just to get a refresher lesson on how she took on and kicked out then Chief-of-Staff Donald Regan. (I embellish here; Barbara Bush is not going to take lessons from Nancy, it just sounded good. My source told me that Barbara was about to “pull a Nancy Reagan” on these attendants.)

Cheney may be tougher to dump than Don Regan, but then again, Barbara Bush is one of those wonders of nature (we hear) who knows no limits and can easily surge beyond category 5 hurricane winds.

Should be interesting to watch the role of the First Mother in the coming couple of months. Watch for a lot to change right after the State of the Union address, I’ve been told.

So, at the same time this rumor is circulating, the Administration-friendly folks at Insight on the News offer this: Bush takes Cheney out of the loop on national security.

The role of Vice President Dick Cheney as the administration’s point man in security policy appears over, according to administration sources.

Over the last two months Mr. Cheney has been granted decreasing access to the Oval Office, the sources said on the condition of anonymity. The two men still meet, but the close staff work between the president and vice president has ended.


“There’s a lack of trust that the president has in Cheney and it’s connected with Iraq,” a source said.

The sources said Mr. Bush has privately blamed Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the U.S.-led war in Iraq. They said the president has told his senior aides that the vice president and defense secretary provided misleading assessments on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, as well as the capabilities of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

As a result, the sources said, Mr. Cheney has been ousted from his role as the administration’s point man in the area of national security. They said presidential staffers have kept Mr. Cheney out of the loop on discussions on policy as the White House has struggled with the political and intelligence fallout from the war in Iraq.

Mr. Bush is not expected to replace Mr. Cheney unless the vice president follows the fate of his former chief of staff. The sources also said Mr. Rumsfeld is expected to remain in his post until U.S. troops are withdrawn from Iraq.

Personally, I think it is more likely than not that the only reason I’m reading these stories is that the White House wants me to be reading them. If that’s true, then what does it say about what’s really going on behind the scenes?

If I had to guess I’d say it’s Bush attempting to put political distance between himself and Cheney in anticipation of Fitzgerald’s investigation yielding more-damaging information about Cheney. And more generally, Bush’s attempting to begin the process of shifting blame for the Iraq war onto Cheney, in anticipation of Cheney’s stepping down as veep, and hopefully (in Bush/Rove’s eyes), taking some of the stench of Bush’s failed Iraq policies with him. I’d always suspected that the plan was for Cheney to leave after the 2006 midterms, to pave the way for Bush’s intended successor in the White House. But that timetable might have been accelerated in light of Bush’s deteriorating political situation.

Anyway, it’s interesting to see these little puffs of smoke pop up here and there, and try to figure out what’s actually smoldering beneath the surface.

Historical Events As Reported by Fox News

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

Some of these are fairly cute: If Fox News had been around through history.

Diebold Pulls Voting Machines from North Carolina to Avoid Revealing Source Code

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

From The Register: It’s official: Diebold election bugware can’t be trusted.

Due to irregularities in the 2004 election traced to touch screen terminals, North Carolina has taken the very reasonable precaution of requiring vendors of electronic voting gizmos to place all of the source code in escrow. Diebold has objected to the possibility of criminal sanctions if they fail to comply, and argued for an exemption before Wake County Superior Court Judge Narley Cashwell. The judge declined to issue an exemption, and Diebold has concluded that it has no choice but withdraw from the state.

The company’s explanation is that their machines contain Microsoft software, which they have no right to make available to state election officials.

Sounds like a good reason for other states to follow suit, and require voting machine vendors to escrow their code. If we don’t have access to the voting machines’ code, then we don’t have democracy. We just don’t.