Archive for December, 2005


Friday, December 2nd, 2005

I checked the date to make sure it wasn’t April 1, and it wasn’t, so I guess this story must be for reals: By hook or by rook.

“It has enormous potential,” says the Joker, 31, a taut Dutchman with an undamaged chin and wire-rimmed glasses. “Chess and boxing are very different worlds. Chessboxers move around in both. It’s extremely demanding, but extremely rewarding. It’s all about control over your physical and mental being. The adrenalin rush in boxing must be lowered to concentrate on chess strategy.”

As someone whose professional career has pretty much been defined by straddling the line between two apparently-incompatible disciplines (I like to tell potential employers/clients that I’m a really good writer and editor for a programmer, and a really good programmer for a writer and editor), I can appreciate what these chessboxers are trying to do.

Knight-Ridder, NYT on the Pentagon’s Planted News

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

Additional detail on the story about the Defense Dept. paying Iraqi news outlets to run happy-puppies-and-moonbeams stories about the occupation: From Knight-Ridder’s Jonathan S. Landay: U.S. military pays Iraqis for positive news stories on war. And from the NYT’s Jeff Gerth and Scott Shame: U.S. is said to pay to plant articles in Iraq papers.

I guess it’s a fringe benefit of the cynicism I’ve been developing lately that I’m not shocked and outraged by this story. It really doesn’t seem all that surprising. It’s just another example of the ineptitude and dishonesty that has characterized this fiasco from the beginning.

Seigenthaler v. Wikipedia

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

This one is sort of interesting. John Seigenthaler, a 78-year-old former USA Today editor, is unhappy because an article in Wikipedia defamed him, and went uncorrected (and I’d guess, largely unread) for several months: A false Wikipedia ‘biography’.

I’m not very sympathetic to his argument. Yeah, a lot of what’s in Wikipedia is bullshit. You have to be aware of what you’re dealing with. Seigenthaler was all scandalized by it, and apparently even more by the fact that he couldn’t just have his lawyer call up Bell South or Wikipedia and get satisfaction.

Bell South told him hey, if you want to sue the user of the IP address responsible for those edits, then we’ll reveal his or her identifying information to the court. But Seigenthaler apparently didn’t want to do that. Instead, he chose to give the defamatory statements about him a far wider airing than they ever would have received on Wikipedia, by griping about them in an opinion piece in his old paper.

Loons and crackpots abound on Wikipedia. The NPOV policy is no guarantee that you’re going to get some omniscient, easy version of truth from the site. It’s just a practical approach they’ve evolved to allow them to get articles to a fairly stable place, where loons on both sides of whatever controversy is being fought over can feel satisfied that they’ve presented the facts of the matter at least somewhat fairly, leaving it up to the readers to determine the actual truth of the matter.

As a seeker after truth, you can’t give up that responsibility to someone else. The moment you do, you’re a putz. The essential idea behind Wikipedia is that it won’t, and can’t, take responsibility for defending putzes from themselves. It can only try to provide a useful resource for non-putzes. And I think it succeeds at that pretty well.

Acephalous and Morning Sex in the Office

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

I really, really hope this happened as given. From Acephalous: My morning: A play in one uncomfortable act.

Scahill on Bush on Bombing al Jazeera

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

Writing in The Nation, journalist Jeremy Scahill comes down hard on Bush’s alleged call for the bombing of al Jazeera. Scahill offers lots of context (which I’ll acknowledge to be a fairly one-sided account) to suggest that Bush’s threat was not the callous joke his defenders have alleged it to be, but a petulant whine about a news organization that at the time was really driving the Bush team nuts with its insistence on doing real journalism.

Anyway: The war on al Jazeera.

A Free Press Isn’t Free: US Military Paying for Favorable News Coverage in Iraq

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

I saw this the other day, and wanted to mention it before I forgot: U.S. military covertly pays to run stories in Iraqi press.

The articles, written by U.S. military “information operations” troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.

Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said. Records and interviews indicate that the U.S. has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles, with headlines such as “Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism,” since the effort began this year.

That’s from reporters Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi of the LA Times. Here’s another piece about the story, this time from the not-so-Web-challenged Guardian Unlimited, for when the original disappears behind the LA Times’ for-pay barrier: Pentagon pays Iraqi papers to print its ‘good news’ stories.

Draw your own conclusions about the larger implications of this. I think I need to lie down for a bit.

Update: Again from the LA Times, this follow-up story: Probe sought into stories planted in Iraqi media.

WASHINGTON — The White House said today it has demanded information from the Pentagon about a secret U.S. military offensive to plant stories in the Iraqi media, and senators are planning to meet privately Friday to hear details about the information operations campaign underway in Iraq.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House was “very concerned” about reports that a defense contractor in Iraq, working with U.S. troops, was paying newspapers in Baghdad to run positive stories written by U.S. soldiers.

“We are seeking more information from the Pentagon,” McClellan told reporters.

Pentagon officials said they were scrambling to get information from commanders in Baghdad about the arrangement between the U.S. military and Lincoln Group, a Washington-based contractor that specializes in “strategic communications” in combat zones.

Senior Pentagon officials, including Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said they had no knowledge about the secret campaign before the Los Angeles Times reported it in Wednesday’s editions.


U.S. military officials in Baghdad offered no new details about the operation today. When asked about it during a press briefing, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq responded by quoting a letter from Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, to Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi.

“He says, ‘Remember, half the battlefield is the battlefield of the media.’ And what Zarqawi is doing continuously is lying to the Iraqi people, lying to the international community,” said Army Maj. Gen Rick Lynch. “We don’t lie. We don’t need to lie. We do empower our operational commanders with the ability to inform the Iraqi public, but everything we do is based on fact, not based on fiction.”

Oh, hey. That’s good to know. For a second I thought maybe our side lied sometimes, too.

Sorry, Craig. It turns out I was wrong all along. Our side never lies. Everything we say is 100% truthful.


Later update: I sure keep hearing a lot about that Zawahiri letter. I noticed it the other day, too, in some piece of Cheneybabble I was compelled to talk back to on NPR. The Bush people sure like to talk about that letter. Odd, though, how Juan Cole (who actually has some expertise in the languages and cultures of the region) doesn’t find it so credible:

My gut tells me that the letter is a forgery. Most likely it is a black psy-ops operation of the US. But it could also come from Iran, since the mistakes are those a Shiite might make when pretending to be a Sunni. Or it could come from an Iraqi Shiite group attempting to manipulate the United States. Hmmm.

The Liar’s Case for White Phosphorus

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

Stepping once more into the melee of claims and counterclaims about the US military’s use of white phosphorus (WP) in Falluja, I wanted to make one last point about it. But first, here’s some opinion from nonproliferation expert Jonathon B. Tucker in today’s LA Times op-ed section: The wrong weapon in the wrong place.

Today, the United States is one of the very few Western democracies that have rejected treaties banning antipersonnel landmines and prohibiting the use of incendiary weapons such as napalm and white phosphorus in areas, including cities, where civilians are at risk. But Washington cannot evade its moral responsibility so easily. If the United States wishes to set an inspirational example for other countries, it must accept certain constraints on its own actions, even if that means renouncing weapons that have military utility in some situations.

The second reason the U.S. use of white phosphorus is wrong is that it has undermined the administration’s efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people and played into the hands of the insurgents. Employing an indiscriminate and inhumane weapon during urban warfare suggests a devaluing of innocent Iraqi lives, a perception that reinforces jihadist propaganda about the evils of the U.S. military occupation.

Finally, the U.S. refusal to be bound by the international ban on the use of white phosphorus in proximity to civilians reflects a double standard that the rest of the world finds unpersuasive and arrogant. Whether the white phosphorus was fired from artillery, as permitted by international practice, or dropped from a plane, which would not be permissible, may be of legal significance to the United States, but it is irrelevant to world public opinion or the basic moral acceptability of using such a weapon in an urban area.

The Bush administration’s most compelling rationale for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein had used poison gas in violation of the Geneva Protocol and that he was continuing to stockpile chemical and biological weapons in defiance of United Nations resolutions. It is therefore the height of hypocrisy for Washington to claim the right to employ white phosphorus in a manner that most of the civilized world considers illegitimate, while lecturing other countries about human rights.

Moving on to the point I wanted to make, I was thinking about that piece by reporter Darrin Mortenson in the North County Times (White phosphorus debate grows white-hot). In particular, I was thinking about this part:

The Marines did not act as if white phosphorus were different than any other weapon they used. They did not try to hide it from us. It was just another item to select from a lethal menu handed them by their Corps and made familiar by repetitious training and indoctrination.

In fact, the leader of the mortar section later told me that other weapons would have been more effective in that case: Napalm would have more easily set the palm grove ablaze; and CS gas, similar to tear gas, would have been better to flush the insurgents out into the open.

But the use of napalm (Mark-77) was not approved by commanders, he said, and the CS was considered a chemical weapon, so they used the best tool they had: white phosphorus.

It occurs to me that one of the reasons WP remains a part of the US military’s arsenal is precisely because it allows military leaders a degree of dishonest, but plausible, deniability. Napalm would actually work better, but napalm doesn’t come with a ready-made cover story, since pretty much the only thing it’s good for is burning stuff up.

Because WP has another, more-publicly-palatable use (that is, as a marker to guide incoming fire, or in air bursts to illuminate the battlefield), it makes it easier for the brass to lie that it isn’t being used as an anti-personnel weapon. Which is exactly what they initially tried to do in this case, and at which they were succeeding pretty well until the Italian documentary came out, and other evidence (including Darrin Mortenson’s firsthand reports) became more-widely disseminated, making their cover story untenable.

Yeah, I realize that the Italian documentary made misleading and dishonest arguments of its own. And I’m not willing to get on the same moral high horse that Jonathon Tucker did in the op-ed peice quoted above. When you’re killing people in an illegal and dishonest war, arguments about whether or not you’re using “humane” methods to do so seem to miss the point somewhat.

But I did want to mention what seems to me self-evident from the sequence of events in this case: The military uses WP, at least in part, precisely because it is relatively easy for them to get away with lying about it.

High School Football Coach Caught Cheating

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

Good thing we have high school athletic programs to teach our kids important lessons about the benefits of sacrifice and teamwork and hard work. Oh, yes; and cheating. As reported in the LA Times: San Pedro coach caught cheating.

Paul Bryan, a volunteer assistant football coach at San Pedro, has been suspended from coaching next season after he was caught cheating on videotape filmed by another school.

During a game against Gardena on Oct. 28, on a fourth-and-inches situation with 7 minutes 19 seconds left to play, Bryan is seen near midfield moving a yard marker in a direction that benefited San Pedro. The Pirates, holding a 7-6 lead at the time, were awarded the first down without a measurement. They went on to score and win the game, 14-13.