Archive for May, 2006

Thoughts on Memorial Day

Monday, May 29th, 2006

I liked this piece from Alberto J. Mora, who until recently was the Navy’s top lawyer: An affront to American values.

In this war, we have come to a crossroads — much as we did in the events that led to Korematsu: Will we continue to regard the protection and promotion of human dignity as the essence of our national character and purpose, or will we bargain away human and national dignity in return for an additional possible measure of physical security?

More on Mora is available from Wikipedia.

The Haditha Massacre

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

The march of historic parallels with Vietnam continues, with the following headline greeting me in this morning’s LA Times: Photos indicate civilians slain execution-style.

WASHINGTON — Photographs taken by a Marine intelligence team have convinced investigators that a Marine unit killed as many as 24 unarmed Iraqis, some of them “execution-style,” in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha after a roadside bomb killed an American in November, officials close to the investigation said Friday.

The pictures are said to show wounds to the upper bodies of the victims, who included several women and six children. Some were shot in the head and some in the back, congressional and defense officials said.

One government official said the pictures showed that infantry Marines from Camp Pendleton “suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership, with tragic results.”

No, it’s not exactly like My Lai, which saw more deaths, more official complicity, and more of a cover-up.

It’s not exactly like My Lai. It’s just horrible beyond description in the same way My Lai was.

That’s all.

More details:

I also found this piece from blogger Polimom interesting: War is hell. Seriously.

Just two days before this incident apparently occurred in November, I wrote a rare rant. At the time, I was ticked off about reports coming out of Iraq about the use of white phosphorous in Fallujah, and stories of torture. I said:


Bad enough that the American public was “dismayed” and “disturbed” when our little Janeys and Johnnys were discovered torturing their prisoners (remember Abu Ghraib?). Now, we’re hearing about lions, too. (LIONS????)

Folks, if you think our sons and daughters are being sent to a war with anything less than a targeted, focused hatred for the “enemy”, you are clueless. In basic training, they are given bayonets, with which they charge, screaming vicious epithets, at a straw dummy. Years ago, that straw dummy was a “Red” named Ivan. Any guesses what names they use today to dehumanize their “targets”?

War cannot be waged without virulent hate. It is not an academic exercise.


To kill, as we’ve asked our children to do in Iraq, requires hate, and whatever comes of the investigation in Haditha, we cannot forget that along with all the other losses and deaths, this is also the price we pay to wage war.

We sent them into hell, and the devil is running free. Surely we didn’t expect something different… did we?

Nope. Podcast 18

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

I actually recorded this a week ago Friday, but didn’t get around to posting until now. Apologies for the delay. Anyway: podcast 18.

In this installment:

  • The recent announcement by the Cornell team of this past winter’s non-findings regarding the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and my response to some of the discussion that has been taking place at Tom Nelson’s Ivory-bill Skeptic weblog. Note that at one point I refer to him as “Wilson”, and at another point as “Tim Nelson.” Sorry about that. Misidentifications everywhere you look!
  • Seeing Lazuli Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks, woo hoo.
  • Podcasts I’ve been listening to lately: The Hollywood Saloon, Filmspotting (née Cinecast), and Keith and the Girl.
  • The joys of vicarious domestic surveillance via the Internet.
  • The psychology of the long-distance commuter.


Drum on Bush’s Death to Policy

Friday, May 26th, 2006

A really good item from Kevin Drum from the other day: The death of policy.

Yeah, I know. Maybe I could find someone else to link to for a change.

Drum on Blanton on Government Secrets

Sunday, May 21st, 2006

I was impressed by Tom Blanton’s op-ed piece on government secrets in the LA Times this morning (just as I was distinctly unimpressed by the one by Gabriel Schoenfeld). I was so impressed I resolved to hop on and post a link to it with some commentary and an appropriate excerpt… but then I saw that Keven Drum had already done exactly that in his posting on the same story: State secrets…

You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to beat Kevin Drum to an LA Times item like that.

Marshall on Telcos’ Non-Denial Denials

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Interesting scuttlebutt lately regarding whether telephone companies have or haven’t been handing over customer calling data en masse to the government. I like Joshua Marshall’s take: TPM reader DV has an interesting and good point…

For all the shilly-shallying, Verizon does appear to come right out and deny they gave any customer records to the NSA.

So what gives?

I think I’ve got the answer: they’re lying.

No, I don’t have any inside information to confirm that claim. But common sense is a marvelous thing.

Isn’t it though?

More of Marshall’s thoughts are available in his earlier posting, A number of TPM readers…

One of the strongest arguments in favor of this interpretation, at least for me, is the coy language the Bush administration has been using. At this point, how gullible would we have to be to give them the benefit of the doubt on a matter like this?

A: More gullible than I am.

Well, That Didn’t Last Long

Saturday, May 13th, 2006

Here are the updated graphs of US war deaths in Iraq for April, with 76 US fatalities during the month.

As always, I’m comparing the military casualties to those from the Vietnam war at a similar point in each war’s political lifetime (which some have charged is misleading; see disclaimer below). The data come from the advanced search tool at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, and from Lunaville’s page on Iraq coalition casualties. The figures are for the number of US dead per month, without regard to whether the deaths were combat-related.

The first graph shows the first 38 months of the comparison. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

Next, the chart that gives the US death toll for the entire Vietnam war:

Disclaimer: I’ve been accused of comparing apples to oranges in these graphs. For the record, here’s what I am not arguing:

  • I’m not saying that Iraq is somehow deadlier per soldier-on-the-ground than Vietnam. For both wars, the number of fatalities in any given month tracks pretty closely with the number of troops deployed (along with the intensity of the combat operations being conducted). There are more troops in Iraq today than were in Vietnam during the “corresponding” parts of the graphs. Similarly, for later years in Vietnam, when the monthly death toll exceeded the current Iraq numbers, there were many more troops in place.
  • I am not saying that Iraq is somehow “worse” than Vietnam. I include the first graph mainly because I wanted a zoomed-in view of the Iraq data. And I include the second graph, which shows the entire span of the Vietnam war, because I want to be clear about what the data show about overall death tolls — where any rational assessment would have to conclude that, at least so far, Iraq has been far less significant (at least in terms of US combat fatalities) than Vietnam.

I was just curious how the “death profile” of the two wars compared, and how those deaths played out in terms of their political impact inside the US. For that reason, I chose as the starting point for each graph the first fatality that a US president acknowledged (belatedly, in the case of the Vietnam graph, since US involvement in the war “began” under Kennedy, but the acknowledgement was made only later by Johnson) as having resulted from the war in question.

As ever, you are free to draw your own conclusions. And for that matter, you’re free to draw your own graphs, if you have a way of presenting the information that you believe would be better. In that case, feel free to post a comment with a URL to your own version. Thanks.

Hitt on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker’s Existence (or Not)

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

Jack Hitt has an interesting piece in the New York Times Magazine: 13 Ways of Looking at an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker. It does a good job of explaining the way that rare-bird sightings are treated in the world of high-stakes birding.

Soon after the original declaration of the discovery was made last April, controversy broke out, and it quickly got nasty. The ugliness derives from something deep in the heart of birding. Most people think of birding as either a science worthy of a word like “ornithology” or a harmless hobby pursued by rubber-faced old men in porkpie hats. But the act of birding, ultimately, is an act of storytelling. For instance, if someone said to you, “I saw this cardinal fly out of nowhere with yellow tips on its wings and land on the side of a tree,” even the least experienced amateur would counter that cardinals don’t have yellow wingtips and don’t cling to trees but rather perch on branches. Each bird is a tiny protagonist in a tale of natural history, the story of a niche told in a vivid language of color, wing shape, body design, habitat, bill size, movement, flying style and perching habits. The more you know about each individual bird, the better you are at telling this tale.

Claiming to have seen rare birds requires a more delicate form of storytelling and implies a connoisseur’s depth of knowledge. Saying “I saw an ivory-bill’s long black neck and white trailing feathers” requires roughly the same panache as tasting an ancient Bordeaux and discoursing on its notes of nougat and hints of barnyard hay.

If you don’t pull it off, then people presume that you are lying or stupid. And this is where birding gets personal. Telling a rare-bird-sighting story is to ask people to honor your ability as a birder — to trust you, to believe you.

Hitt tells a subtle tale himself about the people who have claimed to see an Ivory-billed recently, offering damning details about their long-held desire to see the bird and their association with the fringe elements of the cryptozoology set. As I’ve described in comments at Tom Nelson’s Ivory-bill Skeptic blog, I don’t think the case against the Ivory-billed’s rediscovery is anywhere near as strong as skeptics have been making out. But this article by Hitt does a good job of explaining why that skepticism exists.

Froomkin Asks for Good Questions for Tony Snow

Tuesday, May 9th, 2006

Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post is looking for some good questions to put to Tony Snow at Snow’s first White House press briefing next Monday: Prepare for Snow.

As Froomkin explains, he’s not looking for ‘gotcha’ questions, but rather for questions that let Snow demonstrate whether he really does represent a change of course for an administration that has become famous for peddling B.S. at these events.

Here are a couple of questions that Froomkin offers as examples:

* Why did Porter Goss resign as CIA director? Is the public entitled to know the real story, on the record?

* Surely you’re concerned about all the signs that the White House has lost its credibility with the American people. For instance, more than half of Americans say they don’t find the president honest or trustworthy. How does the president think that happened, and what can he do about it?

Earl Washington Awarded $2.25 Million for Wrongful Conviction

Sunday, May 7th, 2006

Alan Hirsch of Truth About False Confessions ran an interesting item recently: Happy ending. It describes the $2.25 million jury award given on Friday to Earl Washington, a mildly retarded man who who spent 16 years in prison, 9 of them on death row, for a rape and murder he didn’t commit.

The Washington Post has more about the story: Wrongfully jailed man wins suit. And here’s an article (with accompanying video and audio) based on a talk given by lawyer Peter Neufeld at the University of Virginia law school: Earl Washington case shows reforms to death penalty, criminal cases needed, Neufeld says.

After a three-day trial, Washington was convicted of the murder of Williams. After a half-hour penalty phase, he was sentenced to death.

Scary stuff.

Finally, I’ve just-now added to my Amazon wish list (hint, hint) Margaret Edds’ book An Expendable Man: The Near-Execution of Earl Washington Jr.

Drum on Bush’s Death to Policy

Sunday, May 7th, 2006

It’s been a while since I linked to Kevin Drum (at least a half hour or so), so here’s a good one: The death of policy.

When the history of the Bush years are written, I suspect the biggest untold story of the era is going to be the one that John DiIulio warned us about almost at the beginning: The Death of Policy. George Bush’s Republican Party is driven sometimes by ideology, sometimes by corporate fealty, and sometimes by nothing more than stubbornness, but serious policy analysis rarely enters the picture anymore. Why bother when you already know exactly what you want to do?

The CIA is the latest victim of this corrosive syndrome. Are they a bunch of effete liberals who hate toughminded foreign policy? Don’t be absurd. But they sometimes produce inconvenient facts, and in Bush’s world that makes them simply a member of the opposition to be dealt with. And so they were.

Ayup. Podcast 17

Saturday, May 6th, 2006

More technologically-amplified meat flapping: podcast 17. Includes:

  • Audio of the Ray McGovern/Donald Rumsfeld debate.
  • Commentary on same.
  • A little about the Moussaoui verdict.
  • A mind-boggling amount of detail about the new birds I saw at the office this week.
  • Watching a missile launch from Manhattan Beach.
  • Ranting about Bush’s emotional problems.


They Are Made Out of Meat

Saturday, May 6th, 2006

I thought this short short story by Terry Bisson was fun: They are made out of meat. For those who prefer video to literature, there’s also this seven-minute film adaptation.

Okay. Enough of me flapping my meat at you.

Rumsfeld Loses a Debate with Ray McGovern

Thursday, May 4th, 2006

Between Steven Colbert at the correspondents’ dinner and this new video of Donald Rumsfeld trying, and failing, to answer Ray McGovern’s charges about Rumsfeld’s lying about Iraq’s WMD and ties to al Qaeda, I think my head might explode: Think Progress » VIDEO: Rumsfeld Called Out On Lies About WMD.

CNN apparently carried a significant chunk of the exchange. Wild.

Schwarz on Bush vs. Nixon

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

Jonathan Schwarz of A Tiny Revolution has created some graphs after my own heart: Bush and Nixon Battle It Out (Update). Especially interesting to me is this one:

Let it not be said that Bush is a miserable failure at everything. If he keeps up the steady progress he’s been making, he’ll have Nixon beat. And that’s saying something.