Archive for April, 2007

The Ideological Executive Branch

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Admittedly, I only found this story in the Boston Globe following Jon Stewart’s reference the other night, but it’s worth pointing out.

When the current administration is so aggressively secretive, it’s pieces of information like this — the fact that there are 150 graduates of 4th-tier (yes, that’s the bottom one) Pat Robertson-founded Regent University Law School working in the Justice Department — that I find really enlightening. A wall is built around large policies and high-profile actions, but it’s in low-profile details like staffing decisions that true intentions really shine through. While another below-the-radar policy change outlined the shape of true policy goals, the choice here of how to staff the Justice Department does the same for the true chosen methods.

Forget the change from civil servants recommending highly-qualified law students to a Bush-appointed Regent graduate directly pulling in fellow alumni. Forget even about the fact that through 1999, graduates had trouble passing the bar, let alone get Justice Department jobs. The thing that gets me is this:

“…Jeffrey Brauch of Regent made no apologies in a recent interview for training students to understand what the law is today, and also to understand how legal rules should be changed to better reflect “eternal principles of justice,” from divorce laws to abortion rights.”

Regardless of Bush or Cheney’s own opinions on issues, it certainly must be convenient to have young lawyers in the Justice Department that place personal ideology over the rule of law. The law is hard and unchanging, objective. Ideology is subject to change, and twists to include personal allegiances or higher causes. That’s incredibly dangerous for our executive branch, and inevitably leads to, well, exactly the kind of failure and embarrassment we as a nation are currently enduring.

Being Mma Ramotswe

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

The new #1 Ladies Detective Agency book is here! The new #1 Ladies Detective Agency Book is here!


Yeah, it’s true. The new #1 Ladies Detective Agency book (The Good Husband of Zebra Drive) is here. If you haven’t read the whole series, you need to go out right now and get the first one in paperback, or at the library, and read them all the way through. They’re all the same, it’s true, but they’re also all different, and the cycling through the sameness and differences builds in power over the course of the series.

It sounds goofy to me to talk about how profoundly beautiful and wonderful these books are. I want you who haven’t experienced them to seek them out, so I want to talk about how amazing they are. But I don’t want to build up expectations that will only be realized slowly, gradually, as the stories unfold.

Hm. It’s something of a dilemma. I’ll have to think about that while looking at the big, beautiful sky above Carpinteria. And while I’m doing that, you can go to this page at, and see if they’ll send you the first book for free: Alexander McCall Smith exclusive. “While supplies last”, it says, and that was posted a few weeks ago, so you may need some luck there. But it also has an mp3 of Alexander McCall Smith reading a new short story based on Mma Ramotswe, which I haven’t listened to yet, so we’ve both got that to look forward to regardless.

In the meantime, I thought this was cute: Apparently a Hollywood adaptation is being done, which is worrisome, but the director is Anthony Minghella, who really is the perfect choice, and the screenplay was co-written by Richard Curtis, so that’ll probably be okay. And then there was this interesting passage in an article on the website of the (South African) Cape Film Commission, quoting from the Sunday Times of London (isn’t the Web wonderful?) Tlou mum over Mma Ramotswe role.

Botswana Minister of Health, Prof Sheila Tlou remains mum over media reports that she is the number one contender for the role of Mma Ramotswe in the multi million pula Hollywood production. Reports from the UK link the minister to the coveted role in the US$40 million film based on serialised novel No. 1 Ladies Detective by Alexander McCall Smith.

UK- based newspaper Sunday Times has quoted the author of the serialised novel, rooting for the health minister: There is one person who is really keen to play Mma Ramotswe and who has played her twice on the amateur stage in Gaborone and that’s the minister of health, Sheila Tlou.

In my view she is Mma Ramotswe and in her view she is Mma Ramotswe, the paper quoted the author.

I can not comment on what international newspapers have reported. It is just speculation right now and we will cross that bridge when the time comes, Prof Tlou said.

See, the reason that’s cute is this passage from the latest book. Mma Ramotswe and her adopted daughter, Motholeli, are up early, and Motholeli asks Mma Ramotswe if she ever thinks about whether she’d like to be someone else. This causes Mma Ramotswe to reflect on the people in her life, and the whole passage is great, including a beautiful payoff at the end, but as much as I’d like to I’m not going to quote the whole thing, so you’ll just have to get the book and read it, and again, read the whole series leading up to it so you get the full impact.

But I have to quote this part:

Motholeli, the cause of this train of thought, now interrupted it; there was to be no enumeration of the consolations of being forty-ish. “Well, Mma,” she said. “Who would you be? The Minister of Health?”

The Minister, the wife of that great man, Professor Thomas Tlou, had recently visited Motholeli’s school to present prizes and had delivered a stirring address to the pupils. Motholeli had been particularly impressed and had talked about it at home.

“She is a very fine person,” said Mma Ramotswe. “And she wears very beautiful headdresses. I would not mind being Sheila Tlou… if I had to be somebody else. But I am quite happy, really, being Mma Ramotswe, you know. There is nothing wrong with that, is there?”

Nope. Nothing at all.

Bandwidth Stealing Nerds Attack! Mr. Whorf! Fire Phasers!

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

Okay. The person behind I Always Believe There’s a Band, Kid is right that Best of Both Worlds was a pretty darn good two-parter, with a nice cliff-hanger. And I’m always happy to see that people are linking to’s content, as he (she?) did in linking to the image I stole from some random news photographer in the item on the Virgin Mary water stain. But I wish that he (she) would have linked to the actual posted item, rather than just linking to the image, so people who aren’t clever enough to munge their Location: box would be able to experience the full juicy goodness that is

Oh well. At least he didn’t inline the image from my server. If he’d have done that, I’d have had to think about assimilating that image and Borg-ing it into something like (which is for sale, it turns out).

But no; I’m more highly evolved than that. Instead, I will simply return the not-quite-favor by linking unto his (her?) actual item, which was actually kind of amusing: Ha-Ha! We’re Nerds–315751.3175735667.

Kleiman on Sailer on Obama

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Mark Kleiman makes a pretty cutting observation here: “Conservative” = “Lying racist”? Who knew? Kleiman talks about Steve Sailer’s recent piece on Barack Obama in The American Conservative (Obama’s identity crisis), calling the article “a dishonest, bigoted anti-Obama screed.” Then he talks about how Alex Koznetski, an assistant editor at the magazine, quit in protest over the article’s publication, eliciting a statement from yet another person, a conservative, with that statement in effect stipulating, in Kleiman’s view, that the racist lying of the original piece is part and parcel of conservatism.

Whew. Did you follow all that?

But here’s the thing. Before I linked to Kleiman’s blog entry, I thought I really should read Steve Sailer’s article. So I did. And, um, I’m not sure I agree that it qualifies as “a dishonest, bigoted anti-Obama screed.” It certainly betrays a certain point of view about race that I don’t agree with, and makes a lot of points at Obama’s expense. But at least from my perspective, it’s not over-the-top dishonest bigotry.

Sailer’s central point is that Obama’s choice as a youth and young man to identify himself as black, rather than as being of mixed race, betrays a degree of emotional immaturity that calls into question his suitability to be president. (I’m not really doing the argument justice; you should read the whole thing if you’re interested. But I think that gets to the heart of what bothered Kleiman.)

I’d respond that the decision to identify himself as black was not a weak-principled decision on Obama’s part. It was an identification thrust upon him by the culture in which he lives. And yes, Hawaii is not as reflexively racist a place as, say, certain parts of the U.S. mainland (or at least, it’s differently racist), and as a kid growing up there Obama certainly was subject to a different mix of pressures than he would have been growing up in Illinois. But I think Sailer’s analysis is myopic, and betrays a willingness to overlook the reality of being black (or looking black, which ends up being pretty much the same thing, which is pretty much my point) in America. (Disclaimer: I’m no blacker than Sailer is, which makes either of us pontificating about Obama’s responses to his racial experiences growing up an exercise in silliness.)

But anyway, I think Kleiman’s amusing snark is significantly undercut by the fact that once I actually read Sailer’s piece, it didn’t come off as either dishonest nor particularly bigoted (and not even particularly anti-Obama — Sailer says some fairly nice — and accurate — things about the guy). Now, maybe I should read more of the background in order to appreciate the context. Kleiman talks about Sailer’s having written for the VDare web site, which I’ve never read. And I haven’t even bothered reading Alex Koznetski’s protest of Sailer’s piece (maybe I’ll go read that now). But from where I sit, this undercuts somewhat my faith in Mark Kleiman as a reliable source of reality-based observation.

Update: Have now read Koznetski’s piece. Didn’t really change my view. Kleiman’s snark is fun, but not really justified by the underlying facts of the case.

Chait: The Kremlinization of the American Politician

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

Jonathan Chait, writing an op-ed piece in today’s LA Times, does a good job of summing up some of the recent brouhaha over Bush’s politicization of the federal government’s law enforcement arm: Kremlin justice in the U.S.

It’s not about whether Gonzales and his minions lied to Congress and the public. (They did, repeatedly.) It’s not even about whether the Justice Department improperly fired federal prosecutors. (It did, of course.) It’s about whether the Bush administration sought to subvert democracy by turning the federal judicial system into a weapon of the ruling party.

Definitely worth reading, and thinking about.

Eugene Robinson: Who Are You Going to Believe?

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

From reader Robert comes a pointer to this snarky-but-fun op-ed piece by Eugene Robinson: Are they serious?

Gonzales had an op-ed Sunday in The Post that included this positively breathtaking claim: The attorney general of the United States writes that “to my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign.”

To his knowledge? What on earth does that mean? Is Gonzales in the habit of making decisions without his own knowledge? Does he have multiple-personality issues?

Rove, Wolfowitz and Gonzales are making the last-ditch argument of a cheating husband caught in flagrante: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?

“I never sought to mislead or deceive the Congress or the American people about my role in this matter.”

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Froomkin and Brand (via Rood) on Gonzales’ Upcoming Testimony

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Alberto Gonzales is due to testify on Thursday, postponed from tomorrow due to the Virginia Tech shootings. I was going to put together a big omnibus reader of all the various Alberto Gonzales items I’ve been consuming, but the invaluable Dan Froomkin at the WaPo has done it for me via his regular bloggy column: Gonzales likely to disappoint.

Judging from his prepared statement and his Washington Post op-ed, Gonzales will continue to insist that, while he doesn’t really know why he fired the attorneys, he simply cannot believe that he did so for improper reasons.

…which is both deliciously snarky and dryly accurate. There’s lots more good stuff in the Froomkin column, so check it out if you’re looking for the latest.

Another Gonzeles item, this one by Justin Rood, and posted at ABC News’ bloggy thingy The Blotter, was this: Is attorney general’s testimony a bad idea?

“It’s suicidal,” said Stanley Brand, one of the top ethics defense lawyers in Washington, D.C. Given the conflicting stories from Gonzales, his aides and top Justice Department officials about why eight U.S. attorneys were fired, and to what extent Gonzales was involved in the process, the attorney general puts himself in criminal jeopardy by testifying under oath, Brand said.

It’s almost enough to make me feel sorry for the guy.


Shooting Civilians in Nangarhar, No Gun Ri

Saturday, April 14th, 2007

From the WaPo’s Ann Scott Tyson and Josh White comes this depressing story about Marines running amok in the wake of a roadside bombing in the Nangarhar region of eastern Afghanistan: Excessive force by Marines alleged.

A platoon of elite Marine Special Operations troops reacted with “excessive force” after an ambush in Afghanistan last month, opening fire on pedestrians and civilian vehicles along a 10-mile stretch of road and killing 12 people — including a 4-year-old girl, a 1-year-old boy and three elderly villagers — an investigation by an Afghan human rights commission alleges.

The investigation, based on dozens of eyewitness interviews, found that Marines in a convoy of Humvees continued shooting at at least six locations along the road, miles beyond the site where they were ambushed by a suicide bomber in a van. They fired at stationary vehicles, passersby and others who were “exclusively civilian in nature” and had made “no kind of provocative or threatening behavior,” according to a draft report of the investigation obtained by The Washington Post.


Shortly after the incident, the Marine platoon and its parent company were pulled out of the area and are in the Persian Gulf with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Gunnery Sgt. Michael Turner, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command at Camp Lejeune, N.C., said yesterday that the company commander and senior noncommissioned officer were redeployed to North Carolina after they were relieved of command on April 3. Special Operations officers “had lost trust and confidence” in the unit’s leadership, Turner said.

I’ve got no reason to think this is anything other than what it’s being presented as: A case of a small number of Marines overreacting to a roadside bombing, with their superiors neither encouraging what they did nor condoning it after the fact. It’s awful enough as an example of the horrors of war just as it is.

Horrible things happen in war. And it can be hard to know when we’re getting the real story. Even fifty years after the fact, the urge to bury the truth is strong. Consider the No Gun Ri massacre, an incident during the Korean War in which hundreds of refugees fleeing the fighting, women and children, were killed by US soldiers. The Army’s 2001 report on that incident declared that the killings were “not deliberate.” But now high-level documentation has come to light that makes a compelling case that the killings were actually official policy, that the soldiers who shot those refugees were following orders. What’s more, it looks like the investigators who issued that 2001 report were aware of that documentation, and chose not to mention it.

The details are available in this story from Charles J. Hanley and Martha Mendoza of the Associated Press: Letter reveals U.S. intent at No Gun Ri.

It’s not a pleasant story. But it’s the truth.

Greenwald: Barney’s Eating a LOT of Bush’s Homework

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Glenn Greenwald reviews the interesting pattern whereby the Bush people repeatedly have problems locating important paperwork — at least when that paperwork concerns things they would prefer not to see widely discussed: The Bush administration’s terrible luck with finding documents.

Hilzoy on Imus and the Duke Lacrosse Players

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Since every TV “news” organization is giving the Imus firing and the Duke lacrosse players’ exoneration wall-to-wall coverage, the least I can do is quote from Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings with some actual wisdom on the subject: Sometimes, justice prevails:

What the Imus episode and the Duke lacrosse case have in common is that in both cases, people seem to have forgotten that they were dealing with actual human beings. Don Imus was just doing (what I gather is) his normal schtick. I don’t suppose he was actually thinking: here are a group of young women who have taken their team to the NCAA championships; I wonder how I can completely ruin what ought to be one of the greatest days of their lives? They probably just weren’t that real to him. Similarly, though much more damagingly, I don’t suppose that Mike Nifong said to himself: I wonder how I can do something truly awful to some Duke lacrosse players? He probably just got caught up in the politics of it, and forgot about justice. Likewise, there were altogether too many commenters — probably on both sides — for whom this case was just an occasion for a canned political rant, not one that involved actual human beings.

I think that getting so caught up in what you’re doing that you forget that you’re dealing with actual human beings is one of the most morally dangerous things there is. It’s easy to see how it happens; we’re all vulnerable to this. But forcing yourself to remember the human beings on the other side, especially when it’s tempting not to, is absolutely essential. And it’s equally essential to remember that however closely a story seems to fit your favorite preconceived narrative, you can’t know that it does fit without evidence. The world does not exist to reinforce our preconceptions.

Funny Cat Pictures

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Courtesy of Paul at work, and then Beck (curse you), here are a bunch of funny cat pictures as helpfully stolen and reposted collated by the folks at Meme Cats.

Never shy about stealing and reposting collating myself, I herewith enclose a few of my favorites:

Carl Levin on Dick Cheney’s Lies

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Check out the op-ed in today’s L.A. Times from Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI): Cheney lied. Again. It discusses Cheney’s recent appearance on Rush Limbaugh’s show, and gives a nice summary of the highlights of Cheney’s dishonesty with respect to Iraq and al Qaeda.

Levin’s conclusion:

By all accounts, Dick Cheney is one of the most powerful vice presidents in our history, if you define power as influence over policy. We need to ask ourselves: What does it mean for our country when the vice president’s words lack credibility, but he still wields great power?

I listened to Rush Limbaugh for a few minutes on my way into work the other day (I was stuck in a traffic jam and was patrolling the AM dial trying to find out why). And at this point, I really can only see three possibilities if you choose to listen to his show:

1) You’re aware that he’s completely full of shit, and just listen for entertainment value.

2) You’re aware that he’s full of shit, but you’re so ideologically committed that you believe it’s fine for him to do that. It’s all part of fighting the good fight, and the other side is lying, too, so good for him. Stick it to those liberals.

3) You’re so swaddled in right-wing propaganda that you actually believe Rush is telling the truth.

Have I missed any categories? If anyone reading this actually listens to Rush Limbaugh, can you enlighten me? Thanks.

Iraq War Dead for February and March, 2007

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Here are the updated graphs for February and March. As always, I’m comparing the US military casualties in Iraq 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 50 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 were more troops in Iraq in the early going than were in Vietnam during the “corresponding” parts of the graphs. Similarly, for later years in Vietnam, when the monthly death toll exceeds 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.

Joshua Bell, Street Musician

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

The people at the Washington Post Magazine decided to conduct an experiment: They had one of the world’s leading violinists set up as a street performer at the entrance to a Washington, D.C., Metro station, and start playing his violin. Would people notice? Would he be showered with money? Would there be a riot?

Um, no.

In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run — for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.

The article, by Post staff writer Gene Weingarten, is awesome. Highly recommended: Pearls Before Breakfast.

RIAA, MPAA: We Want Legal Right to Lie

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

A bill aimed at cracking down on businesses that engage in “pretexting” (or, to be less precious about it, lying) in pursuit of personal information has become the target of a lobbying effort by the music and movie industries, which say they need to be able to lie in order to fight piracy: Recording, movie industries lobby for permission to deceive.

Orrin Hatch, Rush Limbaugh Lie about Carol Lam

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

A minor, but interesting, aspect of the ongoing US Attorney firing scandal has been this statement last Sunday on Meet the Press by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), questioning the qualifications of Carol Lam:

She’s a former law professor; no prosecutorial experience; and the former campaign manager in Southern California for Clinton.

Now, the interesting thing about that is that it apparently is completely untrue: Lam was never a law professor, had lots of previous prosecutorial experience, and was never associated with the campaign of either Clinton. Hatch wasn’t called on it on the show, for which I guess we can thank the kwality of TV “journalism” these days. (Though presumably Tim Russert will have Hatch back on some day and put the quote up on screen, asking him for his response.)

But I guess it could be worse. I’m willing to stipulate that there’s a smallish chance that Hatch was merely in the throes of creeping dementia. And maybe MTP’s failure to point out the falsehood was the result of mere journalistic incompetence. In the case of the following Rush Limbaugh comment from a few days later, though, I don’t see any way around it: The guy was just flat-out lying:

Carol Lam was a campaign manager! These people would normally be made ambassadors, but Clinton put her in as a US attorney.

Um, no. She was not a campaign manager, or anything else, for Clinton, and was appointed as a US Attorney in 2002 by George W. Bush.

If you want to find people willing to tell blatant lies to support your pre-eixsting biases, you can find them. For those of a right-wing bent, Rush Limbaugh serves the purpose nicely. Just don’t expect the grown-ups to pay much attention to your opinions once they recognize where they’re coming from.

A nice roundup is available from Little Thom’s blog: The Logic of Over-the-Top Suspicion.

Update: Interesting followup from Josh Marshall: I become frightened sometimes… It includes this great quote from Orrin Hatch, released today:

My comments about Carol Lam’s record as a U.S. Attorney were accurate, but I misspoke when making the point of discussing politically connected U.S. Attorneys. I accidentally used her name, instead of her predecessor, Alan Bersin, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Heh. My comments were accurate… except that they were about a completely different person who has no connection with the matter I was actually discussing. Wow, that’s cool. Let’s all try:

Talking to the IRS: Oh, right, yeah. My tax return was accurate… except that it was an accurate accounting of the income of somebody other than me.

Talking to an irate girlfriend: My statement that you have an enormous rear end was accurate… but see, I didn’t actually mean you; I meant Rush Limbaugh.

Talking to a boss: Oh, gee, yeah; that big cash deposit I was supposed to make with our receipts for the week last Friday. I made that deposit, I really did. It’s just that I made it into a different person’s account, rather than the corporate account where it was supposed to go.

Keith Richards on Snorting His Dad’s Ashes. Or Not.

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

I thought it was sort of funny when Keith Richards said the following a few days ago:

The strangest thing I’ve tried to snort? My father. I snorted my father. He was cremated and I couldn’t resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow. My dad wouldn’t have cared, he didn’t give a shit. It went down pretty well, and I’m still alive.

Now, though, in the wake of Disney marketing folks saying they’re planning on having Keith not be especially involved in promotional efforts for the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean 3, here’s what Richards is saying:

The truth of the matter is that I planted a sturdy English oak tree. I took the lid off the box of ashes, and he is now growing oak trees and would love me for it!!! I was trying to say how tight Bert and I were. That tight!!! I wouldn’t take cocaine at this point in my life unless I wished to commit suicide.

Um, okay. Though that statement sure sounds like a “non-denial denial.”