Wednesday, November 30, 2005


The "Perchlorate Remediation Techniques" afternoon session was even more of a bust than expected, and I'm waiting around to talk to the head of SERDP about how much funding this fancy new technology to track down UXO might expect in the future. In the meantime, I am trying not to eat too many of the complimentary soft pretzels -- the vegetarian options at lunch were woefully inadequate. I snuck out of the tech session early and am wandering around the exhibits until my quarry appears. Don't worry -- my editor knows. She apologized.

LiveBlogging From D.C.

I need to get off here soon, but I'm at a SERDP conference at the Marriott Wardman Park in D.C. Northwest. You'll find it if you look. So far my big story lead is a bunch of new technologies used to find unexploded ordinance (UXO) laying around old military bombing ranges from Dubya Dubya Two. This is a big deal because cities are developing right up to the boundaries of these old sites, which have lots of bombs that didn't go off (yet) and chemicals left over and bla bla bla. So if we can find these things, we can get rid of them. I'll tell you what LiDAR stands for later, if I get a chance. It's really interesting. Not.

Newswire feed

Peter Daou of the Daou Report has a new project, News Unfiltered. It's a straight feed of select U.S. Newswire reports, and promises to be a great source of up-to-the-minute news. Thanks to Talk Left for the link.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Like Berlin, Except in English

Going down the elevator from my 14th floor office – a depressing affair, since I was the last environmental reporter to go home and I passed no one I knew on the way out – I had a funny feeling that something was going to go wrong. Sure enough, I arrived at the lobby to find that janitorial services, whoever they are, lock the doors not only to keep people out in the evening, they lock them to keep people in. Because it was my first day and I didn’t have a key, I stood there impotently rattling the bars of my cage. There are three sets of doors that separate the elevator area from the main entrance hall, and they all wobble and stick fast just the same after Willy – I imagine the man with the keys is named Willy – decides to call it a day. A gentleman in a military uniform happened to be passing outside my gilded truffle of a prison and gave the doors a few good-natured tugs, both of us knowing full well that I was going to die in there. I don’t know where he was going – in the “main area” on the ground floor of the office building, there are a few places to get food, coffee, a shoe shine or a haircut, but not at 6:55 in the p.m. He peered into a phone that connected our two little biodomes and for some reason the door unlocked at my pull. I asked him what he had done. “Hell if I know,” he shrugged, which in military lingo is the same thing as an invitation to please not talk about it.

I had acquired directions to the nearest Verizon store, still in need of a cell phone. It was supposed to be in a Circuit City at Army Navy St. and South Hayes, and luckily there’s a bus stop nearby, so with darkness upon me I waited for the 10A – at a stop right next to the freeway, I might add, where a fire truck made a great hue and cry trying to get off the exit ramp – to take me toward the shopping mall they call Pentagon Centre, the landmark bus stop in the area. After getting off the bus the biggest thing in sight was a Macy’s, so I went in to ask for directions. “Circuit City, madame? 1100 S. Hayes? You see I have the address here in my notebook.” And she replied: “Mina, we got a Circuit City around here?”

“Girl, my sense of direction is off. I’m not gonna open my mouth, or I don’t know where you’ll end up.”

“I think it must be that way” [gesturing] “because on the other side of the interstate there’s nothing there.”

So I went that way for a few blocks, following a long line of brightly lit outlet stores across the street but no Circuit City. A Russian woman asked me the time, and I put on my best Washington air and informed her I was not wearing a watch (as I’m also not doing now). She said she had missed her shuttle and I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. I found a parking attendant sitting in a hut at a pay lot and asked him about the address. He was, to put it mildly, not from around here, and he directed me to a street with a name between Pattycake and Panic Attack – I couldn’t say which, and neither exist – with a vague gesture in the direction I had just come from. So I went back, weary, and almost decided to call it off when I saw a Borders advertised above a shop window and decided to ask for better help. Without getting too far into it, the Pentagon Centre was designed by people made of stupid. There is no apparent point of ingress. One is expected to knock out a wall to reach one’s destination. Through cunning, I eventually found a better way in and asked a cashier where I could please get to the Circuit City, whereupon he guffawed and said “Yeah, in the mall across the street. You can go underground and come up right inside.” You see, there’s mall on both sides of the street. I was in the Pentagon Centre. I crossed to Pentagon City. Pentagon City is bigger. In order to transition I walked through the underground Metro stop that connects the two, wading through a cacophonous riot of strangers, and that whiff of ‘subway’ hit me like a ton of bricks, bringing back memories of Germany and how one can never get around without mastering the public transportation system. This one even smelled like Berlin for some reason.

More to the point, the Macy’s people failed to inform me that the Circuit City Express was not only in their mall, it was five storefronts down.

In their defense, I ended up not buying my phone from that famed electronics merchant. There’s also a Verizon store in the mall, which neither the Internet nor anyone else had told me. So lucky for me that I can read a mall directory, or it might have gotten very ugly. Very interesting and ugly.

After going through the process and setting up my phone – a real find with the mail-in rebate, which will not work as planned, no doubt – I decided to go home but changed my mind and asked an information desk on the ground floor where to buy some envelopes and stamps. Instead of following her friendly and no doubt accurate instructions I went to the bathroom, where things took another unexpected turn.

The stall I went into had a curious green shirt sitting there on top of the toilet paper dispenser, like a dirty little baby-shaped ghost that had decided to cover itself in cloth and be worn. I felt it staring at me and gingerly picked at it as I would a hissing viper, trying to move it out of the way without wanting to put it in the small puddle of urine on the floor in case someone wanted to come back for it. (In case you’re wondering why I didn’t change stalls, trust me, this is as normal as it got.) I moved it over and placed my stack of papers next to it, precariously balancing a yellow notepad, a smaller white notepad, a sheaf of paperwork and a bag full of a cell phone and user manual next to the curious item, which I noticed as I settled down was covered in small brown hairs. Apparently a young man had gotten a haircut, started to itch and abandoned the offending shirt in a toilet stall. I can only imagine what happened when he tried to go home. I jabbed at the paper dispenser with the shirt, awkwardly trying to position everything correctly, and tried to get it over with as soon as possible. Soon I flushed and prepared to leave.

When I rose from the elegant ivory toilet to tie my shoe, my precious quarter dollars fell from my shirt pocket and rolled around on the filth-infested tile. I found one, mercifully dry, but the other eluded me as I bent down to search for it. Without it I would have only $5.25 – troubling, especially for a bus rider who needs quarters for the fare as badly as I do. I looked and looked until people began to walk into the bathroom, greeted by a sight I can well imagine and only describe as “Young man with his butt in the air, mouthing nonsense, peering at a urine stain.” I mumbled my courtesies and left.

I had meant to have dinner at home but knew no one else would be there, so I found a Malaysian place in the food court – as this is a very sophisticated city – and ordered the vegetarian delight. (On the way I overheard a fantastic elderly woman ask a security guard whether there was a Chinese restaurant nearby. The poor thing was standing in front of a Panda Express. I don’t know if she was genuinely confused or just some purist being snippy.) I sat and ate and stared into the mall and realized that I would be going home to an empty house and a cold bed, and it made me feel like an adult for some reason. I knew I’d flown the coop for good. (You see, Margaret, my roommate, doesn’t come home from class on Mondays until 10:30. And the mysterious, omnipotent Xavier is still in India. An extra in a Bollywood musical? No one seems to know.) I took a bus home without further incident, except for two guys my age in nice clothes talking about how one had left his wallet behind wherever they’d just come from. They got out at my stop, and I thought about talking to them, but they went in the opposite direction from my house and I let them go. I proceeded to have the telephone odyssey described in the following post, which was a great way to finish off the evening. Then I drank some juice. In case you were wondering what I was doing around 6:15 Arizona time, I was sitting at a bus stop without my jacket, which I didn’t need because the cloud cover has kept things warm. Reports of rain were exaggerated and I am dry as a bone.

I don't know how long my life will go on imitating art, as in my Honor's thesis about a young man who moves to a big city to start his journalism career that isn't about me at all, but so far I feel about as haphazard and freely disconnected as he did. My work in my mind is sort of secondary to the fact of my just being here on my own. I didn't expect that it would produce any sort of psychological reaction. It will probably wear off soon.

By the Many Arms of Vishnu, What a Line

I’ve been trying to use my D-Link wireless card in my clunky old laptop since Sunday, and after hours of futility I used my fancy new cell phone to call tech support. I don’t need to tell you that most of these phone banks are in India these days, and being clever I was able to influence Ramesh to divulge certain facts that lead me to believe this one was no exception. The problem with this system is that their phone lines date to the Great War or usually long before it, and I had to – ahem – struggle to be heard. Imagine the scene if you will: I am on the phone in the dining room, staring at my computer screen, spelling my name at the top of my lungs into a dark, empty house, while the uncomprehending man on the end of the line wrings his hands and puts me on hold every few minutes for no reason. He wants to go over everything before we move on: my e-mail address, my phone number, and ESPECIALLY the spelling of my name. Finally we get to the good part, except there is no good part. He tells me to do all the things I already did before I called him – that is, before I spent my first 45 minutes as a cell phone owner – before telling me that the card is defective and I must take it back to the “point of purchase,” where I will give them the magic number and they will give me my money back. He gives me such a number, which is not going to mean diddly to the pizza-faced cashier at the Richmond Freeway Target, and thanks me for calling. I consider telling him I am a lawyer and that he is going to jail for malicious mischief. Then I hang up.

The Day Ends

I've been here about 72 hours and I keep thinking "that damn sky is still grey." I anticipated a little more excitement about the foul weather, which I don't get much of; I guess I was wrong.

I'll be attending my first symposium tomorrow. No word yet on whether all the editing I had to do today was just a joke thay play on the new guy -- several hours of marking up stuff that sounds NOTHING like the journalism I learned how to write, and my hand started to hurt about as much as my head. (The heat has been turned way up in the building, and occasionally the power goes out to general glee.) Sentences start with "But." Paragraphs start with "And." Cats and dogs living together. Up is down.

I'm heading out to my first bus ride home. Hopefully the sun has gone down so I don't have to stare up at the leaden sky.

Updates on my emerging social life will be forthcoming as needed.

Small Muffins

I've finally settled in enough to get back to posting, which I announced would be fast and furious just before I went on a long break. My home internet connection has been problematic -- I bought a wireless card and haven't made it work yet. I don't have a phone. I need to get to a mall. I am cold.

My roommate works at Kramerbooks and Afterwords cafe near Dupont Circle, where I ate out on my first morning as a Washingtonian. I sat and stared out the window, wondering how I got here, enjoying the complimentary free mini-muffins they provide, drinking my free tiny orange juice. Across the street hung an Irish flag and I thought I was near the embassy. I was not. It was just a hotel full of liars.

My other roommate is still in India. Xavier is his name and no one seems to know what he does for a living.

In neighborhood news, there's a delightful place called the "Wafle Spot" down the street from my townhouse, and the local wags have a lot of fun with that. It's pronounced "WAY-full," if you ever come to visit. Everyone will know what you're talking about.

I'm hard at work editing a story about perchlorate levels. More as it develops.

By the way, anyone who wants to post here should feel free. This is a community site, and I hate looking at week-old posts.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

David Irving, Holocaust Denier, Is In Jail in Austria

I remember when I first discovered that Christopher Hitchens, a former icon of mine and now a mindless right-wing pervert, stood up for British historian David Irving when there was no conceivable reason to do so. I was disappointed. Well, it looks like there may be justice for Irving yet.

Incidentally, the laws that make Holocaust denial illegal in Europe are impossible here because of the First Amendment, but I have long supported some version of them. I think incitement to racial violence is a crime and should be prosecuted as such. I'm more agnostic about Holocaust revisionism -- I think it has so little chance of regaining intellectual respectability that it's not much of a danger. But the fact that it's okay to advocate the extermination of Jews in the U.S. as long as YOU aren't the one that pulls the trigger has never made sense to me. I know words and actions are different -- trust me, I've worked this one inside and out in my head. And I still think there oughta be a law. Americans are raised to assume that this is a crazy point of view, but I'm not sure many have really sat down with themselves and figured it out. As huffy as a constitutional lawyer could get in this country about freedom of speech, all a German has to do to reply is ask whether his country's hate crime laws should be repealed. And I would say no.

Interesting sidenote about David Irving and the law: this isn't the first time he's been in trouble. The account of his libel trial (in which he was the plaintiff, believe it or not) at Salon is fascinating.
Under British libel law, all a plaintiff has to do to claim libel is to demonstrate that the words spoken or written about him are defamatory. As D.D. Guttenplan points out in "The Holocaust on Trial," one of two new books about the case, there is no need, as there is in the United States, for the claimant to show that the words were used "in reckless disregard" of the truth. Instead, it becomes the defense's burden to prove that the disputed words are true. What that meant in this case was that because David Irving contended that the gas chambers were a hoax, British law required that in order for Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher to prove that Irving was a Holocaust denier, they first had to prove that the Holocaust actually took place.

Blair to Bush: "Bombing al-Jazeera Is Stupid, George"

Apparently Bush was so incensed that al-Jazeera is run by Arabs that he wanted to bomb it, and it took more than a deep breath to calm him down.

The person bringing this important information to the press has been fired and indicted for leaking.

The Daily Mirror reported that Bush spoke of targeting Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, Qatar, when he met Blair at the White House on April 16, 2004. The Bush administration has regularly accused Al-Jazeera of being nothing more than a mouthpiece for anti-American sentiments.

The Daily Mirror attributed its information to unidentified sources. One source, said to be in the government, was quoted as saying that the alleged threat was "humorous, not serious," but the newspaper quoted another source as saying that "Bush was deadly serious, as was Blair."

Blair's office declined to comment on the report, stressing it never discusses leaked documents.

In Qatar, Al-Jazeera said it was aware of the report, but did not wish to comment.


Sir Menzies Campbell, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, said Tuesday that, if true, the memo was worrying.

"If true, then this underlines the desperation of the Bush administration as events in Iraq began to spiral out of control," he said. "On this occasion, the prime minister may have been successful in averting political disaster, but it shows how dangerous his relationship with President Bush has been."

I can't even think of a pithy remark for this. The president has clearly lost his mind.

Putting the "Holy" Back in Holidays

Vaino recently posted a very insightful comment: "Most conservatives invent phony issues and then get themselves worked into a rage about them." Case in point: The War on Christmas. In the spirit of peace on earth and goodwill towards man, a bunch of conservative blowhards have gotten their panties in a wad over the fact that we now don't all just assume that everyone celebrates Christmas. Apparently, liberals are to blame for launching a brutal campaign that aims to remove the baby Jesus from nativity scenes and replace Christmas trees with "Friendship Trees." (Hey, aren't these the same guys that were all in favor of "freedom fries?")

It seems that the worst offense in the eyes of Christmas Crusaders is the secularization of department store holiday sales campaigns. Okay, I'm no rocket scientist, but isn't it possible that megalomarts such as Target and Wal-mart have secularized their in-store displays and whatnot in order to appeal to a wider range of customers, thereby increasing sales potential? Hey, who can't get behind "the holiday season?" Outdoor lights? Festive! Wreaths? Seasonal decor! Cards? Who doesn't want to give an annual shout out to their homies?! Isn't it conceivable that these huge corporations have never given a flying-fuck about the birth of Christ? Call me crazy, but aren't capitalism and consumer greed to blame for the fact that we are buying inflatable snowmen in October (the month of devils, ghouls, and everything unholy)?

Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson need to get lives. And decent editors. Gibson wins the award for a) the longest and b) the stupidest subtitle for a book published in 2005: "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought." Worse than I thought? Oh god, oh god! Honey, get the shotgun! Don't worry little Timmy, we won't let those nasty liberals shoot down Santa's sleigh!

Update by Lapp: Holiday sales are looking good this year. No mention of whether ACLU thugs with socks full of pennies are involved.

Pork Dumpling Not Sitting Right, George?

Just how hard is it for the president not to mug for the camera? Just how hard is it for him to find a working door? Both questions answered here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

New Fed Chairman Owns Only One Stock

Can you guess what it is? That's right! Philip Morris Tobacco! Changing its name to Altria doesn't make it any less of a felonious corporate behemoth. So good for Ben Bernanke: always go where the money is.

A Fine Air

I've just been driving around listening to the Best of the Chieftains. If your eye doesn't get a little misty and your back doesn't stiffen when you hear the laments of an Irish flute, I say you're not a man. The same goes for "Red-Haired Boy," a modal tune for the banjo that will have you missing the old country even if you've never been there.

Montana's Miracle Cure for Expensive Gasoline

The Fischer-Tropsch process for turning coal into usable fuel has been around for about 80 years, but new developments may make it a lot cleaner to use than previous versions. Environmentalists are warily on board with Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer's plan to wean America off foreign oil by turning his state into a coal miner's wet dream: Fischer-Tropsch central. An unintentionally scary paragraph reminds us who used Fischer-Tropsch in the past: rogue states like Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, who couldn't get anyone to trade with them.

Background on Schweitzer: he ran for Senate against Conrad Burns a few years ago, campaigning mostly on a promise to bring affordable health care to seniors who drive to Canada to get their meds. (This is now illegal, by the way. During the campaign he made a very public bus trip with a group of Medicaid recipients that would today land him in jail.) He lost, but used his name recognition to take the governor's house last year. So far his approval ratings have hovered in the seventies and he's a sleeper for re-election.

My Wallet Needs a National Health Care Plan

True story: I got a bad case of the poisoned oak on a trip a few weeks ago, and when I got back to civilization I tried all sorts of ointments, poultices and witch doctors (including the ineffective Benadryl and the miraculous but in my case insufficient Zanfel) until I couldn't take the itching and went to get a prescription. I thought I could hold out, believing erroneously that it only lasts a few days, but things got out of hand and I started taking the standard steroids for temporarily suppressing your immune system, which overreacts to poison oak and creates the problem, believe it or not. Well, I thought it would cost me fifty bucks, maybe a hundred, and filling the prescription was only a ten-spot, so I thought no harm done.

All told, for one hour in the emergency room and maybe five minutes of actual face time, I have shelled out $460. And that wouldn't happen in Canada.

Let's break down the charges, shall we? The hospital asked for $100 up front and said I could pay the rest later, if there were additional fees. (As though there might not be. I foolishly decided to hope.) I got a statement in the mail soon afterwards asking for, or rather demanding, an extra $95, which I paid grudgingly and thought I was finished.

Then another letter came in the mail saying I owe ----- Emergency Physicians another $245. You see, the hospital has its costs and billing system, and the doctors who work for the hospital have a complete different system, and you pay them both. They actually compete to see who can charge more for less. I could have faked the prescription -- I write a very sloppy hand when I want to -- and walked into the nearest pharmacy, paid ten bucks and been done with the whole thing.

But nooooooo. Someone has to build that third addition to his daughter's house yacht. Thank goodness this happened in the small window of time before my new job and health care plan kick in. Otherwise I wouldn't have learned the value of for-profit health care.

Why Milosevic's Closest Allies Aren't In The Dock With Him

I've been following this story with personal interest for years -- I could never figure out why it got in my head, outside of wanting to see justice done to war criminals. I wasn't aware that Radovan Karadzic, the political head of the Bosnian Serbs during the war and a seriously heinous man, was a sitting duck for years until he went missing just when the political will to arrest him miraculously appeared in Washington. (France doesn't come off looking very good either, I must say.) Ratko Mladic, the worst of the period's military generals, has also been in hiding and probably has a network of safe houses a thousand miles wide at this point. Every so often I check the international headlines to see if either of them have been nabbed. Nope. Never.

A bit of perspective: the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, or ICTY, has done a lot of good work over the years, fairly prosecuting hundreds of detainees of all political and ethnic stripes. (Even a few Kosovar Albanian separatists are being tried now for running the Llapushnik camp.) I mentioned, back in the first halcyon days of Lapplander, that Milosevic's trial was dragging on, and it still is, but it's better to be too thorough than too hasty in matters of international justice. And the guys tracking down the "accused at large," as the UN calls them, have had some high-profile successes recently. But the failure to catch Karadzic and Mladic, the bin Laden and al-Zawahri of Balkan fugitives, has been a continuously puzzling embarrassment.

General Motors Cutting 30,000 Jobs

Just in case you're waiting for that bond to mature, you may want to cash it in early. GM is cracking up big time, slashing approximately nine percent of its worldwide employee rolls. The United Auto Workers calls the move unfair and unfortunate.

"Personally, I've been speculating this would come down the pike for a while, and I've been trying to look for work elsewhere," said Bob Tyrrell, 45, who has worked the second shift at the Oklahoma City plant since 1979. "I didn't think it would be this quick or this drastic."

Mike O'Rourke, president of United Auto Workers Local 1853 in Spring Hill, said GM leaders need to change approaches to be successful. "They need to design cars that sell," O'Rourke said.

If GM is in huge financial trouble, maybe it's better they do this now instead of leaving every employee holding the bag at the bitter end. I don't think this is good news by any stretch, but if it means the rest of the GM community keeps its livelihood, maybe it's necessary. It's not like the company is doing very well these days.

Spanking Your Children -- You May As Well Forcefeed Them Goat Entrails

A new report out shows for about the ninetieth time that spanking children not only doesn't work, it's counterproductive and will make them hate you. I learned this lesson the hard way when I spanked my dolls as a young boy until they rose against me in anger, burning and looting their way through my room. One even shot me with a pea.

Jennifer Lansford, a research scientist from the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University spearheaded the survey. She told Reuters Health that "across the six countries studied, children who were physically disciplined more frequently were more aggressive and anxious than were children who were physically disciplined less frequently."

"However, in countries where the use of physical discipline was more common, being physically disciplined more frequently was not related as strongly to aggression and anxiety as it was in countries where physical discipline was less frequently used," she said.

Not surprisingly, in Thailand, a country where peace-promoting Buddhist teachings predominant, moms were least likely to spank their children or use other forms of physical discipline.

In Kenya, on the other hand, where use of physical discipline is common and considered normal for the most part, moms were most likely to spank or engage in similar disciplinary tactics. In a study conducted in Kenya in 2003, 57 percent of grandmothers reported caning, pinching, slapping, tying with a rope, hitting, beating, and kicking as forms of discipline they had used on their grandchildren.

Beyond the half-scientific question of whether it "works," the real issue is whether physical punishment is really the best we can come up with in the 21st century. And the answer has got to be no. Except in Kenya, where they apparently beat children silly, tie them to a chair, pinch them until they cry, cane them in the buttocks and kick them until they promise to be good. Which I haven't seen in action, but I can well imagine what happens when you try that sort of thing on adults.

Sony Puts Spyware On Your Computer

I don't know what the jerkwads in the music department were thinking, but they included a bug on all recent CDs that puts spyware on your computer when you play Sony merchandise. Could a huge class-action lawsuit be in the works, possibly of a magnitude that would make Big Tobacco look like child's play? It's irresponsible not to speculate.

Update: Yup, already busted. Texas is leading the way. They may love the smell of tobacco and petroleum in the morning, but if you mess with their computers, get ready, because the thunder is comin' to town.

Fitzgerald Asks For New Grand Jury

And you thought that story was over and done with. Ye doubting Thomases of little faith.

Late update: People magazine named Fitz one of the sexiest men alive this year. He's not exactly my type, but then, I am already spoken for. (Caution: the link includes an advertisement for a bra. I can only assume an online coupon that screams "As seen on Oprah" paid for itself.)

We Are In Full 'Big Brother' Mode

A report found by Rolling Stone, of all the people to break a story, shows that the Bush Administration has approved lying and spreading false information to increase support for the war. We all sort of knew it was happening, but the proof, like the grinning face of the mad Joker, is now staring right us right in the face. They have been caught with their pants down. We are being lied to. Read on to see how the word "patriotism" plays in the defense of this behavior.

As the war in Iraq has spiraled out of control, the Bush administration’s covert propaganda campaign has intensified. According to a secret Pentagon report personally approved by Rumsfeld in October 2003 and obtained by Rolling Stone, the Strategic Command is authorized to engage in “military deception” — defined as “presenting false information, images or statements.” The seventy-four-page document, titled “Information Operations Roadmap,” also calls for psychological operations to be launched over radio, television, cell phones and “emerging technologies” such as the Internet. In addition to being classified secret, the road map is also stamped noforn, meaning it cannot be shared even with our allies.

As the acknowledged general of such propaganda warfare, Rendon insists that the work he does is for the good of all Americans. “For us, it’s a question of patriotism,” he says. “It’s not a question of politics, and that’s an important distinction. I feel very strongly about that personally. If brave men and women are going to be put in harm’s way, they deserve support.” But in Iraq, American troops and Iraqi civilians were put in harm’s way, in large part, by the false information spread by Rendon and the men he trained in information warfare. And given the rapid growth of what is known as the “security-intelligence complex” in Washington, covert perception managers are likely to play an increasingly influential role in the wars of the future.
If this doesn't get major news coverage, well, you'll know why. Because all the journalists will be replaced with robots. And I've always said we cannot peacefully coexist with robots.

We Learned The Torture Tactics of Commie Regimes -- On Purpose

This article/commentary -- until the last paragraph, it's hard to say which -- from the NYTimes lays out the Cliffs Notes history of how we started torturing detainees, and it's even worse than you thought. To whit: we weren't after methods that would get people to give us information, if such methods even exist. We were after methods we knew would so freak people out that they'd say anything to get us to stop. Yeah. Us. The Americans.

Fearful of future terrorist attacks and frustrated by the slow progress of intelligence-gathering from prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Pentagon officials turned to the closest thing on their organizational charts to a school for torture. That was a classified program at Fort Bragg, N.C., known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Based on studies of North Korean and Vietnamese efforts to break American prisoners, SERE was intended to train American soldiers to resist the abuse they might face in enemy custody.

The Pentagon appears to have flipped SERE's teachings on their head, mining the program not for resistance techniques but for interrogation methods. At a June 2004 briefing, the chief of the United States Southern Command, Gen. James T. Hill, said a team from Guantánamo went "up to our SERE school and developed a list of techniques" for "high-profile, high-value" detainees. General Hill had sent this list - which included prolonged isolation and sleep deprivation, stress positions, physical assault and the exploitation of detainees' phobias - to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who approved most of the tactics in December 2002.

Some within the Pentagon warned that these tactics constituted torture, but a top adviser to Secretary Rumsfeld justified them by pointing to their use in SERE training, a senior Pentagon official told us last month.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I wish Rumsfeld would resign and spare the country any further shame and humiliation.

I Would Like It Noted In Passing...

...that I myself am not an angry feminist womyn, nor is this an angry feminist blyg. Y am, however, wimmen-fryndly, and Y am famylyr with the language of womyn's ryts.

That having been said, I must observe the predictability of a woman stealing and corrupting a man's blog, as women are prone to jealousy and theft. I think this explains the success of such noted feminists as Phyllis Schlafly, who tapped into the secret female need to be told what to do and to succeed only when men give them permission. This sort of feminism, Echidne of the Snakes will never divulge. It is far older than her wisdom.

Michelle Malkin, Angry As Usual, Admits Fraud

Not everyone has followed the crazy ups and downs of Michelle Malkin's very public fake journalism career, but even the least connected among us has heard of her book defending the internment of the Japanese-Americans, which I will not link to here. Anyway, she recently admitted what many have suspected for a long time: she doesn't write all her blog posts. Since she makes most of her living off her site, this is tantamount to fraud. Unless you're a Republican, which she is. In which case it's her patriotic Republican duty to peddle her husband's crappy racist theories and badly written drivel.

Warning: the link contains a picture of her mugging for the camera in low resolution, and the results are not pretty.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

I couldn't have put it better

Echidne of the Snakes nails the conundrum facing all us feminist wimmen:

It's pretty fucking awful to be a feminist, actually. You get called names by Rush Limbaugh and friends, you get to be ridiculed in the mainstream media and if the wingnut sources are anything to come by you are responsible for white women disappearing in Aruba, for the falling birthrate, for every divorce that has taken place and the demise of the Western civilization. You are even responsible for increased alcohol use among young women and male depression. In fact, you are pretty goddamnawful.

At the same time, you are responsible for anything that still affects women negatively. Because you haven't fixed it yet.
Word. To your mother.

Cultural Criticism

But not of the usual movie/book/album variety. No, this story begins at a bar one night. Some friends and I were celebrating all being together again, perhaps for the last time as we went our separate ways, and I enjoyed one too many Electric Lemonades at my own peril. As with most bars there was a liquor store down the walk and we all made our merry way inside the warm den of iniquity just as the buzz hit me full bore. Feeling ambitious and not a little bit randy, I insisted to everyone that I would buy a fine bottle of something before I left. I doubt they paid much attention -- everyone, that is, except the owner, a gentleman of the old school who I think is probably a Cypriot. He started giving me recommendations, recognizing a fish on a hook when he sees one, that tended to the high end, including a particularly distinguished Johnny Walker Blue Label for the princely sum of $219.00. I did not buy it; what I did do, to my ongoing embarrassment, was stamp my feet up and down because I was dying of indecision. Finally I settled on a nicely rounded bottle of dark brown liquid with a gold elk's face embossed on the front, complete with horns, and shelled out the $50 I'd been saving for my liver transplant.

I took it home and drank it. And I must say, if you want something that takes out the fire but leaves in the warmth, The Dalmore is the best deal in town.


I've been on retreat in the mountains these last four days, preparing for Big Things ahead, and I see someone's been a busy bee while I've been away. I'm glad I know people who take the initiative and fill a void when they see one -- I was afraid I'd come back to the old posts, rotting up the place like last week's trash. So a round of applause to the queen of Cleveland's courtrooms.

One piece of information worth nothing is my phenomenal physical stamina, which I verified to myself while up in that ol' log cabin in the spruce. The exercise bug struck me in the dead of night, so I headed outdoors and proceeded to do the following (note all the numbers, as they tell the story here):

60 pushups
200 crunches
10 minutes running in place

all while the thermometer read a balmy 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Think about that before you accuse me of anything in the future. Because it proves I am above suspicion.

On another note, I have enjoyed being away from the news and am now resigned to wading through the back issues, finding out what went wrong while I was away. Or I might just start from scratch. I hope everyone's been using this opportunity to go back and read The Best of Lapplander while I was on holiday. You'll find the action fast and furious in the next few weeks, so get in the classics while you can.

The Man Who Called Murtha A Coward

Is a Marine Reservist who's apparently never seen active combat. More importantly, he's just another Republican politician. In her incendiary comments on the House floor, Jean Schmidt was not reading from a letter sent by a combat soldier (despite early news reports that implied otherwise). She was channeling Republican Danny Bubp, an Ohio state representative from the 88th District (i.e., bumfuck), who, according to his own campaign bio, has held elected office in Ohio since 1994 and never got any closer to Iraq (or any other theater of combat, for that matter) than U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida. Shame on the AP for implying otherwise.

Friday, November 18, 2005

"Back door" tort reform?

What it can't get through Congress, this administration is sneaking in through the regulatory process. This recent Lawyer's Weekly article describes a little-discussed process that has become increasingly familiar to attorneys in my field (yes, I am one of the dread plaintiff's attorneys you've all been told to fear and revile), and that is the process by which federal regulators take away the rights of ordinary Americans to seek redress for their injuries by promulgating regulations that insulate whole categories of businesses from liability for their actions.

Though the article focuses on recent regulations passed by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration that will have the effect of protecting auto manufacturers from liability for defects in seatbelt design and placement, as well as for the consequences of bad roof designs, it also recognizes that the NHTSA regulations are part of an overall trend in federal regulation which I can confirm. Airlines, railroads, interstate motor carriers, and other businesses that are heavily regulated by the federal government have all been the beneficiaries of regulations intended to protect them from the consequences of negligent conduct -- and their attorneys routinely argue aggressively for the position that the fact they are regulated by the federal government at all should exempt them from any kind of accountability under state law. The term for the legal rule that allows this process to occur is "preemption," and here its extensive power is not being used for good.

Proponents of this form of regulation argue that it provides business with consistent standards. However, it also deprives the states of the power to determine what standards of conduct are appropriate for the protection of their citizens, instead providing "one size fits all" rules that, more often than not, are dictated by the regulated industries themselves and amount to a kind of lowest common denominator approach to any kind of accountability for their conduct. Moreover, by mandating that compliance with these "lowest common denominator" minimum federal standards constitutes an absolute defense to any allegation that a business or manufacturer caused harm to a consumer, federal agencies are displacing any number of well-established legal rules -- all without any form of public debate, and certainly without any clear indication of majority support for such radical changes in the law.

There may well be instances in which consistent federal standards may make sense. Where a consistent standard makes sense, the standard should be adopted in a forum that takes full account of the interests of all involved, especially the consumers, and gives maximum transparency to the process. In my experience, this just ain't happening.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Hello Lapplanders!! It seems oddly fitting that my invitation to join this blog coincides with the first real breath of winter we have received here in lovely Cleveland, Ohio. When the weather gets like this, my first inclination is to stoke the hearth, make big pots of Finnish stew (yes, I have a recipe), and invite my friends to come in from the cold. So it is touching to be invited in by a friend on a cold night like this.

I hope to have more insightful posts later, but for now I will share the recipe I have for stew. It comes from the fabulous book "Real Stew," by Clifford A. Wright, whose grandmother apparently was a Finn. The stew is called palapaisti, and is very tasty. At least as importantly, it fills a house with wonderful smells on a cold winter day.


1/2 stick butter (really)
1 1/2 pounds fresh (not corned) beef brisket, cubed
1/2 pound sliced button mushrooms (though I bet you could do cremini or add other types of mushroom as well)
1 large onion, sliced
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon prepared hot mustard (use Colmans dry mustard, mixed with cold water and allowed to sit like the tin says)
1 1/2 cups beef broth (if you dare me, I'll tell you how to make your own)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley


Melt the butter in a big stew pot or Dutch oven, at medium/medium high heat. Brown the meat, adding the onions and the mushrooms, going for about six minutes. Sprinkle the flour in and stir, then add the mustard and beef broth. Cover and cook on low heat for one hour, then remove the cover and cook for another two hours. When the meat is tender and you are ready to serve, add the sour cream, salt, pepper and parsley. Serve with noodles.

Retiring to a Spot Under The Bridge to Nowhere

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Grumpus) swore on his mother's eyes that he would resign from the Senate if that august body denied millions in funding for two bridges in his home state of Alaska that would connect the rest of the state to approximately -- and I am not kidding -- 200 people. Well, his favorite pork project just got axed. I suppose a grateful nation should tuck him in for his long winter's nap any day now.

Late edit: A sharp-eyed charvakan notes in comments that the money is still being given to Alaska, but the earmarks have been officially deleted to allow everyone to save face. Bottom line: Stevens gets his bridges and Congress gets to say it didn't allow them. Business as usual.

It Would Not Be Difficult, Mein Fuhrer

Y'know, I've thought about writing some pro-fascist lyrics myself, just to see how threatening and catchy I could be. Laibach, for instance, says they use the principles of fascism to compose their music. While I think the miserably boring product speaks for itself, friends of mine think they're great. Well, move over, Laibach, because The Right Brothers have a new hit single that will knock your socks off. It purports, among other overly ambitious aims, to prove that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam had ties to al-Qaeda.

Titled "Bush Was Right," the song, to which I have listened, includes the lyrics:

Ted Kennedy Wrong
Cindy Sheehan Wrong
France Wrong
Zell Miller Right

They sound something like REM playing "It's The End of the World As We Know It" with some teen angst and a heavy dose of cheap beer thrown in. Keith Olbermann has created a music video to go along with the music. You can't miss the footage of Bashar Assad zipping across the camera or Bush playing a guitar in front of a humongous flag. I assure you, this is no joke. There are such people. They have already pre-accused MTV of not wanting to play their song on Total Request Live for sinister political reasons. This is how Babylon was undone, people. This is the depths of insanity.

Sarah Silverman: America's Funniest Fake Bigot

There are people big and small who have their favorite comedian, or band, or pop culture phenomenon of any variety, that they treat as though they discovered without help and that everyone else is a jerk for not worshiping as much as they do. Sarah Silverman is a popular object of this sort of adoration, and this article helps to explain why. Short answer: she makes racism funny. Long answer: she exposes the terror in our laughter when she tells her jokes. Really long answer: nobody knows, and people give her too much credit. Then there's the really, really long answer, which I won't get into here. So go find out for yourself.

This Blog May Be Gone Soon

No, no, gentle reader. I'm not going to stop writing it. You see, people don't want me to be able to link to other things on the internets. They say it infringes on their right to make money. It's ironic, or something, that I can only send you the information at that web page by linking to it, given that linking is what the article is all about. It's ironic, or maybe a simile, that I am like the content of that web page, mentioning and commenting on the status of intellectual property and its bearing on web logs, while I am myself writing in a web log right now. Or write now. Get it?
Progressives bitch a lot about media consolidation. It's a bad thing. But if you want to see where media consolidation is going, look at IP laws on the internet. As more content moves online, the advantage of owning pipes will decline, and media companies have to find another sustained advantage or else their protected business model will lose its protection. The answer is political - get rid of Fair Use and impose what is essentially a tax on Americans for access to our own culture.

Democrats in Congress, with the exception of some fine leaders like Rick Boucher and Zoey Lofgren, are largely clueless or actively malicious in this battle. Until our elected leaders begin to understand that there is value in freedom, that the digital world is not some weird place where freedom of speech is entirely subservient to commercial interests, we will not be a progressive party.
This blog may be gone soon. So read it while you can.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Illiterate Men in Suits: Scooter Libby Edition

A lot of people are buzzing, at least on the internets, about the Bob Woodward bombshell that dropped in the Washington Post -- he was told about Valerie Plame's identity and position around the same time as indicted perjurer Scooter Libby by people in the administration. He's playing the same game as the reporters who eventually cracked: I won't reveal my sources, but here's how many heads you should be chasing. (In his case three, one of whom was Libby, according to his tell-all article.) Libby's lawyer has since used Woodward's article to try to get his client off the hook, which is an honorable thing to do since it's his job but leaves him in the unenviable position of Illiterate Man in Suit #2 on our list. (David Brooks was number one with a bullet, lo those many days ago.) He argued that Woodward's piece proves Libby was not the first person to reveal Plame's identity, contrary to what Fitzgerald said in his press conference, and that therefore Fitzgerald indicted Libby without having all the evidence. It sounds good until you realize it's totally false. Keith Olbermann has the details.
[Defense attorney Ted] Wells issued a statement at midday, the key passage of which concludes that Woodward’s "disclosure shows that Mr. Fitzgerald’s statement at his press conference of October 28, 2005 that Mr. Libby was the first government official to tell a reporter about Mr. Wilson’s wife was totally inaccurate."

But Fitzgerald never said that. The transcript of Fitzgerald’s news conference is not disputed — nobody from his office has called up trying to get it altered after the fact. On October 28, Fitzgerald actually said: "Mr. Libby was the first government official known to have told a reporter" about Ambassador Joe Wilson’s wife. "The first government official known to have
told…" is a huge difference from "The first government official to tell…"

Even if the idea that somebody else in the administration might’ve beaten Libby to the leaking punch is relevant to a trial on five counts of lying, the cornerstone of the Wells statement is erroneous — at best, a serious misinterpretation. Fitzgerald was clearly and meticulously leaving his case open in case an earlier leaker later turned up — as evidently he just did.

This is no one-word parsing nonsense. Not only does that meaning of "known" change entirely the meaning of Fitzgerald's statement, but its related root words (know, knowing, knowingly etc) have been the keys to whether or not anybody was indicted for revealing Plame's covert status at the CIA.

The problem, of course, is that such subtlety can shoot right past those who either want to miss it, or are in too much of a hurry to check the transcript.

It all sounds very inside and what-do-I-care, but the bottom line is that Libby isn't off the hook at all. Don't believe it if you hear it. In a court of law, flashy lawyers may make the big bucks but judges are paid to understand these nuances, and most of them aren't stupid.

The Trials of Arrested Development -- It's Just Not Fair

I've been a big fan of Arrested Development since a friend got me hooked in season one. It's won Emmys each of its first two years. And now it looks like Fox, in its infinite wisdom, is trying to pull the plug without much subtlety. Like creator Mitchell Hurwitz said accepting one of his many awards, they'd really appreciate it if you watched. You can get back to CBS in time to see Two and a Half Men, starring the incomparable Charlie Sheen. (AD is on Fox, Monday, 8:00. Be there.)

David Cross, whose personal comedy is a gold mine, is one of the actors on the show, in case you didn't know already. And he has an idea for how to revive it. (Warning: I try to keep the tone bemused and professional here, but he really lets the f-bombs fly and I'm going to let him).
"I've got an idea for what you can do, why don't you fucking fire your complete marketing team and get a new one there that knows how to market a show that won five motherfucking emmys, golden globes, SAG awards, WGA awards, DVA awards, Producers Guild Awards, critic's top 10 list; you know, if you can't fucking market that kind of show and get better ratings then maybe the problem doesn't lie here, maybe it lies with marketing."

Credit Where Credit is Due: Chuck Hagel Edition

Ever notice how the most reasonable Republican senators are the ones who actually served in Vietnam and presumably know that war isn't fun? Chuck Hagel speaks out and will soon be branded a traitor:

"To question your government is not unpatriotic -- to not question your government is unpatriotic," Hagel said, arguing that 58,000 troops died in Vietnam because of silence by political leaders. "America owes its men and women in uniform a policy worthy of their sacrifices."

Hagel said Democrats have an obligation to be constructive in their criticism, but he accused the administration of "dividing the country" with its rhetorical tactics.

Hagel supported the 2002 resolution to authorize military action in Iraq, but he has emerged as a strong skeptic of the Bush administration's handling of the war. In his speech, he called for a regional security conference to help invest Iraq's neighbors in the effort to stabilize the country.

New Orleans: Bodies Being Left To Rot by Govt. Decree

For some this will be the last straw. For me, I already knew Bush was looking to feast on the dead the first chance he got, so I'm not surprised.
On Oct 3 the search for bodies in NOLA was called off despite the knowledge that bodies remained in unsearched homes in NOLA's 9th Ward. The plan was for people to call 911 if they found a body despite the fact that people were not even allowed into the 9th Ward. On October 12th, parts of the 9th Ward were opened for a "look and leave." The death toll rose as bodies were found. And the lower 9th ward, perhaps the most devastated area of NOLA, will not open to residents until December.

[What follows is a partial CNN transcript]:

ANDERSON COOPER: You warned us October 3. When the state stopped house- to-house searching for -- for -- for the deceased, you said, it was a bad idea, that there were more people out there. Now the death toll, it turns out, has jumped by 104. And -- and families are returning to find the bodies of their loved ones still in their homes. How does -- it's got to infuriate you.

JACK STEPHENS, SAINT BERNARD PARISH SHERIFF: Well, you know, you just wonder what provoked that decision. A month ago, we were still very much in the midst of a -- of a crisis. And the National Guard was conducting the house-to-house searches. And if you go through, Anderson, the neighborhoods right now that were searched then, a lot of them bear the mark of "N.E.," which means no entry. I was always under the impression that there would be a hard-
target search at some point following that to determine whether or not there were any casualties left in those dwellings. As of right now -- in fact, the day before yesterday, in my own jurisdiction, a family came home to discover a family member who had been reported missing.

COOPER: Oh, my God.

STEPHENS: It was a horrible -- it was a gruesome sight. Very -- and again, people don't deserve any more grief and pain than they're going through right now. I mean, this whole process has been so excruciatingly screwed up and slow that, I mean, you're starting to feel a real sense of anger and hostility on the part of people locally and, my God, it's well-deserved.

U.S. To Maintain Control Over Internet Domain Names

For your daily "news that doesn't seem to matter but really does" fix, look no further than this report on the recent decision to let the U. S. of A. keep its monopoly on domain names and the system that translates the addresses we type into our browsers into numbers that the machines treat as usable code. Among the peeved: North Korea, Cuba, the European Union, Iran and Brazil. To varying degrees, of course. I looked in vain for the Pyongyang Daily Herald response but -- gasp -- it's not on the Internet, which has something to do with kimchi.

For the puzzled, domain names are what comes at the end of a web address, like .com, .edu or whatever. (This also applies to pages that aren't in the American web world -- pages created by and for Italians, for example, usually end in .it, and British pages usually end with; the system is not really that complicated.) The reason this news is important has to do with fears of web censorship or stifling with red tape. The good bits:

"Let me be absolutely clear: the United Nations does not want to take over, police or otherwise control the Internet," said UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. "Day-to-day running of the Internet must be left to technical institutions, not least to shield it from the heat of day to day politics."

Under the agreement, a California nonprofit body known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, will continue to oversee the system that matches addresses like "" with numerical addresses that computers can understand.

Individual countries will have greater control over their own domains, such as China's .cn or France's .fr. Disputes have arisen on occasion between national governments and the independent administrators assigned to manage these domains by ICANN.

Halliburton Not Paying Katrina Cleaner-Uppers

This is not the same as the monumental feature series from the Chicago Tribune recently about sending Nepalese workers to die in Iraq, although that deserves your undivided attention when you have some time. No, this is just garden-variety slavery. As you might guess, the victims don't speak much English.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ali G and Kazakhstan: Trouble Brewing

The comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, whose show "Ali G" is a piece of genius, has finally gone over the line with his Borat character, who I always found to be a little uncomfortable to watch. For the uninitiated, it goes something like this: Sacha Cohen is British but pretends, for the purposes of his show, to be a street-talking, not-all-there, tracksuit-wearing goofball named Ali G, who interviews public figures who are not in on the joke, thus leading to hilarious moments when they start to wonder what the hell this guy is talking about. (It really demonstrates the tin ear and cultural blindness of the rich and powerful that so many people can be fooled for so long by an act that is wildly popular in Britain and increasingly so in America. The episodes with Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich are particularly funny because they never catch on.) He also does a guy named Borat, a supposedly Kazakh reporter who does ridiculous and embarrassing things while pretending to do cultural reportage. I remember one skit in which he goes to a baseball game and shows the elderly people in the crowd a naked picture of his (presumably not real) ugly wife. As the link tells it, the Kazakh government finally had enough when he went on the MTV Europe Music Awards and made an ass of himself. Go read it.

Washington Monthly: How to Prove Bush Twisted Intel

It's not a comprehensive list, as they admit, but it's a good start if you're looking for concrete examples of a) an administration claim that has been b) refuted by incontrovertible facts. Those of us who don't follow Bush like puppies have always been comfortable saying "he lies," "he manipulated intelligence" etc., but it's important to have examples at your fingertips and not just repeat it ad nauseum as a bit of conventional wisdom. We need to know what they said and know why it's false. Check it out.

New Poll: Clinton WAY More Credible Than Bush

I don't put much stock in polling as such, because it's usually only a reflection of the headlines that are there for everybody to read anyway -- whether Bush is at 35% or 39% doesn't make any real-world difference as far as I'm concerned -- but this must be a real poker in the eye.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Scott Adams, Creator of Dilbert and Scientific Illiterate

This is weird. Everyone's favorite cartoonist has a rant about evolution up on his blog. It's not as funny as The Dilbert Principle. Not even close.
The Intelligent Design people have a not-so-kooky argument against the idea of trusting 90%+ of scientists. They point out that evolution is supported by different branches of science (paleontologists, microbiologists, etc.) and those folks are specialists who only understand their own field. That’s no problem, you think, because each scientist validates Darwinism from his or her own specialty, then they all compare notes, and everything fits. Right?

Here’s where it gets interesting. The Intelligent Design people allege that some experts within each narrow field are NOT convinced that the evidence within their specialty is a slam-dunk support of Darwin. Each branch of science, they say, has pro-Darwinists who acknowledge that while they assume the other branches of science have more solid evidence for Darwinism, their own branch is lacking in that high level of certainty. In other words, the scientists are in a weird peer pressure, herd mentality loop where they think that the other guy must have the “good stuff.”

Is that possible? I have no way of knowing.
Is Scott Adams a closet transvestite? I have no way of knowing. But I'm willing to do a little research.

French Riots: Cliff Notes Version

If you're as muddled about what's going on in France as I am, here's a good place to start.

In 1990 Socialist president François Mitterrand described what life was like for jobless ghetto youths warehoused in the overcrowded cités: "What hope does a young person have who's been born in a soulless quartier, who lives in an unspeakably ugly high-rise, surrounded by more ugliness, imprisoned by gray walls in a gray wasteland and condemned to a gray life, with all around a society that prefers to look away until it's time to get mad, time to FORBID?" But Mitterrand's compassionate words masked a failed policy, and fifteen years after his diagnosis the hopelessness and alienation of these ghetto youths' "gray lives" have only become deeper and more rancid still.

If you're looking for a more vigorously ignorant take, try Jonah Goldberg's paean to the destruction of his hated France. Republican feeling towards the French somewhat resembles a drunk's feeling towards his bottle: each taste makes him sicker and sicker, but he can't just toss it aside. He needs it to keep the real demons at bay. In this way, Jonah Goldberg resembles, say, the beloved movie character Arthur, except even less charming.

L.A. Times: Monumental Crackup in Progress

I met a senior feature writer for the L.A. Times at a conference once -- for privacy reasons I won't name names -- who told me the atmosphere at the paper was not good. The Chicago Tribune was finalizing its takeover, people were unsure about the editorial policies and morale was low. Well, that was nothing compared to this. Robert Scheer, their eminent lefty columnist, has been sacked, and he's talking about it:
"These bean counters from Chicago are so cowardly that the day after the paper won five Pulitzers they flew into LA and met with chief editors at Burbank airport hotel to let them know of cuts. This corporation doesn't understand that the paper belongs to readers and they forget that it's not just shareholders and wider profit margins that count."

Bob then broke some news: "And this week, they're going to lay off over 70 editorial people."

When The Man Won't Let You Vote

But also when the man in this case is black. (Or "Brown." Read the article. You'll get it.)

Briefly, the political machine in Noxubee County, Mississippi is run by the Democrats, and blacks outnumber whites 2 to 1. People have been accusing local boss Ike B---n of telling everyone who to vote for, fiddling with mail-in votes, recruiting carpetbagger candidates and other slanderous* charges.

A bit of perspective is necessary: the NAACP has been alleging voter fraud and intimidation against blacks for a long time without much in the way of Justice Dept. cooperation. Some eyebrows are being raised at the way this case has been treated differently. Read the article. Also, here's a copy of the legal complaint.

* - They are slanderous only if untrue. But they are probably true.

Identity Theft: Overhyped

Like pogo sticks, hula hoops and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, identity theft has made its way into pop culture terminology as a fact of everyday life. Well, you can come out from under the covers and order that Hummel figurine on eBay without fear. It turns out phony identities fraud (common) has been lumped in with identity theft fraud (uncommon) to create a catch-all scare word, and the resulting confusion has Congress going buggy.

Turtle in Folger's Coffee: I Saw It Coming

I would label it "news of the weird," but I sort of knew this was going to happen. My favorite line of the story: "We believe that this is an isolated incident."

Saddam Trial Facing More Problems

Your one-stop shop for Saddam legal news comes through again. Another defense lawyer was assassinated last week -- albeit for one of his co-defendents, as in the first instance -- and everyone is miffed that no security is being provided. The trial will remain in Iraq, a decision I halfheartedly support as I wish without hope to move it to The Hague, but the prospect of appointing an entirely new defense team is being floated as if the Iraqi legal system is run by monkeys.

I don't understand why the U.S. doesn't think it's worth a little extra effort to keep these guys alive. After all, the legitimacy of a trial is slightly hampered when there's no defense counsel present. If we really decided to let the bad guy lawyers look after themselves, working under the premise that they're protected by the insurgents, then whoever made that call should be spanked down to Private and made to sing show tunes while he swabs a carrier deck. Maybe the next guy would think twice about undermining Bush's last chance to make the invasion look like a good idea. In fairness to the Marines, however, there's some question about whether we have tried to help and been rudely rebuffed. From the article:
If the court appoints new attorneys, Saddam will refuse to accept them and the trial will degenerate into "a total farce," Abdel-Haq Alani, a London-based lawyer who is a leading member of the defense team, told The Associated Press by phone.

"The trial would proceed in the absence of the defendant because the defendant would refuse to cooperate," Alani said. "They might as well sentence them without a trial."

Saddam and seven others went on trial Oct. 19 in the killing of 148 Shiite Muslims who were executed in 1982 after a failed assassination attempt against the Iraqi leader in Dujail, a Shiite town north of Baghdad. If convicted, they could be executed by hanging.

One day after the trial began, a defense lawyer was abducted from his office by 10 masked gunmen and his body was found the next day. A second defense lawyer was shot dead and another wounded in an ambush in Baghdad last Tuesday.

Government spokesman Laith Kubba said defense lawyers have twice turned down invitations to move to the Green Zone, where they could be protected by U.S. and other international troops. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani renewed that invitation last week.

Rwanda Genocide Instigator: "The Accusations Are Malicious"

Anyone who saw Hotel Rwanda will never forget the images of civilians being killed with indiscriminate glee by their neighbors. We all know it can happen almost anywhere, but the processes that lead to things like genocide or race war aren't the Big Mystery some people like to imagine. There are common threads running through most of history's pogroms, hate campaigns and extermination attempts. Hearing guilty men talk about their actions is one way to approach the question of what the hell they were thinking at the time:

Prosecutors at the UN's Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) say former army colonel Theoneste Bagosora, now 64, was in charge as troops and machete-wielding militiamen butchered some 800,000 people.

But in lengthy comments from the stand, Bagosora has accused rebel-turned-president Paul Kagame of triggering the bloodshed, blamed the chief of UN peacekeepers for the murder of Rwanda's prime minister and even denied genocide took place.

"I do not believe in the genocide theory. Most reasonable people concur that there were excessive massacres," Bagosora said during testimony and cross-examining that has already gone on for three weeks since beginning on October 24.

"They have labeled and continue to label me as the mastermind of the massacres. ... The accusations that I led the killings are malicious."

Bagosora's remarks are typical of the unrepentant tone of much of the testimony heard at the UN court, which has so far indicted 81 people, convicted 22 and acquitted three.

The stuff to come out of the Yugoslavian tribunal is often the same -- the same denial, the same refusal to face what happened. Truth and reconciliation are all very fine, but there's a point at which it becomes impossible. It's usually reached when the perpetrators make a speech in open court to the effect that the victims are imagining things.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

What Sane People Write When They're Joking

Except this guy means it. Musing aloud, the man they call Assrocket considers how strange it must be to be trapped inside Bush's brilliant mind when no one understands him.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Shrub: I Can Only Give One Speech... matter how many times I have to repeat it.

Follow the link to see an appallingly extensive comparison between two different speeches, given months apart, that are almost exactly -- and I mean almost exactly -- the same thing. And they're long. I guess years of staring out the window wondering exactly when he became a great man atrophied the rest of his brain.

Bush Said Clinton Should Make Troop Timetables

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Bush says what's politically expedient whatever his own historical position on an issue. But just so you know, he wanted Clinton to set specific timetables for troop withdrawals in the Balkans.

Timetable for US peacekeepers to hand over to Europeans

Once they are returned to their homes, the Kosovars must be protected by an international peacekeeping force with NATO at its core. Any US forces involved must be under US or NATO command. The President should also lay out a timetable for how long American troops will be involved and when they will be removed. If a residual force is needed, it is important that over time US troops are withdrawn and our European allies assume most of the responsibility.

Source: "Kosovo Accord" Jun 4, 1999

And also just so you know, his administration now dismisses timetables as artificial.

Well, Ed, the president will clear that up for everybody tonight when he talks about artificial timetables are not part of a strategy for victory in the war on terror. The strategy for victory first comes first with an understanding of the nature of the enemy we face. Now, the enemy that we face in Iraq, the ruthless killers that are creating the scenes of senseless violence that we see every night in Iraq, share a murderous ideology with the same people who killed thousands of Americans on September 11th.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

What, This Wasn't a Law Already?

Leave it up to Barack Obama to have to explain to the Senate why voter intimidation and lying to poor people about voting rights should be against the law. He's just proposed a bill that we can all get behind. It reads in part:

`(2) No person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, shall knowingly deceive any other person regarding--
`(A) the time, place, or manner of conducting a general, primary, run-off, or special election for the office of President, Vice President, presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, or Delegate or Commissioner from a territory or possession; or
`(B) the qualifications for or restrictions on voter eligibility for any election described in subparagraph (A).'.


REPORTS WITHIN 72 HOURS OF AN ELECTION- If a report under subsection (a) is received within 72 hours before the election described in such subsection, the Assistant Attorney General shall immediately investigate such report and, if the Assistant Attorney General determines that an act of deception described in subsection (a) occurred, shall immediately undertake all effective measures necessary to provide correct information to voters affected by the deception.
You just have to wonder why it took so long. Call your senators here and encourage them to co-sponsor it. This is necessary for a lot of reasons, although a few horror stories point the way pretty clearly.

Personality Test Says I'm The Same as David, King of Israel

The Meyers-Briggs test is probably the best-known metric for examining your personality type these days, and whenever I take it on a lark I get the same result: eNFj. Here's a sample of what that means, although there's more. You can take it yourself, and if you know anything about who you are it takes about five minutes.

The Idealists called Teachers are abstract in their thought and speech, cooperative in their style of achieving goals, and directive and extraverted in their interpersonal relations. Learning in the young has to be beckoned forth, teased out from its hiding place, or, as suggested by the word "education," it has to be "educed." by an individual with educative capabilities. Such a one is the eNFj, thus rightly called the educative mentor or Teacher for short. The Teacher is especially capable of educing or calling forth those inner potentials each learner possesses. Even as children the Teachers may attract a gathering of other children ready to follow their lead in play or work. And they lead without seeming to do so.

Teachers expect the very best of those around them, and this expectation, usually expressed as enthusiastic encouragement, motivates action in others and the desire to live up to their expectations. Teachers have the charming characteristic of taking for granted that their expectations will be met, their implicit commands obeyed, never doubting that people will want to do what they suggest. And, more often than not, people do, because this type has extraordinary charisma.

Note that: extraordinary charisma. I wish I could say the test is wrong. I really do. Sometimes I wonder who I killed in a previous life to be cursed with my winning personality. Then I stand in a cold shower with my clothes on and keep saying "Why? Why?"

A slightly more on-target, although lengthier, explanation is here. Sometimes it's like they're reading my diary.

ENFJs know and appreciate people. Like most NFs, (and Feelers in general), they are apt to neglect themselves and their own needs for the needs of others. They have thinner psychological boundaries than most, and are at risk for being hurt or even abused by less sensitive people. ENFJs often take on more of the burdens of others than they can bear.

This reminded me of that cross I meant to carry up the hill over there.

Ancient Israelite Alphabet Discovered: You Heard it Here First

Scholars suggest -- but are they sure? -- that the presence of writing from the 10th century BC means Israelites may have been literate as far back as the 10th century BC. I love how they scramble to find someone who has as little to say as possible to fill in that much-needed quote:

Christopher Rollston, a professor of Semitic studies at Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, Tenn., who was not involved in the find, said the writing is probably Phoenician or a transitional language between Phoenician and Hebrew.

"We have little epigraphic material from the 10th century in Israel, and so this substantially augments the material we have," he said.

Could they have gone further out of their way to get someone on the record? He teaches where, exactly? In case you're keeping score, "not involved in the find" and "augments the nothing we have now" are my picks for Key Phrase of the Story. Unless, of course, you happen to be interested in the discovery itself. Which the reporter seemed not to be.

Fiddling While Rome Burns

Reading history has the unusual effect, at least on me, of making one imagine just what it must have been like to see your civilization die. I'm not too concerned about the prospect of America one day not being in charge, although we'll have a lot of adjusting to do, but we should all take a moment to consider -- just as the Romans had to watch the Goths streaming over that last hill, we're watching Bush spend us into indefinite future poverty. It's not even a political issue any more; it's the motions of fate and circumstance. We owe so much money that the Comptroller General of the United States, David Walker at the GAO, says the situation is "spiraling out of control." And he's paid to have the world's most boring job, so I don't think he's prone to flights of rhetorical fancy. The important stuff:

Unfortunately, there is no question that both U.S. government spending and tax cuts are spiraling out of control. Recent increases in federal budget deficits have far outpaced the cost of the global war on terrorism and incremental homeland security costs.

When he says "far outpaced," what he's really saying is "outpaced beyond our capacity to return to the status quo." Bush has borrowed us into a chasm from which it will be very difficult to recover unless a) taxes are raised; b) spending is cut (although not in the ways Republicans have recently proposed, such as cutting welfare benefits again); and c) we start paying down our foreign debt. What's interesting is that Bush espouses National Greatness conservatism, in capital letters, and his supporters believe they are upholding America's greatness, while in a sad way they are helping throw fuel on the fire of America's demise. They strut their stuff about patriotism, but when you look at what Bush has done (links here, here and here give you some idea), he may very well have opened the walls to the barbarians -- metaphorically, of course.

On a related topic, I once had an odd and heated debate with my eighth-grade science teacher about whether the "deficit" really exists or is just an accounting gimmick. He was arguing that the deficit is based on the difference between whatever Congress allots itself for the year and what it ends up spending in that year, and as such is nothing more than a meaningless number, since we end up spending the money whether we allotted it or not. I was saying, as it turns out correctly, that the yearly deficit is the amount of money we borrowed for discretionary spending for that year, i.e. money the government will have to pay back with interest. When you believe something as outside-the-ballpark false as he did, you end up voting for the guy who promises tax cuts because you don't think money really means anything. And then you're screwed, sorta like we are.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

International Headline Roundup

I read the news from abroad so you don't have to. (Or rather, I read it first, then decide what to pass on to you, who were too lazy to seek it out yourself. You're welcome.)


Unnoticed by 99.78% of the U.S., Egypt will vote on a new parliament on Wednesday. The outcome will have far-reaching implications for our relations with the Middle East, since Egypt is widely considered the unofficial "leader" of the region despite its economic problems and lack of distinctive cuisine.


Sad news from Alberta, as leaked documents suggest the local honchos want to privatize health care. Early reports indicate that "cashing in" was only their number three motivation, behind "helping the needy in times of woe" and "protecting babies."


The U.S. and North Korea are set to "square off" (as the Associated Press has it) over the nuclear issue again. An agreement reached in September is set to be hammered out in fine print, which may be difficult since the last State Department translator who spoke Korean was fired for describing her next-door neighbor as a "girlfriend."

South America

Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori has been arrested after inexplicably returning to the scene of the crime to -- get this -- re-enter politics. (This after he basically fled in disgrace.) Someone with a degree in conceptual art must have put these two paragraphs next to each other:

Peruvian prosecutors are seeking a 30-year sentence and a $28 million fine for his alleged role in the death squad killings, the most serious charge he faces.

In a communique Sunday, Fujimori said he planned "to remain temporarily in Chile" before returning to his home country, where he said "an important section of the Peruvian people" had asked him to run for the presidency next April.

Although he makes it sound like he's enjoying the Santiago nightlife on his own recognizance, his "remaining temporarily in Chile" will consist mostly of watching soap operas and taking his medicine until extradition papers come down. You see, they're not letting him out of the police academy dormitory where he's being detained without bail. (Jail cell not good enough?)


France is in full lockdown as riots lead to an official state of emergency. Nothing funny here.

Wild Card

Renewable energy is getting a big boost these days investment-wise. One possible reason: scientists have finally unlocked the secrets of the beaver language, leading to more strategic dam-building prospects.

And You Thought Politicians Had No Sense of Humor

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, spoke for his many frustrated colleagues recently when he proposed a wee amendment to change the name of the GOP "deficit reduction bill," which essentially proposes to cut services to poor people. If I lived in Jersey, and I wake up every day hoping that I still don't, I'd vote for him as often and as fraudulently as possible.

If Anyone Actually Finished "1984"...

This is one of those possibly apocryphal but too-odd-to-be-untrue little tidbits that one comes across reading the internets regularly. Courtesy of The New Republic:

A reliable source informs us that this "debate" caption just appeared on Fox News Channel:

Why all the fuss about torturing people who want us dead?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

"We Have Invented a New Human Right Here"

The name Ed Vulliamy probably doesn't mean much to you, but his reporting on the conflict in the Balkans has been nothing short of miraculous these past ten years. He's really a hero of mine -- he's taken an issue and made it his own, in the most honorable tradition of hardworking investigative journalism. Now he interviews Lord Ashdown, the man known as the unofficial "ruler" of Bosnia, who is stepping down.

For all the outrage of those days, the war dragged on for another three bloody years, and when Ashdown took on the role as high representative, he said: "I am here because I think it was a terrible sin of the west to allow those years of war." Indeed, with the Bosnian Serb architects of mass murder - Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic - on the run, wanted for genocide, it is easy to forget that during those three years of savagery that he unleashed, Karadzic's hand was eagerly clasped by western diplomats beneath the chandeliers of London, Paris and Geneva.

Throughout that time of international complicity, there were few - very few - voices calling for cogent intervention. And there was only one British politician who kept on coming back to Bosnia, each time returning to London to lambast the government for its resistance to intervention. Ashdown accused foreign secretary Douglas Hurd of "using humanitarian aid to blackmail the victims of aggression into capitulation", and prime minister John Major of calculated inaction over the Srebrenica massacre.


Finally, after limited bombing of the Serbs, the war was halted by the international community just as the Bosnian and Croatian armies were turning the tide, and a peace forged at Dayton, partitioning Bosnia into two "entities", the "Republika Srpska" and a precarious Muslim-Croat "Federation". "It was a superb agreement to end a war, but a very bad agreement to make a state," says Ashdown. "From now on, we have to part company with Dayton and try to build a modern democratic state, for which I have tried to lay the foundations."

The piece is a good look at how second- and third-world countries react to superpower intervention, and as such is totally irrelevant to our consideration of Iraq, which is a democracy on the march.

More Journalists Being Subpoenaed These Days?

Probably not. But here's an interesting column from a reporter in the (self-described) hinterlands who got a yellow sheet of paper from the local DA recently, and who started wondering whether he shouldn't have paid closer attention to that Judith Miller business.
Wipe away all the political discourse about the mainstream media and the right wing or left wing and any conspiracies fueled by overactive Beltway imaginations, and the issue involved in Patrick Fitzgerald’s subpoena of Miller and Valerie Leftwich’s subpoena of me are roughly the same.

An arm of the state wants to use the benefit of a reporter’s work to make its case.


I’m more convinced than ever that the state should tread lightly when asking reporters to testify, lest whistleblowers and other likely sources of information feel that promises of confidentiality can never be honored. Equally apparent is that journalists should be careful with such promises of anonymity.

I'm one of those who subscribe to the "journalists are the same as everybody else, just with a more interesting job" school of thinking about our role in public life. I recognize that we have an important First Amendment protection from being used as moles with official cover, and that's great. I don't want to be a stooge any more than the next guy. But when I hear stories about editors not voting because they think that makes them objective, I really cringe.

(Interesting fact: George Gallup, founder of the Gallup poll, stopped voting after he founded his business. Look it up.)

Americans Gassing Iraqis in Fallujah

I think we've somehow managed to do every single thing Saddam did that we said we wanted to stop. Torture? Check. Secret prisons? Check. Indiscriminate bombing? Check. But even I, in my fevered imagination, never thought we'd use chemical weapons.
Powerful new evidence emerged yesterday that the United States dropped massive quantities of white phosphorus on the Iraqi city of Fallujah during the attack on the city in November 2004, killing insurgents and civilians with the appalling burns that are the signature of this weapon.


Provided by the Studies Centre of Human Rights in Fallujah, dozens of high-quality, colour close-ups show bodies of Fallujah residents, some still in their beds, whose clothes remain largely intact but whose skin has been dissolved or caramelised or turned the consistency of leather by the shells.
The story has a link to some pretty damning video evidence. I wish I could say I saw it coming, but I don't think anyone else did either. If anyone doubted Bush is a war criminal, I think we can officially call the debate academic.

Monday, November 07, 2005

People In Suits Can't Read

I think I may make this a running feature of the blog: people who get dressed up for work every day in a $400 jacket and tie who can't read worth a damn. I doubt David Brooks is proud of himself for inaugurating the list, but he can cram it with walnuts.

On the November 4 broadcast of PBS' NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, New York Times columnist David Brooks falsely claimed that during their presidencies Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan saw their job approval ratings fall to "the 20s." During a discussion with nationally syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Brooks argued that President Bush's recent slide in the polls is "not irreversible. Clinton was much lower than Bush is now. Reagan was lower."


Bush's lowest approval rating to date was a 35-percent mark in a CBS News poll from October 30-November 1 (with a margin of error of +/-3 percent). According to the polling archive of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, Reagan's lowest approval rating was also 35 percent, in a Gallup Poll from January 28-31, 1983. The Roper Center lists Clinton's low at a 36 percent, according to a Yank/Time/CNN Poll from May 26-27, 1993.

Trying Saddam in Iraq: Threat or Menace?

Those of you who don't know me probably haven't been privy to my Devil's Advocate arguments on Iraq. I intend to revisit them periodically at this blog, although now isn't the time to do it in depth, except to say that the UN's regulations state pretty clearly that any leader guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide can and should be removed, having lost his rights of sovereignty. Now, there are a few confusing cross-purposes at work in the articles of the genocide convention which make it hard to know exactly what should be done.

Article 6

Persons charged with genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III shall be tried by a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was committed, or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction with respect to those Contracting Parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction.

Article 9

Disputes between the Contracting Parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfilment of the present Convention, including those relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or for any of the other acts enumerated in article III, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of any of the parties to the dispute.

Given that Saddam wasn't a signatory to this contract, and that he has yet to be formally charged with genocide, where does The Law say he should be tried? It's an interesting question, in a purely academic sense, but it's also one Americans should be deeply serious about, because the next splashy case in the news could very well be about Abu Ghraib and questions about international versus sovereign law won't seem so abstract all of a sudden.

It's also interesting to note how different Saddam's trial will be from the International Criminal Court's prosecution of Milosevic and his hundred closest friends. (A short and truly excellent primer is on sale here.) Some people -- notably Saddam's defense team, but also Human Rights Watch, two groups who probably never thought they'd agree about anything -- are upset that the trial is being held in Iraq while things continue to deteriorate, although of course they make their cases a little differently. Lawyers:
A British based attorney on Saddam's team, Abdul Haq Al-Ani, insisted in an interview with the BBC that the court's jurisdiction must be dealt with before the trial continues.

Ani denied the defense goal was to grandstand against the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq. "It's a fundamental legal issue," he said. "Are superpowers entitled to break the law? The answer is not."

If the issue is not addressed then over the years 'regime change' will become customary law, he said.

Another lawyer working for Saddam's defense team, Saleh Armuti, said he wants to put US President George W. Bush on trial "at the same time as the fake trial takes place in Iraq."

In an 18-page briefing paper released last week, Human Rights Watch highlighted concerns that the tribunal is at risk of violating basic fair-trial guarantees.

Problems with the tribunal and its statute include:
• No requirement to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
• Inadequate protections for the accused to mount a defense on conditions equal to those enjoyed by the prosecution.
• Disputes among Iraqi political factions over control of the court, jeopardizing its appearance of impartiality.
• A draconian requirement that prohibits commutation of death sentences by any Iraqi official, including the president, and compels execution of the defendant within 30 days of a final judgment.
It will be an important point to consider as Saddam's trial goes forward: should he have been handed over to the ICC, knowing full well that Bush would never do such a thing? I think trying the case in Iraq, with Iraqi legal experts, will be very good for the morale of the Iraqi people, and will not run into the same time-consuming hassles as the Milosevic trial. (It's taken far too long, as even chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte has recognized. Due process is one thing, but Slobo could fairly argue that his right to an expedited trial has been infringed.) If you think reading updates on the Libby leak trial is political engagement, you might consider also familiarizing yourself with the trials of a few men who really abused government power. We may be living in a nascent corporatopia, subjected to Wal-Mart's dehumanizing siren song, and we may be struggling against a badly mismanaged health care system, but -- and it's hard not to be pushy about this -- it sort of pales in comparison when you read testimony from mothers about watching their teenage sons being executed and pushed into a freezing river. It's important to keep some perspective and not get wrapped up in Cheneygate minutiae, is all I'm saying.