Thursday, July 29, 2004
Dark Sarcasm or 4-Star Daydream?
Chronically underemployed former Floydian Roger Waters has finally weighed in on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Not surprisingly, he is against Israel’s wall.
Waters and a group of communists, fellow travelers, and “artists” have signed a smaller version of the wall, which will tour the UK garnering signatures. The final garaffiti-ed structure will be presented as a petition at the tour’s completion.
In addition to his signature, Waters’ wrote- in an extraordinarily unclever moment- “We Don’t Need No Thought Control”. The comment is clearly supposed to connect this wall with The Wall although I’m not sure what one has to do with another. What does this Israeli project have to do with post-war Britain’s educational system? Will the defensive wall drive nascent Palestinian rock stars mad?
It’s like the promoters of this project brainstormed which celebrities they could get behind them..."If only there was someone with big-name recognition who had SOMETHING to do with a wall yet had nothing better to do...” *fingers snap* “Hey, wait a minute...”
One Thing not to Brag About in the Joint
Even though this wholesome citizen didn’t die perpetrating the crime, he is nevertheless on the fast track to improving our gene pool.
For the rest of us, call it a life lesson learned well: keep your head in the bus window; don’t eat the big white mint; and don’t try and pull an armed robbery at the gun store.
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
… and the Lines on the Map Moved From Side to Side
In a recent Pentagon press conference, Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker discussed the new challenges faced by the modern Army and some of the steps being taken to overcome them.
Here’s the short version: 30,000 more soldiers and some new org charts.
I’ve been out of the Army for a long time and never served in combat. While I do take an interest in Army issues, my opinions are those of a grabastic civilian and colored by the sepia tones of old memories and forgotten hardship. But as best as I can tell, I see alot of problems with the modern force.
For starters, the Army spends too much time playing with org charts, and producing paper, and encouraging Powerpoint Rangers, than on ugly gritty reality of combat as reflected through training. This was true even in my time, and the proliferation of powerful computers and software has magnified the problem. A friend once joked that if we really wanted to be rid of the Iraqi army, just drop them some laptops with Powerpoint and let nature take its course- they’d be crippled with busywork in a matter of weeks.
I know that the Army is serious, in theory, about training as we fight. And I know that the NTC, CMTC, Grafenwoehr, Wildflecken, etc etc are truly ugly gritty places. I mean, it literally doesn’t get grittier than having to shit in a hole scratched out of the desert floor, and it doesn’t get uglier than training so hard that real people get really killed (Businessweek, 28OCT02 reported 2,487 deaths from accidents, across all service branches, from 1990-92). The Army goes to great expense to make its training areas and scenarios as realistic as possible.
I think the bigger problem is at the basic training level, when recruits are first taught the fundamentals of soldiering. When I took basic training my unit spent about 3 weeks out of 8 on basic rifle marksmanship, or BRM. So even though we were taught about Bastogne, and told that every soldier is an infantryman first, we spent less than half our training time learning marksmanship, the fundamental skill of the infantryman. Since then, there is less effort to demonstrate the mental challenges that come from being under duress, ie by screaming and yelling at trainees. Training units are co-ed. New soldiers take diversity and sensitivity training. All told, there should be alot more emphasis on the shooty bits, and a lot less on soldiers’ feelings about it.
And that all feeds into General Schoomaker’s plans for Army restructuring. He wants to oversee turning a relative few heavy Army divisions into a few dozen independent brigades, and there’s something to be said for that. He wants more soldiers across the board, to better staff those units and make deployments easier all around, and that makes sense.
But until the Army goes back into the business of training warriors, drawing out new soldiers’ nascent martial instincts from day one, the good General’s reorganization is simply a logistics exercise.
[wik] This bit from Stars and Stripes explains a little more clearly what General Schoomaker has in mind. He doesn’t want to break up divisions into beefier component brigades, but create 15 or so entirely new units, manned with his 30,000 more troops.
But then came this quote, and I see what the problem may be in attempting communication with the general. I’m totally lost in the haze of pronouns:
“This war, as unfortunate as war always is, provides momentum and focus and resources to transform that you might not have outside of this,” Schoomaker said. “And what we are able to do, as we rotate forces, as we reset them, is this momentum and focus allows us to reset them for the future, not reset them as they were in the past. And so this has given us a great forcing function to allow us to do it.”
Clear as an azure sky!
Monday, July 26, 2004
Once again I feel called upon to explain my extended absence from this forum, a condition which I am sure has been met with wails of grief, peals of anguish, and a sharp rise in sackcloth ‘n’ ashes futures (Invest now! Limited time!). Well.
A sharp uptick in labor-related time committments coupled with a double-secret Ministry mission to the great state of Ohio to visit the Briarhopper Central Depository for Perfidy (Kent State Branch) has pulled me out of the great electronic whirlpool with butt-massaging jets of the internet for the short future, so sorry Charlie.
Also, I’m sick of yammering about politics and only want to write about music, history, and giant fighting space robots. Unfortunately most of that work is classified, so, once again, an apology to the entirely theoreticial and iconic Charlie.
We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming. Tune in later this week when, in a fit of perversity, I will be blogging the Democratic National Convention from my home twenty miles outside Boston. Why make yourself a target when all the facts and opinions I want can be made up out of my own head, I always say.
Friday, July 23, 2004
Franken More Boring Than Baseball
So there was a Red Sox game on the radio the other day, which means I had no Howie Carr to listen to on the drive home. The only thing more mind-numbingly boring than watching baseball on television is hearing it on the radio. My back up in such instances is to listen to Sean Hannity, who I can stomach in small doses, until he mentions God one time too many or plays an awful song and it sets my teeth on edge, and it’s about that time in the drive that I lose reception anyway.
But this time was different. I switched over to hear Hannity, and found the same baseball game on THAT station (grrrrr). I started scanning, and found that a local station was broadcasting the Al Franken Show. Last I knew no one in the area had it, so I was surprised. And I listened for about 40 minutes.
I was shocked to hear something more boring than baseball.
First of all, the woman Franken’s with comes across like a total bonehead. Not quite as annoying as more famous insufferable sidekick Robin Quivers, but not half as entertaining either. But more importantly, Franken had no chops. He had the “Bush lied!” bit down, but that’s hardly original, or even interesting. The focus of the segment I heard was alot of tape from Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, taken (presumably) from recent shows. He was trying to refute specific things each had said or claimed. You might think that would be worthwhile to hear, you know, refuting the haters point by point, but it wasn’t.
Franken was the sonic equivalent to the old Saturday morning PSAs about reading and pollution and crying Indians. Sounds like it should have something behind it, but it’s just more background noise. I should care about it, but its sandwiched between cartoons so how serious can it be? Franken is sandwiched between other hippy-friendly programming, so how seriously can I take him?
I think Al missed the point of this whole thing. People respond to right wing bombastic broadcasting because it’s entertaining. Not for the insight into politics listeners get, but for the entertainment they get. Franken went into this equal parts debate team captain and “Bu$h Lied” giant puppet head driver, and it fell completely flat for me.
I’d expected more from a comedy writer.
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
A New Industry is Born
It’s finally happened! After years of delays, the Light Sport Aircraft regulations have finally been published by the FAA. Light Sportplanes are small, two-seat planes with significant limits on engines, payload, and gross weight. They have very low stall speeds, are comparatively easy to fly, and are dramatically less expensive than conventional certified aircraft.
With any luck this will usher in a new age of innovation in the small aircraft business, and make flying much more affordable for members of the general public. American kitplane manufacturers have been doing fantastic design work for a long time now, but have never been able to sell their creations in finished form to the public, who will now be able to buy at least some of them. The market so far has been occupied by European companies, whose aviation regulations permitted the “advanced ultralight” designation.
Aero-News has a good summary.
It’s nice to see the jobs being created, and the cost of flying lowered.
“U.S. troops returning from duty will be encouraged to write about their wartime experiences through a new National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) program, called Operation Homecoming. NEA Chairman Dana Gioia announced the initiative in a news conference today [20APR04] at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Va.
“The program will provide writing workshops led by distinguished authors such as Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down; Tom Clancy, author of The Hunt for Red October; Bobbie Ann Mason, author of In Country; and James McBride, author of The Color of Water. Operation Homecoming will also include a CD containing interviews and readings by military writers, an online writing tutorial, and an anthology of new wartime writing contributed by the military and their families.”
A brief synopsis of the program in the Spring ‘04 issue of On Point notes that “reflections in a variety of forms--fiction, letters, essays, memoirs, and personal journals” will be accepted. And of course, members of all ranks from all service branches are welcome.
Submissions accepted through 31DEC04; full story here.
Friday, July 16, 2004
16 Words In Context
You can read the entire text of the 2003 State of the Union speech, at the White House’s site. The “16 words” have been a real political football. How well does the rest of the Iraq portion of the speech hold up?
Read on to find out!
Our nation and the world must learn the lessons of the Korean Peninsula and not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq. A brutal dictator, with a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism, with great potential wealth, will not be permitted to dominate a vital region and threaten the United States. (Applause.)
Documented ties to terrorism are few and far between. Hussein’s support of Palestinian suicide bombers certainly counts. Beyond that, though...not much out there.
Twelve years ago, Saddam Hussein faced the prospect of being the last casualty in a war he had started and lost. To spare himself, he agreed to disarm of all weapons of mass destruction. For the next 12 years, he systematically violated that agreement. He pursued chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, even while inspectors were in his country. Nothing to date has restrained him from his pursuit of these weapons—not economic sanctions, not isolation from the civilized world, not even cruise missile strikes on his military facilities.
It is clear in hindsight that the sanctions regime was very effective, and that Iraq was simply unable to pursue anything beyond pen and paper, once the sanctions regime had firmly taken hold. “Nothing has restrained him” implies that there is current WMD activity, contemporaneous with the speech. We know now that there was no firm evidence of this, because it wasn’t happening.
Almost three months ago, the United Nations Security Council gave Saddam Hussein his final chance to disarm. He has shown instead utter contempt for the United Nations, and for the opinion of the world. The 108 U.N. inspectors were sent to conduct—were not sent to conduct a scavenger hunt for hidden materials across a country the size of California. The job of the inspectors is to verify that Iraq’s regime is disarming. It is up to Iraq to show exactly where it is hiding its banned weapons, lay those weapons out for the world to see, and destroy them as directed. Nothing like this has happened.
There were no weapons for the inspectors to find, of course. Iraq could not have complied with the standard Bush was holding it to; the weapons he was demanding did not exist. I do not doubt that Bush felt Iraq probably had WMD. The language used here does not reflect that doubt.
The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax—enough doses to kill several million people. He hasn’t accounted for that material. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed it.
No anthrax has been found in Iraq. UN inspectors had been over Iraq, searching. What was their current estimate of Iraq’s capability? Bush doesn’t tell us that. Instead, he gives us an old estimate.
“Materials sufficient to produce” means “he doesn’t have any, but listen to my scary word botulinum”.
The United Nations concluded that Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin—enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure. He hadn’t accounted for that material. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed it.
500 tons isn’t going to be the easiest thing to hide. None of these materials or actual WMD has been found.
Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. In such quantities, these chemical agents could also kill untold thousands. He’s not accounted for these materials. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed them.
U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them—despite Iraq’s recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed them.
None of these munitions has been found. The “30,000” number is pulled out of the air—we don’t know its sourcing or how accurate it is. We do know that Iraq had these kinds of shells at one time, and used them in its war with Iran. It is therefore unsuprising that some of them are still lying around. Is the factual basis underlying “30,000 munitions” still applicable?
From three Iraqi defectors we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs. These are designed to produce germ warfare agents, and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors. Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed them.
No such labs have been found, and Powell’s UN speech support for them has been withdrawn by the administration.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.
There’s some pretty major implications that Iraq’s nuclear research is dangerous and ongoing. The IAEA’s conclusions, in 1998: “This is compounded by Iraq’s lack of full transparency in the provision of information, which has resulted in uncertainties about the extent of external assistance to Iraq’s clandestine nuclear programme and some aspects of the programme’s actual achievements. However, the IAEA has found no indications that Iraq has retained the physical capability—in terms of hardware and facilities—to produce weapon-usable nuclear material. Nor are there any indications of Iraq having achieved its programme goal of producing nuclear weapons. The IAEA has indicated nevertheless that it cannot provide absolute assurance of the absence of readily concealable items such as components of centrifuge machines. It is also clear that Iraq had made significant progress in weaponisation technologies prior to April 1991 and that there remains in Iraq a cadre of experienced personnel who were employed in the clandestine nuclear programme.”. The last known serious weapons programme in Iraq was 1991 and earlier. The juxtaposition of “advanced weapons program” and “sought uranium” is intended to convey danger, pure and simple.
The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary; he is deceiving. From intelligence sources we know, for instance, that thousands of Iraqi security personnel are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N. inspectors, sanitizing inspection sites and monitoring the inspectors themselves. Iraqi officials accompany the inspectors in order to intimidate witnesses.
Iraq is blocking U-2 surveillance flights requested by the United Nations. Iraqi intelligence officers are posing as the scientists inspectors are supposed to interview. Real scientists have been coached by Iraqi officials on what to say. Intelligence sources indicate that Saddam Hussein has ordered that scientists who cooperate with U.N. inspectors in disarming Iraq will be killed, along with their families.
It’s a little hard to see how Iraq could have stopped surveillance flights from happening, given US control over the airspace.
Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate, or attack.
Really? In which years did Saddam Hussein spend “enormous sums”, and “build” WMD? What is the factual basis for this assertion?
With nuclear arms or a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Saddam Hussein could resume his ambitions of conquest in the Middle East and create deadly havoc in that region. And this Congress and the America people must recognize another threat. Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.
No public details of contact between Iraq and al Qaeda have been disclosed, other than a brief, decades-old meeting that may or may not have taken place. Bush also asserts, here, that weapons exist and are hidden, without any factual basis to do so.
Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans—this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes. (Applause.)
Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option. (Applause.)
It’s really all about finding the right balance, isn’t it? We don’t want the threat to “emerge fully”, and yet, we can’t simply go around invading countries and killing people just because we think we’re in danger. Proof needs to exist. The President himself questioned the WMD evidence when it was first presented to him; what was shown was nowhere near the quality or confidence level that had been implied to him.
“Is assembling” needs justification.
The dictator who is assembling the world’s most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages—leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained—by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning. (Applause.)
And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country—your enemy is ruling your country. (Applause.) And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation. (Applause.)
The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq’s ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi’s legal—Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.
All significant areas of Powell’s speech have since been recanted, as the evidence supporting them collapsed. I distinctly remember thinking, after Powell’s speech, that there probably were WMD in Iraq. The evidence presented in the speech wasn’t convincing, but I strongly felt that there simply had to be more to it—that the Administration must have secret information, and because they had seen what I could not, they were much more certain about this. It turns out they did not have anything more; the war in Iraq was essentially a gamble that we would find what we claimed we knew was there.
We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him. (Applause.)
There you have it. Draw your own conclusions! And when you do so, I hope they’re more accurate than the ones Bush’s war team drew from the evidence they were given…Too Goddamn Much Perfidy...
Thursday, July 15, 2004
I like the savory back parts best!
Thanks to Phil Dennison for making my day! Thanks also to James Lileks for making his day. I shall now make your day. Be sure to click through all the way to the end.
NDR, this is your only warning. Do not click the above link. It will upset you. You have been warned.
Place: Johno Del Mar
Event: Perfidy by the Sea
In attendance of this semi-annual, perfidious semi-caucus were Buckethead, Misses Buckethead, mini-Buckethead (codenamed JC), Johno, Goodwyfe TwoCents, and myself. Ross was on very extra-special assignment.
Traffic was heavy near Castle Evil...erm, I mean Johno Del Mar… due largely to malefactors seeking to disrupt the meeting. Protestors were washed away, however, by faithful minions manning water cannons on the battlements...uh, balconies. A clean smell prevailed afterwards, and the compund’s atmosphere remained springtime fresh (or as close as July allows) throughout the proceedings.
Early in the day, Johno and I reviewed a short video of Army Special Forces MOUT training. We agreed the men depicted were highly professional and disciplined, and that any one of them could easily kick both our asses and not spill his beer. We decided not to hold a formal vote on the issue.
Next, Goodwyfe TwoCents fed us, which was rather a great thing. Following our repast, we attended a reenactment of a lackluster, rather lazy-yet nonetheless sweaty- invasion from the sea, pitting the red-coated forces of the crowne against local rebellious rabble. I didn’t remember reading about either side fielding so many kayaks, and made a note to follow up.
At long last clan Buckethead arrived from Perfidy South. After introductions and catching-of-up, we retired to Johno’s lair...uh, living room… to discuss the pressing issues concerning the spread of our Word. Summary follows:
Buckethead: “Games are cool. Ghost Recon. Xbox.”
Johno: “CDs, tapes, tinnitus. CDs! Flaming Lips, no guns in the house.”
Geeklethal: “PS2. I like guns, here’s a S&W catalog.”
Buckethead: “All my old cars broke down.”
Johno: “All my old cars broke down.”
GL: “All my old cars broke down.”
Johno: “Walter Miller”
Buckethead: “Hienlein and Miller”
Buckethead: “Heinlein, Miller, and Haldeman”
Johno: “Miller and Heinlein”
On ice cream:
Johno: “If I could marry groovy grape ice cream I would.”
Johno: “Vanilla, conditionally. Groovy grape unconditionally”
Much ground was covered, as you can see for yourself. There will be future meetings, perhaps at my frontier compound. Select individuals other than the Ministers may be invited, following a rigorous security screening, physical, and interrogation… I mean, chat.
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
The Summer Funtime Champion of 2004
I’ve been on a freaky 70’s and 80’s trip recently. Maybe it started around the time Reagan checked out, I don’t know, but for the last few weeks I’ve been pulling out my old early Replacements records, Def Leppard, Stooges, Ramones, Televison, Run-DMC, Cheap Trick… about the only thing I haven’t done is regrow my mullet and buy a Scorpions T-Shirt. I’m pretty sure I already have the acid-washed jeans and skinny tie somewhere in the bottom of my closet.
Part of it is that music is seasonal for me: I spend springtime in Funkadelphia, winter is for crooners and Europop, fall is all Tom Waits all the time unless it’s Neil Young, but summer, summer is for funtime only. A couple weeks ago I was blessed with the Sahara Hotnights new album, “Kiss & Tell,” and finally after a slow rainy June I am pleased to find that funtime is here again.
I first heard Sahara Hotnights about a year ago. I was in my car on a rainy Saturday, ready to spend a hungover afternoon at the mall shopping for work clothes and casting wistful looks at Chelsea boots by Aldo and Kenneth Cole. The local community station was in the middle of a punk hour I kind of like, so I was enduring some vague thrashy surf-metal by a band from Saugus or Winnepesaukee or someplace when the surf bleat was preempted by this awesome girly funtime sound! which was back-announced as being from Sahara Hotnights’ second album, 2002’s “Jennie Bomb.” They were so good I almost drove off the road.
I never really heard from them again. A series of lean months spent prioritizing rent and lentils over music purchases relegated the band to marginally-remembered status. I remember bringing their name up once or twice to people as examples of Whats New and Hott, but mostly I felt wistful like I’d hooked up with the band at a bar, hit it off great, and lost their number in the laundry. Now just in time for high summer, Sahara Hotnights have returned to my life with “Kiss & Tell.”
Here’s what I know about Sahara Hotnights. They’re Swedish, like Abba. They’re four girls, like the Donnas. Two of them are sisters, like the Ramones, and that gets the inevitable comparisons out of the way. Yes they’re Swedish, yes they are rock chicks, and yes they have a way with buzzsaw guitar and a hook. But really, they’re so much more!
It’s a lasting tribute to the quality of the underlying material of rock and roll that it can withstand endless repetition and still remain worthwhile. Genres rise, prosper, wither and die, and their remains are reincorporated into the DNA of rock to be used again by future bands: Chuck Berry begat The Rolling Stones begat Aerosmith begat Van Halen begat Guns N Roses begat Alice In Chains ‘n’ so on world without end. Sahara Hotnights, like so many great bands before them, don’t so much carve out new territory as live in abandoned houses. And that’s fine; most days I’d rather listen to Def Leppard do “Hysteria” than PIL do “Metal Box” anyway. In particular, the Hotnights seem to have boned up on their Bangles, Runaways and Joan Jett, Cheap Trick, Go-Gos, and Cars, with hinted suggestions at a Clash and B-52s record or two somewhere and a lasting affection for Rick Derringer’s “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo.” That the Hotnights pull this off without sounding stale is a tribute to both their astute choice of influences and to their considerable ability to write a hook, bang a drum, and bash a guitar. Like I said, I dig freaky retro trips.
From what I’ve already written, you’ve probably decided whether you feel like giving the album a chance or not, so I could be phenomenally lazy and wrap up without even talking about the music, about the fat two-guitar attack that opens “Who Do You Dance For?” giving way to a heavily chorused single-note guitar line and a fantastic Go-Gos-stylee vocal that builds within 45 seconds to a chorus made for driving with the windows down and the radio cranked. Or the way that vocalist Maria Andersson’s faint Swedish accent makes her muscular vocals super cute. Or the exuberant drive of the first single “Hotnight Crash,” that somehow manages to simultaneously evoke Television, Cheap Trick, and Sleater-Kinney without the caterwauling. Or they way that “Nerves” wouldn’t sound out of place on a B-52s or Pretenders record. Or the way that “Empty Heart” kind of sounds like the great lost track from Cheap Trick’s “In Color/In Black and White.” Or the way that echoes of the Clash’s “Safe European Home” sit comfortably alongside nods to Susanna Hoffs. Or the way that the Spirit of St. Joan of Jett infuses the whole proceedings. But I won’t do that because it would mean I wouldn’t be able to impress upon you the sheer breathless impact with which Sahara Hotnights pull all these influences together into a loud, poppy, shiny, swaggering whole.
Bottom line: if you like albums that sound good with the windows down and the sun shining, and miss that feeling from when you were a kid where every song on a new album felt like an awesome new discovery, “Kiss & Tell” will get you off. I’ve had it on auto-repeat almost nonstop for a week, and after sixty or so listens, I’m starting to think I’ve found the Funtime Champion of 2004.
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
More on the Senate Report
This was too big to fit in a comment, and is maybe deserving of its own post. Consider this a continuation:
I think Blixa wrote early on that maybe both sides are correct, more or less.
Let me try and find some middle ground here. Each side accuses the other of lying. Rights say Wilson is a liar. Lefts say Bush lied in the State of the Union.
If we start by assuming that both men were acting on the information they had, there’s a pretty reasonable construction of events available to us. If we put it in context, I think the problem sort of goes away.
First have a look at Ari’s July 7 press gaggle: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/07/20030707-5.html.
He specifically says this:
MR. FLEISCHER: I’m sorry, I see what David is asking. Let me back up on that and explain the President’s statement again, or the answer to it.
The President’s statement was based on the predicate of the yellow cake from Niger. The President made a broad statement. So given the fact that the report on the yellow cake did not turn out to be accurate, that is reflective of the President’s broader statement, David. So, yes, the President’ broader statement was based and predicated on the yellow cake from Niger.
Q So it was wrong?
MR. FLEISCHER: That’s what we’ve acknowledged with the information on --
Q The President’s statement at the State of the Union was incorrect?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because it was based on the yellow cake from Niger.
Q Well, wait a minute, but the explanation we’ve gotten before was it was based on Niger and the other African nations that have been named in the national intelligence --
MR. FLEISCHER: But, again, the information on—the President did not have that information prior to his giving the State of the Union.
Q Which gets to the crux of what Ambassador Wilson is now alleging—that he provided this information to the State Department and the CIA 11 months before the State of the Union and he is amazed that it, nonetheless, made it into the State of the Union address. He believes that that information was deliberately ignored by the White House. Your response to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: And that’s way, again, he’s making the statement that—he is saying that surely the Vice President must have known, or the White House must have known. And that’s not the case, prior to the State of the Union.
Q He’s saying that surely people at the decision-making level within the NSC would have known the information which he—passed on to both the State Department and the CIA.
MR. FLEISCHER: And the information about the yellow cake and Niger was not specifically known prior to the State of the Union by the White House.
Bush was told by his intelligence guys that there was a deal between Niger and Iraq to buy uranium. Tenet tells him it’s true. Based on this pretty scary fact the white house decides it rises to a level where it can be included in the State of the Union. They include it.
Did Bush deliberately lie here? No. And, given that his statement is likely correct (sought uranium from africa) from a factual standpoint, does it in retrospect represent a lie? Nope.
Bush does have two problems, though. First, there was a breakdown in the vetting process. At the point of the state of the union, it was known that the deal didn’t happen, and the documents were forged (this doesn’t mean that Iraq didn’t seek uranium—only that the deal hadn’t happened).
We can’t seem to see Ari Fleischer’s July 9 press briefing on the White House site. It’s been removed. But we can still see it elsewhere:
In it, Ari says this:
MR. FLEISCHER: No, because the regime is gone. The regime is gone. You know, just because something didn’t make it to the level where it should have been included in a presidential speech, in hindsight, doesn’t mean the information was necessarily inaccurate. It means it should not have risen to his level.
I think it’s right there in a nutshell. Wilson felt at the time (and others did as well), that the uranium information “didn’t make it to the level” of a presidential speech, based on his trip. Had Bush known that the central piece of intelligence underlying that line of the speech was bogus (or had his speechwriters known), it wouldn’t have made it in the speech.
What made Wilson mad was that someone on the white house staff deliberately (or inadvertently) outed his wife to get back at him. Once again, there are shades of gray on the motivations of the person who did it. They might have thought that everybody already knew, or thought that they weren’t committing a crime; maybe it was a total slip of the tongue. Regardless, it brought Wilson’s wife into the equation fairly deliberately, broke the law doing so, and may have had some effect on past or present intelligence issues.
There’s a standard of truth being put forward on both sides that just isn’t really achievable, by anybody.
Wilson fired back at the administration with everything at his disposal. The only part of his story that can really be contested is what he said about his wife’s involvement. It’s clear that this was a tricky area for him, and he was boxed in a bit. He’s not allowed to talk about what his wife does, since she’s an intelligence operative. He knows that she didn’t make the decision to send him. He’s being accused to nepotism, but knows that he wasn’t paid to go on the trip.
It results in a little fuzziness in his public statements about her. But...if we completely separate her involvement, is he still “a liar”? No. Even if we put the quote from his book in place, it’s clear that he wasn’t hiding anything, as he publicly responded to, on more than one occasion, the existence of the memo from his wife. How did he respond? He responded by saying he wouldn’t discuss that. When you know you’re not supposed to talk about something and you’re a politician, how do you respond? You say that you are unable to discuss it.
Bottom line is this: Bush was let down by his security people (inside the circle or outside), who knew that the central bit of intelligence underlying the line in the speech was false. So no lie there. Somebody in the White House took revenge, committed a crime, and outed Wilson’s wife. Wilson should have found a better way to characterize his wife’s involvement, if he was unable to say exactly what it was; he should have made no statement at all rather than a misleading one.
So maybe there’s common ground in all of this. I don’t know.
The question we all have to ask ourselves is this: What kind of standards do we want to apply to all of these public statements? Do the Bushies _really_ want us to apply their Wilson standard to everything he’s ever said? More to the point, _should_ we?
Language is a loose thing. Maybe we all need to keep that in mind. In this case we’ve been reduced to parsing the various grammatical and contextual forms of sentences—this is a silly way to have a discussion.
Occam’s razor gives us the simple path; the path upon which people make mistakes, sometimes, in what they say.
Nerd alert: This is an idea that I wanted to put in a public place, for reference!
One of the most common schemes on the big bad internet is called a phish. I’m sure you’ve received them—it’s an email that says something along the lines of “famous organization X would like you to confirm your account information, please click on this link and enter your credit card, etc”. They’re a pretty huge problem, and a lot of web users have been caught unaware, which is absolutely not their fault. It can be very difficult for even an experienced web user to verify that a given web page really comes from the entity described in the contents. Various web browser bugs have contributed to this, over time.
As a general rule, you should never click on a link in an email and enter any important information in the resulting forms. We all break this from time to time; as the schemes become more and more sophisticated, even an experienced user might get fooled.
So here’s my idea. Credit card numbers, social security numbers, and often bank account numbers are unusual. They follow well known patterns. If you enter a credit card number that is off-by-one, it will often be rejected by a site because it failed to pass validation.
To increase security, we modify the browser to do the following: If the contents of any input field look like a credit card number (or social security number, or expiry date), we do not submit that information to the web site unless certain conditions are met. Conditions can include presence of a secure connection for the frame containing the edit fields as well as the target of the form submit; presence of the target ip address in a well-known database of acceptable sites, certified by credit card companies; presence of the site in a list of sites personalized for that user.
Credit card numbers can be broken up into multiple fields within the HTML. We check for this by combining all fields to see what’s present. Further, we check all fields on the page, whether they have been submitted or not—this prevents use of scripting languages to extract and encode information entered in one field and supply it to another.
This guides a user towards well-known payee sites, but still allows them to enter their own. When they do enter their own payee, we can thoroughly warn them that what they are doing is dangerous. We can also submit the IP address of the payee web site to credit card companies, so they know which sites are accepting credit card numbers.
I think this scheme is, if not bulletproof, pretty good protection against most phishing scams. It takes a measure of judgement out of the hands of the user and makes an evil site operator jump through quite a few hoops. If nothing else, it would likely result in a dramatic drop in the number of successful phishes.
Monday, July 12, 2004
Nothing left but the wafer-thin mints
Jeff Smith, better known as The Frugal Gourmet, died last Wednesday. It’s a measure of how far his star has fallen in the wake of an alleged sex scandal that we haven’t heard about this until now. Through the 1980s, he was the biggest name in cooking, second perhaps to Julia Child. I still have and use several of his cookbooks, as I’ve found that his recipes tend to be pretty bulletproof, if sometimes unexciting.
Winds of Change.NET: The Senate Intelligence Committee Report
Dan Darling writes a few brief conclusions on the Senate Report. I decided to pull apart his comments on Joe Wilson, and this is what I found.
Dan, on the Wilson matter: You call the man a “liar and not a particularly good one at that”. Then you’ve got a few paragraphs from which we’re supposed to infer exactly that, I suppose. I don’t get there from what you’ve written and the publicly available documents.
After some pointless characterization of Wilson’s public image, you state: “Even more so, I would argue, if only for the fact that he was making claims about a number of issues, for example the forged documents referring to Niger, of which he had no actual knowledge - a very polite way of saying that the man was blowing smoke out his ass.”
The Senate report is available at http://intelligence.senate.gov. It is a little awkward to deal with, as it does not contain a text layer (it’s image only). I refer to page numbers in the document, not in the PDF file.
According to the Senate report, page 36, the first CIA report on the Iraq-Niger deal was written on Oct. 18, 2001. The first CIA report referred to a report from a foreign government’s intelligence service. Per the Senate report, page 37, the second CIA report was issued on February 5, 2002. This second report “provided what was said to be the ‘verbatim text’ of the accord”. In other words, the second report contained the alleged contract between Iraq and Niger.
On page 40 of the Senate report, we learn that Wilson participated in a February 19, 2002 meeting “to discuss the merits of the former ambassador travelling to Niger”. On page 41, of the SR:
“The INR analyst’s notes also indicate that specific details of the classified report on the Iraq-Niger uranium deal were discussed at the meeting, as well as whether analysts believed it was plausible that Niger would be capable of delivering such a large quantity of uranium to Iraq. The CIA has told committee staff that the former ambassador did not have a ‘formal’ security clearance but had been given an ‘operation clearance’ up to the Secret level for the purpose of his potential visit to Niger.”
In other words, Wilson was present at a meeting during which specific details of the CIA’s reports on the alleged Iraq-Niger deal were discussed, and he had clearance to be there. We know that the second report contained the “verbatim text” of the agreement, which presumably would mean it contained the names of those who signed it. It is entirely possible that the names were discussed or seen at that meeting.
Page 45 of the SR notes:
“Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’ when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports. The former ambassador said that he may have ‘misspoken’ to the reporter when he said he concluded the documents were ‘forged’. He also said he may have become confused about his own recollection after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in March 2003 that the names and dates on the documents were not correct and may have thought he had seen the names himself.”
Note the remarkably minimal text that is directly attributable to Wilson himself. The ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’ is in fact the entire extent of the quote, in the June 13, 2003 Post story (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A46957-2003Jun11¬Found=true). We are then told only TWO WORDS of Wilson’s testimony: ‘misspoken’ and ‘forged’. What did Wilson actually say? This is summary of summary of summary, and isn’t evidence of a damn thing.
The Washington Post article says this:
“After returning to the United States, the envoy reported to the CIA that the uranium-purchase story was false, the sources said. Among the envoy’s conclusions was that the documents may have been forged because the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong,’ the former U.S. government official said.”
Note that Wilson is not QUOTED as saying that the documents were forged; he is quoted as saying ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’. The March 2003 IAEA report concluding that the documents were forged and that they had the wrong names on them had already been published at that point, and Wilson had likely already seen it. Note that the SR indicates that the word ‘forged’ is a quote from wilson, in the context of the Post article. It is not; that is the reporter’s verbage. So all we have here is that in June 2003, Wilson told a reporter that the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’, which was both true and public knowledge. That the documents were forged was ALSO public knowledge.
I encourage you to be more specific about “making claims about a number of issues, for example the forged documents referring to Niger, of which he had no actual knowledge”. Back it up with a specific claim that Wilson has made, quoted in his OWN words if you please, rather than a multiple levels of indirection.
Next, you state “the name of Wilson’s wife was leaked to the press in order to punish him for having “debunked” the administration’s claims with respect to Iraq attempting to purchase uranium from Africa. As the report very clearly indicates, this was simply not the case”. Where do you see this in the Senate report? By “simply not the case”, do you mean that Wilson’s wife’s name was leaked, or do you mean that his report did NOT in fact “debunk” the Iraq-Niger deal? On the first, there’s no text in the SR concluding anything about whether the administration leaked her name; we’re therefore talking about whether Wilson’s report “debunked” anything. Why, then, do you lead your sentence mentioning the leak of Plame’s name? Perhaps you have inadvertently connected the SR and this conclusion.
On the SR, page 43, we learn that Wilson was debriefed after his trip on March 5, 2002. Pages 43 and 44 contain summarizations of the report that resulted from that debriefing. It is quite clear that Wilson came to the conclusion, during his trip and his meetings with Nigerien officials who would have had to have been involved at the time, that the Iraq-Niger deal was bogus. But did this “debunk” the theory? On page 73:
“Conclusion 13. The report on the former ambassador’s trip to Niger, disseminated in March 2002, did not change any analysts’ assessments of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal. For most analysts, the information in the report lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports on the uranium deal, but State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts believed that the report supported their assessment that Niger was unlikely to be willing or able to unranium to Iraq.”
Some analysts believed him, and some did not. In Wilson’s mind, the Iraq-Niger deal was a done deal. In the minds of at least some analysts (INR), his report further affirmed what they thought. I find nothing in the SR contradicting wilson’s claim that his report “debunked” the Iraq-Niger deal; please point out where you see it. I don’t mean to be combative, here—with over 500 pages of image-only data you may have seen something that I didn’t. My point is that nothing in the SR makes it inconsistent for Wilson to have claimed to have debunked the Iraq-Niger story.
You conclude that “Wilson’s trip to Africa did not ‘debunk’ the administration position that Iraq was attempting to purchase uranium from Niger - in fact it strengthened this position on the basis of Wilson’s claim that an Iraqi delegation had traveled to Niger in 1999”. The only fact in Wilson’s report that bolstered any part of the original claim was that it placed an Iraqi delegation in Niger in June of 1999. Everything else went against it. As noted in Conclusion 13 above, the information “did not change” assessments.
Wilson clearly believed he had shown the Iraq-Niger deal was false. We know now that he was correct. The Senate report shows us that wilson’s report may have had less effect on analysts’ opinions than he thought. Does that make him “a liar and not a particularly good one”?
You link to Instapundit, who claims that Joe Wilson lied in that linked article. Specfically, Instapundit is referring to the recent Susan Schmidt article that stirred this particular pot. Schmidt’s article is available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A39834-2004Jul9.html?referrer=emailarticle. Instapundit tells us to “read the whole thing”, but he presumably means for us to read Schmidt’s article instead of the Senate report upon which it is based. When we go to the Senate report Schmidt has professed to “summarize” for us, we find something rather different.
I’ve discussed the one of the differences above—the difference on the document forgery and names. The Senate report discusses this on page 45. I struggle to see how this difference impugns Wilson in any way; the information is accurate, it was public when he said it, and it was a sentence fragment embedded into a much more general paragraph. The contested implications are generated by the reporter.
On page 44 of the SR, there is a brief discussion of the other differences. The first concerns whether Wilson’s report discounted BOTH an actual sale of uranium to Iraq AND that Iraq had approached Niger to buy uranium; the intelligence report generated from wilson’s debriefing “did not refute the possibility that Iraq had approached Niger to purchase uranium”. That’s a pretty microscopic difference; Wilson’s report indicated that a meeting with the Iraqi delegation had taken place but that only “commercial interests” had been discussed. The Nigerien representative inferred that uranium could have been what the Iraqis were interested in, but that discussion did not happen. So, in the context of Wilson’s report, an approach to buy uranium did not happen. The analyst writing the report may have wanted to include the possibility that the meeting concerned more than Wilson was told, or that there were other meetings.
Continuing on page 44, the committee found that “the former ambassador said that he discussed with his CIA contacts which names and signatures should have appeared on any documentation of such a deal”. The Senate committee noted that the intelligence report “made no mention of the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal or signatures that should have appeared on any documentation of such a deal”. I don’t think we can draw too much of a conclusion from this particular statement. Wilson was sent to Niger to examine whether an Iraq-Niger uranium deal had taken place. The resulting debriefing report (not transcript) doesn’t contain any mention of the deal he was sent to investigate? Seems to me that a debriefing report about a trip to examine a uranium deal would mention that deal. I think we’re seeing fragments here, and far too many conclusions are being drawn.
The third “difference” on page 44 is this:
“Third, the former ambassador noted that his CIA contacts told him there were documents pertaining to the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium transaction and that the source of the information was the --redacted-- intelligence service. The DO reports officer told Committee staff that he did not provide the former ambassador with any information about the source or details of the original reporting as it would have required sharing classified information and, noted that there were no ‘documents’ circulating in the IC at the time of the former ambassador’s trip, only intelligence reports from --redacted-- intelligence regarding an alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal.”
What we have here is a debriefing officer saying that he didn’t tell Wilson any details about the originating report. He probably didn’t; as the Senate report itself says on page 41 (and discussed above),
“The INR analyst’s notes also indicate that specific details of the classified report on the Iraq-Niger uranium deal were discussed at the meeting, as well as whether analysts believed it was plausible that Niger would be capable of delivering such a large quantity of uranium to Iraq. The CIA has told committee staff that the former ambassador did not have a ‘formal’ security clearance but had been given an ‘operation clearance’ up to the Secret level for the purpose of his potential visit to Niger.”
so we have Wilson, participating in a CIA meeting, where “specific details of the classified report” ... “were discussed”. So if Joe Wilson says that CIA contacts told him that information, how exactly is that a lie? It’s not. This particular officer was simply indicating that he had not told Wilson. Wilson had already learned that information through the February 19, 2002 meeting.
Instapundit also raises the issue of Joe Wilson’s statements about his wife. Apparently it is brand new news that there was a memo from Plame, February 12, recommending Wilson for the trip. The clear implication is that Wilson lied about his wife’s involvement in his selection. The public quote, from Wilson’s book, is given almost everywhere as:
“Valerie had nothing to do with the matter,” Wilson wrote in a memoir published this year. “She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip.”
So what did he actually write? Here’s where you can see a fuller excerpt from his book: http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%257E27%257E2163873,00.html.
“Apart from being the conduit of a message from a colleague in her office asking if I would be willing to have a conversation about Niger’s uranium industry, Valerie had had nothing to do with the matter. Though she worked on weapons of mass destruction issues, she was not at the meeting I attended where the subject of Niger’s uranium was discussed, when the possibility of my actually traveling to the country was broached. She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip.”
Wilson’s clearly referring to the meeting where the decision got made. Note that according to the Senate report, page 39, Wilson had made at least two other trips to Niger on behalf of the CIA; his name was not unknown to that organization. Still, “definitely had not proposed” doesn’t seem to square entirely. Looking a little further, we can see an interview that Wilson gave, October 28, 2003, to Talon news (http://www.gopusa.com/news/2003/october/1028_wilson_interview.shtml). Quoting from that interview:
“Wilson: Those were the premises under which I argued that we ought not to rush into an invasion, conquest, occupation, war. That said, that all took place well after my trip. I was selected to go to Niger because there was maybe one other person in the U.S. government who knew those who had been in office at the time this purported agreement memorandum was signed, and his credibility was somewhat damaged not by anything he did, but by the fact that he had been an ambassador out there and as a consequence, he had to be the daily point of friction with the military junta during the time he was out there. I was senior director for African affairs at the time. I started my career in Niger and had a whole series of relationships and a great credibility with that group of people who had been in power at the time.
I also happen to know a fair amount about the uranium business, having served in 3 of the 4 countries in Africa that produce uranium, including having been ambassador to the Gabonese Republic which is also a uranium exporter.
TN: Did your wife suggest you for the mission?
Wilson: No. The decision to ask me to go out to Niger was taken in a meeting at which there were about a dozen analysts from both the CIA and the State Department. A couple of them came up and said to me when we’re going through the introductory phase, “We have met at previous briefings that you have done on other subjects, Africa-related.”
Not one of those at that meeting could I have told you what they look like, would I recognize on the street, or remember their name today. And as old as I am, I can still recognize my wife, and I still do remember her name. That was the meeting at which the decision was made to ask me if I would clear my schedule to go.
TN: An internal government memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports. Do you dispute that?
Wilson: I don’t know anything about a meeting, I can only tell you about the meeting I was at where I was asked if I would prepare to go, and there was nobody at that meeting that I know. Now that fact that my wife knows that I know a lot about the uranium business and that I know a lot about Niger and that she happens to be involved in weapons of mass destruction, it should come as no surprise to anyone that we know of each others activities.”
This reporter talks about a meeting where Plame may have suggested Wilson’s name; the Senate report speaks of a memo. The bottom line is that this is old news; in this interview Wilson clearly indicates that his wife was not part of the decision-making process. He also clearly acknowledgehat s that his wife knows what he does and about his background, that that they know of each other’s activities.
Wilson is publicly acknowledging here that his wife may have contributed to his selection; he also is clearly indicating that she had nothing to do with the decision. Criticism of Wilson on this point is, to my mind, requiring of unfair precision on his part.
The lesson in all of this is that quotes matter. By choosing parts, by displaying words without context or by supplying context and attributing it to the target, you can bend things around quite a bit.
Do I think that Joe Wilson stretched things a little? Probably; it seems to me that he felt his report was more dispositive of the Iraq-Niger deal than it actually was, to the analysts involved. But that is not a lie.
Criticize, by all means. Call a spade a spade. But recognize that your third-degree source on a matter may be inaccurate or be a mischaracterization.