Friday, July 30, 2004

The economics of mercenaries: the cost of war is rising

Dispatches From Fallujah - Why would anyone volunteer to be an infantryman? By Owen West
Paying civilians to play soldier makes no sense. Today the United States employs between 7,000 and 17,000 civilians in infantry roles. The pay is extraordinary, hovering between $500 per day and $1,000 per day for everything from site security (for government compounds throughout Iraq) to convoy/company security to personal security (for dignitaries). This money comes tax-free in a combat zone. There are four problems here: morale deflation, gross monetary waste, tactical confusion, and direct competition for a tiny talent pool.

Soldiers look at security contractors and think: Why the hell is he making eight times my salary for performing the same job? Is the military that pock-marked with overage and inefficiency? Using bottom-up cost-accounting, the military is essentially buying out its most experienced soldiers and luring them out of the active ranks (if Stop-Loss is ever lifted, that is) with rich contracts, even as it desperately seeks new recruits. Worse, it's paying introduction fees to private security companies like Dynacorps and Blackwater for the people it recruited in the first place. How in the world did this happen?

The answer may lie in the marginal recruit. Congress just passed legislation to increase the number of soldiers by 30,000. But the Army is just barely meeting its current recruiting goals. To attract these new hires, the Army will have to come up with a pay structure that lures the 30,000th recruit. The problem is, the military pay structure is so antiquated that if you pay one soldier more money, you pay all soldiers more money. So it's not a question of paying 30,000 recruits. It's a question of paying those 30,000, then upping the pay of the other 1.4 million active members and the other 1.1 million reservists. It's an expensive prospect, this reverse Dutch auction. Perhaps it's cheaper to shift 10,000 infantry jobs over to the privateers, jack up the pay of private contractors, and pay the brokerage fee to the company.

This conclusion still omits the inherent problems created when armed civilians operate in a battlefield controlled by the military. The Blackwater security crew that was ambushed in Fallujah was operating in the Marine Corps zone without their knowledge and specific consent. As a result, Marine plans to systematically build up goodwill in the Sunni Triangle were scrapped. In Abu Ghraib, contractors held sway over soldiers, yet took no responsibility in the aftermath. In sum, contractors operating outside the chain of command clashes with common sense.

This is not to denigrate contractors themselves—they are experienced soldiers who have been there and done that. Which is precisely why we need to keep them in the Army. Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the U.S. population chooses to become an infantryman. It is a profession—a public expression of commitment—rather than a job. This is a tiny talent pool. We need everyone who heeds the call to carry a rifle working toward a common goal, and the best way to do that is to keep these folks in the government.

How, then, should these elite infantrymen be compensated so that we can attract and retain the best? By revamping the military pay structure. Today the 9-to-5 corporal disbursing pay on some base in Florida earns the same salary as the corporal working 20 hours a day who is on his third deployment in three months. As for elite infantrymen, who we need for special security in war zones, offer them the same pay structure we give today's contractors and then take a look at re-enlistment rates. They'll skyrocket. What's more, the military will pay no brokerage fees and will retain the flexibility to reassign these men as the battlefield shifts. The military needs an escalating, bonus-based pay system that coincides with performance and hardship, not rank and time-in-grade."
I'd been impressed by the arguments for the fairness of the draft, but Kaplan convinced me a draft would be extraorinarily ineffective. He and Owens agree -- the answer is a LOT more money for active fighters.

How to destroy a nation: assasinate the intelligentsia

Dispatches From Fallujah - Why would anyone volunteer to be an infantryman? By Owen West: "The Viet Cong assassination program destroyed South Vietnam's intelligentsia and put a country on its knees."
Hundreds of physicians and scholars have been assasinated in Iraq. Someone's been reading the Viet Cong manual.

Dispatches From Fallujah - mercenaries and soldiers

Dispatches From Fallujah - Why would anyone volunteer to be an infantryman? By Owen West: "There's an incubating firestorm of stress that will gut the military if left unchecked, and this—private soldiers earning five to 10 times what the comparable serviceman earns—is one of its fuels."

Dispatches From Fallujah - a series to read

Dispatches From Fallujah - Why would anyone volunteer to be an infantryman? By Owen West
He's writing a series. Essential reading.

Dept of Homeland Security protects Gates "gifts" to government

Homeland Security works door at Gates' party | CNET
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a 'temporary security zone' earlier this month around Gates' Lake Washington home, saying in a notice published in the Federal Register that the move was necessary to prevent 'terrorism, sabotage or other subversive acts.'

Security zones prevent any person or watercraft from entering the area without explicit government permission. They're normally used to tighten security around military bases and naval facilities, and it's exceedingly rare for them to be erected around a private residence.

The reason for the 'Gates Residence Security Zone,' which locked down all of Lake Washington south of the Highway 520 bridge and stayed in effect for two days, was a private party the Microsoft billionaire threw on July 18.

Gates had invited over members of the National Governors Association, who were in Seattle for their annual conference. Microsoft also wrote a check for $150,000 to be an 'emerald' sponsor of the NGA meeting, which about 30 governors attended.

Among the NGA meeting attendees: Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, both former governors, as well as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta. Gates' homestead is approximately 48,000 square feet with a garage that reportedly accommodates 30 cars.

The NGA is an influential lobby group that often takes positions on topics important to Microsoft, like antitrust, Internet taxes and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) regulations.

For instance, the NGA opposes extending a now-lapsed moratorium on Internet access taxes, which had prevented states from taxing services like MSN Broadband. The NGA also insists that states should have the power to tax and regulate VoIP services, an idea that Microsoft opposes.

The Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, takes 'temporary security zones' seriously. Last year, an appeals court upheld the convictions of two men for ignoring warnings from Coast Guard officials in an inflatable boat to stay out of a secure area near a Navy firing range.

Nice party I'm sure.

Points to the New Republic - they called the July surprise

Faughnan's Notes: The New Republic Prediction
This source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: 'The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington.'... according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that 'it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July'--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Pakistan delivered, arresting a HVT 10 days before Kerry's speech then announcing the arrest hours before the speech. I'd thought the New Republic was going too far when they made those claims.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Stalemate in Anbar -- waiting for the order to withdraw ... or to partition

In the face of stubborn insurgency, troops scale back Anbar patrols
RAMADI, Iraq - After more than a year of fighting, U.S. troops have stopped patrolling large swaths of Iraq's restive Anbar province, according to the top American military intelligence officer in the area.

Most U.S. Army officers interviewed this week said the patrols in and around the province's capital, Ramadi - home to many Iraqi military and intelligence officers under Saddam Hussein - have stopped largely because the soldiers and commanders there were tired of being shot at by insurgents who've refused to back down under heavy American military pressure.

Asked for comment, officials from the Marine battalion in Ramadi - which makes up about one-fifth of the forces there - provided a 21-year-old corporal, who confirmed that the Marines have discontinued patrols, but said it was because of the hand-over of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government.

While American officials in Ramadi wouldn't provide exact figures for the change in numbers of patrols, there's obviously been a significant drop.

After losing dozens of men to a "voiceless, faceless mass of people" with no clear leadership or political aim other than killing American soldiers, the U.S. military has had to re-evaluate the situation, said Maj. Thomas Neemeyer, the head American intelligence officer for the 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, the main military force in the Ramadi area and from there to Fallujah.

"They cannot militarily overwhelm us, but we cannot deliver a knockout blow, either," he said. "It creates a form of stalemate."

In the wreckage of the security situation, U.S. officials have all but given up on plans to install a democratic government in the city, and are hoping instead that Islamic extremists and other insurgent groups don't overrun the province in the same way that they've seized the region's most infamous town, Fallujah.

"Since Ramadi is the seat of the governate, we worry that if they could unsettle the government center here they could destabilize the al Anbar province," said Capt. Joe Jasper, a spokesman for the 1st Brigade.

The apparent failure of a long line of Army and Marine units to bring peace to the province, which makes up about 40 percent of Iraq's landmass, will be a major challenge for Iraq's new government and could prove to be a tipping point for the nation as a whole. Increasingly, Iraq is a place in which cities or part of cities have been taken over by insurgents and radicals.

U.S. officers in Ramadi openly acknowledge that the Iraqi security force trained to take over the hunt for insurgents, the national guard, has become a site-protection service that so far is incapable and unwilling to conduct offensive operations.

When the governor of Anbar left town last month, the head of the national guard, who since has been replaced, took part in an attempt to overthrow him. National guardsmen in town have refused to go on patrols either alone or with the Americans. The 2,886 national guardsmen in Ramadi so far have detained just one person.

To show how operations in Anbar have changed, Jasper sketched a map on a piece of paper.

Pointing to a neighborhood outside the town of Habbaniyah, between Fallujah and Ramadi, he said, "We've lost a lot of Marines there and we don't ever go in anymore. If they want it that bad, they can have it."

And then to a spot on the western edge of Fallujah: "We find that if we don't go there, they won't shoot us."

Marine Cpl. Charles Laversdorf, who works in his battalion's intelligence unit, said the Marines averaged just five raids a month and no longer were running any patrols other than those to observation posts.

The sharp reduction in patrols flies in the face of comments made recently by a top military official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Any insurgent that ... somehow thinks that after June 28 we'll be pulling back into base camps will be disappointed," he said. "This is a long-term program of handing over responsibility. ... It's not going to take days nor weeks, it's going to be months and years."

More than 124 U.S. troops have died in Anbar since President Bush declared major combat operations over in Iraq on May 1, 2003.

Between the 1st Brigade's 4,000 soldiers, who arrived in Ramadi last September, and a battalion of 1,000 Marines, who came in February, more than 80 have been killed and more than 450 injured.

Since the hand-over of sovereignty June 28, 25 U.S. soldiers have been killed. Fifteen of them were in Anbar.

The numbers grow more striking at smaller unit levels.

Capt. Mike Taylor, for example, commands a company of men in nearby Khaldiya. Out of his 76 troops, 18 now have purple hearts, awarded for combat wounds.

The Marines' Echo company, with 185 soldiers, has had 22 killed.

"There's a possibility that we'll say we'll protect the government and keep travel routes open, and for the rest of them, to hell with 'em," said Neemeyer, the intelligence officer. "To a certain degree we've already done it; we've reduced our presence."

Neemeyer continued: "I'm sure they are beating their chests and saying they drove us out, but what have they driven us out of? Rural farmland that's not tactically important. ... If they want to call that victory, that's fine."

Looking up at a map on the wall, Neemeyer flicked his laser pointer across a large piece of land between Ramadi and Fallujah. "We don't go into that area anymore," he said. "Why go there when all that happens is we get hit?"

The U.S. military has poured about $18 million into reconstruction projects in Ramadi, but Neemeyer said the projects hadn't done much in the way of winning people over.

"The only way to stomp out the insurgency of the mind," he said, "would be to kill the entire population."

The commander of one of the local national guard battalions, Col. Adnan Allawi, said he thought the security situation in Ramadi and Anbar in general would only get worse.

"If the Americans stay here, the same thing that happened in Fallujah will happen in Ramadi," he said. "If the situation stays the way it is now, the Americans will begin losing one city after the next."

Residents in Ramadi had long said the U.S. military underestimated the resolve of fighters in the area. Also, residents said, soldiers made community support for the resistance stronger with each cultural misstep, such as brusque house raids and cultural slights toward important tribal sheiks.

Many of those interviewed in Ramadi recently said they'd welcome a Fallujah-like rule by insurgents.

Bashar Hamid, a stationery store owner, said "only the mujahedeen (holy warriors) can provide stability."

Muhanad Muhammed, a pharmacist, agreed: "The Americans misbehave ... that's why I do not blame the mujahedeen when they attack them."

Capt. John Mountford, who oversees a central command office in Ramadi for local police, national guard and U.S. military officials, said that in retrospect the military should've paid more attention to what the Iraqis were saying.

"We should have worked with the tribal leaders earlier," he said. "I just wonder what would have happened if we had worked a little more with the locals."

Wreckage is a good description. It sounds like the marines there are in a holding pattern, expecting a call to withdraw or a decision to partition Iraq. I have always thought that Rumsfeld and Cheney planned to partition Iraq; they need only hang on until no other approach is possible. The Sunni will get Anbar, but Anbar lacks oil.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Don Walters: the unknown hero of the Private Lynch story

The New York Times > Opinion > Kristof: Unbearable Emptiness
SALEM, Ore. — Ever since a group of Iraqis told me last year about seeing a redheaded American soldier who was captured, held naked and then executed, I've been haunted by the question of his identity.

The first clues were in Nasiriya, Iraq, where in the aftermath of the war I interviewed the doctors and hospital staff who had cared for Pfc. Jessica Lynch. They said that the Pentagon had exaggerated the drama of her rescue, but what I could never put out of my mind was their tale of another American, whose name they never knew.

Abdul Hadi, an ambulance driver, tried to pick up a male American P.O.W. being held by Saddam Fedayeen. The American, he said, had been stripped naked and handcuffed, but he was allowed to smoke a cigarette while under guard....

The hospital staff said the guards refused to give up the American and threatened the ambulance crew with guns and grenades. So the ambulance retreated - and several hours later, the same P.O.W. was brought to the hospital as a corpse, shot dead.

.... I heard about Sgt. Donald Walters. He was a cook who vanished in the same firefight in which Jessica Lynch was captured, and his body was later recovered in Nasiriya....

It also seems that the heroism originally attributed to Private Lynch may actually have been Sergeant Walters's. Iraqi radio intercepts had described a blond U.S. soldier fighting tenaciously, and the Army this year awarded him a posthumous Silver Star in implicit acknowledgment that he was probably that soldier.

The citation reads: "His actions and selfless courage under fire resulted in saving lives of several other members of the convoy" - perhaps including Private Lynch. His cover fire allowed fellow soldiers to escape, while he remained alone in a hostile city; when he ran out of ammunition, he ran but was captured....

Sergeant Walters left three children, then 9 months, 6 years and 8 years old. A veteran of the first gulf war, he had re-enlisted out of patriotism after 9/11...

...When hawks say that the Iraq war was worth the price, they should remember that that price is measured in the lives of people like Don Walters, forever young, forever heroes, forever gone.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Why the French are skinnier ...

BBC NEWS | Health | How the French manage to stay slim
American researchers from Pennsylvania University recently spent some time researching why the French remain so much slimmer than Americans. After intensive study, they came to a remarkable conclusion.

It was because the French ate less.

The lazy reaction would be to mock a study that produced a seemingly obvious conclusion, yet the rest of this pop article makes clear that the conclusion was not necessarily obvious. The French diet is not noteably low fat, nor is it an Atkins diet -- if anything it's carbohydrate heavy. Meals seem large enough at first sight. It turns out that the individual meal components may be high calorie, but portion sizes are often quite small. Snack intake is also relatively limited. The net effect is limited caloric intake.

I suspect a study of New Yorkers, who are quite a bit slimmer than we midwesterners, would produce a similar result.

This does not explain French lifespans, which are relatively long considering their tobacco use. That's still an interesting research topic. Is it genetic drift, or consumption of anti-aging ingredients in red wine? Noone knows.

The primary lessons is that obesity is NOT an inevitable consequence of prosperity. It is possible that we will develop cultural adaptations to abundance, as the French have, that will lessen obesity. It would also help if cities and suburbs were to facilitate physical activity through light rail, walking and bicycling paths, parks, sidewalks, etc.

Electoral fraud in America -- it works just like buying elections

The New York Times > Opinion > Krugman: Fear of Fraud
This year, Florida again hired a private company - Accenture, which recently got a homeland security contract worth up to $10 billion - to prepare a felon list. Remembering 2000, journalists sought copies. State officials stonewalled, but a judge eventually ordered the list released.

The Miami Herald quickly discovered that 2,100 citizens who had been granted clemency, restoring their voting rights, were nonetheless on the banned-voter list. Then The Sarasota Herald-Tribune discovered that only 61 of more than 47,000 supposed felons were Hispanic. So the list would have wrongly disenfranchised many legitimate African-American voters, while wrongly enfranchising many Hispanic felons. It escaped nobody's attention that in Florida, Hispanic voters tend to support Republicans.

After first denying any systematic problem, state officials declared it an innocent mistake. They told Accenture to match a list of registered voters to a list of felons, flagging anyone whose name, date of birth and race was the same on both lists. They didn't realize, they said, that this would automatically miss felons who identified themselves as Hispanic because that category exists on voter rolls but not in state criminal records.

But employees of a company that prepared earlier felon lists say that they repeatedly warned state election officials about that very problem.

In my industry (health care IT) we work with matching problems all the time. Accenture's matching rule was incompetent; they probably spent about 30 minutes designing and testing it. I suspect the work was a bit of a "freebie", done in gratitude for that 10 billion dollar contract. They wouldn't even have had to deliberately bias their work, all they would have to do is not pay attention and then bias the testing towards their employer's primary concerns. Mistakes that favored Democrats would get caught, mistakes that favored their Republican employers would be missed.

It's the same way political donations corrupt the political process. Direct quid-pro-quo bribes happen quite often, but the big effect is ensuring the "right" person gets the money to buy voters. The "right" person will, by virtue of the beliefs for which they were selected, vote the "right" way.

Now I'm worried. I can see why Kerry is assembling an outstanding legal team to supervise our elections. Too bad the Supremes have already demonstrated the power of assembling the "right" people.

Thank you, Miami Herald and Sarasota Herald-Tribune!

Monday, July 26, 2004

The FBI running amok ...

Boing Boing: Stargate fan-site operator busted under anti-terrorism law
The creator of an SG-1 fansite has been charged by the FBI with criminal copyright infringment, the result of an investigation that involved a USA PATRIOT Act warrant against the site's ISP to gather intelligence. The Feebs confiscated and then destroyed his personal computers, returning their remains months later.

It's not impossible that this guy broke one of our new and monstrous copyright laws. It's even possible that he knew he was crossing the line. Possible, but not interesting.

What's interesting is that the FBI used a sledgehammer on a fly, then, in an astounding display of incompetence or malevolence, trashed his property.

This is the agency we're depending on?

The prison nation -- one nation under bars.

MSNBC - U.S. prison, parole population sets record
... about 3.2 percent of the adult U.S. population, or 1 in 32 adults, were incarcerated or on probation or parole at the end of last year.

This number doesn't include those who've been previously convicted for a felony. The article also didn't provide percentages by ethnicity; based on past reports it's likely that the percentage of incarcerated black men is substantially higher than 3.2%.

I'd wager that one of the best measures of the psychic health of an industrialized nation is the incarceration rate multiplied by the murder rate. It would be interesting to plot that number for a range of industrialized nations. I'm pretty sure the US would rank dead last. It would also be interesting to plot that number for American states; the result would be a good guide on the best places to live.

Is there any number that will spark outrage? 5%? 10%? 40%!?

When do we say enough?

Who will be the Dickens for 21st century America?

Playing the hand you've been dealt - the story of a cancer experimentalist

The New York Times > National > Heeding a Call to Test Breast Cancer Treatments
My father used to say, 'You play the hand you've been dealt,' ' Sister Mary Andrew said. 'I would like to have lived longer, worked longer. I'd like to still be president of the university. But it's not the hand I've been dealt'

This is an excellent NYT article about experimental therapies. It's not the usual tabloid "miracle cure" story -- it's the story of a brave, curious, and wise woman (an academic and a catholic nun) who chose to join clinical trials primarily as a way to make her death meaningful. Some of them may have helped her, some probably hurt. She may no longer be a candidate for further experiments; she seems a bit wistful about that.

One could do much worse than a family motto of "You play the hand you've been dealt." It covers a lot of ground. One may argue that changing the game or cheating are alternative options, but I think that reflects a misunderstanding of the game. As was once said of thermodynamics, "you can't win, you can't break even, and you can't quit the game". In life one doesn't change the game, but one may realize that the rules are less restrictive than commonly thought.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

BBC Tour de France tactics guide

BBC Sport Academy | Other Sport | Cycling | Read our Tour de France tactics guide
Hey! I only just found this! Would have bene nice a few weeks ago. I hope it's still there for next year.

Richard Clarke: what we should do to stop the next set of attacks

The New York Times > Opinion > Richard Clarke: Honorable Commission, Toothless Report
Americans owe the 9/11 commission a deep debt for its extensive exposition of the facts surrounding the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Yet, because the commission had a goal of creating a unanimous report from a bipartisan group, it softened the edges and left it to the public to draw many conclusions.

Among the obvious truths that were documented but unarticulated were the facts that the Bush administration did little on terrorism before 9/11 ...

So what now? News coverage of the commission's recommendations has focused on the organizational improvements: a new cabinet-level national intelligence director and a new National Counterterrorism Center to ensure that our 15 or so intelligence agencies play well together. Both are good ideas, but they are purely incremental. Had these changes been made six years ago, they would not have significantly altered the way we dealt with Al Qaeda; they certainly would not have prevented 9/11...

First, we need not only a more powerful person at the top of the intelligence community, but also more capable people throughout the agencies - especially the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. In other branches of the government, employees can and do join on as mid- and senior-level managers after beginning their careers and gaining experience elsewhere. But at the F.B.I. and C.I.A., the key posts are held almost exclusively by those who joined young and worked their way up. This has created uniformity, insularity, risk-aversion, torpidity and often mediocrity...

Second, in addition to separating the job of C.I.A. director from the overall head of American intelligence, we must also place the C.I.A.'s analysts in an agency that is independent from the one that collects the intelligence. This is the only way to avoid the "groupthink" that hampered the agency's ability to report accurately on Iraq. It is no accident that the only intelligence agency that got it right on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department - a small, elite group of analysts encouraged to be independent thinkers rather than spies or policy makers.

... Either the C.I.A. or the military must create a larger and more capable commando force for covert antiterrorism work, along with a network of agents and front companies working under "nonofficial cover'' - that is, without diplomatic protection - to support the commandos.

Even more important than any bureaucratic suggestions is the report's cogent discussion of who the enemy is and what strategies we need in the fight. The commission properly identified the threat not as terrorism (which is a tactic, not an enemy), but as Islamic jihadism, which must be defeated in a battle of ideas as well as in armed conflict.

We need to expose the Islamic world to values that are more attractive than those of the jihadists. This means aiding economic development and political openness in Muslim countries, and efforts to stabilize places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Restarting the Israel-Palestinian peace process is also vital.

Also, we can't do this alone. In addition to "hearts and minds" television and radio programming by the American government, we would be greatly helped by a pan-Islamic council of respected spiritual and secular leaders to coordinate (without United States involvement) the Islamic world's own ideological effort against the new Al Qaeda.

Unfortunately, because of America's low standing in the Islamic world [jf: One of GWB's gifts to America], we are now at a great disadvantage in the battle of ideas...

The CIA and FBI would never hire me. If they did hire me, I'd last about 2 days.

Problem is, the fight against evil needs a few (maybe not a huge number!) of people like me. They need nerds intellectuals and geeks who question authority and established thinking; people who don't fit military and paramilitary structures. The Manhattan project and the WW II crypto projects had "my people" (ok, 10 times smarter than me); but we've been shut out of this effort. It doesn't help that most us think GWB is incompetent!

The FBI had people who spotted parts of the 9/11 story, but they were shut out and shutdown. They didn't fit the established culture.

Changing hiring practices is a necessary but not sufficient component of reforming our security apparatus. We need to change cultures as well as adding new capabilities to the best of the old.

Clarke's treatise reads very much like Kerry's foreign policy plans.

Enhanced luggage

alibi . may 20 - 26, 2004
Dateline: Canada—A routine test of airport security turned into a Marx Brothers routine after security officers mistakenly sent a passenger home with a suitcase full of TNT. The TNT was supposed to be planted in the bags of a Montreal security agent. Instead, it somehow ended up stuffed into the luggage of an unsuspecting overseas passenger who arrived at Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport last Friday. The unnamed passenger went to a friend's house where he found the explosives concealed in a jam jar and placed inside his suitcase. The man immediately called Quebec provincial police. The TNT, which officials say had no detonator attached, was meant as part of a weekly test for bomb-sniffing dogs at the airport. Ironically, the dogs failed to detect the explosives. The passenger and his baggage were able to pass though airport security unchecked. “Our investigation is going to reveal exactly what happened,” airport security spokesman Pierre Goupil told TV network TVA.

About once a year or so we hear stories like this. Imagine if the explosives HAD been detected by security; this would have made international news. Since they weren't detected it's an obscure local story.

Faughnan defends Bush

The New York Times > Opinion > Maureen Dowd: Spinning Our Safety
He explained to the commissioners that he had stayed in his seat making little fish faces at second graders for seven minutes after learning about the second plane hitting the towers because, as the report says, 'The president felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening.'

What better way to track the terror in the Northeast skies than by reading 'My Pet Goat' in Sarasota?

Ok, I've had enough. I've cracked. I have to defend GWB.

One of the few things GWB has done right (deciding to invade Afghanistan doesn't count because that was an inevitable act) was to sit calmly and continue reading to those school kids.

I've got to stop reading Maureen Dowd.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Terror and the fear of swarthy men

Telegraph | News: Was an al-Qaeda plot unfolding on Northwest Airlines flight 327?
By James Langton 7/25/04
As Annie Jacobsen boarded Northwest Airlines flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles, she was starting to feel sick with nerves.

... she was worrying about six Middle Eastern men waiting to board their flight, two of whom were carrying musical instrument cases, while the third was wearing an orthopaedic shoe. None was checked as he boarded the aeroplane.

... By the time the aircraft reached cruising altitude and the seatbelt lights had been switched off, one of the men, wearing a yellow T-shirt and carrying a bulging McDonald's bag, had already disappeared into the lavatory next to first class. When he reappeared, the bag was empty.

... Another man stood up. From an overhead locker, he removed a foot-long object wrapped in cloth, then walked to the back of the plane. Five others from the Middle Eastern party then began using the forward lavatory consecutively. Several others made for the rear bathroom.

... Before he could finish, the flight attendant pulled him aside. "In a quiet voice, she explained that they were all concerned about what was going on," Mrs Jacobsen says. "The captain was aware. The flight attendants were passing notes to each other. She said there were people on board 'higher up than you and me watching the men'

... With the "fasten seatbelts" lights on and the cabin crew strapped in their seats for landing, seven of the men stood up and made for the front and back lavatories. As they waited, speaking in Arabic, one pulled out his mobile telephone. None of the flight crew, Mrs Jacobsen was alarmed to note, intervened to stop the telephone call or to make the men sit down.

... Moments later, the last man came out of the bathroom. As he passed the man in the yellow T-shirt, Mrs Jacobsen saw him draw his finger across his throat and mouth the word "no".

... As the passengers walked into the terminal, Mrs Jacobsen saw men in dark suits gathering. Los Angeles Police Department agents rushed past them. Several other men from the aircraft, believed to be air marshals, pulled the group of 14 Arab men to one side.

... However, she did get a swift telephone call from the Federal Air Marshal Services. Under questioning, a spokesman revealed, the 14 men had said they were musicians travelling to a concert at a Californian desert casino. None showed up on the FBI's most wanted list and since their story checked out they were allowed to go. The band, the spokesman said, "gave their little performance in the casino ...

... Gary Boettcher, a member of the board of directors of the Allied Pilots Association, wrote to Mrs Jacobsen, saying that he and many fellow captains had witnessed similar practice runs. "I am a captain with a major airline," he said. "I was very involved with the Arming Pilots effort. Your reprint of this airborne event is not a singular nor isolated experience. The terrorists are probing us all the time."

Another pilot, Mark Bogosian, with American Airlines, said: "The incident you wrote about, and incidents like it, occur more than you like to think. It is a 'dirty little secret' that all of us, as crew members, have known about for quite some time."

... But what no one knew - not the frightened passengers or the apparently untroubled Syrian band - was that June 29 was far from an ordinary day. Only hours earlier, the Department of Homeland Security had issued an urgent alert at half a dozen airports for a group of six Pakistani men believed to be training for a terrorist attack in the US. Two of those airports were Detroit and Los Angeles.

... Two days after Mrs Jacobsen's trip, the US Transport and Security Administration ordered pilots to stop passengers from congregating around aircraft toilets and told flight crew to check bathrooms every two hours for suspicious packages. Six days after that, customs officers at Minneapolis arrested a Syrian who was carrying a suicide note and DVDs containing what has been described as "anti-American material".

This is an incoherent article. It took some study to determine that the flight in question took place on 6/27/04. A few comments:

1. I fly a lot, almost weekly. I'm rarely searched. I don't think I look either innocent nor suspicious, so I suspect my search rate is about average. The Bush administration downsized the security force last year; they don't have the staff to search many people.

2. I'd be saddened and surprised if there really were a rule that no more than two men of ethnic arab appearance could be searched per flight. If that were so, a team would simply require that two decoys act so as to draw a search -- thereby ensuring others would not be searched.

3. Every time someone of a "suspicious" ethnicity and gender is searched, some blond white woman should be searched too. It's the only way to make the bitterness of what is effectively ethnic profiling even barely tolerable. Share the pain.

4. If this journalist thinks throwing out trash in the men's room is suspicious, she doesn't fly enough. Who wants to sit around with trash in one's cramped seat? In first class I'd hand it to an attendant, but in cargo class attendants can be hard to find.

5. It would be interesting to interview a few pilots and learn if this "probing" theory is plausible or paranoid.

I'd guess if there was anything going on, it was a group of Syrian musicians who were playing cruel games with the minds of anxious passengers. Not polite and not wise, but not illegal. Even, given the glares they doubtless receive, almost understandable ...

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Anyone remember anthrax?

Our Forgotten Panic (
My point is that we were panicked. Yet that panic never gets mentioned. Last month the New Republic published a 'special issue' in which a bevy of very good writers wondered whether they had been wrong to support the war in Iraq. Most of them admitted to having erred about this or that detail or in failing to appreciate how badly George Bush would administer the war and the occupation. But none confessed to being seized by the zeitgeist. I read the magazine cover to cover and unless I somehow missed it, the word anthrax never appeared. Imagine! Not once! Not a single one of these writers admitted to panicking over anthrax.

I also remember smallpox. There was a lot of talk about smallpox before we invaded Iraq, and a lot of talk about "Dr. Germ", the evil Iraqi biologists. (Ever wonder where she is now?)

The Bush administration pushed for largescale smallpox immunizations, then scaled back to a smaller group. I thought they were right -- back then I had some trust in GWB. Once the invasion of Iraq began the smallpox threat apparently evaporated. Later we discovered that more Americans are immune to smallpox than we once thought -- so the need for immunization was less than we'd thought. But this was discovered after GWB had lost interest. It's almost as if the immunization program, which did injure some people, had served its true purpose.

Warren Buffett on the Stock Market: The best short summary on the market? 2002 - Intro - Warren Buffett on the Stock Market
The thoughts that follow come from a second Buffett speech, given last July at the site of the first talk, Allen & Co.'s annual Sun Valley bash for corporate executives. There, the renowned stockpicker returned to the themes he'd discussed before, bringing new data and insights to the subject. Working with FORTUNE's Carol Loomis, Buffett distilled that speech into this essay, a fitting opening for this year's Investor's Guide. Here again is Mr. Buffett on the Stock Market.
Blodgett wrote a fascinating 3 part series for Slate recently. In it he references this piece, calling it the best written in recent times.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

JBL - Home Audio - new TOUR travel speakers

JBL - Home Audio

These look very interesting! Compact indeed.

The official site: best guide to the race?

T D F - 2 0 0 4 : canal le Tour - OLN
It was a moment of encouragement for the German’s fans. Ullrich had put time into Armstrong. At last. But it wasn’t much – a minute was the maximum gain – and it didn’t cause any panic in the Postal camp.

“We weren’t very concerned,” said Armstrong. “The climb that he attacked on doesn’t really have a descent. I know it well; we raced a similar stage in the [Criterium] du Dauphine in June… had I been alone,” continued the stage winner, “it would have been a different story.

“But Ivan had some guys and so did I, so it was absolutely not a problem.” Armstrong was nonchalant about this sortie by the rider who is almost seven minutes behind on the general classification after 15 stage. And he can afford to be. Lance seems to have an answer to every move his rivals make. He knows what he wants and with the help of clever tactics, a cool head and phenomenal form The Boss is back in charge of the Tour de France.

Big days are yet to come but Lance continues to dictate the terms while most of his rivals either abandon or resort to seemingly senseless tactics. All but Basso and his CSC colleagues.

The elastic band which had kept Thomas Voeckler within touch with the overall lead for nine days finally snapped. It was only a matter of time before this happened and the French champion can be proud of what he’s done. He has risen from relative obscurity only a month ago and acquired enough anecdotes of new-found fame to last him the rest of his career. With the Tour now in the Alpes, Armstrong back in the yellow jersey, and his rivals slowly running out of opportunity there will be many who will remember this village high in the Isere department by another name. Villard-de-Lance is, after all, likely to be the place where the rider who will win an unprecedented sixth Tour title reclaimed the yellow jersey.

This official tour site may have the best coverage of the race, better than the newspapers.

The strength of postal ... and CSC

BBC SPORT | Other Sport | Cycling | Armstrong rides into yellow
But Tuesday's stage was thrown into turmoil when Ullrich attacked up the first-category Colde l'Echarasson, at one stage pulling more than a minute clear of Armstrong.

The American refused to panic, though, and reeled Ullrich in with the help of his US Postal team and Basso's CSC riders.

The group were reduced to just four riders in the final sprint after the climb to Villard-de-Lans, with Armstrong edging out Basso, Ullrich in third and Andreas Kloden back in fourth.

I wish I understood more of this. There appears to be a defacto alliance between Basso/CSC and Armstrong/Postal. Armstrong/Postal's calculated cool is fascinating.

Osama's candidate: the movie version

The New York Times > Opinion > Krugman: The Arabian Candidate
... The Arabian candidate wouldn't openly help terrorists. Instead, he would serve their cause while pretending to be their enemy.

After an attack, he would strike back at the terrorist base, a necessary action to preserve his image of toughness, but botch the follow-up, allowing the terrorist leaders to escape. Once the public's attention shifted, he would systematically squander the military victory: committing too few soldiers, reneging on promises of economic aid. Soon, warlords would once again rule most of the country, the heroin trade would be booming, and terrorist allies would make a comeback.

Meanwhile, he would lead America into a war against a country that posed no imminent threat. He would insinuate, without saying anything literally false, that it was somehow responsible for the terrorist attack. This unnecessary war would alienate our allies and tie down a large part of our military. At the same time, the Arabian candidate would neglect the pursuit of those who attacked us, and do nothing about regimes that really shelter anti-American terrorists and really are building nuclear weapons.

Again, he would take care to squander a military victory. The Arabian candidate and his co-conspirators would block all planning for the war's aftermath; they would arrange for our army to allow looters to destroy much of the country's infrastructure. Then they would disband the defeated regime's army, turning hundreds of thousands of trained soldiers into disgruntled potential insurgents.

After this it would be easy to sabotage the occupied country's reconstruction, simply by failing to spend aid funds or rein in cronyism and corruption. Power outages, overflowing sewage and unemployment would swell the ranks of our enemies.

Who knows? The Arabian candidate might even be able to deprive America of the moral high ground, no mean trick when our enemies are mass murderers, by creating a climate in which U.S. guards torture, humiliate and starve prisoners, most of them innocent or guilty of only petty crimes...

Wicked! All this piece needs is the recent Doonesbury strip with Osama's Bush campaign ad. Every word is correct, GWB is the terrorist's unwitting ally.

The Economist's editorial this week is saying surprisingly similar things, though weakened by their desperate desire to find some face saving way to endorse Bush for the presidency. It's fun to watch the Economist writhe in pain; their editorial policy has been spectacularly craven over the past 6-8 years (since they went mainstream). They know that they'll lose a chunk of their readership when they endorse Bush; I'm looking forward to reading something else for a while.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Team Postal: a different view

Armstrong catches the Blue Train to Tour de France glory
Just before the final climb, his legs still whirring, Armstrong suddenly sat straight in his saddle, limbered up by twisting side-to-side, wiped his nose with his right hand and unzipped the top of his blue jersey. Let the carnage begin.

Led by Hincapie, the Postals stormed into the steep, 9.9-mile ascent like a typhoon. Behind, the trailing pack slowly disintegrated.

Jose Luis Rubiera, a powerful climber riding with his shirt open, took over when Hincapie was spent. Rivals gasped like fish out of water. Fewer than a dozen cyclists continued to cling to Armstrong's group.

And still the Postals had unused reserves. Sunglasses propped on his head, Portuguese mountain-tamer Jose Azevedo stepped in for Rubiera to perform the coup de grace with another burst of uphill pace. First to go: Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour champion who simply couldn't keep up.

When Azevedo peeled off with 5 miles still to climb, only two riders had survived: Armstrong and Italian Ivan Basso, who rode together through the massed crowds. Armstrong beat Basso with a sprint finish.

The stage standings read like a list of wounded. Ullrich, 2:42 back, his Tour all but done. Roberto Heras, who quit the Postals to try to beat Armstrong, 21:35 back. Mayo, 37:40 behind -- nearly 11 minutes slower even than Ekimov, Armstrong's trusted Russian sidekick still going strong at age 38.

Most of the Tour coverage reads like plagiarism run amok. John Leicester's article is different. It really gives some insight into the race.

I know nothing of the Tour, so I can't comment on whether Armstrong has really won. It seems as though there are many ways to lose the Tour, and few ways to win. It is incredible, however, to read of his team -- including Ekimov "the ancient".

Sunday, July 18, 2004

The 9/11 commission report: the interesting parts and the assault on Iran

9/11 Panel Calls for Major Changes (
The commission staff has already absolved Saudi Arabia's government of direct support for al Qaeda and debunked widespread reports that Osama bin Laden inherited $300 million. (He received a $1 million annual allowance for about two decades, the commission found.) Panel members also have knocked down questions raised by last year's congressional investigation into Sept. 11 intelligence failures involving possible help for the hijackers by the Saudi Embassy in Washington....

... The report will expand on the commission's earlier findings that al Qaeda's contacts with Iran were far more advanced than previously believed, and that the two may have developed a relationship of convenience that included cooperation in attacks such as the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. Time magazine reported that the commission has found that eight to 10 of the Sept. 11 hijackers may have passed through Iran before joining the hijacking plot.

I suspect most of the interesting parts of the report aren't going to get much press attention. If not for the spur of the professional journalist bloggers (eg. not hobbyists like myself) I think journalism would have died in the US last year.

On a related tack, a plot of co-occurences of "Iran", "al Qaeda" and "9/11" would show a steep rise in the past few months. It looks like Bush is preparing to go after Iran next. Of course since he has no credibility left outside of a core group of supporters, the question of Iran's true guilt or innocence is almost irrelevant. Bush's deception and incompetence has made it impossible for him to make any kind of case at all.

Korean: Meat Pancakes (Gogi-Jun)

New York Times Recipe: Meat Pancakes (Gogi-Jun)

Time: 45 minutes

1 pound firm tofu
1 pound ground beef
10 scallions, trimmed and minced
2 long hot red chili peppers, or about 1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1 teaspoon black pepper
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Large pinch salt
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 eggs
Corn oil or other neutral oil as needed
1 cup poo-chim karo (vegetable pancake mix, available at Korean markets) or Wondra or other fine flour.

1. Put the tofu in a fine kitchen towel, and wring as much water as possible out of it. Combine it in a bowl with the next 9 ingredients (through the chives). Squeeze the mixture with your hands for a minute or two, until it is very fine and well combined. Adjust seasoning as necessary; the mixture should be well seasoned but not very hot.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

I'm not as extreme as I thought I was

The Independent Weekly: With trembling fingers

I thought I was reasonably extreme in my extraordinarily low opinion of our President, but by comparison to Hal Crowther I'm quite restrained. Quoting Goering is hitting pretty low -- though the quote is rather fitting.
... But the Chinese aren't coming to save us. Nothing and no one can stop these people except you and me, and the other 100 million or so American citizens who may vote in the November election. This isn't your conventional election, the usual dim-witted, media-managed Mister America contest where candidates vie for charm and style points and hire image coaches to help them act more confident and presidential. This is a referendum on what is arguably the most dismal performance by any incumbent president--and inarguably the biggest mistake. This is a referendum on George W. Bush, arguably the worst thing that has happened to the United States of America since the invention of the cathode ray tube.

One problem with this referendum is that the case against George Bush is much too strong. Just to spell it out is to sound like a bitter partisan. I sit here on the 67th birthday of Saddam Hussein facing a haystack of incriminating evidence that comes almost to my armpit. What matters most, what signifies? Journalists used to look for the smoking gun, but this time we have the cannons of Waterloo, we have Gettysburg and Sevastopol, we have enough gun smoke to cause asthma in heaven. I'm overwhelmed. Maybe I should light a match to this mountain of paper and immolate myself. On the near side of my haystack, among hundreds of quotes circled and statistics underlined, just one thing leaped out at me. A quote I had underlined was from the testimony of Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg trials, not long before Hitler's vice-fuhrer poisoned himself in his jail cell:

"It is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."

... Kerry made a courageous choice at least once in his life, when he came home with his ribbons and demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. But Sen. Kerry could turn out to be a stiff, a punk, an alcoholic and he'd still be a colossal improvement over the man who turned Paul Wolfowitz loose in the Middle East. The myth that there was no real difference between Democrats and Republicans, which I once considered seriously and which Ralph Nader rode to national disaster four years ago, was shattered forever the day George Bush announced his cabinet and his appointments for the Department of Defense.

... As Kevin Phillips recounts in American Dynasty, officials of the Reagan and first Bush administrations eagerly supplied Saddam with arms while he was using chemical weapons on the Kurds. They twice sent Donald Rumsfeld to court Saddam, in 1983 and 1984, when the dictator was in the glorious prime of his monsterhood.

This scandal, concurrent with Iran-Contra, was briefly called "Iraqgate," and, yes, among the names of those officials implicated you'll find most of the engineers of our current foreign policy. (They also signaled their fractious client, Saddam, that it might be all right to overrun part of Kuwait; you remember what happened when he tried to swallow it all.) Does any of this trouble you? Does it worry you that Dick Cheney, as president of the nefarious Halliburton Corporation, sold Iraq $73 million in oilfield services between 1997 and 2000, even as he plotted with the Wolfowitz faction to whack Saddam? Or that Halliburton, with its CEO's seat still warm from Cheney's butt, was awarded unbid contracts worth up to $15 billion for the Iraq invasion, and currently earns a billion dollars a month from this bloody disaster? Not to mention its $27.4 million overcharge for our soldiers' food.

Does it bother you even a little that the personal fortunes of all four Bush brothers, including the president and the governor, were acquired about a half step ahead of the district attorney, and that the royal family of Saudi Arabia invested $1.476 billion in those and other Bush family enterprises? Or, as Paul Krugman points out, that it's much easier to establish links between the Bush and bin Laden families than any between the bin Ladens and Saddam Hussein. Do you know about Ahmad Chalabi, the administration's favorite Iraqi and current agent in Baghdad, whose personal fortune was established when he embezzled several hundred million from his own bank in Jordan and fled to London to avoid 22 years at hard labor?

That's just a sampling from my haystack. Maybe I can reach you as an environmentalist, one who resents the gutting of key provisions in the Clean Air Act? My own Orange County, chiefly a rural area, was recently added to a national register of counties with dangerously polluted air. You say you vote for the president because you're a conservative. Are you sure? I thought conservatives believed in civil liberties, a weak federal executive, an inviolable Constitution, a balanced budget and an isolationist foreign policy. George Bush has an attorney general who drives the ACLU apoplectic and a vice president who demands more executive privilege (for his energy seances) than any elected official has ever received. The president wants a Constitutional amendment to protect marriage from homosexuals, of all things. Between tax cuts for his high-end supporters and three years playing God and Caesar in the Middle East, George Bush has simply emptied America's wallet, with a $480 billion federal deficit projected for 2004, and the tab on Iraq well over $100 billion and running.

... All it takes to make a Bush conservative is a few slogans from talk radio and pickup truck bumpers, a sneer at "liberals" and maybe a name-dropping nod to Edmund Burke or John Locke, whom most of them have never read. Sheep and sheep only could be herded by a ludicrous but not harmless cretin like Rush Limbaugh, who has just compared the sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners to "a college fraternity prank" (and who once called Chelsea Clinton "the family dog"--you don't have to worry about shame when you have no brain).

I don't think it's accurate to describe America as polarized between Democrats and Republicans, or between liberals and conservatives. It's polarized between the people who believe George Bush and the people who do not. Thanks to some contested ballots in a state governed by the president's brother, a once-proud country has been delivered into the hands of liars, thugs, bullies, fanatics and thieves. The world pities or despises us, even as it fears us. What this election will test is the power of money and media to fool us, to obscure the truth and alter the obvious, to hide a great crime against the public trust under a blood-soaked flag. The most lavishly funded, most cynical, most sophisticated political campaign in human history.

Bush's crusaders: the cancer he can't oppose

The New York Times > Opinion > Kristof: Jesus and Jihad
If a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of 'Glorious Appearing' and publish it in Saudi Arabia, jubilantly describing a massacre of millions of non-Muslims by God, we would have a fit. We have quite properly linked the fundamentalist religious tracts of Islam with the intolerance they nurture, and it's time to remove the motes from our own eyes.

By Kristof's description the last book in the series is sick, brutal, and ugly. The cult of Left Behind has created an "alternate Jesus" who would be very comfortable in the Old Testament, and completely antithetical to the New Testament. These writings legitimize any act of cruelty against the unbeliever -- who are unworthy of compassion.

These are Bush's Crusaders, and he cannot part from them.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Time to stop buying Slim-Fast products ....

The New York Times > Business > Media & Advertising > Advertising: Marketers Run to Pull the Plug When Celebrity Endorsers Say the Darnedest Things: "Slim-Fast has dumped Whoopi Goldberg from its advertising for having crudely mocked President Bush at a political rally, marketers are left to ponder once again the risks of celebrity endorsements."

Hersh makes accusations of the most extreme degree

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal (2004): a Weblog
Seymour Hersh says the US government has videotapes of boys being sodomized at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

'The worst is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking,' the reporter told an ACLU convention last week. Hersh says there was 'a massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there, and higher.'

Hersh has been right too often to be dismissed as insane. Bush has lied too often to be trusted at all.

On the other hand, this accusation is extraordinary.

Now we will see how the Pentagon responds. If Bush had any shred of integrity left, he'd resign.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Bush and the gay marriage ban: crushed in the senate

Top News Article | "On a 48-to-50 vote, six Republicans broke ranks as proponents of a proposed amendment fell 12 votes short of the needed 60 to end a Democratic procedural hurdle."
This wasn't even close -- to be a serious threat it needed at least 60 votes. I'd bet many of those voting for it did so knowing there wasn't a chance in heck of it passing -- and thus felt free to earn bennies from Bush.

In the face of a fairly smashing defeat, will Rove reconsider putting this front and center? Rove's goal is to use the gay marriage ban to increase turnout among the religious radical right (I suspect neither Rove nor Bush have much personal devotion to banning gay unions); but I'm sure he was banking on more support in the senate. Rove's secondary goal was to have Kerry and Edwards on record voting against the ban -- but the vote was so lopsided both of them were able to be conveniently absent.

A good day for the good guys.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

How to join the dept of homeland security watch list - I write badly, therefore I am a would-be terrorist
This is pathetic, sad, and scary in two big ways. Scary in one way because it illustrates the astounding incompetence of our security apparatus. Scary in another way because of the abuses ahead.

If Bush wins, I'll be taking Greyhound too.

Rankism -- not so silly?

The New York Times > Arts >Tilting at Windbags: A Crusade Against Rank
Western society has denounced racism, sexism and anti-Semitism, mobilized against ageism and genderism, anguished over postcolonialism and nihilism, taken arms against Marxism, totalitarianism and absolutism, and trashed, at various conferences and cocktail parties, liberalism and conservatism.

Is it possible there is yet another ism to mobilize against?

Robert W. Fuller, a boyishly earnest 67-year-old who has spent most of his life in academia, thinks so, and he calls it 'rankism,' the bullying behavior of people who think they are superior. The manifesto? Nobodies of the world unite! — against mean bosses, disdainful doctors, power-hungry politicians, belittling soccer coaches and arrogant professors.

The journalist starts off with a somewhat dismissive lead, but provides a bit more reasoned review later in the piece. Scorn it not -- this isn't going to go away.

Most human societies have aligned power and moral superiority. We think of talent, brilliance, charm, strength, physical beauty, good character as things worthy of praise. Moreover, we consider success itself as praiseworthy -- some of us (Republicans, conservative christians) consider all of these things as signs of God's approval, and thus a sign of godliness and goodness.

These common sentiments are better than many alternatives, alternatives such as the anti-intellectual assaults of the Red Guard, the Nazi party, and the Iraqi insurgency (which has been assassinating Iraq's intellectuals). They're better than the revenge of the envious common to revolutionary movements from France to Russia.

But times change. We don't praise luck as much as we do brilliance. And yet what is brilliance, but a form of luck? Luck to have the right genes, luck to avoid disease, poverty, injury, neglect. Luck to have a measure of schooling, to be born in a setting where brilliance was approved.

We are human, and we are unlikely to change our genetically programmed responses to the gifted (lucky) and the powerful. Still, were we all knowing, and all wise, I think we would blend an appreciation for the luck of the gifted with compassion and appreciation for all people fast and slow. An appreciation not that far, really, from the most enlightened teachings of that extraordinary radical, J Christ.

A changing dynamic in Iraq

The New York Times > International > Middle East > Iraq's Rebellion Develops Signs of Internal Rift
The establishment of the sovereign government may have set in motion a subtle but real shift in perceptions among some Iraqi rebels. Some argue that Mr. Allawi's Baathist past — he was a hard-liner before he ran afoul of Mr. Hussein — is swaying some former Baathists toward loyalty to the new government.

A separate article describes the return of jihadi to Saudi Arabia -- from Iraq.

I've wondered what deals were done to get Sistani to accept Allawi. Bush was right to stick to the transition date (one decision I never criticized -- because I agreed with it). If the Kurds and Shias can live with Allawi, then he's the key to reassuring the Sunni. The next step to watch is what Allawi does with Falluja. By focusing on "foreigners" there he seems to be preparing for an attack.

I'm Osama bin Laden and I approve this message ...

Doonesbury@Slate - Daily Dose July 11th, 2004 The July 11 Doonesbury is wicked. And so true. If Osama knew how to reelect GWB, he would.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Informed Comment : 07/01/2004 - 07/31/2004

Informed Comment : 07/01/2004 - 07/31/2004
The US military and possibly Coalition partners have in many cases taken women and children hostage in order to force their male relatives among the guerrillas to surrender. Since this practice is a form of collective punishment and was undertaken while the Coalition occupied Iraq, it is a war crime.
From Der Spiegel:
IRAQ: US soldiers are said to have abused arrested children.

More than hundred children have been detained in Iraqi prisons--including the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, according to information provided by the international red cross. According to the TV magazine show "Report" Coalition troops are may also have abused children and young people. "Between January and May we registered altogether 107 children, during 19 visits at six different prisons", the spokesman of the International Red Cross (IKRK), Florian Westphal, said in a Geneva interview with the SWR magazine "Report Mainz". She said that these places of detention were controlled by coalition troops. The number of the children imprisoned held could also be higher, according to Westphal. In addition, the TV magazine reported references and testimonies, according to which US soldiers in Iraqi prisons also abused children and young people.

I'd seen mention of this as an aside earlier. Guerilla's fight from home, and frequently fight as a family. They may even consider such tactics to be harsh, but rational.

For the rest of us though, war crime sounds about right.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

A new world of vendor lock-in: encryption authentication of batteries

Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things

NEC's 'smart' batteries: invitation to monopolistic DMCA nightmare

NEC has announced that its batteries will have cryptographic authentication schemes to prevent 'low-quality counterfeits.' Jason Schultz comments on the way that the DMCA turns such a sytem into a license to screw your customers by shutting out competitors who make cheaper batteries:

The software will be introduced in Japanese digital cameras by year's end and is expected to be used in 50 million units by 2007. The software is ideal for use in mobile phones and batteries, but NEC Electronics is also considering extending this technology to 'smart' keys, printers and ink cartridges, as well as bundling the technology into hardware options.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, software-based authentication is the wave of the future. And now, with the DMCA, a near-monopoly! Future, here we come.

Lock-in is binding customers to your products. Microsoft built its monopoly on binding customers to their proprietary (now DMCA protected) file formats.

In the old days hardware lock-in required patented oddball connectors. Now it's much easier and cheaper. To be fair I think this would have happened without the DMCA; the DMCA just makes it illegal to break the encryption.

update: Thinking about this a bit more, the best guide to what we'll see is HP ink jet printers. HP printer heada are keyed (by patent) to their printers. HP can (and does) give away the printers; they make their money on the consumables.

Cheap encrypted interfaces for physical devices extends this strategy. Ultimately many consumer electronic devices may be very cheap or free -- but we'll pay for them through the batteries. The battery manufacturer has complete control over product life-cycle -- if they stop making the batteries the device becomes garbage.

Any sort of consumable that's bound by encryption keys to a dependent device may have the same effect. If cars end up being run by fuel cells ...

I don't think we can imagine where this will end up. The only thing that will slow this down are (I hope!) high fees for use of this (certainly) patented innovation.

Ashcroft delcares translator's expose to be a "state secret" ...

Silicon Valley - Dan Gillmor's eJournal - Bush Administration Silences FBI Whistleblower
Boston Globe: Translator in eye of storm on retroactive classification. Sifting through old classified materials in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, FBI translator Sibel Edmonds said, she made an alarming discovery: Intercepts relevant to the terrorist plot, including references to skyscrapers, had been overlooked because they were badly translated into English.

Edmonds, 34, who is fluent in Turkish and Farsi, said she quickly reported the mistake to an FBI superior. Five months later, after flagging what she said were several other security lapses in her division, she was fired. Now, after more than two years of investigations and congressional inquiries, Edmonds is at the center of an extraordinary storm over US classification rules that sheds new light on the secrecy imperative supported by members of the Bush administration.

In a rare maneuver, Attorney General John Ashcroft has ordered that information about the Edmonds case be retroactively classified, even basic facts that have been posted on websites and discussed openly in meetings with members of Congress for two years. The Department of Justice also invoked the seldom-used ''state secrets" privilege to silence Edmonds in court. She has been blocked from testifying in a lawsuit brought by victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and was allowed to speak to the panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks only behind closed doors.

The now top secret, for your eye's only, must be removed, letters are here.

This administration is getting whackier all the time. Maybe Moore isn't as much of a crackpot as I'd assumed.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The July surprise: bin Laden on demand?

The New Republic Online: July Surprise?
... This spring, the administration significantly increased its pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar, all of whom are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan. A succession of high-level American officials--from outgoing CIA Director George Tenet to Secretary of State Colin Powell to Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca to State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black to a top CIA South Asia official--have visited Pakistan in recent months to urge General Pervez Musharraf's government to do more in the war on terrorism. In April, Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, publicly chided the Pakistanis for providing a "sanctuary" for Al Qaeda and Taliban forces crossing the Afghan border. "The problem has not been solved and needs to be solved, the sooner the better," he said.

This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November. The Bush administration denies it has geared the war on terrorism to the electoral calendar ... But The New Republic has learned that Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce HVTs by the election. According to one source in Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), "The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the U.S. administration to deliver before the [upcoming] U.S. elections." Introducing target dates for Al Qaeda captures is a new twist in U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism relations--according to a recently departed intelligence official, "no timetable[s]" were discussed in 2002 or 2003--but the November election is apparently bringing a new deadline pressure to the hunt. Another official, this one from the Pakistani Interior Ministry, which is responsible for internal security, explains, "The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections."...

A third source, an official who works under ISI's director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed tnr that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in Washington."... according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Emphases mine. Sweet. The New Republic may have a serious scoop. If true it's an incredible sign of how ruthless and desperate the Bushies are. Can they be driven only by the lust for power, or do they fear what might come out if they lose?

To assign capture of America's deadliest enemies to their electoral calendar ... I wouldn't have given this much credence two years ago, but the Bush regime has a knack of making ridiculous conspiracies seem all too plausible.

Department of Homeland Security: Don't use IE, try another browser

US CERT: UN-Cast News Wire
There are a number of significant vulnerabilities in technologies relating to the IE domain/zone security model, the DHTML object model, MIME type determination, and ActiveX. It is possible to reduce exposure to these vulnerabilities by using a different web browser, especially when browsing untrusted sites. Such a decision may, however, reduce the functionality of sites that require IE-specific features such as DHTML, VBScript, and ActiveX. Note that using a different web browser will not remove IE from a Windows system, and other programs may invoke IE, the WebBrowser ActiveX control, or the HTML rendering engine (MSHTML).

Firefox (Win/Mac), Mozilla (Win/Mac), Opera (Win/Mac), Camino (Mac only), Safari (Mac only) are good alternatives. I use FireFox on PCs, and Safari on my Mac. FF and Safari have a lot in common. Apple is tying Safari improvements to the operating system, so when I stop upgrading my aging iBook I expect I'll switch to using FireFox on both platforms.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Millionaires and Billionaires against Bush
This web site is the creation of Mitch Kapor of spreadsheet fame and some of his silicon valley colleagues. I don't know all the contributors, but I suspect they're worthy sorts and quite wealthy. They're also the sort of people who tended, historically, to be relatively apolitical or libertarian.

They are united, however, in the belief that GWB is a disaster for the nation and the world.

The site may or may not be interesting, but it's noteworthy as a marker for a societal transformation.

Building a Militia - in America

Boing Boing: Thousands volunteer to spy on fellow citizens

Time has good news for nosy, racist jerks: the Dept. of Homeland Security is enlisting 400,000 people to report on suspicious behavior in public areas.
After the [training] session in Little Rock, two newly initiated Highway Watch members sat down for the catered barbecue lunch. The truckers, who haul hazardous material across 48 states, explained how easy it is to spot 'Islamics' on the road: just look for their turbans. Quite a few of them are truck drivers, says William Westfall of Van Buren, Ark. 'I'll be honest. They know they're not welcome at truck stops. There's still a lot of animosity toward Islamics.' Eddie Dean of Fort Smith, Ark., also has little doubt about his ability to identify Muslims: 'You can tell where they're from. You can hear their accents. They're not real clean people.
That kind of prejudice is hard to undo, but it's a shame Beatty's slide show did not mention that in the U.S., it's almost always Sikhs who wear turbans, not Muslims. Last year a Sikh truck driver who was wearing a turban was shot twice while standing near his tractor trailer in Phoenix, Ariz. He survived the attack, which police are investigating as a hate crime.

Blackshirts, Red Brigadiers, Klansmen ... they'd recognize this program. It's how you build a militia. In this case, one that votes Republican.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Rumsfeld's Foreign Legion

From the June 26th Economist:
The award of a $293m contract to a British soldier of fortune, Tim Spicer, has also brought thousands of western and Asian mercenaries under America's wing and beyond the reach of Iraqi law.

If there are 3,000 mercenaries, this comes to $100,000 each -- about right for a year's service. Very odd that this has gotten no press. Sounds like Rumsfeld's alternative to the draft is a new American Foreign Legion.