Thursday, September 30, 2004

The state of Iraq -- from a WSJ reporter's personal email

Pulling Back the Curtain: What a Top Reporter in Baghdad Really Thinks About the War

This widely circulated email appears (APPEARS) to be authentic.
9/30/2004. Farnaz Fassihi, a Wall Street Journal correspondent in Iraq, confirmed that a widely-redistributed letter she emailed to friends about the nightmarish situation in Iraq was indeed written by her. Too bad the WSJ doesn't allow this reporter to write these kinds of stories for the paper.


Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't.

There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

It's hard to pinpoint when the turning point exactly began. Was it April when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a potential threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to imminent and active threat, a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess the situation. When asked how are things? they reply: the situation is very bad.

What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war.

In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health, which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers-- has now stopped disclosing them.

Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there were a dozen landmines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

For journalists the significant turning point came with the wave of abduction and kidnappings. Only two weeks ago we felt safe around Baghdad because foreigners were being abducted on the roads and highways between towns. Then came a frantic phone call from a journalist female friend at 11 p.m. telling me two Italian women had been abducted from their homes in broad daylight. Then the two Americans, who got beheaded this week and the Brit, were abducted from their homes in a residential neighborhood. They were supplying the entire block with round the clock electricity from their generator to win friends. The abductors grabbed one of them at 6 a.m. when he came out to switch on the generator; his beheaded body was thrown back near the neighborhoods. The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various elements within it -- baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda -- are cooperating and coordinating.

I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other way from Al Qaeda to the Baathisst to the criminals. My friend Georges, the French journalist snatched on the road to Najaf, has been missing for a month with no word on release or whether he is still alive.

America's last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being murdered by the dozens every day -- over 700 to date -- and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

As for reconstruction: firstly it's so unsafe for foreigners to operate that almost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18 billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a chunk [jf: was chuck] has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely as a result of sabotage and oil prices have hit record high of $49 a barrel.

Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer because Saddam is holed up and Al Qaeda is running around in Iraq?

Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity. Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the importance of voting. He said, "President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a democracy that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget about democracy, forget about being a model for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before all is lost."

One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it's hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from its violent downward spiral.

The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can't be put back into a bottle.

The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months while half of the country remains a no go zone -- out of the hands of the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In the other half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they'd boycott elections, leaving the stage open for polarized government of Kurds and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.

I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some degree elect a leadership. His response summed it all: "Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?

George Bush has promoted and supported incompetents. He is incompetent.

More interesting is the degree to which the Wall Street Journal is evidently altering the reports they get from their own reporters. They know who their masters are.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Iraq is lost

MSNBC - ‘Staying the Course’ Isn’t an Option

Retired Air Force Col.  Mike Turner is a former military planner who served on the U.S. Central Command planning staff for operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Before retiring in 1997, he spent four years as a strategic policy planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff specializing in Middle East/Africa affairs. He is a 1973 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a former fighter pilot and air-rescue helicopter pilot.
... From a purely military standpoint, the war in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster. This administration failed to make even a cursory effort at adequately defining the political end state they sought to achieve by removing Saddam Hussein, making it impossible to precisely define long-term military success. That, in turn, makes it impossible to lay out a rational exit strategy for U.S. troops. Like Vietnam, the military is again being asked to clean up the detritus of a failed foreign policy. We are nose-deep in a protracted insurgency, an occupying Christian power in an oil-rich, Arab country. That country is not now and has never been a single nation. A single, unified, democratic Iraq comprised of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis is a willfully ignorant illusion at best.

Two thirds of America's combat brigades are now tied down in this war which, under present conditions, is categorically unwinnable. Having alienated virtually every major ally who might help, our troops are simply targets. If Bush is re-elected, there are only two possible outcomes in Iraq:

- Four years from now, America will have 5,000 dead servicemen and women and an untold number of dead Iraqis at a cost of about $1 trillion, yet still be no closer to success than we are right now, or

- The U.S. will be gone, and we will witness the birth of a violent breeding ground for Shiite terrorists posing a far greater threat to Americans than a contained Saddam.

To discern the truth about Iraq, Americans must simply look beyond the spin. This war is not some noble endeavor, some great struggle of good against evil as the Bush administration would have us believe. We in the military have heard these grand pronouncements many times before by men who have neither served nor sacrificed. This war is an exercise in colossal stupidity and hubris which has now cost more than 1,000 American military lives, which has empowered Al Qaeda beyond anything those butchers might have engineered on their own and which has diverted America's attention and precious resources from the real threat at the worst possible time. And now, in a supreme act of truly breathtaking gall, this administration insists the only way to fix Iraq is to leave in power the very ones who created the nightmare.

... So what strategies should candidate Kerry propose? The first steps are patently obvious to anyone who has worked even briefly as a military policy planner. First, Americans must understand it is highly probable that Iraq is already lost. Americans must stop believing the never-ending litany of "happy thoughts" spewing forth from the Bush campaign and start thinking about our men and women dying wholesale in Iraq. Having acknowledged that painful reality and the genuine, long-term danger posed to Americans by remaining in Iraq, here are some obvious actions for Kerry to propose at his first debate next week with Bush. 

1. Define the political end state. A "free and democratic Iraq" is not a realistic political goal. A loose coalition of Kurdistan (Kurds), a Central Arab Republic (Sunni) and a Southern Arab Republic (Shia) might be. Whatever the goal, the political objective must precede the military objective, and it must be forged by the experts at the State Department, not the Pentagon. 

2. Given a precisely defined political objective, the president must obtain an accurate and honest field assessment from our senior military commanders, who must be free to make that assessment without recrimination. These commanders must decide if a military mission supporting the precisely defined political objective is possible and realistic. If it is, we need to enter Iraq with overwhelming military force to achieve success. If our military leaders determine it is not—and I believe that is very likely— we must pull our troops out now. Under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a renowned autocrat and micromanager, this type of honest assessment by the military is impossible.

3. We must obtain United Nations mandate for a long-term solution to Iraq. The U.N. may be largely impotent, inefficient and ineffectual, but it has become the basis for legitimizing military operations around the world. Since the case for defending ourselves against a supposedly imminent threat is now dead—if it ever was alive—we must obtain international, political top cover for all future operations.

4. We must obtain the support of our allies for a newly crafted, long-term political solution for the region. This will enable us to share the burden of rebuilding Iraq, though it may require some big sticks and even bigger carrots.

History will not judge the American people very kindly. I write this blog in part so one day I can point my children to it and say "I did what I could."

Is Rove a Satan worshiper?

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: September 26, 2004 - October 02, 2004 Archives
An article out this week in The Atlantic Monthly focuses specifically on a series of races Rove ran in Texas and Alabama in the 1990s...

Rove makes the demons of American politics look like juvenile innocents.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Seattle Times: Editorials & Opinion: Kerry for President

The Seattle Times: Editorials & Opinion: Kerry for President
Four years ago, this page endorsed George W. Bush for president. We cannot do so again — because of an ill-conceived war and its aftermath, undisciplined spending, a shrinkage of constitutional rights and an intrusive social agenda.

The Bush presidency is not what we had in mind. Our endorsement of John Kerry is not without reservations, but he is head and shoulders above the incumbent.

The first issue is the war. When the Bush administration began beating the drums for war on Iraq, this page said repeatedly that he had not justified it. When war came, this page closed ranks, wanting to support our troops and give the president the benefit of the doubt. The troops deserved it. In hindsight, their commander in chief did not.

The first priority of a new president must be to end the military occupation of Iraq. This will be no easy task, but Kerry is more likely to do it — and with some understanding of Middle Eastern realities — than is Bush.

The election of Kerry would sweep away neoconservative war intellectuals who drive policy at the White House and Pentagon. It would end the back-door draft of American reservists and the use of American soldiers as imperial police. It would also provide a chance to repair America's overseas relationships, both with governments and people, particularly in the world of Islam.

A less-belligerent, more-intelligent foreign policy should cause less anger to be directed at the United States. A political change should allow Americans to examine the powers they have given the federal government under the Patriot Act, and the powers the president has claimed by executive order.

This page had high hopes for President Bush regarding taxing and spending. We endorsed his cut in income taxes, expecting that it would help business and discipline new public spending. In the end, there was no discipline in it. In control of the Senate, the House and the presidency for the first time in half a century, the Republicans have had a celebration of spending.

Kerry has made many promises, and might spend as much as Bush if given a Congress under the control of Democrats. He is more likely to get a divided government, which may be a good thing.

Bush was also supposed to be the candidate who understood business. In some ways he has, but he has been too often the candidate of big business only. He has sided with pharmaceutical companies against drug imports from Canada.

In our own industry, the Bush appointees on the Federal Communications Commission have pushed to relax restrictions on how many TV stations, radio stations and newspapers one company may own. In an industry that is the steward of the public's right to speak, this is a threat to democracy itself — and Kerry has stood up against it.

Bush talked like the candidate of free trade, a policy the Pacific Northwest relies upon. He turned protectionist on steel and Canadian lumber. Admittedly, Kerry's campaign rhetoric is even worse on trade. But for the previous 20 years, Kerry had a strong record in support of trade, and we have learned that the best guide to what politicians do is what they have done in the past, not what they say.

On some matters, we always had to hold our noses to endorse Bush. We noted four years ago that he was too willing to toss aside wild nature, and to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We still disagree. On clean air, forests and fish, we generally side with Kerry.

We also agree with Sen. Kerry that Social Security should not offer private accounts.

Four years ago, we stated our profound disagreement with Bush on abortion, and then in one of his first acts as president, he moved to reinstate a ban on federal money for organizations that provide information about abortions overseas. We disagree also with Bush's ban on federal money for research using any new lines of stem cells.

There is in these positions a presidential blending of politics and religion that is wrong for the government of a diverse republic.

Our largest doubt about Kerry is his idea that the federal debt may be stabilized, and dozens of new programs added, merely by raising taxes on the top 2 percent of Americans. Class warfare is a false promise, and we hope he forgets it.

Certainly, the man now in office forgot some of the things he said so fetchingly four years ago.

Not a bad summary really. They were fools to endorse Bush in the first place -- he said what he intended to do and he did it. I have no idea what they were listening to 4 years ago.

Sugar in space provides clue to origin of life

Spaceflight Now | Breaking News | Sugar in space provides clue to origin of life
Although the chemistry on Earth and in interstellar clouds is much different, the results can be very similar. This and other recent studies show that prebiotic chemistry -- the formation of the molecular building blocks necessary for the creation of life -- occurs in interstellar clouds long before that cloud collapses to form a new solar system with planets. 'Many of the interstellar molecules discovered to date are the same kinds detected in laboratory experiments specifically designed to synthesize prebiotic molecules. This fact suggests a universal prebiotic chemistry,' said Jan M. Hollis of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. This suggests that the molecular building blocks for the creation of life on a new planet might get a head start in the dust of interstellar clouds.

The galaxy is a petri dish for life carrying planets. Very strange.

Asking the big questions: Are we alone? What happens to civilizations like our's?

The New York Times Magazine - CHARLES SIEBERT - The Genesis Project

To put it mildly, this is an interest of mine. The most recent discoveries in extrasolar planetary science favor an abundance of earthlike planets (Bayesian reasoning -- they've chopped off the rare-planet end of the probability curve). This biases the hoary Drake Equation towards the likelihood of life, even technological life.

The Genesis Project (love the name the NYT title hack gave it) is about filling out other terms in the Drake Equation. It points in some weird directions. Francis Crick gained a reputation as a fallen genius because of his support for the hypothesis that life on earth arose by deliberate "seeding" of a newly formed planet. The idea was not knew to Crick, cometary seeding of life has been popular in science fiction for generations.

Yet Fermi's Paradox remains -- we don't find godlike aliens underfoot. Which leads to the most interesting question of all -- what happens to technocentric civilizations?
September 26, 2004

...The Stardust mission, however, is typical of a number of projects to divine life's origins, all part of a $75-million-a-year scientific enterprise now being financed by NASA. It is known as astrobiology.

The appellation invokes images of ferns in outer space, or interstellar swamps, but these are mundane imaginings compared with the various avenues of exploration being pursued by astrobiologists. There are projects like drilling into the earth's boiling-hot deep-sea vents or icy dark Antarctic waters in order to do DNA analysis of primitive life forms. Or trying to replicate in the laboratory the moment when the chemical earth first transformed into a biological one. Or lassoing a multibillion-year-old comet in search of organic compounds like amino acids and carbon, the so-called building blocks of life.

... There was a time -- right up until the early 1950's, in fact -- when the sorts of questions now being addressed by astrobiology were the stuff of either myth and science fiction, or of only the most marginal, far-fetched or pie-in-the-sky kinds of science. Now, however, we face a strangely reverse reality: the state of our knowledge has evolved to the point where our previous conjecturing about life's origin has been exposed as woefully myopic and parochial, not nearly far-fetched or skyward-looking enough.

... It is a quest that is being pursued from three directions: comparative analysis of DNA on earth; biochemical synthesis of life in the lab, or ''test-tube evolution''; and, finally, examination of the various organic compounds that exist in the depths of outer space -- perhaps the ideal laboratory, because of both its deep history and inherent lack of contamination.

Of astrobiology's three approaches, the first, DNA analysis, is perhaps the most traditional mode of inquiry, or at least the most grounded. Precisely because all life forms are made of the same stuff, are all so-called ''DNA-protein-based organisms,'' scientists can now use comparative DNA analysis to trace the common roots of life's collective family tree further back than ever imagined.

... There is, for example, a consensus now about the existence and the essential character of life's common ancestor, the great, great, great (to the power of a gazillion) grandparent of you and me and everything else that we see (or can't see) living around us. It even has a name: LUCA, or Last Universal Common Ancestor, although some prefer the name Cenancestor, from the Greek root ''cen'' (meaning ''together'') and others favor LCA, or Last Common Ancestor.

There is very little known about LUCA, though scientists currently agree on two things. One, that it had to have existed. And two, that it had to have been extremely rugged. As recently as the mid-70's there were thought to be only two domains of life on earth: the prokaryotes -- small, single-celled bacteria lacking a nucleus or other complex cellular structures; and the eukaryotes -- organisms made of one or more cells with a nucleus, a category embracing everything from complex multicellular entities, like mammals, reptiles, birds and plants, to the single-celled amoeba.

In 1977, however, a molecular biologist from the University of Illinois named Carl Woese identified within the prokaryotes a genetically distinct class of bacteria now known as the archaea, many of them primitive, single-celled organisms known as ''extremophiles'' because they live in extreme environments like volcanic vents or Antarctic waters. When the DNA of archaea was compared with that of prokaryotes and eukaryotes, it became clear that the trifurcation of life from LUCA occurred far earlier than previously believed, well over three billion years ago, when there was little or no oxygen in the earth's atmosphere.

[jf: In other words the extremophile discoveries were (perhaps literally?) earthshattering. They radically changed our thoughts about when life first arose on earch, and drastically narrowed the interval between formation of the planet and the evolution of life.]

LUCA, in other words, had to have been a hard-bitten little extremophile of some kind or other. And while the debate rages as to precisely what sort of entity this common ancestor was, and which of the three current domains it was more kindred to, scientists have now discovered a variety of examples of what it might have been, now thriving all over the earth -- decidedly uncuddly, extremophilic creatures sometimes called superbugs. There are, for instance, the acidophiles -- bacteria that have been found to thrive on the gas given off by raw sewage and that both excrete and multiply in concentrations of acid strong enough to dissolve metal and destroy entire city sewer systems. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are superbugs that live in temperatures below -320 degrees Fahrenheit, lower than that of liquid nitrogen.

[jf: Recent NASA research has isolated bugs that live off the energy from aluminum ions and can survive high levels of gamma radiation and probably vacuum. It's likely we've already seeded Mars with some these bugs. Some of these terrestrial (whatever that means) bugs could not be detected by any technology we're likely to put on a space probe.]

... As far along the path toward origins as the analysis of DNA on earth has already led us, many astrobiologists say it isn't nearly far enough. Indeed, an entity like LUCA, for all its mysteries, is generally considered to be something eminently knowable, a relative latecomer in life's story, which must have had a fairly sophisticated genome to have survived the extreme conditions of the early earth. If LUCA is the common ancestor of life as we currently recognize it, the big question is: What came before that?

Many scientists now argue that before LUCA and the emergence of our current DNA-protein world, there was what's referred to as an RNA world, one made up only of rudimentary RNA-based entities that were later subsumed into RNA's current role as our DNA's messenger. And before the RNA-world, there has to have been what might be described as the real prize for astrobiologists, the so-called first living organism, or FLO.

In order to find FLO, astrobiologists must first arrive at a working definition of ''living.'' ''It all depends on what we mean by biology,'' says Jeffrey Bada, a geochemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at U.C. San Diego. ''For me, I would say that all you need to define life is imperfect replication. That's it. Life. And what that means is that the entity can make copies of itself but not exact copies. A perfectly replicating system isn't alive because it doesn't evolve [jf. So really Bada is defining life as a "contained system capable of evolution" -- by that definition the world economy is "alive". I've made the same point -- canopy economics.] Quartz crystals make exact copies of themselves and have done from the beginning of the earth. They don't evolve, however, because they're locked into that particular form. But with imperfect replication you get mutants that develop some sort of selective advantage that will allow them to dominate the system.

... What is known about FLO is that for it to have happened at all, it had to have been an even tougher entity than LUCA was merely to overcome the universe's most prohibitive law, the second law of thermodynamics, which dictates that all matter tends toward entropy, the dissipation of energy. All life is in utter defiance of that law, a bound, energy-gathering stay, however brief, against entropy. [jf: This has bothered physicists for a long time. Crick was a physicist by training -- it bothered him. I dimly recall it bothered Neils Bohr, Schrodinger, and their kin.]

... The other essential requirement for the kind of imperfect replication system that Bada describes is that there had to have been a first bit of information, some kind of biochemical message, or code, however crude, to begin to convey. Or, in this case, to misconvey, the whole story of life's emergence and evolution on earth being, in essence, a multibillion-year-long game of telephone, in which the initial utterance, the one that preceded all others, was increasingly transmuted and reinvented the further along it was passed. It is the precise nature of that first utterance that astrobiologists are trying to decipher.

'There are some people,'' Bada says, ''who would argue quite vigorously with me about whether the simple kind of replicators I speak of qualify as life. Others would argue that even the sorts of simpler catalytic, self-sustaining reactions that occur on mineral surfaces are living, or are the first type of living system, without even the requirement for genetic information. But to me that's still chemistry, not life. Or it's life as we don't know it.''

A number of chemists are now trying to recreate in their labs at least a rough approximation of this elusive and somewhat ill-defined transition from the purely chemical to the biological, searching for the mix of ingredients which in their interaction create ever more complex molecules in a recurring series of feedback loops that eventually culminate in a self-replicating system that soon dominates its environment. Gerald Joyce, a colleague of Bada's at U.C. San Diego, and one of the pioneers of test-tube evolution, has managed to achieve such a synthesis in his lab using a random mixture of RNA molecules. Jack Szostak of the Harvard Medical School, meanwhile, has been doing groundbreaking work in his lab with organic compounds known as amphiphiles -- compounds that have been shown to produce in water cell-like structures known as vesicles, the ideal sort of contained microenvironment that the earliest living entity on earth might have needed to get started.

''I'm going to stick my neck out here,'' Bada says, ''but I'd be surprised, very surprised, if in the next 5 or 10 years somebody somewhere doesn't make a molecular system that can self-replicate with very little interaction on our part. You just give it the proper chemicals and it starts churning away and replicates and growing and soon dominates the system.'' [jf. Sounds like a "New Kind of Science"?]

... The early earth is now thought to have had a number of different atmospheres over the long course of its coalescence, the most likely was a rather bland mix of nitrogen and carbon dioxide, one not highly conducive to the production of amino acids. Meanwhile, amino acids have been discovered just about everywhere, including inside meteorites and, evidence suggests, drifting about in the so-called interstellar medium. [jf. I thought the BBC recently reported clouds of simple carbohydrates in extrasolar space, but I can't find the article now. Update: it was a cloud of simple sugar molecules in our galaxy.]

... long with carbon and a number of other organic compounds essential to life, amino acids seem to have come along with the universe's original package, woven into the very fabric of our solar system and perhaps long before that, hailing from somewhere out there in that vast 10-billion-year lacuna between the Big Bang and the earth's debut. In the words of Jill Tarter, an astrobiologist at the SETI Institute: ''Every atom of iron in our blood was produced in a star that blew up about 10 billion years ago.'' What those searching the heavens for the answer to life's origins are trying to decipher is how these seemingly prepackaged ingredients for life actually became life, and whether our planet could possibly have been the only viable egg in the universe's sack.

... Even the decidedly low-key Sandford starts twisting in his seat like an excited kid on Christmas morning when he thinks about the return of the Stardust capsule in January 2006, and the possible secrets buried therein. Once the material is recovered, certain tests conducted on whatever organic compounds are found will both certify their extraterrestrial origin and perhaps ultimately help to determine their approximate age in relation to the formation of our solar system and of the earth.

''We want to try to get a real sense of what kinds of building blocks are out there that arrive on planets on Day 1 of their formation,'' says Sandford. ''Of course, since we don't know how exactly life got started, it's hard to assess how critical each compound is. Even if life is an inevitable byproduct of stuff falling out of the sky, certain key aspects of life's formation may also be dominated by indigenous activity on a given planet. Life may have had to beg and borrow and steal everything it could get to happen, and so why be picky? For a long time the argument about origins has been an either-or type of thing: life either happened with a bolt of lightning to the early atmosphere or it was the opposite extreme of actual bugs falling out of the sky and seeding the earth. The truth probably falls somewhere in the middle of that.''

... a number of other astrobiological starcombers have their sights and hopes set on a mission the results of which neither they nor many of us alive today will be around to witness: landing upon and drilling into Jupiter's moon Europa.

About the size of the earth's moon, Europa is covered by ice roughly 6 miles deep, beneath which is 30 to 60 miles of water, roughly the same volume as that of the earth's oceans. While water is often thought to be synonymous with life, Europa is totally dark, ruling out any form of photosynthesis, and thus life as we understand it. There is also thought to be little or no communication between the underlying ocean and Europa's surface. All of which makes the prospect of discovering any signs of life there almost unbearably enticing to astrobiologists.

''I'd love nothing more than for us to find a thriving RNA world there,'' says Bada. ''We can try to reconstruct that in a lab, but if we had a natural example of it, that would be fantastic. We'd have a picture of what life may have been like on earth before it evolved into the modern protein-DNA world of today. Of course, it's hard to imagine the kind of environment that's on Europa producing organisms that look anything like the biochemistry we have here, either modern or LUCA-type organisms. And that's what I find fascinating. Here we could have a completely independent form of life, even though the chemistry leading up to it might be universal. Now, I don't expect little green men to crawl out of the ocean there, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if we didn't see some extremely interesting chemistry involved in some of the very stages that led to replicating entities here on earth.''

Phew. A relief from thinking about our negligent and incompetent government!

A parting thought. If it turns out that the fundamental physics of the universe predispose to a cloud of life forming soup infesting all of space, what does that say about the "design" of the universe? And Fermi's Paradox?

Organizers Fear Terrorist Attacks On Upcoming Al-Qaeda Convention

The Onion | Organizers Fear Terrorist Attacks On Upcoming Al-Qaeda Convention
The al-Qaeda International Convention will open Friday with a keynote speech from Zell Miller, the Democratic senator from Georgia who raised hackles by throwing his support behind al-Qaeda during this year's election.

Where were the WMDs? An insider's summary -- relatively objective?

The New York Times > Opinion > MAHDI OBEIDI: Saddam, the Bomb and Me

The emphases below are mine. I find this fascinating in many dimensions. It agrees with my prejudices, but adds some new agnles.
While the final report from Charles A. Duelfer, the top American inspector of Iraq's covert weapons programs, won't be released for a few weeks, the portions that have already been made public touch on many of the experiences I had while working as the head of Saddam Hussein's nuclear centrifuge program. Now that I am living in the United States, I hope to answer some of the most important questions that remain.

What was really going in Iraq before the American invasion last year? Iraq's nuclear weapons program was on the threshold of success before the 1991 invasion of Kuwait - there is no doubt in my mind that we could have produced dozens of nuclear weapons within a few years - but was stopped in its tracks by United Nations weapons inspectors after the Persian Gulf war and was never restarted. During the 1990's, the inspectors discovered all of the laboratories, machines and materials we had used in the nuclear program, and all were destroyed or otherwise incapacitated.

By 1998, when Saddam Hussein evicted the weapons inspectors from Iraq, all that was left was the dangerous knowledge of hundreds of scientists and the blueprints and prototype parts for the centrifuge, which I had buried under a tree in my garden.

In addition to the inspections, the sanctions that were put in place by the United Nations after the gulf war made reconstituting the program impossible. During the 1980's, we had relied heavily on the international black market for equipment and technology; the sanctions closed that avenue.

Another factor in the mothballing of the program was that Saddam Hussein was profiting handsomely from the United Nations oil-for-food program, building palaces around the country with the money he skimmed. I think he didn't want to risk losing this revenue stream by trying to restart a secret weapons program.

Over the course of the 1990's, most of the scientists from the nuclear program switched to working on civilian projects or in conventional-weapons production, and the idea of building a nuclear bomb became a vague dream from another era.

So, how could the West have made such a mistaken assessment of the nuclear program before the invasion last year? Even to those of us who knew better, it's fairly easy to see how observers got the wrong impression. First, there was Saddam Hussein's history. He had demonstrated his desire for nuclear weapons since the late 1970's, when Iraqi scientists began making progress on a nuclear reactor. He had used chemical weapons against his own people and against Iran during the 1980's. After the 1991 war, he had tried to hide his programs in weapons of mass destruction for as long as possible (he even kept my identity secret from weapons inspectors until 1995). It would have been hard not to suspect him of trying to develop such weapons again.

The Western intelligence services and policy makers, however, overlooked some obvious clues. One was the defection and death of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, who was in charge of the unconventional weapons programs in the 1980's.

As my boss, Mr. Kamel was a brutal taskmaster who forced us to work under impossible deadlines and was the motivating force for our nuclear effort. The drive for nuclear weapons began in earnest when he rose to a position of power in 1987. He placed a detail of 20 fearsome security men on the premises of our centrifuge lab, and my staff and I worked wonders just to stay out of his dungeons. But after he defected to Jordan in 1995, and then returned months later only to be assassinated by his father-in-law's henchmen, the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs lost their top promoter.

In addition, the West never understood the delusional nature of Saddam Hussein's mind. By 2002, when the United States and Britain were threatening war, he had lost touch with the reality of his diminished military might. By that time I had been promoted to director of projects for the country's entire military-industrial complex, and I witnessed firsthand the fantasy world in which he was living. He backed mythic but hopeless projects like one for a long-range missile that was completely unrealistic considering the constraints of international sanctions. The director of another struggling missile project, when called upon to give a progress report, recited a poem in the dictator's honor instead. Not only did he not go to prison, Saddam Hussein applauded him.

By 2003, as the American invasion loomed, the tyrant was alternately working on his next trashy novel and giving lunatic orders like burning oil around Baghdad to "hide" the city from bombing attacks. Unbelievably, one of my final assignments was to prepare a 10-year plan for military-industrial works, even as tens of thousands of troops were gathering for invasion.

To the end, Saddam Hussein kept alive the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, staffed by junior scientists involved in research completely unrelated to nuclear weapons, just so he could maintain the illusion in his mind that he had a nuclear program. Sort of like the emperor with no clothes, he fooled himself into believing he was armed and dangerous. But unlike that fairy-tale ruler, Saddam Hussein fooled the rest of the world as well.

Was Iraq a potential threat to the United States and the world? Threat is always a matter of perception, but our nuclear program could have been reinstituted at the snap of Saddam Hussein's fingers. The sanctions and the lucrative oil-for-food program had served as powerful deterrents but world events - like Iran's current efforts to step up its nuclear ambitions - might well have changed the situation.

Iraqi scientists had the knowledge and the designs needed to jumpstart the program if necessary. And there is no question that we could have done so very quickly. In the late 1980's, we put together the most efficient covert nuclear program the world has ever seen. In about three years, we gained the ability to enrich uranium and nearly become a nuclear threat; we built an effective centrifuge from scratch, even though we started with no knowledge of centrifuge technology. Had Saddam Hussein ordered it and the world looked the other way, we might have shaved months if not years off our previous efforts.

So what now? The dictator may be gone, but that doesn't mean the nuclear problem is behind us. Even under the watchful eyes of Saddam Hussein's security services, there were worries that our scientists might escape to other countries or sell their knowledge to the highest bidder. This expertise is even more valuable today, with nuclear technology ever more available on the black market and a proliferation of peaceful energy programs around the globe that use equipment easily converted to military use.

Hundreds of my former staff members and fellow scientists possess knowledge that could be useful to a rogue nation eager for a covert nuclear weapons program. The vast majority are technicians who, like the rest of us, care first about their families and their livelihoods. It is vital that the United States ensure they get good and constructive jobs in postwar Iraq. The most accomplished of my former colleagues could be brought, at least temporarily, to the West and placed at universities, research labs and private companies.

The United States invaded Iraq in part to end what it saw as a nuclear danger. It is now vital to reduce the chance of Iraq's dangerous knowledge spilling outside of its borders. The nuclear dangers facing the world are growing, not decreasing. My hope is that the Iraqi example can help people understand how best to deal with this threat.

Let's count the insights.

1. The sanctions worked. (They were collapsing though, both France and Russia wanted to abandon them.)
2. Western intelligence missed the large role of Kamel, an evil man who met an evil death at the hands of an evil man.
3. It takes about 4-5 years for a nation like Iraq to build a nuclear weapon. That's supposedly without Khan's help. Post-Khan I'd guess two years. I think that makes "containment" all but impossible. I wonder how long ago US intelligence decided that containment would no longer work.
4. He hid the centrifuge parts under a tree. So when were they found? By whom?
5. Saddam really was insane by the end of his reign.
6. The 'Oil for Food' bribes had a bright side. They incented Saddam to keep the sanctions going.
6. For Iraq the reasoning is simple. Iran has a bomb, therefore Iraq must have a bomb. This reasoning applies irregardless of who Iraq's tyrant is. It will be ironic if America's tyrant completes the program Saddam began.

Friday, September 24, 2004

The state of Iraq -- worse than was ever imagined, and getting worse yet

War and Piece

The diplomatic editor if the UK Times is, incredibly, still in Baghdad. He writes a description of life there. It's a bit different from the fantasy American's are ingesting.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Kerry finds his honest voice

Shrillblog: Yet Another Member of the Shrill
The administration told us we’d be greeted as liberators. They were wrong. They told us not to worry about looting or the sorry state of Iraq's infrastructure. They were wrong. They told us we had enough troops to provide security and stability, defeat the insurgents, guard the borders and secure the arms depots. They were wrong. They told us we could rely on exiles like Ahmed Chalabi to build political legitimacy. They were wrong. They told us we would quickly restore an Iraqi civil service to run the country and a police force and army to secure it. They were wrong. In Iraq, this administration has consistently over-promised and under-performed. This policy has been plagued by a lack of planning, an absence of candor, arrogance and outright incompetence. And the President has held no one accountable, including himself. In fact, the only officials who lost their jobs over Iraq were the ones who told the truth.

I've seen the electoral college projections. Barring a miracle, Kerry has lost this election -- and so has America. There's no claim for innocence here -- every voter who cared a whit had the evidence in front of them.

It's too bad the world has to suffer for our failings.

At least Kerry will go down swinging hard. He must feel at this point that he has nothing to lose. He may wish History to testify that he spoke truth to power.

Monday, September 20, 2004

PSA. HRT. SSRIs. Houston, we have a problem.

Professor Stamey first suggested that a blood test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) could indicate the presence of cancer in a paper in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1987. The discovery spawned a vast prostate screening industry - nearly a quarter of a million men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in the US this year - and a huge growth in the number of men treated for the condition. Now, he has recanted, and suggests that the test merely indicates the size of the prostate and may do more harm than good by encouraging over-treatment. Many of the cancers detected by it are too small to be clinically meaningful and many men may have been unnecessarily treated. 'The PSA era is over,' he said in The Journal of Urology.

Ten years ago, when I was actively practicing medicine, I was among those on the front line who were very unsure about the value of the PSA test. I give full credit to my internist colleagues for their deep and abiding suspicion of the PSA. Then Dear Abby/Ann began pushing it, then Bob Dole, then resistance became futile.

Now it looks bad for the PSA.

Hormone Replacement Therapy had a similar path. SSRIs are looking shaky -- primarily because an emergent (unconscious?) de facto collusion between manufacturers, researchers, academics and publishers produced a biased publication base. (One UK researcher clinician emerges as a hero in the SSRI debacle -- a lesson about the need to resuscitate the dying breed of clinician-researcher.)

Medicine has a problem. I think it's a research funding, tenure, promotion and publication problem, compounded by issues with professional identity and severe stress and distress among primary care physicians. The situation isn't quite hopeless; some of the steps being taken with electronic publication (advertising free!) and clinical trials registrations are very important. I think we need the AHRQ to be fully alive again -- it was badly wounded about 10 years ago by an unfortunate alliance between libertarian ideologues, anti-science politicians and fearful subspecialists. Maybe orthopods could do penance by resuscitating the AHRQ.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The younger George Bush News | The dunce

Recollections of a GWB business school prof:
Students who challenged and embarrassed Bush in class would then become the subject of a whispering campaign by him, Tsurumi said. "In class, he couldn't challenge them. But after class, he sometimes came up to me in the hallway and started bad-mouthing those students who had challenged him. He would complain that someone was drinking too much. It was innuendo and lies. So that's how I knew, behind his smile and his smirk, that he was a very insecure, cunning and vengeful guy." ...

"I used to chat up a number of students when we were walking back to class," Tsurumi said. "Here was Bush, wearing a Texas Guard bomber jacket, and the draft was the No. 1 topic in those days. And I said, 'George, what did you do with the draft?' He said, 'Well, I got into the Texas Air National Guard.' And I said, 'Lucky you. I understand there is a long waiting list for it. How'd you get in?' When he told me, he didn't seem ashamed or embarrassed. He thought he was entitled to all kinds of privileges and special deals. He was not the only one trying to twist all their connections to avoid Vietnam. But then, he was fanatically for the war."

Tsurumi told Bush that someone who avoided a draft while supporting a war in which others were dying was a hypocrite. "He realized he was caught, showed his famous smirk and huffed off."

Tsurumi's conclusion: Bush is not as dumb as his detractors allege. "He was just badly brought up, with no discipline, and no compassion," he said.

Apparently Bush demonstrated even then a remarkable facility for the bald faced lie. It is his genius.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Senior US military leaders speak-up: Bush has brought us to unprecedented disaster

Guardian Unlimited | Sidney Blumenthal | Far graver than Vietnam

Or, as I've been saying lately, rather like Checknya with oil.
...But, according to the US military's leading strategists and prominent retired generals, Bush's war is already lost. Retired general William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, told me: "Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse, he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost." He adds: "Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends."

Retired general Joseph Hoare, the former marine commandant and head of US Central Command, told me: "The idea that this is going to go the way these guys planned is ludicrous. There are no good options. We're conducting a campaign as though it were being conducted in Iowa, no sense of the realities on the ground. It's so unrealistic for anyone who knows that part of the world. The priorities are just all wrong."

Jeffrey Record, professor of strategy at the Air War College, said: "I see no ray of light on the horizon at all. The worst case has become true. There's no analogy whatsoever between the situation in Iraq and the advantages we had after the second world war in Germany and Japan."

W Andrew Terrill, professor at the Army War College's strategic studies institute - and the top expert on Iraq there - said: "I don't think that you can kill the insurgency". According to Terrill, the anti-US insurgency, centred in the Sunni triangle, and holding several cities and towns - including Fallujah - is expanding and becoming more capable as a consequence of US policy.

"We have a growing, maturing insurgency group," he told me. "We see larger and more coordinated military attacks. They are getting better and they can self-regenerate. The idea there are x number of insurgents, and that when they're all dead we can get out is wrong. The insurgency has shown an ability to regenerate itself because there are people willing to fill the ranks of those who are killed. The political culture is more hostile to the US presence. The longer we stay, the more they are confirmed in that view."

After the killing of four US contractors in Fallujah, the marines besieged the city for three weeks in April - the watershed event for the insurgency. "I think the president ordered the attack on Fallujah," said General Hoare. "I asked a three-star marine general who gave the order to go to Fallujah and he wouldn't tell me. I came to the conclusion that the order came directly from the White House." Then, just as suddenly, the order was rescinded, and Islamist radicals gained control, using the city as a base.

"If you are a Muslim and the community is under occupation by a non-Islamic power it becomes a religious requirement to resist that occupation," Terrill explained. "Most Iraqis consider us occupiers, not liberators." He describes the religious imagery common now in Fallujah and the Sunni triangle: "There's talk of angels and the Prophet Mohammed coming down from heaven to lead the fighting, talk of martyrs whose bodies are glowing and emanating wonderful scents."

"I see no exit," said Record. "We've been down that road before. It's called Vietnamisation. The idea that we're going to have an Iraqi force trained to defeat an enemy we can't defeat stretches the imagination. They will be tainted by their very association with the foreign occupier. In fact, we had more time and money in state building in Vietnam than in Iraq."

General Odom said: "This is far graver than Vietnam. There wasn't as much at stake strategically, though in both cases we mindlessly went ahead with the war that was not constructive for US aims. But now we're in a region far more volatile, and we're in much worse shape with our allies."

Terrill believes that any sustained US military offensive against the no-go areas "could become so controversial that members of the Iraqi government would feel compelled to resign". Thus, an attempted military solution would destroy the slightest remaining political legitimacy. "If we leave and there's no civil war, that's a victory."

General Hoare believes from the information he has received that "a decision has been made" to attack Fallujah "after the first Tuesday in November. That's the cynical part of it - after the election. The signs are all there."

He compares any such planned attack to the late Syrian dictator Hafez al-Asad's razing of the rebel city of Hama. "You could flatten it," said Hoare. "US military forces would prevail, casualties would be high, there would be inconclusive results with respect to the bad guys, their leadership would escape, and civilians would be caught in the middle. I hate that phrase collateral damage. And they talked about dancing in the street, a beacon for democracy."

General Odom remarked that the tension between the Bush administration and the senior military officers over Iraqi was worse than any he has ever seen with any previous government, including Vietnam. "I've never seen it so bad between the office of the secretary of defence and the military. There's a significant majority believing this is a disaster. The two parties whose interests have been advanced have been the Iranians and al-Qaida. Bin Laden could argue with some cogency that our going into Iraq was the equivalent of the Germans in Stalingrad. They defeated themselves by pouring more in there. Tragic.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Slate - Does God endorse George Bush?

Heaven Sent - Does God endorse George Bush? By Steven Waldman
Of course, it's always possible God did put George W. Bush in the White House. But if He did, it doesn't theologically follow that He wants him to have a second term.

Where is George Bush's genius?

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: A Weblog: Wow! Francis Fukuyama Is Shrill!

George Bush must have a peculiar genius. He couldn't have gotten where he is without a fantastic gift.

It's not his raw IQ. Based on his SAT scores his raw IQ is probably about 120. Average to above average for college.

It's not his insight, wisdom or judgment. Those have been catastrophic.

It's not his choice of allies. Cheney? Rumsfeld?

And yet ...

He has many followers. He exerts iron control over many who are far more capable, in naive terms, than he.

My guess he has a genius for four related things:

1. Lying. I think he has a capacity for deception beyond everyday imaging. I would NEVER play poker against George Bush.

2. Raw leadership -- the peculiar gene that persuades others that he should be followed, that he is competent and wise.

3. The ability to project the appearance of wisdom, confidence, and considered judgment.

4. Rewarding his allies and punishing his enemies -- thereby imposing an iron loyalty and discipline. This requires the an incredible capacity to carry a grudge.

Combine the above with an insatiable lust for power over others, and we have a recipe for disaster -- GWB, father of the American Chechnya.

Iraq is not Vietnam....

Back to Iraq ...

I had one of those nasty revelations last night, on reading an Economist article on the state of Chechnya. It's obvious in retrospect, and I'm sure it's a common observation everywhere in the world ... except in America.

We've been blinded by our history in Vietnam. So blinded we've chosen the wrong lens for viewing our predicament.

Iraq is not Vietnam.

It is Chechnya.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Back to Iraq 3.0: It's Worse Than You Think...

Back to Iraq 3.0: It's Worse Than You Think...
Anyone who asks me to tell the “real” story of Iraq — implying all the bad things are just media hype — should refer to this post. I just told you the real story: What was once a hell wrought by Saddam is now one of America’s making.

This guy was once a relatively optimistic observer. I think he might once have been Republican, or at least an independent.

It sounds like we've lost. Bush, Rumsfeld and their kin have cost us, and Iraq, so very, very much.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Rumsfeld and Fallujah

Key General Criticizes April Attack In Fallujah ( "The comments by Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, made shortly after he relinquished command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force on Sunday, amounted to a stinging broadside against top U.S. military and civilian leaders who ordered the Fallujah invasion and withdrawal."

Rumsfeld "termination justification" file is about six inches thick.

The Shrill Blog: Martin Sieff Scores the Neocons at Zero for Twenty-One

The Shrill Blog: Martin Sieff Scores the Neocons at Zero for Twenty-One
These are 21 major neocon predictions that have been proven wrong.

Did they make ANY predictions that have been proven correct?

If these guys were ball players they'd have been retired by now. Instead they are making new plans.

Fidelity voted against expensing stock options

The New York Times > Business > Your Money > Gretchen Morgenson: A Door Opens. The View Is Ugly.
Most disturbing, some of the biggest fund companies - including Fidelity, T. Rowe Price and MFS Investment Management - cast votes with executives and against the views of most investors on the subject of expensing stock options this year.

I want to know how Vanguard voted on this one. I'll write Fidelity and let them know I'm moving my money elsewhere.

The stories not told: Al Qaeda's chemical bombs in Jordan and Pakistan
In early April, authorities in Jordan disrupted what would have been an even bigger chemical attack. Officials said that terrorists linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi managed to smuggle three cars — packed with explosives, a chemical bomb and poisonous gas — into the capital city, Amman.

Authorities in Jordan estimate that 80,000 people would have been killed if the chemical bomb had gone off at its intended targets — the Jordanian intelligence headquarters, the U.S. Embassy in Amman, and the Jordanian prime minister's office.

'It looks quite thought-through,' said David Siegrist, director of Studies for Countering Biological Terrorism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. 'They have about 800 kilos of explosive and tons of chemicals for oxidation. They also have about a ton of cyanide, which added a little extra pinch to whatever they were about to do.'

The captured leader of the plot, Jordanian Azmi al-Jayussi, told authorities that a Russian scientist had provided the chemical recipe.

And as seen on a tape obtained by ABC News, when Jordanian authorities conducted a test explosion using the same combination of chemicals, with smaller portions, it produced a toxic plume that killed rabbits placed 200 yards away.

'The kind of weapon that al Qaeda procured in Jordan anyone can buy in the United States commercially,' said Clark. 'Anyone in the United States, if they knew the right formula, could make this kind of chemical bomb that would kill thousands.'

The story unfolds as predicted. Technologic expertise is increasingly distributed. The cost of mass murder falls faster than the cost of defense.

The 9/11 attack succeeded because the attackers got lucky -- very lucky. Yes, the US had weak defenses. Yes, we have serious problems with the quality of top and mid-level management at the FBI and CIA. Yes, we have an imcompetent government. Despite all that, the 9/11 attackers ought to have failed -- but they got lucky.

The good guys have had some luck too. These two attacks were disrupted in party by good fortune.

Luck is not a strategy. We need a better government here and better approaches abroad.

Friday, September 10, 2004

America's Problem: The Media?

CJR September/October 2004: Q & A with Howard Dean
When you’re talking about print being worse than broadcast, are you talking about the reporters for The New York Times and The Washington Post?


DeLong has been exploring this theme, but since I don't watch television I was surprised to hear Dean say that network TV was, in general higher quality than print media -- including the "elite media".

I am persuaded, however, that the print media is now very poor quality, and that the NYT is no better than the rest. I don't know why, but I suspect part of the reason is that the overall print media business is less profitable than it once was.

A scarier possibility, may be that corporations, including the print media, are increasingly customer driven. They give consumers what consumers want. Unfortunately, most consumers don't want truth. They want comfort.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Acute Systems Software - TransMac

Acute Systems Software - TransMac and CrossFont

TransMac is an alternative to MacDrive -- a utility for reading HFS+ disks on a PC.

Bush - the adult crimes News | Stung!
In February of this year, Salon interviewed Bill Burkett, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard, who claims he observed aides to Bush going through his military file in 1997 to remove any embarrassing information, tossing documents in the trash, allegedly the types of documents that might help answer many of the unanswered questions surrounding Bush's Guard service. 'Activities occurred in order to, in my opinion, inappropriately build a false image of the governor's military service,' Burkett told Salon. Burkett first went public with his accusations in 1998 and has told the same story consistently for six years.

Also last February, Salon reported that Bush's mysterious decision in the spring of 1972 to stop flying and subsequently refuse to take a physical exam came at the same time the Air Force announced its Medical Service Drug Abuse Testing Program, which meant random drug testing for pilots, including Guardsmen.

So he quit becase he'd test positive. No biggy. Yeah, he's a stinking hypocrite, but that's almost a prerequisite for political office.

On the other hand ... a conspiracy to destroy incriminating records ... occurring in the adult Bush era ... That's interesting.

GWB - a spoiled brat with substance problems -- and an adult liar

The New Republic Online: Two-Sided Story
... To me, the most overlooked and most important new detail in these memos comes next. Killian writes, "I advised him of our investment in him and his commitment." It's often forgotten that even if Bush had gone off to Alabama and served honorably by showing up for all his drills, he was still walking out on a sworn commitment he made to the Guard. The government spent a vast sum of money training Bush to become a Texas Air National Guard pilot, a highly coveted position in 1968 that saved Bush from Vietnam, and in return Bush promised he would fly for the Guard for as long as possible...

That's what Killian meant when he advised Bush of "our investment and his commitment." But Killian, the memos show, starts to realize that his moral suasion is useless. Bush has already started maneuvering around him and Killian knows he's getting rolled. "I told him I had to have written acceptance before he would be transferred," he writes, "but think he's also talking to someone upstairs."

In the next memo Bush is "suspended from flight status due to failure to perform to USAF/TexANG standards and failure to meet annual physical examination (flight) as ordered." This is the first time any official document has reported that Bush was suspended for any reason other than simply missing his physical. It's also clear in this memo that Bush has completely abandoned the idea of ever flying again. "Officer has made no attempt to meet his training certification or flight physical," the memo says. Bush even asked for a non-flying assignment. Incredibly, Killian recommends that the Texas spot abandoned by Bush--the one that with Barnes's help Bush had won by leapfrogging ahead of hundreds of other applicants--be filled by a pilot returning from combat in Vietnam. Not only did someone else get shipped off to Vietnam when Bush landed his Guard duty, but once Bush was bored with flying and abandoned his spot, a pilot returning from Vietnam was forced to replace him.

In the final Killian memo, the one with the subject line "CYA" (cover your ass), the commander makes cryptic references to a struggle with his superiors over how much slack to cut Bush, who hadn't been observed in Texas for a year. "Staudt has obviously pressured Hodges more about Bush. I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job," Killian writes. According to the Associated Press, Staudt and Hodges are Waleter B. Staudt, the commander of the Texas National Guard at the time, and Lieutenant Cololnel Bobby Hodges, one of Bush's superiors. Staudt, Killian wrote, was "pushing to sugar coat" the evaluation. Killian complains that Bush wasn't around and there's no word from Alabama about what he's been doing. He makes a small concession to the pressure he's feeling from his bosses but refuses a full cover up for Bush. "I'll backdate," he writes, "but won't rate."

Younger Bush was a spolied rich brat with a serious alcohol problem -- and perhaps other substance problems. Young Clinton looks great next to young Bush. Young Gore looks fantastic next to young Bush. Young Kerry ... well, there's no comparison.

How does this connect to Bush today? He's flat out lied, many times, about his service. That's not something to brush off. Clinton lied like any adept politician -- he wriggled and wiggled and looked evasive. Bush lies like a true psychopath -- perfectly and without the slightest hint of guilt.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

DeLong's notes on a Richard Clarke speech

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: A Weblog
"We are not threatened by something called 'terrorism'. We are threatened by a militant subsect of Wahabism." Saudis are Wahabists. Only a few Wahabists are Jihadists. Necessary to preserve and widen the separation between the two.

Al Qaeda's Shurra Council--2/3 of the members of the Shurra Council as of 9/11 are dead or captured, yes. But they have been replaced. We have not captured 2/3 of Al Qaeda's [current] leaders. It has new leaders.

George W. Bush asked for an organizational chart of Al Qaeda so that he could cross people off as they were killed or captured. A very "MBA" way of looking at it, it seemed to me. I remembered "The Battle of Algiers". At the end, the French have caught and tortured and killed all of the urban guerrilla leaders they had identified at the start. And the French had lost the war.

The transformation of Al Qaeda. Breakup into fourteen more-or-less regional pieces. An ideology, not an organization.

Need good law enforcement, good intelligence, and the ability to strike deep when we have a real target. When we don't have a real target, however...

1.3 billion Muslims
200 million of whom believe now (much fewer on 9/12) they support Al Qaeda and its ilk
100,000 Jihadists.

Control and eliminate the third; woo the second; keep the first from drifting into the second.

How good is our intelligence? SigInt as good as it could be: really good. The spy divisions of our intelligence agencies are broken: we have no good spies. Jordanians have spies, British have spies in the Middle East. We don't--not really.

Intelligence analysis the most important. It was intelligence analysis that really fell down on the job in Iraq. The job of the analyst is to say "we don't know" when we don't know.

Oklahoma City: Connection between Terry Nichols and Ramze Usef? Clarke has been unable to disprove the existence of a relationship.

Intelligence analysts need to have open minds, for the world is a really weird place..

9/11 not a failure of intelligence. We told Bush 44 times that Al Qaeda was determined to attack--"Al Qaeda determined to attack inside U.S."

Praise of Clinton's actions in December 1999--that kind of press would have given us a chance in the summer of 2001. Praise of the State Department's Intelligence Bureau...

Since 9/11 very little has been done inside the U.S. as far as Homeland Security is concerned: no raising of the low-hanging fruit vulnerable to Al Qaeda and its ilk...

Why hasn't Al Qaeda struck again?

--We don't know, we guess.

--The FBI: it has done a lot to disrupt Al Qaeda operations inside the U.S.
--Al Qaeda has regionalized itself: not clear anyone thinks they're responsible for mounting American (as opposed to Indonesian, Mediterranean, et cetera) operations.
--They've set themselves a high bar: the only operations they are considering now are those that are even worse than 9/11.

The invasion of Iraq: an extraordinary strategic defeat for the United States, made worse by the war crimes of Abu Ghraib. The pool of people who really hate us is much greater than it was on 9/11.

You ask what could happen that would be really bad? You don't have to say "could": things are really bad. Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Pervez Musharraf has suffered three assassination attempts this year. The last two regional elections in Pakistan have been won by the Osama bin Laden party. Imagine a successful assassination of Pakistan followed by a Taliban-like takeover.

You want another bad thing? The fall of the House of Saud in a fashion analogous to the fall of the House of Pahlavi twenty-five years ago.

Another bad thing? Iran. Iran had an organizational relationship with Al Qaeda. Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. But our ability to act is constrained by the fact that Bush and Powell and company lied about Iraq.


Bush says he is accepting 9/11 Commission's recommendations, but he isn't--not really...

We should not approve of Putin's policies in Chechnya...

Our worldwide credibility is totally shot...

The decisive battles of the War on Terror cannot be fought not in places like Fallujah or the Hindu Kush. It's a war of ideas. If we mobilize our ideas to split the 200 million who think they support bin Laden off away from the 100,000 Jihadists, we win.

Yeah, this is right. Bush is wrong. Sigh.

A brave man writing ...

The New York Times > International > Middle East > School Siege in Russia Sparks Self-Criticism in Arab World
'It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims,' Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, the general manager of the widely watched Al-Arabiya satellite television station wrote in one of the most striking of these commentaries.

These are brave commentators. Truth be told, of course, there have been many non-Muslim terrorists - even in recent years. Ireland, Spain, the US ....

Terrorism has pioneered new depravities recently -- when Muslims happened to have their dark time. The next set of terrorists (from failed nations in Africa?) may or may not be Muslim, but they will dig deeper yet.

Could Cheney be LESS competent than Bush?
As vice president, Cheney has been the decisive force pushing America into war. In the inner councils of the administration, it was he who emasculated Colin Powell, cut the State Department out of effective policymaking, foisted fake reports on the intelligence agencies and supplanted the National Security Council. It was also Cheney who placed appointees personally loyal to him, including Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, in charge of the Pentagon and speckled the warmaking bureaucracy with desk officers culled from neoconservative Washington think tanks -- ideologues with no military experience.

"They were like cancer cells," says retired Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked on the Defense Department's Near East and South Asia desk during the buildup to the Iraq war. "They didn't care about the truth. They had an agenda. I'd never seen anything like it. They deformed everything."

Even within the State Department, officials of Cheney's choosing -- not Powell's -- controlled the key positions when it came to maneuvering the United States into the Iraq war. "Even when there was a show of Defense listening to State, it was just one Cheney operative talking to another," says Greg Thielmann, a former member of the State Department Intelligence Agency. "We were simply bypassed from the start."

Over at Defense, competent intelligence professionals were purged in order to ease the way to war. Douglas Feith, brought in under Rumsfeld to serve as undersecretary of defense for policy, applied an ideological test to his staff: He didn't want competence; he wanted fervor. Col. Pat Lang, a Middle East expert who served under five presidents, Republican and Democratic, in key posts in military intelligence, recalls being considered for a job at the Pentagon. During the job interview, Feith scanned Lang's impressive resume. "I see you speak Arabic," Feith said. When Lang nodded, Feith said, "Too bad," and dismissed him.

Bad and worse. News | Sen. Graham: Bush covered up Saudi involvement in 9/11 News | Sen. Graham: Bush covered up Saudi involvement in 9/11
In his book, Graham asserts that the White House blocked investigations into Saudi Arabian government support for the 9/11 plot, in part because of the Bush family's close ties to the Saudi royal family and wealthy Saudis like the bin Ladens. Behind the White House's insistence on classifying 27 pages detailing the Saudi links in a report issued by a joint House-Senate intelligence panel co-chaired by Graham in 2002 lay the desire to hide the administration's deficiencies and protect its Saudi allies, according to Graham...

...[Q] In the book, you describe being furious with the FBI for blocking your committee's attempts to interview that paid FBI informant. You write that the panel needed the bureau to deliver a congressional subpoena to the informant because he was in the FBI's protective custody and could not be located without the bureau's cooperation. But the FBI refused to help. What happened? And what do you think the bureau was trying to hide?

[A] We had just finished a hearing and had asked various representatives of the FBI to come into a conference room and discuss our strong interest in being able to interview the San Diego informant. It was clear that the FBI representatives were not going to voluntarily allow that to happen, and we had already prepared a subpoena, which I had in my coat pocket. I walked over to the principal representative for the FBI, Ken Wainstein, and I was approaching him with this subpoena, he clasped his hands tightly behind his back. I tried to hand him the subpoena, but he acted as if it were radioactive. Finally he said he didn't want to take the subpoena, but he would get back to us on the following Monday. Well, nobody ever got back to us. It was the only time in my senatorial experience that the FBI has refused to deliver a legally issued congressional subpoena.

Later, the FBI congressional affairs officer sent a letter to [co-chairman] Porter Goss and me, saying, "The administration would not sanction a staff interview with the source, nor did the administration agree to allow the FBI to serve a subpoena on the source." What that tells me is the FBI wasn't acting on its own but had been directed by the White House not to cooperate.

...[Q]Do you believe the White House manipulated the intelligence to persuade the public to back the invasion? "Manipulate" may be too strong a word for you. But it took a request from you and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to get the intelligence community to produce a National Intelligence Estimate on the danger posed by Iraq, a step that would seem an obvious one to take, considering the stakes to the nation.

[A]I am comfortable with the word "manipulate." There was a chapter that did not become known until three or four months ago that occurred in May 2002. Various leaders of the CIA were called down to the White House and told that the White House wanted to have a public document that could be released under the CIA's label but which would make the case for going to war with Iraq. I think one of the reasons they didn't want to do a formal National Intelligence Estimate was because it would be done not by the CIA alone but by all of the members of the intelligence community, and it was likely to reach a different conclusion. At least it would contain dissenting opinions and caveats that wouldn't be in a CIA public document.

[Q]This description of the CIA is one that is under the complete control of the White House, an agency that is not independent but highly politicized.

[A]That's right. It is the expression of the leadership of the intelligence agencies, trying to placate their masters in the administration...

I'd thought similar accusations were too much like conspiracy nuts. I've since learned better. Bush exceeds every expectation. This is beginning to make Watergate feel like a minor exploit.

The last statement does explain why Tenet and Bush were so loyal to one another. Will Tenet start to talk?

Update: The Washington Post media page is covering all the Bush bad news stories; The Kitty Kelly bio, the 60 minutes expose, the Graham book, the deficit, Cheney threatening terrorist actions if Kerry is elected, etc. Wow. What a bright and cheery day it is today.

Bush is caught in the big Lie ...

The New York Times > Opinion > Kristof: Missing in Action
President Bush claims that in the fall of 1972, he fulfilled his Air National Guard duties at a base in Alabama. But Bob Mintz was there - and he is sure Mr. Bush wasn't.

Plenty of other officers have said they also don't recall that Mr. Bush ever showed up for drills at the base. What's different about Mr. Mintz is that he remembers actively looking for Mr. Bush and never finding him.

Mr. Mintz says he had heard that Mr. Bush - described as a young Texas pilot with political influence - had transferred to the base. He heard that Mr. Bush was also a bachelor, so he was looking forward to partying together. He's confident that he'd remember if Mr. Bush had shown up.

I've steered clear until now of how Mr. Bush evaded service in Vietnam because I thought other issues were more important. But if Bush supporters attack John Kerry for his conduct after he volunteered for dangerous duty in Vietnam, it's only fair to scrutinize Mr. Bush's behavior...

..."The record clearly and convincingly proves he did not fulfill the obligations he incurred when he enlisted in the Air National Guard," writes Gerald Lechliter, a retired Army colonel who has made the most meticulous examination I've seen of Mr. Bush's records (I've posted the full 32-page analysis here). Mr. Lechliter adds that Mr. Bush received unauthorized or fraudulent payments that breached National Guard rules, according to the documents that the White House itself released.

Does this disqualify Mr. Bush from being commander in chief? No. But it should disqualify the Bush campaign from sliming the military service of a rival who still carries shrapnel from Vietnam in his thigh.

So Bush will learn the risk of fighting dirty. It opens the field to serious responses. This will come up in the debates.

Bush is a very good liar. He's a better liar than Clinton, who always came across as phony when he was lying. Bush comes across as genuine and open. Now that's a good liar.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Jimmy Carter rips Zell Miller - up and down

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: September 05, 2004 - September 11, 2004 Archives

This is apparently the true text of a letter Carter sent Zell Miller. It was a private letter, but the text got out. Zell Miller is pond sucking scum; but somewhere inside he might shrivel just a bit more on reading this. From Joshua Micha Marshall's site, emphases mine:
You seem to have forgotten that loyal Democrats elected you as mayor and as state senator. Loyal Democrats, including members of my family and me, elected you as lieutenant governor and as governor. It was a loyal Democrat, Lester Maddox, who assigned you to high positions in the state government when you were out of office. It was a loyal Democrat, Roy Barnes, who appointed you as U.S. Senator when you were out of office. By your historically unprecedented disloyalty, you have betrayed our trust.

Great Georgia Democrats who served in the past, including Walter George, Richard Russell, Herman Talmadge, and Sam Nunn disagreed strongly with the policies of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and me, but they remained loyal to the party in which they gained their public office. Other Democrats, because of philosophical differences or the race issue, like Bo Callaway and Strom Thurmond, at least had the decency to become Republicans.

Everyone knows that you were chosen to speak at the Republican Convention because of your being a “Democrat,” and it’s quite possible that your rabid and mean-spirited speech damaged our party and paid the Republicans some transient dividends.

Perhaps more troublesome of all is seeing you adopt an established and very effective Republican campaign technique of destroying the character of opponents by wild and false allegations. The Bush campaign’s personal attacks on the character of John McCain in South Carolina in 2000 was a vivid example. The claim that war hero Max Cleland was a disloyal American and an ally of Osama bin Laden should have given you pause, but you have joined in this ploy by your bizarre claims that another war hero, John Kerry, would not defend the security of our nation except with spitballs. (This is the same man whom you described previously as “one of this nation's authentic heroes, one of this party's best-known and greatest leaders -- and a good friend.")

I, myself, never claimed to have been a war hero, but I served in the navy from 1942 to 1953, and, as president, greatly strengthened our military forces and protected our nation and its interests in every way. I don’t believe this warrants your referring to me as a pacificist.

Zell, I have known you for forty-two years and have, in the past, respected you as a trustworthy political leader and a personal friend. But now, there are many of us loyal Democrats who feel uncomfortable in seeing that you have chosen the rich over the poor, unilateral preemptive war over a strong nation united with others for peace, lies and obfuscation over the truth, and the political technique of personal character assassination as a way to win elections or to garner a few moments of applause. These are not the characteristics of great Democrats whose legacy you and I have inherited.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Who is/are Putin's "They"?

BBC NEWS | World | Europe | Excerpts from Putin's address
We showed weakness, and the weak are trampled upon. Some want to cut off a juicy morsel from us while others are helping them.

They are helping because they believe that, as one of the world's major nuclear powers, Russia is still posing a threat to someone, and therefore this threat must be removed.

Ooookaaay. So who is "they"? The US? Europe? China? Chile?

Putin is moving into increasingly nasty territory.

Not surprising. 9/11 has put the US into a persistent psychotic state (how else to explain Bush up 11% over Kerry?) -- and, as fragile as we are, Russia is much worse off.

These terrorists may be well on the way to taking the world back to the 14th century.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Kerry in Vietnam, Bush debauches in Alabama News | George W. Bush's missing year
"The impression I had was that Georgie was raising a lot of hell in Houston, getting in trouble and embarrassing the family, and they just really wanted to get him out of Houston and under Jimmy's wing," Allison's widow, Linda, told me. "And Jimmy said, 'Sure.' He was so loyal."

Linda Allison's story, never before published, contradicts the Bush campaign's assertion that George W. Bush transferred from the Texas Air National Guard to the Alabama National Guard in 1972 because he received an irresistible offer to gain high-level experience on the campaign of Bush family friend Winton "Red" Blount. In fact, according to what Allison says her late husband told her, the younger Bush had become a political liability for his father, who was then the United States ambassador to the United Nations, and the family wanted him out of Texas. "I think they wanted someone they trusted to keep an eye on him," Linda Allison said.

... Personal history aside, Allison's recollections of the young George Bush in Alabama in 1972 are relevant as a contrast to the medals for valor and bravery that Kerry won in Vietnam in the same era. An apparent front group for the Bush campaign, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, has attacked Kerry in television ads as a liar and traitor to veterans for later opposing a war that cost 58,000 American lives. Bush, who has resisted calls from former Vietnam War POW John McCain, R-Ariz., to repudiate the Swift Boat ads, has said he served honorably in the National Guard.

Allison's account corroborates a Washington Post investigation in February that found no credible witnesses to the service in the Alabama National Guard that Bush maintains he performed, despite a lack of documentary evidence. Asked if she'd ever seen Bush in a uniform, Allison said: "Good lord, no. I had no idea that the National Guard was involved in his life in any way." Allison also confirmed previously published accounts that Bush often showed up in the Blount campaign offices around noon, boasting about how much alcohol he had consumed the night before.

GWB escaped Vietnam through his family connections, didn't fulfill his Guard application, and was hidden from public view because of his multiple substance abuse problems. Nothing new or surprising here. His experiences could have given him wisdom. They didn't.

Google Search: "zell miller" "barking mad"

Google Search: "zell miller" "barking mad"
There are only 16 hits for Zell Miller and "barking mad". I guess Google hasn't run its index today.

Zel is a great poster child from the new Fasc... Republican party.