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:: Friday, May 28, 2004 ::

Old pleasures long forgotten

I stumbled across an old friend yesterday, while finally unpacking some old boxes. I hadn't seen my copy of A Canticle for Leibowitz in at least ten years.

There's something to be said for rediscovering the old classics, and something to be said for the simple pleasure of ending a book with the thought: "I'd forgotten how good that was...."

If you haven't read it, you should. I can promise you your local library has a copy.
:: Morat 12:37 PM :: ::

To Tell the Truth

Once again, the Shrill One speaks:
The truth is that the character flaws that currently have even conservative pundits fuming have been visible all along. Mr. Bush's problems with the truth have long been apparent to anyone willing to check his budget arithmetic. His inability to admit mistakes has also been obvious for a long time. I first wrote about Mr. Bush's 'infallibility complex' more than two years ago, and I wasn't being original.
I can second that. I watched Bush as Governor, and then as Presidential candidate, and was very disturbed by the fact that he was outright lying about his record -- in easily checked ways -- and that no one was calling him on it.

Take the Patient's Bill of Rights, for instance. Healthcare was a big 2000 issue, and Bush constantly took credit for Texas' Patient's Bill of Rights. But that was a lie. He fought it tooth and nail, and when it finally passed -- by a veto-proof majority -- he allowed it to become law without his signature.

But no one bothered to report it, even though it wasn't an obscure fact by any means. I was even more disturbed that blatant lies just didn't appear to be news, whereas every statement Gore made was fact-checked and nitpicked to hell and gone, even when he didn't say them.

I think the press was overly critical with Gore -- fed by Rove, no doubt -- but I'd prefer that press to the one that followed Bush around. Better to be overly skeptical, overly critical, than the coverage Bush got. The man could have said the sky was green and they wouldn't have bothered to look up and check for themselves.

On another note, Krugman adds this tidbit:
Amazing things have been happening lately. The usual suspects have tried to silence reporting about prison abuses by accusing critics of undermining the troops — but the reports keep coming. The attorney general has called yet another terror alert — but the press raised questions about why. (At a White House morning briefing, Terry Moran of ABC News actually said what many thought during other conveniently timed alerts: "There is a disturbing possibility that you are manipulating the American public in order to get a message out.")
Did Moran really say that? If so, we need to get some major kudos out. That was ballsy....and it spoke to a long-running concern, one that had been raised as far back as Ashcroft's condemnation that anyone daring to question provisions of the Patriot Act was "aiding terrorists" or Fleischer's "Watch what you say" response to Maher.
:: Morat 9:11 AM :: ::

US intelligence fears Iran duped hawks into Iraq war

Well, this would just be the bloody icing on the cake, wouldn't it?
An urgent investigation has been launched in Washington into whether Iran played a role in manipulating the US into the Iraq war by passing on bogus intelligence through Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, it emerged yesterday.

Some intelligence officials now believe that Iran used the hawks in the Pentagon and the White House to get rid of a hostile neighbour, and pave the way for a Shia-ruled Iraq.

According to a US intelligence official, the CIA has hard evidence that Mr Chalabi and his intelligence chief, Aras Karim Habib, passed US secrets to Tehran, and that Mr Habib has been a paid Iranian agent for several years, involved in passing intelligence in both directions.
Sweet lord. As if it wasn't bad enough that we invaded Iraq under false pretenses -- alienating the world in the process --, but to have been tricked into it by Iran?

Just sort of sum this up in your head. If this is true, then Iran not only tricked the US into knocking off Iran's worst enemy (and strengthening Iran in the region, something that we've been trying to prevent for 25 years now), but did so in a fashion that wrecked US credibility, turned Arab sentiment even more heavily against us, isolated the US from the world community and severely hampered the US military's ability to respond to world events for years to come.

This is why you don't elect idiots or fanatics to the Presidency. Hell, I suppose it's really Clinton's fault. Things were so calm and prosperous, I guess we assumed even an idiot couldn't screw them up.
:: Morat 8:57 AM :: ::

Abu Ghraib: Greater Urgency on Prison Interrogation Led to Use of Untrained Workers

It appears, to paraphrase the great Stephen Colbert, that the facts on Abu Ghraib continue to have an anti-Bush bias:
The pace accelerated last December, after the capture of Saddam Hussein, which led to a near-doubling of the number of two-person 'Tiger Teams' assigned to an interrogation center at the prison, which operated under the control of Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez's top deputy for intelligence.

The accounts depict a high-pressure environment at the prison, particularly within the interrogation center, where military intelligence personnel exerted substantial influence over a cellblock where most of the notorious abuses at Abu Ghraib apparently took place. In interviews, some soldiers who served in military intelligence units at the prison said the sense of urgency contributed to the loosened standards and the abuses that followed.

'When you let people take power in their own hands, it's going to happen,' said a soldier who served as a military intelligence analyst at the prison. 'There was no higher authority really.'

The accounts are among the first from military intelligence personnel at the prison, and they include acknowledgments by some of those soldiers that the military intelligence units, as well as the military police, may have played a role in the abuses. They were given in interviews with The New York Times, or in statements to Army investigators that were obtained by The Times, by people who served under the overall command of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, a unit based in Germany under Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the highest-ranking active-duty officer known to be under scrutiny in Army investigations into the abuses.
So far only members of the MP company assigned to Abu Ghraib have been charged, but it appears the "Few Bad Apples" theory continues to lose credibility -- not that it had much to begin with.

Poor George. You've got to feel sorry for the man. Given his background, I doubt he would realize that his actions would have consequences that even his Daddy couldn't fix.

After all, Daddy -- or Daddy's friends -- bailed him out of ever mistake or failure he ever made.
:: Morat 8:50 AM :: ::

Howard Dean

I'd just like to note: Back before the primaries, I heard many people -- bloggers too -- making dark predictions about what Dean would do if he lost. Third party runs, deliberately spiking the winner's campaign...all sorts of nasty tricks.

Perhaps I've missed it, but I haven't seen many of these people apologize for misjudging Dean so badly. The man raised 500,000 for Kerry in a single day, has been very supportive of Kerry's run, and has spent his time since the primaries refocusing his grassroots network on lower-level Democratic campaigns -- the sort that don't get much money or many volunteers from the DNC or the DLC.

In short, he didn't take his ball and go him, he didn't send a giant "Screw you" to the DLC or the party, and appears to be -- and this is a shocker -- pretty damn gracious in defeat, and very focused on building the party.

I'm still a proud Dean supporter, and always will be. And I'm grateful that my faith in his character wasn't misplaced.
:: Morat 8:40 AM :: ::

:: Thursday, May 27, 2004 ::

New photos show Abu Ghraib tactics

What's the first thing you're supposed to do when you find yourself stuck in a hole? Oh yes. Stop digging.
Members of Congress from both parties complained Wednesday that while an expanded report by Taguba was delivered as promised, as many as 2,000 pages considered vital to the investigation were missing.

Congressional sources told NBC News that the missing documents included a written report from Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller that apparently lays out aggressive interrogation tactics for Abu Ghraib. Miller was recently reassigned to Iraq after spending 17 months as commander of operations at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Also missing was key testimony from Col. Thomas Pappas, the commander of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib, the sources said.
Lawrence Di Rita, a spokesman for the Defense Department, characterized the missing documents Wednesday as insignificant, saying the information was "available otherwise".
It appears the White House has decided to try out a new saying: "If you find yourself stuck in a hole, rent a backhoe."

The report was six thousand pages long, true. But to think Congress wouldn't notice -- or wouldn't mind -- you "accidentally" forgetting to send along a third of the report is pretty stupid. Not even GOP Control of the House and Senate makes that a safe move.

Luckily, we know part of what they're trying to hide. Pappas has stated that the idea for using dogs came from General Miller (head at Gitmo) and that it was approved by Sanchez (the top US military figure in Iraq). Kinda damning to that "few bad apples" theory, eh?

Still, Pappas didn't fill 2000 pages with testimony. So what else are they hiding?
:: Morat 9:52 AM :: ::

Another Fallujah Solution

It appears we've struck a bargain with al-Sadr, and we're solving the Najaf revolt the same way we solved the Fallujah one. By surrendering.
The U.S.-led coalition agreed Thursday to suspend offensive operations in Najaf after Iraqi leaders struck a deal with radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to end a bloody standoff threatening some of Iraq's holiest Shiite shrines.

Coalition forces will pull out of most of Najaf once Iraqi security forces reenter the city and assume control of strategic buildings from al-Sadr's militia, coalition spokesman Dan Senor told reporters in Baghdad.
[...]
Once Iraqi security forces move in, U.S. troops will "reposition" outside the city, though units will remain in coalition offices, at government buildings and Iraqi police stations, Senor said.

Iraqi leaders had urged the Americans to accept the agreement, although it does not require al-Sadr immediately to disband his militia and surrender to authorities to face charges in the April 2003 assassination of a moderate cleric — key U.S. demands to end the standoff
This seems to be the same deal we struck in Fallujah. We pull out, bring in "Iraqi forces" that will end up consisting heavily of the very insurgents we were shooting at yesterday. I'm willing to bet that they've even agree to follow our orders, if we agree not to give them any.

It's surrender by another name, and I bet it's going to piss Bush off. Still, as I said about Fallujah, it's probably the best solution. Continued fighting would cause even more problems and lead to even more unrest.

On the other hand, we've proven -- twice! -- that we don't have the troops or support to carry out the fight against determined resistance. Fight hard enough, and we'll leave and turn over the city to you.

I also note that -- buried deep in the article -- we lost another three marines yesterday. I guess that's no longer "real news".
:: Morat 9:39 AM :: ::

:: Wednesday, May 26, 2004 ::

Poker, gambling, and you..

Jaquandor talks a bit about how he wanted to use poker in a story he was writing, but ran into a small problem: He's not terribly good at poker. Neither am I. I've been to Vegas twice, and I really don't gamble all that much. If I run through a hundred dollars in a day, it's a pretty rare occasion. As far as table games go, I tend to stick to blackjack and "Let it Ride", mainly because I can control how fast I lose money.

Of course, I'll blow twice that on food. There are some wonderful places to eat there.

My last trip was a net loss, but it'll be several more visits until Vegas has taken more money from me than I took from it. I was playing "Let it Ride" (I don't think my brother has quite forgiven me for snagging that seat) and was dealt the JQK of Hearts. That was a pretty nice hand, and when the 10 of hearts was flipped I figured I had a very good chance of winning something. (You only need a pair of tens or better to win). Any face card or any heart would have made me a little money.

I was shocked to see the Ace of Hearts flip. So was the dealer. I'd have won more if I hadn't pulled back my first bet (I was broke and playing conservatively. Yes it was a stupid mistake. But it was my first trip. Cut me some slack). I've got the cards (well, cards from the same casino) nicely framed somewhere. The odds are rather against (650,000 or so to 1) getting dealt a Royal Flush.

Given how little I risk, it's going to be a long time (if ever) before Vegas makes that money back from me -- assuming you don't count food and lodging.

The money came in handy, too. I was in the middle of a divorce (my first wife) and that allowed me to settle all of our outstanding debts, pay for the divorce, and still leave me something to put away for a rainy day (which happened a few years later when I wanted to get married to my current wife. I felt spending what was left of my Vegas winnings to go to Vegas to get married had nice symbolism).

So that was my one big win. I still play Let it Ride (as I said, you can lose money pretty slowly) but prefer blackjack. And while I'm not much better at blackjack than I am at poker, I did know enough to pick up my money and find another table when the idiot next to me split jacks when the dealer had nine up. (Not that there's any excuse, really, to split face cards)

Of course, he was dealt an ace and another face card. Vegas likes to reward stupid behavior.

I'm still trying to learn craps. A friend of mine seems to -- somehow -- make money fairly steadily at it. Lord knows how.

But the point being: If it's gambling, and it relies on skill, I'm going to lose to anyone better than "competent". And you're dropping much more than a dollar a hand on the game, you can rest assured there will be very competent people there to explain to where "probability" and "optimism" part ways. So I stay away from those games, and stick to Spades and Hearts and Gin...and when in Vegas, realize I'm almost certainly coming home with empty pockets.
:: Morat 11:33 AM :: ::

Military Confirms Soldier Injured in Cuba

Between this:
The Army confirmed Tuesday that a former military police officer was injured while posing as a prisoner during a training session at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, last year.

But Maj. Laurie Arellano, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, said Spc. Sean Baker's medical discharge last month was not related to the head injury he received during training at the detention center, where the U.S. government is holding suspected terrorists. She declined to elaborate, citing medical privacy laws.

Arellano's comments came a day after Baker said he posed as an uncooperative prisoner and was beaten so badly by four U.S. soldiers that he suffered a traumatic brain injury, requiring a medical discharge.
and this:
An Army summary of deaths and mistreatment involving prisoners in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan shows a widespread pattern of abuse involving more military units than previously known.
I think we can call the "few bad apples" theory dead.

The blame for this rests at the top, whether this is the result of direct orders, or the result of stripping the US military of the usual safeguards regarding prisoners, or whether the Pentagon simply cultivated this atmosphere of careless disregard in order to gather more information.

It doesn't matter how this happened (although such information will be useful in preventing it from ever happening again). What matters is that it has happened. And until someone either steps up and takes full responsibility (which includes an honest recounting of the errors that led to this), or until an independent panel assigns it, our Army will continue to rot.

The few bad apples are at the top, and they're spoiling the whole damn barrel.
:: Morat 10:37 AM :: ::

What?

Excuse me. We're doing what?
U.S. troops wanted Jeanan Moayad's father. When they couldn't find him, they took her husband in his place.

Dhafir Ibrahim has been in U.S. custody for nearly four months. Moayad insists that he is being held as a bargaining chip, and military officials have told her that he will be released when her father surrenders. Her father is a scientist and former Baath party member who fled to Jordan soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
How can I put this? That's illegal. It's called "taking hostages" and it's a violation of the Geneva Convention. It's a war crime. There's no Rumsfeldian "It's not legally torture, just abuse" escape clause. It's pretty cut and fricking dried. No wonder we're pushing so hard to exempt our troops from the ICC.

We're going to have to spend decades repairing our reputation. One more example of Bush "leadership". He's not content with stretching the Army to the breaking point....he has to destroy their honor as well. (Link via Political Animal)
:: Morat 9:09 AM :: ::

Texas Tuesdays

Texas Tuesdays is back (well, belated Texas Tuesday. I was busy yesterday), and this week they're covering Max Sandlin. Sandlin is yet another victim of Tom Delay's little redistricting, and he's running in a district designed to take him out of office. So he could use a little help. Texas Tuesdays has a nice profile of Sandlin here.

Go check it out.
:: Morat 8:54 AM :: ::

:: Tuesday, May 25, 2004 ::

Oh frabjous day!

Yes, I'm happy. My wife got a summer teaching slot (IE, enough money to ensure that we can pay mortgage over the summer) and was offered a teaching slot for next fall. The class she wanted, in fact, at a good school in the district (not one with, say, an insane principal).

The principal told her today, and HR will have the paperwork to her late this week or early next. I know what you're all thinking, and trust me, I'm right there with you -- by September, you won't have to hear me bitch about money anymore!
:: Morat 10:10 AM :: ::

Strayhorn Reverses

Denison church's tax-exempt status granted:
Reversing an earlier decision, state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced Monday that a Unitarian church in Denison would get its tax-exempt status after all.
This just makes me more certain it was a political ploy. Texas' budget is a mess, and the 2006 election is going to hinge on it. It would have been nice, politically, if Strayhorn could have pointed to this and claimed she was "tightening up on tax dodgers" (who doesn't hate tax dodgers?) and used it to imply she could fix a lot more loopholes as Governor.

It's another "free lunch" variant, and voters always like those.

I'm guessing she reversed herself because she'll need Democratic votes, and the political damage of stripping the UU status would have far exceeded anything she could have gotten down the road. Either she wasn't expecting this kind of response, or this was nothing more than a trial balloon.

I might keep an eye on Strayhorn. I'm willing to bet she's still looking for new sources of income. The 2006 election might be two years off, but it appears Strayhorn's already running. (Link via Off the Kuff)
:: Morat 7:43 AM :: ::

Holiest Shi'ite Shrine in Iraq Damaged in Attack

This is not good. Not good at all.
The Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, the holiest Shi'ite site in Iraq, was damaged on Tuesday by rockets or mortars, witnesses said -- a development likely to spark outrage among Iraq's Shi'ite majority.

One of the entrances to the shrine was damaged in the attack. It was not clear who fired the missiles. U.S. forces have been fighting Shi'ite militiamen loyal to rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf and other Shi'ite areas.

Ahmad Shebani, Sadr's representative at the shrine, said five or six missiles had hit the building. There was no immediate comment from U.S. troops.
Hopefully the damage is minor, but even a very restrained Shia reaction is likely to rachet up tensions in Iraq.

Not to play "armchair general" here, but I can't help but wonder: Has it occured to anyone in the Armed Forces that -- just maybe -- now is not the time to piss the Shia off? We don't have many friends in Iraq, so why are we bombing weddings, torturing people, and blowing up holy sites? I'm not an expert, but I'm willing to bet the path to their "hearts and minds" isn't through their anus....or through the destruction of their holiest shrines.
:: Morat 7:05 AM :: ::

:: Monday, May 24, 2004 ::

Unitarian Church Adopts Doctrine That Texans Are Idiots

This is why we love Tom Burka. In a totally platonic way.
The Unitarian Church, which was denied tax-exempt status by the Texas State Comptroller for not having 'one system of belief,' repudiated all of its prior teachings today in exchange for the sole doctrine that Texas should be sawed off the United States and pushed into the Gulf of Mexico.

'Is that belief system enough for ya?' said Unitarian Minister Obiah P. Dowd, who doubles as the sheriff of Yaul County.

:: Morat 12:41 PM :: ::

Bush Ratings Continue Slide

Wow. I bet Karl Rove's working on his resume right now. At this rate, he's not going to have a job come January. Hell, at this rate, Bush might take a bunch of Republicans with him.
Mr. Bush's overall job approval rating has continued to decline. Forty-one percent approve of the job he is doing as president, while 52 percent disapprove -- the lowest overall job rating of his presidency. Two weeks ago, 44 percent approved. A year ago, two-thirds did.

Sixty-one percent of Americans now disapprove of the way Mr. Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, while just 34 percent approve.
These kind of numbers lead -- and this is the best case -- to depressed Republican turnout, which hurts every Republican on the ticket. Worst case, this will cause a lot of switch voting.

They've got to be sweating bullets on the GOP side of the aisle. It's moving from "Will Bush win" to "How many will he take with him?".
:: Morat 8:22 AM :: ::

Videotape shows revelers at celebration

Yeah, it's starting to look like the military is lying on this one. It looks like we bombed the crap out of a wedding.
“There was no evidence of a wedding: no decorations, no musical instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration,” Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said Saturday. “There may have been some kind of celebration. Bad people have celebrations, too.”

The artifacts of celebration
But video that APTN shot a day after the attack shows fragments of musical instruments, pots and pans and brightly colored beddings used for celebrations, scattered around the bombed out tent.

The wedding videotape shows a dozen white pickup trucks speeding through the desert escorting the bridal car — decorated with colorful ribbons. The bride wears a Western-style white bridal dress and veil. The camera captures her stepping out of the car but does not show a close-up.

An AP reporter and photographer, who interviewed more than a dozen survivors a day after the bombing, were able to identify many of them on the wedding party video — which runs for several hours.
On the one hand, I understand why the military would stick to their story. The last thing they need, after Abu Ghraib, is another PR nightmare.

On the other hand, no one believes them. They would have been far better served by stating they were hitting what intel said was a legitimate target, but that they were investigating to ensure that no mistakes had been made.

There's simply too much contradictory evidence for them to flat-out deny the possibility of mistake here.

Perhaps General Kimmit simply feels that since our credibility is shot to shit anyways, why not lie? It can't do any more damage. Or perhaps, as conservatives were so fond of claiming during the Clinton administration, perhaps this is simply a case of "filter down".

Perhaps the Bush "You know I'm lying. I know I'm lying. No one believes me. But I'll lie anyways, and you won't call me on it" style of moral leadership is simply catching on.

I'm particularly fond of the "bad people have celebrations too" line. I suppose that's for the fall back position of "Sure, we bombed a wedding. But it was a terrorist wedding. In between the "Chicken Song" and the "Macarena" they were plotting the downfall of the US".
:: Morat 7:45 AM :: ::

Fun weekend

Since we had a little good news -- for once -- on the money front (my wife got a summer teaching job, so we'll actually have an income this summer) we splurged a bit this weekend. We bought a few books (I picked up Kiln People), some DVDs (Angel Season 2 and Samurai Jack) and a new game for me (Temple of Elemental Evil).

My computer can barely handle ToEE. It can't really handle Neverwinter past Chapter One. It certainly can't run Knights of the Old Republic, or Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy.

So, basically put, when I finally upgrade my computer to something workable, it's entirely possible you won't hear from me for months. I'll have at least three RPGs to wade through, two first person shooters, and two MMORPGs I've been considering.

Of course, the real purpose here is to brag about "Team Evil", my second party on ToEE. You choose team alignments, and each alignment makes the game a bit different. The Monster Squad (Lawful Good) started the game by rescuing merchants from bandits. Team Evil (Neutral Evil) started the game by burning down a church, killing clerics, and complaining about the lack of loot.

I think I'm going to enjoy Team Evil.
:: Morat 7:28 AM :: ::

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