Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 7th, 2006

Those who got it right

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Paul Krugman pauses to recognize those who got it right about the proposal to go to war against Iraq:

Shortly after U.S. forces marched into Baghdad in 2003, The Weekly Standard published a jeering article titled, “The Cassandra Chronicles: The stupidity of the antiwar doomsayers.” Among those the article mocked was a “war novelist” named James Webb, who is now the senator-elect from Virginia.

The article’s title was more revealing than its authors knew. People forget the nature of Cassandra’s curse: although nobody would believe her, all her prophecies came true.

And so it was with those who warned against invading Iraq. At best, they were ignored. A recent article in The Washington Post ruefully conceded that the paper’s account of the debate in the House of Representatives over the resolution authorizing the Iraq war — a resolution opposed by a majority of the Democrats — gave no coverage at all to those antiwar arguments that now seem prescient.

At worst, those who were skeptical about the case for war had their patriotism and/or their sanity questioned. The New Republic now says that it “deeply regrets its early support for this war.” Does it also deeply regret accusing those who opposed rushing into war of “abject pacifism?”

Now, only a few neocon dead-enders still believe that this war was anything but a vast exercise in folly. And those who braved political pressure and ridicule to oppose what Al Gore has rightly called “the worst strategic mistake in the history of the United States” deserve some credit.

Unlike The Weekly Standard, which singled out those it thought had been proved wrong, I’d like to offer some praise to those who got it right. Here’s a partial honor roll:

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Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 9:25 pm

Joe Galloway’s column

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Joe Galloway speaks out:

After nearly four years of living in what can be charitably described as a state of denial, everyone in Washington, from President Bush to the Baker Commission to incoming defense secretary Robert Gates, to outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to the study group assembled by Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has finally admitted that pretty much nothing is going right in Iraq.


Our president, who froze the whole process of planning and fighting a war by declaring that he was “staying the course” even when the course was obviously wrong, finally abandoned those words, if not his dogged pursuit of “victory” in a place which has denied victory to a string of foreign invaders dating back to Alexander the Great.

The Baker Commission issued its report – which primarily recommended that we begin talking with Iraq’s friends and enemies next door and Iraqi-izing the war by handing things over to Iraqi forces before we begin pulling out in time for the 2008 presidential election – on a day when 10 American troops were killed on the roads of Iraq by improvised explosive devices.

All things considered, it was too little, too late and too long a wait if you have a son or daughter serving a third or fourth combat tour in Iraq – something that few, if any, of the above referenced politicians and wise men have contributed to the war effort.

Gates, whose nomination to replace Rumsfeld in the Pentagon’s top job is being rushed through the Senate at the speed of light, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee we’re neither winning nor losing in Iraq and could offer them no path to victory.

The senators, clearly enamored of Bob Gates because he isn’t Don Rumsfeld, had no hard questions for the nominee, and in a rare show of bipartisan unanimity voted 24-0 to send his nomination to the floor for swift approval.

The senators and much of official Washington clearly want Gates in and Rumsfeld on a Greyhound bus bound for oblivion as soon as humanly possible. The disgruntled Rumsfeld leaked his own Iraq report, dated two days prior to his firing, admitting that things weren’t nearly as rosy as he’d been pretending they were.

While those who have nothing more at risk than their personal pride and the arrogance of power published reports and made statements devoid of any real answers, young American soldiers and Marines were being wounded and killed at an appalling rate on the dangerous streets and roads of Iraq.

This week, the American military death toll in Iraq crossed the 2,900 mark, with well over 20,000 wounded.

All the politicians paid the customary lip service in praising the troops and commending them for the terrible sacrifices they must continue to endure while the wrangling and dithering over a futile war goes on with no end in sight.

How can they look at themselves in the mirror every morning?

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Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 5:57 pm

US at the root of effort to topple Lebanese government

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For all the US talk of nourishing and supporting democracy, our nation has a terrible track record when the democratic governments don’t do exactly what we want them to. For example:

American political leaders watched with alarm during the past week as the Hezbollah militia laid siege to the U.S.-backed Lebanese government, but few would acknowledge publicly what most analysts and politicians here say is obvious: American policy may bear much of the blame.

Many in Beirut say that U.S. failure to stop Israel’s onslaught against Hezbollah last summer crippled the Lebanese government — a U.S. ally — while strengthening Hezbollah — a U.S. enemy. That created an environment in which the Shiite Muslim militia could call for overthrowing Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and his Cabinet.

“Hezbollah has more support in the population now because they are the `victorious resistance,'” Cabinet member Ahmed Fatfat said. “And it weakened the government because we did not get any concessions … the last war was a disaster for Lebanon and the image of the United States.”

Fatfat, like several other Cabinet members, has been in hiding at the government building in downtown Beirut for days as tens of thousands of protesters outside demand a new administration led by Hezbollah, a group that’s on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

The standoff between Shiite Hezbollah and its allies and the Christian and Sunni government has sparked street fighting in Beirut’s neighborhoods and raised the specter of civil war.

It’s also underscored a belief among some regional leaders that the United States has lost its footing in the Middle East. [Thanks, Condi. – LG] On Tuesday, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended in Washington that the Bush administration reach out to Syria and Iran — U.S. foes — in a search for ways to resolve Iraq’s violence. The group called for Syria to cease aid to Hezbollah and to stop trying to topple Saniora’s government as part of a deal that might include Israel returning the Golan Heights to Syria.

But those suggestions seem behind the times as Hezbollah presses its campaign to force Saniora out.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 5:53 pm

ISG plan is thin soup

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William Arkin thinks so, and I have to agree:

For all the hype, the Iraq Study Group offers two fundamental recommendations that the president might even be able to implement: The group calls for the United States to engage Iraq’s neighbors, specifically Iran and Syria. The group recommends a shift in U.S. military force posture and approach from “combat” to training and advice to Iraqi forces.

The Iraq Study Group should be thanked for its service to America in throwing a bucket of cold water on the White House. But post-election, the Commission’s many recommendations are merely the opening salvo of a barrage of recommendations that will now emerge from the government, the think tanks, and the politicos.

The wise men have confirmed what the American public has known for some time: Iraq is finished. Our strategy, whatever it is, isn’t working. It is mighty disappointing, but not surprising, though that the Study Group couldn’t see that there is nothing left that the United States can do to really influence what will happen there. What is more, what it actually is proposing in its two fundamental points isn’t necessarily going to make any difference.

I already have written skeptically as to whether Iran and Syria will see it in their interests to assist the Bush administration. I wonder, if the president were to engage them successfully, whether their input would help. [We won’t find out. Bush has said that if they won’t agree in advance to his conditions, they don’t need to show up. See below – LG] Washington’s latest sage rule is that we should talk to our adversaries, just as we did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Only an extremist — the president and the vice president, that is — would argue that we shouldn’t at least talk. But I doubt that bringing Iran and Syria into the mix is the panacea that the study group and reasonable Washington now pretends it is.

So, I am left thinking that it is not even a decent bet that asking Iran and Syria to lend their good offices to a healthy Iraq would yield much. It isn’t clear that they would play. It isn’t clear that they would be helpful if they did. The “process” of diplomacy and the inevitable wait that the United States would have to accept while questionable parties huddled to “negotiate” and arm twist and cut their own deals merely kicks the day of reckoning further down the road.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 5:28 pm

Getting Things Done (David Allen) via Midnight Inbox

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If you’re a fan of Getting Things Done (web site), you know that an increasing number of tools are available to implement Allen’s method. Since James Fallows has praise for the method, I tend to believe that it works.

Here’s Midnight Inbox, a GTD-oriented Mac tool, $35 after a 14-day trial. If you’re trying to get things done, it might be worth the money. Via Lifehacker.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 5:18 pm

Blurring pedestrian space with auto space

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I’ve read about this elsewhere, and I’ve seen it in action—and it does seem to work:

At an intersection in Portland’s Chinatown, the asphalt street suddenly gives way to an urban oasis. A pair of massive, granite planters with palm trees flank the entrance to the street, which opens onto a one-block space paved with concrete squares. There are no white lane dividers or sidewalks. Instead, rough-hewn granite columns distinguish places for pedestrians and places for cars.

“The idea of this street is that it’s designed like a public square but it’s open to traffic,” said Ellen Vanderslice, a project manager for the Portland Department of Transportation. “We were very consciously trying to create a body language of the street that tells people something different is going on here.”

The approach appears to be working, she said. “Pedestrians tend to just mosey across the street every which way,” Vanderslice said. “And drivers slow down and pay attention.”

Portland’s so-called “festival street,” which opened two months ago, is one of a small but growing number of projects in the United States that seek to reclaim streets used by cars as public places for people, too. The strategy is to blur the boundary between pedestrians and automobiles by removing sidewalks and traffic devices, and to create a seamless multi-purpose urban space.

Combining traffic engineering, urban planning and behavioral psychology, the projects are inspired by a provocative new European street design trend known as “psychological traffic calming,” or “shared space.” Upending conventional wisdom, advocates of this approach argue that removing road signs, sidewalks, and traffic lights actually slows cars and is safer for pedestrians. Without any clear right-of-way, so the logic goes, motorists are forced to slow down to safer speeds, make eye contact with pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers, and decide among themselves when it is safe to proceed.

“The whole notion behind psychological traffic calming is to give drivers responsibility for the speed they choose,” said Andrew Parkes, a research scientist at the U.K.-based Transport Research Laboratory (TRL). Last year, TRL published the results of a four-year study on the new traffic safety approach. In simulator trials, researchers replaced road signs and white lane dividers with a variety of urban design elements: red bricks were used to make the road narrower, and trees, shrubs and street furniture were placed directly in the right of way.

According to Parkes, traffic speeds fell by up to 8 miles per hour, and the speeds of faster drivers by up to 12 mph. The reasons are both counterintuitive and compelling, he said.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 3:47 pm

Survival kit for car

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After the recent tragedy which took the life of James Kim, quite a few people are evaluating what sort of kit to keep in the car. This list looks like a good start.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Daily life

One’s jaw still can drop at American injustice

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Read this account at Huffington Post:

In a mind-boggling act of sadistic legal legal buck-passing (I can’t bring myself to glorify it with the word “reasoning”), the Florida District Court of Appeals upheld a 25 year mandatory minimum sentence for a Florida man convicted of “drug trafficking” for possessing his own pain medication.

Richard Paey is a wheelchair-bound father of three young children.
He has no prior criminal record—in fact, he’s an Ivy League law school graduate. He has not one, but two extensively documented and excruciatingly painful chronic disorders: multiple sclerosis and chronic back pain due to an injury suffered in a car accident that was treated by a surgery that made matters worse. (This surgery was so egregiously misguided that TV exposes and numerous large malpractice judgments resulted). Paey has already been in prison for three long years.

In prison—a place not exactly known for medical kindness—-he has been given a morphine pump, which now daily gives him similar or higher doses of medication than he was convicted of possessing illegally.

So why is he serving 25 years? Tipped off by a pharmacist ignorant of pain management, Florida authorities decided that the doses of painkillers he was receiving were so high that he had to be selling the drugs, not taking them. They found no evidence of this, however, even after putting him under surveillance for months.

But they did manage to convince his New Jersey doctor—who Paey claims authorized his prescriptions—to testify that, in fact, Paey was forging them. The doctor was told that he would face a similarly lengthy prison sentence for trafficking if he’d authorized such high doses for a patient who had moved from New Jersey to Florida. (See here for why he had reason to fear, despite prescribing legitimately and appropriately).

To add to the exquisite ironies of the case, the reason Paey qualified for such a lengthy sentence was due largely to his possession of acetaminophen (Tylenol), not opioids. Paey was taking pills that included acetaminophen and oxycodone—but the state counted the weight of the acetaminophen towards the weight of illegal drugs when it determined the charges that led to his sentence.

In upholding his sentence, the majority argued Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 2:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

Skype just gets better and better

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Look at this post. One can only say, “Wow.”

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Skype, Software

“Not my job”

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Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 11:53 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

New solar cell: greater than 40% efficiency

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Here’s the report:

Spectrolab has achieved a new world record in terrestrial concentrator solar cell efficiency. Using concentrated sunlight, Spectrolab demonstrated the ability of a photovoltaic cell to convert 40.7 percent of the sun’s energy into electricity. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) verified the milestone. High efficiency multijunction cells have a significant advantage over conventional silicon cells in concentrator systems because fewer solar cells are required to achieve the same power output. This technology will continue to dramatically reduce the cost of generating electricity from solar energy as well as the cost of materials used in high-power space satellites and terrestrial applications.

“This solar cell performance is the highest efficiency level any photovoltaic device has ever achieved,” said Dr. David Lillington, president of Spectrolab. “The terrestrial cell we have developed uses the same technology base as our space-based cells. So, once qualified, they can be manufactured in very high volumes with minimal impact to production flow.”

“These results are particularly encouraging since they were achieved using a new class of metamorphic semiconductor materials, allowing much greater freedom in multijunction cell design for optimal conversion of the solar spectrum,” said Dr. Richard R. King, principal investigator of the high efficiency solar cell research and development effort. “The excellent performance of these materials hints at still higher efficiency in future solar cells.”

Spectrolab is reducing the cost of solar cell production through research investments and is working with several domestic and international solar concentrator manufacturers on clean, renewable solar energy solutions. Currently, Spectrolab’s terrestrial concentrator cells are generating power in a 33-kilowatt full-scale concentrator system in the Australian desert. The company recently signed multi-million dollar contracts for its high efficiency concentrator cells and is anticipating several new contracts in the next few months.

Development of the high-efficiency concentrator cell technology was funded by the NREL’s High Performance Photovoltaics program and Spectrolab.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 11:50 am

Posted in Science

$519,070 to NJ school for being strafed by F-16

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Without comment:

LITTLE EGG HARBOR, N.J. – The Air Force will pay more than $500,000 to an Ocean County elementary school that was mistakenly shot by an F-16 on a training maneuver two years ago.

Under a settlement announced Wednesday, the Air Force will pay $519,070 in compensation to the Little Egg Harbor Intermediate School. The building was damaged by 27 rounds of inert 20mm ammunition from an air cannon mounted on the plane during a Nov. 3, 2004 nighttime mission over the New Jersey Pinelands.

The military blamed the pilot for the accident, but also said poorly designed controls in the F-16 played a role.

“The Air Force has done the right thing,” said state Rep. Jim Saxton. “Their agreement goes a long way towards repairing the actual damages to the school building as well as keeping their relationship with the community healthy.”

School officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

No one was injured in the mishap, which rattled the southern Ocean County region surrounding the Warren Grove Gunnery Range. Eight of the 2-inch lead rounds punched through the school’s roof, knocking down ceiling tiles.

At least one round struck a child’s desk, and others scuffed the asphalt in the parking lot. The rounds explode on impact when they are live.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 11:41 am

Posted in Daily life, Military

CD-burning utility for Mac OS X

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For you Mac users, here’s a $15 CD-burner, via Download Squad.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 11:29 am

Posted in Software

Chicken-fried bacon with cream gravy

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Now there‘s a meal: dip bacon in chicken-fry batter, douse with flour, and deep fry. Mmmm-mmm, good! Via Megnut. (The chicken-fried bacon is an appetizer for the 2-lb steak.) Watch the video.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 11:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

Baker Commission: seriously tilted

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Russ Feingold:

The fact is this commission was composed apparently entirely of people who did not have the judgment to oppose this Iraq war in the first place, and did not have the judgment to realize it was not a wise move in the fight against terrorism. So that’s who is doing this report.

Then I looked at the list of who testified before them. There is virtually no one who opposed the war in the first place. Virtually no one who has been really calling for a different strategy that goes for a global approach to the war on terrorism. . . .

This report does not do the job and it’s because it was not composed of a real representative group of Americans who believe what the American people showed in the election, which is that it’s time for us to have a timetable to bring the troops out of Iraq.

Glenn Greenwald:

The reason it is worthwhile — actually imperative — to continuously document what war advocates said in the past is because they have proven themselves to be completely bereft of judgment and insight and, in most cases, lacking any sort of moral compass. And yet, these same war advocates — and only they — are deemed even today, as Iraq lies in ruins, to be the responsible leaders who have a monopoly on worthwhile wisdom. Conversely, those who exhibited great judgment and foresight are as mocked and stigmatized as much as ever (just a little bit less overtly, but only a little), and are excluded entirely from the process of determining what we should do now.

This matters for so many reasons, beginning with the fact that the people who brought us into the disaster we are in have not accepted responsibility and, consequently, have not changed their mentality or premises any. Where are the mea culpas for Iraq? With very rare exception, they are nonexistent, because nobody believes that they were at fault for what happened. Virtually all of the people who advocated this invasion have all created their own private rationalizations as to why they were right and other people failed to implement their plan.

Read the whole thing. Please.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 11:10 am

Why we need habeas corpus

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Glenn Greenwald has a valuable post today. Included is this story:

Murat Kurnaz (Tab 4): Mr. Kurnaz, a German resident of Turkish descent, was traveling through Pakistan with Islamic missionaries in November 2001 when he was detained by local police and eventually turned over to U.S. officials. The U.S. justified Mr. Kurnaz’s detention on the basis that he was associated with a man who allegedly committed a suicide bombing in Turkey.

In his CSRT hearing, Mr. Kurnaz explained how he knew the alleged suicide bomber but did not know he was a terrorist; and he believed terrorism is not the way of Islam. Based on classified evidence Mr. Kurnaz was not allowed to review or answer, the CSRT upheld the determination that Mr. Kurnaz was an enemy combatant and associated with al Qaida.

However, when that information was later declassified, it contained no evidence directly linking Mr. Kurnaz to a1 Qaida, and showed U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies believed that Mr. Kurnaz did not have links to al Qaida.

The alleged suicide bomber was found alive in Germany, and German authorities said they had no proof that he was a terrorist. After being detained for five years without charge, Mr. Kurnaz was released in August 2006. (See Carol D. Leonnig, Panel Ignored Evidence on Detainee: U.S. Military Intelligence, German Authorities Found No Ties to Terrorists, The Washington Post, March 27, 2005, p. Al.)

Mr. Kurnaz was never brought to trial, was never convicted. He was just locked up for five years on unfounded suspicion. Read Greenwald’s post—and read how absolutely dishonest Lindsey Graham is. Scum.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 11:02 am

Megs, being a cat

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Megs being a cat 1 Megs being a cat 2

Being a cat involves a lot of sitting around, waiting between naps. And, of course, there’s the occasional food and trips to the litter box. All in all, a pretty exciting existence for a cat.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 10:32 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Condi: still a lightweight

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Even the Iraq Study Group finds that Condi is a lightweight:

The section appears to be an implicit rebuke of the policies pursued by Rice, arguing that her current efforts to build a regional “compact for Iraq” are too narrow, that her efforts to engage moderate Arab states lack ambition, and that her pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace needs to be reinvigorated. Bush has shunned a hands-on role in the issue, but the report says that “the United States does its ally Israel no favors in avoiding direct involvement to solve the Arab-Israel conflict.”

I earlier blogged about Condi’s apparent recognition that she can’t do her job and that she was longing to return to Stanford (or, at least, that that thought is on her mind).

A commenter suggested that Condi Rice is not in fact a lightweight. That may be true, but she certainly has not been able to meet the demands of the various jobs she’s held in the Bush Administration. It’s generally agreed that she never managed to be effective as National Security Advisor: she was not able to be a counterweight to Rumsfeld and Cheney and she more or less ignored the warnings she was given about Al Qaeda, from the outgoing Clinton Administration, from Richard Clarke, and most significantly from George Tenet. When the CIA was warning that Al Qaeda planned an attack in the US, she took no steps to uncover or meet that threat.

President Bush also named Condi Rice to manage postwar Iraq and the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Remember that?

Rice will head the Iraq Stabilization Group, which will have coordinating committees on counterterrorism, economic development, political affairs and media messages. Each committee will be headed by a Rice deputy and include representatives of the State, Defense and Treasury departments and the CIA.

How would you rate her performance in that area? Heavy-hitter? Lightweight? Not only is Iraq completely destabilized (and much worse today than when Condi accepted responsibility for stabilizing the nation), Afghanistan is crumbling. And I have to say that I don’t know of any efforts or initiatives she’s made in either place.

As Secretary of State she has accomplished nothing of note. She seemed paralyzed when Israel moved into Lebanon to attack Hezbollah. She has not helped the US regain any of the stature and friendly feelings it once had.

So, although in absolute terms, she may not be a lightweight (I understand that she plays the piano exceptionally well, something that I for one envy), but in terms of meeting the demands of her jobs in the Administration, she is not doing much better than George Bush. Or so it seems to me.

I would be interested to read a reasoned case to the contrary. The best rebuttal would be a list of her significant accomplishments as National Security Advisor, as head of Iraq Stabilization and Afghanistan reconstruction, and as Secretary of State—accomplishments beyond simply holding the office.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 10:23 am

The IRG Report

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From the Washington Post, a couple of facts gleaned from the report:

The report is replete with damning details about the administration’s inept handling of Iraq. It notes, for instance, that only six people in the 1,000-person embassy in Baghdad can speak Arabic fluently. It recounts how the military counted 93 acts of violence in one day in July, when the group’s own reexamination of the data found 1,100 acts of violence. “Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes discrepancy with policy goals,” the report says.

Lies and stupidity. The Bush Administration has fired dozens of skilled Arabic and Farsi speakers because—quel horreur!—they were gay. Yes, that’s right: just like Vice-President Cheney’s daughter (and her partner), their affectional preference was for persons of the same sex. One can’t help but thinking, “So what?” Other nations have absolutely no problem in enlisting lesbians and gays in their armed services—in fact, neither does the US, only we ask them to please keep it a secret.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 10:17 am

A little Mencken goodness

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Now that the press seems to be awakening from their slumber and acting as if they are ready again to be responsible, perhaps this Mencken quotation is apropos:

The only way that democracy can be made bearable is by developing and cherishing a class of men sufficiently honest and disinterested to challenge the prevailing quacks. No such class has ever appeared in strength in the United States. Thus, the business of harassing the quacks devolves upon the newspapers. When they fail in their duty, which is usually, we are at the quacks’ mercy.

from Minority Report.

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2006 at 10:05 am

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