not worth archiving.
Me: Frank Lynch
These are my mundane daily ramblings.
Can someone please explain this to me?
It really doesn't make much sense. You know the Bee Gees' song New York Mining Disaster, 1941? The one that
goes, "Have you seen my wife, Mr. Jones"? I don't understand: the
mine has collapsed, right? And so oxygen is in short supply,
right? And they're singing! No way to conserve air.
Level Abu Ghraib prison? The idea came up a number of times in congressional hearings today, due to its notorious history. I suppose it's thought of as a way of eradicating another vestige of Saddam Hussein's reign. Some even talked about how it had become even more disgraceful as a result of its recent history. But how come no one (to my knowledge) has pointed out that this history belongs to the Iraqi people, that it's their country, and maybe the decision should be up to them? I can't speak for them, but if what went on its walls was really that horrific, maybe they want to preserve it as a museum or memorial of some kind?
UPDATE: In Senate hearings, Rumsfeld said it was up to the Iraqi people:
Link 6:40 PM
I guess personal responsibility is a squishy concept. Apply as needed, only. By and large, most liberals and conservatives are condemning the abuses in Abu Ghraib prison. But, you may have heard about Rush Limbaugh's infamous characterization of them already:
This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You of heard of need to blow some steam off?
And you may be aware that some people in the accused abusers' hometown are arguing for lenience and understanding:
And, while one should never look at a usenet posting and say it's indicative of a trend, alt.quotations was treated with a post that argued that the proper context for understanding the torture is that of an undertrained, under-supported military:
Running through all these comments, of course, is the thought that the alleged perpetrators are not responsible for their actions. Limbaugh doesn't even seem to feel there's anything wrong, much less assign responsibility.
How very different this is from the calls that are made to accept responsibility for our actions in everyday life. Conservatives often complain about abuses in the court system with people suing someone else for their own mistakes, and use personal responsibility as a wedge in arguing against abortion. I am not commenting on the validity of their arguments, only pointing out the contrast we see when the principle of personal responsibility is applied to a cause which many conservatives support. (Also, for the nitpickers, yes, I have read condemnations from conservatives.)
The other interesting point is that this layering of "context" is often dismissed by conservatives as "nuance" when liberals search for understanding. For instance, following 9/11, Thomas Sowell wrote:
So far, Sowell's only comment on the Abu Ghraib abuses is to take the moral high ground that at least our culture doesn't rejoice over them:
Under the terrible stresses of war, there are some in every country who commit atrocities. The difference is that Americans are upset, ashamed, or angry when their troops do it, while people in some Middle Eastern countries danced in the streets on 9/11 and when the bodies of dead American civilians were dragged through the streets in Iraq.
Somewhere, there has to be an objective standard about what
constitutes personal responsibility and when it's required. And I
hope that Sowell will have more to say than what he's said so
Some movie studios are surely hurting over
the departure of Elvis Mitchell from the reviewing staff of the
New York Times. Why? Well, the paper's web site's Movies
home page lists "Critics Picks" for the remaining reviewers
A. O. Scott (whose promotion to crew chief supposedly led to
Mitchell's indignant exit) and Stephen Holden; but all those
movies which would have been shown next to a picture of Elvis
Mitchell are now orphaned and don't appear here. Run a search on
"Elvis Mitchell" and you'll get a good 618 reviews, so it won't
be easy for anyone to compensate for the lack. A movie like the
current Hellboy (which he reviewed very
positively) has an unforeseen handicap. Too bad the Times hasn't
figured out a way around their unfortunate personnel changes.
Attentions are limited, not so much in terms of how long you can attend to any one thing, but more in terms of how many things you can attend to at once. While we've all been paying deserved attention to the abuses in Abu Ghraib prison, there was other news out of Iraq this week which could well have escaped your notice. It was announced on Tuesday that the Pentagon now figures it will need to have 138,000 troops in Iraq through the end of 2005. That's the same number as are there now. (You can see why they weren't specific about the length of the occupation in advance now, I bet.) Had you heard that? If not, I'm sure the administration was glad you didn't, although they might have preferred you were distracted by more positive news than the Abu Ghraib scandal, you know, maybe an announcement from Alan Greenspan that the federal deficit is of no concern. Wait? That's not what he said? The deficit is actually a problem? Gee, who had any idea that passing a Medicare program where the government can't negotiate to control costs would have had financial impact! Or, that all those tax cuts (which have never been shown to increase tax revenues) would have hurt the balance sheet! Who'd a thunk it?
There is a lot to pay attention to, so don't get too
focused on any one story. It's that old Samuel Johnson line about
looking at a mite through a magnifying glass: you get a great
view of the mite only.
This is just too much: on September 11, flight controllers who dealt with hijacked flights taped statements about the day's events; there was no transcript made of the tapes, and some supervisor destroyed the cassette, scattering it in waste baskets in diverse parts of the building to prevent its reconstruction. Why?
The quality-assurance manager told investigators that he had destroyed the tape because he thought making it was contrary to F.A.A. policy, which calls for written statements, and because he felt that the controllers "were not in the correct frame of mind to have properly consented to the taping" because of the stress of the day.
What to link? Why do some people link
"printer friendly" article versions? Especially bloggers who have
ads running on their pages? If ad revenue is good for the
blogger, why send their readers to page versions which don't have
ads? I just don't get it.
This is how you get lied to, Part 2.
So you're wondering what to make of the group of Vietnam Vets and
such that calls themselves "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth"? And
whether or not their complaints about John Kerry are valid? Well,
would you believe that they ignore every positive thing that's
ever been said about Kerry? (Shocked, shocked...) Here's the take down.
(Link seen via Atrios.)
UPDATE: More from the Daily
This is how you get lied to. Deception on the Wall Street Journal editorial
page: they want you to think more of a Kerry critic
than he is. Talk about sleaze! If there were licenses,
they should lose theirs.
You can't stonewall a scandal. Trying
to do so only makes matters worse, and can be counterproductive
to gathering the truth (it's more work, which distracts you from
getting to the bottom, and pits you against the Press, who
also want the truth). Bush? Not this time: it's the UN.
Among Bush's accomplishments would have to be numbered getting prescription drugs for seniors. He was very clear that he intended to do this, and in a 2000 presidential debate chided the Clinton administration for failing to do so:
Well, here's what I've said: I've said, Jim, I've said that eight years ago they campaigned on prescription drugs for seniors, and four years ago they campaigned on getting prescription drugs for seniors, and now they're campaigning on getting prescription drugs for seniors. It seems like they can't get it done. Now they may blame other folks, but it's time to get somebody in Washington who's going to work with both Republicans and Democrats to get some positive things done when it comes to our seniors.
Well, what kind of an accomplishment? Not only does the Medicare program tie the government's hands — it's expressly forbidden from negotiating drug prices with drug companies (can you imagine any company not being allowed to negotiate with its suppliers?) — under the new plan most senior citizens will pay more for most popular medicines. The Center for American Progress reports...
According to a study by the House Government Reform Committee, most seniors will pay more using a Medicare drug card than they could buying retail with no card at all. The study found that a month's supply of the ten most popular brand-name drugs cost more using three Medicare drug cards — the Pharmacy Care Alliance Card, the RxSavings Card and the Walgreen's Card — than purchasing the drugs at Drugstore.com. For that privilege, seniors will be required to pay up to $30 per year to enroll.
Now, you may have also heard that during the legislative process, a Medicare actuary was forbidden by his boss from revealing their best estimate of the full cost of the program. This was against the law.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention all of how unusual the legislative process was. The vote was held open for three hours...
The bill won final congressional approval in November, after a close vote in the House that GOP leaders held open for an unprecedented three hours while they worked to persuade reluctant Republicans to vote for the centerpiece of the president's domestic agenda.
That liberal media is at it again... This time it's a major movie studio, refusing to allow one of its subsidiaries to distribute an anti-Bush movie. Is it pure politics? Perhaps not — Florida tax breaks may be at stake, although the larger corporation denies it.
Business is business, I guess.
Taking risks and invading Iraq. Without a doubt (I think) my least favorite Samuel Johnson quotation is a very famous one from Rasselas: "Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome." It's one of those inspirational type things your boss might put up on the bulletin board. What's wrong with it? Well, the guy who spouts it is an inventor who is working on flight, and after putting on man-made wings, takes a belly-flop into a lake. Now, Johnson doesn't believe in shirking well-judged opportunities, and he has essays that talk about the advantages of taking them when appropriate. But when inappropriate, there are problems.
Take this example from Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, for instance... Regarding CIA Director George Tenet (pages 139-140):
No penalty for making mistakes, going to give it a whack. Kind of reminds me of the language I used in high school algebra when I raised my hand in class (I only remember this because my friend Dave Ackerman highlighted it to me many years ago), "Sure, Mr. Bornhorst, I'll take a crack at it." Well, the bad news for Mr. Tenet, of course, is that decisions to invade countries have considerably more weight than solving a high school algebra problem. I am similarly dismayed by Mr. Tenet's esprit-de-gung-ho when, later in the book, he strong-arms Bush's questions regarding a questionable WMD case by brushing it off as "It's a slam dunk, Mr. President." Pretty much the inventor donning his man-made wings and taking that belly-flop into the lake, doncha think?
Now, I'm not trying to beat up on George Tenet here. I'm trying to beat up on George Tenet and everyone like him who has a big bowl of hubris in the morning and says 'full steam ahead' without assessing the risks.
Again, getting back to Johnson, he was not against taking
risks, but he was against foolishness.
How NOT to write a headline? A headline in a Washington Post article reads, "Federal Deficit Likely to Narrow by $100 Billion." It really does, and it would be good news. But you read down, "likely" may be too strong. Because deeper in, the article reads:
Democratic and Republican budget aides in the House warned yesterday that it was too early to reach conclusions. Spending could still take an unexpected jump because of surging hostilities in Iraq. The improving federal borrowing picture, they said, may just be bringing the administration's $521 billion deficit forecast more into line with the $477 billion deficit predicted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill's official budget scorekeeper. (Emphasis added.)
So last week Rumsfeld chided the LA Times for one of its
headlines; who in the administration will call the Washington
Post on the carpet for this one?
I know it's still early in the Abu Ghraib prison investigations, but the New York Times is reporting only reprimands so far. Even though they will likely end careers, they don't imply anything like jail time:
"They should have known, but they did not." Question: does
anyone here know the meaning of criminal negligence? I certainly
don't... But at minimum this is dereliction of duty, and I'm
surprised it doesn't seem to rise to the level of criminality.
Next question: when the President and everyone talks about human
rights abuses in Iraq, what kind of punishment would you expect
to be meted out to Iraqi supervisors in the same situation? A
When I was a kid, and heard about the My Lai massacre, I didn't want to believe: of course I did believe it, but I wanted to think the best of my country, and the idea of what Lt. Calley did was so contrary to my innocent love for the US. I still have a similar reaction today, even though my love is far less innocent. The abuses which took place in Abu Ghraib prison are within the comprehension of someone my age, but they are just as disgusting. Bush has called for severe penalties for those who were involved, but that doesn't seem enough. I can't help but imagine that these abuses occurred because the participants lost touch with their mores; isolated from the broader population, I imagine that group reinforcement developed where extreme behaviors were demonstrated in order to win approval... Kind of like the dialog you see in odd corners of the Internet (like freerepublic.com, for instance) where people put on masks before participating in dialogs and egg each other on with the norm for "acceptable behavior" getting so warped that it's no longer recognizable by the broader population.
If that phenomenon was at work here, it won't be enough to punish the individual soldiers. The system will need to be transformed: soldiers who work the prisons will need not only greater supervision, but also more temporary assignments, so that their perspectives don't become so distorted. I don't think all the army is a bunch of beasts; to the contrary, I'm guessing our soldiers do fine work, largely, with or without considering the stresses which are involved. And I don't think this means we are unfit to be where we are; but I do think we need to do it differently.
Yet we are all shamed by these events, they are an
embarrassment. Johnson wrote once about the way the English
colonists behaved in America, and the shameful way they treated
the Native Americans: "No people can be great who have ceased to
be virtuous." We need to try to be great again.
This summer will be special; obviously the Republicans were
thinking 9/11 associations when they chose New York for their
convention, but how could they have been so myopic? New York is
full of people who disagree with them even before
you consider what a magnet a convention is.
Those interested in American politics
should add Media Matters for
America to their bookmarks. It's run by David Brock, the
recovering Conservative who lambasted Anita Hill and later
I was joking, of course, in the post below where I recommended deflecting criticism about the growth in poverty by making an apples to oranges comparison. (Uh oh, now someone's going to email me about the association between the Dutch and oranges...) But if you go to that Census Bureau PDF I linked, and look at the figures in the back, you can see a quick trend line for the percentage in the US who live in poverty. (Look at the bottom line on Figure 1 — the upper line tracks raw numbers, which are impacted by overall population growth, too. Actual numbers for the trend line can be found in Appendix Table A-1.) If you count back the years on the lower line, you'll see how the prosperity which we had during the Clinton years reduced poverty: Clinton took office in 1993, and there's a peak there the year he took office (15.1%), but it goes down from that. The line is at its minimum in his last year, 2000 (11.3%). From there the line starts to increase in 2001 (11.7%) — no doubt the recession had an impact — to the 2002 figure of 12.1%. Households without wage earners increased from 2001 to 2002 also, from 10% to 10.3% (see Figure 3).
Poverty, obviously, is just one measure that speaks to a
broad-based economic recovery, vs. one where the growth is
concentrated among the already rich. I think that those liberals
who focus on job growth rather than overall economy growth are
fully justified in doing so; pointing merely to overall economic
growth is overly simplistic, kind of like citing what the
"average family" received in terms of a tax cut.
The next round of reports on the US
poverty level may not be out until September. They seem to
come out annually and the last one, this PDF
from September 2003 reports that the percentage of US families
living below the poverty level went up to 12.1% in 2002, up from
11.7% the year before. Now, not to discount the importance of
this figure, but if some leftist tries to complain that 12% of
Americans live below poverty level, point out that
60% of the Dutch people live below sea level. That's five
times as many. People have trouble keeping their heads above
water the world round.
Homosexuality will make your boat
capsize. You thought you knew all the dangers, huh? Well, a
barge party capsized when they all went to one side to look at
nude sunbathers at an event hosted by a Texas Gay/Lesbian bar association. In
all seriousness, this is another case where the problem is due to
society's reactions, not the stimulus.
It's one of those numbers that you don't know what to do with: in 2003 the US government asked for many more warrants for surveillance than it did in 2002, by about a half (1727 in 2003, more than 500 more than in 2002). It's not surprising that 2003's figure is twice 2001, given that the Patriot Act was passed in late 2001. Naturally, civil liberties experts are concerned that it represents an erosion in our freedoms, and without any details on the cases their concerns can't be ruled out. (The only flag shirt I bought post 9/11, by the way, doesn't mention the event at all: across the top it reads "Conceived in liberty," from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. And yes, you can read it in Dutch.)
There's much room for concern of course, given that the
Patriot Act has been used in requests that have nothing to do
with terrorism. I wish we knew more: the FBI said it's less
hesitant now to request a warrant, but how much have the
standards changed? And in another disquieting development,
the American Civil Liberties Union was barred from discussing a challenge it had filed against
the Patriot Act. How fragile our liberties have become! How
ridiculous we must look, to impose our ideas of democracy through
invasion of another country, while letting it erode at home.
When I heard Brown say this — as a regular viewer, I
really did hear this, I didn't just look this up in order to
include a hyperlink — I thought he meant that people, in
general, interpret things as they will. As I read Woodward now,
though, I see that Woodward doesn't include the wisdom that would
lead a reader to an interpretation. Click here to read more...
And, later in the same article,
Myers, who was one of the military defense attorneys in the My Lai prosecutions of the nineteen-seventies, told me that his client's defense will be that he was carrying out the orders of his superiors and, in particular, the directions of military intelligence. He said, "Do you really think a group of kids from rural Virginia decided to do this on their own? Decided that the best way to embarrass Arabs and make them talk was to have them walk around nude?"
But those speaking for the Pentagon say it was limited:
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers said "categorically" that "there is no evidence of systematic abuse" in the U.S. detention operations in the region, and that the actions of "just a handful" of U.S. troops at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad have unfairly tainted all American forces.
What tells me this is going to look uglier?
The hidden politics of religion? Take
your time reading it, but Atrios has a very thought-provoking
examination of the religious standards some politicians —
and voters — in America are being held to. Sometimes it's subtle, but
one NPR reporter's condemnation of others is there.
California, thankfully, says "no thanks." You know there's much I love about our Constitution, and voting is one of them. In order to protect the vote, California's Attorney General has decided to ban electronic voting until such times as new security criteria are met. While the head of Diebold, who is a Bush supporter, did say he'd do everything he could to support the President's election, I don't think that's the issue; I think a profit motive would prevent him from twisting election results. Rather, with my experience in survey research, I'm really bothered by the lack of a paper trail (as are others). Well-meaning, scrupulous people make mistakes in ways you can't imagine (I've reviewed surveys on screen as well as in their program code, and the possibilities are tremendous). And I can't begin to tell you how many times we were happy to have paper surveys where you could learn more about the unanticipated logic of respondents. Paper records are really valuable. As much as everyone hates having had to go through Florida 2000, chads have valuable information in them, because they can reflect the intention of the voter.
While the stupid remark of the Diebold head is one issue — and an important one for many — the fervor with which Diebold has worked to seal a deal in California is hugely problematic because it is seen by some as fruadulent.