Friday, June 30, 2006

I'm the King of the Castle

... and you're a dirty rascal.

The unofficial Bush regency starts to draw to a close with the 6-3 Hamdan decision by the Supreme Court, analyzed in detail here by Peter Baker and Michael Abramowitz. Glenn Greenwald considers the back and forth of how quickly and completely the Bush administration will ignore this decision, ultimately concluding it's a good thing no matter what.

It won't be easy. Certainly this decision will be used in the 2006 congressional races as a bumper-sticker slogan of a runaway court. The mere contradiction of the boy king's wishes is all the proof needed. However, the court's decision is an excellent one, based on common sense. We don't live under Henry VII or Stalin, we live in a nation of laws, with checks and balances. As a fledgling nation, we enshrined into law our revulsion at the practices of the Star Chamber, even though it had been banished nearly a century before. We let callous murderers like John Gotti and John Wayne Gacy decline to incriminate themselves before a court of law, and that's something for us as a nation to be proud of.

Hopefully, the Hamdan decision will be one of many "at long last, have you no sense of shame?" moments, when Americans continue to realize that not only is Bush a remarkably incompetent president, but that he's actually a short-tempered, bullying asshole, not someone they'd want to have a beer with.

I've kept to a vow I made three months ago not to buy any books until July. It hasn't been easy, but the vow ends tomorrow, and I'm going to get Ron Suskind's book first thing.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Photos from North Korea

A Russian photographer was able to partially evade his handlers in North Korea, and take a wide variety of pictures. The entire photo essay is worth checking out, but beware if you're on 56k.

Here are two photos I found striking. He says that the North Koreans everywhere found his white skin astonishing. The Russian scrawled on this photo means "Look, there's a nigger in pink." (Click to see full size).

With no fuel, his old man is using the only means available to plow his godforsaken land. Check out the ribs on that poor ox, too. What a miserable life.

They are prisoners.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Missile Defense hawked in response to Korean tests

A good friend of mine asked, in reference to this absurd PR report that appeared on Fox: "I thought Missile Defense does not work (or is not finished)" Well, it all depends on the meaning of what "it works" means.

First, though, let us note in passing that we're missing the more obvious point, which is that Bush's "axis of evil" has greatly energized the three countries he named: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. In particular, by invading one of the three countries, he has created an energetic response in the other two to survive our forthcoming invasion. Iran should be our ally, not our enemy.

However, we are here, and it is now, and the North Koreans are testing a missile that could reach the continental United States. Will the U.S. Missile Defense system work?

If you mean, "can this system stop a single ICBM in scenarios where the time and direction of attack are signaled beforehand, and no counterdefense measures are taken?", then the answer is sort of. There are six deployed systems currently. In eight tests since 1999, they've hit their targets in just five times. The two of the last three tests in 2004 and 2005 were unmitigated disasters, where the interceptor rockets did not even launch. The most recent test was a success.

If you mean "can this system stop a realistic missile attack, where multiple inbound ICBMs are fired at multiple targets with no advance warning, multiple missiles per target, and a large variety of countermeasures such as chaff, flares, full-scale decoys, and ECM?" then the answer is no, not even theoretically, not for years. It's a very, very hard problem. ICBMs might be traveling at 15,000 mph, and they might be launched from submarines just a hundred miles away from your borders. This is one reason why MacMamara and others came up with Mutually Assured Destruction.

If you mean "does this system supply a broad, flower-lined highway upon which many ripe sacks of gold can caper into the pockets of large military-industrial companies?" then yes, it works extraordinarily well, thank you. Thank you very much indeed!

From one spook to another

A former CIA case officer, Garrett Jones, has some advice for incoming CIA head General Hayden, e.g.,
The RUMINT (rumor intelligence) on you is that you like "corporate speak" and prefer large, impersonal gatherings to one-on-one encounters. You are going to have to work on this. Blunt, plain speech will get you farther than anything else with the Agency workforce. Most of its officers feel that they have worked as hard as they can only to be lied to. If there is something bad, they want to hear the truth; if someone erred, they want to hear that, too. If something is going to happen to them, tell them before they see it in the Washington Post. You are working with a bunch of spies, so you should not be surprised that RUMINT travels quickly and is surprisingly accurate in this culture. Count on it, and do not lie to them. "I do not know" or "I cannot tell you" are statements the workforce understands and they accept they are sometimes necessary; but they will almost always find out if you lie.

Wander around the building and listen to people. The workforce is surprisingly smart and sophisticated; they will usually tell you what is wrong if you give them a chance. Make time to find out where different units are physically located in the building, at least the big ones. It is amazing what you will learn when you go to them instead of them coming to you. Yes, you will be busy, but your first job, before anything else, is to make the workforce motivated and effective.
It's an interesting insider view. One clear implication is that Porter Goss did most of the things he warns against — otherwise, why else would he specify to have no more than two bodyguards. They used bodyguards inside the CIA? Tough crowd, I guess.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Irrumatio over Iraq

Joe Klein writes admiringly of George Bush, that gorgeous man-boy who gets so excited and "frothy" by being in airplane cockpits. (ooh!) In a dreamy, post-coital moment, Klein writes that the disastrous situation in Iraq puts Democrats in a quandry:
What can the Democrats do? They can play politics or be responsible. The political option is to embrace "cut and run"; call for an immediate withdrawal, as Kerry did; and hope the public is so sick of Bush and sick of the war that it will punish the g.o.p. in the fall. But embracing defeat is a risky political strategy, especially for a party not known for its warrior ethic.
The "be responsible" crowd, let us not forget, lied America into a needless war. Please forgive me for doubting their bona fides, not least when there's a flagrant lie about Kerry's plan even in the same goddamn paragraph that Klein urges "responsibility" on the Democrats. Shithead.

Also, let's look at those fierce warriors advocating this war.

Joe Klein, born in 1946, did not, of course, serve in Vietnam, despite graduating in 1968 at the height of the war. I don't know the story; presumably he got some good lottery numbers. George Bush, who was a cheerleader in college, did not serve in Vietnam. As is widely known, he was placed in Texas Air National Guard with other well-connected young men, then eventually chose to stop flying, for reasons that are not publically known. Dick Cheney did not serve in Vietnam, he asked for five deferments. He later claimed he had "other priorities." Dennis Hastert got out of service in Vietnam with "bad knees", an ailment that did not prevent him from pursuing college wrestling soon afterwards. Karl Rove also dodged service in Vietnam.

And so on and so on. It's perfectly ok with these wrinkled men with their withered souls to describe the deaths of more young Americans as "staying the course." That's their warrior ethic, and that's their political game. They honestly don't care if you or your loved ones die, as long as they are in power. It's all ok with Klein, too, as long as he can be in the intoxicating company of these powerful men who do nothing braver than light Cuban cigars.

Klein answers his own rhetorical question of "what to do?" by concluding that the very best thing for the Democrats is to do exactly as they are told by their Republican masters:
In fact, the responsible path is the Democrats' only politically plausible choice: they will have to give yet another new Iraqi government one last shot to succeed. This time, U.S. military sources say, the measure of success is simple: Operation Forward Together, the massive joint military effort launched last week to finally try to secure Baghdad, has to work. If Baghdad isn't stabilized, the war is lost. "I know it's the cliche of the war," an Army counterinsurgency specialist told me last week. "But we'll know in the next six months—and this time, it'll be the last next six months we get."
No, we don't. There are no "six more months." That canard has been put forth by every gelled, moused and powdered pundit on television for the last four years. It's bullshit. There are no corners to turn. Things will not get better. The insurgency is not in their last throes. Anyone who thinks Zarqawi's death meant anything important is a Fox TV news viewer.

There are no large-scale targets for our Cold War era military to attack. There is a large, well-equipped Sunni insurgency in Iraq. There are ethnic and religious hatreds that go back six hundred years. There is no achievable goal here: the Iraqi army is becoming less capable as time goes on. Among other things, it is riddled with infiltrators, do-nothings, and cowards. Anyone who is capable of fighting has gone into the insurgency, not the Iraqi army. (Unless they are Kurdish, naturally.) The Iraqi police are useful for directing traffic, nothing more. They cannot keep the peace in the face of men armed with high explosives and mortars. No police force could. Our own armed forces, formerly the finest military power in all the world, is being slowly ground into a bruised, second-rate force, now with hideous civilian atrocities resulting from the lack of leadership from the White House on down. It's all one big, fucking mess.

Retrieving our soldiers, via a measured draw-down like the one that Murtha has advocated, is not a political strategy. It's just accepting reality. Iraq has already started on its civil war. We cannot prevent it. Every decision that could have stopped us from going down this dreadful, bloody path was already decided wrongly, in the distant past. The time to decide for the better is gone, long gone. We can, perhaps, prevent Iran or Turkey from making territorial gains. Unlike the insurgency, they have military targets of value. That's the extent of our potential "victory."

There is no unringing this bell. The virgin has been bloodied. The mirror has been broken. Many, many people have died because George W. Bush wanted to have a war for his political "capital" and also as a means of showing up his father in his own oedipal fantasies. Nothing can change this war's initial, imbecilic motives, nor the damage that resulted from ignoring reality in favor of a fantasy.

Victory in Iraq is completely irretrievable. That is not the Democrat's fault, who have had no effective control over any part of this war. It is no one's fault but the cowards and poltroons who have effective control of the white house, the congress, and the judicial branch — and the starry-eyed journalists who believe that they are being realistic when they have been completely bamboozled. The only question is how many more people will die before these facts are generally accepted.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

God Bless John Murtha

Murtha displays some righteous anger at the White House and at Karl Rove in two sputtering rants on Meet the Press. Outstanding.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fat kids, fat kids, whatcha gonna do

The Institution of Medicine (IOM), a branch of the National Academy of Science, has come out with a barnburner called "Food marketing to children and youth: threat or opportunity?" (You're urged to buy the text, but the entire text is online in multiple formats).

The situation is not good: we are a fat nation, and we're getting fatter. Depending on the metric you examine, things are twice as worse (diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses) or four times as worse (overall incidence of obesity)

Here's a chart of kids between 1963 and 2002. It's in the IOM report at page 42. Labelling kids as "obese" (dark lines) or "overweight" is relative to the Body Mass Index. Obesity is at or above the 95% point on the curve appropriate for the child's age and gender, using the Center for Disease Control data. Overweight is defined as the 85% to 95% portion of the curve.

In other words, 9% of kids in the 1960s were obese or overweight, but now it is over 32%.

Why? Well, it's true that kids are exercising less, they're watching more TV and engaging in low-calorie pastimes like video games, but that's not the conclusion of the report. No, kids are fatter because marketers are substantially better at persuading kids to eat bad food.

You don't believe me? Well, it's a 500 page report, but here's part of a short, angry summary from a doctor and public health specialist in the New England Journal of Medicine, called "Food Marketing and Childhood Obesity — A Matter of Policy". (She also refers to a CISP study).
Marketing to children is hardly new, but recent methods are far more intense and pervasive. Television still predominates, but the balance is shifting to product placements in toys, games, educational materials, songs, and movies; character licensing and celebrity endorsements; and less visible "stealth" campaigns involving word of mouth, cellular-telephone text messages, and the Internet. All aim to teach children to recognize brands and pester their parents to buy them. The IOM notes that by two years of age, most children can recognize products in supermarkets and ask for them by name.

But the most insidious purpose of marketing is to persuade children to eat foods made "just for them" — not what adults are eating. Some campaigns aim to convince children that they know more about what they are "supposed to" eat than their parents do. Marketers explicitly attempt to undermine family decisions about food choices by convincing children that they, not adults, should control those choices. Indeed, children now routinely report that they, and not their parents, decide what to eat.
I like capitalism; it pays my bills and it brings me shiny new toys. But this crosses the line of responsibility. Unfortunately, Congress is currently playing the role of drunk baby sitter, talking to her boyfriend, so there will be no adult supervision on this issue on the federal level until at least the fall elections. However, in quite a few state jurisidictions, the legislators have started to demand better quality food for children. Here's the NEJM companion article "Obesity — The New Frontier of Public Health Law" (This article is also free, although most recent content at the NEJM is behind a subscription wall.) As the article points out, another factor is all the lawyers who are saddling up and filing obesity-related class action suits. (It is hard to know who to root for in this arena).

Monday, June 05, 2006

Hillbilly revenge

Here's a short video of a young man and his friends who take revenge on the car of his girlfriend, who allegedly cheated on him. The problem is... it's his car. He's paying for it.

The microphone of the video camera they use couldn't handle the sounds of the AK-47 and pistols that they use to shoot the car — it's kind of a nifty buzzing sound, like in a science-fiction movie.

Sorry for not posting more lately. I have gotten a lot of things done lately, including getting to watch several computer monitors launched like basketballs, in 30-foot hook shots. All baskets were made.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Sisyphus of Morons

Keith Olberman tees off on Bill O'Reilly's head, which O'Reilly richly deserves.

99 times out of a hundred when we belly up to the Billo bar of bluster... nearly every time we partake of the movable Falafel Feast, he serves us nothing but comedy.

Farce, slapstick, unconscious self-mutilation -- the Sideshow Bob of commentators, forever stepping on the same rake, forever muttering the same grunt of inarticulate surrender, forever resuming the circle that will take him back to the same rake. The Sisyphus of morons, if you will.

The Malmedy massacre was horrible.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

New York City's terrorism budget slashed by 40%

... because it has no icons or national monuments. None.

Sometimes I can play politics, and chuckle at foolishness like this. But sometimes I just want to cry because these people are so homicidally incompetent. Ignoring the tall mounds of brick, glass and steel that are frequently pretty to look at, each day, New York's population swells to 12 million people.

(Via dependable renegade)

Commercial Satellite photos showing Chinese nuclear, sub sites

Washington Times: Commercial photos show Chinese nuke buildup

Imaging notes: World’s First Look at China’s Underground Facilities for Nuclear Warheads

It must be amazing what the professionals can see, using the non-commercial systems.

419 scams

Here's what I don't understand about 419 scams: why is there no effective government involvement? The individual losses are relatively small, seen from an international finance point of view but the sums of money in aggregate are massive. Organized bands of criminals are using computers and the boundless naïveté of computer users to steal money from their victims. Why wouldn't this involve the government?

Look at the complete absence of critical thinking that the crooks are able to use:
In February, about a year after Gaston had posted her résumé on a job-search Web site, she received an e-mail about a part-time opportunity: to work as a courier for money for an international charity that builds homes for people in disaster areas. Her assignment was to deposit local donations into her own bank account, wait for the checks to clear and then wire the money to another address. She was told she would be paid 7 percent of every donation check, with a guarantee of $500 the first week on the job.

Gaston received a $4,500 cashier's check on Saturday, Feb. 26, and immediately deposited it in her Bank of America account. The teller told her it would take three days for the check to clear. On Wednesday, Gaston reviewed her account online and saw the funds were in her account. "I assumed, since it was a cashier's check, that Bank of America had actually gotten money from the other bank and put it into my account," she said.

On Thursday, Gaston withdrew $2,000 and wired it to a Ukrainian address. That's not unusual since most of these scams direct money outside the United States, often to Canada or Nigeria. The next day, Gaston followed instructions from another e-mail directing her to wire $1,900 to a different Ukrainian address.

"I couldn't believe I could make this much from this little bit of work," Gaston said. It was only a few days later that Gatson's euphoria wore off, when she caught a snippet of a TV news story about a person who had been scammed by an identical work-at-home scheme.

"My face turned completely green," said Gaston, who called the bank immediately. Bank officials told her there was nothing the bank could do and warned her that she would have to repay the $3,900 when the counterfeit cashier's check was finally returned to the bank.

Thank goodness she caught that TV show after only two thefts from her accounts.

The scams rely on a variety of leverage points to protect the criminal:
  • the banks are ineffective at detecting counterfeit cashier's checks, or even at warning their customers about the possibility of counterfeits.
  • even though the banks are duped, it is always the consumer who must pay.
  • the scams require international borders to be both permeable and impermeable: the money can pass through, but no effective legal action.
  • there's no way to retrieve that money once it is sent: banks are apparently uninterested in establishing contingent transfers, or attempting legal action afterwards.
  • there's no coordinated action taken against the receiving bank, which will have received stolen money from dozens of different banks.
This inaction is shameful. The assorted Western governments should force the scammer's government to disgorge this loot. Banks should warn their customers, and establish effective blacklists of remote banks to make it increasingly difficult to profit from this scam.

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