Monday, November 28, 2005

Dyncorp Told Us So

Let me begin by saying that DynCorp, a rival paramilitary firm, is hardly a disinterested party in all this. However, having seen the video of the (presumably) Aegis Defense personnel gleefully murdering civilians in Iraq, I can't help but find this DynCorp letter to the Bush administration a bit chilling.

Lt Col Tim Spicer asserts that the soldiers who shot an unarmed teenager in the back, having searched him, did no wrong. In our view this is a totally unsuitable individual to be awarded such a potentially controversial contract in Iraq. Individuals linked to private security companies have been linked to allegations of torture and murder in Iraq. The US Government and President Bush can ill afford the possibility of future scandals in particular where you have been forewarned that private security in Iraq is the responsibility of a company led by an individual who asserts that soldiers under his command and who commit murder should not be subject to the rule of law. This administration and the Government Accountability Office will not be in a position to plead ignorance to a future Congressional or Senate Committee should it find itself investigating allegations of human rights abuses by private security companies.


Fancy Meeting You Here, Lieutenant Colonel Spicer

Now this is an interesting story.

Readers of the old blog may remember, way back in early 2004, that I spent some time chasing a story that, for reasons I never understood, wound up petering out.

The story was that a plane full of mercs was detained in Zimbabwe on its way to capture the president of Equatorial Guinea in a bloodless coup (Plan B was a bloodful coup). What made the story really interesting was that according to one press report out of Barbados, the plane's point of origin was an Air Force base in North Carolina.

Immediately after that piece of information was published, the story more or less disappeared from the US press. No one ever mentioned this report outside of Barbados, to my knowledge.

I spent a lot of time trying to research and report on the story myself. I talked to the original owner of the plane, who said he knew fuck all about the whole thing, and I believed him. So that was a dead end.

I talked to the new owners of the plane, and they were very polite and responsive and for obvious reasons they were uninterested in telling me anything at all. Surprisingly they did answer factual questions and they answered them truthfully, with one possible exception that I'll get into in a later post.

The interesting part was who the new owners of the plane turned out to be - Sandline International, a paramilitary organization affiliated with Lt. Col Tim Spicer, who is quoted in the piece linked from Kos.

Just as I was getting somewhere in my investigation, Sandline International suddenly dried up and blew away. You can check their website here.

Now that Spicer is back in the news, I'm feeling a strong pull to get back into this story, easily the most complicated and interesting story I've ever pursued. I don't really have the time right now, but when has that stopped me before? Stay tuned.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Interesting Non-Debate

Well, the call for a debate on an immediate Iraq pullout was a bit of a bust. The responses ranged from "you're right, out now" to "maybe it is time to consider getting out now."

All the posts were interesting (except one that I deleted, heading off Gresham at the pass), but there were two contributions that I wanted to share on the front page:

Heatkernel provides a link to a very thoughtful Salon article regarding the dim prospects for any foreseeable benefit accruing from a continued American presence in Iraq. I'm not endorsing the article wholeheartedly as I have some disagreements with it, but hopefully I can get into that later. It is a very clear and compelling case for withdrawal no matter how you slice it.

Also, Uncle Kevin came through with an interesting analogy that I really like. I particularly like it because this principle is in a way the other side of the coin to a principle he elucidated to me when I was about 15, and that lecture has stayed with me for 14 years and given me a lot of insight into various problems.

Uncle Kevin said:

What we have here is clash between the "Pottery Barn" rule and the the "Humpty Dumpty" rule. Just because we "broke it" doesn't mean we can fix it.

The current argument for staying is to complete the process that Wolfowitz and company started. Basically, that would be constructing a government from scratch. They would argue it takes time and that they are meeting their "milestones".

What you are arguing is a classic systems engineering predicament. If one completes a flawed process will one have a flawed product? In otherwords, can you do everything right, and still get it wrong. Managers argue that no process is perfect so it is valid to execute a flawed process or nothing would ever get accomplished. My problem with this argument, in this context, is that not all processes will accomplish something. Proven processes can accomplish something. That's how we know how to cook. But just throwing food on the stove doesn't necessarily accomplish anything.

There are precious few, if any, examples of the current strategy actually accomplishing what we claim to be pursuing, and plenty of them to the contrary. However, arguing the Humpty Dumpty rule does pit the "it can't be done" crowd against the "hey, at least we're trying" bunch. And usually someone trying gets more support than effectively a "nay sayer".

Friday, November 18, 2005

Why Murtha is Right

The title of this post is lifted from a Newsweek article of the same name.

The body of the text is lifted from the comments to the previous post.


Let those of us who continue to call for an pullout from Iraq beginning today concede an important point:

It is completely, totally, criminally irresponsible to destroy a country and then leave it in chaos. There is absolutely no question about that. Here, then, is the question - the question no one who supports the indefinite continuance of a U.S. war in Iraq seems to be willing or able to answer.

The consequences of a U.S. pullout from Iraq beginning in November 2003 may well have been dire. By all serious accounts, the consequences of a U.S. pullout beginning today, two years later, would undoubtedly be much more dire.

What, specifically, do we expect to happen that will reverse this trend? When, specifically, will the trend reverse, and how many U.S. soldiers will have to die before those consequences sink back down to around the level they were two years and over a thousand US troops ago?

Put another way, those very few of us who were calling for a US pullout from Iraq were assured that by this point, Iraq would be closer to stability. We know today the opposite is true. Now, many more people, majority in some surveys, have joined the call for a pullout beginning today. Again we are told that Iraq, at some point in the future, will be more stable than it is today.

What caused those who argued against a pullout in 2003 to get it wrong, and what have they changed about their reasoning that allows them to get it right now?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

With Us or With the Wingers

As news junkies already know, a hawkish Democratic senator has called for a more or less immediate pullout from Iraq. There is much beard-pulling about this in the liberal commentariat, while on the right there's, well, take a look.

And I thought that we would talk a little bit about what's at stake, because I think that the attack on 9/11 is something that Americans have not forgotten, and I think they understand that the aggressive operations of America's military have helped to keep the insurgents in the war against terror off balance.

That's why Americans today are able to go to parks, go to schools, go to the grocery store, live life without fear of having a second 9/11 attacks, and that's why four years have expired without a second attack on our homeland: because we've aggressively projected America's fighting forces in the theaters in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they are doing a superb job.

I post this not so that we bearded liberal folk can laugh at the silliness of the Republicans. Yes, the very first "substantive point" (loose terminology) made in this press conference is "Nine Eleven!! Nine Eleven!! Terra!!" and that's darkly humorous in its hamhanded wingnuttitude.

But the real point of this post is directed to anyone who reads this blog who is not currently strongly in favor of an immediate pullout from Iraq. As longtime readers know, I have argued forcefully for just such a pullout for over a year, and continue to advocate it. Since I have begun advocating an immediate pullout, the situation in Iraq has, by all serious accounts, become much worse.

I renew that call today and would like any liberal or moderate readers who favor continuing the American military presence in Iraq to read the above-linked PC carefully and decide whether you agree with its basic thrust.

If you don't, please realize that what you have just read represents the public case for your position. If you feel uneasy about that, you need to do some serious thinking and decide whether or not you really favor what it is you think you favor.

Just a thought.

Houston Chronicle Mentions Protocol III

The Houston Chronicle is, as far as I can tell, the only U.S. publication to date to make reference to Protocol III of the Geneva Conventions in covering the white phosphorous issue.

Anyone who has seen this elsewhere (in a US publication) please let me know.

Articles mentioning Protocol III in the context of the white phosphorous attacks on Fallujah have also appeared in Turkey, England, Scotland, Iran, and Italy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Press Laziness Lets War Criminals off the Hook

Forbes has an article today in which a US military spokesperson plays dumb about white phosphorous.

'We don't target any civilians with any of our weapons, and to suggest US forces were targeting civilians with these weapons would be wrong,' he said.

Now of course it's against military policy to target civilians with any weapon. But as we noted yesterday, that's not the issue here. Someone needs to ask the Pentagon whether it has a policy of using white phosphorous in cities in violation of the Geneva Convention.

The relevant protocol is easy to find. Surely reporters covering this story have researched this and read up on it. Right?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

White Phosphorous - Setting the Record Straight

The Pentagon today has finally admitted that White Phosphorous was used as a weapon in Fallujah.

The money quote is in the lead paragraph (gotta love the British press sometimes):

"It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants," spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable told the BBC.

From this we know that the 30% or so Americans (and higher percentage of bloggers, it seems) who will defend absolutely anything that the U.S. military does, no matter how heinous, are now required to lean pretty much exclusively on the "White Phosphorous is not a banned munition" argument.

It is true that White Phosphorous is not a banned munition. That's because its primary purpose - illumination - is specifically allowed under Protocol III of the Geneva Convention, even if there may be an incidental effect of fire, burns, etc.

HOWEVER, Protocol III also states the following:

It is prohibited in all circumstances to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by air-delivered incendiary weapons.

This ends the argument. The U.S. fired incendiary weapons into Fallujah, a densely populated city. It is illegal to fire incendiary weapons into a densely populated city. Period.

There are a lot of old teaching stories that deal with the human desire to argue. A man who fancies himself wise will come upon two men having an argument, and he'll explain the disagreement simply and clearly and in such a way as to moot the entire affair.

The men generally fall upon the "wise man" and kill him. What the wise man was not quite wise enough to realize is that the two mens' objective was to argue, not any higher goal.

This, at least in part, is the reason that you will not find any major newspaper that will print the portion of the Geneva convention I quote above. There's no angle in ending an argument definitively by pointing out the obvious.

NOTE: The U.S. has not ratified the portion of the Geneva convention that this is excerpted from. This makes the use of WP legal under US law. I would be overjoyed to see the White House mount this defense. It would be honest, and it would allow Americans to see what their government is really like. We have refused to sign this portion of the Geneva convention specifically so that we will be able to legally fire incendiary weapons into crowded cities, which activity of course has the entirely foreseeable consequence of burning to death many innocent men, women and children.

Liberal Hawks are Stupid

I don't have time to really break down this post by William Arkin on the Washington Post foreign policy blog. But if you read the whole thing you get an incredibly illuminating glance at just exactly what kind of analysis can pass for "serious."

At the Post, an opinion qualifies as "serious" as long as it accepts no moral or ethical constraints on U.S. foreign policy and concerns itself only with the practical consequences of that policy and its implementation.

In other words, shorter William Arkin:

Melting civilians to death with chemical weapons is bad because it means we might be losing.

Ye gods.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Great Movies

Today I was idly thinking about creating a list of my favorite movies. I figure it would take weeks to really get it down the way I want it... what a waste of time. Instead, here's a list of great movies off the top of my head. If you haven't seen any of them, check em out. Depressing cast to them today, for obvious reasons.

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhall)
Dead Man (Johnny Depp)
Broken Flowers (Bill Murray)
Trainspotting (Ewan McGregor)
Legally Blonde (Reese Witherspoon)
Leaving Las Vegas (Nicholas Cage)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Johnny Depp)
Bamboozled (Damon Wayans)
The Hours (Meryl Streep)
Pi (the guy who did Pi)



Goodness gracious.

ON EDIT - Scroll down to the "question of the day."

Welcome Washington Post Readers!

The Washington Post has a new "who's blogging" feature, and I'm one of the bloggers whose page they've linked to on the Roberts story. Unfortunately the functionality doesn't work quite right and it just points directly to the blog rather than the relevant post.

So if you're here from the WaPo and you didn't come here for some weepy bullshit about the Shins, try this link to the actual post in question.

Enjoy, and do come back! Feel free to leave a comment, though if you're interested in selling me some construction equipment, I've already got several magnanimous offers, thanks.

Dancing like the King of the Eyesores

Some things can't really be explained. Unfortunately for me, one thing I've never been able to explain is the deep sadness that infects me regularly. Only people who know me well even know this dull ache exists at all - it manifests itself usually as just irresponsible, callous or mean-spirited behaviour.

One of the reasons I started writing was that I wanted to find a way to describe this feeling that I have, that dominates me in my weaker moments. After all, my life is nothing so much as a story of running frantically from this feeling as if it were a burning building, then crawling back inside it like a child returning to the womb.

Grabbing hold of that ancestral yearning has proved much more difficult than I could have ever imagined. When I read old work of mine, I can see the truth I'm trying to excavate dancing just below the page, visible to me but hidden from everyone else.

In other words, through writing I've found a way to describe where I already am, not a way to get where I want to be. There may be a lesson there somewhere.

But never mind all that. Today I bring you a tiny window into the morphine that splashes in my heart when I'm "in it." It's an oldish song from a newish movie, a movie that could have been great, but in the end was just good. The director couldn't finish it off, probably because the material was too close to home, and too far from the truth.


Behold The Shins' "New Slang."

And because the diction can be tough, here's the key so you can follow along:

Gold teeth and a curse for this town were all in my mouth.
Only, i don't know how they got out, dear.
Turn me back into the pet that i was when we met.
I was happier then with no mind-set.

And if you'd 'a took to me like
A gull takes to the wind.
Well, i'd 'a jumped from my tree
And i'd a danced like the king of the eyesores
And the rest of our lives would 'a fared well.

New slang when you notice the stripes, the dirt in your fries.
Hope it's right when you die, old and bony.
Dawn breaks like a bull through the hall,
Never should have called
But my head's to the wall and i'm lonely.

And if you'd 'a took to me like
A gull takes to the wind.
Well, i'd 'a jumped from my tree
And i'd a danced like the kind of the eyesores
And the rest of our lives would 'a fared well.

God speed all the bakers at dawn may they all cut their thumbs,
And bleed into their buns 'till they melt away.

I'm looking in on the good life i might be doomed never to find.
Without a trust or flaming fields am i too dumb to refine?
And if you'd 'a took to me like
Well i'd a danced like the queen of the eyesores
And the rest of our lives would 'a fared well.

Stop and Think

Pat Roberts, chair of the Senate Intel committee, has learned a valuable lesson from this whole unprovoked war of agression business.

"I think a lot of us would really stop and think a moment before we would ever vote for war or to go and take military action," Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.) said on "Fox News Sunday."

Before we laugh too long at this guy, let's remember the gravity of the situation here. Our government unleashed a war that, in terms of civilian casualties, has brought the equivalent of ten September 11th attacks to bear upon innocent Iraqi civilians. That's not adjusting for population (which I find to be distasteful as it misunderstands the fact that each death is important for its own reasons.) That's the hard number, using the very most conservative estimates available. That's the dead bottom of the number of innocent people we might have killed in Iraq. The real number could be ten times that (that is, one hundred September 11th attacks,) we don't know.

Leaving aside the fact that people (including me, though I'm consistent) stated over and over that the September 11th attacks could never be justified, the only thing that could possibly remotely justify this foreseeable consequence of our war is if that war had been undertaken for rock-solid reasons of international security and stability.

Anybody who can look into their heart and say that the preceding condition has been met (and they do exist, in great numbers), good for you. For the rest of us, let us sit back a moment and digest the fact that the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence admitted this weekend on national TV that he voted to invade and occupy a country that no one ever asserted had ever attacked the United States, and that he voted without even thinking about it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your Republican leadership.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Klosterman - A New Hero

It's been a great long while since I read a new author who describes me when he's describing himself. Except for the part about being apolitical, but even that is not totally wrong. I... just read it. Genius stuff.

Klosterman Channels the Ape Man.

This quote is fabulous, and quite possibly cannot be improved upon.

"How can you be against this?" my forward-thinking associate always asks. "Why would you prefer a system where referees get things wrong? How can anybody be idealistically against accuracy?" I counter by pointing out how instant replay slows the game down (which it does), and how it stops referees from making decisive decisions (which is becoming more and more common), and that any game played by imperfect humans should only be controlled by equally imperfect humans (which -- I suppose -- is kind of like arguing against stem-cell research). Certainly, part of me believes all of those things. But part of me also knows those three responses overlook some rather obvious truths, and part of me knows that tendency is conscious. And the reason I am willing to overlook what's obvious is because I would rather understand an old problem than feel alienated by a flawed solution. Which, I suppose, is precisely what conservatism is.

Exactly. Exactly.

Two Hard and Fast Rules

1) No matter how hungry you still feel after that first one, do not, repeat DO NOT eat a second reuben.
2) Supporting war means never having to say you're sorry.

On the first topic, bleauggghhhhh.. I feel awful.

On the second, I think we're now seeing the ultimate consequence (you know, other than tens of thousands of innocent people killed for no good reason) of the Democrats' craven support for Bush's Iraq invasion. Afraid of being labeled soft in the short term, the Dems have provided the GOP with talking points in the long term that - in a refreshing departure from usual GOP talking points - are completely true.

Democrats DID support President Bush's Iraq war. Democrats DID hype the nonexistent threat posed by Saddam's nonexistent nuclear weapons, and they did it in the basis of the same shitty evidence as the Republicans.

Of course, there were some Democrats who didn't. In a sane world, we would be turning to those people as a party and asking them to take the lead on castigating the Republicans. But no. We've got Delaware Joe Biden and the rest of the guys who all couldn't wait to suck Bush's dick in 2002 lining up to pretend like they were dragged kicking and screaming into this war.

Some American generation, some day, is going to have to face up to the real implications of this country's cultural bias in favor of aggressive war. Until that happens, there will be another Iraq, and another, and another. Until, of course, we finally invade a country that really DOES have a nuclear weapon. And then our last chance will finally be gone.

Ignorant, self-important, warmongering fuckasses.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

After Further Review...

Apparently they aren't into Instant Replay at the White House. I can sympathize - I've always felt that video replay basically gives the officials two chances to screw up instead of just one.

But when it comes to official transcripts, it can be hard to explain why the documents can't be squared with the video. Editor and Publisher has the story complete with a humorously snarky headline, and American Progress has the video.

Doubly hilarious because the dispute is over a quote about "accuracy."

Now I'd like to give a caveat here - it could very well be that the White House is right, and McClellan did say "I don't think that's accurate" and the "I don't think that's" wasn't picked up by the microphone. But this is a good example of the "calling in sick when you're well" phenomenon. If I call in sick to work once a week, and then get some rare disease, my employer is going to think I'm goldbricking even though I'm actually sick.

The White House spins, prevaricates, obfuscates and denies reality so often that it's impossible to give them the benefit of the doubt in a situation like this.

Too bad for them.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Gresham's Law - And a Thank You

Recently I've realized that I need to give up message boards again. I've had to do this in the past, and I always backslide. This time it's going to be more difficult, because I don't plan to give up reading blogs. I do, however, plan to give up reading the comments.


Well, I guess I'd break the question into two parts. First, the question is why do I read message boards to begin with? The answer is that there are people out there who really have a lot to say, and have an interesting perspective. The prospect of reading a debate or discussion among such people is very attractive.

Unfortunately, such debates cannot really occur. They may begin as such, but a version of Gresham's Law invariably takes over - Bad Money drives out Good Money.

Every discussion thread always devolves into an argument among the three biggest idiots on the thread. 100% of threads are like this. There is no way for a serious discussion to occur on any message board that's frequented by a large number of people.

But those first few posts suck you in, and soon you find yourself wanting to respond to one of the idiots. It's maddening.

So in addition to notifying everyone of my swearing off of message boards, I also wanted to thank my own commenters, who have made sure that Gresham's Law cannot take hold on THESE comment threads. We've taken a little troll bait in our day, but as far as I know we have no regulars who qualify as idiots.

So thanks, all you non-idiots out there. The Ape Man appreciates your erudite presence on his comment threads.

[edited to remove the nonsense phrase "frequented regularly."]

Judy Gone

Judith Miller has finally been fired for her role in causing the NY Times to once again be the laughingstock of the journalistic world.

That's not exactly how it's being presented, of course, but I think we can all read between the lines.

There's a lot of funny stuff here, mostly in the form of Miller quotes:

I have chosen to resign because over the last few months, I have become the news, something a New York Times reporter never wants to be."

Yeah, Judy Miller just loathes the spotlight. Her and Terrell Owens.

Though some colleagues disagreed with my decision to testify, for me to have stayed in jail after achieving my conditions would have seemed self-aggrandizing martyrdom or worse, a deliberate effort to obstruct the prosecutor's inquiry into serious crimes.

Pure comedy. Miller is mind-bending in her ability to live in an absolute fantasy world with regard to the essential framework of the story in which she is operating. Reminds me of, I don't know, some kind of neocon wingnut.

Good riddance to bad rubbish. Though of course she'll be on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal in ten months or less.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Carry Me Back to Ole Virginia

As most of you already know, I've recently relocated to Richmond, VA, and I've recently found out that my first guvna, will be a Democratic guvna.

Life is Sweet.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Hiatus

Very sorry for the extended hiatus. I've recently relocated to Richmond, VA and things are very hectic. Next post should be a real humdinger. Stay tuned.