Archive for October 25th, 2006|Daily archive page

Page A15 = Not News

Retorical question: Why did the Washington Post run the article about the drop in the US ranking on freedom of the press on page A15?

Some poor countries, such as Mauritania and Haiti, improved their record in a global press freedom index this year, while France, the United States and Japan slipped further down the scale of 168 countries rated, the group Reporters Without Borders said yesterday.

The news media advocacy organization said the most repressive countries in terms of journalistic freedom — such as North Korea, Cuba, Burma and China — made no advances at all.

The organization’s fifth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index tracks actions against news media through the end of September. The group noted its concern over the declining rankings of some Western democracies as well as the persistence of other countries in imposing harsh punishments on media that criticize political leaders.

On the other hand, this really got Spiegel-Online’s panties in a bunch. They ran at least two top stories and seemed scandalized. (Germany landed on place 23, a full 30 places in front of the US.) Finland, Iceland, Ireland and the Netherlands tied for number one! Hurrah Iceland!

The original press release from Reporters without Borders can be found here and here is the technique used to create the ranking.

In the case of Germany, it seems the lower ranking has to do with the BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst, like a Teutonic CIA/FBI) monitoring journalists and keeping secret dossiers about them. Oh, that and the fact that the government doesn’t answer questions. Those pesky little ‘No Comment’ comments. Unless, of course, it’s in the government’s interest to comment. (Yawn)

The reasons for the US fall from grace are less than new. In fact, the reasons are so well known, the Washington Post didn’t even feel the whole thing was really news and buried the story on page A15. No freedom of the press in the US. Just not news.

And He Didn’t Even Call Back!

Some people have interesting lives.

One of those people is Julia Allison, who apparently briefly dated Senator candidate and current Congressman Harold Ford Jr. She does sum up the relationship nicely

As I said in a previous interview, he’s a politician.  After living in DC for almost five years, I would contend that they’re all douchebags, every one of them – Harold’s no more douchebaggy or less douchebaggy than any of the others.  I make an exception for Barack Obama, whom I worship slightly (how original, I know).

First, is douchebaggy a real word? Wouldn’t douchebagish be better?

But anyway. Ms. Allison now been named by the NRSC in a press release as the target of Harold Ford Jr.’s ‘nonexclusive courtship.’ Then she made Newsweek, then she was Wonkette-ed. Wow, she has a life.

Check out her side of the story. And her really cool pink ski pants!

God and Sports

Teresa, of  Anomalous Data fame, has a post up about her take on being raised a Christian. She also points to a rather disturbed (um – disturbing?) article comparing faith and sports. Something along the lines that Satan is the Pittsburgh Steelers (reading this made me wonder if this person a Broncos fan), we are on a small local team and Satan will win because he’s better. Wait no. Um… The whole thing was viserally upsetting.

Trees sums up her response on this idea with,

You don’t need God sitting on your shoulder with a harp every minute, day in and day out to be a good person.  The ability is within you.  In you mind and your heart.  Just do it.  Quit blaming your human nature, as if it only had one side, the bad one with the base urges.  Quit blaming your connection to God, as if somehow your God Pipeline got clogged that day.

It’s in you.  Everything that you are capable of is in you.  What you do is your decision.

I happen to believe that God gave us everything we need.  But you don’t have to believe that to use it.  However you got it, you have it.  You have love, power, reason, discernment, judgment, ability, drive, and resiliency.   Use it.

Her post is excellent and I strongly recommend reading it.

But on the other hand, some people are losers, others are made into losers. Not by a God, but by the very system put into place to help. The LA Times is reporting about poor people being ‘dumped’ on skid row after being released from the hospital.

The LAPD says it has opened its first criminal investigation into the dumping of homeless people on skid row after documenting five cases in which ambulances dropped off patients there Sunday. Police said the patients, who had been discharged from a Los Angeles hospital, told them they did not want to be taken downtown.

Los Angeles Police Department officials, who photographed and videotaped the five alleged dumping cases, called it a major break in their yearlong effort to reduce the number of people left on skid row by hospitals, police departments and other institutions.

Though police have documented other cases of hospitals dropping off recently discharged patients in the district, “this is the most blatant effort yet by a hospital to dump their patients on skid row against their will,” LAPD Capt. Andrew Smith said.

The article continues by pointing out that these people weren’t necessary indigent. Some not only had somewhere to go but asked to be taken there.

One patient the LAPD interviewed on videotape, 62-year-old Marcus Joe Licon, told officers that he “never wanted to go” to skid row and asked that he be dropped off at his son’s house. According to LAPD records, Licon said he was at the hospital because of problems with his knee and was released after they gave him “some painkillers and some medication.”

The real losers here aren’t the patients being dumped on skid row. They are victims – not losers. The real losers are the people doing the dumping. Those people who think that life is something that can be tossed aside, like a soda can out of a moving car. Just like the can, these people should be someone else’s problem, something for someone else to pick up. The real losers here are the hospital administrators who would define each of those dumped as ‘losers.’

So, maybe, just maybe, some people do need a God to become better. Not Trees. And probably not Brad Locke our misguided God/Sports fan. And God knows, Marcus Joe Licon probably isn’t a natural born loser.

But those motherfucking hospital administrators are losers. And I very and truly doubt that they have any love, power, reason, discernment, judgment, ability, drive, or resiliency – they are simply scum. Natural born scum.

And maybe a dose of God would do those administrators some good. Maybe a baseball bat would be better. And maybe, I can make God/Sports comparisons too.

Sinking in a Sea of Sand

The new policy from the Bush administration is becoming clear. When staying the course is politically wrong, change course; when all else goes wrong, claim something else was always planned; when the ship is sinking, find a new ship and say the old one belonged to Bill Clinton.

The LA Times is headlining today about a new counter-insurgency training base in Kansas,

When the Army and Marine Corps decided to rewrite their field manual on how to fight insurgents last year, [Lt. Col. John] Nagl was chosen as one of its authors. His doctoral thesis on guerrilla wars was just republished in paperback with an approving forward by the Army’s chief of staff.

But when Nagl’s two-year stint in the Pentagon ended this month, he did not, like most accomplished soldiers of his rank, take command of an armored battalion headed back to Iraq. Instead, he shipped out to this sprawling base in rural Kansas where the Army is attempting what some consider its most ambitious structural change since the Vietnam War.

Here, amid rolling fields dotted by scores of quickly built barracks, the Army is building a training base that by early next year will be turning as many as 2,000 of its most promising midlevel officers into military advisors every two months, most of them headed to Iraq.

The mission reflects the U.S. military’s vision of its long-range role in Iraq — as advisors for local forces who will be doing the actual fighting. But it represents something of a gamble as well: The effort is sucking thousands out of their normal combat deployments at a time when American forces are facing personnel shortages and violence in Iraq is surging.

On the other side of the country, the New York Times mentions the use of advisers as well.

As [Gen. George W. Casey Jr.] said Tuesday, “It’s going to take another 12 to 18 months or so till, I believe, the Iraqi security forces are completely capable of taking over responsibility for their own security, still probably with some level of support from us, but that will be directly asked for by the Iraqis.”

Certainly, the Iraqi security forces have made some gains. The Iraqi military is larger and better trained, and has taken control of more territory in the past year. Some Iraqi soldiers have fought well. But in Baghdad, which American commanders have defined as the central front in the war, it is still a junior partner.

To improve the Iraqi forces, the American military is inserting teams of military advisers with Iraqi units. American officials also say their Iraqi counterparts are trying to use the lure of extra pay to persuade reluctant troops to come to the aid of their capital.

Last week all the papers including the Washington Post were commenting that “Stay the course” was finally and truly dead. Indeed, most Republicans, both those up for re-election and those supporting them have already given up the fight.

Many senior Republicans with close ties to the administration also believe that essential to a successful strategy in Iraq are an aggressive new diplomatic initiative to secure a Middle East peace settlement and a new effort to engage Iraq’s neighbors, such as Syria and Iran, in helping stabilize the country — perhaps through an international conference.

One point on which adherents of these sharply different approaches appear to agree is that “staying the course” is fast becoming a dead letter. “I don’t believe that we can continue based on an open-ended, unconditional presence,” said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a centrist Maine Republican. “I don’t think there’s any question about that, that there will be a change” in the U.S. strategy in Iraq after next month’s elections.

Of course, anyone who missed this week’s sniping about George W. Bush’s comment claiming he had never said “Stay the Course” must be truly deaf.

Taken individually, one could say these are simply isolated raindrops in an otherwise arid political plain. But taken together, they might seem to actually point to a plan. Augment the Iraqi forces with American advisers and pull out the main body of troops. Not only is the administration willing to change course, it might have a direction.

Someone who was there and can report first hand would be Phil Carter. He’s a lawyer who returned to uniform and spent the last year in Iraq advising courts in Diyala together with one of the State Departement’s Provincial Reconstruction Teams. His article at Slate (he also had an Op-Ed in the New York Times, Hat Tip: DefenseTech) recommends exactly this strategy. He is also well aware of the current limitations in the application if not the theory.

To combat the insurgency, America must adopt a more holistic approach than simply building up the country’s security forces. We have the seeds of this in Iraq today—the State Department’s Provincial Reconstruction Teams. I worked closely with the PRT in Diyala to advise the Iraqi courts, jails, and police, and I saw their tremendous potential. However, having been hamstrung by bureaucratic infighting between the State and Defense departments, these teams now lack the authority, personnel, and resources to run the reconstruction effort effectively. America should reach back to one of its positive lessons from Vietnam, the “Civil Operations and Rural Development Support” program. There, the United States created a unified organization to manage all military and civilian pacification programs, recognizing that only a unified effort could bring the right mix of political, economic, and military solutions to bear on problems.

Although we copied some parts of the CORDS model in Afghanistan and Iraq when we created the PRTs, we did not go nearly far enough. It has become cliché to say that the insurgency requires a political solution; in practical terms, that means subordinating military force to political considerations and authority. Today’s PRT chiefs need to have command authority over everything in their provinces, much as ambassadors have traditionally exercised command over all military activity in their countries. We must also empower the PRTs to actually do something besides diplomacy—that means money. Like battlefield commanders, PRT chiefs need deep pockets of petty cash (what the military calls the Commander’s Emergency Response Program fund) to start small reconstruction projects and local initiatives that will have an immediate and tangible impact.

It seems to look forward, one needs to learn the lessons of the past and apply the technologies of the future.

Whether this new course will achieve what America (the American people – not the Bush administration) would consider to be victory in Iraq remains to be seen. The administration has already lost Iraq; the neocon experiment has failed miserably. For the administration, victory would have been an almost complete withdrawal of all troops in late 2004. It didn’t happen. Everything now is just damage control. For the American people, an Iraqi victory means peace and stablity in the country and the American soldiers back home. This is a hope shared, I’m sure, by most of the Iraqi populous.

I’m afraid anything now is too little, too late. No change of strategy can alter the course of events. The Iraqi civil war will have to play out with the hundreds of thousands of fatalities and the ultimate dissolution of Iraq into its components. This will be the fault of a few political theorists in Washington. But at least there is some understanding in those same circles that the original idea was flawed. Using ideas from Vietnam, the last major insurgent war America fought, is a good plan. It means looking to reality to find things that work. But than again, America also ‘lost’ Vietnam.

It’s like piloting an American Titanic through a sea of sand, all warnings were ignored – it was full steam ahead. The Titanic changed course at last minute too. It didn’t help either.

Losing Spirit?

Oh, Oh! It seems NASA/JPL is having some problems with Spirit, the rover on Mars.

“Spirit has been displaying some anomalous behavior,” said Project Manager John Callas, who noted the rover’s unsuccessful attempts to flip itself over and otherwise damage its scientific instruments. “And the thousand or so daily messages of ‘STILL NO WATER’ really point to a crisis of purpose.”

The “robot geologist,” as NASA describes Spirit, has been operating independently for over 990 Martian sols—nearly the equivalent of three Earth years. However, scientists estimate that, in recent weeks, Spirit has been functioning on the level of a rover who has been on Mars for approximately 6,160 sols.

The Onion article later continues with,

Project organizers said the most distressing instance of erratic behavior occurred last week, when images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed that Spirit had scrawled the message ‘FUCK MARS’ in the thick, iron oxide dust that gives the planet its characteristic red color.

The fun part of that last comment is that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter really has managed to take excellent close ups of Opportunity, Spirit’s sister rover (very large version). The current image shows not only Opportunity next to Victoria crater but also the tracks leading up to it. Even if the mission engineers didn’t think up any appropriate comments to write in the Martian sand/dust.

The amount of data returned in the last couple of years from these two robots will drive many, many PhD thesis. It is an example of the best bang for the buck when spending money on space research. People (or pigs) in space might seem sexy, but the amount of science verses the amount of support necessary isn’t worth it. And there is no way a manned mission to Mars could have been extended this long.

This is an excellent example of the Bush administrations blind eye to reality and not politics. People on the moon or a manned mission to Mars make for good headlines; they resurrect feelings of the zenith of American scientific power. Unfortunately, the nadir is that Bush decided to plan this mission without funding, interest or understanding. It is a little like David Kuo’s Faith Based Initiatives – “Just give me a fucking manned thing on Mars!”

At least the Rovers aren’t as crazy. And I, for one, still haven’t lost Spirt.

 Hat Tip: Phil Plait/Bad Astronomy