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Monday, May 31, 2004


In the may 31 New York Times web page
Stephanie Rosenbloom quotes Bush in a very brief article
"Debt to Veterans Is 'Beyond Our Power to Repay,' Bush Says"

I suppose it would be unprofessional or something to note that Bush (like Robrt Waldmann) isn't in favor of doing all we can
to repay it, as noted in the Washington Post and uhm the New York Times. Certainly it would be improper to note how unwise it is for President Bush to use phrases like "beyond our power to repay" when investors who might take them literally are listening.
Hmmm Chalabi needed money so he decided to atack Clinton

Jane Mayer's excellent and important article in the New Yorker includes this very interesting passage.

Chalabi was running out of money, however, and he needed new patrons. Brooke said that he and Chalabi hit upon a notion that, he admitted, was “naked politics”: the I.N.C.’s disastrous history of foiled C.I.A. operations under the Clinton Administration could be turned into a partisan weapon for the Republicans. “Clinton gave us a huge opportunity,” Brooke said. “We took a Republican Congress and pitted it against a Democratic White House. We really hurt and embarrassed the President.” The Republican leadership in Congress, he conceded, “didn’t care that much about the ammunition. They just wanted to beat up the President.” Nonetheless, he said, senior Republican senators, including Trent Lott and Jesse Helms, “were very receptive, right away.”

All very clear. Chalabi has alienated his patrons at the CIA and so he decides to get into the Clinton bashing biz. The Clinton bashers are totally cynical so they get along fine.

There is one odd bit. What exactly does this have to do with money ? Is it just that the Iraq Liberation Act was payment for Clinton bashing services rendered ? Or did some rich Clinton haters pay up front ?

I stress that I am in no way hinting that I suspect that Richard Mellon Scaife is a friend of Iranian spies.
It's official The Washington Post editorial board writes
"Mr. Kerry is in the process of setting out what looks like a sober and substantial alternative to Mr. Bush's foreign policy, one that correctly identifies the incumbent's greatest failing"

and closes

"Mr. Kerry's argument is that he has a better chance of making it work. It's not a bold offer to voters -- but it's probably the right one."

So it looks like the are endorsing Kerry.

I wonder if Charles Krauthammer finds the new tone agreable. This is a matter of great urgency to me, because I suffer from neurotic leftiness and I think that Dr Krauthammer is the only psychiatrist who can help me.

I have an offer Dr Kruathammer, quit the Post and practice psychoanalysis. I am willing to pay you to analyse my neurotic inability to understand that you are always right about anything.

Let no one say that I am not willing to suffer a fate worse than death for the cause.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Spencer Ackerman's excellent article on the Iyad Alawi's "zipless coup" contains a very odd assertion which caught my picky picky eye.

"An ABC News poll from March found that the number of Iraqis who trust Allawi above other leaders was statistically insignificant."

This could only mean statistically insignicantly different from 0. In fact, even one such response rejects the null that the true number is zero at any confidence interval. This is obvious. Since at least one Iraqi who was polled said Allawi, then out of all Iraqis at least one would answer Allawi. The reported result * should be interpreted as more than zero but less that 0.5%.

Pollsters tend to report "sampling standard error" as if it is constant, but, in fact, it depends on the fraction of the population which would respond positively. The sampling error as reported is useful for testing the null that the fraction of the population which would respond positively is 0.5. In general the sampling standard error is proportional to the square root of p*(1-p)/n where n is the number interviewed and p is the fraction of the poopulation. Thus if the true fraction of Iraqis who trusted Allawi most was zero, the sampling standard error would be zero.

In contrast, since the fraction of respondents who report trusting George W. Bush most is exactly 0, the null that the true fraction of Iraqis who trust Bush most is zero can not be rejected.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Everyone is dumping on the New York Times. Peter Johnson at USA Today complains that the editors' apology for hyping bogus Iraqi WMD stories is insufficient writing that
" its message was obtuse at best.

"The Times' exercise would leave any less-than-knowledgeable reader wondering what the hell they were talking about," says former Newsweek chief Osborn Elliot."

Uh Mr Johnson, you have a point, but if you are criticizing the New York Times it is very obtuse to confuse "obtuse" and "abstruse."

More seriously Johnson quotes a very dubious claim without mentioning the possibility that it might be false

"Unlike Blair's deceptions, Miller's lies provided the pretext for war. Her lies cost lives. If only the Times had done the same kind of investigation of Miller's reports as it had with Blair," says Amy Goodman, author of The Exception to the Rulers, which takes Miller to task for her stories. "It's outrageous to have a simple editor's note buried on page A10, while their repetition of the administrations' lies was consistently given top billing on the front pages of the paper."

Goodman's assertion is that Miller lied, that is that she knew that the claims she was repeating were false. This is not proven. There is a difference between being credulous and lying, as there is a difference between repeating dubious claims and lying. The comparison with Blaire who knew his invented stories were invented makes it clear that this is not a slip of the tongue or my misunderstanding.

Goodman must understand this distinction and either has evidence that Miller knew the claims she repeated were false or she is lying. However, Johnson is certainly not lying when he quotes her (assuming he is quoting her correctly).

The difference between an error and a lie is not abstruse like the distinction between obtuse and abstruse.
Second Google test of the claim by DOUGLAS JEHL and ANDREA ELLIOTT
on the New York Times web page that "To date, there have been no accusations of serious prisoner abuse in connection with interrogations at Guantánamo. Most of the criticisms have generally focused on the lack of legal rights and due process and the indefinite nature of the detentions."

After the first proof that this claim is false from the first hit of my first google search for "release guantanamo british" (see below)other hits were so and so demands release of British prisoners in Guantanamo. This time I googled "released guantanamo british " and got google results which clearly proves DOUGLAS JEHL and ANDREA ELLIOTT's simple assertion of facct false one two three
four five six seven eight
nine ten

I admit that I am lazy. The only reason it took me 45 minutes to prove 11 times that a claim in the New York Times is definitely false is that I took a long coffee break and type slowly.

update: On the other hand DOUGLAS JEHL, ANDREA ELLIOTT , Eric Schmitt and Leslie Wayne clealry did a lot of work on the article and managed to get a quote from "one member of the 377th [Military Police] Company" who had been ordered not to talk to reporters while 6 followed the order and refused to talk. Since you can't get phone numbers for memberrs for members of the famous 377th Military Police Company they are clearly more hard working than I am (that is saying very little make it much much much more hard working). I guess the false claim was a slip. I will update the NY Times page to see if it is corrected.

update: 18:19 Rome time the New York Times still claims "To date, there have been no accusations of serious prisoner abuse in connection with interrogations at Guantánamo."

update: 19:19 Rome time the New York Times still claims "To date, there have been no accusations of serious prisoner abuse in connection with interrogations at Guantánamo." and Douglas Jehl haw written another article, this time with Kate Zernike. The econd article is really important. I like your stuff Mr Jehl but, you know, don't let quantity of sentences come at the cost of quality control. It would be a shame if all the excellent work were undermined by one silly sentence, not that there is much chance of that given how few people read this blog.

Update: 0:22 AM Sunday May 30th Rome time. Still no change the article still reports "To date, there have been no accusations of serious prisoner abuse in connection with interrogations at Guantánamo. " I guess by now it is a matter of permanent record in our Newspaper of record. Sigh
write "To date, there have been no accusations of serious prisoner abuse in connection with interrogations at Guantánamo. Most of the criticisms have generally focused on the lack of legal rights and due process and the indefinite nature of the detentions."

This is a very clear and firm statement. They do not write that there have been no accusations demonstrated valid without doubt by photographic evidence. They do not even write that there have been no credible accusations, they write there have been no accusations.

This claim does not pass the Google test. I recalled that British prisoners alleged abuse after they had been relesed and googled "release guantanamo british "
The first hit was an al Jazeera webb article which contains the assertion
Two former British detainees released from Guantanomo Bay have told Australian television about Habib's treatment.

Jamal al-Harith told the Seven Network that Habib had been subjected to beatings and four days of sleep depravation.

"Blood was coming out of his nose and out of his ears," al-Harith said.

"They were moving him out back and forth, cell to cell every two hours and he wasn't allowed to sleep. He was very tired and sometimes he complained he couldn't walk, but they'd drag him."

Al-Harith, who said he was held in a cell near Habib in Guantanamo claimed that prostitutes were used to humiliate prisoners during interrogations.

Another British former Guantanamo Bay detainee said Habib was abused by his captors.

"I could see him being dragged by chains that were attached to his feet and him screaming in agony," Tariq Dergul told Channel Seven.

Theses are clearly "accusation] of serious prisoner abuse in connection with interrogations at Guantánamo"

The simple assertion of fact made by DOUGLAS JEHL and ANDREA ELLIOTT is demonstrably false.

Elapsed time to prove a blatent falsehood was published by the New York times less than 3 minutes. Slow typing means this was posted 15 minutes after I read the claim in the New York Times.

This is supposed to be our newspaper of record. Shouldn't it take more than 3 minutes to prove that it publishes falsehoods ?

update: Dear reader. You almost certainly came here clicking on a link on Eschaton. Thanks Atrios. I am grateful but greedy so I would like to try to get you to look at more than one page. Atrides might also be interested in main, my follow up, a commenter asked where I got the phrase "sleep depravation" I reply in comments but I forgot this, my definition of subliminable,
, The suprising scoops that Bush decided not to attack Ansar al Islam dated 2002, 2003 and 2004, The Gallup likely voter anomaly, Blogging against excesses in the war on terror with one hand tied behind my back
Mark Kleiman liked this comment on his views of preventing torture, If I am right this might be a scoop if we can trust Chalabi, important news on lung cancer plus some statistical innumeracy in the NY Times I agree with Ahmad Chalabi, I wonder when Safire will denounce the accretion of acrimonious acronyms
the left blogosphere, weird headlines
You probably didn't read it here first, but the theory that Michael Ledeen is an Iranian spy has been winning a lot of converts lately, including Matthew Yglesias (who might actually conceivably not be completely joking), Jim Henley (who is clearly joking perhaps because he has a heavier hand with the irony than Matt), and Atrios (who claims he isn't sure we are all joking anymore, not that he knows who I am).

Seriously has anyone else reported that we know that Chalabi told the Iranians we had broken their code ? If true this should be kept secret so they think they can trick us by using a broken code. I have seen the claim reported only by Ledeen (twice).

And have you noticed that Michael Ledeen looks Iranian ?
I mean so do I, and I am not an Iranian OR an Iranian spy, but, I mean, where did he get that tan ?

Update: Michale Ledeen is no longer alone (if he ever was) Jane Mayer writes in the New Yorker that "According to a Chalabi aide, the I.N.C. has heard that it will be accused of telling Iran’s intelligence service that the U.S. had cracked one of its internal codes."

I suppose the cat is well out of the bag, but I wonder how the US found out about this. I assume that Michael Ledeens straw man who thinks that the Iranians used the broken code to report that Chalabi had told them that the code was broken is not only nonexistent but also wrong. Iranian intelligence take note, I don't know squat, but if the US found out via a source in Iran that source is likely to be rather peeved with Ledeen and Mayer.

I'm sure they are delighted to have their names linked given how highly they probably think of each other. I only regret that they don't know or care what I think of them.

There is an interesting twist as each tries to determine who will be blamed for revealing the secret to journalists. Neither mentions the possibilityu of not reporting what they knew, but they present very different stories as to how they found out. Ledeen puts the blame on un-named intel officials writing "some intel officials in town are saying two things to the journalists: 1) We broke the Iranians' communication codes, so we were reading their mail. Chalabi found out about this, and told the Iranian intelligence chief in Baghdad."
while Mayer quotes an un-named Chalabi aid. Now, what is the chance that Mayer had better contacts close to Chalabi while researching "THE MANIPULATOR :Ahmad Chalabi pushed a tainted case for war. Can he survive the occupation?" than Ledeen. I think it is clear that Ledeen got the information from Chalabi associates and is trying to shift the blame for the leak to un-named intel officials who told numerous un-named journalists.
The Bush administration never misses a chance to miss a chance.
The New York Times reports that they have chosen Dr Dr. Iyad (Bay of Goats) Allawi as interim prime minister of Iraq. The article makes it very clear that this decision was imposed on the UN
At United Nations headquarters in New York, officials contended that they were caught unawares by the announcement but said that they endorsed the choice.

"Mr. Brahimi respects the decision and says he can work with this person," said Fred Eckhard, the spokesman for Secretary General Kofi Annan. Asked what Mr. Annan's view was, Mr. Eckhard said, "The Secretary General respects the decision, as I said Mr. Brahimi does. `Respect' is a very carefully chosen word."


Mr. Eckhard said, "This is not the way we expected this to happen, no, but the Iraqis seem to agree on this name, and if they do, Mr. Brahimi is ready to work with him."

In plain English "the Iraqis" are the unpopular US nominated IGC which just chose to name a member who is a long-time exile close to the CIA. The Bush administration went along, although it had previously said the IGC would not have authority to choose without reaching agreement with the coalition and the UN. The UN then had to go along but they are diplomatically making it clear that they are angry.

I can't believe that I let myself be disappointed by the Bush administration. I thought they had made it clear that they had given Brahimi power to choose the interim prime minister provided he consulted with Robert D. Blackwill and that they agreed on Hussain Shahristani. I let myself hope.

In fact I became irrationally optimistic, irrationally because Bush is still president.

The least of the matter is that this ruins my unfunny by erudite joke
"What the Iraqi interim government needs is to avoid exclusion focus like a laser beam and achieve strength through coherence. As a physicist, Shahristani knows that all of these things depend on Spin."

The Pauli exclusion principal applies to fermions which have spin an odd multiple of hbar/2. In contrast, Bozons which have spin a multiple of hbar can be identical. In fact, because of the coherant supposition of wave states bozons such as photons can make powerful beams as occurs in a laser.

Also Lakhdar Brahimi found out about Shahristani when Shahristani wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and the thought that the cure of Iraq's woes was found in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal was so sureally weird as to be wonderful.

Friday, May 28, 2004

If Bush has lost the Pasadena police department he's lost the country.
From the Washington Post

"I support our troops, but I certainly don't agree with what we're trying to do by trying to Americanize and westernize a culture that doesn't want to be Americanized," said Janet Pope, a management analyst for the Pasadena Police Department. "I'm worried and borderline disgusted that many of our young people will die in this war when we truly don't know the reasons behind it."

Trying for balance the Post sent reporters to Orange county (I know it's not the hive of wingnuts it used to be) and Ogallala Nebraska. They found one guy who blames Iraqis and doesn't blame Bush and published his photo. Hell maybe he was just trying to get his photo in the Post.

If it keeps going like this, you think maybe Bush will have to ask Chirac for political asylum ?

Update Eliabetta Addis asks "Why Chirac". Reply "The French will take anyone."

France is, after all, the country that gave asylum to Ayatollah Khomeini and various Red Brigades suspects.
Shorter Paul Krugman
I told you so.

Krugman actually maintains his dignity while being forced to admit that the majority (55%) of American mainstream journalists are admitting that the vast majority of mainstream American journalists were not as good at their main job as Paul Krugman is at his hobby.

The story is familiar, for one thing Krugman has indeed been writing it for years. I was interested in an economists view of the first of Krugman's explanations for the press being too soft on Bush

"So why did the press credit Mr. Bush with virtues that reporters knew he didn't possess? One answer is misplaced patriotism. After 9/11 much of the press seemed to reach a collective decision that it was necessary, in the interests of national unity, to suppress criticism of the commander in chief."

I see this as reporters deciding that, given the emergency, it was necessary for them to suppress their combative inclinations and their desire to gain fame by scoring points against the administration. That is, reporters typically balance the fun and advantages of aggressive reporting and their sense of guilt for undermining national unity.

If so, what we see, except from 9/11 till about now, is the action of the invisible hand. Each individual reporter aims to gain fame, score points and scare people with real power by aggressive reporting. That is each acts from nasty or selfish motives. However, theinvisible hand of the marketplace of ideas fashions truth and rational debate from the struggle between spin and hostile reporting. When reporters decide that the nation's interest requires them to act according to their better natures, ignorance, confusion and an unnecessary war result.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Silly me I began looking up the articles mentioned in the NY Times apology for letting Chalabi and the Bush administration trick them before finishing the artilce. It contains a link to a page of links to the stories.

Not only was this pointless, it was also difficult since the apology refers to the dateline of articles and the searchable Times by the date of publication which is sometimes a day later.

I was impressed by the classy apology and especially the unwillingness to look for a scapegoat. The authors of the apology are right that, when a newspaper errs, the blame must always be shared among reporters and editors.

To bad I have no class at all so I wanted names.

Judith Miller was an author or co author of 7 of the 9 criticized articles, which is, all of them published after Dec 20 2001. Two of her 7 articles do not seem to me to communicate dubious claims about weapons.

She was an author or co author of 2 out of 5 articles which follow up and cast doubt on the criticized articles. Finally she was author or co-author of 0 out of 12 articles presented because they " cast doubt on key claims about Iraq's weapons programs, and on the reliability of some defectors."

In other words, the classy folks at the Times are not saying in so many words that Judith Miller was the problem, because the information to which they link makes the case for them.

Czechs Confirm Iraqi Agent Met With Terror Ringleader
Published: October 27, 2001

November 8, 2001, Thursday $
A NATION CHALLENGED: THE SCHOOL; Defectors Cite Iraqi Training For Terrorism
By CHRIS HEDGES (NYT) 1427 words

December 20, 2001, Thursday $
A NATION CHALLENGED: SECRET SITES; Iraqi Tells of Renovations at Sites For Chemical and Nuclear Arms
By JUDITH MILLER (NYT) 1870 words

Snowed by Bush administration hiding DOE dissent.
September 8, 2002, Sunday

Late Edition - Final , Section 1 , Page 1 , Column 6

Challenges to above article buried on page A-13
September 13, 2002, Friday $
THREATS AND RESPONSES: BAGHDAD'S ARSENAL; White House Lists Iraq Steps To Build Banned Weapons

Further Callenge on page A-10 published Jan 10 although dateline Jan 9
Agency Challenges Evidence Against Iraq Cited by Bush

Quote without challenging a scientist who later claims to be an
April 21, 2003, Monday $
AFTEREFFECTS: PROHIBITED WEAPONS; Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, An Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert
By JUDITH MILLER (NYT) 1403 words

No Weapons found yet. Spin that this is no big deal quoted at length
Focus Shifts From Weapons to the People Behind Them

SOUTH OF BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 22

Headline "Chemical Agents" no subtitle "Remember di Hydrogen Oxide is a Chemical Agent"
U.S-Led Forces Occupy Baghdad Complex Filled With Chemical Agents

WITH MET ALPHA, in Baghdad, Iraq, April 23

The Trailor with a fermenter
May 21, 2003
U.S. Analysts Link Iraq Labs to Germ Arms

June 7, 2003
Some Analysts of Iraq Trailers Reject Germ Use


June 26, 2003:
Agency Disputes C.I.A. View of Trailers as Iraqi Weapons Labs

Clarke part XLVIII

Kevin Drum writes
"AIR BIN LADEN....Remember those flights shortly after 9/11 that gathered up members of the bin Laden family and spirited them quickly out of the country? Who authorized those flights, anyway?

A few weeks ago, Richard Clarke testified to Congress about this:"

Here I give a longer quote from the 9/11 commission hearings than Drum did, since this is (to say the least) a lower volume blog, pixels are less precious.

"CLARKE: You're absolutely right that the Saudi Arabian government did not cooperate with us significantly in the fight against terrorism prior to 9/11. Indeed, it didn't really cooperate until after bombs blew up in Riyadh.

Now, as to this controversy about the Saudi evacuation aircraft, let me tell you everything I know, which is that in the days following 9/11 -- whether it was on 9/12 or 9/15, I can't tell you -- we were in a constant crisis management meeting that had started the morning of 9/11 and ran for days on end. We were making lots of decisions, but we were coordinating them with all the agencies through the video teleconference procedure.

The Saudi embassy therefore asked for these people to be evacuated; the same sort of thing that we do all the time in similar crises, evacuating Americans.

The request came to me and I refused to approve it. I suggested that it be routed to the FBI and that the FBI look at the names of the individuals who were going to be on the passenger manifest and that they approve it -- or not.

I spoke with at that time the number two person in the FBI, Dale Watson, and asked him to deal with this issue.

The FBI then approved -- after some period of time, and I can't tell you how long -- approved the flight.

Now, what degree of review the FBI did of those names, I cannot tell you. How many people there are on the plane, I cannot tell you.

But I have asked since: Were there any individuals on that flight that in retrospect the FBI wishes they could have interviewed in this country. And the answer I've been given is no, that there was no one who left on that flight who the FBI now wants to interview. "

back to Kevin Drum

"Today, Alexander Bolton reports in The Hill that Clarke has, um, clarified his previous statement:"

Back to more extensive quotes, this time from The Hill

"In an interview with The Hill yesterday, Clarke said, “I take responsibility for it. I don’t think it was a mistake, and I’d do it again.”


But Clarke yesterday appeared to put an end to the mystery.

“It didn’t get any higher than me,” he said. “On 9-11, 9-12 and 9-13, many things didn’t get any higher than me. I decided it in consultation with the FBI.”


This new account of the events seemed to contradict Clarke’s sworn testimony before the Sept. 11 commission at the end of March about who approved the flights.

[see testimony above]

“That’s a little different than saying, ‘I claim sole responsibility for it now,’” Roemer said yesterday."

The testimony is a little different from saying 'I claim sole responsibility for it now,' which might be why Clarke has never said that he takes sole responsibility.

Back to The Hill

"However, the FBI has denied approving the flight.

FBI spokeswoman Donna Spiser said, “We haven’t had anything to do with arranging and clearing the flights.”

“We did know who was on the flights and interviewed anyone we thought we needed to,” she said. “We didn’t interview 100 percent of the [passengers on the] flight. We didn’t think anyone on the flight was of investigative interest.”"

Doesn't "We didn’t think anyone on the flight was of investigative interest." confirm Clarke's version ? Or is the FBI claim that they "interviewed anyone we thought we needed to" and "didn't think anyone on the flight was of investigative interest," but that they kept their lack of interest a secret and thus "haven't had anything to do with ... clearing the flight."

Kevin Drum is not totally willing to be convinced that Clarke, the FBI and no one else are responsible. A commenter, however, writes that this "doesn't speak too well to Clarke's credibility". I strongly disagree with the commenter's assesment.

To me the testimony a few weeks ago and the clarification are essentially identical. In the testimony Clarke defends the decision underlining his acceptance of responsibility.

Clarke's story is, and consistently has been, he got the request. He did not approve it immediately but asked the FBI if it was OK by them. Someone at the FBI said it was ok. Clarke approved the flight. The testimony and the clarification are perfectly consistent extracts from this account.

It seems to me that Clarke has acceped responsibility for an unpopular decision. If that doesn't "doesn't speak too well to Clarke's credibility" what could possible speak well to Clarke's credibility.

Quick pop quiz. There are a lot of people with a lot of credibility. Name one who has ever earned more credibility by saying something than Clarke has by taking responsibility repeatedly for the air Bin Laden flight.

[Edit: The post has been edited to remove the claim, which I can not support, that Clarke wrote something similar in "Against All Enemies". I thought I read it there, but I can't find the passage if, indeed, it is in the book]

[More edit: I also added some quotes from "The Hill"]
Hussain Shahristani sounds great.

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and U.S. presidential envoy to Iraq Robert D. Blackwill appear to have found an excellent interim prime minister. I was wrong (as usual) guessing that it would be a politician.

Shahristani is a nuclear physicist who spent a decade in Abu Ghraib because he refused to try to make a bomb for Saddam Hussein. As an exile, "he was not active in opposition political parties, choosing instead to focus his energies on humanitarian aid projects." And I love his campaign slogan
"If they consider my participation essential, I'll try to convince them otherwise."

Of course things will go wrong, they always do, but for the moment I have some hope again.

I also note that the CPA has decided to demolish Abu Ghraib. I wonder if Dr Sharistani, given his memories of the place, would be willing to detonate the charge.

What the Iraqi interim government needs is to avoid exclusion focus like a laser beam and achieve strength through coherence. As a physicist, Shahristani knows that all of these things depend on

How about Subliminable ?
From Jim Rutenberg's New York Times article about how, even if people don't think they have been misled by campaign adds, they have been.

"Even people who don't think there is much information in these ads and say they don't learn anything from them tell us they believe factoids they could only have gotten from these ads, and they're wrong," said Brooks Jackson, director of, an Annenberg Public Policy Center Web site that vets political advertisements for accuracy. "It's beyond subliminal — it's something else I haven't come up with a name for.""

I like the article, but Rutenberg does choose to struggle for "balance" by being more than fair to Bush

"More than half of those surveyed also said they believed Mr. Kerry had "voted for higher taxes 350 times." That idea, Annenberg researchers concluded, is based on a commercial for Mr. Bush in which an announcer said, "Kerry supported higher taxes over 350 times.""

in which a Bush add is quoted making a deliberately misleading claim


"In a survey ... 72 percent said they believed that three million jobs had been lost during Mr. Bush's presidency. Mr. Kerry made that claim in a spot in late February,...(Mr. Kerry's figures did not include government jobs.)"

in which the Kerry add is not quoted. I haven't seen the add. If it said "3 millino jobs have been lost during Mr Bush's Presidency" it would be a lie. If it said " 3 million private sector jobs ahve been lost during the Bush presidency" it would be accurate, precise and clear. Rutenberg can not blame Kerry if people hear "jobs" when his add says "private sector jobs".

Furthermore the Kerry campaign is not slicing and dicing the numbers. Bush claims he is against big government so the increase in public sector employment is bad news for him. Private sector employment growth has been the standard thing for politicians to brag about at least since Clinton's 1992 campaign.

Also consider "In an advertisement for Mr. Kerry, an announcer said, "George Bush says sending jobs overseas makes sense for America." Mr. Bush never said that. A report to Congress by his top economic adviser said cheaper production of goods overseas had long-term benefits but did not make the plain case that domestic job losses were a good thing."

The distinction between Bush and Mankiw is certainly valid (I would give my right hand to replace Bush with Mankiw). However, the Kerry campaign's paraphrase of Mankiw is reasonable, while Rutemberg's para-paraphrase is completely unreasonable.

Journalist cure thyself if it's not too much bother. But in any case keep writing good articles.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Is Michael Ledeen a traitor or a spy ?

via Kevin Drum

In his recent article on Ahmed Chalabi, Michale Ledeen writes two very interesting things. The piece is presented as a ouigi board conversation with James Jesus Angleton (JJA).

A) "ML: It's fascinating to watch the anti-Chalabi campaign in Washington. You probably can't keep up with it, but some intel officials in town are saying two things to the journalists: 1) We broke the Iranians' communication codes, so we were reading their mail. Chalabi found out about this, and told the Iranian intelligence chief in Baghdad. 2) The Iranian immediately contacted Tehran to tell them that we had broken the code. Then they said to journalists, "you can't write about this because it would jeopardize our people.""

I am not well informed, but Kevin Drum is and this is the first he has heard of it. The journalists are un-named, why would they not be named if they had published the story. The "intel officials" are quoted as asking that the journalists not write about it. It seems to me clear that Ledeen is publically writing about something that "intel officals" asked to be kept secret.

B) "JJA: Furthermore, using the same logic, if we knew that Chalabi had told the Iranians, we would never go public with the accusations."

Who went public with the accusation ? It seems to me Michael Ledeen went public with the accusation. 9 lines later he has JJA write that it would be crazy to go public with the accusation because that would obviously hurt the USA.

Mr Ledeen maybe thats why the intelligence officials asked the reporters not to write about it.

It is obvious to Ledeen that, if this story is true, then it must not be discussed publicly. Ledeen discusses it publicly.

Is this treason ? No we are not at war with Iran. Helping Iran is not treason.
Is this espionage ? Well typically it's not considered espionage if you do it openly. I mean freedom of the press is for everyone even for people who choose to use that freedom to hurt the USA.

James Jesus Angleton also turns out to be a bleeding heart who explains that, if Chalabi was an Iranian spy, it was the CIA that made him do it.

"JJA: If anything, the United States pushed him toward the Iranians, and it's laughable that the intelligence community should now blame him for their previous actions."

then considerablly later

"JJA: ... In fact, you can make a fairly convincing case that the "raid" on Chalabi's house was probably an effort to get him killed.

ML: Killed? They were going to shoot him?

JJA: Not "they," even though it does seem there were CIA people on the scene. No, they're smarter than that. They sent Iraqi police to do the dirty work. The police were armed. It was reasonable to assume that at least one of Chalabi's bodyguards would shoot at the intruders, and then a gunfire would ensue, in which...well, people do get hurt at such times, don't they?"

I conclude that the legal reasoning above was a waste of time. Whatever he did or didn't do, Michael Ledeen is innocent, because he is insane.
Newsweek magazine has a special place in my mind, because it played an important role in my intellectual development from age 15 to 17.9 (when I went to college and had to pay for subscriptions myself).

Now, slightly older, I condescendingly consider it very main stream and middle brow. My idea of a Newsweek journalist is a very smart and well informed person who wonders how nearly he or she dare write the article that he or she would write for the New York Review of Books or the Economist. That is, when Newsweek gets into the game it means that people who know a lot more then I do about such matters feel they can speak frankly with middle America.

Thus I am struck by the non news reported (well asserted in Newsweek) in the cover story on Chalabi

"the neocons in the Bush cabinet, led by Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz, were ready to march on Baghdad before the World Trade Center stopped smoldering. President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld were all itching to show off American strength. The rest of the government and the American people needed some persuading."

Evan Thomas and Mark Hosenball feel free to glibly suggest that Bush invaded Iraq to scratch an itch, that is to show he was macho not in a blog but in Newsweek.

I feel like I just received a formal engraved invitation to a feeding frenzy.


Monday, May 24, 2004

Lerxst at Kautilyan has an interesting hypothesis

"Reading this article in Newsday by Knut Royce on Chalabi's ties to Iran, suddenly made me realize that it might have been Iran, which was behind a previous scheme to use forged documents concerning Iraq's nuclear ambitions, that might have been the ultimate source behind the Niger forgery."

However I am not convinced because the yellowcake dossier was too clumsy a fogery to be an official Iranian product. It was very obvious that the document was a forgery.

As Seymour Hersh wrote in The
New Yorker on 31 March 2003, "One letter, dated
October 10, 2000 was signed with the name of Allele Habibou, a [Nigerien] Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, who had been out of office since 1989."

I guessed that probably took the CIA about fifteen minutes to determine that the letter was a forgery using the weekly "Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments" recent issues of which they post on their web page.

in contrast the known Iranian forgeries were detected because " Some technical descriptions used terms that would only be used by an Iranian." Which is so much subtler that only the fact that Iraq had no bomb program makes me confident that the docutments were a forgery.

The clumsiness of the forgery supports the crook in the Nigerien embassy theory, since such a crook might want a document good enough to sell to "Panorama" but not good enough to cause a war. It would also fit the closely related crooked Italian spies hypothesis. Finally it fits with the CIA water cooler gossip reported by Hersh that the dossier was the product of disgruntled retired CIA analysts who wanted to see how far the obvious forgery would go up the Feith stove pipe but then were afraid to come clean when it went all the way to the State of the Union Address.

Iranian intelligence would have done a better job. They may be neomedieval theocrats but they are not total incompetents.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

It's tough but I will accept Mark Kleiman's challenge.

"Does anyone have an argument in favor of continuing to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve while oil prices are at all-time highs an the futures markets are predicting lower prices a year from now?"

On April 29 2003 I claimed that it is possible to find a justification for any policy, so I better put my mouth where my mouth is.

I would say that when someone makes a forward looking decision which makes no sense, the justification is probably a peso problem, that is, there is a low possibility of a very bad outcome if the agent doesn't make the silly choice.

In this case, it is pretty easy. The (I hope) low probability outcome is that Saudi Arabia or Kuwait goes as FUBAR as Iraq. Then there would be a major disruption of oil supplies and a major spike in prices.

If this is unlikely, it will have little effect on futures prices. A small chance of making a huge amount of money does not increase the price of an asset much. People who want a small chance of a huge amount of money can buy lottery tickets or bet on horses. Tjhe story goes that oil is sold on the futures market by oil exporters. If they go fubar, they are fubar in any casd so futures contracts they can't meet are nothing much. If they are exporting when K and or S.A. go fubar, the spike in earnings covers the liabilities.

For the US government however, the situation is different. A major disruption of oil production is a disaster which is less horrible the more full the SPR is. Thus even if everyone has rational expectations, it may be optimal for the US government to do something which is the opposite of what the marginal investor in futures markets is doing.

According to this story, it is rational for a huge oil importer to hedge against a huge increase in the price of oil even though it is rational for investors to bet on a decline.

I don't believe the story but I claim I can find an argument for any policy so I had to put up or shut up.

Please please don't ask me what was the logic of betting all our chips on Ahmed Chalabi.
One of the nice things about having a low volume blog is that I get to know the
ISPs of regular visitors (OK that's the only nice thing). For example, someone who uses often views this blog, at least I assume it is one person.

Dr Mr or Ms why don't you send me an e-mail at ? I am very flattered by your interest and would like to cyber meet you.

Also and all is forgiven. If you happen to visit this blog as you used to do regularly, e-mail me.
Cocktail parties and the Nature of Truth

Brad DeLong and Matthew Yglesias attempt the exegesis of Jim Hoagland (what a waste of brains).

Actually they consider the nature of reality.

Brad writes

"Matthew (and Atrios) are correct: the esoteric meaning of Hoagland's columns is often very different from the exoteric meaning--and it is reasonably clear to me that Hoagland believes in the esoteric meanings that are, as Matthew puts it, hidden under "this veneer of reasonableness."

But where does Matthew get off saying that the unreasonable esoteric meaning is what the column is "actually about"? 99 out of 100 readers don't get the unreasonable esoteric meaning; what they get is the reasonable exoteric meaning. And isn't the important article not the one that the writer writes, but he one that the reader reads?

I think Matthew Yglesias has mistaken the nature of reality."

Matthew concedes

"Perhaps Brad is correct. Still, a writer ought to say what he means."

But I think that Brad understates the manifold complexities of meaning.

Matthew and Brad agree that Hoagland's op eds are often covered in a veneer of reasonableness and that this hides an esoteric meaning which they, unlike 99% of readers can decode. Very roughly, they agree that Hoagland manages to sound sane (most of the time) while carrying water for Ahmed Chalabi. He does this by hiding his Chalabist sympathies under code words most of the time. I agree with both of them.

Does it matter what Hoagland has in mind if he is careful to hide it ? Brad says what matters is the Op Ed as read not as intended.

I think many things matter and one of them is Hoagland's reputation. He is a columnist at the Post and is not clearly a nutcase as Krauthhammer is. This means that his judgement influences people who know better. I think Hoagland can do damage at the dread cocktail parties where the world's fate is decided. There, I am sure, his views are not hidden. There the fact that he writes on the Post Op Ed page and is not widely denounced as a loony matters. There everyone grasps the esoteric meaning of op eds.

Maybe only 1 % of people know that Hoagland manages to pass as a reasonable person while shilling for Chalabi. However, some of them are (sadly) much more powerful than Brad or Matthew and are also cynical enough that it matters more to them that Hoagland passes as a reasonable person than that he is not really reasonable.

Also, aside from cocktail parties, there is the risk that events in the next few years will confirm Hoaglands esoteric predictions. Given his track record, this is unlikely but anything can happen. Then he would be able to decode his op eds and correctly claim that he told us so. He would be able to show that the hidden meanings are the true ones by bringing up things he said to friends more or less in private.

Allowing a pundit to have seperate esoteric and exoteric messages allows him to decide ex poste what he predicted. This is very dangerous.

Fortunately the whole debate is dated.

Events have caused Hoagland to drop his mask. He is a true Chalabite and is chosing Chalabi over Bush.

He refers to raid on INC headquarters and Chalabi's house without hiding behind any veneer at all

"In the chaos rapidly enveloping the occupation of Iraq, the scene can only encourage Baathist killers or others who would be willing to rid the occupation authority of this meddlesome Shiite politician. Torture by proxy is already an issue in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Murder by proxy now seems within the realm of the possible in U.S.-occupied Iraq."

The guy spies for Iran and steals everything which isn't nailed down and a police raid is clse to "murder by proxy" ?

My guess is that, after today, there will never be a risk that anyone will imagine that anyone else will mistake Hoagland for a resonable person.

Still, I think, Matthew Yglesias was right to be worried.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Juan Cole proposes that we "Give that man a medal"

KUT, Iraq - In a Disney-esque approach to guerrilla warfare, U.S. Army commanders here are hiring suspected members of a Shiite Muslim militia to help rebuild a rusted and abandoned amusement park ...


"Call it 'Six Flags Over Al Kut,' " quipped Col. Brad May, the regiment's commander.

It should be so easy to disperse a tiny army of the desparately poor with
$ 20 billion. Reminds me of how some guy from State arranged local elections in Southern Iraq and securalarists won. To do as badly as the Bush team one almost has to try.
Meta metaphor watch.

I wish that in my wildest dreams I could imagine that Matthew Yglesias was inspired by me to go on the metaphor watch suggesting that Mark Kleiman keep the following on a leash
"In the actual world, a fake conservative isn't the same as a liberal, any more than a transvestite male is a female. Nor is a bad conservative the same as a liberal, any more than a bad electrician is a plumber."

I might add that it is un pc to have transvestite and bad in parallel spots in the sentence. I'm sure that many transvestites are eccelent electricians.

Squewering the deconstruction of the construction industry, Yglesias notes that "plumber"is a social construction. I'd add that so is plumbing, although I note that his social life is much more interesting than a plumbing party.

I have been following Josh Marshall's metaphors. Once when I was young and stupid a week ago, I suggested he stopr writing them. Since then I have noted a steady stream of billiant metaphors analogies similes and synechdotes (in spite of the fact that I don't know what a synechdote is).

The latest is "watching the mix of desperation, panicked zeal and projection evidenced in Podhoretz's column. It's like the pornography of watching someone beg for his life or shift the blame onto someone else when they've been caught in the act -- with the added twist of spasms of aggression mixed in."

It's a double layer metaphor, since someone beggin for his life is not literally pornography. Brilliant, but please Mr Marshall don't describe mr Podhoretz so vividly, I just ate.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Reuters is trying very hard to give a balanced report on alleged abuse of Reuters' employees in Iraq. I understand this is delicate. All the same I would have pointed out that the Army's denial is a confession.

" Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger sent a letter to Sanchez on Jan. 9 demanding an investigation into the treatment of the three Iraqis working for Reuters.


A summary of the investigation by the 82nd Airborne Division, dated Jan. 28 and provided to Reuters, said "no specific incidents of abuse were found." It said soldiers responsible for the detainees were interviewed under oath and "none admit or report knowledge of physical abuse or torture."

"The detainees were purposefully and carefully put under stress, to include sleep deprivation, in order to facilitate interrogation; they were not tortured," it said. "

Note the detainees were journalists hence non combatents who should not be detained let alone "put under stress". Sleep deprivation to facilitate interrogation is a violation of the Geneva convention and would be even if the journalists were combatents.

This is true not only because the convention bans excessive sleep deprivation but, more clearly, because is bans subjecting detainees to any consequences for refusing to answer questions. Even though detainees can be e.g. woken up each morning at 5 am they can not be woken up at 5 am until and unless they answer questions. Now it is impossible to prove that the sleep deprivation was banned sleep deprivation to make the detainees answer questions. However, the point was stipulated, and the investigation should have moved to deciding the punishment for the personel found to have violated the Geneva convention.

The US armed forces have decided that they are not bound by the Geneva convention as written, while also claiming that, in Iraq, they are following the Geneva convention as they choose to interpret it. Even so permission from General Sanchez is required for sleep deprivation to facilitate interrogation and has never been granted.

In spite of all this the very same General Sanchez who claims to be following the Geneva convention and to have never given permission for sleep deprivation to facilitate interrogation somehow manages also to claim to be satisfied by an investigation which concludes both that sleep deprivation was used to facilitate interrogation and that no specific incidents of abuse were found.

How exactly does he manage to sleep at night ?

Marshall metaphor watch.

The post below was my effort to anticipate Marshall's post on the same topic. I see he does indeed write much better than I do. Definitely right not to get bogged down in the Safire swamp.

And another brilliant metaphor (2nd in a row unless the one yesterday was an anology)

"Frequently, when I read a column by Bill Safire, I have to think to myself: who was the editor on this piece? And what must he or she have thought when they were editing this stuff? Read the man's column for Wednesday's paper and it has about as much coherence and rationality as one of your more loopy C-Span ranters just before Brian Lamb mercifully hits the button and sends him off into telephonic oblivion."

However, i am puzzled by his post below

"(May 18, 2004 -- 10:44 PM EDT // link // print)

Thank you, thank you and ... well, thank you.

We posted our TPM reader survey overnight last night. And the response has been amazing. As of late this evening, we're just shy of 20,000 responses. To be specific, as of 11:30"

How did Marshall know at 10:44 EDT how many people would respond to his survey by 11:30 ? Did he pick up a bit of clairvoyance from wading through Safire's op ed ?
Safire or Satire ?

This must be a parody of William Safire.

"U.N. weapons inspectors whose reputations rest on denial of Saddam's W.M.D. pooh-poohed the report. "It doesn't strike me as a big deal," said David Kay."

David Kay was appointed chief of the Iraq survey group by George Bush. He would more accurately be described as "the Bush administration's former chief weapons inspector."

"Besides, say our lionized apostles of defeat, a poison-gas bomb does not a "stockpile" make." Names please ? I understand this is an op ed but quotes should be quotes. Also arguing that Iraq did not have WMD might make one an apostle of not invading. I don't see what it has to do with being an apostle of defeat. This is an effort to conflate criticizing Bush with supporting defeat, that is equating dissent and treason. Since Safire is a self proclamed civil liberties type, he couldn't have possibly written such a thing unless he is both a hypocrite and an idiot.

"In this rush to misjudgment, we can see an example of the "Four Noes" that have become the defeatists' platform." After one sentence which does not insult the basic principles of democracy, Safire is back to equating critics of Bush's decision to invade with defeatism. Surely Safire knows that the word "defeatist" is useful only to chicken little civil libertarians who suggest that people like this clumsy parody pseudo Safire are enemies of free debate.

"when the pendulum has swung, and it becomes newsworthy to show how cut-and-runners in 2004 were mistaken — logic suggests we will see a rash of articles and blockbuster books to that end." No longer anti democratic he has become a clairvoyant. He suggests that it will be possible to show how the cut and runners in 2004 were mistaken, that is, his crystal ball tells him not only that he is right but that it will be agreed that he is right. Note again the conflation of criticizing Bush for hyping evidence and advotating cutting and running. Has he noticed, for example, that the editorials which run on the same page as his op eds do the first and do not do the second ? I won't waste pixels listing all of the commentators who attack Bush for exagerating evidence on WMD but don't advocate cutting and running. I just note that they seem to be in the vast majority to me.

"These may well reveal the successful concealment of W.M.D., as well as prewar shipments thereof to Syria and plans for production and missile delivery, by Saddam's Special Republican Guard and fedayeen, as part of his planned guerrilla war — the grandmother of all battles. The present story line of "Saddam was stupid, fooled by his generals" would then be replaced by "Saddam was shrewder than we thought.""

This is pure wish fulfillment fantasy. No evidence is presented. It is just argued that, since we can't be sure of anything, we can't be sure that Safire is dreaming. Indeed, I am no more sure that Safire has abandoned contact with reality than I am that the sun will rise tomorrow.

"This will be especially true for bacteriological weapons, which are small and easier to hide."

This asserts that the wished for future revelation will be at least partly true of chemical weapons. The hope has become a certainty. Safire knows his way around the English language. If he intended to say that such revelations are especially likely for biological weapons he would have used the present indicative or the conditional as in the preceding sentence. He is making a grammatic error in his effort to trick the reader that something that might happen is something which will happen to a greater or lesser extent.

To make this clear isolate verbs other than those in quotation marks
" may ... reveal ... would ... be
... will be ". See begins with may adds a would be then passes to will be moving from hypothetical to certain without intervening evidence.

"In a sovereign and free Iraq, when germ-warfare scientists are fearful of being tried as prewar criminals, their impetus will be to sing " as it is now yet, in spite of strong incentives they are not describing the location of WMD in song. This couldn't be because they know of no locations of WMD could it ?

"Defeatism's second "no" is no connection was made between Saddam and Al Qaeda or any of its terrorist affiliates. This is asserted as revealed truth with great fervor, despite an extensive listing of communications and meetings between Iraqi officials and terrorists submitted to Congress months ago."

Note again that criticizing the invasion is equated with defeatism. Note again that no one in particular is quoted. Safire's unquoted unnamed opponent evidently speaks with great fervor. Who are these people ? I am familiar only with the claim that there is no evidence that Saddam was working with al Qaeda. Contacts between Iraqi officials and al Qaeda in the early 90's are well known but ot the same thing.

" Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who escaped Afghanistan to receive medical treatment in Baghdad. He joined Ansar al-Islam, a Qaeda offshoot whose presence in Iraq to murder Kurds at Saddam's behest was noted in this space in the weeks after 9/11. ... Osama's disciple Zarqawi."

The alleged medical treatment was the amputation of his leg. The film of Berg's murder demonstrates that Zarqawi has two legs. The claim that Zarqawi received medical treatment in Baghdad is "asserted as revealed truth with great fervor" by Safire. However neither he nor anyone else has presented any evidence. The claim is based on unreleased US intelligence. As Safire reluctantly notes above, this intelligence has proven to be other than completely reliable.

Safire neglects to mention the facts that Ansar al Islam operated in Iraqi Kurdistan and was separated from Ba'athist controlled Iraq and that its base of operation was on the border with Iran making it very likely (strange as it is) that it was supported by Iran. The claim that Ansar al Islam acted on Saddam's behest is made without a shred of evidence or a hint of doubt. Finally Zarqawi has always been independent of Bin Laden not his disciple.

"The third "no" is no human-rights high ground can be claimed by us regarding Saddam's torture chambers because we mistreated Iraqi prisoners. This equates ... We flagellate ourselves for mistreatment by a few of our guards"

I know of no westerner who equates abuse of prisoner's by the US with Saddam's crimes.
"Iraqis know the difference."
I wrote no one then corrected it to no westerner when I remembered that I had read qutoes of Iraqi's making exactly that claim. I actually think that Iraqis know the difference, but some have gotten carried away and denied it. The claim that US crimes are the responsibility of a few of our guards is certainly unproven and appears unlikely. Safire summarily rejects the conclusion of Major General Taguba who knows a bit more about the matter than he does.

"The fourth "no" is no Arab nation is culturally ready for political freedom and our attempt to impose democracy in Iraq is arrogant Wilsonian idealism."

Some people think this, and there is some overlap with the people who state the 3 previous no's. However, it is not useful to conflate the groups. Also some think that there are some countries which can achieve democracy on which it can not be imposed. They don't exactly explain how democracy was imnposed on Germany and Japan, but their argument is certainly not racist.

"n coming years, this will be blasted by revisionist reportage as an ignoble ethnic-racist slur."

Certainlty about the future again. Of course Safire might be declaring that he intends to blast this as an ignoble ethnic-racist slur. It is safe to say that if almost everyone agrees with something, some revisionist will argue the contrary. so safe as to be pointless.

"Iraqis will gain the power, with our help, to put down the terrorists and find their own brand of political equilibrium."

here again a confident claim about the future which doesn't amount to much. It's a long way from democracy to "political equilibrium". Saddam's regime was a political equilibrium. Safire does not argue that the future one will be better or that it will be reached without massive bloodshed.

All in all an excellent parody. A bit overdone but it does embody all of the possible faults of an essay which come to my limited mind. I'm sure that, but for the 700 word limit, Safire would have managed to parody rhetorical tricks, dishonest arguments, insults in the place of arguments and other possible defects of an essay beyond my limited imagination.

However, 700 words is all I could stand to read anyway.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

My head is spinning. I find I agree with both Mickey Kaus and David Brooks. We three think that the recent disasters in Iraq mean that the timetable for elections should be accelerated.

A counterargument is that given the mood in Iraq any pro US candidate would get creamed. The counter counter argument is that things are likely to get worse long before they get better.

However there are practical problems with rushed elections. One is that it takes time to register voters. This was the dishonest justification given by Bremeer (pronounced Boosh or really Chainy) for holding on to power via fake caucuses. However, it is also a real issue. I would go for ration card based elections.

Another issue is presidential or parliamentary and, if parliamentary, first past the post or proportional. Before Iraq went fubar I would have supported parliamentary elections with proportional representation. This guarantees a weak prime minister (I live in Italy and I know). It seemed a good idea when the risk seemed to be tyranny of the majority. In the current emergency, I think Iraq needs a directly elected president with emergency powers. A coalition government is too likely to end up like the coalition government in Afganistan between the Communists and the Taliban with the prime ministers troops shelling the capital.

The election will be, to say the least, imperfect, so I think it important the the president should be a transitional interim president who is required to return to private life.

Now who should be our candidate ? no kiss of death, it must be a deep dark secret that he or she is our guy or gal, but if you have no idea how anything good can happen no matter who wins, maybe it's best not to have an election.

One really crazy idea is to have the transitional president be a foreigner. Basically I really would like to see the Iraqi's choose between Brahimi and Bremer. I mean at least Brahimi is a Moslem Arab. Bremer gets to win 1% of the vote, keep a stiff upper lip, be a good loser and return to Washington. Brahimi would not be so easy to convince. Still that's a joke. Brahimi is a little too foreign.

I still think the guy who might pull Iraq out of the mess and then retire is al Sistani. I note he has just broken fairly decisively with Al Sadr. Now Kurds and Sunni Arabs would not be thrilled, but I wouldn't be amazed if they accepted Sistani as temporary president
given the risk that the alternative is al Sadr.

So I would go for a ration card based election of a very powerful interim president provided Sistani was willing to run.

Anyone got a better idea ?
Awesome analogy (or metaphor or simile or whatever) Mr Marshall.

"This new article in Tuesday's Times says that the the head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib apparently put military police at the disposal of interrogators ...

At a minimum, that sounds like giving benzine, some cordite, a gallon of gas, firecrackers, and a hundred rolls of toilet paper to some teenagers, telling them to see if they could put it all together to have some fun in the neighborhood on Friday night and then leaving them to their own devices.

And, remember, that's the generous interpretation. "

Yes that's it exactly. I take back what I said about Marshall and metaphors (or analogies)

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Want to play Dan Froomkin's WMD commission game ?

"Dazzle your friends with your intimate knowledge of the commission and the answers to these questions:

• Which commission member's current job -- as a vice president for Northrop Grumman -- was left out of the White House press release?"

Etc. The game is to try to answer the questions then click on the link to score oneself. I play it at fantapolitica
I have a very very high opinion of Joshua Marshall. However, he seems to have some trouble with metaphors. Yesterday, he was defending the perfectly standard and reasonable practice of checking if different people's versions of events confirm each other by comparing it to the dubious practice of dropping outlier polls.

Today he makes a very convincing argument that the best strategy for Kerry for the moment is to lie low and let Bush destroy himself. Marshall's point is that if Kerry attacks Bush he will strengthen the partisan loyalty of Republican voters who are deciding that Bush is incompetent (Marshall puts it better). Later the race will heat up so all issues will be partisan but now by being gentlemanly Kerry can keep the focus on Bush not on the campaign.

This is an excellent essay (as usual) but it contains a terrible metaphor (second in 2 days)-- "Let's think of this battle as a prize fight, with both men in the ring. If the other guy is about to collapse because of some self-inflicted injury, what do you do?"

What ? In a prize fight, when your opponent is near collapse you press in and finish him (unless the referee or compasion stops you). People lose their ability to hit before they lose the ability to stand up for 10 seconds. I mean I've never even been in a fist fight and I hate watching boxing matches but I know that. Also who ever heard of a self inflicted injury in the ring ? Well I did but that was a guy celebrating after he won. Kerry should leave Bush alone on stage because Bush is flopping. The analogy with boxing in which what matters is what you do not whether the audience likes you for doing it is unconvincing but, worse, if it were convincing it would convince me that Marshall's sound argument is unsound.

Here my guess is that the metaphor is garbled because it was censored. My wild guess is that Marshall thought of writing "what do you do if an enemy points a pistol to his head and starts to pull the trigger ? You duck for cover, because he might shoot you" This makes sense assuming you are a coward or you hate hte guy so much you want him dead. However, Marshll would not want to suggest that Kerry is a coward or that he wants Bush dead. The relevant metaphor that came to my mind is vulnerable to malicious literalism.

My suggestion is stay away from metaphors for a day. Marshall's reasoning and writing are generally excellent enough that he can do without them.

By the way, major catch here
Brilliant as usual.
It appears (not for the first time) that they have found WMD in Iraq.

"American commanders said today that they had discovered an Iraqi artillery shell last week containing sarin, one of the deadly nerve agents that Saddam Hussein said he had destroyed before the war began last year.

The shell, which had been fashioned into a bomb, was discovered as an American convoy made its way through Baghdad on Saturday, the American military officials said. Two American weapons experts suffered minor exposure to the nerve agent when they tried to defuse the shell, but they were not seriously harmed, the officials said.


American military commanders said that the people who had planted the shell apparently believed that it was an ordinary shell filled with high-explosives, and that they had set it to explode like the dozens of others that have bedeviled American soldiers here."


An artillery round of the type found on Saturday holds the ingredients for making sarin in two separate chambers. When fired by an artillery piece, the chambers rupture as the shell spins in flight, their contents mingling to produce sarin.

General Kimmitt said it was extremely unlikely that such mixing could occur by simply blowing up the shell, as occurred on Saturday. "

If I understand correctly, not all Iraqi nerve gas shells were binary, so the next time, if there is a next time, could be much worse. Since it appears that the insurgents didn't know that the unmarked shell was a chemical munition, it seems to me very possible that it is still around because the Iraqi armed forces lost track of it. That is, the new evidence is consistent with the current hypothesis that they attempted to destroy all of their undiscovered WMD in 1992.
If so, one can hope that there are few misplaced chemical shells.

Of course it is also possible that there are many chemical shells which were deliberately kept disguised as explosive shells.

The most alarming possibility is that the insurgents were attemtpting to release Sarin and that they will figure out how to mix the contents of the two chambers without artillery. I have no idea of how difficult that would be.

In my first post on Iraq, I wrote that the strongest case against invading was based on the likelihood that WMD would end up in the hands of terrorists if and only if the US invaded Iraq for a while. I still consider the risk that there are many such nerve gas shells disguised as explosives to be a very strong argument against the invasion. Much more recently I wrote that the absense of WMD in Iraq was one reason that I was less sure than I had been that the invasion was a mistake. My unsureness has been shaken by the news.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Joshua Marshall writes “People who analyze polling data will often take a group of polls, toss out the outliers on either side, and then focus on the cluster of data in the middle which seems overlapping and confirming.” And I assume that he knows what he is talking about, that is, that people who analyze polling data often follow that procedure. I haven’t the foggiest idea why anyone who knows anything about statistics would do such a thing.

I think a strong case can be made for averaging all available polls.

I think a case might be made for ignoring the results from a polling agency which has systematically poor or biased performance. Poor in this case means predictions of election outcomes with a large mean standard error and biased means predictions of election outcomes with a significant mean error. Notice for electoral polls new information on poor performance or biased predictions comes only on election day. For pure opinion polls where the aim is to find if people approve of something or think that something is important such information never comes.

In particular strong evidence that one polling agency is, on average, more favourable to Republicans than the average poll is only strong evidence that it is biased if one has strong reasons to believe that the average poll is unbiased. This evidence is, in practice, obtained only on election days. My sense is that it is quite weak. For example, in 2000 Gallup polls of “likely voters” were significantly more favourable to Bush than the average poll. The average poll over predicted Bush’s share of the popular vote by an amount not explained by sampling error alone. From this I conclude nothing. We have one data point on the 2000 presidential election, which is not enough to discredit Gallup.

A still more pointed example is Rasmussen’s tracking poll which, unless I am mistaken, predicted that Bush would win by 6%. I check the Rasmussen tracking poll about twice a day and my only irritation is that half of the time I find that it has not been updated. I am currently in a good mood because Rasmussen has Kerry ahead today unlike yesterday. I know this is crazy, but putting little weight on the bad performance on November 7 2000 is not crazy.

The procedure described by Marshall makes very little sense. Evidently the practice is to discard a poll not a polling agency. In earlier posts Marshall seems to me to have done exactly that. I wonder why people do it. I will present 3 unsuccessful attempts to make sense of it.

First imagine that the analysts think that by far the principal reason that polls differ is sampling error even though this is not reasonable. If they thought this, then the best way of pooling polls would a an average weighted by the sample sizes of the polls. That is, the weight on each poll would have nothing to do with whether it is an outlier. If each sample is a true random sample and there is no other difference between polls this is a mathematical result as dubious as 2+2=4.

It is possible that there are other differences between polls than random sampling error. Indeed this is clearly true. I only know what I read at pollingreport but I can see that there are significant firm specific differences. This is the case considered above. If there is evidence that a firm is unreliable it’s polls should be given low weight (or ignored entirely) whether or not a specific poll is an outlier.

The only way to rationalize the practice described by Marshall is to assume that there is some process other than random sampling error which causes some specific polls to be far from the truth but does not affect other polls by the same firm. Another way of putting this is if the errors in polls have a fat tailed distribution, a trimmed mean is a better estimate of the state of opinion than an untrimmed mean. I haven’t the faintest idea of what could cause such a distribution of errors. I suppose that it is possible that this is because I don’t know as much about how pollsters really pick their samples as the analysts, but I certainly am not ready to rule out the possibility that the analysts are confused.

[Update] I have read the post whose intro set me off. The analysis in the post is, as usual for Marshall, excellent not just far better than the approach to analyzing polls mentioned in the intro.

Marshall writes “But to go back to my analogy about analyzing polls, even if we set aside the issue of whether there was this specific black operation -- noted by Hersh -- the basic story seems more and more clear, and increasingly confirmed from multiple sources. That is, that irregular methods originally approved for use against al Qaida terrorists who had just recently landed a devastating blow against the US, were later expanded (by which mix of urgency, desperation, reason, bad values or hubris remains to be determined) to the prosecution of the insurgency in Iraq.”

Now this makes sense. The fact that similar complex verbal claims are made by multiple sources is evidence that the shared aspects of the claims are true. If the claims did not confirm each other, we should have little confidence in the “average” claim even if we could average sentences as we average numbers. Since all the sources are anonymous, Marshall is not relying on their track record; they could not have one (of course he is, in part, relying on Hersh’s track record as well he should).

So what’s the difference ? I think the issue is that similar numbers do not confirm each other to the same extent that similar stories do.

It is easy for different polling results for Kerry minus Bush rounded to the nearest percent to be identical even if each is certainly an imprecise measure and even if each is biased or grossly unreliable. Since the possible numbers are few it is easy for two such numbers to be identical by coincidence. Of course it is much easier for them to be very close by coincidence. The important thing is that this is true even if both are far from the true population average.

On the other hand, it is more difficult for different stories to correspond unless the shared features are true. The number of different lies is so immense that they can’t match by accident. Of course, more difficult does not mean very difficult. The different sources might have conspired to mislead the press. Different reporters might, unknowingly, be quoting the same small set of anonymous sources. Finally lies can co-ordinate around rumours, with each liar claiming to have direct information that the rumour is true (I think Gary Sick was honestly mislead by such rumour confirming liars when he researched “October Surprise”).

One minor question is why does Marshall chose to present his clearly sound approach by analogy with a dubious method for analysing polling data ? Checking if a story is confirmed by multiple sources is not a new or controversial approach to journalism. I’m afraid that he momentarily lapsed into number envy, that is, found the intellectual status of statistical analysis attractive, even though, in this case, his analysis is much more sound than that of the numerical analysts.

A caveat. I criticise discarding outliers specifically in the case of pooling polls. The reason is that it seems to me hard to imagine why there would be bad polls, that is, why the distribution of polling errors would have poll specific (not firm specific) fat tails. In general, I am rather attracted to the approach of down-weighting or discarding outliers as is clear from my CV.

A final question is whether the attraction of discarding outliers is based in part on the analogy with the traditional practice of dismissing sources (or witnesses) whose claims are not confirmed by anyone else. I have no reason for my confidence, but, in my heart, I am not able to doubt that such a false analogy leads analysts to discard outliers even when they shouldn’t and would lead most people to discard outliers even when they are told (and understand and believe) that the numbers are drawn from an iid normal distribution.

So what else is new ?

As noted by Mark Kleiman and Fred Kaplan, NBC news accuses George Bush of choosing not to attack Ansar al Islam in 2002.

NBC was scooped by ABC which reported the story in 2003.

According to ABC news The Ansar base was secured March 30 “Intelligence officials were convinced they would find the toxin known as ricin, which is deadlier than cyanide, or the apparatus to make chemicals at the facility. They were so concerned about the facility that plans were drawn up to attack it long before the war, although they were not carried out. “

which was scooped by

Romesh Ratnesar of CNN on August 26 2002
“Other Pentagon aides leaked word that the Administration had recently considered but decided against sending commandos into Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq to knock out a clandestine chemical-weapons lab allegedly run by Ansar al-Islam

To blow my own horn, I asked "Why did we let so many of the Ansar Al Islam terrorists get away ?" on November 6 2003 concluding
"Notice Ratnesar’s view that, to the Bush administration hawks, actually doing something about Ansar al Islam, is a minor aspect of the main effort to use the existence of Ansar Al Islam to convince Bush to invade Iraq. Notice also that someone decided not to attack Ansar Al Islam in 2002.
It seems to me that US forces in Iraq are in trouble because the Bush administration did not let minor objectives like catching terrorists by surprise get in the way of its “war on terrorism”.

Friday, May 14, 2004

John Derbyshire misquotes Orwell while defending "techniques of humiliation to break their wills and show them who's boss" claiming that in his essay on Kipling Orwell wrote "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

I have managed not to comment on John Derbyshire, but misquoting Orwell is too much. He has been told of the error which he corrects by linking to a list of well known misquotations. He describes this as "full details." There is no evidence that he has checked the essay which he mentions "Can't stop to check everything. Not my chob."

He still claims "Orwell -- in the Kipling essay I started with -- passes very similar opinions, and would undoubtedly have agreed with the remark. " And while the original misquote does not appear in the current version of the apologia for "techniques of humiliation" it does contain the following claim
"One of the many things Orwell taught us (see, e.g., his essay on Kipling) is that the dirty work of civilization -- the work of policemen, prison guards, soldiers, interrogators of terrorist suspects -- is *dirty*."

What Orwell wrote in the essay "Rudyard Kipling" includes "It would be difficult to hit off the one-eyed pacifism of the English in fewer words than in the phrase 'making mock of the uniforms which guard you while you sleep'" and "he sees that the soldier is neglected, meanly underpaid and hypocritically despised by the people whose income he safeguards."

In the first passage Orwell agrees with Kipling's criticism of pacifism. Here Orwell is arguing that soldiers are not, as such, despicable. He is not arguing that soldiers who abuse prisoners are not dispicable. The second quotation is about plain old snobbery, in particular, it is an partial extenuation of Kipling's misdeed of making fun of Cockney accents.

In the essay Orwell does not defend anything which he would consider dirty. Armies yes, fighting yes, killing in war yes, abusing prisoners no. Orwell was a police officer in Burma and he knew what the dirty work was. He rejected it. It should not need saying that Orwell lived and died a socialist anti imperialist.

If Derbyshire had bothered to read the essay which he misquoted he might have noticed "Those who now call themselves Conservatives are either Liberals, Fascists or the accomplices of Fascists." I think Orwell was overharsh, although the claim might have been true when he wrote it.

I'd note in closing that John Derbyshire is certainly not a Liberal.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Death to Zarqawi

Not for revenge, not because it would be just, because so long as he lives he kills.

Nicholas Berg was a non combatent murdered out of pure racism.

I admit, I would choose life in prison for Zarqawi over the death penalty if he were in custody.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Below I indulge in the pleasure of working through Matthew Yglesias' reasoning.
Far far away in another part of Washington and another moral and intellectual universe, Senator Inhofe was showing the depths of human mental depravity. "I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the
treatment ... These prisoners, you know they're not there for traffic violations. If they're in cellblock 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."

Joshua Marshall notes Inhofe's indefensible equation of "accused" and "guilty". I'd add that insurgents should not be treated as war criminals let alone tortured. I think that Iraqi insurgents are making a terrible mistake, but the legal case is simple. There country was invaded and occupied, they are fighting the occupiers, this makes them belligerants not criminals. Some insurgents may have become criminals by killing or torturing prisoners. An insurgent fighting the occupiers of his country is the moral equivalent of a murderer or a terrorist.

Also, of course, it is morally unacceptable to torture someone just because they are a terrorist murderer.

Even criticizing Inhofe makes me feel complicit in his depravity.
Trying to Reason about torture is dangerous as a ticking bomb

Matthew Yglesias is reasonable and brilliant as always. He concludes "Even without resorting to any implausibly absolutist arguments, then I don't think we're likely to find any situations where tortuting people is a good idea." Taht is, while it is possible to imagine a hypothetical in which torture is justified it is unlikely that such a situation will ever occur.

I think that for pure practical purposes, there is little difference between "will probably never happen before the humankind dies off" and "happens very rarely". Let's say that the cost of an absolute taboo against torture is that people are sometimes but very rarely killed by a time bomb which could be diffused. That is a small cost compared to the cost of the increased torture which occurs if people with a darker side (that is people) are liberated from the taboo.

If we are deciding whether we should do what we can to support the taboo on torture, very rare cases in which torture is good doen't tip the practical moral balance any more than a purely hopothetical case. I also think that, if we are trying to support the taboo, conceding that torture would be moral in a purely hypothetical case does about as much damage as conceding that it is moral in very rare cases. I'd say the best thing to do if someone tries to defend torture is to shout that it is always morally unacceptable. I admit, here, that I don't really believe that, because I assume that none of the few readers of this blog will ever be seriously tempted to torture anyone.

I have some other quibbles with Yglesias' argument.
Yglesias' argues that with torture "You can get information (as seen in, say, The Battle of Algiers) like what the name of the guy you reported to was, but not stuff that's incredibly time-sensitive ("where's the bomb!")." Who said that all terrorists have short fuses ? I mean couldn't the bomb be set to explode in a year or two ?

I think Yglesias uses a false dichotomy to argue that "Thus, the goal of torture is not to shift the incentives facing the victim (cooperate and we won't hurt you) but rather to destroy the personality of the victim, thus creating a shattered wreck of a human being who, unlike his predecessor, lacks strong ideological commitment to the cause." This may be the way torture generally achieves its goals (aside from the goal of gratifying sadists).

Yglesias argues
"If your proposed victim is disposed to respond self-interestedly to inventives, it's easy enough to get him to cooperate without resorting to extreme measures. As with flipping a perp in a criminal case you offer him a nicer cell, more cigarettes, a shorter sentence, whatever, to be provided if his information pans out. Torture is for precisely those cases where the victim is sufficiently committed to the cause that he won't respond to incentives in an instrumentally rational manner." I think there is an equivocation her. Two different statements are equated -- to "respond self-interestedly to inventives," is not the same as to " respond to incentives in an instrumentally rational manner." Instrumental rationality does not imply complete selfishness. The victim may be partly committed to the cause and thus not does respond self interestedly but not completely and absoltutely committed and thus responds in an instrumentally ratioanal manner. Yglesias' argument relies on asserting that there is nothing between absolute selfishness and absolute commitment, that is, on asserting that a mild incentive has the same effect as a major incentive.

There are many things which I would do to avoid torture which I would not do to get a nicer cell or more cigarettes, even assuming that the mere threat of possible future torture does not reduce me to a "shattered wreck of a human being".