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Friday, July 31, 2009

Boris Worm et al discover. the advantages of having an unappetizing name.
Quadruple meta

Matt Yglesias goes triple meta in his blog post "Stay First-Order on Health Care." writing

"It’s difficult, of course, to critique the impulse to “go meta” without falling prey to accusations of going double meta."

You can be the first (OK in the first million) to go quintuple meta on the blogosphere by linking to this post.

Update: I thought the above was pretty good link begging but this is better.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Beware Doug

Your friends from 1050 Mass ave (where you had this cartoon, unmodified on your office door) are getting restless.



The original which was posted on Elmendorf's door when he was a graduate student is one of the few things which has been keeping me almost sane the past few weeks. Whenever some reporter says the latest CBO calculations mean that health care reform is in trouble, I say "Beware of Doug," laugh and feel better.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

JOhn Donne would have said

Go and catch a falling star
get child by a mandrake root
and I'll find you a congressman
Republican and fair.

Looks like we have a live one -- an honest Republican.

Paul Krugman notes

At a recent town-hall meeting in suburban Simpsonville, a man stood up and told Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

“I had to politely explain that, ‘Actually, sir, your health care is being provided by the government,’ ” Inglis recalled. “But he wasn’t having any of it.”

I ask you how many Republican congressmen would admit (let alone insist) that Medicare is a government program ?
Let's make a deal.

Pelosi needs the votes of about 15 blue dogs to pass health care reform. They claim that such a vote would be bad for their re-electoral prospects. I don't see why, but let's just pretend that they have a point. I have a proposal.

If a blue dog votes Yes the Pelosi promises to name them at least 3 times next year in the following context

"Sigh, it's harder than it looks. Sure on paper we have a huge majority, but I have to deal with DINO's like "lucky Bluedog 1", "lucky blue dog 2" .... and "lucky blue dog 5" who are really conservatives. I'm not criticizing their caracters -- they vote according to their principles. It's just that we don't agree on much."

I'd say such a quote is worth at least 5% of the vote in any blue dog's district.

But I mean Pelosi shouldn't give it away for free (except to Kravotil D-MD-1 a freshman from a very red district whose re-election is rated a toss up by congressional quarterly).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Basic Football Terminology

To Red Dog (alternative phrase for to blitz) linebacker crosses line of scrimmage attempting to sack opposing quarterback.

Often works, sometimes risky. Shows that player (and/or defensive coordinator) has guts.

To Blue Dog (alternative phrase for To Benedict Arnold) linebacker crosses own goal line and spikes own helmet.

Shows that player forgot which team he is on.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sauce Goose Gander ?

The New York Times continues its policy of declaring the Senate to have rejected a bill when a majority of Senators vote yes

the provision got only 58 votes, two short of the 6o votes needed for passage under Senate rules.

Hmm does this have anything to do with cloture or filibusters ? Lefty bloggers such as myself have been complaining for over 2 years and 6 months over the MSMs tendency to treat a filibuster as normal and assert, in effect, that a majority less than 60 is a minority.

I understand that to increase the deficit one must first modify the rule of the senate that says that all bills and amendments which would increase the deficit are out of order. Thus, filibuster or no filibuster, the stimulus bill required 60 votes on a change in the rules before it could pass.

What's going on here ? Hmm let me try to check.

Seems that the latest vote was not a vote on a cloture motion. The amendment is listed as rejected. It appears that, exactly as claimed by BERNIE BECKER and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN of the New York Times, under Senate rules

Required For Majority: 3/5

So with only 58 votes the amendment was rejected, not filibustered to death, rejected.

In any case, I am delighted that a pro-gun amendment didn't pass in large part due to the surprising opposition of Senator Lugar.

Monday, July 20, 2009

What is Google ads trying to tell me ?

I tend to ignore the google ads on this site, but the latest was

Wife Adultery
Find out why so many women today are committing adultery

The google ads algorithm puzzles me. I haven't written about female adultery in a while (topic why hasn't Dana Perino done any).

Is google ads trying to tell me that if I spend my whole geeky life in cyberspace, my wife will seek real world companionship with someone else ?

I just e-mailed her to ask for her opinion.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

There is an Important Article on the Interrogation of Abu Zubaidah by Joby Warrick and Peter Finn in the July 19 Washington Post.

The story so far is that FBI agent Ali Soufan and un-named others assert that the valuable information obtained from Abu Zubaida was obtained by the traditional and clearly legal method called rapport building, that cruel inhuman and degrading interrogation techniques caused him to stop talking, that the FBI refused to continue to participate in the high value detainee interrogation program because they thought that CIA tactics were illegal, that the illegal techniques were introduced by the contractor John Mitchell (Mitchell had never participated in an interrogation and based his approach in part on published experiments with dogs and rats who did not reveal actionable intelligence not being able to talk).

The article presents evidence suporting Soufan's claims. In particular Warrick and Finn assert as fact that the flow of information from Abu Zubaida stopped soon after Mitchell and Jessen arrived and took over and restarted with Soufan and his partner Steve Gaudin began questioning Abu Zubaida again. This is the first time I have read the name of Soufan's partner who cleaned Abu Zubaida after Abu Zubaida soiled himself and then almost immediately obtained Khalid Sheik Muhammad's alias and the information that he was the 9/11 mastermind. They also note that CIA employees who were in Thailand agree with Soufan (there is no hint in the article that any disagree).

The article is largely devoted to quoting an anonymous "former U.S. official" (from now on who is clearly attempting to defend Mitchell and his fellow contractor John Jessen. I like the article, but the word I like best of all is the "former" in "former U.S. official." The case for the defense is extremely unconvincing. The case for the defense is extremely unconvincing. confirms earlier claims that CIA officials based in Langeley insisted that Abu Zubaida be water boarded one more time after Mitchell and Jessen concluded that there was no point. This shows that they are not the only criminals involved, but does not even show that they weren't the worst criminals. The envoy from headquarters agreed to stop waterboarding after watching one session.

the also notes that, as asserted by Soufan, that Abu Zubaida revealed information about José Padilla when interrogated by the FBI after the CIA had deprived him of sleep.

"In two different bits, after sleep deprivation, is when Abu Zubaida gave clues about who Padilla might be," the former U.S. official said. "When that was put together with other CIA sources, they were able to identify who he was. . . . The cables will not show that the FBI just asked friendly questions and got information about Padilla."

This insinuates that the sleep deprivation was useful, but the claims of fact are perfectly consistent with Soufan's claim that he (and Gaudin) got Abu Zubaida to cooperate again after and in spite of the harsh treatment. In substance, the claim is that, just as Soufan claimed, Abu Zubaida revealed useful information after he had been deprived of sleep and *not* that Abu Zubaida revealed useful information when exhausted. Should Abu Zubaida provide more useful information (for example a the trials of Mssrs Mitchell and Jessen) he would again provide useful information after sleep deprivation.

Warrick and Finn strongly suggest that they believe that lied to them on a key point, but do not reveal his or her name as punishment.

The former U.S. official said that waterboarding forced Abu Zubaida to reveal information that led to the Sept. 11, 2002, capture of Ramzi Binalshibh, the key liaison between the Hamburg cell led by Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and al-Qaeda's leadership in Afghanistan.

But others contend that Binalshibh's arrest was the result of several pieces of intelligence, including the successful interrogation by the FBI of a suspect held at Bagram air base in Afghanistan who had been in contact via satellite phone with Binalshibh, as well as information gleaned from an interview Binalshibh gave to the television network al-Jazeera.

note "others" plural making claims including details and not simply an assertion.

More disturbingly, Warrick and Finn quote a clearly false claim by another anonymous official without immediately presenting the proof that it is false (which comes later in the article) or, heaven forfend, naming the person who lied to them.

"It was not a job we sought out," said one former senior intelligence official involved in early decisions on interrogation. "The generals didn't want to do it. The FBI said no. It fell to the agency because we had the [legal] authorities and could operate overseas."

The claim tht it fell to the agency because "the FBI said no" is simply a lie. The rest of the article notes that the FBI did not say no, interrogated Abu Zubaida before the CIA did, obtained valuable information and only withdrew from the high value detainee interrogation program after the CIA took control of the interrogations and repeatedly broke the law. The FBI can and does operate overseas. The FBI said no after and because of the CIA's crimes. The senior intelligence officials claim about the direction of causation is a flat out lie. What possible useful goal could be served by refraining from naming someone who tells blatant obvious lies to reporters ? Is the problem the risk that it will prevent former officials from lying to reporters making it much harder to obtain Ballance ?

Warrick and Finn make two very odd claims in the own names too.

1) "The officials who authorized or participated in harsh interrogations continue to dispute how effective such methods were and whether important information could have been obtained from Abu Zubaida and others without them."

Later Warrick and Finn present as uncontroversial the claim that important information was obtained from Abu Zubaida without them. If it was obtained then it sure could have been obtained. Also they go on to desribe a debate over whether any important information was obtained from Abu Zubaida with them. People do tell plain lies in debates, but reporters should note that such lies are lies or not mention them at all.

2) Mitchell and Jessen "have been portrayed as eager proponents of coercion, but the former U.S. official, whose account was corroborated in part by Justice Department documents, said they also rejected orders from Langley to prolong the most severe pressure on the detainee. The former official's account, alongside the recollections of those familiar with events at the CIA's secret prison in Thailand, yields a more nuanced understanding of their role than has previously been available."

The only evidence supporting "a more nuanced understanding" is the fact that Mitchell and Jessen wanted to stop waterboarding Abu Zubaida one session before the last. This fact has been noted repeatedly by exactly those who portray Mitchell and Jessen as eager proponents of coercion. Warrick and Finn's claim to priority is simply false.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Free Speech at Berkeley

Bit sad that U Cal Berkeley (yes that U Cal Berkeley) relies on imported protesters from Australia but I love the accents.

Via Glenn Greenwald @ twitter.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Broad Tent

The Democratic party has a long history of extreme ideological diversity. Recently Democrats seem to have reached some agreement on some basic principles such as, for example, democracy.

Now leading Democratic Party strategist, spokesman and lobbyist Lanny Davis reopens that debate by lobbying in support of the Honduran Coup claiming overthrow of an elected president by the military was about "the rule of law."

Ah brings me back to my childhood (actually teen age and young adult memories of learning what the hell my country did when I was a child). Lyndon Johnson (who according to some at least one lefty loony brought universal suffrage to the USA in 1965) approved of the Brazilian coup and sent the US army to assist the military dictatorship in the Dominican Republic against an attempted counter coup.

I am tempted to suggest that the Democratic National Committee expell Mr Davis from the party for ideological error and that we then give Mr Davis his own party -- lets call it the Democrat party just to bug the wingnuts, but I remember the words of the founder of the Democratic party who argued that we should allow all speech even arguments against our republican form of government, since truth need not fear error.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Life Imitates Art

(I suggest that it's time for Senator Sessions to Take the Money are Run)

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), seeking to discredit Judge Sonia Sotomayor's judicial philosophy, cited her 2001 "wise Latina" speech, and contrasted the view that ethnicity and sex influence judging with that of Judge Miriam Cedarbaum, who "believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices."

"So I would just say to you, I believe in Judge Cedarbaum's formulation," Sessions told Sotomayor.

"My friend Judge Cedarbaum is here," Sotomayor riposted, to Sessions's apparent surprise. "We are good friends, and I believe that we both approach judging in the same way, which is looking at the facts of each individual case and applying the law to those facts."

via Steve Benen. Made my day except commenter Alan at political animal beat me to the comparison

Pay to [read the] play.

Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance is a very honest man. His University is paying his "good friend" Alberto Gonzales $100,000 to teach one section of one course.

He argues that, roughly, power is knowledge "“research on ‘the best part of Shakespeare’s play’ isn’t on the same level as the research his university is conducting for the Defense Department.”" and proudly announces that he is for sale, that he is corrupt, that his favor can be bought dismissing complaints about the hiring of Gonzales this way "He said that he received a “substantial number” of supportive e-mails about the hire, and just nine critical ones. He added that “he wasn’t dwelling on the negative ones because they didn’t come from loyal university donors.”"

That's Texas Tech University where money talks and rich people can decide who teaches students and, I guess, what is considered true by Texas Tech faculty.

Look we all know that US Universities are about as corrupt as politicians, but, chancellor Hance, you aren't supposed to admit it in public.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Trivia Question

Where did Trivial Pursuit get those cute little illustrations ? How many of them exist ? Where were they first published ? Where have they been published most recently ?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Did Matthew Yglesias Just Insinuate that Senator Jim DeMint is a Communist ?

He wrote

"DeMint ... confuses Nazis and Social Democrats ... Communists ... maintaining that there was no difference between the two"

Look I don't like him much either but I totally disagree with Yglesias's assertion that he is a communist.

If I were a communist and aimed to destroy the Republican party I would not act like Senator DeMint at all ... uh wellllll hummmmm

OK OK I admit it. Yglesias is right, he must be a communist. No one could do so much to discredit conservatism by accident.

Friday, July 03, 2009

What is Balance ?

I realize that while I have repeatedly defined Ballance, I have yet to offer a definition of balance. I realized that this was a mistake when Howard Kurtz demonstrated complete ignorance of the meaning and etymology of the word.

In a Post chat Mr Kurtz wrote

Howard Kurtz: My pretense hasn't been very consistent, since I've written lengthy pieces on both Joe and Mika. Morning Joe figured into my calculation, in that it's an opinionated show (with Scarborough balanced a little bit by Brzezinski) that no one would confuse with straight news ...

Then responded to a puzzled inquiry from a Morning Joe fan

Balanced by Mika?: I love Morning Joe and don't watch the evening chatter on any cable. I do not know what Mika's politics are, but I often find her marked by deference to her men (reminds me of a "powerful" woman in '40's screwball company). Today's show featured Mika interviewing noted philanderer Rudy Giuliani regarding Sanford and political affairs. Instead of having Rudy talk about his own broad and deep experience on the subject, including the use of public funds on mistresses, she allowed it to become a discourse on Bill Clinton. Oy.

Howard Kurtz: Look, it's Joe's show, he's a former Republican congressman and an unabashed conservative (albeit one who hasn't hesitated to criticize his party). Mika is a lifelong journalist, not a liberal advocate, with views that are certainly to the left of Scarborough's. All I said is that she added a little balance. It's not set up like Crossfire where their views have equal weight.

So evidently someone well to the right can be balanced, at least a little, by anyone to his left. Thus moderate right would balance far right. Kurtz definitely does not claim that Bzerzinski is, in any way, left of center. The problem is that he seems to think that the concept of "balance" has some meaning separate from the definition of the center.

In origin the word refers to a simple device used to weigh things. Simple balances consist of a rigid bar resting on a fulcrum and two pans of equal weight which must be an equal distance from the fulcrum. To get accurate weights it is not sufficient that the two pans be attached at different points on the bar, nor is it enough that they be on different sides of the fulcrum.

A balance can be "in balance." Consider the bar to be an axis going without loss of generality North South. The balance is in balance when the sum of the weights times how far North of the fulcrum they are is zero. Without a fulcrum the word has no plain English meaning.

This means that to agree on whether something is balanced, we must agree on a fulcrum. We don't. This means that we can agree that a news or commentary program presents a variety of points of view making fruitful debate possible, but there is no chance that we will agree that it is balanced. It is possible that the vast majority of people will agree that both left of center and right of center views are expressed, but there is no hope that we will agree about how far left and right they are. There isn't an agreed center and there never will be one unless and until all political debate ends because we all agree.

This is very important, because, in practice, Kurtz et al define the center as half way between Republicans and Democrats. Thus the view that Iraq did not have WMD was a fringe view to be mentioned briefly if at all. Yet it happened to be true. Thus Bush's and Kerry's records with regard to Vietnam were equally controversial.

I think it is clear that the idea of "balance" is not relevant to the practice of journalism. One can aim for debate for consideration of a diversity of views, but one can't commit to balance without allowing Karl Rove to make you give equal weight to truth and lies.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Absurdity of Hope -- More on French Exams

Matthew Yglesias was recently alarmed by hard questions on the French Bac writing

"Apparently there’s also a question asking if it’s absurd to desire the impossible. I think it is."

I just heard about an English language test for French University students. Started with a reading sample — Obama’s inaugural address. Then questions like “how inspiring was this”, “what made you feel hope as you read this” etc.

Don’t tell David Horowitz, but French students are, evidently, being forced to express (and motivate and explain this is University level) admiration for the President of the USA to pass an exam.

Now I happen to be irrationally nationalistic and long wished (without hoping) to live to see the day in which the French were overwhelmed by enthusiasm for a US President. Was that desire absurd ?