Thursday, July 01, 2004

A couple of quotes:

From the infamous torture memos:

In order to respect the Presdient's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign, 18 U.S.C. § 2340A (the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his Commander-in-Chief authority. ...

As this authority is inherent in the President, exercise of it by subordinates would be best if it can be shown to have been derived from the President's authority through Presidential directive or other writing.

And here's Dubya, while delivering his final ultimatum to Saddam:

... all Iraqi military and civilian personnel should listen carefully to this warning: Do not destroy oil wells, a source of wealth that belongs to the Iraqi people. Do not obey any command to use weapons of mass destruction against anyone, including the Iraqi people. War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished and it will be no defense to say, "I was just following orders."

Torture is a war crime.

I was reminded of this by watching Control Room, the documentary on al-Jazeera's coverage of the Gulf War -- and Centcom's staff's reactions to al-Jazeera. The film also quotes Rumsfeld denouncing the Iraqi Army's showing of video of American prisoners as violation of the Geneva Conventions...

A little news from Boston:

The Red Sox lost a ballgame to the Yankees yesterday. On a radio call-in show afterwards, I heard one Bostonian, in New York for the game, break down in tears over their lousy infield defense. Earlier, a guy who was training to offer psychological help in disaster relief called to say he was looking into setting up a program to apply his new skills to Red Sox fans.

So, how do we get this condition into DSM IV?

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

A few months ago, there was a story going around that former American servicemen who had more or less retired -- out of regular service, out of reserve training, moved on with their lives -- were getting warned that the military was getting ready to use a rarely-exercised right to put them back in uniform, as part of the so-called Individual Ready Reserve, and that they'd better reenlist early if they wanted to have their choice of assignments. The Army almost instantly denounced this as a rumor stemming from misunderstanding of contingency planning documents, or, well.. something like that.

And then, a couple days ago, they started calling people up from the ready reserve. Evidently, the simple and cold equations describing the finite endurance of the troops in Iraq, and the lack of any forces elsewhere ready for combat, had to be balanced.

Of course, even the Ready Reserve is a finite resource. But people who are worried about a draft, though, shouldn't be. Attempts to fill vacant posts on now-inactive committees, and collect information on potential draftees, surely are just the result of someone doing contingency planning. Or, well... something like that.

A little news from Boston:

Life could be better for Mayor-for-Life Tom Menino right now.

You know those chores you know you ought to do, but you keep on putting off because it's just too much of a gosh darned bother, and there's always something more important going on right now? Menino's got one of those: signing a contract with the city's police union. He's been putting that off for two years now since the last one expired, between one thing and another, over disputed provisions which would cost about one quarter of one percent of the city's budget.

And now he's shocked and dismayed to discover that there are consequences. The union says they don't want to put public safety at risk with a work stoppage, so what's left is pickets -- mostly of events associated with the Mayor, like his party at the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, which delegates will be asked not to attend. And police picket lines have already delayed construction at the DNC venue.

Worse, for Menino, police will be picketing a Boston meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, where John Kerry had been scheduled to speak. This faces Kerry with an awkward choice -- to enrage organized labor by crossing the picket line, or to embarrass Tom Menino by pulling the speech.

Kerry has chosen to embarrass Menino. And Menino thinks this shows a seriously skewed sense of priorities. He calls the Kerry campaign "small minded". He calls the Kerry campaign "incompetent." He suggests that the Kerry campaign's diplomatic statements that he has several hard jobs and might be a little stressed are attempts to discredit him personally. "Maybe they should use some of their energies", he says, "to get their message across to the American people instead of trying to destroy the integrity of someone who is on their team, to try to discredit someone on their team."

I mean, really. They're acting as if the AFL-CIO is somehow more important to them than the Mayor of Boston. How dare they?

On the other hand, maybe Menino himself could use some of his own energies to reach a deal with the police. It is two years late...

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

On Julia's blog, Sisyphus shrugged. Teresa Nielsen Hayden, it seems, isn't getting off that easy:

We have always been moving. We will never do anything else. The remaining stuff that’s yet to be moved will keep expanding to fill an infinite number of boxes, an unending succession of U-Haul trucks. Only we will change, gradually growing older and more battered and decrepit, until finally we’re used up entirely. When this happens we’ll be propped up in front of the yard railing, on offer [to] any passersby who think they have some use for our remains.

I'm feeling a little better about renewing the lease on my own less than perfect apartment...

The New York Times on Iraqi sovereignty:

Iraq will have all the formal powers of a sovereign state: the ability to appoint and dismiss ministers; to allocate budgets; to conduct negotiations with foreign countries. But it is not clear what will happen if the Americans disagree with Iraqi decisions. Even though the United States has the leverage of troops and billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts, Iraqi complaints of American interference could embarrass an administration eager to prove to the world that Iraqis are now in charge.

So, it's not clear that they can exercise the normal powers of a sovereign state if we "disagree". But, on the other hand, we have given them the sovereign power to embarrass us. Gee, the way we've been embarrassing ourselves, it seems kinda redundant...

LA Times op-ed via what will apparently be the last comment thread at Billmon's soon-to-be-comment-free Whiskey Bar...

From a New York Times article on the "revolving door" that shuttles bureaucrats from Pentagon procurement posts to plum jobs in defense contractors, and back:

Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, tried to insert a provision into the 2005 Pentagon spending bill last week to tighten ethics laws, but his effort was beaten back by stiff opposition.

"The potential for abuse is enormous.'' said Senator Byrd, who added that the relationship between military contractors and the Pentagon is "too close, too chummy.''


Byrd is no longer my least favorite Democratic Senator. That dubious honor now goes to DINO Zell Miller, who will be speaking at the Republican convention, and who says he'll "do anything [he] can to help re[!]-elect George W. Bush". If you're making odds on the Democrats retaking the Senate, don't be sure you can count this guy as one of their votes. Ummm... Where was I?

Byrd is no longer my least favorite Democratic Senator. But he was for quite some time, having used his long-time seat as chair of the Senate appropriations committee for literally decades to shower his state of West Virginia with the worst sort of pork-barrel projects. (Not that Republicans as a party, swelling Federal spending under Dubya as under Reagan, have much to collectively brag about).

The problem Byrd's talking about is real. But other Senators, including John McCain, are also talking about it. And perhaps Byrd had better let them do the talking...

Monday, June 28, 2004

So, here's a heartwarming tale in the New York Times of technology improving peoples' lives:

Cellphones are chock-full of features like built-in cameras, personalized ring tones and text messaging. They also gave a real boost to Kenny Hall's effort to cheat on his girlfriend.

Mr. Hall, a 20-year-old college student in Denver, decided in March to spend a weekend in nearby Boulder with another woman. He turned to his cellphone for help, sending out a text message to hundreds of other cellphone users in an "alibi and excuse club," a network of 3,400 strangers who help each other skip work, get out of dates or give a loved one the slip.

Assistance came instantly. A club member, on receiving Mr. Hall's message, agreed to call the girlfriend. He pretended to be the soccer coach from the University of Colorado at Boulder and said that Mr. Hall was needed in town for a tryout.

Mr. Hall, if that is his real name, is presumably hoping right around now that no one his girlfriend knows reads the New York Times.

Of course, there is the ancient problem of honor among, well...

Mr. Hall, the student in Denver, said that when he gave away his girlfriend's phone number to a stranger, he worried that the stranger might do more than make an excuse.

"I didn't want him hitting on her or telling her what I was up to," Mr. Hall said. But now he is a believer in the power of the cellphone-assisted alibi. "It worked out good, actually."

Now, you may be wondering what on earth this has to do with cell phones. (I am, at any rate -- the key enabling technology, it seems to me, is the internet bulletin boards that broker the requests for ... assistance; once it's arranged, there's no technical barrier I'm aware of to telling barefaced lies over a land line). But to me, the technology is less interesting than the social aspects. One might imagine, for instance, that there's a certain limit to growth here; if you want to know what your "friends" are lying about, the quickest way to learn is join the club...