Sour Grapes
Of course we're Fair and Balanced!

2007-08-31

A hero for the 21st Century

I'm thinking of Abdul Sattar Edhi. He came to my attention when I read this article about Pakistan in the September 2007 issue National Geographic.



[I]t is a measure of the country's underlying goodness, and a sign of hope, that 60 years after independence the most revered figure in Pakistan is not a mullah or a sports hero, but a 79-year-old man who routinely washes dried blood off dead bodies and fishes his clothes from a donation barrel.



Abdul Sattar Edhi began serving his fellow citizens a few years after the founding of Pakistan, when he opened a free clinic in Karachi. Later he bought a dented Hillman station wagon, its blue paint peeling, and turned it into Pakistan's first private ambulance. He shuttled poor people to medical care and collected the bodies of the city's homeless from the gutters, washed them, and gave them a proper burial. "I felt it was my duty as a human being," he says, recalling the revulsion he learned to overcome. "It was obvious the government wasn't going to do it."



Decades later, that hasn't changed. While the military accounts for a quarter of the national budget, less than 3 percent is spent on education, health, and public welfare. And so Edhi still tends to Pakistan's dirty work, body by body. His one-man charity is now an acclaimed international foundation. His single, beat-up old station wagon has grown into a fleet of 1,380 little white ambulances positioned across Pakistan, tended by thousands of volunteers. They are usually first to arrive on the scene of any tragedy. In May 2002, when police found the remains of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered in Karachi, it was Edhi who gently collected the body parts, all ten, and took Daniel Pearl to the morgue.



I'm not the only one who thinks Mr Edhi a hero. And I'm not alone in thinking he should be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.





2007-08-29

Senator Larry Craig

OK, I try not to come to conclusions about people before I know all the facts (perhaps I should say "as many as possibly can be known" since no one can know all the facts). If you've ever been involved in an event that was covered by the media, you know how difficult it is to know much that's accurate from them (not to be overly critical�to a large degree it's inherent in the nature of things). So I start by looking at a source document: the police report filed by Sgt. Karsnia, the arresting officer. Here are some excerpts:



I entered the men's restroom and proceeded to an unoccupied stall....



At 1213 hours I could see an older white male with grey hair standing outside my stall.... The male was later identified by Idaho driver's license as Larry Edwin Craig . I could see Craig look through the crack in the door from his position. Craig would look down at his hands, "fidget" with his fingers, and then look through the crack into my stall again. Craig would repeat this cycle for about two minutes....



At 1215 hours, the male in the stall to the left of me... exited... Craig entered the stall and placed his roller bag against the front of the stall door.... From my seated position, I could observe the shoes and ankles of Craig... At 1216 hours, Craig tapped his right foot. Craig tapped his toes several times and moved his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly.... The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area.



At 1217 hours, I saw Craig swipe his hand under the stall divider for a few seconds.... I was only able to see the tips of his fingers.... Craig swiped his hand again for a few seconds... to where I could see more of his fingers. Craig then swiped his hand a third time... I could see Craig... had a gold ring on his ring finger as his hand was on my side of the stall divider.



At about 1219 hours, I held my Police Identification in my right hand down by the floor so that Craig could see it. With my left hand near the floor I pointed towards the exit. Craig responded, "No!" I again pointed towards the exit. Craig exited the stall... without flushing the toilet. Without causing a disturbance, I discretely motioned Craig to exit the restroom. I noticed that not all the stalls were occupied....



At this point, according to Sgt. Karsnia, they go to the Police Operations Center although Craig is reluctant and even resistant (nothing indicates that he resisted arrest).



I asked him for his driver's license.... Craig handed me a busines card that identified himself as a United State Senator as he stated, "What do you think about that?" I responded by setting his business card down on the table and again asking him for his driver's license.



Craig provided me his driver's license. In a recorded post-Miranda interview, Craig stated the following:




  • ...

  • He was standing outside of the stalls for 1-2 minutes waiting for the stall

  • He has a wide stance when going to the bathroom and that his foot may have touched mine

  • He reached down with his right hand to pick up a piece of paper that was on the floor

  • He is unable to his gold wedding ring off of his left ring finger



It should be noted that there was not a piece of paper on the bathroom floor, nor did Craig pick up a piece of paper. During the interview, Craig either disagreed with me or "didn't recall" the events as they happened.



I've omitted what seem to me to be less important details�in the interest of brevity�and a statement of Sgt. Karsina's experience as to behavior commonly exhibited by persons engaged in "lewd conduct"�not to say that this not relevant, but I myself would probably have remained totally clueless about any such behavior for the rest of my life, but for this story (so I can easily believe there are many people who were, till now, similarly clueless, including Sen. Craig).



There are additional documents available at the link above. The only other one I want to excerpt is the Petition to Enter Plea of Guilty�Misdemeanor:



I, Larry Edwin Craig, am the defendant in the above action [State of Minnestor vs Larry Edwin Craig].... I state to the court that:




  1. ....

  2. I understand the charges made against me in this case, which are: Disorderly Conduct... and Interference with Privacy... I am pleading guilty to the offense of Disorderly Conduct as a Misdemenor.

  3. I am pleading guilty to the charge... as alleged because on June 11, 2007,... in the restroom... in Lindbergh Terminal, I did the following: Engaged in conduct which I knew or should have known tended to arouse alarm or resentment of others, which conduct was physical (versus verbal) in nature.

  4. I understand that the court will not accept a plea of guilty from anyone who claims to be innocent.
  5. I now make no claim that I am innocent of the charge to which I am entering a plea of guilty.

  6. ....

  7. I am not represented by an attorney.

  8. ....

  9. I understand that I have the following constitutional rights which I knowingly voluntarily and intelligently give up (waive) by entering this plea of guilty:...

  10. Understanding the above I am entering my plea of guilty freely and voluntarily and without any promises except as noted in number 11 below.

  11. I am entering my plea of guilty based on the following plea agreement with the Prosecutor:... sentence is 10 days of jail time and a fine of $1000.00; 10 days of jail and $500.00 of the fine are stayed for one year on the conditions that Larry Edwin Craig does not commit any same or similar offenses, Larry Edwin pays the unstayed fine of $500.00...



Is this behavior and the behavior reported all over the news media, such as not informing anyone in his life about these events, consistent with the denials that Sen. Craig is making? It's hard to believe. I understand him wanting to make it go away quickly and quietly. Easily. But putting myself in his shoes, if it had happened the way he describes, I have a hard time imagining myself accepting this plea agreement without even talking to an attorney (who, by the way, is ethically bound to confidentiality) or anyone else.



2007-08-28

Rioters in business suits



Protesting lawyer in the act of throwing a brick or stone at policeI came across a picture of lawyers in Lahore protesting the firing of Pakistan's chief justice by Gen Musharraf. It looked more like a riot than a protest to me, though I suppose riots are a subset of protests. What struck me was that the participants were wearing business suits. I don't think I've ever seen such a thing. Not particularly newsworthy almost six months later, but interesting. The picture to the left is related to a 12 March 2007 article on the BBC website. Clicking on the image will take you to the BBC story in pictures.


2007-08-27

Lying about Gonzales's resignation

There will comment a-plenty on this resignation. But I found something that won't get much attention but interests me. It's in today's New York Times story, (at the end of course):

There had been rumblings over the weekend that Mr. Gonzales�s departure was imminent, although the White House sought to quell the rumors....

A senior administration official said today that Mr. Gonzales, who was in Washington, had called the president in Crawford, Tex., on Friday to offer his resignation. The president rebuffed the offer, but said the two should talk face to face on Sunday.

Mr. Gonzales and his wife flew to Texas, and over lunch on Sunday the president accepted the resignation with regret, the official said.

On Saturday night Mr. Gonzales was contacted by his press spokesman to ask how the department should respond to inquiries from reporters about rumors of his resignation, and he told the spokesman to deny the reports.

White House spokesmen also insisted on Sunday that they did not believe that Mr. Gonzales was planning to resign. Aides to senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee said over the weekend that they had received no suggestion from the administration that Mr. Gonzales intended to resign.

As late as Sunday afternoon, Mr. Gonzales himself was denying through his spokesman that he was quitting. The spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, said Sunday that he telephoned the attorney general about the reports of his imminent resignation �and he said it wasn�t true � so I don�t know what more I can say.�

In other words, during the 1� days between Mr Gonzales submitting his resignation and Mr Bush accepting it, it seems that reporters who asked if the rumor was true was lied to or at the very least intentionlly misled. Not necessarily by the various spokespersons, but certainly by everyone who was giving them information. Mr Gonzales himself for one. And if not Mr Bush for another, he does an appallingly poor job of managing his staff.

Is it any wonder nobody trusts government or the media these days?



Billion light-year void in the universe

It appears to be 6-10 billion light-years distant and is described is this paper, which has reportedly been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. If I've made the right assumptions and done the calculations right, this void is about twice as big as the biggest known void. From today's Astronomy Picture of the Day:


The void is not a hole in space like a black hole, but rather a vast region of the universe that appears to be mostly devoid of normal matter and even dark matter. The void is still thought to contain dark energy, though, and is clearly traversable by light. The void's existence is being postulated following scientific curiosity about how unusually cold spots came to appear on WMAP's map of cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation. One possibility was that this CMB region was not actually very cold but light from the spot somehow became less cosmologically redshifted than normal along the way. Other voids in the universe are known to exist, but this void appears to have an unusually large gravitational effect, and so might possibly be the largest in our entire visible universe.


Total lunar eclipseA total lunar eclipse shown in a time lapse image captured in 2003 over North Carolina, USA



This eclipse (there's a minor error on the page that means you'll have to scroll up a little to see everything) will occur in less than 24 hours. Some aspect this event will be visible pretty much everywhere except most of Antarctica, Alaska, Hawaii, New South Wales and Queensland. Totality will be visible only from the Arctic, Africa, Europe, Greenland and Western Asia. Maximum eclipse will occur at 10:37:22 UT (6:37 AM here on the East Cost of the U.S.). Totality begins 0:45:00 earlier and ends 0:45:02 later, while the Moon enters Earth's umbra 1:46:06 earlier and leaves 1:46:08 later.



I wonder, "Why the 2-second difference? And the even bigger difference between times when the Moon enters and leaves Earth's penumbra? Also, why won't the Moon be full until 2 minutes after maximum totality?"



If you miss it, or the weather is bad, don't worry; the next one is in less than six months.






2007-08-26

Somebody to Love

According to a story published on Thursday by the BBC...
Queen star Brian May has gained his doctorate in Astronomy�36 years after starting his thesis. The rock guitarist... abandoned his studies to pursue a career in music...

The performer's thesis is entitled Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud, and he has been in the Canary Islands to carry out some astronomical observations.

Count me a fan of many Queen songs. One I like is Somebody to Love. To celebrate Dr May's new status, have a listen to this fantastic cover (.mp3) by Jim Boggia (pronounced BOH-zha). It's the first of several podcasts he's put up.

I'm giving away my cover of Queen's 'Somebody to Love' that I recorded to honor WXPN's Helen Leicht on her 30th year in radio.

If you live in Philadelphia and listen to WXPN (88.5 FM) like I do, or if you listen to their webcast, you are probably familiar with it. As Mr Boggia says, "you have seemingly not been able to escape from [hearing it]." He has an interesting post about the production of this unreleased number on his blog. Apparently he performed all 48 tracks by himself.


If I were one of those people who add music that automatically starts playing to their blogs or websites, this is probably the song I'd put up. But those sites annoy me terribly. So I won't impose my musical taste on you.




2007-08-24

Hole punch clouds

Holes in cloud decks are formed when supercooled water droplets in shallow cloud layers freeze (initiated by the falling ice crystals) and release their heat of fusion, which warms the air and evaporates the surrounding cloud. The fibrous, icy wisps falling from the clouds are called fall-streaks (seen here at left in the shape of a butterfly)
It's a day for weather I guess. I saw a picture of a cloud formation in September's issues of National Geographic. I've neither seen nor heard of this kind of formation before. Aussie School House has a whole collection of pictures of 'em. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration has an explanation, but National Geographic says, no one knows for sure how these are created, except that it's certainly not by the action of alien spaceships. "UFO hunters be warned�there is probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for the massive holes that mysteriously form in cloud layers as if, well, a giant spaceship had blasted through. Scientists just haven't nailed it down yet."


I substituted the National Geographic's actual words for my paraphrase.



PoP (Probability of Precipitation)

Speaking of the weather, I've invested a fair amount of time over the years trying to understand exactly what this means. Based largely on my own sense of who and what are reliable, I've concluded that this definition from the National Weather Service is a good one, despite the obvious bit of awkwardness:
12-hour Probability of Precipitation (PoP12)

Is the likelihood, expressed as a percent, of a measurable precipitation event (1/100th of an inch) at a grid point during the indicated valid period.
It would read so much better if it ended "during the indicated 12 hours." There's a much longer but useful explanation consistent with the definiton at this University of Texas page (attributed to the NWS but unavailable anywhere else, at least that Google knows about anyway).


Weather Forecast Accuracy

Who gives the best weather forecasts? ForecastAdvisor offers a free service that compares Accuweather, MyForecast, the National Weather Service (whose forecasts the Weather Underground repackages), the Weather Channel and others (Intellicast in SE PA). According to them, the Weather Channel was most accurate last month, being �% more accurate than Intellicast (and 1�% more accurate last year). Other services trail by 2% or more.


2007-08-23

Customer service lives

G.E. USB 2.0 hub (4-port) 97878 Rev. 3A while ago I bought a General Electric USB 2.0 4-port hub. For the last couple of months my webcam and printer have only been working intermittently. I finally figured out the problem is with this hub, through which I was connecting both to my computer. My first clue was that the hub overheated almost to the point of being too hot to handle, literally.

I spent a while trying to locate a way to contact G.E. about this problem over the Internet. When I finally found a web page that seemed suitable, I got numerous errors saying I had filled in the form with French characters, which, for some mysterious reason, was unacceptable. It also wasn't true. I finally got around that problem by eliminating all non-alphanumeric characters from what I was entering (i.e. no periods, commas, dashes, etc.). Then I started getting 404 (page not found) errors.

Next I attempted to contact the webmaster via a similar fill-in form. It worked! Several days later I got a response, telling me to call a toll-free number. I did and got someone who was obviously overseas. He kept giving me information then retracting it. Finally he said, "Oh, you have to call a different toll-free number for that part" and gave me the number. Which he then retracted. And gave me yet another. Without much hope of success I dialed it and got a recorded message saying they were closed.

Today I called again. None of the automated options seemed to fit my case, so I hit '0' to speak with an operator. She said, "Oh, you want the service department" and transferred me. Skeptical, when the service rep picked up (which was immediately), I started to explain apologetically exactly how I had come to be calling. She interrupted pleasantly and said, "What part number?" I gave her the part number and the next thing I knew she was taking my shipping address so she could mail me a new hub. No hassle! No more being put on hold! No more retractions!

Now all I have to do is wait for my replacement hub to show up. If I have problems, she told me to call her back. I would too, if I had bothered to note her name. What a surprisingly pleasant experience it was once I reached this company that I had never heard of. Who is it? Jasco Products, apparently a great company to do business with.



2007-08-22

Whose September report on Iraq?


Here are a couple of questions and answers from a White House press briefing on 1 Aug 2007 [full transcript]:
Q I'm asking how he [General Petraeus] can give an objective assessment of his own work.

MR. SNOW: Well, I think the first thing you ought to do is take a look again at the report that was filed to Congress, the interim reported July 15th�no sugarcoating there. You take a look�and they try to use real metrics on it. General Petraeus is a serious guy who sees his mission not as a political mission, but, in fact, as somebody who reports facts.

Now, let us keep in mind that the full burden of this report does not fall on his shoulders. A lot of the key judgments, especially about politics, will fall on Ambassador Crocker. So this is�although I know a lot of people talk about "the Petraeus report," in fact, you have a report that is a joint report by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. And so we trust him....

Q ...To what extent was the Vice President pre-writing the Petraeus report or setting expectations when he said he thinks it's going to show progress?

MR. SNOW: No, I don't think he's pre-writing it. Look, again, the one thing�if you talk to military guys, the last thing they want to do is get themselves embroiled in politics. What they try to do is to play it straight and to do it straight. And obviously the Vice President has his impressions based on what he's seen, but we're going to have to wait to see what General Petraeus has to report [emphasis added].

Now, according to a report on NPR, "the White House has indicated that it will write the report which Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker deliver to Congress..."

Needless to say, the difference between these two possibilities is huge.



2007-08-20

Electronic voting machines decertified in CA

I must have missed this item in the news.

After two months of unprecedented analysis of California�s voting systems and related security procedures, Secretary of State Debra Bowen today announced some of those systems can continue operating in 2008 in California while others are too flawed to be widely used.

Each of the systems that went through the top-to-bottom review has been legally decertified, and then each of them has been recertified with the addition of a number of conditions.

Ouch! There is a page of links to many more resources concerning this on the Secretary of State's website. Matt Blaze, one of the member of the review team, posted a blog entry describing events leading up to this decertification/recertification, as well as his personal observations. He concludes

I wish I could be more optimistic about their chances for success. Without radical changes to the software and architecture, it's not clear that a practical strategy that provides acceptable security even exists. There's just not a lot to work with.

I don't envy the officials who need to run elections next year.

I fear for the deserved lack of public confidence that seems to be creeping into the electoral process in the U.?. We had problems in 2000 (did you know that "[a]lmost two million ballots were disqualified in the 2000 election because [electronic voting machines] registered multiple votes or none when run through vote-counting machines"?), in 2004 (more "lost votes, [votes] subtracted... instead of adding them, and doubled votes"), and now this?



America the fearful



I took the title of this post from an interesting short essay on Capitol Hill Blue [found via their ]. It opens



"All we have to fear, is fear itself" enjoined President Roosevelt in the face of truly fearsome circumstances. Ever since politicians have worked hard at building a deep reservoir of fear upon which they can prey to gain even more power. But Americans are not wusses, we have shown admirable bravery in the face of extreme danger, so why is this tactic so successful in politics?


I didn't get the political kind of answer to this question that I was hoping for, but perhaps the answer given is the only one that will really be effective in the long run, namely, for each of us to look at and deal with the fear within ourselves. That's certainly consistent with my overall view of reality.



Dark matter imaged?



Here's something I never thought I'd see: an image that shows dark matter in and around a cloud of hot gas (normal matter). Of course, it's from the good folks at the Astronomy Picture of the Day and, no, it's not a real image, only a simulated image, inferred from the way light from more distant galaxies is gravitationally distorted. Still, I'm amazed that anyone could come up with any kind of image that might bear a close relation to reality (whatever that it is). Click on the picture to go to the source and read a fuller explanation.


 Cluster Crash Illuminates Dark Matter Conundrum


2007-08-19

When will they ever learn?



Earlier this month Congress enacted legislation, requested by the administration, that supposedly brought the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) up to date. But according to a New York Times article, now that Congress and everyone else has had time to study what the legislation actually says, "Democratic Congressional officials and other experts" say that this law "could allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include—without court approval—certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans' business records."



The Times article continues, "Administration officials acknowledged that they had heard such concerns... [b]ut they said the Democrats were simply raising theoretical questions based on a harsh interpretation of the legislation." In fact the White House says, "This Act Is A Temporary, Narrowly Focused Statute To Deal With The Most Immediate Needs Of The Intelligence Community To Protect The Country" [bold and capitals from original]. Are You Surprised That I'm Extremely Skeptical?



Given government's history of abuse of powers—and I don't mean merely by the Bush administration, or by administrations of the U.S. government, but by governments everywhere, throughout history—we the people ought to be afraid, very afraid, of just how harshly government officials will interpret this law when they see a need for it.



What will it take for Congress to learn to start reading and understanding legislation they pass before voting for it, rather than waiting till after it's already signed into law?

By the way, Senators Casey and Specter from my home state voted for this legislation. Representative Schwartz from my district voted against it. I'll remember.



2007-08-18

News photos from 2005



A friend e-mailed me a slideshow of 2005 news photos from MSNBC. Some were quite spectacular. I Googled for and found the original and larger slideshow on the MSNBC website. For your viewing pleasure, here are thumbnails to what I thought, in order, were the fifteen best (I'm sure if I went through them again, I'd pick a few different ones and put them in different order). Click on the thumbnail to see a larger (16-103K) version.




























The body of a child lies half-buried at a school on the outskirts of Balakot, Pakistan, on Oct 14Young victim of the Pakistan quakeAn angry Jewish boy looks out from a synagogue as Israeli police and soldiers storm the Neve Dekalim settlement in the Gaza Strip Aug 18
Gaza settler's defiance
France's Bruno Saby drives his Volkswagen Touareg along the edge of Dakar's Lake Rose during the last of stages of the 27th Dakar Rally Jan 16
Last stage of the Dakar rally
Buddhist monks chat at Pongour Falls in Dalat, Vietnam, on Oct 9. The 100-feet falls, also known as Paradise or the Seven-Layer Falls, draw pilgrims and tourists from far and wide.
Monks chant in Dalat, Vietnam
The body of an inmate lies at a local morgue after a prison battle between rival gangs in Escuintla, Guatemala, on Aug 16
Guatemala gang violence
A red barn along McClain Flats Road near Aspen, Colo, is surrounded by snow Nov 14 after a overnight storm
Red and white and brrr all over
Ox-eyed daisies are refracted through raindrops on the petals of a daisy in Mountain Iron, Minn, on June 14
Floral refraction
A visitor jumps from one pillar to another on part of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, Germany, on May 16Berlin Holocaust memorial opensA blind puppy named Guido frolics through his first snow Nov 26 in Vail Village, Colo, in the first of a series of snowstorms to pass through the area
A new dog, old trick
An Iranian woman walks through the snow during a cold winter night at Azadi (Freedom) Square west of Tehran on Feb 7
Wintry walk
NASA science officer John Phillips took this shot of the moon above the eye of Hurricane Emily from the International Space Station on July 17 as the storm churned in the Caribbean Sea east of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula
Mooning over Emily
Yachts race on Lake Balaton in central Hungary on Sept 13 during the 2005 Practical Flying Dutchman World Championship
Smooth sailing
A giant wave crashes over the sea wall at Kalk Bay near Cape Town, South Africa, Aug 27. The wave washed the two people off the wall. Both were rescued. Storms drove the waves that day to height of about 30 feet.
Crushing crest
A Russian air force demonstration team paints patterns in the sky with its MiG-29 fighters July 30 during an air show in Monino, Russia, about 40 kilometers from Moscow. The show commemorated the 60th anniversary of victory in World War II.
Blast for the past
A person walks down a neighborhood street in torrential rain in Lake Charles, La, on Sept 24
The reign of Rita

All images © their respective owners


Double spaceship flybys




From Space Weather News for 18 August 2007:



Space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to undock from the International Space Station on Monday, August 20th. If that happens as planned, sky watchers across North America may be able to witness something rare and beautiful: a double-spaceship transit across the night sky. US cities favored for flybys on Aug. 20th or 21st include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York and Phoenix. The space station and shuttle will appear as separate, bright points of light moving in tandem. Flyby times depend on where you live. Subscribers to Spaceweather PHONE will receive phone and email alerts when the pair are about to appear. Flyby timetables are also availabe from Heavens Above.



...The International Space Station is under construction, and with each new addition the sprawling complex becomes easier to see from the ground. To the naked eye, the space station now resembles a super-bright star gliding slowly across the sky....



The ISS by itself is quite a sight, and unmistakable. If skies are clear, do have a look.

19 Aug 2007 12:36 Eastern time UPDATE:

Due to the threat posed by Hurricane Dean, NASA has moved Endeavour's undocking up by one day to today. Unfortunately, forecasts call for several days of cloudy weather here in Southeast PA, so I'll probably miss it.



The Jose Padilla conviction



Jose Padilla became something of a poster child for the Bush administration's abuse of civil rights in fighting terrorism. Now that he's been convicted&mdashnot of the original charge of plotting to set off a dirty bomb, but on the charge of conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim, or injure persons or damage property in a foreign country—some will be tempted to see in it justification for the means the administration used. But it is not.



The New York Times, in an editorial yesterday, got it exactly right:



[I]t would be a mistake to see it as a vindication for the Bush administration's serial abuse of the American legal system in the name of fighting terrorism.



On the way to this verdict, the government repeatedly trampled on the Constitution, and its prosecution of Mr. Padilla was so cynical and inept that the crime he was convicted of—conspiracy to commit terrorism overseas—bears no relation to the ambitious plot to wreak mass destruction inside the United States, which the Justice Department first loudly proclaimed. Even with the guilty verdict, this conviction remains a shining example of how not to prosecute terrorism cases.



The crimes committed against due process of law by the U.S. government are of far more concern to me as a citizen than that committed by Jose Padilla.



2007-08-14

The Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience in Iraq

Anthony H. Cordesman

I hear a lot of really good interviews on the Charley Rose show on PBS. Particularly concerning Iraq. Last night, Dr. Anthony Cordesman was Charlie's guest and opined extremely well, I thought. I highly recommend watching the segment (by the way, he sounds uncannily like former President Gerald Ford).


Among the exchanges between them is the following:


CR: What is our moral responsibility in this circumstance? Because so many people, Iraqis and others, have depended on the United States?

AC: Again, I think Colin Powell made the point before we went to war about the idea that if we break it,...

CR: We own it.

AC: ... we own it. Well, we broke it.

CR: And now we own it.

AC: We own it, and we also are talking, again... We took a country with a dictatorship and because we focused only on one narrow idealogical goal—elections: our concept of trying to transform the government—the end result was to create an unworkable political system, to have no clear plans for dealing with the economy, for not addressing in time, or effectiveness, the differences that tore this country apart. And anyone listening to you can calculate the percentages: 2 million exiles, 2 million displaced, 8 million impoverished, unemployment at at least 30%. Getting rid of a dictator is an achievement. Destroying the core of a country is a massive moral and ethical failure.

[Several seconds of silence]

CR: And we've done both.

AC: The good news is Saddam is gone; the bad news is 27 million people.

Dr. Cordesman has just returned from Iraq and published a trip report titled The Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience in Iraq, which further outlines his case.


Everyone sees Iraq differently. As one leading US official in Iraq put it, "the current situation is like playing three dimensional chess in the dark while someone is shooting at you."...

From my perspective, the US now has only uncertain, high risk options in Iraq. It cannot dictate Iraq's future, only influence it, and this presents serious problems at a time when the Iraqi political process has failed to move forward in reaching either a new consensus or some form of peaceful coexistence....


[T]here is still a tenuous case for strategic patience in Iraq, and for timing reductions in US forces and aid to Iraqi progress rather than arbitrary dates and uncertain benchmarks....




2007-08-11

The power of sensory illusion



From one of my favorite websites of all times, one I has visited almost daily for something like 10 years, the Astronomy Picture of the Day, this the one for 17 July 2007:



A powerful visual illusion showing a checkerboard pattern with a light square in shadow that's the same color as a unshadowed black square, though the eye refuses to believe it

Are square A and B the same color? They are. Are too. To verify this, click on the above image to see them connected. The above illusion, called the same color illusion, illustrates that purely human observations in science may be ambiguous or inaccurate. Even such a seemingly direct perception as relative color.


Leaving Iraq



Now that it's becoming overwhelmingly obvious that we'll be starting to get out of Iraq before Bush's 2nd term ends,I'm glad to see that even the Democrats are becoming wary about the consequences, according to the New York Times:




John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, would keep troops in the country to intervene in an Iraqi genocide and be prepared for military action if violence spills into other countries. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York would leave residual forces to fight terrorism and to stabilize the Kurdish region in the north. And Senator Barack Obama of Illinois would leave a military presence of as-yet unspecified size in Iraq to provide security for American personnel, fight terrorism and train Iraqis....



Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico stands apart, having suggested that he would even leave some military equipment behind to expedite the troop withdrawal. In a forum at a gathering of bloggers last week, he declared: "I have a one-point plan to get out of Iraq: Get out! Get out!"



On the other side of the spectrum is Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who has proposed setting up separate regions for the three major ethnic and religious groups in Iraq until a stable central government is established before removing most American troops.



Still, many Democrats are increasingly taking the position, in televised debates and in sessions with voters across the country, that ending a war can be as complicated as starting one.




I've opposed both wars on Iraq from the start, but I've also consistently opposed a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq War II for the reasons these politicians are beginning to cite. Too bad about Bill Richardson's position; I think he's an otherwise very good candidate.



Bloodied Iraqi child

Despite the fact that this war was a bad idea from the very beginning, despite the fact that there was completely inadequate planning for how it would end, the United States still bears responsibility for instigating the whole horrid sequence of events that leaves us in the impossibly difficult situation in which we find ourselves today. There's a lot of blood on our hands, and it's imperative that we minimize the amount of blood still to come, including that shed by any government that replaces the one we toppled.



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