Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Friday, July 30, 2004

Colorless Green Indices Sleep Furiously

I've discovered a wonderful new bloviation amplifier: the InFact 9/11 Commission Report Index, a software-generated compendium of quotes from the Senate Select Committee indexed under the categories of People, Places and Organizations, and digested according to subject, verb and object. The company offering InFact tells us that it is "sophisticated and highly interactive", and that the report index compiled by InFact reflected their goal "to provide a way to go through the report and view the events and relationships involving the people, places and organizations mentioned in the document in a way that is abbreviated, and yet meaningful." And what else would you expect from a company called Insightful? The guy in the photo on their homepage sure looks happy, and now I know why.

"Abbreviated, and yet meaningful." I am so far from making that my blog motto. Permit me instead to bloviate at my usual length on my findings from InFact's index.

Under people, I immediately noticed "Hitler" - and right next to "Hillary Rodham Clinton". That collocation must delight right-wingers who hate Hillary for a living - for surely some linger in that niche, loyal to their customers in the face of enticements to switch to the more lucrative businesses of hating Joseph Wilson, Samuel Berger and John Kerry. But what was Hitler doing in there anyway? He had two InFact entries, busier than some others:
organize : by bin ladin film : session
refer to : as good man hitler : as good man
Both links took me to the same quote: in a section titled "AL QAEDA AIMS AT THE AMERICAN HOMELAND", we read about Mounir el Motassadeq, the recently released 9/11 co-conspirator:
One of Motassadeq's roommates recalls him referring to Hitler as a "good man" and organizing film sessions that included speeches by Bin Ladin.
Ah, see? Motassedeq's insanity defense in any re-trial is now secure - expressions of admiration for Hitler have been heard from possibly-sane leaders as various as Saddam Hussein and Idi Amin (if that can be called "variety") but how many people in their right minds would believe that Hitler is still running around alive, not to mention organizing Bin Laden film festivals in Germany?

Bin Laden's name shows up five times under 'people' (as 'Bin Ladin', 'Bin Laden' 'Usama Bin Laden', 'Usama Bin Ladin' and, in case you didn't get it, 'Usama Bin Ladin Terrorist Threat'.) Dick Cheney's name shows up only three times ('Cheney', 'Dick Cheney and 'Vice Presidentelect Cheney'). Bin Laden's index entries go on and on, and so do Cheney's: under 'Cheney' we find that InFact's index entries sometimes identify him as 'President Cheney' - no disagreement there from Maureen Dowd. A President Cheney who, on 9/11, "...strongly wanted to return to Washington and only grudgingly agreed to go elsewhere."

Under "People", you'll find more index entries for the late islamist intellectual Qutb (for whom I've yet to see convincing proof of having fomented terrorism against the U.S.) than you'll find for Karl Rove. 'Nypd' turns out not to be a commentator on Qutb's commentaries on the Koran, as I first suspected. I was disappointed not to find Martin Luther 'discredited' by Qutb or anyone else - it turns out the entry for Luther refers to the FBI's attempt to discredit Martin Luther King Jr., way back when.

Anonymous sources pervade the report. There is some heavily-quoted shadowy operative identified only as "Mike". (Not me, I swear!) And somebody named "Cleveland Centers," about whom we may find out more in the future. Or perhaps not - it might be up to Deputy Draft Paper, a very reserved fellow it would seem. Is that "Mike" really "Cleveland Centers", the "Deep Throat" of some coverup? You won't find out under "Oral", which leads only to a dead end page.

As for "Patience", I think I must have gone to high school with her. Patience struck me then as a zaftig candidate for odalisque training - I lusted after her even after I found out she'd been at bible camp over the summer before my junior year. Patience ended up turning muslim after all, it appears. She hooked with a guy named Pakistan, in a relationship that, according to the 9/11 report, had her "wearing thin." (Wearing thin what? It's keeping me awake at night.) I think I also remember Lorain Radar from college, but maybe it was "Loran Radar" back then? I hope she's happy working with Cleveland Center, whoever he is.

And that's just People. Places and Organizations look to be veritable gem mines themselves.

I'm beginning to have some doubts, however, about InFact's accuracy. Insightful's current version of the index refers to an organization called "There" and a place called "Noncompliance." I'd categorize those the other way around. Then again, I'm not a sophisticated and highly interactive text analysis tool, and nobody would ever say that my writing was abbreviated, and yet meaningful.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

It's all about sex, ba-bee

Is the U.S. presidential election about the economy? Is it about Iraq? Is Iraq the #1 issue? Is it the economy?

Well, maybe they can make it all about sex instead.

Until a few days ago, I had no idea of the backstory on Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama, selected to give the Democratic convention's keynote address. What a politically brilliant move - it puts one spotlight on him, of course, but another on the alleged sexual misbehavior of his erstwhile GOP opponent, Jack Ryan, who has since bowed out of that race. Obama was a good choice for keynote anyway - he'll probably win (the GOP still hasn't replaced Ryan after about a month), he'll be the fifth black Senator in history and the only black man in the Senate.

The Noise Machine is hitting back with everything it can - which isn't much. The Washington Times has a story. "Obama hit for vote on sex assault bill" about Barack's vote against Illinois Senate Bill 485 that would have denied time off for good behavior for certain classes of sex crimes. Obama's was the lone vote to oppose. The bill became law on July 15, 1999.

What was the amendment to which Obama objected? According to Illinois SB485, it adds the following criteria for denying time off:

[...] and (4) a person who is convicted of criminal sexual assault under paragraph (a)(3) of Section 12-13 of the Criminal Code of 1961, criminal sexual abuse, or aggravated criminal sexual abuse

Let's start that section of the Illinois Criminal Code of 1961. And we're in trouble already.

You can theoretically be convicted of criminal sexual assault if you have ever been someone who matched this description:
commits an act of sexual penetration with a victim who was at least 13 years of age but under 18 years of age when the act was committed and the accused was 17 years of age or over and held a position of trust, authority or supervision in relation to the victim
and your "victim" won't testify that that she gave consent in full possession of her presumably adequate mental faculties.

Hm. You're a 17-year-old assistant manager at a Frosti Freez in deepest cornfield Illinois, having vaulted into management after your girlfriend, also an employee, and also 17, helped get you the job. She's so happy for you about your rapid promotion that you go out, party, and ... oops: you have sex. Several times that week, in fact. Not that you haven't done that before. But this time, you get caught.

Her parents - Biblical fundamentalists, unfortunately for you - discover a discarded condom on the floor of the car, confront your girlfriend, who defiantly admits it and gets sent off to Bible Camp for the summer. A combination of threats from her parents, brain-washing cajolery from the camp "counselors", and the inconvenient but undeniable fact that you've since taken up with a girlfriend who is better looking, more intelligent, and has been a bit snooty to her in high school, result in your former girlfriends unwillingness to admit her full-fledged consent to sexual penetration on the witness stand. And her parents file criminal charges against you. Gulp.

And what's the longest sentence you might be looking at? Well, let's say your girlfriend's diary contains accounts of having had sex with several times in your "position of trust, authority, or supervision," that her parents file multiple charges against you, and get at least one conviction. Then you're a repeat offender under this, about sentencing:
A second or subsequent conviction for a violation of paragraph (a)(3) or (a)(4) or under any similar statute of this State or any other state for any offense involving criminal sexual assault that is substantially equivalent to or more serious than the sexual assault prohibited under paragraph (a)(3) or (a)(4) is a Class X felony.
Other Class X felonies in this Code: shooting someone during the course of battery (minimum sentence 15 years), beating them savagely (minimum of 5 years).

It gets really bad if you smoked dope together on one of your dates, evidence for such consumption being found in the same car, and your brainwashed, intimidated girlfriend won't testify that she knew you were giving her marijuana to smoke, under the added threats to have her committed to juvenile hall for her drug use. Then you're looking at "aggravated criminal sexual assault." Years and years in the slammer. And no time off for good behavior.

Now let's go back to Jack Ryan. His wife stands by the allegations she made against him in their divorce trial. Contrary to the impression Ryan's statement leaves, suggesting an agreement with his wife to keep the divorce records sealed, his wife's motivations for sealing the records look different from his, or at least mixed: she was being stalked, and the judge prudently did not admit that this was why he kept the files sealed until after the stalker's conviction. "Child protection" for the son from this marriage was an ambiguous unified front. At best.

While Jack Ryan has denied his wife's allegations before, he's not denying them now. He's saying he didn't commit adultery (after all, encouraging your wife to commit adultery isn't quite the same thing.) He's saying that he broke no laws. He may well be right. We have her statement in court that he struck her, but also her later statement that he didn't abuse her.

The irony in all this: Jack Ryan may have himself come perilously close to being convicted under Illinois state law for criminal sexual assault on his wife. She didn't file any such charges, and he probably didn't step over that line, but ... I'm not sure I'd be against giving him time off for good behavior if he was looking at a six year stretch because he had. And maybe Barack Obama wouldn't have been against it either. At least, that's how it looks from the way he voted.

Democrats, Republicans, everybody - lend me your ears. Let's not make it All About Sex. Please. So far it doesn't look good. Seymour Hersh starts writing about Americans raping Iraqi boys in prison. As night follows day, Bush gives a speech about Fidel Castro the Jailbait Pimp Revolutionary. The Chicago Tribune goes after the "juicy details" of Jack Ryan's divorce - and they get them - and the Dems capitalize on it by putting Barack Obama in the keynote role. The Barack Obama Truth Squad (which seems to amount to the remnants of Ryan's intrusive monitors of Obama, back when they were trying to record his phone calls to family members and follow him into the mens room with video cameras) hits back with Obama's voting record. And don't even get me started about the gay marriage issue. That'll come back, count on it.

I really don't care, and I don't understand why so many Americans do. Let's leave the mud on the ground, where it belongs.

The Noise Machine rolls on

Watch those quotes. Former Dartmouth student Charles Trumbull didn't, as the LA Times reveals. What was his punishment for putting out-of-context words in Castro's mouth, in an undergraduate paper he wrote in 2001? The poor guy: the words Trumbull admits were an unrepresentative rendition of something Castro said ended up being quoted by G.W. Bush:
The regime in Havana, already one of the worst violators of human rights in the world, is adding to its crimes. The dictator welcomes sex tourism. Here's how he bragged about the industry. This is his quote, "Cuba has the cleanest and most educated prostitutes in the world." He said that because sex tourism is a vital source of hard currency to keep his corrupt government afloat. My administration is working toward a comprehensive solution of this problem: The rapid, peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba. (Applause.) We have put a strategy in place to hasten the day when no Cuban child is exploited to finance a failed revolution and every Cuban citizen will live in freedom.
Cuba is financing itself in part with child prostitution?? Oh, boy. And how did Trumbull slip up? I accept his excuse, lame as it is.
"I don't know why I don't have a footnote for that. That was before I was in law school and understood that you have to have a footnote for everything."
After all, how did he know he'd be putting words in an American president's mouth as well? As for Bush's excuse ... we will soon be hearing from Bush about how he went to Yale Business School, not Yale Law?

How did this colossal screwup come about? Blame that porn-saturated, liberal-media-channeling Internet. According to an unnamed Bush administration official:
A quick search of the Internet turned up Trumbull's paper; the official said there was inadequate time to find the original source for Castro's quote.
Well, then, WHY DID THEY USE IT? And what did Castro say originally, anyway? Well, here you have it, courtesy of the BBC, which seems to be able to locate a Spanish-English translator, where the Cuban-exile-leaning Bush administration could not.
"There are hookers, but prostitution is not allowed in our country. There are no women forced to sell themselves to a man, to a foreigner, to a tourist. Those who do so do it on their own, voluntarily ... We can say that they are highly educated hookers and quite healthy because we are the country with the lowest number of AIDS cases."
Well, I guess that's what you get when you let your supreme leader ramble for six or eight hours at the podium.

How bad is child prostitution in Cuba, and trafficking in forced sexual labor? You might be interested in the State Department's 2003 Country Report on human rights in Cuba. See Section 5 under "Children" and section 6(f), Trafficking in Persons. It doesn't look good.

But now compare the State Department's view of Cuba with its view of Columbia -- a country in which they consider FARC, because it bombs oil pipelines, an International Terrorist Group, and therefore much worse than the right wing militia group AUC, which is merely "terrorist" because it restricts its mayhem to the use of chainsaws on hapless villagers. (AUC has recently been offered amnesty by the Colombian government.) How bad is child prostitution and human trafficking in Colombia? It will chill your blood.
According to [Colombia's Administrative Department of Security] Colombia was the second most common country of origin for trafficking victims in the Western Hemisphere, with an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 victims overseas. The vast majority of trafficking victims were young women, although children and young men were also at risk. Female trafficking victims were a high risk for sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and forced abortions.

Many traffickers were honest about the sexual nature of the work they offered, but lied about working conditions, clientele, and compensation. Others disguised their intent by portraying themselves as modeling agents, offering marriage brokerage services, or operating lottery or bingo scams with free trips as prizes. Recruiters reportedly loitered outside high schools, shopping malls, and parks to lure adolescents into accepting phantom jobs abroad. Most traffickers were well-organized and linked to narcotics or other criminal organizations.
And how many times to Bush mention Colombia in his Eleven Words speech?


At least he didn't stuff it in his sock.

Sandy Berger may think he's in trouble, but not like former Japan Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto is in trouble. I read yesterday that Hashimoto might have personally accepted a check for 100 million yen, in 2001, from the Japan Dental Association. Lessee, tht's around $1 million in 2001 dollars, and approximately $1 million in 2004 dollars. Check my math. He is alleged to have looked at the check, after some fellow legislators also inspected it, then put it in an inside jacket pocket.

While I can't find a quote just now, I think I remember the article quoting him as saying that he couldn't have taken any such check, because he'd remember something like that clearly. Who wouldn't? (Of course, those Japanese politicians do sometimes drink a lot. Maybe his wife got an apologetic note back from the drycleaners later, about some scrap of notepaper that was no longer readable.)

Whatever. His word is good enough for me.

If it's not good enough for you, you can read the widening story.

I once met a journalist who'd scored some little scooplet by spotting Hashimoto when he was PM, running after him, asking him a question, and actually getting a coherent response. His fellow journalists were incredulous. "You're sure? Little guy? Pompadour?" Bear in mind, this is a PM who once gave a TV interview in a red leather suit. Who once had a mistress that, some claimed, was spying for the Chinese. Didn't hurt him a bit. Why, you'd think that Japanese voters believe that it hardly matters who is Prime Minister.

Those voters might be right.

I've heard it said that being a former Prime Minister is a much more coveted position in Japanese politics than actually being Prime Minister. That might explain why we only had about one per year until Koizumi. In the year Koizumi came along, the Ex-PM Club doors may well have been sealed shut. With A-bomb-shelter blast doors. So maybe Koizumi's stuck. He'll have to work at getting himself voted out. And why would he do that? He'll just be a nobody for the rest of his life.

Great hair, though.

Be good and you'll get your asteroid

Dill Faulkes, science education benefactor par excellence, gets an asteroid named after him, according to The Reg.

Perhaps Gregory Nemitz will further strengthen his ever-more-tenuous claim to the asteroid Eros by announcing that he's renaming it. I suggest simply reversing the order of the letters, Greg.

Monday, July 26, 2004

The mauve aardvark writes succulently, lightly

Today's blog entry title is courtesy of The Reg's spam poetry compendium, which sometimes makes me think I picked too generic of a name for my blog. "The Mauve Aardvark" - a missed opportunity. It would be a persistent reminder to write succulently, lightly. I think you'd all agree I need that.

I'd also love to publish under this spam-engine-generated gem noted in the same article, translucent gibbon rucksack bonanza. It has so many of my favorite words, even if it is a bit long for a blog name.

These days, it doesn't take a spam engine. There are now enough monkeys at enough typewriters to stock the shelves of Jorge Luis Borges' whole Library of Babel. Until the posting was deleted from a forum on Craig's List (one that I can only describe as "not very family-friendly in prose style") you could read something niftily entitled:
Treat Berger the same way Fawn Hall was teated - equal justice
And how was Fawn Hall teated? Well, I still have embarrassing dreams about being Ollie North, alone with her at the office late at night, cuddling up after a hard day's work of shredding purloined documents. Somebody should find out her bra size so that Sandy Berger can be sure that he becomes equally endowed under the law.

Sandy Berger might recommend his plastic surgeon to Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf - who has, after all, worn certain articles of apparel suggesting that he feels ill-favored by Allah in the thorax department, that he'd like to show some peek-a-boo lace to get a few hearts racing at the office. After all, we have reason to suspect that Berger could politically leverage Musharraf's lust for cleavage. Just read this OutlookIndia article. Silicone quid pro quo has already been mooted:
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger wondered about a trade in getting bin Laden in exchange for softer teatment of a relatively benign military regime. But the idea was never developed into a policy proposal.
For heaven's sake, why not? It's a great idea. Berger gets a C-cup, Musharraf a D-cup, we get bin Laden, Pakistan stops getting ragged on about its loose nukes. Who says you can't please everybody all the time?

Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Case of the Missing Beef Jerky

For one brief shining moment, there was a recent op-ed by someone named Michael Turner, "Free as the Air - Except for", up at Now it's gone. This op-ed seems to be at least an allusive response to a press release by Gregory Nemitz, which is also gone from You might still be able to read both of them right now if you look hard enough.

It's no secret, exactly, that Gregory Nemitz has invoiced NASA for $20 - his price for a century's worth of parking fees for the NEAR Shoemaker probe on an asteroid Nemitz claims: Eros. Obviously he's not in it to recover legal fees. He's seeking a decision that can establish what he feels would be a positive precedent. Presumably he has excellent counsel, who have ruled out that the possibility that a decision against him would set a dangerously negative precedent for his hopes.

One might accuse him of being little more than a publicity hound for his company, I don't think so. To his credit, his space property rights crusade is not mentioned on the company's home page, though the Eros Project home page naturally mentions as a sponsor. He seems sincere enough to me.

Sincerity isn't everything though. Sincerity, passion, intensity - all good things in the name of a good cause, you'd think. But balance, practicality, and objectivity also come in handy, if you want to be effective. Mr. Nemitz's style of confrontation brings into question whether he has draws enough from that second set of qualities, which I will assume he has, to be effective. Let me support that suspicion - with his own words.

First, in his press release, he's quoted as saying this:
"There will be no commercial activities to harvest the vast and valuable resources in Space without official respect for private property rights."
Now that sounds sensible enough, but on my planet, Earth (though not on the Martian moon I claim, Phobos) there's a long history of commercial activity in resource extraction from public lands. Look at America's national forests, for example - a great deal of logging takes place on them, and I think that's fine as long as some reasonable criteria for sustainability are met. I think we can all agree that sustainability isn't exactly a looming issue in space resource extraction. And I'm not going to get into angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin argument about exactly when a tree becomes the private property of a logging company. It suffices, I think, to say that the land itself is a public trust, and that trees are made of resources that the trees extracted themselves from public soil, from air and rainfall that belongs to nobody and everybody, and from sunlight nobody has claimed.

Mr. Nemitz's press release continues, saying that "Nemitz's long-held viewpoint was recently confirmed by the President's Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond," supporting that "confirmation" with a quote from the report beginning this way:
"Because of this treaty regime, the legal status of a hypothetical private company engaged in making products from space resources is uncertain ...."
Not "impossible." Just "uncertain." Personally, I think those uncertainties should be addressed. But that doesn't mean I want to put words in anybody's mouth. The report specifically recommends addressing space property issues, while admitting that the issues are complex. Nemitz's claim on Eros is not complex: he says he owns it.

If Mr. Nemitz's argument ended there, I'd only fault him for mild hyperbole. After all, perhaps I've uttered some such bloviation myself at one time or another. Finally - did Mr. Nemitz write this press release? It's unsigned. Perhaps "confirmed" was not his choice of word.

Unfortunately for his argument, the press release continues disastrously. Nemitz is quoted again:
"The United States, in its defense of the U.S. Department of State's and NASA's Official Determinations in this matter of Rights v. Treaty, espouses a position that endorses and is in complete accord with the first plank of the Communist Manifesto."

The cited plank being:
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes." Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848, Marx

The United States "espouses a position that endorses" abolition of property and diverting all rents to public purposes?! What can this possibly mean? A position can't endorse anything - only people can do that. Well, whatever: Did the judge say anything like that? Can we find the Order to Dismiss from the U.S. District Court in Reno, Nevada? I'll save you the work: it starts here with Eros Project: U.S. District Court Judge McKibben's Order to Dismiss, Page #1.

This copy of the Order to Dismiss Mr. Nemitz's claim is tough sledding - a bad scan - but I can't find the document on the U.S. District Court site for Nevada, only a document order form. I'll transcribe as well as I can from the Eros Project scan, where I see fit.

Judge McKibben argues on p.2 that "[a] complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law for a lack of a cognizable legal theory SmileCare Dental Group v. Delta Dental Plan of California, Inc...."

SmileCare v. Delta is an interesting decision to me because it was used against a man I've spent a few hours with, John Gilmore, in his case naming John Ashcroft as defendant. Gilmore claimed his constitutional rights were violated by a requirement that he either show ID, or subject himself to light body search/scan, before boarding an airliner. Gilmore lost.

SmileCare V. Delta itself seems to have been about anti-trust, and the ruling was in favor of the larger corporation. I have not read about it in any detail.

The Order to Dismiss Mr. Nemitz's case goes on at greater length, of course, citing sundry other decisions. Perhaps somebody can find something in it where Judge McKibben "espouses a position that endorses and is in complete accord with the first plank of the Communist Manifesto." Me, I'm scratching my head.

Now, what's this about some missing beef jerky? I believe that was the based on the highly credible statement of some Michael Turner who has claimed

(1) major physics breakthroughs
(2) the Martian moon Phobos
(3) atmospheric air molecules
(4) a global conspiracy to deny him all three.

Without a shred of evidence! He also claims, without evidence

(5) that he has ordered some beef jerky from Mr. Nemitz
(6) that he has filed suit against Nemitz for failure to deliver and failure to refund.

Of course, if Mr. Nemitz decides to look into the matters of (5) and (6), I'd suggest that he get his priorities straight. He should first determine whether this Michael Turner has filed suit against him, and not even bother checking whether there was any such order placed.

If Mr. Nemitz can satisfy himself that there has been no such legal action taken against him by this Michael Turner, I recommend he write gentle e-mail to that person, pointing out that Mr. Turner is taking himself way too seriously, should check his own records, and should perhaps seek professional counseling.

If he can't find that particular Michael Turner's e-mail address, he can send it to me at I promise to pass it along.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

In MikeySpace, Nobody Can Hear You Scream

I'm "Mike" to family and a few old friends who I don't bother to correct. As a baby-boomer ex-Catholic, I'm a refugee from 40-student-plus Catholic school classrooms in which there were seldom fewer than two other "Mikes". I hated that. Worse, post-Catholicism, my father remarried, adding three step-siblings to our 7-child family, including a step-brother named Michael. Thanks, Dad.

I never thought of myself - a puny egghead from preschool onward - as a "Mike". To me, a "Mike" was a guy with a chiseled jaw, a crewcut, a leathery no-nonsense attitude - a Mike Nomad, a Mike Hammer. I would have settled for that - except that I hated getting crewcuts, the style my mother phoned into the barber every two weeks.

I didn't insist on the hairsplitting brand-distinction of "Michael" for a long time because ... well, until my early teens, I couldn't pronounce it very well. It often came out of my own mouth as "My Coe". (You can imagine how I felt about "Turner.") The speech impediment has faded, but not the mispronunciation that plagued me: I'm "My Coe" (sort of) to my Japanese wife. This blog entry was interrupted no fewer than five times with "My Coe ...." - ryokan chores each time. Worse, that sounds like "Maiko," a female name here in Japan, also meaning geisha apprentice. I far prefer the more official Japanese garbling of my name, maikeru, which, if I garble it enough myself, could be heard as: "Well, I'm still kickin'".

But here's the big one: with "Michael", I sought to nip in the bud any temptation to call me Mikey, the kid who became famous for wolfing down a suspicious new cereal in a TV commercial. I often got called Mikey teasingly, usually with the erroneous but persistent "he'll eat anything." (345 Google hits). Worse, if I pointed out that it was really, "He hates everything" (221 hits), then I was one of those aloof, parse-everything, love-nothing ultra-liberals. It's a no-win situation - you're either a pouty picky eater (suki-kirai here in Japan), or a pouty little gourmand. I can't even claim I turned out like the original Mikey, Simon Cowell, 30 years later.

Simon ("Mikey") Cowell's phone might be ringing off the hook recently, with a gust of wind in the sails of his becalmed acting career blown by uber-parser Joshua ("Mikey") Marshall. Josh Marshall is a household name if you're a right wing attack blogger. To them, he is always either pushing perfectly sumptuous fair around his plate, or indiscriminately gobbling garbage. In his recent deployment of the M-word, he's being accused of both. That's Life, I guess.

Me? I turn up my nose at some dishes. For example, Who Knew? gets it wrong - Josh Marshall doesn't commit to either interpretation of the press corps use of the epithet "Mikey" as it might apply to Susan Schmidt and her botched opinion piece about Joseph Wilson and the senate intelligence committee's output. (I'll stop calling that PDF a "report" because it's really two documents.) As Who Knew's Cara Remal and/or Jeremy Brown themselves quote Marshall:
"Susan Schmidt is known, happily among DC Republicans and not so happily among DC Democrats, as what you might call the "Mikey" (a la Life Cereal fame) of the DC press corps, especially when the cereal is coming from Republican staffers."
The cereal, Marshall says. Not "everything." And that's all. Mikey certainly dug into that cereal. And maybe Schmidt wrinkles her nose unless the story is as sweet as the Legend of Jessica Lynch.
As the world would remember, Lynch and her Army maintenance unit were ambushed in southern Iraq on the morning of March 23. Eleven of her fellow soldiers were killed; five others were taken captive and later freed. Blond and waiflike, Lynch was taken prisoner and held separately for nine days before a dramatic nighttime rescue from her hospital bed by a covert U.S. Special Operations unit, Task Force 20.
"As the world would remember" if it hadn't been disappointed by the facts of the matter, anyway.

I am no Mikey. I've sampled whalemeat in Japan, boiled silkworms in Korea. I do have standards, though: no matter how elegant the presentation, I draw the line at ikezukuri. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I won't eat a fish that's still twitching. Joseph Wilson is definitely impaled, even vivisected - but the question of whether he lied or not still writhes before my eyes. I'd rather eat crow. (Dead, cooked crow, please. Tokyo is besieged by living ones.)

Bob Somerby declines

If any of you were planning on writing Bob Somerby about judging my $200 for Proof Joe Wilson Lied competition, please stop. In recent e-mail, he declined my offer. In earlier e-mail which he has given me permission to quote in full, he offered the following comments. I will add no interpretations, out of my sincere respect for him. It has been edited only very lightly for formatting and to avoid HTML-related glitches at blogspot.

From: "Bob Somerby" []
To: []
Sent: Friday, July 23, 2004 3:13 AM
Subject: RE: Did Joe Wilson lie? I'm running a contest

I'm unaware of any "lie." As I often note, professional communicators almost never lie. There is no need to do so.

I think Wilson has been very weak on the facts and the logic of his case, and he has a large instinct to overstate.

Basically, his problem all comes down to one simple fact. He doesn't know if Iraq sought uranium, and he's never been able to grasp that basic fact. Result? Last week, Lord Butler said, "I've looked at the intel, and the intel is good." What is Wilson supposed to say? He doesn't know what's in it! The logic of the situation has always been there, but last week it started to bite him.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Reading, Writing and Ricky Retardo

I used to laugh at Ricky Ricardo. Now I am Ricky Ricardo. Except for the good parts. Let me talk about what I have in common with Ricky, take a little linguistic detour through Japan, then (inevitably) get back to Joseph Wilson and the subject of lying.

I speak Japanese rather poorly. Pathetically so, given that I've been living here some 10-odd years. When I get into an argument with my Japanese wife, I'll often struggle along, getting increasingly flustered, then burst into a brilliant and scathing tirade - but, alas, in English.

As a kid, I used to think that Ricky Ricardo was hilarious when he went Spanish Ballistic in mid-argument, eyes bulging, on "I Love Lucy." Does anyone know of translations of what he was saying? Maybe Ricky was savagely witty in Spanish. But how would I have known? I called him "Ricky Retardo" - much harder to get away with, I suppose, in these more politically-correct days when some U.S. state tax forms come in half a dozen languages. Well, I got my come-uppance. It just took a few decades.

Worse, I'm Ricky Retardo without the fringe benefits: I can't trot down to my Cuban-style nightclub and unwind on the congas, yodeling "Babaluuuuuuuu!" And ... need I say it, friends? Recent audiences at Transcendental Bloviation don't love me nearly as much as audiences loved Ricky. He was tall, dark, handsome, and he was a plucky, entrepreneurial refugee from Communism. I am none of those things. He played drums and sang. That was kinda sexy. Pounding the keyboard and sighing in exasperation can't possibly be as cathartic. Worse, it's about as sexy as being a eunuch-bureaucrat in the Byzantine empire, staring dully at his scrolls as the harem girls swish by.

Being even haltingly bilingual has carried another risk besides being an involuntary template for immigrant stereotypes in Japan: you can start turning Japanese. Linguists who study second language learning speak of "interference" from the first language in trying to speak the second one. Interference turns out to be a two-way street for long-stay gaijin like me: your English can start taking on the flavor of the very different language they speak here.

Interference from second language to first came up recently on the mailing list for SWET - Society of Writers, Editors and Translators in Japan. One gaijin member wrote that he'd muttered, in stop-and-go traffic, "the road is crowded today." His wife (Japanese) gently suggested that maybe he might have meant "Traffic is heavy today." Boy, do I ever understand. But it actually makes sense. Japan's idiom grows out of an era and an urban geography in which pedestrian porters and handcarts dominated traffic on streets so narrow that American visitors call most of them alleys. "Konde-iru" ("is crowded") worked fine. After the automobile ... well, people infer from context.

I got to wondering about language interference again today, when someone proposed by e-mail that Joseph Wilson lied in his July 21 L.A. Times op-ed. It's not currently within scope for the contest, but here's the problematic quote anyway.
For the last two weeks, I have been subjected — along with my wife, Valerie Plame — to a partisan Republican smear campaign. In right-wing blogs and on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and the National Review, I've been accused of being a liar and, worse, a traitor.
Why was this offered as an example of a lie? And moreover, a lie that my current rules can't register? Because there is no evidence (that I can find right now, anyway) that Wilson has been called a traitor by either the National Review or the Wall Street Journal. My contest rules have a bug: How can you provide a direct, full-context quote of something not said?

Now, it's quite possible that Joe Wilson - undoubtedly flustered and stressed out recently, if he is a liar, and perhaps even more so if he's not - just tried to pack too many allegations into one sentence. The worms didn't fit in the can, and now they are squirming out, all over the place. When I first looked at the sentence, I thought, "Well, wait a minute - if any of them called him a traitor, then the sentence, while not crystalline in its logic, exactly, nevertheless holds up. Bloggers calling Wilson a traitor? That's a 3 second Google run."

Then a thought gave me real pause. Am I a victim of "reverse interference"? Former diplomat Joseph Wilson - could he be falling prey to it? Could both of us be having problems? I know my English gets more Japanese when I'm under stress, haven't rested well, feel defensive or cornered. Japanese has two different 'ands', an 'or', and an 'and/or', and these conjunctions don't always translate perfectly. Some other languages also have this problem of translation. Maybe under stress, Wilson's English starts to get more ... French?

Let me rewrite his sentence to illustrate:
In right-wing blogs and/or on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal and/or the National Review, etc., I've been accused of being a liar and/or, worse, a traitor.
Admit it: if you'd seen that in the L.A. Times, you'd go beyond assuming that Wilson had totally lost it, and start sizing the editorial staff for straitjackets as well. And yet, you can do something like this in quite a few languages in the world. Japanese is only one of them. Not only would nobody bat an eyelash, but they might consider it more honest: you're being more precise about what's imprecise in your statement, rather than leaving the reader to guess about the imprecision. Your audience knows what meanings they can't assume.

Of course, maybe Wilson just "misspoke." Again.

Let me leave this subject here, feeling a little triumphant: when I started this blog, I thought I'd subtitle it: "Politics, Space, Japan". I strayed outside those subject areas, then confined the blog too much to politics recently. Today, at least, I mentioned Japan. And I'll be writing more about Japan and politics. Because if you think Joseph Wilson gets evasive and ambiguous, you should listen to Japanese politicians.

Time Out for Honor

Running a contest like Win $200 for Proof that Wilson Lied is, of course, setting yourself up for a certain amount of abuse. One of the few pleasant surprises in my recent e-mail was an invitation to join the blogging group homespunbloggers. I was incredulous. Karma in Internet time, was my first thought; send spam, get spam. But no: the inviter was sincere, having read some of my blog. I may yet be disqualified - no profanity is one of their rules, one that I've already broken in an entry about Cheney's Three Words. Still, it's nice to have people with whom you can amiably agree to disagree. Renewed faith in humanity and all that.

I'd briefly perused homespunbloggers, had looked at its blogroll, had clicked on Liberal Utopia, blanched, and written it off the whole group. Today I decided to give them another chance. I clicked on Marine Corps Moms - that seemed a pretty safe choice. I scrolled around and was rewarded with an essay by former Marine captain Nathaniel Fick, taking a reasonable position in favor of sticking with an all-volunteer, professional, career military.

Whoa! I thought. This was eloquent, elegant, thoughtful. It evinced the sort of pride that wouldn't seem a prelude to any but the most unjust kind of fall. It seemed very publishable. What was it doing in a Homespun Blog? I clicked on the "read more" link and found the whole essay at the New York Times site. Everyone should read it.

I was ambivalent about the invasion of Afghanistan. I was against the invasion of Iraq. I'm suspicious of the motives of some in the Bush administration. And I don't think there is glory in war. But there is honor in being a soldier, in enduring grueling hardships under threat of personal extinction. Machiavelli wrote convincingly, in his Art of War, about the evils of defense by mercenary armies, and felt that invasion was a sign of internal weakness. What he has to say on these points is hardly irrelevant today. But even in that neglected classic, he does not offer blanket moral condemnation of mercenaries. Far from it. They are still soldiers, after all.

Machiavelli's Art of War may be obsolete from any modern tactical point of view, but much of the text is taken up by a fictionalized discussion of the merits and demerits of employing mercenaries. Machiavelli favored conscription as the way to raise and maintain a citizen army, believing that even militia conscripts were, by virtue of their citizenship, better defenders than any foreign professionals. For his belief, he lost his own son in combat, and may well have lost a war.

There is a cynical way to read Nathaniel Fick's essay: "Don't draft anybody - just send money." I don't read it that way. I think Fick truly believes in his "build it and they will come" argument for an expanded force, and in the value of expansion.

But would any such expansion be merely a substitute for more rational commitments? Machiavelli warned against the temptations of a large standing army. So did some framers of the U.S. Constitution (many of whom must have read Machiavelli - Jefferson could read Italian). Yes, the U.S. is stretched thin right now. But it stretched with a war of choice - the invasion and occupation of Iraq - not a war of necessity, which the Afghanistan campaign may well have been. Machiavelli warned against wars of choice as well. The seeds of Afghan democracy - now at risk because of a shortfall in voter security - may fall on stony ground because of a failure to perceive the Clausewitzian essentials: it's still all about politics, whether people are shooting or not.

Well, it's still all about the politics except for one thing: you can't read the letters at Marine Corps Moms without getting a lump in your throat.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

My double standard on abusive comments

In an earlier comment section, I have mildly upbraided jqb for descending to invective against one of my detractors. I will tolerate invective against me from my detractors, and against anyone purporting to support what may or may not be my point of view. If people want to undermine their arguments against me with bad rhetoric, that's fine. It saves me work in assessing possible biases, provides me with blogfodder, and amuses the more level-headed in the peanut gallery. But I sure don't want my arguments supported by the worst kind of rhetoric.

I may soon enact a policy of removing any and all comments against my public detractors if they contain scurrility or abuse of any kind. Enemies of my enemies are not necessarily my friends; even when they are my friends, as allies, the least they could do is be above this kind of thing in public. (In private e-mail, it's more of a consenting-adults, S/M kind of thing. I'm OK with that.)

To anyone who thinks the above proposal would be a stupid policy: I hereby declare you a babbling fool, mutant pond-scum, and a traitor to the human race. Because that's the kind of shrieking, hysterical hypocrite I am.

Perfect Hatred - are you doing it right?

Ever since I read Ralph Reed saying we should hate the sin, but love the sinner, I wondered where the words came from. And I got to wondering about Wilson and the cascades of invective descending on him these days. I may never see proof that he "bore false witness," but that doesn't mean he didn't lie. Maybe he did, but it's only between him and his conscience, between him and God.

Is there a basis for Christian love (at least as various Hebrew and Aramaic words have been translated as "love") for someone like Wilson, even if he is a liar? Well, it kind of depends on those words, and on the Christian basis for "loving" the sinner.

It turns out, "hate the sin, love the sinner" is not specifically from the Bible. (It's definitely not in the Senate Select Committee report.) Of course, we have this sentiment from Matthew, which I quote in full because its poetry is at once wry and rapturous:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. [Matthew v. 43-48]

The Bible: Read the Whole Thing. Someday, I will. But that Matthew verse is not specific enough. "Hate the sin, love the sinner" - where is that from?

Well, it turns out it's from St. Augustine's City of God, specifically:

.... the man who lives by God's standards, and not by man's, must needs be a lover of the good, and it follows that he must hate what is evil. Further, since no one is evil by nature, but anyone who is evil is evil because of a perversion of nature, the man who lives by God's standards has a duty of 'perfect hatred’ [Ps. 139, 22], towards those who are evil; that is to say, he should not hate the person because of the fault, nor should he love the fault because of the person. He should hate the fault, but love the man. And when the fault has been cured there will remain only what he ought to love, nothing that he should hate.

Papist revisionist heresy! It cuts no ice with some in the Bible Belt, anyway. However, if you Google on some likely suspects. e.g.,

hate.the.sin love.the.sinner homosexual

and poke around a little, you'll see that most of the evangelical world - indeed, much of fundamentalist world in America - chimes right in with Augustine on this point.

There's some good advice hinted at in Matthew - "... if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?" I'm reminded of some of the blogrolls I found while trolling away on my despicable Prove Wilson Lied web-junket. Some of these blogrolls scrolled for pages - just all the ideological "brethren" the blogger could find. I don't doubt that many have RSS feeds hooked up to quite a few blogs on their blogroll, mainlining their confirmation-bias sources, feeding their addiction to vindication. And I wonder whether a determined search at blogpulse wouldn't soon reveal a posting calling Wilson a liar and a traitor, but only on inconclusive grounds, made by a devout Christian on the Sabbath.

Assurance that you'll get your money

Day 3 of the contest to win $200 for proof that Joe Wilson lied. From day one, there was a serious problem: Several of my estimable correspondents have insinuated that I'm not good for the money, therefore it's not worth their effort to demonstrate to me what they find so patently obvious.

Please understand: I don't mind the insult. I'm just some random spamming stranger to them - why should they trust me? What I'm worried about is credibility. I regard these comments about my ability and willingness to pay as considerably more serious than the insinuations that I spend my spare time performing unnatural acts on rabid squirrels. [*] I can get back to those later; this payment credibility issue is paramount.

I meant to incentivize a display of proof that Joe Wilson lied, proof provided in a very specific manner. But ... will you get paid? I have to be credible here. Escrow service? Could get messy. But at least you'll have the satisfaction that, if I don't pay up on your proof, I can't get my own money back either. At least, not any time soon.

I think I've hit on a solution. Bear with me here for a minute.

You know Bob Somersby of The Daily Howler? To my mind, of all the critics of Joe Wilson, Bob skewers Wilson better than anyone. Now, really - how can you accuse Bob of pro-Wilson bias? He lays into what he calls Wilson's 'illogic', his 'overstatements', his 'dramatics', and his 'persistent love of fudge'. I don't necessarily agree on all that. I don't necessarily disagree, either. However, from reading so far, Bob never actually calls Wilson a liar. He certainly he never calls Wilson a liar by my admittedly-stringent definition for this contest.

But you know what I really love about Bob? He's pretty good with those full-context, direct quotes. He appreciates these things. That probably means he knows them when he sees them. Professionally, he may be a comedian, but in his avocation, he beats the pants off some journalists out there. Not to mention some of you would-be journalists.

So here's what I propose:

(1) I'll write Bob Somersby him asking if he's game.

(2) If he agrees to my definition of 'liar' for purposes of this contest - or if he and I can negotiate a better definition (probably a looser one, so that I don't get that 'you moved the goal posts' accusation again), I'll send him a check with the payee line left blank.

(3) I'll let Bob decide if a submission of proof meets the requirements.

(4) However, I will require that Bob first inform me by private e-mail of his provisional decision and that he allow me to make ONE appeal - if I think the decision merits appeal - an appeal to which he must respond. That response can be 'sorry, no dice. End of story.' But he has to respond. Furthermore, by the act of responding, he gives me permission to quote his private e-mail response in full.

(5) If I don't get back to Bob on his opinion within three working days, he can go ahead with his decision. I won't filibuster, I won't play the 'no-quorum' game.

(6) If it later turns out that the definition of 'liar' requires change, and Bob and I can't agree on the change, I'll leave the issue of definition - and judgment, and payment - in Bob's hands.

I think this is almost bend-over-backwards reasonable. Now here are my current conditions, just to be clear.

Rules for submission:

(1) submissions must be made by e-mail to both me and to Bob (in the case of Bob, no sooner than he announces agreement. In my case, whenever. But see deadline, below.)

(2) that e-mail must be identical for both of us.

(3) each submitter gets ONE SHOT. I may have time for arguing in circles, for your emendations, corrections, multiple submissions, and best of all, for scurrilous comments at my expense that make for great blogfodder. However, I doubt that Bob does.

Rules for Wilson quote:

(1) e-mail must include a direct, in-context quote from Wilson

(2) said quote must be supported by a live URL to the cited text. Don't turn us cross-eyed Googlehounds verifying your quote. You're the one making the money. DOUBLE-CHECK.

(3) said quote must match the web page cited. When in doubt, include more context, not less. DOUBLE-CHECK.

(4) said quote must relate closely to either Wilson's role in the Niger yellowcake affair, or Plame's role in the decision to send him to Niger.

(5) since this is, among other things, a "what-did-he-know-and-when-did-he-know-it" issue, consider the moment the words were spoken as the time of quote if it's from an interview or live testimony or a speech, and consider the hour the publication appeared as the time of quote if it's from any written media source. If it's from a transcript of a broadcast or testimony since made public, the time of quote is still when the words were spoken.

Rules for proof that Wilson lied:

(1) same e-mail must quote from primary sources demonstrating that Wilson knew, beyond reasonable doubt, that he was not telling the truth when he wrote or said what's quoted above.

(2) Same quoting and URL rules as for the Wilson quote.

(3) no added argument or other inferential verbiage beyond a subject line, a signature line, live URLs, and brief, neutral captions identifying the elements. The quotes alone must make the case.

Rules for Reward:

(1) Payment must go out within three working days after the decision.

(2) In the event of virtually identical proof, payment goes to the earliest of the submissions, as measured by the time it was sent.

(3) offer expires November 1st. Proof after that point doesn't get you the money. Bob returns my check - or, if he and I agree that the whole process has been cruel and unusual punishment for him, he puts his name on the payee line.

Readers, you can help with this. Bob's undoubtedly a busy guy - he's a professional comic and he edits a website. I.e., he's a laughably underpaid slave. I might send him e-mail only to have it presumptively deleted as spam, no blame on Bob. Here's how you can help: no later than July 30th, 2004, send him the Transcendental Bloviation URL, directing his attention to my proposal (blog entry title: "Assurance that you'll get your money.") Once and only once. I don't want him swamped. If and when he says "enough!" I'll post that on my blog so you'll know to not prod him further.

Of course, Bob may decline my offer, and then we're back to square one. I will need a backup plan, after all.

So here's another way you can help: propose ideas for getting payment into the hands of somebody like a neutral intermediary bursar. Also propose plans for fair adjudication - for example, three lawyers who have might or might not have strong opinions one way or the other on Joe Wilson, but who don't yet have a firm belief that Joe Wilson actually lied according to my provisional definition. I really don't want to go that route - it's complicated, and I'd really like to get this money out, if it's possible to do it sooner rather than later.

Finally: I doubt my rules are perfect. Help me debug them. I promise not to 'move goalposts' in any direction except closer to you, if I can possibly help it.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my dream for how this issue would be more reasonably adjudicated in a better world. Point your browser at the home page for Stanford's Center for Deliberative Democracy. It's an appealingly simple idea: randomly select a highly representative sample of citizens, put them together in rooms with the required source materials, and let them talk out a decision.

Deliberative Polling is nowhere near being a vital organ of the body politic at this point, unfortunately. But I think if they could pull it off, it could counterbalance dangerous tendencies within the current system by which democracy is bought: lobbies left and right, PACs left and right, paid-placement journo-lobbying that masquerades as journalism, soft-money campaign contributions, and the mud-slinging primetime TV and radio ads both left and right that any campaign seems to entail these days.

One of the better papers I've seen come out of Deliberative Polling research looked at how damage awards tend to self-inflate over time. It seems that few juries feel comfortable awarding any less than has been awarded for similar injuries in the past. John Edwards' wealth probably derives from this cycle of awards inflation. Would Edwards be a contender in this race if he didn't have the career break that his $38 million brings?

Lest you assume I was drawn into my interest in Deliberative Polling only by some leftward lean in politics ... well, just yesterday I was hanging out here in Tokyo with my good friend Michael Phillips. Check out his blog, Gods of Commerce, and in particular this fairly recent piece on "Hysteria on the Left.". I'll be forever grateful for A Citizen Legislature, which Phillips co-wrote with Ernest Callenbach. This book was the subject of some debate in my hometown of Berkeley years ago, and I was appalled at the elitist snootiness of some of the liberal intelligentsia in city politics there, including some I used to respect. So was Michael Phillips.

Phillips is a good guy. We argue a lot, but he's a fine friend. He is also a stinking brainwashed neo-con, but he is so often right when I think he must be wrong.

OK, enough topic drift. Resume firing.

[*] I lied about the rabid squirrel comments. Most e-mail has been relatively civil, considering the provocations I've used.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

It keeps getting funnier

Some people just don't want that $200. That's all. They have the proof that Joe Wilson lied, but they won't condescend to give it to scum like me in the form I demand.

I just got one reply from a guy who says he won't read the instructions for submissions of proof on my blog because he's not interested in visiting it, and he won't take my money because he doesn't like my tone.

My tone.

C'mon, people! Let's say it takes you five minutes to scrape together your case from existing blog entries and URLs. $200 prize money, in 5 minutes. If that were an hourly rate, it would be $2400 per. Maybe some ex-cabinet-officer beltway bandits make that much for sleazy introductions. Maybe some CEOs make that much when you include all the deferred compensation. When was the last time you made so much money so easily?

And I thought I was avoiding tedium

Well, it's late in the second day of my reward program, and nobody has written me with proof of anything except - in certain cases - their own silliness. That $200 for proving that Joe Wilson lied might sit around for a while. The check looks kind bare without a name. The envelope looks kind of pointless without an address.

And it's turning into a lot of work. Yesterday, when I started, I thought I'd write a small sampling bloggers, and get the proof almost immediately. No such luck. So today, I again searched on some likely keywords, turning up an avalanche of rants against Joe Wilson, many of them still citing a Washington post story whose substance - the claim that Wilson provided valuable intelligence about Iraqi attempts to procure yellowcake from Niger - has been retracted by the Post.

I go from blog to blog, trying to find e-mail addresses for the bloggers, sometimes settling for just writing my reward notice in the comment sections. It's really boring. Almost as boring as most of the blogs themselves. I've done about 100 today. Maybe that's enough. We'll see.

What's worse are the few responses I've gotten so far (with being a courtly exception, not to mention an above-average blogger - check it out.) Some say I'm never going to pay up, so what's the point? I suppose to them, anyone who questions that Wilson is a liar must also be a liar. Another one asked me who I was, then asked for what qualifies as "proof". Dude, it's right there in my blog, just use the URL I supplied!

A few others make bogus arguments. Here's a bogus argument for you:

Joe Wilson said that apart from being shown into an office by his wife, she had nothing to do with the decision to send him to Niger. The Senate intelligence committee reported a memo from Plame in which she "offered up his name." Therefore, Wilson, when he wrote that Plame only had an introducer role in the meeting that resulted in the proposition to send him to Niger, was simply lying: he knew she'd done more.

Now hold on. Wilson had contacts in Niger, some expertise in Uranium mining and proliferation issues thereof, and had been to Niger a time or two. That makes him useful for information. It doesn't mean Plame wanted him sent on a trip to that country.

If anything, there seem to be reasonable arguments why he wouldn't want to leave his pregnant wife to go to a dusty, desolate country, and for only travel expenses. More to the point: that doesn't mean Wilson knew about Plame's memo any sooner than the Senate intelligence committee report came out. Plame may have been under orders not to disclose anything about her work, including the memo, or even its existence. And she may, like a good employee, have not communicated anything about it to anyone, including her husband. Thus, while she may have had something to do with his being sent, that doesn't mean that Wilson knew that she'd had something to do with it when he wrote his book about the whole affair.

As I understand it, Plame's CIA employers back her up, saying she had nothing to do with the decision to send him. Hm, guess that would make them liars, too, wouldn't it? Why would they support her, after all this? Maybe because they read Wilson's book and hooted: "Hah, she kept it even from him." And for all we know, Wilson gave her a good spanking when the committee's report came out, and he found out about this memo that started all this trouble for him, leaving him with no visble career except as a writer for a one-off political confessional whose sales will probably drop off rapidly after the election.

So for now, I rule this one out.

Of course, if you can cite documents proving that Wilson knew of his wife's memo before he wrote the book, AND that he had agreed that this was a good plan to get him to Niger, both of them being desirous of that end, you get the $200.

My hopes were so high

It's only the day after I posted my $200 reward offer for conclusive evidence that Joe Wilson is a Big Fat Liar. So far, I just keep getting e-mail from people with links to the same scurrilous crap.

I don't understand this. It's so simple, people:

(1) identify the sources with the full, in-context, direct quotes from both Wilson and from the person who demonstrates that he knew he was not telling the truth,

(2) copy, paste, supply URLs,

(3) send it off to (If that bounces, try

My promise to you: the $200 check - maybe the easiest money you ever made in your life - goes out the first working day after I've been able to verify your claim.

In fact, the best I've come up with myself is my hazy memory that Joe Wilson recently described the Senate intelligence committee's report as "Republican-written" That's a half-truth at best. On the other hand, it is, at worst, an intemperate, partisan remark by a man who's been goaded into it by accusations of being a liar.

Remember: I'm not asking if Joe Wilson ever lied about anything in his life. After all, he's a career diplomat. I'm asking you to tell me one thing he said about the Niger yellowcake affair, and the Bush administration, that's a provable lie, and I'm asking for the proof. It's really very simple.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

$200 Reward for Proof that Joe Wilson Lied

I've read blogs and newspaper articles until the whites of my eyes have turned the color of a radish in the half-price bin. And you know what I have yet to see? Proof that Joe Wilson lied.

So I'm tired. And I'm offering a reward: $200 to the first person who writes me a piece of e-mail with slam-dunk proof that Joe Wilson lied. Of course, it would be very easy to be just another blogger sparrow taking off from the wire with all the others, and slam Wilson as a liar. Well, easy for now, anyway. A recent MIT survey revealed that some amazingly high percentage of bloggers have been served with notice that they are under legal scrutiny for what they've written. I don't want to be swept up into some huge pool of defendants in a defamation lawsuit somewhere down the line.

Please note my stringent standards: you not only have to supply a full-context quote of the purported lie in question, you must also supply proof that Wilson knew the statement was not true - or at least knew that it was unsupportable from the knowledge he had at the time. Perhaps I should go further: it should meet the U.S. legal standard for perjury, had it been spoken by Wilson, at the time it was spoken or written originally, while under oath in a court of law.

Until then, I think I'm just going to give up on this whole line of inquiry. I'm tired of reading right-wing attack blogs that cite all kinds of supposedly-emerging evidence that The Sixteen Words were right after all, but - under titles with "liar" - never quite prove that Wilson was lying. I give up. I'd rather just pay to find out.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Amazing Laser Breakthrough - Quit Smoking!

I should never click on banner ads. Check this out.

Yep, a few licks of cheap low-watt laser and you'll be free of this disgusting tobacco addiction forever. You, too, can be a cherubically happy (albeit still cherubically potbellied) surfer dude like the guy depicted. And he can go back to that same clinic and dump the rubber tire around his middle. The wrinkles in his face? Can do - just say the word (or rather, write the check.)

What's stopping you? Well, LaserTouch charges almost $300 for a 30-minute treatment. Yes, $10 per minute.

Near as I can tell, if this works, all you need to do to self-treat for smoking cessation is (1) buy a laser pointer, (2) get a map of these supposed acupuncture meridian points, and (3) go at it. Well, maybe for certain meridian points, 'going at it' gets a wee bit contortionistic. However, I'm sure an unemployed smoker friend would be willing to endorphin-trigger those hard-to-reach meridians for you, in exchange for the remnants of your last pack. Or if he's got a few more bucks, you could split the cost with him, treat each other, and be surfing later that same day!

I say: DIY. Save yourself some money. Avoid the annoyance of finding the clinic. Best of all, dispense with that part we all hate: having to take your clothes off in front of a patronizingly chirpy stranger in a white coat. Yes, just send me a check for $149.95 plus postage, and I'll send you a laser pointer and a meridian map. Go at it. Should those cravings kick in again for whatever reason, well, you can always suck on the laser pointer. (I sell only shirt-pocket size laser pointers; my LazerQwak-branded pocket protector is an extra $4.99.)

After ridding yourself of this loathsome habit, you can also send away for my instructions on how to do your own European-spa-style skin rejuvenation treatment, how to melt away that ugly flab - melt it away, I tell you! - and more. You'll love the new, free, younger-looking, sexier you.

Also, just think: you'll have a laser pointer! Admit it, you've always wanted one.

It doesn't get better than this. Nine out of ten doctors strongly recommend that you check out my claims. The Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims into the Paranormal was unequivocal in a recent report: "Interesting new development. We must look into this immediately." John M., a customer in Cincinnati, writes, "I hadno trobble unfolding the maridion map."

Hurry, while supplies last. Not sold in stores. As seen on the Web. Here, anyway.

Batteries not included.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

A Case of Mistaken Identifiers

Through a story at The Register, "Excel Ate My DNA", I discover the delightful note,
entitled "Mistaken Identifiers: Gene name errors can be introduced inadvertently when using Excel in bioinformatics"
The problem?  In its default settings, Excel converts some gene names to dates, and interprets some clone codes as numbers.  A gene name like APR-1 will be converted to 1-apr, for example.  And the ... erm ... helpfulness of Excel can cause a clone code like "2310009E13" to be converted to the number 2.31E+13.  You can't always convert back once you discover the error - SEPT1 and SEP1 both become 1-sep, and notice how the trailing 9 disappeared from the above number?
Thanks, Microsoft.  You've set gene-based cancer therapy back a couple years, probably, with your Freedom to Enervate.  And look how you've done it: with what computer science used to call DWIM: Do What I Mean.  Pioneered by Warren Teitelman at Xerox PARC, DWIM didn't swim - it sunk.  As my old professor Bernard Mont-Reynaud at U.C. Berkeley used to say, "it should be called DWWM - Do What Warren Means."  Hacker dictionaries wryly repeat the most common definition:
1. Able to guess, sometimes even correctly,the result intended when bogus input was provided.

There is at least one scornful lyric on the subject.
"Mistaken identifiers" yields a few other delights.  For example, those unaquainted with crediting trends in the scientific literature may boggle slightly at the eight author attributions in what amounts to a bug report.  But that's nothing!  Check the RIKEN [4] reference and you'll learn about an inquiry into the mouse transcriptome that credits what looks like 135 co-authors.
Special bonus link: a shell script,, that pokes through Excel data and finds likely errors. What's a shell script, you may ask?  Oh, never mind: just some bad old technology from the 1970s, dating back to a time before real computers.  (But not before Real Programmers.)

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Free Martha!

Martha Stewart, interviewed by Barbara Walters before her sentencing:
" ... There are many, many good people who have gone to prison ... look at Nelson Mandela."
Indeed.  Let us pray that Martha's unjust incarceration will spur a nationwide movement to end this brutal system that relegates the rich and well-connected to second-class - nay, third-class - citizenship.
Need yet more proof that her mouth is running on autopilot these days?  Martha ("It's a Good Thing") Stewart says of her sentence:
... it could have been worse. ... Five months versus 10 months or 16 months ... That's a good thing.
Maybe that mouth isn't totally on autopilot - for example, she shrewdly deflects possible Leona Helmsley comparisons with this:
"I didn't cheat the little people. ... We're all little people. I didn't cheat anybody out of anything."
Life is just too harsh, all the same, it seems.  Consider this complaint:
"There are certain people who I wish I'd never met. I have lost my job. I have lost my position in my company. I am no longer the CEO of Martha Stewart Omnimedia. ... That makes me angry and sad."
Except for the bit about being CEO of a big company, lots and lots of 'little people', victimized by a pump-and-dump Bubble Economy, having been saying much the same thing for years.
Allie McBeal, when asked why her problems were so different, so special, so much worse than other people's, answered: "Because they're ... mine."  But it's true: Martha's problems are not really like little people's problems because in her case, she almost died.  You know those prisoners at Abu Ghraib whose heads were pushed under water until they thought they'd drown?  Pfft.  That's nothing compared to Martha's brushes with the Grim Reaper:
"What was a small personal matter became, over the last two years, an almost-fatal circus of unprecedented proportion.  I have been choked and almost suffocated to death."
Quick, administer the Heimlich Manure!  Ah, she must be breathing a little easier, now - she's being fined a mere $30,000 (because that's the maximum under the law, if you can believe it) but Martha Stewart OmniMedia went up 37 points on the news of her sentencing.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Starship Enterprise vs. Red Adventurer

I shouldn't be writing this.  I should be correcting badly translated patents.  All you get is an oldie-but-goodie: the USSR's version of Star Trek.
Somebody, somewhere, take up this challenge: cut and paste from episodes in both series, producing a hybrid episode in which Captain Kirk et al. and Comrade Commander Vasily Dobraydushev go at it, only to discover that in so doing, they foster pan-galactic networks of religious fundamentalist wingnuts who blow up buildings in the capital cities of both empires.
I'd watch it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Zbig, Z'bad and Z'ugly

Zbigniew Brzezinski - I love that name! It sounds like the name of a Polish General. And he was one, sort of.

Here is an interview with him in The American Prospect. During this little chat, he toys with a spiked club - a gift from a Ukrainian defense minister. He keeps a chessboard on display in his office. Does he play? Of course he plays - he even modestly allows that, while he's not improving, he's not some feeble wood-pusher either. He inveighs against the "Manicheanism" of the Bushies. "You're either with us or against us" is originally from Lenin, we learn. And the metaphor of our anarchic world order as devastated, violence-plagued urban core gets bandied about, like the lightest of shuttlecocks. Gotta anchor your messy analysis in some metaphor, after all. Better that it be one that seems like it can be addressed by rolling up your window when that slightly crack-deranged guy in his torn t-shirt and malodorous jeans approaches your windshield with a squee-gee.

And ... um ... well, consider the foregoing a sort of trailer for a movie that you now don't need to see. The capsule summary: Zbig doesn't like the Bushies - they've hurt our rep in what could still have been our world, sort of. We coulda been leaders! Instead of would-be dominators, suddenly out of their depth. Which is what we are.

Glad to hear you actually get it, Zbig, but unfortunately, the most vivid image I have of you is a newswire photo of you looking out over the Khyber pass with a monstrous pair of binocs. You were on an exciting expedition to an exotic country: Pakistan. And there, you exhorted a ragtag rabble who called themselves the Soldiers of God to confront Naked Soviet Agression.

We know of their deep belief in God, and we are confident that their struggle will succeed. That land over there is yours. You will go back to it one day, because your fight will prevail and you'll have your homes and your mosques back again, because your cause is right and God is on your side.

My father won national titles in figure skating, but ended up not going to the Olympics because of some nastiness that started when Hitler invaded Poland. OK, fair enough. But Carter and Zbig called off American participation in the Olympics because the Soviet Union sent troops into Afghanistan, hardly on the same scale as WW II. Did the world suspend the Olympics when the U.S. bombed Hanoi? Or when it bombed Cambodia?

You reap what you sow, Zbig. Be careful what you wish for. Karzai recently called for elections to be pushed back until more security for voters could be arranged. Washington nixed that. Washington calls the shots in Kabul, the only turf Karzai can claim to control, just as it was the only turf that the Soviet puppet government could claim to control, toward the end. The U.S. has at least learned the Soviet lesson in Afghanistan - don't mess with the locals. And so the Taliban roam, regaining momentum. And the warlords rule. And the veils are going back on and the madrassas convene classes. And like that time, oh how long ago it seems, when you aimed AK-47 gunsights through the Khyber pass into Afghanistan, 75% of the world's heroin supply once again flows in the opposite direction.

A Moore's Law for Space Launch? See

My latest op-ed, "Waiting for Permission to Believe - in a Moore's Law for Space", is now up on The Space Review.

Oddy, I discovered this only because I was seized with a sudden impulse to see if one of my favorite sites,, had some quick blog topic to rehydrate my dry brain. And there it was, my essay, blogged for all techno-weirdos to see.

If you haven't gotten the willies in a while (do people still say "it gives me the willies," like the sweater girls in the bad sf movies of the 50s?), don't worry. Relief - if that's quite the word I'm looking for - is at hand. Just check out the topics in Gyre's Animal-Machine Interface category. Where else is news like Snail Brain Merged with Microchip served hot off the griddle? Not enough ick-factor for you? Then thrill to the possibilities hinted at here:
Researchers at the Geneva demining center have found that Gambian giant pouch rats are ideal "biosensors" for landmine detection. According to one of the researchers, the rats are "almost mechanical in the way they work."

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Competition Idea: Air Guitar vs. Air ... Camera?

Pete Townshend of The Who has weighed into the Fahrenheit 911 controversy. Uh oh. He turned Michael Moore down when asked if they could use "Won't Get Fooled Again" in that film. Then he got turned down when The Who offered use of the song after all, when the movie was almost out. (This was well after Moore decided to use a Neil Young song instead.)
A sometime pro-Iraq-invasion partisan who now has some slight reservations about that adventure, Townshend goes and makes an utter ass of himself. He might as well have screamed "I'm a fading rock-god egomaniac" in the following quote.
"I wish him all the best with the movie, which I know is popular, and which I still haven't seen," Townshend continued. "But he'll have to work very, very hard to convince me that a man with a camera is going to change the world more effectively than a man with a guitar."
Pete, maybe you should have died before you got old.

Curiously, Moore had earlier been asked to do a documentary on The Who, and begged off, saying he had to finish Fahrenheit 911 first. Damn, what's wrong his priorities anyway? Some silly war vs. limning the Greatest Rock Band in the History of the Galaxy?

The next twist in this tale? Who knows? Maybe Moore will teasingly offer to retract this statement:
... this is certainly no way for Pete to show his anger, and frankly it is very embarrassing for him to behave in this manner, as he is the greatest rock star who ever lived.
Then, when quote-time comes, he'll say he didn't mean to insult fans of The Clash, since, after all, in fact ... Joe Strummer is the greatest rock star who ever lived.

Me, I'm holding out for what's-his-name, the drummer in Whitesnake. The camera may be mightier than the guitar, but ... drummers rule, Whitesnake rules, and I'll smash a beermug over your head if you think different.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Rational being seeks rational being

It had to happen sooner or later: the Atlasphere, a dating site for Ayn Rand devotees.

Time was (and I'm old enough to remember it) you'd see personals ads in the newspapers from Objectivists, written in a kind of proper-noun code: "Vermeer, Spillane, Victor Hugo, Rachmaninoff ..."

Now we have the truly logical way for the truly logical type to locate a bonk-buddy.

Rational Being Seeks Rational Being

Wild, brutal sex. A cigarette afterward, tender pillow talk extolling Aristotle, and dismissing Kant as a mystic and an intellectual thug. The rest of the night at our drawing boards, designing things the world has never seen before, then off to our respective 7AM board meetings. No diseases, please.

Feigning groupthink

In today's International Herald Tribune, a story about a Senate committee's report on that supposedly massive supposed failure of supposed intelligence that took us into a war, a war that has committed American GIs to fighting in 125 degree heat this summer, even as the people shooting at them are being offered amnesty by Iraq's recently-installed president.

The diagnosis? "Collective groupthink." Shrug. Hey, y'know? It can happen to the best of us. It was just this highly infectious blog-style meme that was, like, going around that year. All the kids were doing it. I mean, getting it. I mean - well, you know what I mean, and so does everyone else, and if you don't get it, what the hell's wrong with you anyway?


Pardon a nitpick before I get down to substance: that 'collective' part. "Collective groupthink"? Is there such a thing as individual groupthink? Or do they mean that, somehow, telepathically, several groups fell prey to groupthink at the same time? Well, if you have to resort to the groupthink diagnosis, telepathy would explain a lot about the sheer scale of harmony within this administration on the trumping up of WMD 'evidence' and the supposed Saddam/Al Qaeda cooperation.

In any case, I think it's a whitewash. The diagnosis emerged from a bipartisan committee in an election year, so a certain amount of whitewashing, just to get consensus on the report, was to be expected. And I wasn't surprised about the groupthink diagnosis in particular - I predicted just such a formal diagnosis quite a while back.

One suspicious thing in this groupthink diagnosis is that it's well known that Rummy et al. were opinion-shopping for a casus belli to go to war in Iraq. The Senate report made no reference to CIA analysts being put under pressure, but this was yet another bipartisan-consensus horse-trade.

More reason to suspect this diagnosis: Rummy of all people is a very unlikely candidate for groupthink. Why? Because he's a minor star in the very book that introduced the term "groupthink" into the language: Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes, by Irving Janis. Janis looked at several American foreign policy crises - Rummy appears in his analysis of the Mayaguez Incident, and it's not like that episode in his career has slipped his memory - he was referring to it as late as March 23rd of this year. Nor is it credible that Rumsfeld was unaware of a best-selling political science book that coined a popular term for a common social afflication, using him (albeit in a minor role) as an example.

What hypotheses does Rummy's biography leave us with?

(1) "I forgot to get my tetanus booster shot."

Rummy et. al simply forgot that groupthink might operate. This seems improbable, especially given how much open questioning of his style was going on in the press at the time, and how he was answering those expressions of suspicion. He all but said that they were taking countermeasures against groupthink.

(2) "I can quit any time."

Rummy et. al kept groupthink in mind, but fell into denial about symptoms, the way an alcoholic can fall off the wagon saying, "It's OK, I can drink in moderation." I.e., they wanted to spin the intelligence maybe only a leetle bit, but didn't want to be seen as deluded, or self-deluded, later. However, pretty soon they were chugging the hard stuff. Well, I just don't think Rummy was that stupid.

(3) "Our brains will need an alibi down the road."
Rummy et. al realized that they were engaged in Groupthink Classic, but we're doing so consciously, precisely so that any followup investigation would tend to conclude that they'd fallen prey to groupthink unconsciously.

Me, I go with #3. Rummy's a smart guy, with a long memory. He realizes that whenever you're given a choice between being seen as stupid or being seen as conniving, go with being seen as stupid. As long as you achieve your goals and don't end your own career, what do you care?

Thursday, July 08, 2004

I Space Daily

My first op-ed for in, like, a friggin' year: "Columbus was Dope!"

I might soon post an emended version here, with all my juicy links restored. For now, well, I'm correcting translated patent English that looks like this:

In the phlogiston saver mode (3), the foobar panel 54 and the glomotronomy motors 66a through 66n are turned off, and the gazebo heater 48 is turned on at a lowered target temperature, i.e., in a low phlogiston consumption state. In the phlogiston saver mode (4), the foobar panel 54, the glomotronomy motors 66a through 66n, and the gazebo heater 48 are turned off. Therefore, the phlogiston saver mode (4) corresponds to the OFF mode.

Thus saving much phlogiston. Save the Phlogiston! (Yes, I am in a delirium of boredom.)

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

"It's Alabama in Arabic."

Christian Parenti, writing in the Nation: News from Planet Fallujah.

Choice bit:

Tariq, at the edge of a couch in our hotel, reads his verbatim notes quoting [the leader of the cell that watched over Tariq]: "We are all sinners, Tariq, all of us, I swear. The things we've done make us sinners. There was a Turkoman who ran a hotel; he had a wife and family. We thought he was a spy, so we beat him. We broke every bone in his body, but he wouldn't confess. Then we cut a checkerboard in his back with a knife and poured salt on his wounds. He begged us to kill him but he would not confess. We knew by then that he was innocent. To kill him was an act of mercy. We are sinners all, Tariq."

Moqtada al-Sadr had a bulls-eye painted on his back by the CPA. That did not availeth much: the Occupation forces backed out of Fallujah after taking heavy casualties, and as this story indicates, the shooting and bombing continues around the fringes. Now al-Sadr is on his way into whatever form of government Iraq will produce. Fallujah is his turf.

Is Iraq on its way from centralized mob rule - the Tikriti Mafia - to balkanized mob rule? Wow, what an improvement. Some days, I just want to grab Dubya's press secretary by his tie, shove stories like News from Planet Fallujah in his face, and yell, "Spin this, why doncha!"

I am just SO right ...

Snowed under with work, but pleased to see that two of my favorite theories are seeing faint glimmers of vindication.

One is my theory that Saddam Hussein practically had to invade Kuwait - or some country - given his political predicament in the early 90s. As Arab dictators sometimes do, he started a war to distract (and dispose of) enemies.

I take encouragement about this theory from Saddam's curious response to being formally charged with crimes against humanity for that invasion - he said he was worried about a coup within his military. I'll probably expand on this in a later blog entry.

The other theory that may yet be proven while I'm alive: that when Colin Powell presented WMD evidence at the U.N., the very visibly televised discomfiture of Blix and ElBaradei stemmed from their own secret knowledge that the supposed chemical weapons trailers were not for making chemical weapons. Why would they have kept that secret? To protect the researchers and their families from a vengeful Saddam, were he to discover that the weapons he'd been promised were not forthcoming. How would Blix et al. have found out? Well, in renewing olde acquaintance in Baghdad, somebody probably sat them down and told them - maybe even showed them - that Saddam was being hoodwinked by his own.

In this theory, I take encouragement from a story today, "CIA knew there were no WMDs". The CIA may have just decided to sit on this for the same reason Blix might have. War wasn't a foregone conclusion at that point. There was still a chance that an invasion could be headed off, inspections expanded, and those researchers and families saved, not to mention a lot of other trouble saved. Also, think of the embarrassment of having to admit it: it's not like Blix or the CIA can easily admit, at this point, "We lied and said there probably was WMD when we knew in fact that the chances were vanishingly small - but our intentions were good!"

Monday, July 05, 2004

Mindless fun at the YMCA, and a long walk on a small planet

Colin Powell - wouldn't you love him on a GOP rescue ticket? Lots of people would. Here's our ever-excellent Kathleen Parker and her take on Colin Powell: The man who wouldn't be president:

Outside the Beltway, no single individual is so admired or so unlikely to fill the office to which many still wish he would aspire.

Yep. 'Nuff said. Dreams die hard, though. A Washington post story about Bush's appearance in West Virginia the other day, headlined "Wars Bring Security At Home, Bush Says", highlights an persistent undercurrent of support among Democrats:

Buck Flynn, a retired Verizon Communications worker who lives in Charleston, said Bush gave a "good speech and I think he's done well. It's a tough job."

But Flynn, 66, a Democrat, said he will more likely vote for Kerry. "I think he will take the country in a different direction and I think the economy will be better under the Democrats," he said.

If Flynn had his druthers, though, his candidate would be Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. "I would have been out there beating the bushes, with flags and everything!" he said, his face lighting up.

That last paragraph was cut from the Billing's Gazette version, and the Boston Globe version. No use raising hopes. Confused dreamers, avaunt!

Powell seems an unlikely figure to inspire a lighting up of faces. He epitomizes moderation, not passionate intensity. But with the gyre set in motion by Dubya & Co. widening daily, maybe that's what people want these days.

And he can be a fun guy, too. No, really. If he wanted the Log Cabin Republicans, and perhaps the gay vote generally, he may be well on his way. Can you think of another public figure who would take on the Village People's "YMCA", at a staid event like Asia's largest security meeting? Sure, he was the compromiser-in-chief for the don't-ask-don't-tell policy. But was any other policy likely to fly?

Today's other story: "Canadian in Kenya on solo walk round the world"

“My goal is not to realise any kind of record. This is an effort, in my own way to promote the culture of peace and non-violence, a different and unique way to understand the world,” he explained.

The message certainly got through to a would-be mugger in South Africa, who ended up handing over a few rand to the Canadian.

How's that for disarming? More people like this, and we'll all put down our guns. You can track his World Wide Walk at Want to contact him along the way? No hurry - he'll be at it for 8 more years at this rate.