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October 2004

Novak: Bush Not a Ninny

At home alone with two small kids and no TV reception, I opted out of trying to watch the debate last night. So I'm poking through last night's coverage. My favorite quote I've come across so far is Bob Novak's summary:

I thought Bush won the debate. Kerry didn't make any major gaffes but Bush showed he wasn't the ninny that he appeared to be in Florida.

Because of space considerations Novak did not go on to admire the President's ability to fog a mirror or marvel at his possession of all four limbs.

My goodness: Let's print bumper stickers! Let's make buttons! That can be the new Bush campaign slogan: Bush isn't the ninny he appeared to be in Florida. With all due respect to administration mouthpiece Bob Novak, I think the office of President of the United States requires a little more than an absence of obvious brain damage.

My second favorite is the Bush psycho-stalker horror footage that Oliver Willis has up. (Also, did I get another glimpse of that rectangular object between Bush's shoulder blades? There is a moment when Bush has his back to the camera at a slight angle in that clip.) Where did Bush get the idea that physically intimidating Charles Gibson was a good debate tactic?

Bush arguing the case for his own infallibility is very strange. (Washinton Post video clip here.) It seems unlikely that he wasn't coached on how to admit to mistakes.* It is one of the job interview basics. People get asked that question even when interviewing for minimum wage jobs. So, clearly, he resisted any coaching he received on how to address this aspect of the debate format. Who would hire a CEO who can't admit he ever makes mistakes? Most of us wouldn't even hire a baby sitter who couldn't deal with that issue.

Here's the scene as described in the NYT editorial:

One of the uncommitted voters in the audience sensibly asked President Bush to name three mistakes he'd made in office, and what he had done to remedy the damage. Mr. Bush declined to list even one, and instead launched into an impassioned defense of the invasion of Iraq as a good idea. The president's insistence on defending his decision to go into Iraq seemed increasingly bizarre in a week when his own investigators reported that there were no weapons of mass destruction there, and when his own secretary of defense acknowledged that there was no serious evidence of a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

Even worse, the president's refusal to come up with even a minor error - apart from saying that he might have made some unspecified appointments that he now regretted - underscores his inability to respond to failure in any way except by insisting over and over again that his original decision was right.

Well, it is a good thing he's not a ninny, but it would be better if he could answer a basic job interview question.

* (Unless Rove & Hughes believe he's God's Own PresidentTM. But that would be crazy!)

POTUS, Batteries Not Included.

Surely, you don't believe that THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES would cheat during a presidential debate? How could Salon suggest such a thing?

No. It can't be. There must be another explanation for the rectangular bulge between his shoulder blades. The obvious explanation, that should put all tinfoil hatted moonbatted paranoia to rest, is that that is where the D batteries go in.

Didn't you even read your ballot in 2000? Perhaps your ballot was defective, but mine clearly stated in 6 point type "Batteries not included." under the name "George W. Bush."

It is a sad and moving episode in the Bush family drama. Not only did little Robin die in childhood; George did, too. Barbara was so stricken with grief that the whole aerospace industry was brought together to solve the problem. We can rebuild him, they said. We can make him stronger, faster, smarter. OK, I'm kidding. They didn't say smarter. This was the old days, and the miracle is that they did it at all, and that George 2.0 managed -- yes -- even to become President.

Please don't drag the Bush family name through the dirt by suggesting that the President of the United States needed to receive whispered answers to know what to say during the debate. He doesn't need that. The radio hardware is all internal. And please don't make fun of him for being a little different because he needs a dozen D batteries to function.

Have some common decency and admire him for what he is. The finest president money can buy.

Robert Alonso at Starbucks

A while back, Hobson's Choice had a lot of interesting stuff about the attempts to recall Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. So this little item on Robert Alonso, brother of actress Maria Conchita Alonso, caught my eye.

He is alleged to have allowed anti-Chávez mercenaries to use his Venezuela ranch as a training camp. And now he's in Miami and gave an interview to the Miami Herald to let us all know he wants political asylum in the US. Venezuela wants him extradited. Why give an interview in a Miami Starbucks? Why not just hire an immigration lawyer?

It occurs to me to wonder whether his merry band was part of Wolfowitz's network of friendly militias; yet another attempt to privatize the business of regime change. So why does a wanted man give an interview? Bush's poll numbers aren't looking so good. And a new regime in the US might feel differently about Mr. Alonso.

I Want My, I Want My MT-Blacklist

A few weeks ago I upgraded to Movable Type 3.11. When I did that, I was really looking forward to upgrading MT-Blacklist. The version I was running was getting a bit tattered at the edges with the growing size of even the default blacklist, not to mention the items I'd added.

Once I was ready to install MT plug-ins, I was very disappointed to discover that my ISP's Perl install was one version too old for the system requirements of the MT-3 compatible version of MT-Blacklist. I wrote my ISP about this and was told that they were testing a new server with the current version of Perl and everything else, and it would be in place in "a few weeks."

So I've been patiently waiting. MT runs slowly on the older version of Perl. Because of the lack of MT-Blacklist, I've been going back and forth about whether to keep Comment Moderation turned on. On the one hand, it discourages spammers and keeps me from finding my comments swamped with come-ons for consumer electronics or unnatural acts with animals. On the other hand, it discourages legitimate conversaion. Since I never did get Type Key to work with my MT install, when Comment Moderation is turned on, I have to approve even my own comments. Meanwhile MT runs very slowly, so the approvals are ridiculously time consuming.

Yesterday or the day before, I changed the name of my comment script yet again (the spammers had caught on to the previous name). Meanwhile comment moderation delayed comments by Rivka and Alex, which I would have wanted to go right through. So I turned Comment Moderation off. So this morning I wake up to comment spam and a profane remark by a physics troll that my good olde MT-Blacklist install would have blocked.

Peter Wainwright, who came to visit us in Pleasantville this weekend, suggested I install the new Perl on my own, rather than waiting for my ISP. I am thinking about doing that. But I'm also thinking that it sounds like something I'll describe in retrospect as "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Also, installing Perl is probably not something I should do in the presence of small children, since I need to give such things my undivided attention.

In the meantime, until I get Perl upgraded one way or another and get MT-Blacklist back in service I'm going to have to leave Comment Moderation on, no matter how tiresome it is.

Karen's Run-in with the DC WASA Lead Pipe Repalcement Program

My sister and I have been discussing the lead contamination of the Washington, DC water supply for a while, since she lives in DC and her household water clocks in at a lead level of 240. She was waiting to find out what the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority planned to do about this. Day before yesterday, she found out. Go read her outraged screed: District of Columbia Water & Sewer Authority Drops in to Raise the Level of Lead in My Drinking Water. Though her blog usually deals with issues of space policy concerning the Moon, I encouraged her to make an exception for the DC WASA.

On Finding Flu Shots

A couple of days ago, when I was driving home after picking up Elizabeth from preschool, I heard on NPR that one half of the US flu vaccine supply was not going to be delivered because the plant in the UK that manufactures it had abruptly lost its certification. Since both Peter and I need one (we are in the high risk category), and Elizabeth is under two, I immediately started making phone calls to round up shots for the kids and I. I was able to get one immediately from the pediatrician's office for our daughter, Elizabeth. Peter is on the pediatrican's high risk list for flu shots, but the shots for the over-4s weren't in yet. I expect I'll be able to get one for him next week.

See also my more recent post, I Got Mine: a Flu SHot Odyssey

My doctor's office called back yesterday morning to say that their shots would be in the third week of October. A few hours later, they called back to say that they weren't going to be able to get ANY flu vaccine after all and suggested I get my shot though one of the local supermarkets that offers flu shots. (Presumably, the person calling me was aware of my multiple hospitalizations for lung issues.) This began to sound like a serious problem, so I went to the county health department's web site to see what could be done about it. As I suspected, the county has vaccination days in the various towns. With a note from my doctor that I am high risk, I can get my shot in Mt. Kisco next week.

UPDATE: The adjacent county, Rockland County, has cancelled their vaccinations because their supply was purchased from Chiron:

The Rockland Department of Health yesterday canceled all of this year's flu shot clinics because of an international vaccine shortage and told residents to expect severe rationing of the limited doses that are available.

"We just don't have an adequate supply," said Commissioner of Health Dr. Joan Facelle, who was consulting with state officials about the shortage. "We're putting everything on hold unless something changes."

The Health Department was contacting private physicians, local hospitals and nursing homes yesterday to determine the status of their vaccine supplies.

Local residents who were doing the same yesterday already knew the answer.

"No one has it," said Suffern resident Samye Isenberg, who gets the shot every year. "I've called my doctor, my cardiologist, the hospitals, the pharmacy. They all say the same thing. It's very upsetting."

The county had hoped to offer residents 11,000 doses of vaccine as protection against the flu. But most of those doses — 9,000 — were purchased from Chiron Corp. The company was barred Tuesday from shipping the medication after British health officials found manufacturing flaws at the factory where the vaccine was produced.

N4610 Mercenary Died of Meningitis

One of the mercenaries serving time in Zimbabwe for a conviction related to the Equatorial Guinea coup plot has died, apparently of meningitis (IOL):

Harare - The Zimbabwe government said on Wednesday that a South African man serving a prison sentence in connection with a coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea died in a Harare hospital after a bout of meningitis.

Ngave Jarukemo Muharukua, 35, who was serving a one-year sentence, was admitted to the intensive care unit at a Harare hospital on Sunday suffering from meningitis and died the following day, said Zimbabwe's information department.

The prisoner had first complained of nose bleeds and dizziness on September 9 and was examined by a prison medical officer before being taken to a hospital ward in the top security Chikurubi prison.

"His condition worsened on October 2, 2004 and he was referred to Harare Central Hospital," said the statement.

"He was admitted at Harare Central Hospital Intensive Care Unit on October 3, 2004 suffering from clinical meningitis" and died the following day, the statement said.

Meningitis is an infectious disease that causes inflammation around the brain and spinal cord.

A post mortem is to be carried out to establish the exact cause of death, the statement added.

MEANWHILE, in Equatorial Guinea, the trial of the other group of mercenaries alleged to have been involved in the coup plot remains stalled, awaiting a deposition by Mark Thatcher.

Libreville - The trial in Equatorial Guinea of 19 people including 14 suspected mercenaries accused of plotting to overthrow President Teodoro Obian Nguema will not resume on Monday as previously announced, sources there said.

Eight South Africans, six Armenians and five Equato-Guineans, including a former deputy minister, went on trial in Malabo in August for allegedly plotting to oust Obiang, who has ruled the small central African country since 1979.

The case was adjourned on August 31 at the request of the state's attorney general, Jose Olo Obono, to get "further information" after the arrest of Mark Thatcher in South Africa.

Mark Thatcher has been fighting a South African court order that he give a deposition to EQ authorities.

AND the President of Uganda ventures his own solution to the mercenary problem (News24):

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Tuesday suggested that the easiest way to deal with mercenaries in Africa was to shoot them.

"Mercenaries, you just shoot them. This is a simple matter, it's not a big problem," he said in response to a question at a news conference.

Afshar Experiment Update: A Note from Afshar

See the preprint of Afshar's paper on IRIMS here.

Here is the latest from Shariar S. Afshar (and here's the backstory, for those who missed it):
I have the great pleasure of informing you of the publication of a feature article on my experiment with the title "A great leap forward" in today's copy of the prestigious British newspaper "The Independent." Below are the links to their web page and the article:

Additionally, the British quarterly "Philosopher's Magazine" has
published an article on my work and its philosophical implications in
the Oct.-Dec 2004 copy. Here are the links:

I also noticed that El Cultural (perhaps a Spanish
magazine?) has also done a piece:

(I'm working on deadline right now, and so haven't had a chance to follow these links myself, yet.)

Pre-Election Groupthink

Kos talks of growing pains on his site, DailyKos. I haven't been following the comments section over there, so I'll take his word for it. But in his discussion, aimed mostly at the Kos community in turmoil, there are a couple of paragraphs that seem to me to address, very specifically, what is plaguing the liberal blogosphere:

There's another dynamic that is currently causing a lot of grief -- the desire to close ranks close to an election. "Groupthink". And while I am no paragon of party unity, it's not a desire I'll fight. We should close ranks before an election. Those who insist on fighting those battles now are merely distracting from the ultimate goal. Eyes on the prize, and all.

Once the election is over, we can get back to fighting over policy, whether to tackle the DLC, hating Greens or welcoming them to the fold, being a "Wellstone democrat" versus "Dean Democrat" versus who knows what else, etc.

For now, if you come here and trash a Democratic candidate, expect to be trashed back (just like I get trashed when I criticize the party). If you can't take the heat, then don't write that post or diary. Or consider returning after November 2. It's that simple. This is a Democratic blog after all.

This isn't just a problem in Kos's comment section. It's a problem across the board: Though we feel free to discuss in detail every nuance of Bush's facial expressions, there is a generalized restraint of candor about Kerry the candidate. I am very uncomfortable with this. I go far out of my way to read the Kerry campaign emails and those from allied organizations, looking for things to say to put a favorable light on his candidacy. I don't feel the Kerry campaign gives me much to work with.

Outsourcing Torture

Not content to outsource torture to private contractors, Republicans are apparently pushing a bill to make it legal to outsource torture to other countries.  This is called "extraordinary rendition." Obsidian Wings has the story.

It's not as if to some extent having other countries do our torturing for us isn't done already: See, for example, Samuel M. Katz's book Relentless Pursuit: The DSS and the Manhunt for the Al-Qaeda Terrorists, pages 201-202 on the torture of "an Arab male."

(On the lighter side, see also Fafblog. Fafblog & Michael Bérubé are keeping me sane through election day.)

From London to Beslan

There are two news stories concerning a man named Kamel Rabat Bouralha and the Beslan attack. The Sofia News Agency's story, UK Suspect Arrested over Beslan Attack, reports that Bouralha has been arrested in connection with the attack:

A British citizen has been arrested on suspicions of involvement in Beslan school massacre in which 300 people, half of them children, died.

A member of the group responsible for the Beslan school massacre last month is a British citizen who attended the infamous Finsbury Park mosque in north London, The Observer reported.

Then there is the Guardian/Observer story -- London mosque link to Beslan -- that the Sofia News agency names as its source:

A member of the group responsible for the Beslan school massacre last month is a British citizen who attended the infamous Finsbury Park mosque in north London, The Observer can reveal.

Two other members of the group, loyal to Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, are also believed to have been active in the UK until less than three years ago. They are suspected of taking part in the raid on the school in which 300 people, half of them children, died.

Russian security sources described Kamel Rabat Bouralha, 46 years old and the oldest of the three, as a 'key aide' of Basayev, who has a £5.5 million price on his head. Basayev has boasted of training the men who took control of the school and wired it with explosives. Investigators believe that the three men, all Algerian-born, travelled to Chechnya from London to take part in fighting there in 2001.

Russian investigators are thought to have now identified most of the 33 men who occupied the school in Beslan last month. They include two Algerians in their mid-30s called Osman Larussi and Yacine Benalia. Both are thought to have been based in London until recently. Like Bouralha, they too are believed to have attended Finsbury Park mosque and to have joined the network of groups loyal to Basayev on arrival in Chechnya.

General Ilya Shabalkin said that Bouralha had been detained while attempting to leave Russia for medical treatment in Azerbaijan. 'He says he is innocent, but there is strong evidence of his involvement in a grave crime,' Shabalkin said.

It is not clear to me what is being claimed. Is Bouralha thought to have been one of the attackers? Or just one of the organizers? Do I also gather that two of the dead attackers' bodies have been identified as Osman Larussi and Yacine Benalia? Is the Guardian story just poorly written? Or is it the situation (rather than the writing) that is murky?

It seems to me that this arrest and its surrounding narrative have to be regarded in the context of Putin's desire to portray the attack as al Qaeda-related rather than as a reaction ot his policies in Chechnya.

No Ear for Parody

Editor’s Note:

In an version of this article that was published earlier, the Communists for Kerry were portrayed as a group that was supporting John Kerry for president.’s reporter asked the group’s representative several times whether the group was legitimate and supporting the Democratic candidate, and the spokesman insisted that it was.

(Via Duncan Black.)

Aegis Contract Survives Protest by Dyncorp

Over the strong objections of the Irish community and a protest lodged by Dyncorp, Tim Spicer's company Aegis has managed to hold onto their huge contract to provide security in Iraq:

Spicer contract gets U.S. nod

A controversial contract between the Pentagon and a British-owned private defense company has been given the go-ahead by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Aegis Defense Services secured the $292.5 million contract for security work in Iraq.

The contract, awarded in May, is one of the largest for such work in Iraq and was given to Aegis in the face of six initial rival bids, including one by a U.S. company, Dyncorp.

It was a protest brought by Dyncorp that put the Aegis contract on hold and resulted in an investigation and legal determination by the GAO, the congressional and federal government financial and legal watchdog, which, until recently, was known as the General Accounting Office.

Aegis is headed by former British army Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, who commanded the Scots Guards regiment in Belfast when teenager Peter McBride was shot dead in September 1992.

McBride was shot in the back and his death remains one of the most controversial of the troubles.

President Bush has been urged to cancel the Aegis contract because of the questions swirling around Spicer, not just in relation to his service in Northern Ireland, but as a result of later business ventures around the world involving so-called "private military companies," a term widely viewed as merely a sanitized way of describing mercenaries.

I expected this. Despite some suggestion that the awarding of the Aegis contract was the result of incompetence, it has seemed to me a result of deliberate policy. The Pentagon knows what it's getting: a certain style of military action behind a contractual cloak of deniability.

UPDATE: has more details:

GAO found that DynCorp's proposal was "marginal, and ineligible for award without significant revision" and therefore, the company had no standing in the protest. The contract was awarded on a "best value" basis, based on technical and management capability, past performance and cost. The request for proposals had advised contestants that technical and management capability would be rated slightly higher than past performance, and that the two factors together would rate higher than cost.