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A Man Needs A Fish Like A Woman Needs a Bicycle
Thursday, May 20, 2004
I SEE DEAD PEOPLE Tech Central Station has an amazing article. The claim of the article is that:
Whom do you picture as the wealthiest one percent? ...

Carl Haub, senior demographer at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C., has estimated that 106 billion humans have been born since Homo sapiens appeared about 50,000 years ago. That means that the richest one percent in history includes 1.06 billion people. There are currently 6.2 billion humans alive, leaving approximately 100 billion who have died. Who among the dead was rich by today's standards? Not many. Royalty, popes, presidents, dictators, large landholders, and the occasional wealthy industrialist, such as Andrew Carnegie and Leland Stanford, were certainly rich. All told, it is difficult to imagine more than 20 million of these people since ancient Egyptian times. This leaves 1.04 billion wealthy alive today, or 17% of the world's population...

The poorest of the poor, more than 1.2 billion, live on less than $1 a day. Now that's poverty... The poor in the United States, by contrast, live on up to $23.50 a day. Except for the few hundred thousand who are homeless, the Americans whom the U.S. government defines as poor live exceptionally rich lives. In most ways, their lives are better than those of kings and queens just 200 years ago. Consider the quality and quantity of our food, clothing, refrigerators, televisions, washing machines, stereo systems, and automobiles. King Louis XIV of France had a greenhouse so he could eat oranges. The poor in this country can eat an orange every day, regardless of season...

Count yourself as one of the luckiest and most successful humans ever. Celebrate your wealth and ignore politicians who preach the gospel of the haves and the have nots. They try to divide us when in fact what we have in common exceeds our differences. While you're counting your blessings, take a minute to honor the system that created it: the system of property rights, free markets, low taxes, and the rule of law. And if you want to help people who are in the bottom, then urge your politicians to stop blocking imports from India, Kenya, Peru, Cuba, Bulgaria, and other poor countries around the world. While charity has its place, few of the wealthiest one percent got rich from charity, and neither will today's poor. We moved from poverty to wealth through economic growth. Let's allow the rest of the world's poor to do so also.

That sound you here is the sound of my jaw dropping.

I want to make three points on this:

1. It might be helpful to look at standards and costs of living in comparing US citizens with those folks in less developed countries. I know lots of people who can make it in New York city on $23.50. That is positively luxurious! My goodness! What I can buy with $23.50 is just...
2. We could consider that someone who has some things like a broken down TV set is particlarly well off, by past standards, but given the country they currently live in, they might consider themselves quite poor, given the spectacular way that other folks live in comparison to them.
3. This might seem trite, but I will point out that the bulk of the people that
Messers David R. Henderson and Charley Hooper write about as being poor, really don't care one way or the other. Why?

Because they are dead.

And dead people can easily live on $23.50 a day, or even $1 a day for that matter. In fact, if I were to take this further, I could take this argument to its logical conclusion--namely that as long as I am alive, no matter how grungy or desperate my situation, I should be thankful! Even those poor folks in less developed countries currently suffering from malnutrition, as some folks in the USA (who are not homeless) currently do should also be thankful (even if we could help you some by allowing your goods into our country at fair prices). After all, you are alive, and that is a priceless and royal gift indeed. Now sod off and be thankful, and keep away from me, you lucky duckies.
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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The Great Bush Economy Bet

You want a piece of the action? Read on...

I've made the following long-term bet with Feces Flinging Monkey; he claims the economy will thrive if Bush is reelected, while I remain certain that it will tank instead.

We've got ten bucks on the line. This is serious stuff. Here are the rules:


IF Bush wins in November,

AND there are no major terror attacks in the US,

AND no new, major conflicts overseas,

AND if there are no significant tax increases:

THEN on June 31, 2006, the majority of the following statements will be true:


1) The latest available budget deficit, as a percentage of GDP, will be smaller than the deficit currently predicted here.

2) The budget debt, as a percentage of GDP, will be smaller than the debt currently predicted in the same document.

3) The DOW will exceed 10,800.

The following indicators will be at, or better than (i.e., higher or lower, as appropriate), their average for Clinton's second term:

4) Unemployment (seasonally adjusted)

[target=4.4%]

5) Federal Funds Interest rate

[target=5.50%]

6) 10 Year Treasury rate

[target=5.82%]

7) Inflation

[target=2.35]

8) GDP growth (real)

[target=4.23%]

9) Personal income (per capita, average of yearly percent change 97-00)

[target=5.41]



Loser pays ten bucks to a charity of the winner's choice.

You want a piece of this? Just send an email to ottersoftheuniverse and tell me which side of the bet you want; if you want the other side, I'll put you in touch with the poop throwing monkey (or you can go and email the handsome primate yourself at BushBet@FecesFlingingMonkey.com and you can work it out for yourselves). If you like the bet, feel free to copy the code and put it on your own website.

(Technical note: Yeah, we know that we have 'averaged averages' here to calculate our targets, but that's close enough for a bar bet!)



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Thursday, May 13, 2004
WHY WHAT GOES ON IN A PRISON IS NOT THE SAME AS FRAT HAZING, OR, CONTEXT IS EVRYTHING I watch with wonder as conservative pundits want to claim that the Au Ghraib scandal is not really that bad.
This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You of heard of need to blow some steam off?

I do not know if Mr. Limbaugh and others really believe this. But assuming this is a "good faith" effort to argue that the US has over-reacted to events is Abu Ghraib
I would like to respond:

1. The issue of coercion is paramount here. Frat hazings at least have a veneer of volition about them. After all, this is supposed to be something I suffer so that I can be "one of the gang." Goings on in Abu Ghraib were not voluntary. ANd I do not get to join the guys who dish it out if I pass the initiation. I just hopefully get out in one piece.

2. No frat hazee thinks for a minute that he will die if he doesn't follow through with a command. True, they might not get into the fraternity, but I submit, perhaps unfairly, that the threat of death, or severe physical abuse is an order or orders of magnitude worse than the social disappointment that someone feels regarding their frat hazing experience (granting the possibility of a bad hazing experience). Remember, these prisoners will have known, or heard, or been told, or read somewhere that people who had resisted interrogation had DIED. In this case, putting someone on a box with electrodes and wire, is an horrifying experience, because they KNOW that this could be very real. After all, other prisoners had died in the prison at American hands.

3. Also, a prison is not a frat house. Bad things go on in prison--violence, etc, in a way that is much, much less likely in a college or university environment. Centres of higher learning are after all, places primarily for the exercise of rational functions for those who attend them. They are hopefully designed to create active bodies and minds. Prisons are not. They are designed to create docile, compliant bodies and minds. I do not have to have a multitude of deaths to make a prisoner fear this possible outcome, no matter how remote it might actually be. That is an occupational hazard of prison. We are not shocked when a prisoner dies--after all, prisons are violent places in our perceptions. We don't feel that way with universities. Violence has no place there, and we are shocked when it happens. For comparison, consider how you or I might react if we hear of a murder, robbery, or a rape in our neighbourhood. I would be edgier, even if nothing happened again for a year. Maybe lightning will strike twice...? Prisons are places where one has that sense of edginess continuously and in far greater degree than colleges, most neighbourhoods, etc.
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LEARNING SOME MORE ABOUT MUSLIM CULTURE Juan Cole has an interesting post up on the current fighting going on in Karbala, in which half of an historic mosque has been destroyed in fighting between the Army of the Mahdi (Muqtada al-Sadr's mob) and American forces (intervening at the behest of the US appointed Iraqi governor, Saad Sufouk). Dr. Cole ends his post thus:
I don't care what Sufouk told them the Americans are most unwise to engage in major combat in Karbala so close to Husain's tomb. They make themselves look like Yazid. If they, or whoever is reading this, don't know who Yazid is, then they have no business being in Iraq, much less in Karbala.

So, not knowing much about this fellow, Yazid, I did a little research:
The second Umayyad caliph, he reigned from 680 to 683.

During the reign of his father, Yazid had commanded the army that laid seige to Constantinople. After his accession, Yazid was confronted with two rebellions. The first was that of Husayn, son of Ali and grandson of Muhammad, which occured in Kerbala in 680; the rebellion was short-lived and unsuccessful, but the martyrdom of Husayn and his family created a permanent division between the Shi`ites, the partisans of Ali, and the Sunni majority...

Although often depicted by Muslim historians as a dissolute ruler, Yazid attempted to continue his father's administrative and military policies. He reformed the tax system and improved the irrigation system in the environs of Damascus.

I think I can understand why Dr. Cole is worried. We would never put a 1,000 pound bomb anywhere near the tomb of Husain; right? We would never make that sort of blunder in alienating Shi'ite sensibilities? Even if "practical military necessity" called for it?
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Wednesday, May 12, 2004
MISTAKES, WHAT MISTAKES? The Stratfor Group outlines tactical errors that it thinks the Bush Administration has made since it began the occupation of Iraq. It makes for interesting reading:

* A failure to detect that preparations were under way for a guerrilla war in the event that Baghdad fell.

* A failure to quickly recognize that a guerrilla war was under way in
Iraq, and a delay of months before the reality was recognized and a strategy developed for dealing with it.

* A failure to understand that the United States did not have the
resources to govern Iraq if all Baathist personnel were excluded.

* A failure to understand the nature of the people the United States was installing in the Iraqi Governing Council -- and in particular, the
complex loyalties of Ahmed Chalabi and his relationship to Iraq's Shia and the Iranian government. The United States became highly dependent on individuals about whom it lacked sufficient intelligence.

* A failure to recognize that the Sunni guerrillas were regrouping in
February and March 2004, after their defeat in the Ramadan offensive.

* Completely underestimating the number of forces needed for the
occupation of Iraq, and cavalierly dismissing accurate Army estimates in favor of lower estimates that rapidly became unsupportable.

* Failing to step up military recruiting in order to increase the total
number of U.S. ground forces available on a worldwide basis. Failing to
understand that the difference between defeating an army and occupying a country had to be made up with ground forces.

These are the particular failures. The general failures are a compendium of every imaginable military failing:

* Failing to focus on the objective. Rather than remembering why U.S.
forces were in Iraq and focusing on that, the Bush administration wandered off into irrelevancies and impossibilities, such as building democracy and eliminating Baath party members. The administration forgot its mission.

* Underestimating the enemy and overestimating U.S. power. The enemy was intelligent, dedicated and brave. He was defending his country and his home. The United States was enormously powerful but not omnipotent. The casual dismissal of the Iraqi guerrillas led directly to the failure to anticipate and counter enemy action.

* Failure to rapidly identify errors and rectify them through changes of plans, strategies and personnel. Error is common in war. The measure of a military force is how honestly errors are addressed and rectified. When a command structure begins denying that self- evident problems are facing them, all is lost. The administration's insistence over the past year that no fundamental errors were committed in Iraq has been a cancer eating through all layers of the command structure -- from the squad to the office of the president.

* Failing to understand the political dimension of the war and
permitting political support for the war in the United States to erode by failing to express a clear, coherent war plan on the broadest level. Because of this failure, other major failures -- ranging from the failure to find weapons of mass destruction to the treatment of Iraqi prisoners -- have filled the space that strategy should have occupied. The persistent failure of the president to explain the linkage between Iraq and the broader war has been symptomatic of this systemic failure.


How to put this critique into perspective? What does this say about those who currently lead us in this war in/on Iraq?

Remember the objective; respect the enemy; be your own worst critic;
Exercise leadership at all levels -- these are fundamental principles of warfare. They have all been violated during the Iraq campaign.
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A CANARY IN THE MINESHAFT A friend emailed me a copy of an article from Stratfor. I will let him speak: "For those of you who aren't familiar with Stratfor, it is an essentially conservative organization that had, for most of the past year, been clearly supportive of the invasion of Iraq and had, until very recently,sustained the view that things were going well but just hadn't been described that way by the media. To me, the details are less important than the commentary at the end of the memo."

To whit, towards the end of the report, it starts with a statement stating that Stratfor still believes that success is possible:

Which brings us back to the razor's edge. If the United States rapidly
adjusts its Iraq operations to take realities in that country into
account, rather than engaging on ongoing wishful thinking, the situation in Iraq can be saved and with it the gains made in the war on al Qaeda. On the other hand, if the United States continues its unbalanced and ineffective prosecution of the war against the guerrillas and continues to allow its relations with the Shia to deteriorate, the United States will find itself in an untenable position. If it is forced to withdraw from Iraq, or to so limit its operations there as to be effectively withdrawn, the entire dynamic that the United States has worked to create since the Sept. 11 attacks will reverse itself, and the U.S. position in the Muslim world -- which was fairly strong in January 2004 -- will deteriorate, and al Qaeda's influence will increase dramatically.

Now, comes the concluding section of the report:

The Political Crisis

It is not clear that the Bush administration understands the crisis it is facing. The prison abuse pictures are symptomatic -- not only of
Persistent command failure, but also of the administration's loss of credibility with the public. Since no one really knows what the administration is doing, it is not unreasonable to fill in the blanks with the least generous assumptions. The issue is this: Iraq has not gone as planned by any stretch of the imagination. If the failures of Iraq are not rectified quickly, the entire U.S. strategic position could unravel. Speed is of the essence. There is no longer time left.

The issue is one of responsibility. Who is responsible for the failures in Iraq? The president appears to have assumed that if anyone were fired, it would be admitting that something went wrong. At this point, there is no one who doesn't know that many things have gone wrong. If the president insists on retaining all of his senior staff, Cabinet members and field commanders, no one is going to draw the conclusion that everything is under control; rather they will conclude that it is the president himself who is responsible for the failures, and they will act accordingly.

The issue facing Bush is not merely the prison pictures. It is the
series of failures in the Iraq campaign that have revealed serious errors of judgment and temperament among senior Cabinet-level officials. We suspect that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is finished, and with him Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Vice President Dick Cheney said over the weekend that everyone should get off of Rumsfeld's case. What Cheney doesn't seem to grasp is that there is a war on and that at this moment, it isn't going very well. If the secretary of defense doesn't bear the burden of failures and misjudgments, who does? Or does the vice president suggest a no-fault policy when it comes to war? Or does he think that things are going well?

This is not asked polemically. It is our job to identify emerging
trends, and we have, frequently, been accused of everything from being owned by the Republicans to being Iraq campaign apologists. In fact, we are making a non-partisan point: The administration is painting itself into a corner that will cost Bush the presidency if it does not deal with the fact that there is no one who doesn't know that Iraq has been mismanaged. The administration's only option for survival is to start managing it effectively, if that can be done at this point.


Somewhere, there is a canary in a mine-shaft. ... and it just fell over...
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EVIDENCE THAT WE ARE IN REAL TROUBLE I read the newspaper the other day, specifically our home-town paper, the Baltimore Sun, and came upon this article.

Since the case gained wide attention more than a week ago, some U.S. lawmakers have called for the prison to be closed. However, [General] Miller said plans are only to reduce the inmate population from more than 3,000 to between 1,500 and 2,000. He also described changes under way, including better training and an accelerated review-board process intended to speed more of those in detention on to court or their release.


When I read that, I have to admit that I had a moment of deja vu, back to an earlier post on that shameful prison. I can understand that the Provisional Authority and the Army want to use the prison. After all, its not like a prison springs up on any given day to take in 10,000 customers, clamouring to be let in. As much as I can accept the logic of this argument, I cannot accept the affect of that prison's existence and what it stands for. Let us be clear about this: It's Saddam's prison. It is not ours. We use it because it is convienient. I am certain that the Polish Government could use Oswiecim-Brezinka as a youth hostel as well. Great location; restful; country air; lots of open space. A new coat of paint, some sprucing up (got to take down the wire and such), and some nice new buildings would be just the touch. Who would mind? Well? Anyone? Who could possibly mind making a nice reasonable use of such a place?

I apologize for pushing this. But I want to make this clear: We are not winning any hearts OR minds with this strategy. Every day we use that prison allows Osama bin Laden and his ilk to equate the USA with another person Osama and his group hated--Saddam Hussein. Is that fair? No! But so what? That comparison will be made, and it will stick in some minds. And those minds are attached to bodies that are prepared to take action against the USA I would find that funny (in an ironic intellectual kind of way), if I wasn't crying at our stupidity...
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Tuesday, May 04, 2004
TORTURING A RADIO LISTENER Heard Rush Limbaugh today courtesy of World O'Crap:

"In these American prisoners of war, have you people noticed who the torturers are? Women! The babes. The babes are meting out the torture. Well, I've just been asked if I'm surprised.


You know, I could get into a lot of trouble here with this. "

Do you think? I have images of a rather stately middle aged gentleman together with a rather aggressive dominatrix who is saying: "Dirty Boy! Dirty Boy!" Or, maybe...

"Maybe you can get an NEA grant for something like this. I mean this is something you can see at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex in the City: the Movie. I mean, it's just me."

I will leave the rest of the conversation to your imagination.
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Monday, May 03, 2004
TORTURING A PRESDIENCY--ANOTHER WILD PROPHECY The Presdient's poll numbers have held up in the face of some pretty bad news up till now. I think the point of their free fall is near upon us (another prophecy bound to be shown wrong in the fullness of time!?). Why do I make this wild claim? The torture scandal, though not as heavily covered here as opposed to overseas makes it clear that WE are responsible for these acts. Americans are not going to feel comfortable with these actions, because it calls into question the very values that we feel are important--fairness, freedom, due process, a respect for basic rights, amongst others. "The fact that we are better than this." The US army is our representative, and also the representative of American Government policy. No one likes to be shown a picture of themselves as ugly as that. For that reason, voters are not going to appreciate the way such an unflattering mirror has been turne d upon us. Support for such a corrupting influence as this war will fall precipitously. Alternatively, we could all become so hardened to it all, and decide that a few warheads will help solve the problem. Let God sort the whole mess out...
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ON THE CONCEPT OF TIME An observation: Time is accelerating more quickly in this war cycle. It has taken a year for commentators to start talking about withdrawing. That is a lot quicker than the last really unpopular war the US was in.
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ONE MORE SUGGESTION Some places are just plain evil. Tear down these prisons in Iraq. Tear down Abu Ghraib, and make a park; or keep it as an empty monument to a darker time--but STOP using it and the others. Build new ones if we need to, but without the decades of pain and darkness etched irreversibly into their very brick, mortar, and steel.
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TORTURE AND IRAQ--AN UNCOMFORTABLE METAPHOR i have been having a fun time chatting with the people at the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiller. I find the discussion there robust, rough and tumbled, but in a good natured and very passionate way. The torture issue has set many folks there to high levels of anger. Its clear to me that everyone is really angry at the guards. I think one reason for the depth of this emotion is because we all understand that this is not going to help us in Iraq or anywhere else in the Middle East, anytime soon.

One thing: calling for Americans to be "executed" makes me very uncomfortable. Maybe someone can call me a liberal, but I do believe in the presumption of innocence, and the need for rational judgement through an examination of the facts. Apart from needing to wait till the whole story is out, there are parts of this story which do not gel, with regards to the guards. When the newspapers talk of "civilian contractors" in charge of interrogation, I thought (naively I realize) that we were talking about the Acme company or a subsidary of Halliburton (or the equivalent of civilian contractors providing security to the central authority--ex special forces types)! I know this was silly, but it took a while for me to realize that this meant-in all likelihood-CIA.

Iwas thinking about the incentives here, and trying to use Occam's Razor to look for the simplest (and thus most likely) answer. Sure--we may have some bad apples here. But isn't it possible, perhaps even likely, that they were "following orders" in order to elicit badly needed information. I am trying to imagine back in the Fall of 2003, when the resistance was really getting started. There is a lot of pressure--both military and political--to find the culprits. Is it hard to imagine that someone, somewhere, did not say:

"Get me that information! Americans are dying and american lives are at risk, and we need to stop these bad people! just get me that info!"?


Do we need explicit orders? I don't think so. Will a general ask where the information came from that saved american lives? Or how it was extracted? Idon't think so, unless they are an extremely moral man.

One could even come to think that these actions themselves as if they were "moral." How? One could make a utilitarian argument along the following lines:

"Hell--when I compare trampling on the "rights" of a few "ragheads" compared to saving American lives and the lives of innocent allied Iraqis--its no contest! Inflict the pain. Lives are at stake!"


On that kind of calculus, it can make all kinds of "sense."

The problem in this calculus is the following: What happens if the public finds out? Then, the downside becomes horrific, as I think we are about to find out. What I think we will find upsetting people in authority is not the torture--though I think the revulsion is genuine--but that there is evidence of it. My guess is that politicians, like generals, are not interested in the dirty little secrets of interrogation. They leave that to the little people who carry out orders--with latitude in interpretation of their instructions. They want results. Can we blame them? That is the question...

As a recent article in the New Yorker by Seymour Hersh makes clear, there have been a number of reports concerning this prison, and all of them bad. But until recently, no pictures. Before the pictures, it was just a series of allegations, that could easily be buried as "words." Now--there is a reality to see. And now the words of eyewitnesses take on greater power.

Much comfort has been drawn from the idea that this was the work of a few bad eggs. I don't think it is as simple as that. The reality is that we can do bad things. We tend to embrace our own and fear those who are different. A potent mix of xenophobia and ethnocentrism. If news reports are to be believed concerning US soldiers' attitudes to the local population--we are in bigger trouble. Add in bad situational cues with an ambiguous chain of command, and a process that accelerates the dehumanization and possible social death of the Other, and this is a recipe for abuse.

We probably did these acts--not because of an inherent or pervasive sadism--but because of the unswerving (and perhaps partially misplaced) love of this country, and the understandable desire to keep it safe.

The question remains as to what is happening down in Cuba. Allegations have been made there as well. Is there a basis in fact there? We need pictures to get the full picture...



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Thoughts on What One Experiences These Days

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