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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Land of Limited Expectations 
The quote of the day comes from the excellent Canadian business blogger and AV Integrator Lee Distad

During the Christmas selling season last year, as a consumer you had a 50% chance of ending up owning a $1000 door stop. Now this Christmas, you have a 50% chance of owning a $300 to $450 door stop.

If that's not good news for consumers, I don't know what is!


Break out the champagne, boys! We're celebratin'!

--Jason Van Steenwyk

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Note to self... 
Stop tapping my feet in public restrooms.

Or if I do tap my feet, stop doing it while singing along with songs by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Queen, and the Village People.

And if I haven't done anything illegal, don't plead guilty to lewd conduct I didn't get to engage in.

And don't carve my number up inside the stall when I'm traveling out of town on business. Or if I do, at least don't make it my toll-free number.

Oh, And never, ever take any more collect calls from other people in bathroom stalls. That was just a dumb idea on my part. Every time.

Splash, out

Jason

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...So I got an iPhone. 
God help me.

The Seven Mistakes New Leaders Make 
I thought this was very good advice from Career Builder.

It's even more important in the civilian sector than in the military, naturally. When a leader arrives in a new unit, he or she has the luxury of knowing military doctrine and the framework of regulations. And that doctrine and regulatory framework is the same throughout the Army, for example, though there are adjustments made for reserve vs. active duty components.

I'm transitioning from command of an infantry unit to command of an MI unit. And the way I implement things is very different, because I have a younger and less experienced, but more highly educated 'client base,' if you will. I communicate differently. But my policies are the same, and the standards regarding training and personnel management are identical.

Where policy in a new unit has strayed from Army regulation, I can feel confident making the change immediately, and I have a safety net and common framework for communication with which to impart my decisions - and the logic behind them.

Civilian organizations are all radically different, with radically different corporate culture and missions. The transition is much more difficult - and made more difficult still by the absence of positive leadership role models in some organizations.

The stakes are raised in the civilian world by the absence of a supporting channel for communications - the equivalent of the NCO corps, which acts as a heat sink and stabilizing force, and eases the volatility of changes in command.

It also makes sure that very young managers - commanders and platoon leaders - have access to advice and a reality check from more experienced leaders, even if junior in rank.

That said, I'd like to modify this passage:

Trap No. 2: Always having "The Answer" Too many leaders either come on the scene with "The Answer" (a predetermined fix for the company's problems), or they reach conclusions too early in their tenure. Many fall into this trap through arrogance or insecurity.

"Staffers become cynical if they think their leaders deal with deep problems superficially, making it difficult to rally support for change," Watkins says.

Defense: Embrace and express a spirit of inquiry, even if you're confident that you understand the organization's problems and the best approaches to dealing with them, Watkins advises. Give primacy to learning over doing.

"Time spent carefully diagnosing the organization's strengths and weaknesses is seldom wasted. The key is to be systematic and efficient at learning, establishing and refining an agenda, and adopting methods for gaining insight."


Absolutely true. But on the flip side, a leader must be able to recognize when nobody on the team has the answer.

In such instances, rather than accept paralysis, the successful leader must, in the end, be confident enough and have the balls to say "Ok, gang. Here's what we do."

And leaders of leaders will have the sense to empower their subordinate leaders to do so.

Splash, out

Jason

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

How did I ever survive 
...growing up in Hawai'i?

How does anyone?

This seems like a crap story to me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why we fight 
Watch.

Via Ace.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Howie Kurtz chides the media for their role in the Mortgage Meltdown 
...in his column here:

I love this paragraph in a NYT front-pager on the mortgage market meltdown:

"The cast of characters who missed signals like the rise of delinquencies and foreclosures is becoming easier to identify. They include investment banks happy to sell risky but lucrative mortgage debt to hedge funds hungry for high interest payments, bond rating agencies willing to hope for the best in the housing market and provide sterling credit appraisals to debt issuers, and subprime mortgage brokers addicted to high sales volumes."

What, no mention of the media? We just point fingers at everyone else?


Kurtz's excellent book, the Fortune Tellers, describes the media's role and culpability in the dot com hype. There were some of the same mistakes made here, as well, though I don't think they are as serious this time.

But the fallout is more serious. In the 1990's boom, the dumbest people in America only lost money they were willing to put to risk. Few of them leveraged their homes to buy stock. This time around, the pain is going to strike closer to home.

Splash, out

Jason

Monday, August 20, 2007

More Ceol! 
An interesting infusion of uilleann pipes and Irish traditional music into German metal.



It's kind of Rammstein, in a Bothy Band sort of way.

I'm sure I'm the only person alive who's taken music lessons from Marty Friedman and James Kelly.

Splash, out

Jason

Better Sex Tips for Women 
AOL, acting on an anonymous tip from some reader I'll have to kill to the effect that there is only one of me, is running a story on how women can increase their sex drive.

AOL, what you've done is a mitzvah. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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Jay Rosen to Michael Skube: "Retire, man. I'm serious." 
"You're an embarrassment to my profession."

Ouch. That's gonna take some time for the swelling to go down.

Can't say the guy didn't deserve it, though. Here's the article he published in the Los Angeles Times.

For once, I have to say that I concur with Jay.

Splash, out

Jason

The Peace Racket 
From The City Journal:

If you want peace, prepare for war.” Thus counseled Roman general Flavius Vegetius Renatus over 1,600 years ago. Nine centuries before that, Sun Tzu offered essentially the same advice, and it’s to him that Vegetius’s line is attributed at the beginning of a film that I saw recently at Oslo’s Nobel Peace Center. Yet the film cites this ancient wisdom only to reject it. After serving up a perverse potted history of the cold war, the thrust of which is that the peace movement brought down the Berlin Wall, the movie ends with words that turn Vegetius’s insight on its head: “If you want peace, prepare for peace.”

This purports to be wise counsel, a motto for the millennium. In reality, it’s wishful thinking that doesn’t follow logically from the history of the cold war, or of any war. For the cold war’s real lesson is the same one that Sun Tzu and Vegetius taught: conflict happens; power matters. It’s better to be strong than to be weak; you’re safer if others know that you’re ready to stand up for yourself than if you’re proudly outspoken about your defenselessness or your unwillingness to fight. There’s nothing mysterious about this truth. Yet it’s denied not only by the Peace Center film but also by the fast-growing, troubling movement that the center symbolizes and promotes.

Call it the Peace Racket.

Sociopath 
Writing for Pajamas Media, Richard Miniter's reporting corroborates my own speculation: That Beauchamp may be a sociopath.

The Monday after the party, at the magazine’s offices, Foer was locked in a long serious conversation with Leon Wieseltier, the bear-shaped intellectual who has run the magazine’s literary section with distinction since 1983. They were talking about Beauchamp. Foer couldn’t understand why anyone would just make things up.

Wieseltier did. “Maybe he [Beauchamp] is a sociopath.”

As new details about Beauchamp’s strange private life emerged, Wieseltier’s initial assessment would prove to be on target.


One thing: Lay off Elle. The only thing she seems to have done wrong was love and trust her husband.

As I wrote before - 20-somethings do dumb things. Even smart ones. And anyone can be taken in by a manipulator like Beauchamp. She's got to be beside herself already.

I also don't think it's fair to blame fact checkers for not knowing about things like run-flat tires, when it's the hiring managers and editors who are doing nothing to improve the dearth of veterans on staff.

Intellectual diversity is important. But that's not the purview of the entry level 23 year old reporter.

Fight! Fight! 
From the Financial Times:

Resurrecting tensions over US airpower that have lingered since the Korean war, the air force is pushing to become “executive agent” for drones – unmanned aircraft – that fly above 3,500 feet. The army, navy and marines oppose the move, which would make the air force responsible for the acquisition and development of unmanned aerial vehicles such as the army’s Sky Warrior.

As Gordon England, the deputy defence secretary, prepares to make a decision, air force and army officers are furiously lobbying Congress in preparation for a possible legislative battle. The stakes have risen dramatically as the use of drones has ballooned. Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, now operates about 1,000 UAVs.


More:

Their proliferation has intensified the Pentagon debate over how drones are acquired and operated. The air force says there is a need to streamline acquisitions to reduce cost and duplication, and for greater standardisation to improve interoperability and lessen the potential for mid-air collisions.

The air force argues, for example, that the Pentagon should have procured more Predators to deploy in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than allowing the army to develop the Sky Warrior, which will not be deployed until 2009.

Air force officers add that a compromise joint approach reached several years ago when it unsuccessfully pushed for executive agency has hurt UAV development.

“We can’t afford to compromise any longer, particularly when ‘compromise’ comes at the cost of inefficiencies and with no benefit beyond assuaging ruffled parochial egos,” says Lieutenant General David Deptula, deputy air force chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

But the army counters by questioning the air force’s record on acquisitions, stressing that Global Hawk and Predator have seen cost overruns, while other programmes such as refuelling tankers and search and rescue helicopter have been embroiled in controversy. It points out that its Sky Warrior programme has so far met cost and schedule goals.

“The ruffled feathers and parochial egos belong to the air force ... the marine corps, navy, special forces and army are co-operating across acquisition programmes, common ground stations and future programme development,” says a senior army officer.

“It is the air force that refuses to join the joint team, preferring to criticise others, disseminate misleading statements and independently lobby Congress for support they do not have in the Pentagon.”


Next we'll be getting leaked memos that the Air Force has been secretly developing weapons of mass destruction.

Seriously, the Air Force needs to take a chill pill. If the Air Force adds aerial drones to their exclusive purview, they'll take the first 10% of procurement and invest it in the base golf course, and we'll have four types of drones for the Air Superiority mission, and a little spotter with a minicam for artillery observation and real-time eye-in-the-sky missions will be a corps level asset and no ground forces battalion commander will ever get control of one.

Splash, out

Jason

Sunday, August 19, 2007

At last! 
A music instruction site that doesn't suck!!!!

(Pretty much for musicians only. More on intonation and tuning systems here.

What forced me to pay more attention to intonation was playing regularly with an uilleann piper named Eamonn Dillon. Sitting next to him and listening carefully, I found I had to seriously adjust my intonation to sound good in the traditional Irish music context.

A lot of Irish trad is based on gapped scales with a mixolydian feel. For example, in the common key of D, you have a lot of tunes built on D, E, G, A, C natural.

I noticed that the E note was seriously flattened - and often it was flattened more descending than it was ascending - sometimes to the point of being below a minor second. Really neat sound. But few casual session fiddlers grasp that. When they do, and match themselves to a master piper like Eamonn, it's a very powerful thing.

I never had classical training at all on piano. I had a bit on guitar, and I noticed that guitars were simply impossible to tune. You can never get them right. That's because the frets can only be in one place, and the F# in the key of D is much lower than the F# in the key of G.

So I drove myself crazy trying to retune the damn thing every two seconds to get the thing right, as a teenager. It was later that I realized that tuning it was mathematically impossible. Which is why I like violin--you can actually play a violin in tune, in any key, although some keys suck more than others.

Eventually, I figured out that the violin resonates a lot better with a D-F# doublestop with the F# decidedly flatter than I was used to hearing on a piano. Then it all came together, though I didn't know what Pythagorean intonation was, until just now.

It makes a difference.

Question: How do you know if the fiddler is playing out of tune?
Answer: The bow is moving (and the steel guitarist is mad as hell)

Ha ha ha ha ha ha! 
HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!

Hat tip: Ace

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A Defense of "Fake but Accurate" 
The adherents of the FBA doctrine of media analysis mount a spirited defense of their hypothesis in the comments to this thread.

Steve Quiggin writes:

A bunch of rightwing blogs are getting excited yet again about Scott Beauchamp. For those who haven’t followed the story, Beauchamp is a US soldier in Iraq who wrote some pieces for The New Republic which, among other things, described bad behaviour by US troops, such as deliberately running over stray dogs and taunting a woman disfigured by burns. The pro-war lobby has worn out dozens of keyboards seeking to discredit Beauchamp, his story and the very possibility of running over dogs in an armoured vehicle. Now it appears the US Army has denied Beauchamp’s claims. (To reiterate, I don’t care about or intend to debate, or even to link to, the details of this case).

Some might suggest that the truth or falsity of these stories doesn’t matter much in the light of this. or this or this or this, to list just a few of the disasters have taken place while the wingnutosphere has been defending the US Army’s commitment to animal welfare.

But that would miss the point. What matters, in the world of rightwing postmodernism, is not reality but the way the media reports it. One bogus memo is enough to turn George W. Bush from a scrimshank who used his family connections to line up a cushy billet to avoid war service, and then shirked even that, into a war hero.


As one commenter points out, Quiggin tries to attack any right wing tendencies toward media postmodernism by way of embracing another, even stupider postmodernist argument - that no individual writer or journalist can be usefully outed as a liar if the broader narrative has an element of truth to it.

This is the essence of FBA analysis, which is itself an assault on inductive reason. But more than that, it is an assault on reason itself: When a scientist predicts, for example, that a golf ball hit into the air will eventually return to Earth, and bases his prediction on the Theory of Gravity, his deductive reasoning process stands on the shoulders of trillions of previous observations and generations of inductive scientific inquiry.

He is therefore reasonably certain that his deductive reasoning process will not cause him to publicly embrace a falsehood.

Quiggin, and his supporters in the comment thread, however, have no such solid foundation to their inquiry. As a result, when an ideological ally of theirs, Scott Thomas Beauchamp, is exposed to be a fraud, they are intellectually ill-equipped to process the event. They are reduced to attacking the messengers of the bad tidings, introducing irrelevant red herrings into the argument, and defending Beauchamp. Except that Beauchamp cannot be defended, at least by a competent observer. So they must then attack someone else whose conclusions based on personal observation come at variance to their own - in this case, Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack.

Quiggin's reasoning skills are so sloppy, his thinking so undisciplined, that not only does he manage to mount a nondefense of Beauchamp by invoking Rathergate (huh?), but he manages to excoriate O'Hanlon and Pollack without a single, solitary evidentiary reference.

To wit:

The fact that Pollack (author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq) and O’Hanlon had consistently supported the war, the occupation and the surge was not seen as anything to worry about.


An ad hominem argument. According to sloppy thinkers on the Port side of the boat, only consistent anti-war voices are allowed to reach valid judgements on the history of the war. This, again, is an assault on reason. A hypothesis must be falsifiable in order to be valid. The attempt to discount critics solely on the basis of their prior support for the war is an attempt to inoculate Quiggin's hypothesis from falsifiability. By Quiggin's doctrine, it is logically impossible for a war supporter to be right.

It is logically impossible for Quiggin to be right.

And none of the armchair experts worried at all about the logistical and technical issues on which they are usually so keen to display their expertise.


Again, not relevant to the argument. The validity of O'Hanlon's piece stands or falls quite independently of whatever anyone else says about it. Quiggin is demonstrating an instinct for the capillary here.

It was left to Glenn Greenwald to point out that Pollack and O’Hanlon went on a guided tour organised by the US military, spent every night in the Green Zone, and formed many of their most striking impressions on the basis of two-hour visits to places like Mosul.


Interesting. Greenwald questions the validity of their methodology. Which is a valid mode of criticism, even for liberals (except when deployed to question global warming or Darwinian evolution. No liberal can be consistent about anything of consequence, ever.)

Except that Greenwald's criticism fails, too, because he cannot account for Petraus, who has spent much longer in Iraq than O'Hanlon, seems to broadly agree with O'Hanlon's optimism. That optimism appears to be largely shared by officers and senior NCOs with multiple tours in Iraq. Greenwald's arguement is quickly neutralized by this control group. Indeed, among Americans, I would argue that the longer an observer has been on the ground in Iraq, the more likely he or she is to hold the view that the defeat of the Islamist insurgency is possible, if we do not lose our will and cede initiative to the enemy.

So where are the defences of O’Hanlon and Pollack? Technorati finds a few sites still trumpeting the initial report, and some pushing a similar one from Der Spiegel, but that’s about it. Apparently it’s more important to prove that an obscure private is telling tall tales than to offer a serious defence of the latest claims of imminent victory.


And so the FBA doctrine is once again encapsulated. Except it's incompetently done. First of all, Beauchamp is wholly irrelevant to O'Hanlon and Pollack's observations. Completely.

Second, Quiggins also wholly ignores the very real gains that have recently been made against the Islamists in Iraq - specifically, in Ramadi, the rest of Al Anbar, and Baqubah. He presents not a shred of support as to why those recent gains are immaterial to our eventual success.

Rather, he desperately clings to red herring after red herring, to trope after trope, and tries to argue with obscuration rather than illumination.

What's more, now that Quiggin has dug himself into a hopeless hole, the equally undisciplined thinkers in his audience continue to supply him with shovels:

From Steve Labonne:

Who cares about Beauchamp, particularly? Because there’s lots more testimony to the serious abuse of civilians here. Not to mention that anybody with half a brain and a little imagination and sympathy would not even need to be told that such things will inevitably happen if you plunk young, frightened soldiers down in the midst of a civil war in a country whose language and culture are completely alien to them.


Who cares about the truth, when I have my own biases and preconceptions to keep me company?

Don't miss Megan McArdle, who has more:


Mr Quiggin is confusing two different kinds of "wrong". Lots of experts are wrong--indeed, given the style of US journalism, just about half of the ones quoted on any story. That's not the same as a story being wrong--i.e. having printing major facts (or quasi-facts, such as technical jargon or scientific theories) that were/are not as described in the story.

The significance of the latter is not that a) there is a media conspiracy to discredit the war or b) that right wing bloggers are on a savage tear against disconfirming evidence. The significance is that, if journalists do not care avidly about only printing things that are, to the best of their ability to determine, true, then it doesn't really matter whether they please John Quiggin by editorialising about the various people making domestic and foreign policy claims. That is because no one will be able to trust that there even was a trip to Iraq or a Michael O'Hanlon, so they won't read the story in the first place.


Splash, out

Jason

CounterColumn News Ticker 
As Dean Nears, Jamaica Experiences Feeling of Dred...

I and I of Storm Closes on East Coast of Island...

Exodus at Kingston Airport...

Thousands To Kiss Their Selassies Goodbye...

Ganja May Have "Mellowing Effect" On Storm, Say Local Experts...

Mexico Ships Tons...

Livicated Scientists Struggle to Overstand Movements of Storm...

Impacting...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Cool! Joe Biden has a new book out! 
I wonder who wrote it.

I knew it!!! 
The way to make money off of Cramer is to short his picks.


Our analysis of Cramer's picks over the past two years, from YourMoneyWatch.com, showed that, on average, the stocks jumped 2% the day after he mentioned them. From there, they usually moved sideways or down for the following 30 trading days (see chart). This offered an opportunity to make money -- 5% to 30% a year -- by selling Cramer's selections short.

Cramer agrees that there is a shorting opportunity in the temporary effect he has on stocks -- a trade that he'd jump on if he still were at a hedge fund. "If you short the bump, you will do well," he said last week. "I've said it on the show many times."

There's no doubt that Cramer is trying diligently to make you money. His advice is generally smart, his knowledge of individual stocks amazingly detailed. But the credible evidence suggests that the telestockmeister's picks aren't beating the market. Did you really expect more from a call-in host who makes 7,000 stock picks a year?


Don't know why you would.

And after accounting for trading fees, commissions, short-term capital gain transactions, and undivulged bid-ask spreads, even that 5 to 30 percent shot in the arm will evaporate rapidly.

I never met anyone who could do better listening to someone like Cramer than from a reasonable selection of low-cost index funds, held for the long term.

Splash, out

Jason

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Friday, August 17, 2007

I should have known a correction was imminent... 
...when I noticed that Financial Planning magazine had profiled Ryan Jacob, manager of the Jacob Internet Fund, as "The Comeback Kid."

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Gift Etiquette: A Quiz 
If you are planning to send thousands of computer video games to American troops stationed in Muslim lands do you send them

A. Final Fantasy X?
B. John Madden's Football?
C. Super Mario Brothers III
D. A game featuring Christian soldiers slaughtering unbelievers?

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Al Jazeera's Code of Ethics 
You can read it here.

A minor correction... 
...from the team of consummate journalism professionals at Salon.


The Aug. 13 feature "What's Wrong With Alaska?" contained numerous reporting errors: Ben Stevens is under federal investigation, but is not awaiting trial. Alaska's population is majority male and the most male in the nation, at 107 males for every 100 females according to the 2000 census, but the article originally asserted that a substantial majority of the population is male, which is an overstatement. The proportion of residents born out of state is closer to 60 percent than the 80 percent originally claimed in the article. The article said that the state's Permanent Fund payments were about $2,000 per year; in fact, the payments reached a high of $1,963 in 2000, but were only $1,100 in 2006, which is closer to the annual average. Contrary to the author's assertion, Veco did not double the size of Ted Stevens' house without payment. Investigators are trying to determine if Stevens paid full value for construction on his home, and the construction was managed by Veco. Sen. Lisa Murkowski did buy land from a real estate developer at a price that a watchdog group charged was below market value. Contrary to the author's assertion, however, the seller has not been accused of receiving any special consideration from the federal government in return. In addition, Murkowski has since sold back the land. Finally, contrary to the author's assertion, the oil drilling that began in Alaska during the 1970s has taken place largely on state-owned rather than federally owned lands. Salon regrets the errors.
[Corrections made 8/13/07]


Layers.

In other words, the only reason it was TNR and not Salon was taken in by Scott Thomas Beauchamp was Salon's dumb luck in not hiring Elspeth first.

Splash, out

Jason

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Coalition Forces Caught 
...throwing bullets at Iraqi houses.

Or something.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Correcting a meme 
Michael Yon on Iraq:

To say there has been no political progress in Iraq in 2007 is patently absurd, completely wrong and dangerously dismissive of the significant changes and improvements happening all across Iraq. Whether or not Americans are seeing it on the nightly news or reading it in their local papers, Iraqis are actively writing their children’s history.

Having some fun with arguing fiscal policy 
...if arguing fiscal policy can be fun, over at Megan McArdle's place.

My argument, in a nutshell:

I'd like to address the ridiculous practice of regarding deficit reduction as if it were the only applicable metric [when used to assess the efficacy of tax cuts - JVS]. That's absurd.

Tax cuts are a good thing in and of themselves. Granted, Government needs a base of revenue in order to maintain basic services and defense and security functions, so the tax rate needs to be somewhere above zero, obviously.

But even if the deficit reduction benefit through economic stimulation is zero, tax cuts have a beneficial effect on the people themselves.

I know it's hard for libs to wrap their brains around this concept, but here it is: All else being equal, a family that pays lower taxes is wealthier and has a higher standard of living than a family that pays higher taxes.


Another commenter, Stan, suggests I read Isaiah 3:15. Essentially, he's accusing me of "grinding the faces of the poor."

I replied that if I were planning on grinding the faces of the poor, reducing the 15% marginal tax rate to 10%, and paying for a lot of prescription drugs, would probably be a stupid way to do that. Further, from me:

For any given family that receives an income tax cut - which in 2001 was EVERY family that paid income taxes - that family experiences a net increase in revenue equal to the tax cut, dollar for dollar, PLUS interest earned on the money, AND/OR PLUS the value of any lifestyle improvements that money can finance.

This is before you factor in one iota of economic growth.

After that, any stimulatory effect on that money is gravy.

I know it's hard for liberals to wrap their brains around that concept, but I wouldn't think it ought to be very hard. The presumption ought to be in favor of the enterprising individual who earned the money in the first place.

The notion that maximizing revenue to the government ought to be the sole criteria for evaluating a tax cut is ridiculous. You also have to give the benefits to the wage earner and his or her family some weight. As in, above zero.


Yeah, it seems unseemly to quote myself in my own blog. But I like to have my own writings in one place, where I can easily search for them if I want them later, and to compare my beliefs in future years against where they are now.

So there.

Splash, out

Jason

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Greenhouse Gas Bag 
Ann Coulter is right: Liberalism is so consistently wrongheaded that liberals have to lie about what and who they are and conceal it from the public.

The latest case in point: Linda Greenhouse, the SCOTUS reporter for the New York Times, who just recently pitched a bitch about appearing on a panel because the presence of C-SPAN cameras meant that somehow, somewhere, someone outside of her little cloister might hear what she said.

Fine.

I'm not one of those people who thinks that someone who swings right or left is genetically incapable of writing a fair news story. And it's even easier for a court reporter, because, thank God, the Supreme Court picks the cases, not the journalists. And the justices create written opionions to prevent the journalists from lying too much. So there's only so much damage a Supreme Court reporter can do.

But here's the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz profiling Linda Greenhouse last year.

he aired some of them in June when she was honored at Harvard, saying that "our government had turned its energy and attention away from upholding the rule of law and toward creating law-free zones at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Haditha and other places around the world. And let's not forget the sustained assault on women's reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism."

Don't those remarks, publicized last week by National Public Radio, go too far for a beat reporter covering such issues at the high court? Greenhouse says her comments were "statements of fact," not opinion, as underscored by the court striking down the administration's policy of holding terror suspects without charges.


No, characterizing Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Haditha as deliberately created "law-free zones" is quite clearly a statement of opionion - not of fact. In my opinion, it is clearly the statement of opinion of a dull-witted liberal.

Which brings me to my point: If a reporter ought to be expected to have ANY core competency at all, shouldn't it be the ability to discern a statement of fact from a statement of opionion? Is that apparently too much to ask?

And given that this very basic capacity to reason is universally expected of judges (well, except among liberals, I guess), isn't the ability for a reporter on this beat to possess this core competency?

Really, is there anything more basic to the reporter's job - especially when covering the Supreme Court - than to be able to separate fact from opinion?

And now that we know this ability is beyond Linda Greenhouse, even on so basic a subject as Abu Ghraib and Hadithah, well, no wonder she objects to cameras capturing her rantings outside the news page.

Greenhouse continues:

"The notion that someone cannot go and speak from the heart to a group of college classmates and fellow alums, without being accountable to self-appointed media watchdogs, means American journalism is in danger of strangling in its own sanctimony,"


No. What's sanctimonious is her expectation of being exempt from the scrutiny of her own remarks. What's sanctimonious is when she dismisses her READERSHIP as "self-appointed media watchdogs."

Well, just where does Linda Greenhouse derive her own commission as a watchdog over the Supreme Court? Pinch Sulzberger? Spare me.

Linda derives her commission to act as a court watchdog from the same source as I do, and from the same source as any blogger: From the respect and trust of her readers.

Earth to Greenhouse: Get over it.

Splash, out

Jason

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Beauchamp 
For what it's worth, count me in as among those who are saying that Beauchamp's account of a driver swerving a Bradley to take out dogs, walls, and buildings simply did not happen as he describes. The reasons I make this assessment are both factual and circumstantial in nature.

My bona fides - again for what they're worth:

* I currently hold two MOSs: 11 Alpha, which is the MOS for infantry officers, and 12 A, which is the MOS for Armor officers. I was an armor officer for two or three years with the 2nd Bn, 123rd Armor Regiment, which is a Kentucky National Guard regiment out of Bowling Green, KY. (Let me give a shout-out to my homeboys in Co. C out in Benton!)

I've never commanded a Bradley, but I know tracked vehicles well, and I was a tank platoon leader and a tank company XO during those very enjoyable years in Benton, KY.

I've also logged literally hundreds of convoys in Iraq, almost all of them in the role of convoy commander.

1.) No, you can't skid or "swerve" a Bradley in a convoy to take out a dog.

2.) Other observers are correct, the Bradley driver can't even see to the right of the vehicle in order to take out a dog over there.

3.) As everyone in Iraq knows, the moojies make a common practice of concealing mortar shells and other explosives within the carcasses of animals. No driver in his right mind would go out of his way to deliberately drive a vehicle over an animal or over road debris of any kind.

4.) Military tracked vehicles are extremely loud. No dog is going to sit there and not notice the Bradley coming and not get out of the way.

5.) Other people have observed that Humvees do not carry spares, and for this reason, Beauchamp's account of changing a humvee tire is unlikely. It's unlikely, but not for that reason. It is not terribly unusual to see hard-topped humvees with a spare tire strapped to the top. At least, it wasn't in 2004, when we had a lot of unarmored hummers on the road, and not every tire was a run-flat. But if an area was crowded enough to have sewage running through the streets, it would certainly be too crowded to attempt a tire change there. You could do it in the open desert, where you had fire superiority and no cover or concealment for 2,000 meters in any direction, but that doesn't happen in Baghdad.

But no GI is going to stop and change a tire in flowing sewage anywhere in the country. You would almost ALWAYS ride it back - and accept you might chew up the tire and rim. That's better than risking getting caught in a firefight in the middle of a tire change.

6.) Anyone as severely injured as the woman Beauchamp describes would simply not be at FOB Falcon, and she wouldn't even be in Kuwait. There is no modern hospital facility at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. If her burns were that severe, she would have been immediately evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany, or to a burn unit stateside. She would simply NOT have been hanging around a chow hall, either in Iraq or Kuwait.

7.) Civilian contractors may occasionally wear a tan nomex jumpsuit, otherwise unmarked. I don't see why it would be impossible to tell whether she was military or civilian, though. If she were a foreign national, every foreign uniform I've ever seen has that nations flag on the sleeve and a rank insignia.

8.) Yes, you can slip a piece of a child's skull inside your helmet. But you probably wouldn't. The new Kevlar design has pads that rest directly upon your head. You wouldn't be able to slip the fragment between the straps and the kevlar itself, like you could with the old helmets. People don't wear foam "donuts" anymore, so you couldn't stick it under the donut, either. So this story is technically possible, but unlikely. It smells like BS to me, but I couldn't prove it.

9.) If it were a grave from the Saddam era, the chunks of rotting flesh described in the article would have rotted away. All that would remain are bone and hair.

Bottom line: Beauchamp is, at best, a fabulist. My sense is that he is extremely narcissistic, possibly an outright sociopath. He is a moderately talented writer, but lacks even the most basic discipline that forces a writer to subvert style to substance. Absent that, you'd better be James Joyce. Which he ain't.

A good editor could help channel his efforts. But I guess they don't exist at the New Republic.

Beauchamp is definitely NOT a "traitor." And people talking about "treason" and assigning him the death penalty, as I've seen elsewhere, are idiots.

I started Countercolumn, in part, so I could keep one foot in the game while I was torn from my career as a writer and reporter. So I cannot blame Beauchamp for having an ulterior motive to become a published writer himself. There are a lot of them throughout the Army. Most of them simply aren't so full of themselves.

The vast majority of them are far better writers than Beauchamp. Beauchamp wanted to be Colby Buzzell, and Colby DID get a book deal out of his superb blog "My War." But Colby, even with his irrepressible Gonzo style, was a better writer than Beauchamp by an order of magnitude. Buzzell is truly an extraordinary talent. Beauchamp's a stylistic hack, in comparison.

But he's a hack in ways that graduates of writers programs are too often ill-equipped to spot. And so Franklin Foer, a young editor who suddenly finds himself treading waters in depths for which his experience had not prepared him, was taken in. He was taken in by a writer who's prose stile was all pyrotechnics and no substance. All spice and no burrito.

His poor wife, Elspeth, was doubtless taken in by manic narcissism masquerading as talent. There are a dozen superior writers writing mil blogs right now. But Foer is so out of touch, he was unaware of them, apparently, and had to pick the worst.

Not only did he pick trash - he picked the ONE piece of trash in the whole country who wouldn't put his own name to his articles, which ought to have been a red flag to begin with.

What's most amazing to me is that the New Republic staff not only underedited the entire piece to begin with. A lot of young editors might make that mistake, and Foer is hardly alone in that regard. What amazes me is that even now that it's clear to all concerned that the article bears more scrutiny, that the New Republic, despite being flagged in Washington D.C. and in close proximity to a gazillion veterans in the Northern Virginia area, was so intellectually cloistered and inbred that they were wholly unequipped to do even the most basic reporting on this article.

They had no veterans on staff who could have told them it smelled bad. They had to go with other reporters who had themselves never driven a tracked vehicle in their lives. They apparently didn't even KNOW any veterans who could have checked this article out for them. They could have called me or a thousand other people to take a gander at it and point out some trouble spots.

No. Instead they rely on the reporting of someone who could not be named, and then rely for verification on OTHER people they can't name, and if they are communicating by email, for all they know, could have been Beauchamp sock puppets all along.

Now it's clear that Confederate Yankee and Matt Sanchez and a number of other bloggers have better access to sources in the military than the vaunted New Republic, because they've been able to get information that the New Republic cannot duplicate.

So if their story selection sucks,their writer sucks their editing sucks, their fact-checking sucks, their bench of internal and known outside experts sucks, and even their access to military sources sucks, just why the hell should anybody read them about anything remotely involved with the military?

Exactly what is it, precisely, that the New Republic does well, any more?

Now, Beauchamp himself is probably a pain in the ass, but there's someone like him in every unit: A precocious, ambitious junior enlisted with journalistic ambitions, who bounces between E-2 and E-4 like a digital-camoflage yo-yo. Most of them are entertaining to talk to, a hassle for the first sergeant and commander, but do their duty, write a bit or take a few photos along the way, and that's it.

Most of them, however, aren't married to a staff reporter at the New Republic. Which ought to teach Foer a thing or two about relying on the 'who you know' network for recruiting writers into the fold of the elite politics journals. There's a reason they're reporting is so intellectually inbred.

I sort of wish I had Beauchamp in my unit. I probably could have roped him in and saved his career. He may be a narcissist, but I don't think he's necessarily beyond redemption. He seems to be a 23 year old kid who never got told he wasn't really a genius, and who never had an editor who was worth a damn. He seems to have grown up with a surplus of self-esteem, and wrote himself into a hole he didn't see coming and couldn't get out of.

Well, 23 year olds do dumb things.

Between the two, I have more regard for Beauchamp than for Foer. At least Beauchamp knew when to fold.

Foer doesn't.

Splash, out

Jason

The cheesiest lawsuit I've heard of in years... 
Someone's allergic to cheese. Requests no cheese on his Quarter Pounder. The Quarter Pounder comes with cheese. Man's lawyers think it's worth $10 million bucks.

That's stupid. The judge ought to slap his ass silly and order him to pay court costs for both sides.

A Morgantown man, his mother and his friend are suing McDonald's for $10 million.

The man says he bit into a hamburger and had a severe allergic reaction to the cheese melted on it.

Jeromy Jackson, who is in his early 20s, says he clearly ordered two Quarter Pounders without cheese at the McDonald's restaurant in Star City before heading to Clarksburg.

His mother Trela Jackson and friend Andrew Ellifritz are parties to the lawsuit because they say they risked their lives rushing Jeromy to United Hospital Center in Clarksburg.

The lawsuit alleges Jeromy "was only moments from death" or serious injury by the time he reached the hospital.

"We're interested in seeing McDonald's take responsibility and change a systemic quality control problem that endangers the lives of up to 12 million Americans with allergies," said Timothy Houston, the Morgantown lawyer representing the plaintiffs.

Houston said his clients were in Morgantown in October 2005 and stopped at the Star City McDonald's on the way home to Clarksburg. Jeromy Jackson was living with his mother at the time.

Jeromy did his part to make it known he didn't want cheese on the hamburgers because he is allergic, Houston said.

He told a worker through the ordering speaker and then two workers face-to-face at the pay and pick-up windows that he couldn't eat cheese, Houston said.

"By my count, he took at least five independent steps to make sure that thing had no cheese on it," Houston said. "And it did and almost cost him his life."


Nice. Except that speaking of quality control and accepting responsibility, he didn't take the sixth step that would have ensured that the quarter-pounder he consumed wouldn't have cheese on it:

Open the box and inspect the Quarter-Pounder his own damn self.

It's hard for me to imagine why it should be more important for McDonald's workers to ensure he got a no-cheese burger than it would be for him. If he can't be bothered to take some responsibility and look for himself, then why should anyone else be expected to do so?

Hell, if his mom and friend think they have a claim against McDonalds simply because they "risked their lives" rushing him to the hospital (and I still don't see how they suffered any damages beyond compensation the time it took to do that), then they ought to be suing Jeremy's sorry ass for contributory negligence! After all, Jeremy is just as much part of that quality-control process as McDonalds is.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Human f***king cockroaches ... 
...And I'm not just talking about the perps.

CHESHIRE, Conn., Aug. 6 — Dr. William A. Petit Jr., his head bloodied and legs bound, stumbled out of a rear basement door of his two-story home here into a pouring rain, calling the name of a neighbor for help.

The neighbor heard the shouting, but so did the two men inside the house, who peeked outside from an upstairs window. They were both serial burglars with drug habits, having racked up numerous convictions for stealing car keys and pocketbooks.

This time, they took something far more precious.

The men, the authorities say, had already strangled Dr. Petit’s wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and in short order would also kill the couple’s two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11. The elder suspect, Steven J. Hayes, 44, had poured gasoline on the girls and their mother, according to a lawyer and a law enforcement official involved in the case, in hopes of concealing DNA evidence of sexual assault. He had raped Ms. Hawke-Petit, and his partner, Joshua Komisarjevsky, 26, had sexually assaulted Michaela.

Moments after Dr. Petit escaped, as the house was being surrounded by police officers, the men lighted the gasoline. The girls were tied to their beds but alive when the gas Mr. Hayes had spread around the house was set aflame.

It was about 9:50 a.m. on July 23 when Dr. Petit, 50, burst into his backyard on what is normally a quiet street in a quiet town of 29,000 in central Connecticut. On this stormy summer morning it was the site of one of the most savage crimes in the state in decades. By 10:01, Mr. Hayes and Mr. Komisarjevsky had been captured. On Tuesday morning they are expected to be presented in New Haven County Court for their first appearance in the venue where they will be tried; they have been formally charged in State Superior Court in Meriden with capital felonies, which could bring the death penalty.

Interviews with law enforcement officials and lawyers for the men, and friends, co-workers and relatives of all involved, along with a study of court records, paint a picture of what happened that morning and show that there were missed opportunities on both sides of the law leading up to the deaths.

The criminal justice system failed to treat Mr. Hayes and Mr. Komisarjevsky as serious offenders despite long histories of recidivism, repeatedly setting them free on parole. The suspects never capitalized on those chances to turn their lives around, instead apparently forming a new criminal alliance after meeting at a drug treatment center in Hartford.


I think we would have fewer problems like this if members of the parole board would have to serve a set portion of a convict's sentence if he committed a crime while on parole.

Yes, these two apparently had not been violent before THAT WE KNOW OF. But you cannot assume that home invaders are not violent. The forcible entry into someone's dwelling is itself an act of violence - so much so that in most localities, killing a home invader carries with it the presumption of self defense.

Most rational people recognize this.

Even home invaders who do not go in with the purpose of harming the occupants frequently seize the opportunity to do so.

Particularly with young women.

And with horrific results here.

I believe all parole board members should be required to have children of their own.

I guess these assholes couldn't learn their lesson from Willie Horton.

I have some questions for the Times: How many times were these two released on parole? Why would any reporter be satisfied with the term "repeatedly." Why in God's name was it more than once?

Interestingly, the New York Times doesn't bother to get to the bottom of the story in the follow-up, preferring instead to run a statement from the perps defense lawyer.

Still more interestingly, the defense lawyer doesn't take the opportunity to claim or argue their innocence or even mitigating factors. All he does is promise to represent them zealously.

Well, not TOO zealously, apparently.

Splash, out,

Jason

Robert Burns for the AP ... 
The surge is working.

The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working.

In two weeks of observing the U.S. military on the ground and interviewing commanders, strategists and intelligence officers, it's apparent that the war has entered a new phase in its fifth year.


There was never any doubt that the US could surge and, in partnership with the Iraqis, gain the tactical initiative. This is especially true once Al Anbar started to tilt our way, freeing up resources to shift to Baghdad.

But you cannot really say the "surge is working" or "the surge is not working" in a strategic context. Why? Because of all the conditions necessary for the US effort in Iraq to succeed, the military condition is by far the easiest to predict: The US can and has taken the tactical initiative away from Al Qaeda.

This was one of several conditions neccessary for the surge to succeed. It is not yet success. The Iraqis must also develop their Army and police forces to self-sufficiency. It's happening with the Army, to a great extent. It is not happening with the police in many areas of the country.

The Iraqis must also form a political agreement that will last beyond the seige. Thus far, they have not. I am hopeful in this regard, and here's why: internecine politics in Iraq is one of brinksmanship and bluff. When push comes to shove, they've been able to come to an agreement on the important stuff. They came up with a constitution, they came up with their elections, they came up with a revenue-sharing agreement (at least a tentative one.).

Each of these will be revised and amended over time. That's life in a democracy.

I am less optomistic about the future of the militias. The U.S. has winked at a lot of arms transfers and cut a lot of deals with both Shia and Sunni militias who are willing to fight Al Qaeda.

We need to do this. But once Al Qaeda is finally defeated in Iraq (and they will be, if the U.S. is steadfast in its commitment), these militias will pose a serious problem for the Iraqi government.

Maliki's no dummy, and he resists this process. Petraeus is no dummy, and he lets it continue. The destruction of Al Qaeda's credibility in Iraq will go a long way to serving US interests, and making it more difficult for Al Qaeda to engineer a coup in say, Pakistan. It will make Al Qaeda more easily isolated from those who would otherwise be tempted to bargain with it in a non-aggression pact for weapons and weapons technology understanding, similar to what I believe Saddam Hussein had worked out with them.

The military success with the surge gets us to second base or so. The US will hand them the bat and coach, but the Iraqis will have to drive the runs home to win the game.

Success or failure for a unified Iraqi Democracy cannot be predicted yet. War is frequently like bull and bear markets. You can't see them except in retrospect.

Splash, out

Jason

Private Beauchamp 
Private Beauchamp, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!!!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Cramer, Considered 
So Cramer's lost it. What else is new?



A word about Mr. Cramer: In February of 2000, just days before the Naz peak and a month or so after the S&P 500 had started to fall (companies that were actually profitable were falling out of favor with the dumb money well before that), Cramer had this to say:

"Internet-related companies are the only ones worth owning right now..." These "winners of the new world...are the only ones that are going higher consistently in good days and bad."

And get this: Here's Cramer again: "You have to throw out all the matrices and formulas and texts that existed before the Web...If we used any of what Graham and Dodd teach us, we wouldn't have a dime under management."

Well, Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway did, indeed, retain a few dollars under management, and their investors got richer during the bear market.

Meanwhile, by year-end 2002, one of Cramer's top 10 picks from that time had already gone bankrupt and a $10,000 investment spread evenly among Cramer's top ten picks at that time would have left his investors with just $597.44.

The Street.com made a fortune off the craziness, and Cramer profited handsomely from the craze in income, if not in capital gains.

To be fair, I also remember seeing Cramer say "you don't love me if you're fully invested" around that time.

All in all, though, Cramer certainly did his part to feed the madness.

(Originally posted on LeeDistad, but recontextualized here.)

Labels: , ,


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tommy Makem Dies 
And the AP embarrasses itself...

He brought audiences to tears with "Four Green Fields," about a woman whose sons died trying to prevent strangers from taking her fields.


No, dumbass! The song isn't about "a woman." The song is about Ireland.

Read the lyrics:

What did I have, said the fine old woman
What did I have, this proud old woman did say
I had four green fields, each one was a jewel
But strangers came and tried to take them from me
I had fine strong sons, who fought to save my jewels
They fought and they died, and that was my grief said she

Long time ago, said the fine old woman
Long time ago, this proud old woman did say
There was war and death, plundering and pillage
My children starved, by mountain, valley and sea
And their wailing cries, they shook the very heavens
My four green fields ran red with their blood, said she

What have I now, said the fine old woman
What have I now, this proud old woman did say
I have four green fields, one of them's in bondage
In stranger's hands, that tried to take it from me
But my sons had sons, as brave as were their fathers
My fourth green field will bloom once again said she

The "Old Woman" or Sean bHean Bhocht, is the affectionate metaphor in Irish literature for Ireland, like Uncle Sam is for the U.S. and John Bull is for the UK. The four green fields are Ireland's four provinces, Leinster, Munster, Connaught, and Ulster.

The strangers were the British occupiers.

The fourth green field is Ulster, still under British rule.

The song is a poignant longing for a reunited Ireland.

Look, it's not exactly a subtle metaphor. Makem wasn't one for understatement.

Good one, AP.

The scary part is, this dweeb probably majored in English or Journalism.

Layers.

Splash, out

Jason

Update: This calls for Danny Boy.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Oh, dear... 
Self-pitying gay labor union organizers from Seattle with disabled parents are packing up and moving to Canada because America sucks.

Just don't question their patriotism.

Splash, out

Jason

So the British military occupation of Ulster ended last night. 
Let's take a moment to observe the occasion in song.



Steall amach,

Jason

So what the fark happened to CounterColumn? 
Hmmmm. Interesting question. I'm not exactly sure myself. I got home one day and just decided I wanted to do something else besides blog. And then the next day the same thing happened. And then the next. Before I knew it, two weeks had gone by, and that was it.

I just had no desire or urge to blog. I'd sit down, and the idea was downright distasteful to me. I haven't checked the email in a couple of months. I'm dreading it now. (If you wrote, and I haven't gotten back to you, I apologize, and thank you for your well-wishes.)

Some of it may have to do with a painful breakup, but I'm historically MORE likely to blog if I'm feeling down, not less.

Some of it, no doubt, coincides with the increasing demands of my job.

Two weeks of it was due to Annual Training, but I could have posted once or twice if I really wanted to, and just didn't.

The slowdown coincides with the kerfuffle over the Immigration bill, as well. Which wasn't all that huge a deal to me, in and of itself. I was never a Michelle Malkinite bombthrower on illegal immigration. I'm the son of an immigrant, too (my Mom immigrated from the UK as a teenager, and is still a British citizen. She ran into some legal trouble a few years ago, and we had to deal with the prospect over a possible deportation.

Fortunately it didn't come to that, but it was pretty scary. And in the long run, it may have cost the US my own productivity and the services of an expensively trained commissioned officer, because eventually I may have relocated to the UK to be with her.

Preferably Belfast, so I could get in some good tunes.

At any rate, the whole episode imbued me with a healthy respect for the law of unintended consequences - and any hard-line immigration policy must be fraught with those.

Even as I write this, two honor students from Miami, both raised in the U.S., are being held in an INS detention center, through no fault of their own, because their parents came here illegally some 15 or so years ago.

That's jail, if you've never been inside one.

Someone tell me how THAT'S just?

But Bush and McCain and the others were just so arrogant about dismissing the concerns of people like Malkin - downright anti-democratic, while the Republican hardliners were just so vile about ignoring the law of unintended consequences, that I didn't really feel any of them were worth going to bat for.

And, I suppose, I was just tired of the grind.

I don't particularly feel like blogging right now, even though I've been wanting to write something about L'Affaire Beauchamp, and something else caught my eye, as well, which will be the subject of the next post.

All is well, here. I've eased back into it a bit, by terrorizing Ann Althouse's comments and a couple of others here and there.

Who knows how I'll feel tomorrow?

But if you've been a reader for a while, I can't thank you enough. You have no idea how you kept me going, and kept me engaged, when nothing else would.

Splash, out

Jason

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