Monday, December 31, 2007

Blumner's "Freeby" not worth it

In October of 2007, the editorialist/pinata for the St. Petersburg Times Robyn Blumner implied that editorial columns such as hers constitute the "vegetables" of the news, presumably meaning that while not necessarily tasty, it's oh-so-good for you.

After last week's column extolling the virtues of Buckwheat groats and the current column recycling past columns, perhaps her writing should be re-designated as a cereal. I hope I do Boo Berry no injustice with the comparison.
Maybe it's that there is only a little more than a year left on the tenure of the worst-ever president-vice president combo in American history. Or maybe it's because the electorate appears less susceptible to fear-mongering and more responsibly attuned to prosaic bread-and-butter issues. Or maybe I've been so beaten down by the Bush administration's mass destruction of everything I value in my country - individual liberty, shared prosperity, honesty, integrity and competence in government - that there is nowhere to go but up.
(The St. Petersburg Times)
A Blumner column without a Bush-bash is nearly an oxymoron. One wonders whether Blumner was conscious at all during the Clinton administration. Blumner often gets rolling toward the point of her column with a few meandering paragraphs like that above. Perhaps that should be expected where the newspaper built a reputation for favoring soft and narrative leads.

The real point Blumner wants to make is the bestowing of her annual Freeby awards, which appears to be something of an excuse (at least in this case) to recognize some of her favorite columns from the past year.

Hilariously, Blumner starts with a rejection notice before she gets to the awards. She wanted to give one to the Democratic-controlled Congress for its role in restraining Bushitler (Blumner didn't use the term, but it wouldn't surprise me if she thinks it).

Their efforts failed to earn her seal of approval, so she went with her column from July--Stephen Abraham's role in the complaint that foreign nationals outside customary U.S. jurisdiction don't have adequate Habeas Corpus protections. The award to Abraham was "much-deserved," albeit apparently not worthy of presentation until after she mocked the inability of the Democratic Congress to earn one as a gimme.

I took a brief shot at that column way back when.

James Comey and John Ashcroft got runnerup consideration (apparently there's only one Freeby per year) for--what else--opposition to Bushitler.

Or maybe the whole "Freeby" thing was just a distraction from the theme of the column, which concludes:
As to 2008, it should hurry up and be over, so our country can start healing. Only when Bush is back clearing brush in Crawford, and Dick Cheney, his inconstant heart and Halliburton millions are away from the levers of power, is a better America remotely possible.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bucs play out regular season with loss to Panthers

Ugh. Can't stand the Panthers ... that silver spoon expansion franchise. Not even their 1-15 season gives them the expansion cred of division foes the Saints, Falcons and Bucs.

The game today was unsatisfying on many levels. It was much like the game against the 49ers last week. The Bucs moved the ball well and second-string QB Luke McCown took too many sacks (4 for 40 yards in losses; hard to see what he could do about a couple of them, honestly). The Bucs failed to connect on big plays and made other key mistakes. In the big scheme of things, however, all it may warrant in the end is a shrug.

The game makes no difference in the standings or playoff seedings. The Bucs rested key players who have been banged up (Barrett Ruud, B. J. Askew, Joey Galloway, Jeff Garcia) and played others less than a half. If the Bucs whip the Giants next week then it was a great move, and if they lay an egg against New York then finger-pointing will abound.

More on New York later.

McCown completed a bunch of passes, but he also overthrew RB Michael Pittman on what could have been an easy six and horribly underthrew RB Michael Bennett allowing the Panthers an easy ("I blew the coverage, but at least I got an interception!") turnover deep in their own end. McCown also continued to show that one of the big differences between him and Garcia is the sack for many yards lost. But who expects McCown to play perfectly? The concern here is the offensive line. They were sieve-like on some of the Panthers' blitz packages and the Giants will certainly notice when they scout the Bucs.

Each of the Bucs running backs had some good moments--except for Earnest Graham, who was another who did not play in the contest.

Tight end Jerramy Stevens was terrific, though. He just catches everything thrown his way, lately, and he's earning himself an increasing role in the offense. Fellow TE Alex Smith had better watch it or he could slip to second string.

Bottom line, the Bucs' young offensive line continues to have question marks. It shouldn't surprise, really. Veteran center John Wade has two guys to his left with fewer than 32 NFL starts between them including this season. The right side is manned by two guys finishing up their second years in the league. When the offense is going, they are the strength of the offense.

Special Teams:
Continuing the tradition of at least one bad play every week, the Bucs had two. They allowed a 60 yard kickoff return by losing contain (we miss a ST stud like Maurice Stovall). Derrick Brooks got called for a defensive holding penalty on Carolina's field-goal try. It gave the Panthers a first down and they cashed it in for a TD.

Substitutes got plenty of time on the field, and Carolina moved the ball pretty well. Former Eagle and Pro-Bowler Jeremiah Trotter subbed for Barrett Ruud and registered 8 tackles. Everybody got to play on defense, and it showed as they gave up 180 rushing yards and 349 total net yards to the Panthers (99/236 when the teams met in September). The defense gave up a handful of big plays, including a 50-yard bomb on a blown coverage.

Not a good day.

The subs showed they have talent but committed too many errors and breakdowns to win the game.

Next Up:
Wildcard weekend, with the New York Giants coming to town. The real Bucs are probably better than the team that lost the last two games of the season. And most of the starters will be healthier than they would have been if they had played the whole of both games. Will the Bucs be as sharp and as physical as they will need to be against the Giants? This team can put a licking on an inferior opponent, and the only team to really step on the Bucs' neck was the Colts.

I can't muster a prediction because I don't know what team to expect. There are reasons to like the matchup against the Giants, but the Bucs have show nagging weaknesses in every phase of the game (with the possible exception of QB when Garcia is playing).

I can see the Bucs winning 31-10 if the Bucs play equal to their best of the season. But if the rested veterans show enough rust to mimic the play of their substitutes over the past two weeks, a team like the Giants can certainly press the advantage to notch a playoff road victory.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Protected Vehicles, Inc. in dire straits

Protected Vehicles, Inc., the company started up in the shadow of Force Protection, has apparently found itself bogged down with financial woes. The company did secure an order for 60 of its Golan vehicle and another 100 Alpha vehicles with the latter order getting canceled after performance testing.

The company has not been able to deliver the Golan vehicles at the required pace.

The North Charleston-based manufacturer, which abruptly closed its doors and ceased operations earlier this month, received a $37.45 million order from the federal government on Feb. 23 for 60 of its Golan mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles.

Under the terms of the order, production was to be completed by July. But as of Dec. 26, Protected Vehicles had delivered just 10 vehicles, Defense Department spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said in an e-mailed statement.

Efforts were made to help the company fulfill its order, Irwin said, but "these efforts were not successful."

(The Post and Courier, Charleston)

The Pentagon has moved to cancel the remainder of the order.

PVI has filed for protection from creditors and failed on occasion to meet payroll obligations, according to the story, but also has plans to continue developing plans for its "Beast" and "Ridgeback" vehicles after laying off non-essential personnel.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Deadline pressure results in deformed infographic image?

Check out this infographic the LA Times published with its story about the Army reconsidering the role of MRAPs in Iraq.

Is the giant rear tire a new innovation on the Cougar 4x4 or what?
clipped from
Heavy duty

49ers Edge Bucs 21-19

Put simply, the 49ers picked up an upset win.

Other than giving Tampa Bay's offensive line fits with their 3-4 defense (not to minimize it!--Big factor, and speaks well of the team), the Niners didn't have much of anything except luck.

The Bucs were able to move the ball on the 49ers very well despite difficulty running the ball (see offensive line), but made enough mistakes to preserve the San Francisco win.

Tackles were a telling stat. Sometimes the number of tackles in a game tells you that a player had a whale of a game. Niners LB Patrick Willis had 20 tackles--a great game. But the 49ers had tons of tackles because the Bucs were moving the ball better than the 49ers were moving the ball. The Bucs had 58 tackles as a team--including special teams and tackles by offensive players after turnovers. Just the top seven tacklers for San Francisco had more than that. The number of tackles largely tells you how many offensive plays the other team is running unless you let them score often (no tackle on a TD!).

And as sloppy as the Bucs played (8 penalties for 56 yards--SF had the same number for more yards), they still had a chance to tie the game if Michael Clayton gets both feet in on a two-point conversion. And make no mistake, the failure to get his feet in was all on Clayton.

The defense played well overall. Frank Gore got his yards, but San Francisco's running game couldn't regularly pick up first downs. The main problem for the defense was allowing touchdowns. San Fran's inexperienced quarterback, Shaun Hill, got away with threading two hard-thrown touchdown passes that should have been touched (perhaps intercepted) on the way to the receiver. It's the type of play where you have to credit San Francisco, but also the type of play where you fault the defense for letting them get away with a risky throw. If you do it regularly you're a Brett Favre, on the other hand, so keeping an eye on Hill may not be a bad idea. Might not be a fluke.

The D gave up under 250 yards on the day, but three touchdowns was too much even with gift-wrapped field position.

I'd like to pour credit on the offense for piling up over 400 yards, but where was the scoring? Jerramy Stevens had a nice day with two TD grabs while everybody else struggled. Alex Smith had passes go off his hands. Michael Clayton is producing some, but he's still plagued with inconsistency. Joey Galloway left the game early after a punk pile-on by beaten CB Nate Clement. Gallaway was brought down by two other defenders on a pass completion and Clement ran up onto the play late and piled on Gallaway, grinding his shoulder into the turf). Maurice Stovall's broken arm (out for the season) may also have been the result of chippy play. It struck me that way at first blush, and I haven't seen a replay.

Though the penalty cost the Bucs, Gaines Adams evened the score by planting his helmet in Shaun Hill's ribs late in the game. I don't condone the payback (and I think it was more carelessless by Adams than an attempt to get back at the Niners), but there was something karmic about it. Oops, I'm talking about the defense.

Anyway, the offense was too sloppy to heap with praise. Points were left on the field, and the team won't get a playoff win playing like this. How much concern? Well, the Bucs started quite a few subs, so you'd expect to see second-half sloppiness. Quarterback Luke McCown, FB Byron Storer, WR Michael Spurlock all logged significant playing time. Storer played the whole game for Pro Bowl alternate B. J. Askew.

Silver lining: If you can't run the ball but you can still pick up first downs pretty regularly with the pass ... not that big a deal.

Special Teams:
Coach Rich Bisaccia has worked with a revolving-door lineup all year, so it's tempting to cut him a break. The special teams have been pretty good--sometimes outstanding--but the last few games there has been at least one ST play that has picked up the other team. Last Sunday it was the second-half opening kickoff--a successful onsides kick that put momentum on the side of the 49ers.

Next up:
Rivalry game. The Carolina Panthers in Tampa. Hate, hate, hate. The Bucs will play hard, but if they rest the starters and don't play better than they did in San Fran then this game is no lock. Still, the Bucs should win. Home adrenaline should help.

A home game with the New York Giants is pretty much etched in stone, barring natural disaster or a suprise strike by the players union.

The Giants have an excellent front seven and a suspect defensive backfield. I think if I'm Tom Coughlin I run Brandon Jacobs every play until I'm 17 points behind. Though I suppose if I'm Tom Coughlin I'd just end up doing what Tom Coughlin will do regardless of what that is.

If the Bucs stop the run they should win the game with even or better in the turnover battle. The Bucs figure to be able to throw on the Giants better than the Giants can throw on the Bucs.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Textron, Millenworks, JLTV (Updated)

I shouldn't be surprised that not long after I acknowledge news of the Boeing/Textron JLTV partnership that news emerges about a JLTV partnership between Textron and Millenworks (California).

The Millenworks Light Utility Vehicle.

Military Times included the above photo and a brief description of the Millenworks vehicle. The design places the driver in the center, and it bypasses the need for a normal drive train by using two motors (one electric, the other a diesel/electric combo).

So, the question is will Boeing be jealous? Or is it a threesome?

The image failed to transfer, but follow the link above the eternally processing space where the image should have been and you can scroll down to see it at the source. Meanwhile, I found a YouTube version of the same vehicle. It doesn't show a view of the entire vehicle (except an exceptionally blurry one at the end--so blurry that it had to be deliberate), but it shows some interesting closeups.


Service centers for MRAPs going up in Baghdad (video)

This is the first video I've seen that shows the Caiman MRAP in Iraq. No action shots, just a still of a row of the Armor Holdings vehicles.

I can imagine that the United States will end up selling a good number of used MRAPs to the Iraqis as we draw down our presence in that country. It makes sense because it saves on transport costs coming and going--though it's likely that we won't be giving away all the bells and whistles with which our MRAPs are equipped.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tony Blair now a Roman Catholic

LONDON (Reuters) - Former British prime minister Tony Blair has converted from Britain's established church, Anglicanism, to Roman Catholicism, the head of Britain's Catholics said on Saturday.

Blair, whose wife and four children are Catholic, was received into the Catholic Church by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor on Friday in a move that had been widely expected after he stepped down from power in June.


The widely expected move was news to me!

Given the Roman Catholic Church's contemporary disdain for the "just war" doctrine, I find Blair's conversion an interesting footnote to his tenure as Prime Minister.

It goes to show you never can tell, like the old song says. JFK had his Bay of Pigs. Adolph Hitler, who was nominally Catholic, had an entire string of "just wars."


Friday, December 21, 2007

Initial MRAP II contracts to BAE Systems and Ideal/Oshkosh/Ceradyne co-op

Part of the U.S. Military's defense contract announcement from Dec. 19 escaped my notice until a few minutes ago. The contract listing contains two announcements of MRAP II contracts, one going to BAE Systems and the other to Ideal Innovations/Oshkosh Truck/Ceradyne. The contracts call for the delivery of MRAP II vehicles for further testing at Aberdeen.

Despite its lack of side doors, apparently the (Ceradyne) Bull performed well enough to warrant a second look.

This may represent an early narrowing of the field for MRAP II. The BAE order catches me by surprise, for it had not been obvious to me that the company competed for MRAP II.


Oshkosh/Ideal/Ceradyne "Bull" MRAP gets MRAP II nibble from Marines

OSHKOSH, Wis., Dec. 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Marine Corps announced it has contracted Oshkosh Truck with Ideal Innovations and Ceradyne for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected II test vehicles.

Under the $18.1 million deal by the U.S. Marine Corps Joint MRAP program office, the three companies' joint project will be expected to deliver six of their MRAP vehicles in the beginning of 2008 for further government testing of their explosively formed penetrator resistant capabilities.

That's way better than rejection if you're part of that cooperative effort.

I wonder if the six vehicles delivered for additional testing will need to have side doors as stipulated in the MRAP II solicitation?


Thursday, December 20, 2007

New MRAP contracts; Caiman included? (Updated)

Navistar International, BAE Systems and Force Protection were again the MRAP producers who squeezed out the other competitors for new MRAP contracts.

Whether as part of the Marine Corps demand for a lighter vehicle as I guessed some days ago or for some other reason, a chunk of the orders received by BAE Systems were through its subsidiary Stewart & Stevenson (Armor Holdings), the maker of the Caiman.
Stewart & Stevenson Tactical Vehicle, Division of Armor Holdings, Sealy, Texas, is being awarded $458,128,283 for a firm-fixed-priced delivery order #0003 under previously awarded contract (M67854-07-D-5030) to purchase 668 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Category II (CAT II) vehicles with CAT I seating configuration, sustainment parts and engineering change proposals.
The earlier Caiman order only included a very few Cat II versions of the Caiman but plenty of the Cat I. My expectation that the Marines might still be interested in the Caiman was based on the small size of the Cat I version, while this order consists of Cat IIs "with Cat I seating configuration."

Dividing up $2,644,490,914

Some predicted that Force Protection might eventually get squeezed out of the market when larger defense contractors started competing in the MRAP competition. This collection of contracts seems to confirm that prediction, though it's also true that the U.S. has been negotiating with the Brits to enable quick production of vehicles our allies would like to order. That order isn't particularly large, however. If Force Protection isn't making up the orders somewhere else (more Badgers?) then this contract announcement isn't good for them.


While I'm playing with graphs, I might was well include one showing the respective number of vehicles. All the MaxxPros are Cat I. Cat IIs tend to cost more.

I don't guarantee that I've correctly identified the vehicle names, by the way.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Editorialist Philip Gailey joins Robyn Blumner in misleading about waterboarding

Philip Gailey, the editor of editorials for the St. Petersburg Times, weighed in on waterboarding after John Kiriakou interviewed with the Washington Post and ABC News.

Here's a portion of the WaPo story:

The waterboarding lasted about 35 seconds before Abu Zubaida broke down, according to Kiriakou, who said he was given a detailed description of the incident by fellow team members. The next day, Abu Zubaida told his captors he would tell them whatever they wanted, Kiriakou said.
(the Washington Post)
And here's how Gailey recounts it:
John Kiriakou, a former CIA interrogator based in Pakistan, got Washington's attention last week when he went public with the story of his participation in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, the first high-ranking al-Qaida leader captured after 9/11. After weeks of defiance and resistance, Kiriakou said the prisoner broke after 35 minutes of waterboarding and began talking.
(The St. Petersburg Times)
Not that I needed help seeing the discrepancy (Gailey bumping the time from 35 seconds to 35 minutes), but it's worth noting that "Matt" pointed out the mistake in the online comments section on Sunday morning and the Times still hasn't corrected it as of now. In the know, baby.
by Matt 12/16/07 08:33 AM
Waterboar(d)ing Abu Zubaydah for 35 seconds, not minutes, disrupted every plot and got every man he knew about. It has been used 3 times and has saved lives each time. It works. It saves lives. We should use it when necessary.
Gailey's misinforms beyond the 34.5 minute increase in the duration of the waterboarding, however.
In this Christmas season of peace, love and goodwill, we find ourselves debating, in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail, whether torture is ever justified. And whether waterboarding, an ancient interrogation method favored by the Nazis and prosecuted as a crime by the United States for a century, constitutes torture. Of course waterboarding is torture, even if our attorney general can't bring himself to say so, and it is illegal under U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions. However, that didn't stop the Bush administration from using it in its interrogations of "high value" al-Qaida leaders captured after the 9/11 attacks.
"Of course waterboarding is torture." Really, Mr. Gailey? Based on what?

Odds are Gailey derived his opinion from former lawyer and ACLU figure Robyn Blumner, who sits across the table from Gailey in the editorial meetings at the St. Petersburg Times.

Blumner wrote her own editorial on waterboarding about a year ago, basing it on her uncritical acceptance of an Evan Wallach essay that later appeared in the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law (more on that in the weeks ahead).
Interestingly, we weren't nearly as blithe about waterboarding when it happened to our own guys during World War II. Then, we considered it a war crime and a form of torture.

In "Drop by Drop: Forgetting the History of Water Torture in U.S. Courts," Judge Evan Wallach of the U.S. Court of International Trade has documented the trials in which the United States used evidence of water-boarding as a basis for prosecutions. The article, still in draft form, will be published soon by the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law.

(The St. Petersburg Times)

That essay gets around to arguing that waterboarding is illegal according to U.S. law, and that is almost certainly the origin of Gailey's claim.

Gailey probably didn't read Wallach's essay himself, or else he might not have gone on to opine about how the post-9/11 United States changed "in some ways for the worse."

And then he offers his prescription:

Republicans say the bill goes too far, banning some practices that are now legal. President Bush has threatened to veto the measure if it clears the Senate. May I make a suggestion: Why can't everyone agree that we should never use an interrogation technique that we would not want our own captured soldiers and intelligence agents subjected to by an enemy?

You know, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Because our soldiers are not involved in the deliberate attempt to snuff out innocent civilians in the highest numbers possible, Mr. Gailey. That's why.

I got around to watching most of the ABC News Kiriakou interview as part of my effort to double-check Gailey. Kiriakou emphasizes a point with which I agree to a point: The debate on waterboarding is important. I don't think it's wise to debate the specifics of harsh interrogation techniques, however, since that erodes the effectiveness of the techniques. The public debate should be general but accurate to the degree possible without spilling what should stay secret. The debate within the government should be secret and bipartisan.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Another great story on MRAPs from USA Today

USA Today came through with another fine multimedia piece on MRAPs. One that I highlighted last summer focused on Force Protection's Cougar. In this one the photos and story stick with Navistar's MaxxPro.

The story includes a short series of photos chronicling the journey of an MRAP from manufacturer to front lines.
BAGHDAD — When the new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle rolled over a roadside bomb on Thanksgiving, the explosion shredded the right front tire, gouged the passenger door, destroyed the radiator and shattered the windshield's thick ballistic glass.

But Army Sgt. Peter Rosie, perched atop the vehicle in the gunner's turret, survived with only a minor concussion. No one else was hurt; Rosie returned to duty.

(USA Today)

Good story by Tom Vanden Brook. Go read the whole thing.


More Badgers for the Iraqi Army

The Iraqi Army received more Badgers (similar to the Force Protection Cougar--see photo).

The photo accompanied a story about the Badgers that mentioned that its record of safety was similar to that of the Cougars used by U.S. forces. That is to say, very good.

clipped from

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bucs flambe Falcons 37-3, cinch NFC South title

The Bucs gave game announcers one less hackneyed stat to reference during Buccaneer football games by breaking an amazingly long streak without a kickoff return for a touchdown.

Oh, and the team beat the Falcons and clinched a home playoff game by beating the Falcons 37-3.

Special Teams
Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia deserves a great deal of credit for prying one 500 lb gorilla of a monkey off the backs of the Buccaneers. The rest goes to Michael Spurlock, a speedy wide receiver who played quarterback at Mississippi, a player who won the job as kick return specialist thanks to an injury to wide receiver Mark Jones.

I had a feeling about this particular kick return, but not enough of a feeling to match that of a guy in the row behind me, who not only had the feeling but was drunk enough to predict that the return would go for a touchdown. He's made the prediction before, but that can't possibly detract from the satisfaction of getting it right!

The return looked like the prototypical kickoff return for a touchdown. A lane forms, the returner speeds through it, then just has to outmaneuver the kicker and a couple of other guys to make it to paydirt. The Bucs went delirious. The crowd went delirious. The Bucs were up 14-3 and the offense hadn't scored a point.

The defense gave up several big runs on the ground, but none for touchdowns, and more importantly played great pass defense. Greg White and Gaines Adams have begun to look like the real deal rushing from the ends the past month or so. Adams rang up the Bucs' only sack of the game, stripping the football in the process--it was recovered by ball hawk Jovan Haye inside the Falcons' 10 yard line and led to a touchdown. On the Falcons' third play from scrimmage to open the game, Ronde Barber intercepted and carried the ball in from 29 yards. Barber now has 10 touchdowns in his 11-year NFL career, which should help him earn Hall of Fame consideration.

Quarterback Jeff Garcia played as well as he needed to play. The offensive line had its problems with pass protection, but with the early lead they had the luxury of bearing down on the running game.

Part of Garcia's post-game commentary:
“We basically got into a very run-oriented mode and we used a lot of two tight end sets and just pounded the ball. That really became our offensive scheme from what seemed like the second quarter on. We were protecting the lead and we turned it over to our offensive line and said, be physical with Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman and we were able to get Michael Bennett involved late in the game. Those guys did an outstanding job of running the football.”
A very satisfying win against a struggling opponent. The improvement of the pass rush continues to encourage.

Next Up
San Francisco in San Francisco. The Bucs have a history of playing poorly on the West Coast, but the 49ers aren't going to beat the Bucs through the air. Frank Gore needs to have an excellent day for the Niners to have a chance. The Bucs should register win No. 10 on the season.


Michael J. Totten in Fallujah

Michael J. Totten, a freelance journalist somewhat akin to Michael Yon, posted a story from Iraq on Dec. 10. Totten spoke with soldiers in Fallujah, at least some of whom were involved in the big battle there back in 2004.
I hear criticism of Iraqis of some kind almost every day when I'm in Iraq. There is a lot to criticize. Iraq is a broken country. Its infrastructure and economy are shot, its political culture dysfunctional. In my experience, though, contempt for Iraqi culture specifically, and Arabs and Islam more generally, is far more prevalent in the American civilian population, even in liberal coastal cities, than it is among American soldiers and Marines who interact with Iraqis every day, forge sometimes intense personal bonds with Iraqis, eat Iraqi food, and speak at least a little Arabic. Stereotypes about racist and psychotic Marines, as well as fanatical and psychotic Iraqis, can't survive a lengthy trip to Fallujah, at least not to the Fallujah of late 2007.
It's worth reading the whole thing.


White House press briefing with Scott Stanzel (Friday)

Stanzel summarized the administration's position on the proposed legislation by Congress.
Q Thank you. What is the White House's response to the -- yesterday's House ban on certain forms of interrogation techniques? How does the Senate --

MR. STANZEL: We actually have a statement of administration policy that we released on that. That was on the -- earlier this week, on the 11th. But the administration does strongly oppose any legislation that would extend protections and requirements of the Army Field Manual to the CIA detention and interrogation program, because you have the Defense Department that has the Field Manual that's there to address interrogations that occur by defense personnel on the battlefield, during those conflicts in a normal battlefield setting.

However, the CIA's program, in contrast, authorizes a set of alternative interrogation procedures for gathering information from some of the most hardened terrorists in non-battlefield settings, in a carefully controlled setting by highly trained officials. So that's what our staff said, and that is something that we would not support.


The subtext of Stanzell's explanation, I think, is the understanding that spelling out what types of interrogation techniques the U.S. will use gives valuable information to the enemy. If Congress wants to define waterboarding a certain way and prohibit that technique that's one thing, but legislators should be careful not to unduly hamper our intelligence agencies' ability to collect information from uncooperative prisoners. The right to remain silent for enemies who may have information that may result in the deaths of untold numbers is a foolhardy proposition.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Brits to roll with Force Protection's Cougar?

The four-wheel-drive version of Force Protection’s Cougar protected patrol vehicle has emerged as the leading candidate for a British order covering 150 vehicles.


Several industry sources said the Cougar had topped a competition with the Rafael Golan, Thales Bushmaster and others. The vehicles have all been contenders in the U.S. Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle program.
The ability of the company to produce the vehicle may end up a sticking point, the story goes on to say.

Even with the Marines ordering fewer vehicles, Force Protection may not have the capacity to fill the British need in a timely fashion. That might open the door for a runnerup.

***** U.S. to order 3,000 additional MRAPs in December

The Pentagon plans to order about 3,000 more Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles the week of Dec. 17, marking the largest MRAP order to date, Pentagon officials said.

The 3,000 will be split up among the three main MRAP vendors chosen by the U.S. Defense Department during the down-select process in October: Force Protection, Navistar International and BAE Systems.
The three vendors identified match the three who won contracts last time contracts were announced, which continues to leave PVI and Ceradyne out in the cold. I have no evidence that this order reflects the outcome of the MRAP II testing program.

This from an earlier story by's Kris Osborn:
Although MRAP II is a separate procurement effort, technological improvement and survivability improvements will be added to MRAPs as they are produced, the senior official said.
Also check out Kris Osborn's story on the other military vehicle programs learning from the Iraq experience and the MRAP program. Plans are in the works to suspect seats from the ceiling of the vehicle to prevent certain types of shock wave injuries.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

IED hunting (Updated)

Ran across a story that describes IED hunting. The story put a name to a vehicle I've spotted in some of the MRAP YouTube videos I've posted: the Husky.

Watson, 23, has a particularly dangerous role in the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion based at al-Asad. By choice, he drives a vehicle called a Husky, which looks like an outsized, armor-plated dune buggy, as a member of a route-clearance team.

Watson's job is to drive slowly along the sides of roads and through visual abilities and highly sensitive and adjustable electronic sensors find and mark mines for neutralizing by other team members, who do so through the use of a larger MRAP (Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected) vehicle that has a huge hydraulic arm that digs mines out and snips their wires or destroys their detonators.

(Middle East Times, via UPI)

For those interested, here's a YouTube video showing a Husky enduring an IED attack. The content has been marked as offensive, so the link probably won't go directly to the video portion.

I should mention that the content is marked as offensive because it's an enemy propaganda video. The funny part is that the guy who posted it thinks it shows the destruction of an MRAP, whereas the Husky appears to perform as it was designed--protecting the driver while falling apart in a manner that permits relatively easy repair.

clipped from

One of the Canadian Force's new Husky deminers used in Afghanistan was blown up after driving over an IED on a narrow road west of Masum Ghar. No one was seriously hurt in the explosion. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland)

blog it


I kind of dig the goofy formatting this time.


Update: Supplied the hotlink to the Youtube video.

Monday, December 10, 2007 ostensibly exists to clear up confusion about waterboarding.

I take the the owners of the site at their word on that, but the enterprise is off to a shaky start.

They offer a page featuring "firsthand accounts" of waterboarding, prominently featuring that of Malcolm Nance (noted here). The other account, by Henri Alleg, was from Algeria in the 1950s.
The Nance account features "pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs" and Alleg mentioned (albeit not reproduced at "the captain, who, with a cigarette between his lips, was hitting my stomach with his fist to make me throw out the water I had swallowed."

The problem, as I noted with Nance's congressional testimony, is the apparent lack of congruence between the firsthand accounts and other contemporary accounts of the technique. And that's where comes back into play. Another page at the site describes waterboarding:
Pour water onto the inclined face so that the water runs into the upturned mouth and nose. The water stays in the head, filling the throat, mouth, and sinuses with water. The lungs don't fill up with water so your prisoner doesn't asphyxiate, but they *do* feel their entire upper respiratory system from sinuses to trachea filled with water, "simulating drowning". You're drowning your subject from the inside, filling their head and neck. The lungs stay out of the water, keeping oxygen in the blood and prolonging the glubbing.
If "(t)he lungs don't fill up with water" then why does Nance describe the opposite?

The folks at have their work cut out for them. The harsh interrogation techniques employed by the United States are classified secrets. Either the information will be leaked illegally or come from someone to whom the information was illegally leaked, unless the information simply isn't reliable (in which case it could come from anyone!).

The desire to bring the techniques to light is partially understandable--we can't know what we're talking about unless the techniques receive clear description. On the other hand, the clear description may remove some of the value of the techniques (which is the main reason they're kept secret in the first place).

There is a place for secrecy when it comes to interrogation techniques. The desire for clarity is laudable in terms of ultimately deciding whether or not the United States ought to used harsh interrogation methods where those methods arguably (if not in fact) constitute torture. That decision probably best rests with bipartisan groups within the government (oversight committees) rather than with the general public.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

More Blumnerian Bush-bashing

Last week the St. Petersburg Times' human pinata, editorial columnist Robyn Blumner, did her Bush-basing in the name of science!

The jumping-off point for the anti-Bush diatribe was the forced resignation of Christine Comer as director of science at the Texas Education Agency.

Blumner mentions the ouster of Comer as though it were entirely because of a forwarded e-mail advertising an event opposed to the Intelligent Design movement. The story linked above suggests that there may be quite a bit more to it than that. Without copies of the Comer version of the e-mail and the full text of the memo recommending Comer's termination there's no telling what role spin from either side has taken.

The Bush-bashing, as it frequently does in a Blumner column, resembles the "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" game.
Not surprisingly, a former adviser to George Bush as Texas governor who also worked in his federal Department of Education provoked the Comer witch hunt. Lizzette Reynolds, deputy commissioner for statewide policy and programs, complained about Comer's e-mail and called for her termination.
(St. Petersburg Times)
More on the particulars as time and attention allows.


Uneven effort dooms Bucs in Houston: Texans roll 28-14

Quarterback Luke McCown was unable to reproduce the magic from last week's game in New Orleans, largely due to an aggressive Houston pass rush, and the Bucs dropped a key road game to fall to 8-5 on the season. A win would have clinched the NFC South for the Bucs.

Turnovers set up most of the scoring, allowing Houston two short TD drives along with one for the Buccaneers. The Texans returned the opening kickoff in the second half for a touchdown, extending the home team to a 21-7 lead at the time.

The Bucs defense actually played very well for the most part, holding Houston under 3 yards per carry rushing and only allowing one extended touchdown drive. On the other hand, Texans second-string quarterback Sage Rosenfels put up gaudy passing numbers when he wasn't fumbling the ball to the Buccaneers--defensive end Greg White, a player originally drafted by the Houston franchise, registered three sacks on the day, twice stripping the ball from Rosenfels. DT Jovan Haye recovered both fumbles for the Bucs.

The offense struggled to run the ball and to protect McCown from Houston's pass rush. McCown was sacked four times on the day. Though McCown did not throw an interception, the offense lost the ball on a premature snap deep in Texans territory. Earlier in the game WR Ike Hilliard fumbled the ball after a catch and run. Hilliard missed the rest of the game. The game announcers gave credit to the hit, but it was apparent to me that a helmet-to-helmet hit gave Hilliard a "stinger"--his whole arm probably got lit up with pain and tingling leading to the loss of the football. The announcers later called it a "shoulder injury" even though the camera had clearly shown Hilliard grabbing his hand in pain and later massaging it on the sideline.

Tough loss if Hilliard doesn't make it back for the playoffs.

Special Teams:
The special teams played great except for one play at the beginning of the second half. That's all there is to say about that.

This was a trap game for the Bucs, but the team played well enough to win if a break or two had gone their way. The kickoff return for a touchdown was an inch or two from going out of bounds. The Hilliard fumble probably only happened because of the injury on the play. McCown missed WR Joey Galloway by a step on a deep pass that would have been a touchdown. Football often comes down to the breaks, though, and Houston made the most of them while playing stout defense. The kickoff return for a TD was probably the key play of the game, however. Greg White had a terrific game (3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles). White has 8.5 sacks on the year. Not bad for an Arena League guy.

Next Up:
The Atlanta Falcons pay a visit to RayJay. Atlanta's defense isn't as good as Houston's--and their offense isn't as good either, come to think of it. Bucs by 8 if Garcia's healthy and starts. Bucs by 2 if McCown plays and turns the ball over <3 times.


Congress briefed on waterboarding

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

(Washington Post)

The story goes on to mention one protest that stemmed from the initial briefing. It came from Jane Harman (D, Calif.), not Nancy Pelosi (D, Calif.).

Hat tip to Captain's Quarters.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Perino's Friday briefing

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino just took questions during the Friday press briefing. The press was in the mood to ask about the destruction of waterboarding tapes reported by Gen. Hayden.



Q Just to clarify, Dana, when you say the President supports Hayden, is he -- are we to infer that he supports Hayden's decision to destroy these tapes?

MS. PERINO: Hayden wasn't at the agency at the time.

Q I mean, the CIA decision to destroy these tapes.

MS. PERINO: As I said -- what I said is that he doesn't have any reason -- he said he has complete confidence in General Hayden; he doesn't have any reason to doubt him. They are still gathering facts, and I think until that is finished, I'm not going to comment beyond that.


Nice work, "Peter." You asked a question based on the premise that Hayden was in charge when the tapes were destroyed. With that premise destroyed, you modify the question into a new question that uses as a premise the idea that Bush knew the tapes existed/were destroyed--an idea that Perino already explained wasn't the case.

Let's see better preparation next time.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Waterboarding in the news

News about waterboarding has spiked this week amid revelations that the CIA destroyed videotaped waterboarding sessions.

The most interesting part of the Reuters account occurred on the third of three pages (a pox on the inverted pyramid!).

He said the techniques were "lawful, safe and effective," and approved by the Justice Department and executive branch. But the CIA wanted to make sure it was within the law, "So, on its own, the CIA began to videotape interrogations," he said.

He said the CIA stopped the taping because officials concluded it was not needed as a backup to the agency's other means of documenting interrogations. It destroyed the tapes after making sure they had no more intelligence value and were not relevant to any inquiries.

I've known too many journalists to trust their paraphrasing, and in the above account two paraphrases appear to work against each other.
1) CIA taped to makes sure it was within the law
2) CIA stopped taping because taping not needed to back up other documentation of interrogations

If they're taping to make sure the technique is within the law, they really only need to tape a given technique once. If that's the sole reason they're doing the taping then no additional reason is needed to stop taping. The second paraphrase implies that the taping was done to provide backup documentation.

Thus, the statement that the CIA stopped the taping because the additional documentation was not needed implies another purpose for the taping.

If I'm the editor I have the reporter(s) clarify that point.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Looking closer at Marine MRAP cutback

A tiny bit more information regarding the Marines' cutback on MRAP orders:

Conway said cutting the Marines' MRAP order may speed up purchase of the vehicles for the Army.

The Marines still have a use for the smallest variant of the vehicle as an engineer combat vehicle, even in an expeditionary environment, Conway said. The service has tried for 20 years to develop an engineer combat vehicle, he noted. The MRAP could fill that bill with 360-degree protection and its V-shaped hull, which directs shrapnel away from riders.

The first paragraph: Speed up purchase of the vehicles for the Army? The Army is likely to get MRAPs in the field more quickly, but ordering more of them seems like an open question subject to considerable doubt.

The second paragraph: The Marines may have a use for the "smallest variant" of the vehicle. That could mean the Cat I generally or it could mean the Armor Holdings (BAE Systems) Caiman particularly. The Cat I Caiman, from what I can tell, is the smallest of the MRAPs that have been delivered. Force Protection's Cheetah (or PVI's Protector) might also qualify for Marine service, as both are purported to have MRAP-type protections built into a smaller and faster vehicle.

That's as good an excuse as any to finally post a Cheetah pic.

Go here and you can see a short promotional video at the Force Protection Web site.

Speaking of the Force Protection Web site, the images there reflect some subtle exterior changes to the Cheetah. Note the broader grille opening, and some changes to both the front and rear fenders. Not to mention the considerably different bumper.


Has Daniel Dennett got a screw loose?

Many atheists appear to put great stock in the ideas of philosopher Daniel Dennett.

Though I've yet to read one of his books, I've read quite a few opinions regarding his ideas and I've sought out his own comments. And his comments make him look like a crackpot.

So, what am I talking about? Check out some comments Dennett made to Reason Magazine, for example.

Reason: A response might be that you're just positing a more complicated form of determinism. A bird may be more "determined" than we are, but we nevertheless are determined.

Dennett: So what? Determinism is not a problem. What you want is freedom, and freedom and determinism are entirely compatible. In fact, we have more freedom if determinism is true than if it isn't.

(Reason Magazine)

The interviewer seems to use "determined" to mean 100% causally determined. If Dennett takes the term the same way then his last statement requires a good amount of justification.

The next exchange:

Reason: Why?

Dennett: Because if determinism is true, then there's less randomness. There's less unpredictability. To have freedom, you need the capacity to make reliable judgments about what's going to happen next, so you can base your action on it.

If determinism is true in the way the interviewer meant it then there is effectively zero randomness. Dennett appears to have equivocated. When he goes on to talk about the "capacity" for reliable judgments he trades in a term loaded with indeterministic connotations. A causally determined thinker has only one accessible future (in a causally determined universe).

Dennett had gone on from that point to use an illustration about running across a field with the possibility of being struck by lightning. Without causal determinism, Dennett offers, the lightning is completely random so there's no planning for it. And that's true. In an indeterministic world you wouldn't be able to count on the field being there to run across, either. But that seems to be Dennett distracting from the issue, whether intentionally or otherwise. The issue, from what I could tell, was deterministic vs. indeterministic thought. So let's put a deterministic thinker before the lightning field. He is causally determined to choose either a good strategy to cross the field or a bad strategy. If preceding states of matter dictated that he would choose a bad strategy for crossing the field, did that field-crosser have the type of freedom Dennett talks about? Did he have the capacity to make a reliable judgment about what happens next?

If he had that capacity, then why the bad strategy?

What "capacity" did the field-crosser with the good strategy possess other than the same ability the poor-strategy field-crosser had (to do as preceding states of matter dictated)?

Dennett's own words make him look like he judges freedom based on outcomes.

It wouldn't surprise me if Dennett drew some withering criticism in the professional literature ...

In section 3 we discuss Dennett's resolution of this dilemma. The key to his current view, we suggest, is the illata-abstracta distinction. Dennett holds that both illata and abstracta are real and have causal powers, even though only illata are genuine scientific posits. He suggests that beliefs etc. are abstracta, and are the subject matter of what he calls intentional system theory. The subject matter of another theory, what Dennett calls subpersonal cognitive psychology, are illata, which are subpersonal intentional states. The important point is that this distinction lets Dennett have it both ways: (i) Since beliefs are mere abstracta, we need not commit ourselves to the thesis that beliefs will turn out to be posits of an adequate scientific psychology. (ii) Since beliefs have causal power, we are assured of moral and rational agency. We shall argue that Dennett's current view is untenable.

Note: I went with a slightly less inflammatory title after a moment of reflection. Even in question form connecting Dennett with "crackpot" was a bit rude.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"Action" pic of Caiman MRAP

It's the Cat II version, straight from the BAE Systems press kit page. Still no videos available last I checked.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"You'll probably tell me that I, as a moral relativist, can't condemn Hitler."

The fun continues as a pair of philosophical naturalists (not to preclude narrower identification as physicalists or something) have stopped by to address that problem of morality from their world view perspective.

The line I put in the title was the money line from visitor "stillnotking," who also goes as SN King when I want to use fewer characters. Plus I can thereafter refer to him (?) as "King" without sowing confusion.

But enough chit-chat. Let's review King's most recent comment. The first portion of his comment had him cheerfully admitting moral relativism (it's conceivable he is unaware I had been making the point that the atheist's moral position makes arguments against a god based on moral indignation seem ill-founded when given the presupposition of causal determinism).
Now, moral standards are relative but not arbitrary. Over the course of millennia we (and by "we" I mean both our genes and our accumulated culture) have figured out that some moral standards work better than others at ensuring stability and prosperity for as many people as possible. The ethics of peace, tolerance, respect for individual rights, etc. are no less effective for lacking metaphysical backing.
The above position statement apparently takes for granted that "stability and prosperity for as many people as possible" serves as a moral axiom. But if King is correct that morality is relative, then that moral directive is no less relative than any other.

Then he brings up the odd notion of the effectiveness of ethics. Given the presupposition of moral relativism, what does that even mean, other than using ethics as a means to whatever ends you find attractive, be it death to the infidel or rain gauges for everyone? Someone explain to King that incoherence is not a positive aspect of a worldview description.

On to the punch line:
Next you'll probably tell me that I, as a moral relativist, can't condemn Hitler. Of course I can condemn him. I can do my individual best to ensure that I continue living in a society that condemns him. But imagining that I have some metaphysical mandate to condemn him does not help my case, and is ultimately foolish, like imagining that I should eat carrots because I need more "carrot spirits" rather than because vitamin A is good for me.
It's not that King can't condemn Hitler, it's that he can't do it consistent with his own moral relativism. Knowing that his morality is no better than Hitler's he condemns Hitler anyway.

What principle guides the morality of a King? Personal taste.

Oh, and what about that claim that his ethics are not arbitrary?
I believe that this is the definition in play (King can correct me if I'm wrong):

4. capricious; unreasonable; unsupported: an arbitrary demand for payment.

The claim is akin to stating that a throw of the dice is not arbitrary. After all, given the starting position of the dice, the rotation, the velocity, etcetera ...

I'll go collect the rent tomorrow. But only if I roll double sixes. Nothing arbitrary about that, is there? And if it doesn't rain then the rent is double.


Josh Strawn weighs in on morality and determinism

Josh Strawn, whom I engaged in conversation following his commentary on the debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Christopher Hitchens, has continued the dialog in the commentary thread to a subsequent post by me on the subject of free will and determinism.

I'll engage the conversation with a fresh post, since I see no need to relegate the issue to a commentary thread.
Bryan, free will can only have meaning in a deterministic framework. What good is the choice to jump or to set a bucket on the ground if one cannot be assured of the deterministic laws of the universe?
Quite true, Josh, but that point offers no help for the argument since libertarian free will is fully compatible with any amount of determinism short of total causal determinism (the decision of the will is the only thing that needs to be free of absolute causal determination).

Put simply, the argument doesn't follow if "deterministic framework" means an assumption of absolute causal determinism. Though I'd certainly welcome arguments to that effect.
Those laws will assure him or her that they will return to the ground after jumping or that the bucket they've put down will stay put, do they not? In order for choice to function, we must be able to depend to some degree on certain outcomes even if there are also a great many elements we can't predict or depend upon.
Right, but that situation should not be confused with absolute causal determinism. If causal determinism were absolute then the assurance you talk about is a non-issue. You'll either come down after jumping or you won't. Either way (if determinism were true) the expectation itself is absolutely a product of preceding states of matter. With luck it matches reality; that is all.

"(C)ausal determinism" is customarily taken as the proposition that all events are the result of casual chains, perhaps allowing one exception at creation. A fallacy of equivocation may easily result if that customary meaning were to drift.
stillnotking is correct, the evidence is uncontroversial and these debates well-trodden; blog comments are not the space to familiarize the unfamiliar with the findings of scientists like Libet or Walter. If you take issue with what is being said, I'd invite you to read the original scientific literature (Libet's papers are not beyond comprehension of the layman).
I argued that experiments such as Libet's are not relevant to prescriptive morality. Mr. Strawn appears to be avoiding that issue in favor of getting embroiled in the details of the experimentation. Science cannot prove or disprove causation. Strawn and King will have to live with that, if either is even willing to address the issue.

In short, the argument that causal determinism is true is no substitute for the argument that a coherent account of prescriptive morality stems therefrom. It is a distraction. A red herring.
Suffice to say, morality does not dissipate once one takes a naturalistic view of the universe, nor does accountability. To suggest this is to suggest by corollary that morality is dependent on an unsupportable fantastical hypothesis anyway, so what have you of the soul's free will then? Hardly more...
Mr. Strawn has some of King's gift for the unsupported assertion.

If morality does not dissipate once on takes on a naturalistic view of the universe, then I have reason to expect a coherent account of it within the parameters of that world view. No number of appeals to Libet will achieve that until Libet crosses over into philosophy and makes an argument to that effect--even then the argument is subject to debate.
One you realize that God and the soul do not have the meanings you once took for granted, you then are faced with the more difficult (and more fascinating) task of understanding the whats and whys of morality on the basis of rational and/or scientific investigation.
What meanings for God and the soul do I take for granted, I wonder?

I expected better from Mr. Strawn. He offers no naturalistic account of moral responsibility--but he appears perfectly willing to refer me to other authorities. If I likewise refer my arguments to Kane then where does that leave us?
Just because those who engage you in conversation don't feel the need to rehash arguments from Leibniz to Dostoyevsky, Locke to Strawson, or Spinoza to Searle hardly means they've failed the argument.
Indeed. It does, however, mean that those who engage me in conversation have offered no argument of their own. I think that's significant. I suspect it is the case that naturalists do not understand the arguments they invoke (nor frequently those they attack), though I'm prepared to abandon the suspicion if a professed naturalist/physicalist demonstrates an understanding of the arguments without passing the buck.

Apparently Josh Strawn has removed himself from the pool of persons willing to demonstrate such an understanding.

Given the appearance that Mr. Strawn was prepared to confuse the truth of causal determinism as a metaphysical framework with the partial truth of causal determinism, I have reason to suspect that Strawn was among those who do not understand the arguments.

Apologies to Mr. Strawn for my commission of a typo in the headline. I omitted the "r" but that has since been remedied.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Liberals for censorship

A recent visitor to this site, the previously noted "libhomo" (goes by Godless Liberal Homo at his own blog), insisted that government figures cannot be trusted and that violence in Iraq has not subsided.

I paid a visit to his blog, found a post concerning the issue of violence in Iraq and found yet another liberal blogger who prefers to get the last word via censorship.

I don't go looking for these people, mind you. That is, folks who delete comments to keep the content at their blog sufficiently pure. Maybe I should take screenshots as a matter of routine. My timing was good, though. I didn't get a copy of the first comment that was deleted, but the perpetrator was caught in the act later on.

In the "This post has been deleted by the blog administrator" spot, I had pointed out that the abandonment of random sampling did not, as libhom ridiculously claimed "The exception for the most violent areas means that the numbers in the Lancet study are minimums." It means that the study is not scientific, just as when I do a survey of spiders in the nearby woods and choose my sample area other than randomly (like if I choose a nice spidery spot to do my counting).

I also provided a quotation from a pollster quoted in the Wall Street Journal regarding the small number of clusters used in the study.

What better way to refute the criticism than make it disappear!

I followed up with another comment while still under the impression that I was engaged in a good faith discussion.

Before-and-afters (click images to enlarge):

Now you see it.

Now you don't. It's like magic!

Note: Traded out .png images for .jpg since the former didn't work out so well.

Reuters headline set to fuel fever swamp (Updated)

Report contradicts Bush on Iran nuclear program

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new U.S. intelligence report says Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and it remains on hold, contradicting the Bush administration's earlier assertion that Tehran was intent on developing a bomb.

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released on Monday could undermine U.S. efforts to convince other world powers to agree on a third package of U.N. sanctions against Iran for defying demands to halt uranium enrichment activities.


Is Bush the story here?

Bush is the story if he contradicts the intelligence given him from the intelligence community.

If Bush is relaying information from the intelligence community as he gets it, then Bush isn't the story. The change in the evaluation of the intelligence community is the story. But this Reuters account doesn't give any evidence that was the case.

Administration officials denied the new NIE had exposed a serious intelligence lapse but could not explain how agencies failed to detect for four years that Iran's nuclear weapons program had been halted.
Perhaps the press should consider that the new intelligence isn't necessarily better than the old intelligence. Two years from now we might hear that Iran resumed its attempts to develop a nuclear weapon. Perhaps the story will again emphasize a conflict with the administration's statements based on previous intelligence while noting yet another intelligence failure.

Norman Podhoretz writes down in some detail what I thought about in general terms.

Hat tip to Power Line.

No cee-gar for Chavez

CARACAS, Venezuela - Humbled by his first electoral defeat ever, President Hugo Chavez said Monday he may have been too ambitious in asking voters to let him stand indefinitely for re-election and endorse a huge leap to a socialist state.

"I understand and accept that the proposal I made was quite profound and intense," he said after voters narrowly rejected the sweeping constitutional reforms by 51 percent to 49 percent.
(AP, via Yahoo!News)
Chavez won't immediately move Venezuela into the Cuban mold.

But don't be too sure he's done grasping for dictatorial power.

Early Monday, Baduel reminded fellow Venezuelans that Chavez still wields special decree powers thanks to a pliant National Assembly packed with his supporters.

"These results can't be recognized as a victory," Baduel told reporters,

Baduel, who as defense minister helped Chavez turn back the 2002 putsch, said Venezuela can only be properly united by convening a popularly elected assembly to rewrite its constitution.

Where's that feature story on Chavez and Venezuela we've been waiting for from Sean Penn?

***** on atheism and morality

I've had a rollicking good time discussing morality with Josh Strawn, Adam Lee and Stephen Lawrence (the latter at an online forum), and since each of them has effectively suspended the attempt to respond I've gone out to find another opinion from their side of the issue.

Austin Cline writes about atheism and agnosticism for, and sometimes he writes a pretty decent article. While looking for a substitute for the missing three above I discovered a Cline entry called "Myth: Without God's Absolute Standards, There's No Basis for Good Moral Choices."

As it has long been my position that absolutes are difficult, if not impossible, to generate from an atheistic point of view, the title certainly grabbed my interest. How would Cline go about dispelling the myth?

Cline begins, more or less, by wondering whether it is necessary to assume that absolute morality depends on the commands of some outside source. Not surprisingly, he doubts that it is necessary. I'd be inclined to agree with him, since divine command theory is not the only option for theists.

But immediately after that, Cline goes right off the deep end. No kidding.
I could assume instead that the only "correct" morality is one which enhances the good while minimizes suffering.

Many religious theists might respond by asking what reason there is to assume that we should enhance the good while minimizing suffering, but here they would be relying upon the assumption that the only good reason to arrive at such a conclusion is if we are ordered to do so by an outside, superior force. You can't prove the validity of a position by assuming it's (sic) validity as part of your argument.
1. Cline says he can assume that the only correct morality is one that enhances good while minimizing suffering.
2. Cline claims that the theist who questions the assumption is assuming that the only good reason for the assumption is, in effect, divine command.
3. Cline says the validity of a position cannot be proved by assuming its validity.

As if it weren't enough that Cline illogically links the objection to his assumption to a theistic assumption of divine command theory, he gives every appearance of violating his third point with his first. It seems to me that the objection to his first point follows from Cline's own observation in the third point. If Cline is not allowed to assume the validity of his first point, then on what basis should we accept it?

Adherence to divine command appears to have nothing to do with it.

Cline finishes the entry with the apparent assumption that his premise is valid and keeps castigating divine command theorists who will assuredly fail to appreciate the grandeur of the atheist's moral solution ("They are, in effect, impervious to any counter-arguments on this issue").

Funny stuff.