Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Belabied Blog

Where is The Little Teapot? I haven't posted in two weeks because my son was born on February 13. Blogging to resume shortly (I think.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I heard WHAT on NPR?!?

You can now hear the version of the History lesson piece I did for NPR's Day to Day at NPR : Slate's History Lesson: Attacking on Faulty Evidence.

I suggested to the producers they use Sousa's "El Capitan" as background music, but that may have been too subtle, so it wasn't in the final piece.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The Democratic Race is Over, and the Winner is...Dennis Kucinich

John Kerry, at this writing, has about 409 delegates of the 2162 required for the nomination. Of course, this hasn't prevented the many pundits from declaring the race over, done, complete, finis, very much the way that Howard Dean was declared the winner many months ago.

This is what the Candidate himself had to say about this trend on Larry King Live on Feb 4:

    KING: Are you going to -- is Maine -- do you think you have a chance in Maine to win on Sunday?

    KUCINICH: To win? We're going to do well in Maine, but you know, I'm finally starting to pop up above the surface of the campaign. You know, I finally got more than 1 percent in some places, 2 percent in Arizona, 3 percent in North Dakota and maybe 5, 6, percent in New Mexico. We're starting to finally demonstrate, you know, a heartbeat to the campaign. And I think Maine is the next place where we can look to have some help.

Hopeless optimism? Of course not! Kucinich won Maine very much like Joe Lieberman won the three-way battle for 3rd place in New Hampshire.

If you look at Kucinich's Joe-mentum, he's gone from 1% to 2% to 4% to 8% to 16% in successive primaries (please see attached graph). He'll clearly be topping the 32% mark in Tennessee or Virginia today, or Wisconsin at the latest, setting him up for a 64% win in California or New York on Super Tuesday. The trends clearly predict this result. I've done some calculation, and Kucinich will be topping the 2162 delegate mark in Pennsylvania on April 27, or in Indiana on May 4 at the latest.

You read it here first.

It's in the Stars for Denny. He has Super Yummy Pokeko Power!

Monday, February 09, 2004

Proud to Know Him

Just some reading for both Kerry and Bush while they debate their war records: this is a hero. I only wish Hollywood would start making movies about stories like this.
    Posted on Mon, Feb. 09, 2004 - Monterey County Herald

    DLI instructor worked as translator under Saddam

    Next time you're worried about your annual employee evaluation, picture working nine years at 16-hour days for a boss who uses torture, prison and death as motivators.

    Esho Joseph, an instructor at the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey, had that job. He was a translator for the Iraqi Ministry of Information and Culture under Saddam Hussein's regime.

    He translated from Arabic to English for most of the senior figures of the regime, including Saddam himself, from 1982 until he escaped from Iraq by making a deal with one of his torturers in 1991.

    Joseph was one of six finalists sent to London in 1979 to learn to be simultaneous translators for the Iraqi government.

    One of his brothers had to sign a voucher for him, guaranteeing his return from England, Joseph said. If he didn't, his brother went to prison.

    Iraq was preparing to host the 1982 Non-Aligned Nations Summit, and similar groups of translator trainees were also sent abroad three years ahead of time to learn Russian, Spanish and French.

    Joseph found himself translating for nearly every cabinet member of the government, high officials of the ruling Baath Party, and Saddam's speeches to foreigners.

    A translator's duties also involved publishing a government-run English language daily newspaper, the Baghdad Observer, and translating daily summaries of foreign news stories for Saddam and his cabinet.

    Working in the presence of a man who once fired one of his ministers for glancing at his wristwatch during a meeting while Saddam was speaking and another because the man picked up his teacup before Saddam did, "is very nervous work," Joseph said.

    A translator didn't dare forget or fumble a word, even when tired or distracted.

    At a meeting with a Japanese delegation with Saddam's son Uday, who headed Iraq's Olympic commission, shortly before the 1991 Gulf War, Uday learned one of the visitors was head of Japan's Olympic commission and began a tirade about how powerful Iraq was and how Iraq had pilots willing to fly to Paris, London, New York or Washington to bomb those cities and not come back.

    "I used the word 'kamikaze' to describe what he was saying," Joseph said. "Uday wanted to know where I got that word and decided his father must have first uttered it. He didn't even know it was a Japanese word.

    "I thought for a moment that that was the end for me."

    One bizarre assignment for the translation team was to render, from English to Arabic, Salman Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses."

    There were to be only two copies; one for the government vault, one for Saddam's personal library, Joseph said. Saddam had heard of the book when the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini ordered Rushdie's death because of it.

    "He wanted it in one week. We were to do it in addition to our daily jobs.

    "One of us said that was impossible, and we were told, 'There is no word of impossible in a world controlled by Saddam Hussein.'"

    The team divided up the 600-plus book's chapters among themselves and each worked on some, resulting, Joseph said, in a confusing, disjointed version written in several styles.

    During the Gulf War, Joseph said, he and others were tasked to accompany foreign journalists in Baghdad as guides and translators, taking them to places where bombs or missiles had hit.

    One place "came to be known as the baby milk factory," he said. "It was a biochemical factory."

    He and the others could tell by the structure and the warning signs, in Arabic, around it that it was a military target, Joseph said, but didn't dare tell the reporters that was what they were looking at.

    "I kept deceiving them, deceiving myself," he said. "I wondered, 'When can I be myself and say something truthful?'"

    In answer to a reporter's question whether or not it was a factory for making baby formula, Joseph said, he replied, "I don't know. That left it possible for some of them to report maybe it wasn't a baby milk factory."

    Those reports brought the wrath of Saddam down on Joseph and the others.

    For several days he was beaten and interrogated but was able to truthfully say he didn't tell any reporter what the factory was.

    "I told myself that this was one of the moments when I could just be shot by someone."

    With the defeat of Saddam's army, Joseph said, the government began looking for scapegoats to take the blame, who could be "hanged or shot to teach a lesson.

    "I decided it would be better to protect my head and my family."

    Some generals and high Baath Party officials started worrying the regime might fall and began making plans and gathering money, Joseph said.

    His own interrogator called him in and commented, "You hate me, don't you?"

    Joseph said he told the man he didn't hate him. "I said, 'No, you're doing your duty. Someone above you would punish you if you did not.'"

    The man then warned him that he was on an execution list, Joseph said, and his interrogator helped him, his wife and two-year-old son flee for the Jordanian border.

    Joseph's wife, Tanya, was pregnant at the time, and gave birth to a second son when they sought and got asylum in the United States.

    He and his wife both teach Arabic at the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey, where Joseph also teaches Kurdish.

    He returned to Iraq in November, accompanied by National Public Radio reporter Jacki Lyden, who had met him in Baghdad in 1991.

    Joseph said he found his brothers, one of whom had been a prisoner of war in Iran for eight years during the Iran-Iraq War, and who had been interrogated and watched by authorities after Joseph fled in 1991.

    "He had to report once a week to Baath Party headquarters."

    A brother-in-law lost his job "because of me and because his cousin deserted from the Iraqi army," Joseph said.

    "In the Saddam regime, when one member of the family is labeled as a traitor, the rest pay the price, even the children."

    A member of the Aramaic-speaking Christian Chaldean ethnic minority, Joseph discovered on his return last fall that many of his fellow Chaldeans had left Iraq to escape the simmering Islamic fundamentalism "boiling" in their homeland.

    One of his brothers lives in France, a sister in Australia, and brothers-in-law have moved to Sweden and Iran.

    Despite the hardships of a recent war, Iraq's situation is not as grim as it's being portrayed in the news, Joseph said.

    He visited elementary schools where he found children happy to be learning lessons other than studying the life and wisdom of Saddam Hussein.

    Driving from his hometown of Zarko in Kurdistan to Basra, "I could see satellite dishes on the poor mud huts in remote villages, an indication of how the people are really hungry to get out of their shackles and see the rest of the world."

    There was a sense of insecurity, Joseph said, as people faced the reality that bombs could go off at any time. Many were seizing the chance to settle long-simmering blood feuds, and people do express anti-American and anti-Western sentiments.

    But, he said, "people of all ethnicities, education and background, driver to university professor, streetsweeper to civil servant, there is almost a consensus that if U.S. troops withdraw it would a catastrophe -- civil war."

    Commenting on the current controversy over the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Joseph remarked, "I believe the United States did something great, not only for the Iraqi people, but for the entire region.

    "Saddam was a weapon of mass destruction. Look at all these mass graves."

    The alternative to making war on him for ignoring the United Nations' demands for weapons inspections, Joseph said, was to lift the sanctions against Iraq.

    "Imagine that money pouring into the hands of Saddam. Would he use it to help his people, or to acquire weapons to harm America? I absolutely agree he was a threat to world peace. He had all the means in his hands: a country, an army and the support of others."

    National Public Radio will air a segment on its program "All Things Considered" Feb. 16, featuring interviews with Joseph when he was in Iraq.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

But Who's Tom?

I've been trying to find out why Paul Bremer's nickname is Jerry, and this is as close as I could get to an answer:

He's no Cyrus the Great

    GWEN IFILL: Ambassador Bremer, I just want to tell the world that your nickname is Jerry, so if everyone is wondering who is Jerry, I thought I'd let everybody know.

    L. PAUL BREMER: You just revealed a state secret.

    GWEN IFILL: I think your partner there just revealed it...

While not answering my question, this interview -- done June 6, 2000 on PBS's News Hour -- is rather fascinating in the current context of what kind of intelligence we had focussed on terrorism at the time. Here's one excerpt:

    L. PAUL BREMER: What we mean is that fighting terrorism is not just a question of dealing with the criminals and the crimes they commit, that there are reasons why some people turn to terrorism. There are political reasons, there are economic reasons. Some people are simply criminals. And an astute foreign policy would not ignore the context out of which terrorism springs. But we believe that doesn't mean we shouldn't fight terrorism any more than you would say, "well, we need to understand why people are committing crimes on the streets of Washington and New York. And until we can understand why they're committing crimes, we're going to let them continue to commit the crimes." No. You have to have a police force that tries to deal with the crimes, just as you deal with the underlying reasons people turn to crime.
This is probably why Bremer's been so successful in Iraq.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Democrats See Shadows, Predict Six More Weeks of Campaigning

Some random notes on media coverage and the Feb. 3rd results:
  • CNN featured a Republican loser (Bob Dole) telling a Democratic loser (Howard Dean) how to win, yet again; and a Republican (Tucker Carlson) and a Republican (David Gergen) doing electoral analysis of the democratic primaries. Oh, and a losing democratic campaign manager (Donna Brazile) to match Fox' losing democratic campaign manager (Susan Estrich). CNN, to raise the tone later, brought in the now-unfunny Mo Rocca to say utterly nothing.
  • The early coverage was all about the dominant win by Edwards, but the networks didn't give enough attention to Edwards doing well in Oklahoma, which had nearly as many delegates and more voters turning out than South Carolina, and scant attention to Wes Clark, who won Oklahoma and finished a respectable second in Arizona and New Mexico. Kerry was clearly the big winner, but with Edwards and Clark showing well and out of their "areas", it's not clear why the networks didn't give more play to the broader appeal.
  • Edwards seems like the kind of guy who might do well in Michigan, given enough campaigning time.
  • Dean's trash talk of Kerry's record of do-nothingness is right on, but can't possibly be a winning strategy. But to Dr. Dean's credit, he's going about it far more nicely than the jackals who went after him.
  • Of all the calculating stances taken by the Kerry campaign, the use of his long association with firefighters -- anybody who's campaigned in Southie won't have a hard time understanding why Kerry started cultivating them 25 years ago -- is probably the most clever. It's a subtle way of out-9/11-ing Bush.
  • How weird is the delegate selection system: Sharpton won 10% of the vote in South Carolina and over 25,000 votes but got no delegate because of the 15% cut-off in that state; he got just over 1500 votes in Delaware and a mere 4% of the vote, finishing sixth, yet he managed to win a delegate because of the apportionment system (finishing second to Kerry, who had 14 delegates).

Who's the Sharpster?

It's this big.

Despite the probably validity that, as Joe Conason relays, Al Sharpton is fronting a Republican consultant, I'm not sure that invalidates what Sharpton has to say. It's harder to believe he'd abandon his own rhetoric, much of which is old-fashioned Democratic meat and potatoes, than it is to believe he would take support from whatever quarter to keep himself going. I'm not arguing ego has nothing to do with it -- far from it -- but the possibility of this being a Republican dirty trick has to be mitigated with the possibility Sharpton may energize more people to vote Democratic in the fall. Either way, I'm sure the eventual nominee is not going to have much of a problem distancing himself from Sharpton as necessary, and if this is the latest Lee Atwater race-bait, it's not that well thought out.

For Sharpton's part -- this is pure speculation here -- he may well believe he's pulling a fast one by getting Republicans to pay for his bully pulpit. I'm not sure who's being stung here, but I'm certain it's a low-stakes con.

The Bellicose Curve

I've got a new article on Slate that appeared today: The Bellicose Curve - Faulty intelligence has catapulted the United States into war all too many times before. .

Monday, February 02, 2004

Four Stars for Effort, An Asterisk for Content

Saturday we took a nice walk in the woods to take advantage of a break in the weather, and high up on the trail, we passed a couple wearing Wes Clark buttons. I'm always interested in people who have the interest to show their beliefs on their sleeves (or their lapels, as in this case), so I greeted them with the friendly cry:

"Hey, Wes Clark supporters!"

Like I'd spotted a Western Boobie in a forest known more for Acorn Woodpeckers.

I've been really fascinated by this campaign, for one reason, because among the many Democrats I know -- ranging from Kucinich birkenstockers to McCain cross-over voters -- it's been surprisingly hard to predict who's-supporting-whom. My sister, who hates NAFTA, is standing as a Dean delegate; my father, who was livid about the war, was completely smitten with Dick Gephardt and even now can't help but talk him up as a Vice-Presidential candidate. The guy who fixed my furnace last week, who's originally from Mexico City and confessed he had come to the US illegally, was heavily into Joe Lieberman. As much as one can try to typecast supporters of each candidate, my personal experiences have defied those typecasts.

We live in an area with a significant military presence, and as I've written about before, one of the disappointing trends in electoral responsiveness in the last generation has been the transformation of the professional military class into a nearly completely-Republican mass. It's hard to find somebody else who's keenly interested in a responsive and modern military who's not a Bush supporter. So Wes Clark has had a fascination for me as a career guy who sounds to the left of Lyndon Johnson when he talks about social programs, but who still smells and talks like a Republican somehow. If you know a man by the company he keeps, I sought to understand the Clark candidacy a little better in getting to know this couple.

Well, to make a long story short: it turns out this couple had relocated to our area within the year, and had moved from Massachussetts. They, like my parents and nearly every other Massachussetts liberal I know, were disenchanted with Kerry from long familiarity with him, so they saw Clark as the most electable guy with a war record. "Anyone but Bush," everybody can agree on, but after that, the reasons for many candidates are meta-reasons: perceived electability, an acceptable checklist of positions, and in Clark's case, part of the anti-war vote that Howard Dean has lost by being a big loser-boy.

They were a charming couple and we had a good conversation. I remain unconvinced Clark wouldn't be whacked around the room by the whack a mole team at the RNC, given that he's re-reversed himself on his core issues so much I can't quite keep the current version straight. When I suggested to the couple that perhaps the best strategy for the Democrats was to come together and announce a cabinet now - Edwards as VP, Gephardt at Labor, Dean at H&HS, Clark at Defense, and Kerry at the top of the ticket by default - they didn't miss a beat and said "you mean CLARK at the top of the ticket". Them's true believers; Deaniacs have some company.

John Kerry showing the common touch

But the more I think about it, the more a cross between Atticus Finch and Matlock, a slick good ole boy trial lawyer with virtually no record, sounds good if you want electability. It's not about the resume, it's about whether the swing voter would be comfortable having the candidate over for dinner when the carpet hasn't been vacuumed in some time. When I think of Clark stopping by the house, I still straighten up subconsciously and check to see if my fly is zipped up and wonder when the last time the toilet bowl had been whisked out.

At some point I'm going to write about Al Sharpton, who's by far been the most effective debater of the campaign, and who, without a chance in hell of being elected, has the benefit of being completely honest when he's campaigning. I crossed Al off my list early (here's where I admit I happily voted for Jesse Jackson in 1988 in the primary, even though Mike Dukakis was my wife's cousin's neighbor's son and quite a smart guy for a Swarthmore grad, because I thought Jackson was a more appealing candidate, even though I knew Dukakis had it in the bag at the time) largely because he was either too stubborn or too dumb to admit Tawana Brawley was a liar. Not coming clean in an incident where there were manifestly false allegations, imho, needlessly hurt his credibility when later incidents of true police brutality surfaced in New York, and without another resume, he's about as qualified as Great Aunt Betty. That does not take away from the fact he's calling it like it is.

My one note about Sharpton right now: I haven't met a single Sharpton supporter randomly, and he's the only candidate I can say that about. Yes, I've even run into Carol Mosely-Braun and Bob Graham supporters. But that begs the question: are we supporting Democratic candidates in reverse order of their truth-telling (and perhaps entertainment) value?

If that's the case, maybe it's an indication we're just trying to find somebody who can out-lie Bush, and Clark and Kerry and Dean are at the top of the list because of their propensity for the convenient whopper.