Saturday, December 31, 2005

Quote of the Year

President Bush:
Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job.

Stoic of the Year

Paul Beston in The American Spectator:
Time magazine didn't give President Bush its Person of the Year award, even though Bush's accomplishments -- staying the course through three Iraqi votes, presiding over a booming U.S. economy, and preventing a domestic terror attack for the fourth consecutive year -- seem to stack up pretty well against those of the philanthropists who were honored, and whose work would come to nothing if the country Bush leads were to be disabled.

Maybe it's just as well that for 2005 Bush not be given the honor of Person of the Year, with its vaguely P.C. ring. The kind of year he had, and his response to it, seems to warrant an older name: Bush was the year's great stoic. Whether or not he has ever read the ancient Stoic philosophers, he seems to have internalized some of their teachings. Try this one from Epictetus:

"In a word, neither death, nor exile, nor pain, nor anything of this kind, is the real cause of our doing or not doing any action, but our opinions and the decisions of our will."

Top Ten Opinion Trends of the Year

The Pew Research Center has released its list of the Top Ten Opinion Trends of 2005:

(1.) Presidential popularity plunge
(2.) Hurricane blowback
(3.) Iraq disillusionment
(4.) Pump shock and economy anxiety
(5.) Inward [isolationist] turn
(6.) Domestic issues ascendant
(7.) Schiavo backlash
(8.) Evolution devolution
(9.) Social Security missteps
(10.) Feds out of favor

Big Oops of the Year

There were more computer security breaches than ever in 2005, subjecting millions of Americans to potential identity fraud.
According to USA Today, over 130 major intrusions exposed more than 55 million Americans to the growing variety of fraud as personal data like Social Security and credit card numbers were left unprotected.

Commodity of the Year

No, it's not oil. Writes John Heinzl in the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Inflation, terrorism, gaping U.S. deficits, avian flu: Could gold bugs have asked for more in 2005?

. . . It didn't hurt that central banks talked of replacing some of their U.S. dollar reserves with gold or that jewellers in North America and Asia were big buyers of the metal. A lack of new mines also helped drive up the price.

Traditionally, gold has traded inversely to the U.S. dollar, in which bullion is priced. But that relationship broke down this year as gold zoomed ahead even as the U.S. dollar made gains against the euro and yen.

While gold was still a long way from its 1980 peak of $850 (U.S.) an ounce, gold bugs confidently predicted further gains in 2006.

Interview of the Year

Ex-CBS producer Mary Mapes, who wrote the "60 Minutes" report on President Bush's National Guard service -- the one for which Dan Rather later non-apologized -- delivered the following whopper in a November interview with Brian Ross on ABC's "Good Morning America":

Ross: Do you still think that story was true?

Mapes: The story? Absolutely.

Ross: This seems remarkable to me that you would sit here now and say you still find that story to be up to your standards.

Mapes: I’m perfectly willing to believe those documents are forgeries if there’s proof that I haven’t seen.

Ross: But isn’t it the other way around? Don’t you have to prove they’re authentic?

Mapes: Well, I think that’s what critics of the story would say. I know more now than I did then and I think, I think they have not been proved to be false, yet.

Ross: Have they proved to be authentic though? Isn’t that really what journalists do?

Mapes: No, I don’t think that’s the standard.

Bonus Quote of the Year

Jerry and Joe Long at Huffblog:
The religious right's position on embryonic stem cell research is clear: consign Alzheimer's and Parkinson's sufferers to death on the off chance that a blastocyst will crawl out of the garbage pail to work the breakfast shift at Burger King.

Inevitable Year-End List of the Year

The temptation to succumb to End of Year lists is overwhelming. Here are excerpts from Steve's take on 2005 at the Guardian News Blog:
Favorite Bush gaffe: Playing Mark Willis's guitar as people died in New Orleans.

Favorite Cheney gaffe:
"They're in their last throes."

Best Americans of the year: The Coast Guard rescue swimmers who went with no warning to save the lives of New Orleans residents while no one else did anything.

Worst American of the year: Michael Brown.

Most odious comment of the year by a wingnut: John Goldberg's jokes about people swimming in the Superdome.

Coolest thing done by a famous person: Johnny Depp writing a wonderful eulogy in Rolling Stone for Hunter S. Thompson, then paying for a massive memorial service, complete with ash tossing cannon.

Most pathetic defense: Andy Sullivan reminding us how great the Bell Curve is, or Intelligent Design for racists.

Republican most likely to send people to jail: Jack Abramhoff.

Best Press Conference of the year: Pat Fitzgerald explaining why Scooter Libby was indicted.

Most pathetic performance by a press spokesman: Scott McClellan explaining why they have nothing to say about Scooter Libby being indicted.

Bush's most boneheaded play: Trying to steal Social Security and not getting that people didn't trust Wall Street enough for that.

Which ticking time bomb goes off first contest: Is it the Plame leak investigation or Abramhoff rolling over on his friends.

Worst play of the year: Bush speeding past Cindy Sheehan on the way to a fundraiser.

Best single political moment of the year: Jack Murtha calling for the end of the Iraq War.

Biggest political gaffe of the year: Jean Schmidt using the word coward on the House floor in criticizing the double purple heart and Bronze Star winner Murtha.

Worst judgement of the year: Condi Rice shopping for Ferragamos while people drowned in New Orleans.

And the comment of the year: Barbara Bush's "They probably never had it so good."

Best Single Column of the Year: Maureen Dowd calling for Judy Miller to be fired, and calling her a whore in the process. Who says the Irish can't hold a grudge? Asked to give up a seat 20 years ago, Dowd remembered it all too well.

Three people we'll miss: Hunter Thompson, Peter Jennings, Richard Pryor.

Three we won't: Scooter Libby, Judy Miller, Duke Cunningham.

War and Peace: Blurring the Lines

Wretchard over at the Belmont Club has written often about the ongoing blurring of lines between soldier, diplomat and the news media in modern warfare and specifically in Iraq. His most recent commentary on the subject:

Implicit in the model of Western warfare is that the warrior should never seek to persuade. That job has been assigned to the diplomats and civilians -- including the press. The most subversive thing imaginable is a military as good with words as it is with guns. That division of labor has been coextensive with the origins of uniformed armies. As old as the distinction between men in uniform and franc tireurs. Men under discipline might be allowed the occasional inarticulate "hoo-ah" but politics was to be left to civilians. But in the second half of the 20th century a strange thing happened. The neat division between uniformed and un-uniformed combatants collapsed; and the firewall between man-at-arms and man of letters disappeared. For example, the man who conceived the screenplay of the Battle of Algiers was Saadi Yacef, himself was a combatant in the Algerian War. The Village Voice has this interview with him.

"It's been almost 50 years since Saadi Yacef, revolutionary hero of the Algerian war of independence, leapt across the terraces of the Casbah in Algiers, fleeing from French forces. (Later, he'd play a character very close to himself in the legendary film he co-produced, 'The Battle of Algiers,' which was based upon his memoirs.)"

He got to star in his own play. The Western warrior was only allowed to die upon his shield. There was in the enemy camp no distinction between the uniformed combatant and civilian, no line between the word and the deed; and they considered this a natural state of affairs. For the journalist at the [Louisville] Courier Journal there was the conviction, sincerely held, that a hard wall should separate the men who kill and the men who convince; between the profession of journalism and that of arms. And so [New York Times reporter] Dexter Filkins had no problem with the unnamed American military commander until that commander had the temerity to stray into territory that was Filkins' and Filkins' alone. "We have a position on that," the commander said. And the problem of course, was that the commander should have no position on that, whatever the cost in lives, whatever the consequences.

The problem was less acute when as in the past Hollywood and the newspapers could be relied upon to fight the information war. Bugs Bunny made fun of Hitler. Humphrey Bogart outwitted Major Strasser. Gary Cooper played Cloak and Dagger. But when journalism decided that convincing the enemy was not their department; that their function was more akin to providing check and balance they left a huge hole in the US military's capabilities, which all of a sudden found the enemy had abilities (think Al Jazeera) in an information-critical world it could not match; and whose members, since they wanted to live, keenly felt the need to redress. For example, they wanted to counter the idea that it was a holy thing to blow up women and children; wanted to promote the notion that democracy was a good in and of itself. They wanted to 'influence a target audience' not simply in Iraq, but throughout the world. In a world where the military was not allowed to use its full force they sought to compensate with the power of words. And that proved the most forbidden act of all.

If there is any evil greater than war itself it must surely be to make war without meaning it; to recruit allies without intending to stand by them; to send men into battle without purposing victory; to embark on campaign of arms that we ourselves do not believe in; and to kill in preference to persuasion. But maybe there's a greater. One writer at Slate argued that a worse danger is the conceit that any message is worth persuading others to believe: "The notion of evil has become profoundly maladaptive. Today, saying our enemy is 'evil' is like saying a preventable tragedy is 'God's will': It's a way of letting ourselves off the hook for crimes committed in our name. Not incidentally, it's also a way for our enemies to let
themselves off the hook."

They don't need to be let off the hook; they were never on it.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Guest Blog: Morning Sounds on Goree

Goree Island sits off of Senegal about three kilometers from Dakar. It is rich in history, most significantly because of its role as the center of the West African slave trade.

Steve Grant, an acquaintance who is an author and scholar, is visiting Goree for the holidays. Earlier in the year, he completed a forthcoming book about Peter Strickland, a 19th century shipmaster, merchant and U.S. consul in Senegal, then a French colony.

Steve shares this evocative post with Kiko's House readers:
Here are some of the noises that you are likely to hear during the first quarter of the day, from midnight to 6 a.m. on the island of Goree:

Mouride or Tidjane (Muslim brotherhood factions) chanting, generally recordings, as the faithful stay up late in prayer to welcome in the holy day of Friday;

Somewhat but not always hushed conversations among groups of people who like to stay up late and banter; they may be lying on the ground, or sprawled on a bench. They live in huts with very small window apertures, and sometimes stay out so as not to suffocate;

The lapping of the surf against the basaltic rocks surrounding the island;

Sirens from departing or arriving container vessels that pass by Goree on their way to or from the main port of Dakar;

Very loud dance music recorded or by a live band whenever there are late Saturday nights parties organized by the municipality on the island;

Wake-up calls by roosters, sheep, guinea fowl, and a turkey or two;

A neighborhood cat or two in heat, with the resulting male cat fights;

Call to prayers to the island mosque over a loud-speaker system;

Sweeping of the courtyard as a diligent mother rises early and uses a hand-made broom about 18 inches long; she bends down from the waist and cleans the dirt surface of leaves, faded bougainvillea blossoms, papers, fowl dung, plastic; vegetable peels, and wood chips from cutting firewood;

The creaking open of a wooden door on its hinges, the door could be a couple of hundred years old, and the hinges almost as old;

Ubiquitous crickets.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Quote du Jour

Robert Kaplan in the Los Angeles Times (with a hat tip to Wretchard of The Belmont Club):

If you want to meet the future political leaders of the United States, go to Iraq. I am not referring to the generals, or even the colonels. I mean the junior officers and enlistees in their 20s and 30s. In the decades ahead, they will represent something uncommon in U.S. military history: war veterans with practical experience in democratic governance, learned under the most challenging of conditions. For several weeks, I observed these young officers working behind the scenes to organize the election in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. . . . Throughout Iraq, young Army and Marine captains have become veritable mayors of micro-regions, meeting with local sheiks, setting up waste-removal programs to employ young men, dealing with complaints about cuts in electricity and so on. They have learned to arbitrate tribal politics, to speak articulately and to sit through endless speeches without losing patience.

I watched Lt. John Turner of Indianapolis get up on his knees from a carpet while sipping tea with a former neighborhood mukhtar and plead softly: "Sir, I am willing to die for a country that is not my own. So will you resume your position as mukhtar? Brave men must stand forward. Iraq's wealth is not oil but its civilization. Trust me by the projects I bring, not by my words." Turner, a D student in high school, got straightened out as an enlisted man in the Coast Guard before earning a degree from Purdue and becoming an Army officer. He is one of what Col. Michael Shields, commander of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Mosul, calls his "young soldier-statesmen."

The Kiko's House Album of the Year

There was a surfeit of really good music this year. Albums from My Morning Jacket, Coldplay, Shemekia Copeland, Sufjan Stevens, Son Volt, Neil Young, Robert Plant (yes, that Robert Plant), Sinead O'Connor and Marah come to mind.

But how about really great music?

The hands-down winner and the Kiko's House Album of the Year is a long forgotten recording nearly 50 years old that features two jazz greats of the first water -- Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane.

The story behind Thelonius Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Live) on Blue Note is nearly as extraordinary as the album's nine tracks.

It was common knowledge that Monk and Coltrane had played together for a five-month period in 1957, but widely assumed that no recordings existed beyond a low-fi set from the Five Spot Cafe released by Riverside in 1958, as well as a crude bootleg or two. But there was, in fact, an exquisitely recorded reel from a November 29, 1957, Carnegie Hall all-star benefit concert that included two sets by Monk and his Quartet and Coltrane that was broadcast overseas by the Voice of America. (
Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra, Sonny Rollins and Ray Charles also appeared on the bill.)

Long forgotten, the Monk-Coltrane master reel was accidentally discovered in an unmarked box by a Library of Congress sound engineer in January, remastered and released to an astonished jazz world in September.

Astonishing is not the half of it.

The chemistry between Monk and his Quartet and Coltrane is extraordinary. Coltrane's heroin addiction had gotten him fired from Miles Davis' band, but he had cleaned up and was invited by Monk to study and play with him.

The effect of playing Monk's compositions was liberating for Coltrane. His phrasing as both accompaniest and soloist is incredible on this album, and even after repeated listenings I find myself shouting "yeah, yeah" to passages on several cuts, notably the Monk classics "Epistrophy" and "Monk's Moods," as well as the standard, "Sweet and Lovely."

Coltrane's solo career did not really kick in until three years later, and his short but prolific career ended with his death in 1967. Monk, of course, was a master in his own right and I do not want to suggest that Trane's brilliant playing this particular evening drove Monk to new heights. I will defer to people better listened than myself to validate so bold an assessment. But to my ears the pianist and saxophonist take each other to extraordinary levels, and some of Coltrane's string-of-consciousness riffs are jaw dropping.

"You know, anybody can play a composition and use far-out chords and make it sound wrong," Monk remarked a few years later. "It's making it right that's not easy."

Beautifully said, and the right righteousness of the playing on Thelonius Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall is a stunning testament to that notion.

The Devil's Dictionary III

Here's a third entry from Ambrose Bierce’s “The Devil’s Dictionary.”

If you missed my earlier posts, Bierce (1842-1914) was a brilliant but underappreciated American author and journalist who had a long and tumultuous releationship with press baron William Randolph Hearst, and was a misanthrope possibly without peer.
Noun. A creature, variously fashioned and endowed, that formerly inhabited the meadows and forests. It was nocturnal in its habits, and somewhat addicted to dancing and the theft of children. The fairies are now believed by naturalists to be extinct, though a clergyman of the Church of England saw three near Colchester as lately as 1855, while passing through a park after dining with the lord of the manor. The sight greatly staggered him, and he was so affected that his account of it was incoherent. In the year 1807 a troop of fairies visited a wood near Aix and carried off the daughter of a peasant, who had been seen to enter it with a bundle of clothing. The son of a wealthy bourgeois disappeared about the same time, but afterward returned. He had seen the abduction and been in pursuit of the fairies. Justinian Gaux, a writer of the fourteenth century, avers that so great is the fairies' power of transformation that he saw one change itself into two opposing armies and fight a battle with great slaughter, and that the next day, after it had resumed its original shape and gone away, there were seven hundred bodies of the slain which the villagers had to bury. He does not say if any of the wounded recovered. In the time of Henry III, of England, a law was made which prescribed the death penalty for "Kyllynge, wowndynge, or mamynge" a fairy, and it was universally respected.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Best Holiday Wishes From Kiko's House

Kiko's House will be dark for a couple of days while I celebrate the holiday with family and other loved ones.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with "The Old Printing Office," another lovely work by John DePol, who was the preeminent American practitioner of wood engraving before his passing last year.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Quote du Jour

Former Democratic Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota:

In the face of mounting questions about news stories saying that President Bush approved a program to wiretap American citizens without getting warrants, the White House argues that Congress granted it authority for such surveillance in the 2001 legislation authorizing the use of force against al Qaeda . . .

As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel's office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.

The Year of the Pushback

Students of American political history like myself (hey, I reread the “Federalist Papers” last year) know that sooner or later every president has a showdown with Congress over the extent of his powers.

In the case of President Bush, “later” is the operative word, but it finally began to happen this year. Several examples:

* The refusal of the Senate this week to approve a four-year extension of the USA Patriot Act.

* The refusal of Congress to consider the president’s plan to “reform” Social Security.

* A rebuff of the president on stem cell research

* A rebuff on making his first-term tax cuts permanent.

* Forcing the president to accept tighter restrictions on the treatment of terror detainees.

* Forcing him to rewrite his immigration reform plan.

The Washington Post notes that:

What is most striking is that the pushback is coming not just from Democrats and moderate Republicans, who often disagree with Bush, but also from mainstream conservatives.

The year's events, say some legislators and scholars, reflect more than just a change in the president's legislative scorecard. They suggest Bush may have reached the outer limits of a long-term project to reshape the powers of the presidency. This effort was underway even before the military intervention in Iraq and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks contributed to a traditional wartime flow of authority to the executive branch.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush has been especially aggressive in the area of domestic surveillance. This month's revelations about the administration's use of the highly secret National Security Agency to monitor some domestic communications without judicial review has whetted a new -- and critics say overdue -- appetite for congressional oversight . . .

Power among three branches of government always ebbs and flows, and it is possible Bush will regain dominance.

But several factors are working against him as he heads into the final three years of his presidency without obvious momentum. Many of the priorities he laid out at the start of the year, such as revamping Social Security, went nowhere. Bush has yet to highlight a new agenda, though White House aides say he will do that in the new year.

Bush's task, however, is complicated by the fraying of reins that he and GOP congressional leaders jointly used to keep control of Washington's agenda. A leadership crisis in the House -- prompted by the indictment of former majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) on charges of campaign finance violations -- has made it harder to enforce loyalty from rank-and-file Republicans. In the unwieldy Senate, meanwhile, party discipline remains difficult even though Republicans hold 55 of the 100 seats -- as was proved this week when the leadership had to yield on an Alaska oil-drilling proposal and the Patriot Act extension.

As important, Bush cannot run again, and the closer lawmakers get to the next congressional elections, the more inclined they are to oppose him if it helps them at home.

Laddys and Gentlemen

From the delightful Guardian Newsblog:
As the first gay “marriages” in England and Wales took place yesterday, there was much debate about how to refer to the partners in a civil partnership, writes David Batty.

The case of Sir Elton John, who “married” David Furnish yesterday, has - unsurprisingly - attracted the most comment.

The Evening Standard, predictably, opted for “Rocket Man . . . and wife” in its story on the happy couple, while other tabloids referred to them as bride and groom (though failing to agree which was which).

Charles Mosely, the editor in chief of Debrett’s, the guide to the aristocracy, wondered whether Mr Furnish might gain a title or whether same-sex partners would miss out on this “honour”, as the husbands of women made baronesses already do.

He told the BBC’s Today programme that one solution might be to make him a “laddy” rather than lady.

A Real Loser

This just in: The redoubtably slimy Ahmed Chalabi got crushed in the recent Iraqi election.

Chalabi, a one-time neocon darling, was the most vocal and well funded exiled Iraqi politician in the run-up to the invasion and shamelessly called himself “the liberator” of Baghdad. But his reputation is in the toilet because of a series of damaging revelations about his behind-the-scenes conduct and the annoying habit of his U.S.-funded Iraqi National Congress to work at cross purposes with the Bush administration.

How badly did Chalabi get beaten?

Of almost 2.5 million voters in Baghdad, only 8,645 voted for him, while he did equally poorly elsewhere in Iraq.

For his part, Chalabi says he was robbed because the election results were cooked. This again puts him at odds with the White House, which hailed the vote as an historic step for democracy in Iraq.

The Kiko's House Book Club

Do you love to read books as much as I do? Probably not, because I'm a reading fanatic (as opposed to being a bibliophile, someone who fancies books for their own sake).

But if you do crack the occasional tome somewhere other than the bathroom and even read it to the very last page, then you should join the Kiko's House Book Club.

An eclectic cast of characters stop by Kiko's House. I don't know the vast majority of you by name, but I do know that you hail from some 25 countries at last count (*), so the range of your reading tastes is bound to broad.

Here's how the Kiko's House Book Club works:

Whenever you read a good book or may have read one in the past that you'd recommend to your fellow visitors, e-mail me at

Include in the body of the e-mail the book's title, author and type (fiction, nonfiction, bio, advice, etc.) and a few words about why you enjoyed and would recommend it. Please identify yourself by name and country, but if you prefer to be an Anonymoose, that's quite all right.

I'm a huge believer in an endangered species known as the librarysaurus. In fact, my place of gainful employment is a subspecies known as a librarysaurus gigantus that has nearly 3 million open stacks books and another 200,000 or so in the rare book and manuscript unit where I toil. I'll run your book recommendations through a marvelous database called WorldCat, which will give visitors to Kiko's House some idea of how widely available the recommended books are at libraries around the world.

Finally, I'll post your recommendations from time to time.

By the by, my favorite book recommendation came from Albert Einstein, who besides being the patron saint of Kiko's House, famously remarked that:

This paperback is very interesting, but I find it will never place a hardcover book -- it makes a very poor doorstop.

(*) The countries are: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Finland, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States and Venezuela.

Dick's Picks

Kiko's House has been unrelentingly negative when it comes to Vice President Cheney. (I've also pretty much consistently misspelled his name up until now.) But there's hope yet for the Bush administration's Death Star because it turns out that he's got pretty good taste in music.

A hat tip to Will Bunch at Attytood, the Philadelphia Daily News weblog, for enlightening me on what songs Cheney had loaded on his iPod during a recent Asian trip.

Writes Will:
Wow -- we never thought we'd see the words "Cheney" and "iPod" in the same sentence, unless it somehow contained the word "ban." That sparked our curiosity, and we did some snooping around. We don't want to compromise our intelligence gathering methods, but we did find this recent "random 10" from the vice president. Some surprising stuff!
The King of Pain (The Police)
Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler)
Hey Joe (The Seeds)
I Can't Drive 55 (Sammy Hagar)
(I've Got) The Power (Snap)
Sharp Dressed Man (ZZ Top)
Cover You in Oil (AC/DC)
King for a Day (Green Day)
Liar, Liar (The Castaways)
Don't Worry About the Government (Talking Heads)

Frankly, we wonder how that last one slipped in there. Anybody else know of some "Classic Dick" that we left off the list?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Follow Up: Still More Proverbial Hits the Fan

Another shockwave as a result of President Bush's directive allowing the National Security Agency to bypass a secret court and spy on Americans: Several members of the court -- the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court -- are said to be hopping mad and want to know why the president believed that eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mails without their authorization was legal.

I've been wondering the same thing myself.

Anyhow, several media outlets are reporting that Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelley has told fellow FISC members that she plans to convene a pow-wow in Washington next month where she expects the White House to give a briefing on the NSA program.

One FISC judge is said to be so pissed off that he is suggesting that the court be disbanded since the president believes he has the power to bypass it. Asked the judge:

Why do we even exist if the Bush administration claims absolute wartime power to do anything it wants without our approval?

Why indeed?

Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online editor at large, makes a strong argument for justifying the secret directive but said the administration then should have made sure that it passed legal muster:

From what we know, it sounds like the initial decision to be as aggressive as possible in rolling up al Qaeda was completely justified. Recall what it was like in the weeks and months after 9/11, when the death toll was still believed to be much higher than 3,000, anthrax was buzzing through the postal system, and an unknown number of sleeper cells existed on our soil . . .Speed was of the essence, and the system back then was not speedy.

. . . There's very little an American president can't do when there's an immediate crisis. But as it became clear this war was going to be a marathon instead of a sprint, Bush should have figured out how to reinsert the rule of law into the process.

Department of Homeland Insecurity

If you, like me, think that the Department of Homeland Security has been pretty much an unmitigated disaster from the jump, then you can give yourself a big pat on the back after reading the openingly salvo of a multi-part series on DHS in today's Washington Post.

The link to the article is too long to fit into Kiko's House, which after all is but a wee bungalow. But you can access the Post's home page and then the article itself through the following link once you've subjected yourself to an annoying registration process:

Honor After the Fall

Who says the mainstream media doesn't care about the troops in Iraq?

Time magazine has teamed up with the Rocky Mountain News for a moving photo essay called "Honor After the Fall."

Check it out at:

Quote du Jour

From the Wall Street Journal:
President Bush's claim that he has a legal right to eavesdrop on some U.S. citizens without court approval has widened an ideological gap within his party.

On one side is the national-security camp, made even more numerous by loyalty to a wartime president. On the other are the small-government civil libertarians who have long held a privileged place within the Republican Party but whose ranks have ebbed since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The surveillance furor, at least among some conservatives, also has heightened worries that the party is straying from many of its core principles the longer it remains in control of both the White House and Congress.

Dirty Tricks For a Dirty Bomber

Using the 9/11 attacks as a baseline, the Bush administration has had over four years to figure out how to incarcerate and try terrorists under a regime of laws and procedures -- many of them enacted after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon -- that give it extraordinary latitude.

For all of its chest thumping about successes in the War on Terror, the White House continues to stumble over and over and over – and over again – in dealing with people it has charged with being terrorists.

The sad truth is that there are hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, in navy brigs and secret prisons around the globe, but the administration has a mere handful of prosecutions to show for its bravado.

So it was only somewhat surprising when the U.S. Appeals Court for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., delivered a sharp rebuke to the administration yesterday in refusing to allow the transfer of Jose Padilla from military custody to civilian custody.

In denying the transfer, the three-judge panel stated, in so many words, that the Justice Department's effort to transfer Padilla stunk on ice. More specifically, they said it appeared that the government was trying to manipulate the court system to prevent the Supreme Court from having an opportunity to review the case.

The judges also warned, as have other judges in other terrorism cases, that the administration's extra-legal behavior could jeopardize its credibility before the courts.

Two key paragraphs from their unanimous ruling:

[The Justice Department] has left the impression that the government may even have come to the belief that the principle in reliance upon which it has detained Padilla for this time, that the President possesses the authority to detain enemy combatants who enter into this country for the purpose of attacking America and its citizens from within, can, in the end, yield to expediency with little or no cost to its conduct of the war against terror — an impression we would have thought the government likewise could ill afford to leave extant.

And these impressions have been left, we fear, at what may ultimately prove to be substantial cost to the government’s credibility before the courts, to whom it will one day need to argue again in support of a principle of assertedly like importance and necessity to the one that it seems to abandon today. While there could be an objective that could command such a price as all of this, it is difficult to imagine what that objective would be.

You'll recall that Padilla is a former Chicago gang member who converted to Islam and was portrayed as the mastermind of a plot to explode a radioactive "dirty bomb" in an unidentified U.S. city when he was arrested with great fanfare in May 2002. You probably didn't know that that sensational charge was dropped, and he is now charged with fighting against American forces alongside Al Qaeda soldiers in Afghanistan -- a serious crime for an American citizen, if true, but a big comedown from the original rap.

The New York Times explained why the ruling was such strong stuff:

What made the action . . . so startling, lawyers and others said, was that it came from a panel of judges who in September had provided the administration with a sweeping court victory, saying President Bush had the authority to detain Mr. Padilla . . . indefinitely without trial as an enemy combatant.

But the judges were clearly angered when the administration suddenly shifted course on Nov. 22, saying it no longer needed that authority because it now wanted to try Mr. Padilla in a civilian court. The move came just days before the government was to file legal papers in Mr. Padilla's appeal to the Supreme Court. The government said that as a result of the shift, the court no longer needed to take up the case. Many legal analysts speculated at the time that the administration's sudden change in approach was an effort to avoid Supreme Court review of the Fourth Circuit ruling.

Given the appeals court's September decision, the latest ruling is less a victory for civil libertarians than a poke in the eye for an administration that has cynically changed legal arguments to suit its needs in the Padilla case and other terrorist prosecutions, including that of the so-called 20th 9/11 terrorist -- Zacarias Moussaoui, who is likely to go to trial around the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks at the excruciatingly slow rate that his case is proceeding.

Why did the Justice Department want to avoid a high court review? Because it feared that the Supremes might not be as accomodating the Fourth Circuit had been.

And before red state-red meat types get exercised over a bunch of running dog liberal activist judges kneecapping the administration, it should be noted that the Fourth Circuit is a seriously conservative court.

In fact, the rebuke to the administration in the Padilla case was delivered by Judge J. Michael Luttig, a conservative darling and leading candidate for the Supreme Court vacancies that President Bush filled last fall. It seems that even conservative judges don't like being diddled by conservative administrations.

So why is the administration's record of post-9/11 terrorist prosecutions so freaking lousy?

The Bush presidency like to present itself as being a pillar of strict constructionism because that plays well in the conservative circles peopled by the Michael Luttigs of the world. Nevertheless, a hallmark of that concept -- fealty to the "rule of law" -- remains a troublingly elusive concept in how it responds to the major challenges on its watch.

The administration's belief that it is above the law and therefore not beholden to it is currently on view in the hubbub over the secret National Security Agency spying directive. But when one looks at the longish sweep of the Bush presidency, the consequences of its repeated failure to hew to the rule of law is nowhere more evident than in the mess it has made of prosecuting terrorists -- rather incredibly even though the laws are well stacked in its favor.

Guest Blog: The Shaky Isles (Or, Did the Earth Move For You Too, Darling?)

Country Bumpkin reports in from New Zealand on the weird and the wet:
Erudite readers of Kiko's House will know of the Ig Nobel Prizes awarded annually at Harvard University. They commemorate unusually useless scientific research and other human endeavour, such as the study by Drs Chittaranjan Andrade and B.S. Srihari into the phenomenon of rhinotillexomania in a sample of 200 adolescents from 4 urban schools.

Rhinotillexomania is a term "used to describe compulsive nose picking" say the authors of the study, and they were deservedly awarded an Ig Nobel for their ground-breaking work.

It is in that fine tradition that I want to report to you today.

It is almost exactly a year since the Indian Ocean tsunami, and New Zealand lies on the fault in the earth's crust between the Pacific Plate and the Indian Plate. Earthquakes are common here, and occasionally severe (as in 1848, 1855 and 1931) so that Australians, may they be struck by lightning, like to call these islands the Shaky Isles.

Tsunamis have historically been common too, though curiously these have usually originated to the east in the direction of South America, and have not during times of human occupation been very severe. Nevertheless, some east coast communities ‹ only an hour's drive from this very spot ‹ have little signs on the beach front warning us to watch out for tsunamis. Which, being responsible citizens, we do.

And once the events of December 2004 had occurred and their scale had sunk in, nothing would do but that we needed to have a study of what might happen here if the earth really moved.

Now we learn that if we are in eastern towns like Gisborne, or Napier or at the beach, then maybe once every 500 years or so we could be hit by tsunamis ranging in height from 11.6 metres to 6.4 metres. If Gisborne suffered an 11.6 metre tsunami at night with no warning, then it "... would kill 2100 people, injure 4800 and destroy property worth $2.3 billion.

One assumes of course that these dollar values are at present prices without any allowance for 500 years of inflation. And we are given no clue to what would happen if the tsunami was 11.7 metres high.

All this heavy sarcasm will convey that I think this kind of research is a crock. Who, for heaven's sake, gives a toss what would happen if this calamity struck while they were in bed asleep? Who, for heaven's sake, is going to lie awake worrying about it? But you do have to concede that some very clever people were paid good money for this result, and that means they have been able to go out to buy Christmas presents for their children, which means the shopkeepers can go out for a round of golf over the holidays...

Put up more little signs, I'd say. That ought to do it.

Guest Blog: What's a President to Do?

Country Bumpkin reports in from New Zealand on the hubbub over President Bush's secret directive:

Just so we don't expend all our energy on one side of the outrage, here is an editorial from New Zealand's Christchurch Press. The awkward question, after all, is this: In times like these, what's a President to do? Another 9/11 would lead to charges of not doing enough to prevent it. That's long been said about 9/11 number 1.

So? What?

It's one thing to be outraged about telephone tapping. It's another to suggest a workable policy. But someone has to.

The entire editorial can be found at:

Meanwhile, here’s an abridged version:


When the New York Times last week revealed that President George W. Bush had secretly authorised a United States spy agency to intercept communications between US citizens in America and suspected al-Qaeda terrorists, the news looked bad . . .

. . . The spying has been done by the National Security Agency, a highly clandestine electronic surveillance outfit. It has a larger budget than the CIA but its work is so hidden that it was once said that its initials stood for No Such Agency. Generally it is not supposed to spy on US citizens within the United States without a court order. Domestic intelligence-gathering is normally the responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other police bodies but after September 11, Bush authorised the NSA to intercept and act on communications between terrorist suspects abroad and potential collaborators within the United States . . .

. . . According to the administration, the interceptions have led directly to the capture of terrorists and the prevention of attacks. The President claimed the power to order the surveillance under the US Constitution and congressional resolutions, which he argued was not limited by the statute his critics alleged he had violated. He pointed out that it was rigorously scrutinised by Justice Department lawyers to assess its legality beforehand and that senior congressional figures, both Republican and Democrat, had been consulted at least a dozen times in the four years the scheme had been running. Further, two judges of the special court that authorises such spying also knew about it.

A factor in the President's favour with public opinion on the matter is the fact that the programme was, as one administration figure put it, "probably the most classified programme that exists in the United States Government". Americans are understandably sensitive about anything that might compromise their security and are inclined to give the President the benefit of any doubt in dealing with it. Bush played on this at a press conference when he said that while he agreed with the need to defend Americans' civil liberties, he was also sworn to protect the US from attack. Although nothing official has been announced, it is likely that the Justice Department has already begun an investigation to find out who leaked the information about the surveillance.

The President is, in any event, enjoying an upswing in support. Having been as low as 39 per cent in opinion polls measuring his approval rating, Bush is now back near 50. An exceptionally vigorous economy and low unemployment, a relatively peaceful election in Iraq giving the promise that the country may be on course to sufficient stability to enable the US to withdraw some of its troops there, and an effective public-relations campaign to boost the President's standing have all combined to make the impact of the spying allegations less than they might otherwise have been. American voters also recognise that many of those making the most noise about the issue are senators and representatives who are facing re-election next year and others with their eyes on the presidency in 2008. Thirty years ago, Richard Nixon unscrupulously used police agencies to spy illegally on his political enemies. But these are different times and attempts to portray Bush as a latter-day Nixon are much less likely to succeed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Back Story

A back story is the story behind the story, but precious little back story has made it into print regarding The New York Times’ Dec. 19 blockbuster on President Bush’s secret directive authorizing the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program, let alone why the piece was held for more than a year.

All things considered, New York Observer writer Gabriel Sherman does a decent job of piecing together what is known. Here’s a link:

Quote du Jour

The Belmont Club’s Wretchard on Iraqi elections:

This was one of the first elections of its type in that part of the world, and it's likely, in my opinion, that there were problems in the voting and the counting. The US will be probably be relied upon by all parties, to keep the level of cheating down to where results are acceptable. That probably means that the vote count itself will only be one source of input in a hybrid system that will eventually be (in my view) be a negotiated electoral result. The balance will be correct when nobody rushes out to restart hostilities. That means it's acceptable.

The Rats Leave the Sinking GOP Ship

I’ve avoided blogging about the ongoing Republican corruption scandal for a couple of reasons: I thought that the Democrats, in their own time, have been just as corrupt, and I knew that if I waited long enough the rats would begin leaving the sinking GOP ship.

Well, events in Washington and elsewhere now compel me to blog on.

First, the breadth and depth of the Republican scandal has become so huge that I must acknowledge that nothing the Democrats have done in the past can compare.

And second and as predicted, the rats are jumping ship with several mid-level players already agreeing to turn state’s evidence.

The biggest rat of all is Jack Abramoff, the indicted Republican super lobbyist, who has been discussing a plea bargain with prosecutors. Jackie Boy would get a reduced sentence in exchange for sharing his extensive knowledge of the web of GOP corruption.

Translation: If a deal can be cut, Abramoff will deliver several Republican lawmakers on a silver platter, including former House Majority Leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay of Texas and Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio.

I predicted a while back (when Kiko’s House was still called Web Blatherings) that either Abramoff or DeLay, or possibly both, would watch the next presidential inauguration from the TV room of a federal penitentiary. It’s lookin’ good for that.

A footnote: Washington has to be the biggest small town in America. Abramoff’s lead defense lawyer is Abbe Lowell, who defended President Clinton during Special Prosecutor Ken Starr’s probe of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Are You Sleeping Better at Night?

While the National Security Agency has been busy spying on Americans, the FBI has doing its part in the War on Terror, too.

The Washington Post, New York Times and NBC News report that FBI counterterrorism investigators are monitoring U.S. advocacy groups that would seem to have tangential or no connection to Al Qaeda and other Islamic fundamentalist terror groups.

The American Civil Liberties Union contends in a lawsuit against the FBI that the agency and government Joint Terrorism Task Forces have expanded the definition of domestic terrorism to people who engage in mainstream political activity, including nonviolent protest and civil disobedience.

They include:

* People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

* Greenpeace, the militant environmental group.

* The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

* The Catholic Workers civil rights group, which works with the homeless.

* The Vegan Community Project. (I’m not making this up.)

* Anti-Iraq war demonstrators.

* And the ACLU itself.

New York City Transit Strike

Steve Gilliard is all over that big, messy and contentious New York City transit strike at The News Blog.

If you side with Mayor Bloomberg on this one, you'll probably want to stay away. If not, here's a link:

It's All About Power

Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly has been out ahead of the pack on a very important issue that goes to the heart of the debate over President Bush’s secret directive to allow the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Americans without any oversight -- presidential powers in times of war and peace and the in-between time in which we seem to be living today.

I thought it was well worth posting Drum’s latest essay in its entirety:

Do President Bush's inherent constitutional powers as commander-in-chief give him the authority to override federal law and approve domestic spying by the NSA? That's certainly the justification he provided at Monday’s press conference:

“Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely. As I mentioned in my remarks, the legal authority is derived from the Constitution, as well as the authorization of force by the United States Congress.”

Bill Kristol and Gary Schmitt support this assessment in the Washington Post today, and they've been joined by a small army of other commentators.

Of course, their argument is not that the president has the inherent power to authorize domestic surveillance anytime he wants, only that he has that power during wartime. And as near as I can tell, that's the elephant in the room that no one is really very anxious to discuss: What is "wartime"? Is George Bush really a "wartime president," as he's so fond of calling himself? Conservatives take it for granted that he is, while liberals tend to avoid the subject entirely for fear of being thought unserious about the War on Terror. But it's something that ought be brought up and discussed openly.

Consider a different war, for example. It's safe to say that whatever Bush's NSA program actually involves, no one would have batted an eyelash if FDR had approved a similar program during World War II. Experience suggests that during a period of genuine, all-out war, few people complain when a president pushes the boundaries of the law based on military necessity. But aside from World War II, what else counts as wartime?

If you count only serious hot wars, the United States has been at war for over 20 of the 65 years since 1940. That's a lot of "wartime."

However, if you count the Cold War, as conservatives generally think we should, the tally shoots up to about 50 years of war. That means the United States has been almost continuously at war during the past 65 years — and given the nature of the War on Terror, we'll continue to be at war for the next several decades.

If this is how we define "wartime," it means that in the century from 1940 to 2040 the president will have had emergency wartime powers for virtually the entire time. But does that make sense? Is anyone really comfortable with the idea that three decades from now the president of the United States will have had wartime executive powers for nearly a continuous century?

Somehow we need to come to grips with this. There's "wartime" and then there's "wartime," and not all armed conflicts vest the president with emergency powers. George Bush may have the best intentions in the world — and in this case he probably did have the best intentions in the world — but that still doesn't mean he has the kind of plenary power Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt exercised during their wars.

During a genuine emergency, the president's powers are at their most expansive. The rest of the time they're more restricted, whether he considers himself a wartime president or not. Right now, if George Bush needs or wants greater authority than he currently has, he should ask Congress to give it to him — after all, they approve black programs all the time and are fully capable of holding closed hearings to debate sensitive national security issues. It's worth remembering that "regulation of the land and naval forces" is a power the constitution gives to Congress, and both Congress and the president ought to start taking that a little more seriously.

UPDATE: I haven't read all the comments, but a couple of emails have persuaded me that part of this post was sloppily worded. To make myself clear, then: although Presidents have increased authority during wartime, both in theory and in practice, that authority doesn't extend to deliberately violating acts of Congress. The president is required to obey the law during both war and peace. I've modified the post slightly to make that clearer.

Follow Up: More Proverbial Hits the Fan

A federal judge has resigned from the secret court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush's secret directive to allow the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Americans without any oversight.

The Washington Post reported today that U.S. District Judge James Robertson, a member of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, sent a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. late Monday notifying him of his resignation. Robertson did not provide an explanation, but has been critical of Bush in the past.

The Post said that two associates familiar with his decision say that Robertson privately expressed deep concern that the warrantless surveillance program secretly authorized by the president in 2002 was legally questionable and may have tainted the court's work.

Robertson, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Clinton in 1994 and was later selected by then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist to serve on the FISC, declined to comment.


* Horror of horrors, President Bush is mixing apples and oranges when he says the New York Times story on his secret directive was giving aid and comfort to the enemy. He cited a “late 1990s” story on Osama bin Laden’s telephone habits as being similarly egregious.

Not so fast there, Mr. President.

On its face, the Aug. 21, 1998, story stating that OBL used a satellite phone in the conservative Washington Times two weeks after the Al Qaeda-led American embassy bombings in Africa and the day after President Clinton ordered missile strikes in Afghanistan and the Sudan, was indeed damaging. OBL stopped using the phone after the story appeared.

As former National Security Council staffed Daniel Benjamin writes in Slate today:

If there was one piece of intelligence in the file on Bin Laden that might have spelled the difference between 9/11 happening or not, the satellite phone was it. When Osama hung up for the last time, the United States lost its best chance of finding him and, perhaps, preventing the deaths of 3,000 people.

How would OBL have been found? Here's a hint: Two years earlier, the Russians had taken out a Chechen insurgent leader with a missile that homed in his satellite phone signal.

On its face, the Dec. 16 story in the liberal New York Times on the spying directive was not damaging to anything but Bush’s dwindling political capital. It is widely known that the NSA uses surveillance intercepts hither and yond. What was not known was that the president had approved their use on Americans without the messy inconvenience of having to go through channels.

* You have to figure that Vice President Cheyney has little to lose at this juncture.

The administration's Death Star has weighed in on the secret directive and candidly acknowledges that it is part of a broader effort (for which he can take ample credit) to reassert presidential powers that he said had been "dangerously" eroded after the Vietnam War and Watergate. (See also the post above this one, "It's All About Power.")

Said the veep:
I believe in a strong, robust executive authority, and I think that the world we live in demands it. . . . You know, it's not an accident that we haven't been hit in four years.

I winced when I read that last line, which seems to be inviting the kind of trouble that sooner or later will again be visited upon the U.S.

* The NSA surveillance program has intercepted domestic communications despite a requirement that one end of intercepted conversations take place on foreign soil, according to a story in today's New York Times.

Officials say that the NSA's interception of a small number of communications between people within the United States was apparently accidental, and was caused by technical glitches.

The Times reports that:

Telecom experts say there are troubling logistical questions about the program. At a time when communications networks are increasingly globalized, it is sometimes difficult even for the NSA to determine whether someone is inside or outside the United States when making a cellphone call or sending an e-mail message. As a result, people that the security agency may think are outside the United States are actually on American soil.

* Some much needed perspective from David Ignatius in today's Washington Post:

The national security structure that the Bush administration created after Sept. 11, 2001, began to crumble this month because of a bipartisan revolt on Capitol Hill. Newly emboldened legislators forced the administration to accept new rules for the interrogation of prisoners, delayed renewal of the Patriot Act and demanded an investigation of warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency.

President Bush has bristled at these challenges to his authority over what has amounted to an undeclared national state of emergency. But the intelligence professionals who have daily responsibility for waging the war against terrorism don't seem particularly surprised or unhappy to see the emergency structure in trouble. They want clear rules and public support that will allow them to do their jobs effectively over the long haul, without getting second-guessed or jerked around by politicians. Basically, they don't want to be left holding the bag -- which this nation has too often done with its professional military and intelligence officers.

* And a counter argument, of a sort, from U.S. District Judge Richard Posner, also in today’s Post:

We've learned that the Defense Department is deeply involved in domestic intelligence (intelligence concerning threats to national security that unfold on U.S. soil). The department's National Security Agency has been conducting, outside the framework of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens within the United States. Other Pentagon agencies, notably the one known as Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), have, as described in Walter Pincus's recent articles in The Post, been conducting domestic intelligence on a large scale. Although the CIFA's formal mission is to prevent attacks on military installations in the United States, the scale of its activities suggests a broader concern with domestic security. Other Pentagon agencies have gotten into the domestic intelligence act, such as the Information Dominance Center, which developed the Able Danger data-mining program.

These programs are criticized as grave threats to civil liberties. They are not. Their significance is in flagging the existence of gaps in our defenses against terrorism. The Defense Department is rushing to fill those gaps, though there may be better ways.

Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep

One of the most fascinating aspects of archaeology is toppling old assumptions.

That is exactly what has happened regarding some famously mysterious wall art in the necropolis of Saqqara near the Sphinx and great pyramids at Giza in Egypt.

Discovered in 1964, the images seem to show two men embracing. Their names – Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep -- are inscribed above the images. No strangers to archaeologists, the men were the chief manicurists of a king who ruled from 2380 to 2320 B.C. during the fifth dynasty of the Old Kingdom.

It was extremely rare for an elite tomb to be shared by two men of apparently equal standing. What’s more, in other scenes they are shown holding hands and nose-kissing, the preferred form of kissing in ancient Egypt.

So what to make of all of this?

There are two prevailing interpretations:

* The men were brothers and perhaps identical twins.

* The men were homosexuals, a view that has gained support among gay advocates.

Now comes David O’Connor, a New York University Egyptologist, to topple those assumptions.

It’s really very simple, he says:
My suggestion is that Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were indeed twins, but of a very special sort. They were conjoined twins, and it was this physical perculiarity that prompted many depictions of them hand-holding or embracing in their tomb-chapel.

Neologists Untie! er, Unite!

A hat tip to Country Bumpkin for sharing the The Washington Post's winning submissions to its yearly contest in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

The winners are:
1. coffee (n.): The person upon whom one coughs.

2. flabbergasted (adj.): Appalled over how much weight you have gained.

3. abdicate (v.): To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. esplanade (v.): To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. willy-nilly (adj.): Impotent.

6. negligent (adj.): Describes a condition in which you absent-mindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

7. lymph (v.): To walk with a lisp.

8. gargoyle (n.): Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. flatulence (n.): Emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

10. balderdash (n.): A rapidly receding hairline.

11. testicle (n.): A humorous question on an exam.

12. rectitude (n.): The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. pokemon (n): A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. oyster (n.): A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism (n.): (Back by popular demand.) The belief that, when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. circumvent (n.): An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.
The Post also once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

The winners are:
1. bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

2. foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

3. cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

4. giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

5. sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

6. inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

7. hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.

8. osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease.

9. karmageddon (n): It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

10. decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

11. glibido (v): All talk and no action.

12. dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

13. arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

14. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

15. caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.
And the pick of the literature:
16. ignoranus (n): A person who's both stupid and an a--hole.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Quote du Jour

Brendan Miniter on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page today regarding what he sees as an impasse in the War on Terror:

The real danger here is that such debates [over terrorism-related legislation] will exhaust all of us, sapping the energy we need to fight a long and broad-based war. Heretofore Muslim extremists have been somewhat haphazard in their operations and seemingly conduct their attacks in an ad hoc fashion. A bombing campaign that includes targets in Bali, Kenya, Pakistan, Spain, Tanzania and Yemen, among other places, in the space of just a few years seems more random and desperate than focused and disciplined.

Al Qaeda isn't the Soviet Union, so it's tempting to assume that the West isn't now facing a coherent, though evil, ideology with broad appeal. But that will be a safe assumption only if Mr. Bush and his successors are allowed to win this war. For the next few years, perhaps even a couple of decades, the U.S. has an opportunity to ensure that terrorists will remain on the fringe of society. That opportunity will be lost, however, if the Muslim world is left to languish under the thumb of dictators who, in part, are kept in power with Western money. If millions of Muslims are locked out of the modern world, it is only a matter of time before there is a popular revolt against modernity. Osama bin Laden is the tip of that spear, and he once hoped to lead that revolt across international borders.

This war will not last forever, and it is a war we are winning by spreading our ideas while confronting terrorists where we find them. Elections in Afghanistan and Iraq are milestones along the path to the modern world for 50 million Muslims. As they leave behind their oppression, we gain a bulwark against the ideology of terror. Self-doubt now is self-defeating.

Follow Up: The Proverbial Hits the Fan

The “I” word -- as in impeachment -- is being uttered in serious terms for the first time in the Bush presidency.

No, Dubya didn’t lie about something as grave as having sex with an intern. It merely has to do with his secret directive to allow the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Americans without any oversight. (See my “The Chicken Little Presidency” post of Dec. 18 for the background.)

Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, became the first major House figure to suggest impeaching Bush, while Sen. Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat, excoriated the president for his

Renegade assaults on the Constitution and our system of laws [which] strike at the very core of our values and foster a sense of mistrust and apprehension about the reach of government.
Added Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire, who was one of six Republicans to join Democrats last week in blocking approval of a new USA Patriot Act until some nasty little details in the House version of the legislation (included several pertaining to wiretapping and other forms of surveillance) can be ironed out or eliminated:
If you’re willing to give up your basic liberties in order to have temporary security, then you deserve neither liberty nor security.
(If that sounds familiar, it’s because Benjamin Franklin said something very similar 250 years ago.)

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, who is no Bush fan, opines that he is

[T]he first American president to admit to an impeachable offense.

Yes, the attacks come from predictable quarters, for the most part, and pigs will fly before Bush is impeached. But the seriousness of his transgression is not to be underestimated, or as the president himself might say, misunderestimated.


Despite administration protestations that the NSA is only spying on suspected terrorists, my educated guess is that the NSA is spying on all Americans – which is really, really bad in the most Orwellian sense -- and that fact will come out sooner or later now that the media feeding frenzy is underway and congressional hearings are being scheduled.

Meanwhile, some related odds and ends:

* In a breathtaking display of his administration’s trademark hubris, Bush and two senior aides argued yesterday that the NSA program was okey-dokey because it grew out of the president's constitutional authority and a 2001 Congressional resolution that authorized him to use all necessary force against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

One aide, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, gave new meaning to the term "pretzel logic" by stating that Congress had authorized the president to go forward with such a surveillance program but the White House declined to seek explicit authorization because

We were advised that that was not likely to be -- that was not something we could likely get.

Let's take this out a little further: The post-9/11 congressional authorization was called the Authorization to Use Military Force. But as the name implies, it was meant to apply only to military force. That's how the Supreme Court read it when it agreed (by a narrow majority) that the authorization extended to enemy combatants.

The George Will of the Washington Post offers his usual cogent perspective:
On the assumption that Congress or a court would have been cooperative in September 2001, and that the cooperation could have kept necessary actions clearly lawful without conferring any benefit on the nation's enemies, the president's decision to authorize the NSA's surveillance without the complicity of a court or Congress was a mistake. Perhaps one caused by this administration's almost metabolic urge to keep Congress unnecessarily distant and hence disgruntled.

The administration's circumlocutions prompted this zinger in a Times editorial today:

Mr. Bush says Congress gave him the power to spy on Americans. Fine, then Congress can just take it back.

It makes one wonder what else is lurking out there that was "authorized"?

* There is speculation that the secret directive was a result of the NSA using a new covert search technology that you simply can’t get FISC-approved warrants for. (What the heck is FISC? See the post below this one for an explanation.)

Anyhow, the leading techno contender is a massive NSA global data mining project called Echelon, or something similar to it.

Notes Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly:
The problem is that Echelon has been around for a long time and no one has ever complained about it before — so whatever this new program is, it's something more than vanilla Echelon. What's more, it's something disturbing enough that a few weeks after 9/11 the administration apparently felt that even Republicans in Congress wouldn't approve of it. What kind of program is so intrusive that even Republicans, even with 9/11 still freshly in mind, wouldn't have supported it?
Others are suggesting reverse data mining. Under one such scenario, the protocols (such as email addresses, Web sites, common words used) in a laptop computer used by a captured Al Qaeda operative could be used to search millions of computers to look for similar protocols.

* Whatever the technology and its legality, the original Times story on the secret directive notes that it has resulted in some successes:
Several officials said the eavesdropping program had helped uncover a plot by Iyman Faris, an Ohio trucker and naturalized citizen who pleaded guilty in 2003 to supporting Al Qaeda by planning to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches. What appeared to be another Qaeda plot, involving fertilizer bomb attacks on British pubs and train stations, was exposed last year in part through the program, the officials said.
* The president summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office on Dec. 6 in a futile attempt to talk them out breaking the story, which was published three days later.

Newsweek cuts to the chase in noting that
Bush was desperate to keep The Times from running this important story – which the paper had inexplicably held for a year – because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker.
So why did The Times sit on the story for so long?

Keller’s explanation lends credence to the new covert search technology argument:
In the course of subsequent reporting we satisfied ourselves that we could write about this program — withholding a number of technical details — in a way that would not expose any intelligence-gathering methods or capabilities that are not already on the public record.
That explanation kind of works for me, although it does not erase my concern that The Times may have crossed the line into a journalistic no-man's land by revealing the existence of a super secret government program and therefore compromised it. I do know that the White House will be a heck of a lot more aggressive in going after the Times leaker than it was in the Wilson-Plame CIA leak case.

* Meanwhile, the editor of the Web site has been talking to current and former signals intelligence professions about the hubbub and says their reactions range "between mildly creeped out and completely pissed off."

But all of them, according to Noah Shachtman, emphasized that spying on Americans is way beyond the bounds of what they normally do no matter what conspiracy freaks may believe.

Says one pro:
It's drilled into you from day one that you should not ever, ever, ever under any f------ circumstances turn this massive apparatus on an American citizen. You do a lot of weird s---. But at least you don't f--- with your own people.