Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Many Flavors Of Judicial Activism: Repubs Take Kagan To The Woodshed

You can bet that this is the only post I will write about the bore-ass Elena Kagan confirmation hearings. Or not. The occasion is the inevitable Republican piling on because President Obama's Supreme Court nominee has spoken admiringly of Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked. Marshall was the first African-American justice and lead attorney in Brown vs. Board of Education, the legal straw that broke racial desegregation's back by demolishing the "separate but equal" doctrine.
The Repubs, led by Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, are in a faux lather because of their claim that Marshall was an "activist" justice, which for them is a no-no if you devoted your legal career to reconciling a deeply perverse racial policy that grew out of the ashes of Reconstruction with the Bill of Rights.
On the other hand, the majority of the conservative Roberts court is not activist in the eyes of the Repubs because it is merely enshrining the God-given rights of corporations by turning the Constitution on its head, my favorite example being a ruling that declared corporations to be individuals, albeit really big-headed ones, that have free speech guarantees when it comes to buying elections.
Then there are rulings that assert affirmative action is unconstitutional but not regulating firearms is. That age discrimination is a fig newton of the victims' imaginations. Or that the manufacturers of deadly drugs and medical devices can't be sued by the kin of the victims if the FDA approved their use.

Sessions is the perfect senator to be leading the charge because of his own checkered history: On track to possibly become a legal heavyweight himself, his nomination to the federal judiciary was sidetracked because of . . . uh, a pattern of racial
insensitivity.

That noted, unlike other pundits I stop short of calling the attacks on Marshall racist. But it is not surprise that yet again the GOP chooses someone like Marshall to zap someone like Kagan knowing full well that its overwhelmingly white voter base will approve.
Kagan will be confirmed and confirmed without a filibuster because the Repubs can't lay a finger on her despite their complaints that she has never served as a judge. Just like William Rehnquist and John and Marshall, to name but two of the many justices who did not. And by the way, Marshall was not an activist, merely a seeker of justice.

Cartoon du Jour

Ted Rall/Universal Press Syndicate

Buckingham Palace Downsized

Good to see the queen is taking
British austerity measures seriously.

Nicholas Hayek (1928-2010)

MORE HERE.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

INCOMING TIDE
(Northern California)
By Roman Loranc

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The BP Disaster: A Whale Of A Tale & Other Tarballs From The Gulf of Mexico


The latest outraged conservative talking point concerning the BP oil spill disaster is that President Obama has dragged his feet in dispatching the largest oil skimming ship in the world to the Gulf of Mexico.

The reality, of course, is rather different.

The ship in question is a Taiwanese-owned, Liberian flagged monster dubbed the "A-Whale." It stands 10 stories high, stretches 1,115 feet in length and with a 200-foot beam displaces more water than an aircraft carrier.

A-Whale's owner retrofitted the oil and iron ore transport in the wake of the BP spill with 12,16-foot-long intake vents on the sides of its bow designed to skim oil off surface waters and claims that it would float across the Gulf "like a lawn mower cutting the grass" and ingest up to 500,000 barrels of Deepwater Horizon oil-contaminated water a day.

So far so good, but there is a wee problem or two that has delayed engaging the A-Whale, which is en route to the Gulf: It's technology is untested at so huge a scale and the ship has yet to get Coast Guard approval.

The A-Whale kerfuffle is part of a large anti-Obama meme: That the president is refusing help from foreign nations.

The fact of the matter is that several foreign nations have sent ships and cleaning equipment to the Gulf. The offers that have been refused are for things of which there already is an abundance.

WHAT'S WITH THE GOVERNORS?
Obama was relatively quick to offer federal financial aid and to mobilize the National Guard in Gulf states to help with the cleanup, but the response of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has been uh . . ., peculiar, while the response of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbor has been uh . . . insane.

Jindal, who was one of several conservative Republican governors to refuse stimulus money last year and then quietly took it when no one was looking, vetoed a bill last week that would have required him to make public and to preserve all his office's documents involving the spill.

He claimed that the legislation would have hurt the state's position in future litigation against BP, but it sure smells like a cover-up in a deeply corrupt state that has regularly rolled over and let oil giants scratch its tummy since Jindal himself as demanded that BP release certain records.

Then there's Barbour, who has continued to insist that Mississippi's beaches are unaffected even as tar balls wash ashore and the Mississippi Sound turns a putrid orange.

This because there is no skimming -- none, zero, nada, zilch -- going on, while Barbour has only mobilized 58 of the 6,000 guardsmen available to him.

"The most important thing right now is the 2010 elections," presidential candidate wannabe Barbour said unashamedly. "We can’t wait until 2012 to take back our country."

LIKE A CANCER
David Helvarg, president of the Blue Frontier campaign:

"The metastasizing spill in the Gulf is like cancer and the activity 90 miles offshore at the source like a messy surgery. The millions of gallons of toxic dispersants are like chemo, the burn offs, radiation.

"No metaphor is perfect but when I hear Louisiana's treasurer repeat a common claim among locals that they are in a two-front war against BP's oil in the marshes and the president's moratorium on new deepwater drilling (overturned by a Louisiana judge) I think about my mother when she discovered she had lung cancer. First she went around the house tearing up her cigarette packs and cursing Chesterfields. Later she shrugged, went to the store and bought a new pack.

"It's unclear if America is really prepared to kick its addiction to the 16th and 19th century combustibles of coal and oil. They're clearly much more addictive than nicotine."

Cartoon du Jour

Jim Morin/Miami Herald

And We Claim To Be Civilized?

There is a certain "logic" to the Supreme Court ruling 5-4 that the Second Amendment's guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws. But it also further affirms that the U.S. is a gun-addicted, gun-sick society, and that is terribly sad.

Photograph by Jim MacMillan/Philadelphia Daily News

Dwight Armstrong (1951-2010)

MORE HERE.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

GREEN LAND
By Piotr

Monday, June 28, 2010

The GOP's Chicken-Counting Obsession

I have written early and often that the Republican Party counts it's mid-term election chickens before they hatch at its own peril. This did not take any great feat of prognostication on my part, only years of experience and an understanding of elementary demographics.

That experience tells me that the party out of power usually picks up seats in a mid-term election and GOP is likely to make small gains in the Senate and larger gains in the House come November, but the boastful prognostications of party bigs and their pundits-in-arms of sweeping pickups a la 1994 do not stand up to scrutiny.

Here's why:

* The party's base is growing older, grayer and even whiter at a time when it shows very little inclination of trying to broaden its appeal, a fundamental problem compounded by the fact that people who put their teeth in bedside water glasses before turning in are especially resistant to change to begin with.

* Party voices advocating change like David Frum, let alone hewing to a more traditional conservative philosophy like longtime Utah Senator Bob Bennett, who was thrashed in a primary election by an extreme right-winger, are being banished from the party temple.

* Party chairman Michael Steele may want to bring the party to a "hip-hop suburban audience," but he will fail twice over. Hip people, whether they are soccer moms or not, typically aren't Republicans, and the U.S. is trending back to urban from suburban. The party's hostility toward cities and their problems is legendary.

* D
espite the anti-incumbent fervor that the Tea Party has helped stoke, roughly 95 percent of all incumbents will be re-elected to Congress. Where the Tea Party is having an impact is in accelerating the destruction of the GOP by subsuming electoral appeal to raw ideology. These include attacks on unemployed Americans as being "lazy" and other wingnuttery that will not appeal to most voters.

One upshot of the GOP death wish is that Senate seats in Florida, Kentucky and Nevada that were safely Republican or expected to go Republican in November may end up Democratic.

Meanwhile, Republican Governor Rick Perry, seen as a shoo-in be re-elected Texas governor, is in the political fight of his life in part because the state party has endorsed an extreme right-wing platform that, among other things, would ban oral and anal sex and send to jail anyone who issues a same-sex marriage license.

How about them chickens?

* * * * *
Great minds think together, or something.

Political demographer Ruy Teixiera, who forecast the rise of the winning Obama coaltion, has written a lengthy piece (.pdf) far more scholarly than mine that explains much as I have as to why the GOP's long-term outlook is grim.


Illustration by Zena Saunders for the Utne Reader

Cartoon du Jour

Ted Rall/Universal Press Syndicate

Alcoholics Anonymous' Enduring Mystery

Alcoholics Anonymous has been in existence for 75 years and has been the road to sobriety for millions of Americans addicted to drink. AA's twelve-step program works, but no one really understands why, only that founder Bill Wilson created the steps by borrowing ideas from religion and philosophy, then turned them into a list infused with Bible-inspired scripture.

Our friend Brendan I. Koerner has written what has to be the definitive piece on AA and the enduring mystery that is at its core.

Photographs by Christian Stoll for Wired magazine

I Am Sure That This Is Important . . .


. . . but I have no idea why.

Clarence Wolf Guts (1924-2010)

MORE HERE.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

SIDNEY BECHET
(Paris -- 1952)
By Nat Farbman

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Science Sunday: 'I Ain't Superstitious, But A Black Cat Just Cross My Trail'

It's easy to dismiss superstitions as silly -- whether they involve black cats, broken mirrors, ladders, salt or knocking on wood -- but a scientist has found that they can improve performance in a variety of physical and mental tasks.

It all has to do with self confidence. In other words, boosting a person's faith in their own abilities and giving them the edge they need to excel, explains Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Yong outlines an experiment that Lysann Damisch of the University of Cologne
performed. She asked 51 students to complete a dexterity challenge: Get 36 ball bearings into a grid of 36 holes as quickly as possible by tilting the cube they sat in. If she told them to start by saying either "On 'go' you go" or "I press the watch for you," they took between 5 and 6 minutes to finish. But if she said "I press the thumb for you," which is the German equivalent of crossing one's fingers, they took around 3 minutes.

In another study, Jamisch asked 41 students to bring a lucky charm with them which she then took from them to photograph. In some cases, she brought the charm back and in others she left it in another room, citing problems with the camera. The students then completed a seemingly unrelated memory game where they had to match 18 pairs of face-down cards by turning over two at a time. The volunteers who had their lucky charms did much better than those who did not.

Before they started on the game, the recruits all completed a questionnaire. Their answers later revealed that those who were given back their charms didn’t feel any less anxious about the game. But they did feel more confident and their degree of extra optimism accounted for much of their extra success at the memory game.

In a final experiment, Jamisch repeated the lucky charm set-up with a couple of slightly different details.

This time the recruits had to make as many words as possible from a set of eight letters and also had to set themselves a goal. As before, those who held their lucky charms felt more confident and scored better, identifying an average of 46 words compared to only 31 deciphered by their mascot-less peers.

Notes Yong:

"These experiments are remarkably consistent in showing that a variety of superstitious beliefs have a positive effect on a variety of tasks, both physical and mental. They work whether the superstition is activated by someone else (as in the case of the crossed fingers) or if it’s something unique to the individual (as in the case of the lucky charms). And they work because superstitions, by prompting feelings of good luck, can make people more confident in themselves, prompting them to try harder and aim higher at the things they do."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

World Cup: Is U.S. A Team Of Destiny?

FANS ERUPT AFTER WINNING GOAL
There probably is little of value that I can add to the tsunami of commentaries on how Americans really seem to be into the World Cup -- and all the more so after the U.S.'s thrilling 1-0 stoppage-time win over Algeria.

This is because my perspective seems to be refreshingly representative of many of my countryfolk who finally are embracing the world's most popular sport in a big way, as well as the denizens of my favorite city -- Philadelphia -- who poured out of bars, office buildings and row homes to celebrate after Landon Donovan's deciding goal.

Like many a father, my
entrée to soccer was through my children, who participated for several years in Saturday morning community leagues well before the term soccer mom entered the national lexicon. Play more closely resembled rugby in their earlier years when 0-0 ties were the norm, but by the time they moved on to other sports they played pretty well -- as well as having gotten a great education in team play, sportsmanship and self discipline.

My first World Cup of note was in 1998 when days of rain washed out a beach vacation with my kids and mother, whom I surely would have smothered in her sleep for insisting that we rent a house in the middle of June and not later in the season when the weather would be better. The redeemer was watching hours of soccer, broken only by meals, low-stakes poker games and moaning about the nonstop rain.

This brings me to the upset-heavy 2010 World Cup, the premier global sporting event as well as the only one that refuses to kiss U.S. network television ass in scheduling matches.

Several of the traditional European super teams already have caved, most notably the reigning world champion Italians and the beyond pathetic French, who won it all in 1998. Having watched perhaps 30 hours of first-round matches I can say with confidence that the U.S. is playing like a team of destiny and could crack the top three since its passage to the semi-finals is less arduous (Ghana this afternoon and then Uruguay or South Korea next week) than it might have been.

That is something that it has not done since it finished third in the inaugural world cup in 1930. That also was the last year that it won two straight matches.


You read it here first. Or thirtieth.

Cartoon du Jour

Chan Lowe/South Florida Sun-Sentinel

'Witness' Meets 'Airborne'

An Amish girl rollerblades home with groceries in Ohio
Hat tip to Gawker

Garry 'Starchild" Shider (1954-2010)

MORE HERE.
Photograph by Elise Amendola/The Associated Press

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

DRUNK N TUNNEL
By Jerry Berry

Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Review: 'The Gamble': How One Man Saved The American Mission In Iraq

Now that President Obama has sent General Stanley McChrystal packing, all eyes are on General David Petraeus, who will be expected to work the same magic in Afghanistan that he did as the architect of the Surge strategy in Iraq. Herewith a review of the seminal book on Petraeus and the Surge. It was originally published in March 2009.

"The Stampede," Frederick Remington's iconic Wild West painting, is an apt metaphor for the Surge, the dramatically successful shift in strategy and tactics implemented in Iraq in 2007 under the direction of Army General David Petraeus.

The cowboy in the painting is riding for dear life as his herd panics in a breaking thunderstorm. His pony is wild eyed with fear as the sky blackens and a bolt of lightning strikes the prairie. One misstep and the cowboy and his mount go down, sure to be crushed by the stampeding cattle.

As it turns out, Petraeus well understood the similarities between "The Stampede" and the Surge. Whether he saw himself as the cowboy isn't revealed by Thomas Ricks in The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, but he may well have since he included a copy of the painting in the briefing book that he would give to members of Congress and other visitors to his office in Baghdad's Green Zone.

* * * * *
The Gamble is a fitting bookend to Ricks' Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.

This devastating 2006 bestseller revealed that the U.S. was on the verge of losing a war based on false assumptions, too little planning and not nearly enough troops, had scant international support, and was riddled by confusion at the bottom and plenty of hubris at the top. The result was not the quick and happy "Mission Accomplished" ending that the Bush White House relentlessly pushed, but an occupation that gave birth to an insurgency that was taking American lives by the dozens and Iraqi lives by the thousands each month.

I certainly could not have predicted that the next book by Ricks, the fine former Washington Post military correspondent, would be an account of how the U.S. was able to step back from the precipice because of a radically different strategy -- the fourth or fifth of the then four-year-old war -- and corresponding adjustment in tactics because of a single general and his ability to convince the military's best and brightest, as well as the president himself, that business as usual would inevitably lead to defeat.

The Surge strategy was simple if enormously difficult to put into action because it ran against the hidebound Army and Marine cultures: Let the Iraqis lead, isolate extremists, create space for political progress, diversify political and economic efforts, and take both a local and a regional approach.


Highlights of The Gamble and Ricks' thoughts on each:

* If Petraeus is the hero of the Surge, then former Army General Jack Keane (photo, below left) is the unsung hero. Deeply concerned about the downward spiral that the war had taken, Keane "would set out to redesign its strategy, an unprecedented move for a retired officer . . . and worked behind the scenes" with Petraeus and General Raymond Odierno, who through Keane's efforts would become the top commanders in Iraq.

*
There were many experts familiar with the tenets of counterinsurgency, but Petraeus figured out how to get the Army to heed that knowledge. "His vision of how to change the war would become a restatement of classic counterinsurgency theory, which holds that the people are the objective, so the task is to figure out how to 'win' them."

*
By pushing hard for national elections in 2005, the U.S. "inadvertently herded Iraqis toward sectarian identification." The minority Sunnis boycotted the vote and this problem was compounded by the lack of a political infrastructure, as well as the false hopes of U.S. commanders who "became overly optimistic . . . [and] began formulating plans for major drawdowns in 2006."

*
Instead, 2006 because the crucial year in the war with the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra and the onset of a full-blown civil war. "It would be the year that American policy ground to a halt, the Bush administration finally [but secretly] conceded that it was on the path to defeat, the American civilian and military leadership was jettisoned, and a new set of commanders -- Petraeus and Odierno -- installed to execute a radically different strategy."

*
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was inept. Recalled one insider: "The president would say 'Get this done,' and leave the room, and then Rumsfeld would start squabbling with Condi [Rice]" over the reconstruction teams "that were at the heart of the strategy of rebuilding the economy of Iraq . . . His thought on Rumsfeld at that point was, "Well, you fucking idiot, that's your ticket out of Iraq."

* The personality of Rumsfeld's successor, Robert Gates, "was the strongest asset he would bring to the Pentagon . . . Where Rumsfeld was blustery, Gates was quiet, even stealthy," but behind his slight smile "lurked a very sharp set of teeth" that soon resulted in the ouster of the Army secretary and surgeon general over the Walter Reed scandal and later the Air Force secretary and chief of staff over the mishandling of nuclear weapons.

* The tactics that the Surge would employ were being used by Marine Colonel Sean MacFarland (photo, below left) who pretty much acted on his own in Ramadi, an Al Qaeda hotbed. "Even as the senior Marine intelligence officer pronounced the province lost, Ramadi in 2006 would become the link between the first successful large-scale U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq."

* Well away from the cameras, Petraeus assembled an eclectic brain trust that included three key non-Americas: Palestine-born Sadi Othman, who was the general's personal liaison with the Iraqi government; Emma Sky, a British human-rights expert who was his political adviser, and David Kilcullen, an Australian Army enlisted man who proved to be adept at helping fine tune the Surge.

* Things would get much worse during the course of 2007 before they got better in 2008. U.S. deaths initially increased as Iraqi deaths decreased. "Essentially, by moving out into the population, the military had interposed itself between the attackers and the people."

* In the run-up to crucial hearings before Congress in September 2007, an aide to Petraeus correctly ascertained that it was the Democrats and not the general who were in a bind. "Before the hearings, the dominant political question had been how to get out of Iraq. After them, the question would become how to find the least damaging way to stay in Iraq" because of the general's dogged defense of the Surge.

* Even after the Surge was showing signs of working, the leaders of the American military establishment showed "a tendency to avoid risks, and to prefer following established ways of doing business rather than take difficult but necessary steps to become more effective." Two successive chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff kept putting roadblocks in the way of Petraeus.

* Iraq was the first extended campaign fought under a 1986 law that reorganized the military command structure, making the head of the U.S. Central Command a key player. The Navy was the most tradition-bound service and most resistant to change, and when Admiral William Fallon became CENTCOM commander as the surge got under way he was an obstacle to Petraeus and Odierno and eventually had to be forced out.

In the end, Ricks notes that Congress turned out to be the toughest battle that Petraeus fought, and once that battle was won and U.S. casualties dropped, Americans more or less tuned out the war.

Ricks grades the Surge as "a solid incomplete" because the Iraqi government has, of course, not taken advantage of the reduction in violence to create a breathing space that would enable politicians "to find a way forward."

Ricks addresses this huge question only obliquely: How long should the U.S. wait for the Iraqis to get their act together before it withdraws all of its troops? That in my view is not answerable because as Fiasco, The Gamble and a host of other books and commentaries reveal, the Iraqis will never get their act together in a society where sect and tribe are more important than nation.

Under the Obama administration's current plan, most U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by August 2010 and all of the rest a year later, but it is possible if not probable that what has passed for stability as a result of the Surge will devolve into the resumption of a form of civil war when the last American boot is airborne.

As former Secretary of State Colin Powell famously remarked about Iraq, "We broke it, now we own it."

How true. The U.S. did eventually take seriously that ownership in the form of Petraeus's Surge, which included an extraordinarily successful effort to rein in the Sunni insurgency and persuade it do the U.S. military's bidding. This, of course, enraged Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government, which says about all that you need to know concerning Iraq's post-U.S. future.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

Was This The First Bird Ever Flipped?

Check out the left hand of the guy all the way to the left
in the back row. More here.

William 'Rookie' Kruse (1955-2010)

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fuggedabout McChrystal, Fire The War

NOT A SMILE IN THE CROWD
There is no doubt that General Stanley McChrystal, the suddenly former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, is a repeat offender when it comes to insubordination.
Even for those defending his comments in the Rolling Stone interview that resulted him in being called on the White House carpet, there is no doubt that there was little love loss between he and Vice President Biden and the Obama national security team. Recall also the conveniently leaked memo to journalist Bob Woodward at a time when the president was mulling whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. As it turned out, McChrystal wanted 'em and he got 'em.
But for those hung up on McClellan-Lincoln and MacArthur-Truman analogies, this is a different era and a different war. In fact, to the chagrin of McChrystal's troops, it is a war in in which the commander necessarily has to rein in air and artillery strikes.
Yes, McChrystal deserved a good tongue lashing, which President Obama apparently delivered yesterday, but probably not reassignment. Yet I suppose, as other pundits have rushed to note, that since the president gave BP a good dressing down for its Gulf oil spill, then he had no choice but to relieve McChrystal for his own spills.
And while it is too soon to judge the consequences of McChrystal's stewardship of what is now by far the U.S.'s longest war, he appeared to be making the best of what remains a fool's mission by employing the kind of counterinsurgency strategy cum nation building that should have been in place from Day One. Recall also that on Day Two, President Bush shifted the focus to Iraq, the biggest fool's mission of them all.
It is easy to look back at the pivotal moment in Obama's presidency when he could have made the politically volatile decision to withdraw most troops and concentrate on surgical strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban bigs, which happens to be what Biden advocated.
He didn't make that decision, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter. General David Petraeus is as good as they get, and he saved Bush's sorry ass in Iraq. But there will be no ass saving in Afghanistan.

It still is too big, too ungovernable and too corrupt for an outcome that even remotely resembles a victory.


A FOOTNOTE
Obama can't ask someone to pass him the salt without being criticized, but there was pretty much unanimity yesterday across the political spectrum for how he handled the McChrystal-Petraeus transition. The president has been much too passive much too often. Strong presidential leadership was demanded here and we got it.
Photograph by Doug Mills/The New York Times

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Kicking AM Radio Where It Hurts

In the age of webstreaming, iTunes and HD FM, AM radio is a static-filled throwback that I only listen to for traffic reports. So why not let AM broadcasters boost their signals? Here's why not.

Edith Shain (1919-2010)

MORE HERE.
Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life magazine

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

BEACH DAZE
(Miami Beach -- 1984)

By Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hating AT&T All Over Again

THE AT&T DEATH STAR
I had a long but unhappy relationship with AT&T through much of the 1990s, an era when there were few alternatives to long-distance telephone carriers and Internet providers.

The signal moment in that relationship, which is to say the beginning of the end, was when after weeks of unsuccessfully trying to deal with a billing issue that included bait and switch tactics, I was put through to what I was told was a complaint line in the CEO's office. It was there that a spoke to a young woman who wondered how it was possible that I had a telephone in the post office box where my bill was sent.

Honest.


I was comped with six months of free phone and Net service for my frustrations, but quickly moved on when I had consumed that free lunch. It was obvious that AT&T really didn't want my business and was affronted when I had problems with theirs, and I never looked back.


Not too long after our divorce, AT&T -- once the bluest of the blue chips -- went further into a years long death spiral and only survived not by improving its wretched business practices but by shedding most of its operations so it could concentrate on being bad at fewer things.


And so it comes as no surprise that AT&T, which has the exclusive wireless network rights to the red-hot iPhone, is not merely content with running a dysfunctional G3 system that has iPhone customers in big cities tearing their hair out. (Talk to an iPhone user, and I know a bunch of them, and they rave about the phone and go stark raving mad about AT&T's service.)

No, it also wants to screw their iPhone customers by . . . are you ready for this? bait-and-switch tactics, as well as holding hostage what Jeff Jarvis calls "Apple fanboys."


More here.

Cartoon du Jour

Chris Britt/Springfield State Journal Register

A Crazy Bridge Offers A Clever Solution

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

ARCHITECTURE OF DESTINY
By Michael Wolf

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mary Pinchot Meyer's Most Enigmatic Life & Oh So Weirdly Mysterious Death

MEYER (FAR RIGHT) WITH JOHN F. KENNEDY
When the body of Mary Pinchot Meyer was found in October 1964 on a wooded towpath in Washington's Rock Creek Park, the apparent victim of a random murder, she was mourned by friends as a beautiful Georgetown socialite who in the years since her divorce from a high-ranking CIA official had blossomed into an abstract painter with an independent streak that included affairs with President Kennedy and other powerful men.

It was obvious that the exceedingly discreet Meyer knew things that she wasn't supposed to know. Her sister and friends quickly found and secreted her diary and a high-ranking CIA official destroyed her other papers, leading to speculation that her death was somehow related to Kennedy's assassination. Rumors also have persisted that she turned on the young president to marijuana, as well as LSD that she had gotten from Timothy Leary.

* * * * *
Daughter of journalist Ruth Pickering and Amos Pinchot, a wealthy lawyer and key Progressive Party figure, Mary was raised at Grey Towers, a delightfully quirky estate in northeastern Pennsylvania that I have visited. She grew up in the midst of left-wing intellectuals, swam nude under the estate's waterfalls, rode horseback, played a mean game of tennis and dinned with her family in the Finger Bowl, a water table where food was sent out by servants on balsa wood rafts that were floated from diner to diner with gentle pushes.

Mary attended exclusive Brearley School in Manhattan and Vassar College, where she became interested in Communism, but left Vassar to become a journalist and wrote for United Press and Mademoiselle. Not just another pretty face, she was a bohemian of a sort and a woman who sought to dictate the terms of her own life in a man's world. She became a pacifist and as a member of the American Labor Party came under the scrutiny of the FBI.

Cord Meyer, a Yale graduate and Marine Corps lieutenant who had lost his left eye because of shrapnel injuries suffered in combat on Guam, came into Meyer's life in 1942 and then again two years later. Attracted by his lean good looks, pacifism and support for a world government that was much the vogue in intellectual circles in the post-war years, they were married by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in 1945.

Mary settled into a housewife's life and she and Cord eventually had three sons, one of whom was to die when he was struck by a car. Her husband became president of the United World Federalists, but in the early 1950s began to re-evaluate his views as the American Community Party infiltrated the organization.

In 1951, Allen Dulles, the first civilian director of the CIA, approached Cord and in what on its face appeared to be an extraordinary career change, he agreed to become the
principal covert operative of Operation Mockingbird, which infiltrated and influenced domestic and foreign media. It was, in fact, a logical move. Cord had never been a revolutionary as much as a pragmatist, while the communist-fighting CIA was an extension of the secret Yale societies of which he was a part. No fewer than 42 members of Cord's Class of 1942 had joined the CIA's predecessor organization, the Office of Strategic Services.

Mary may also have done some work for the CIA during this period. She was a "cleared wife," considered to not be a risk to blab any secrets her husband might mutter in his sleep, but her fondness for spur-of-the-moment love affairs reportedly made the agency wary of her.

Cord's appointment marked a huge shift in the Meyer's lives. They moved from Cambridge, Massachusetts to the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. and then to the Georgetown neighborhood just as it was becoming the political and social center of the city.

The Meyers became highly visible members of capital society. Their friends included powerful journalists and even more powerful CIA officials, including legendary counter-intelligence officer James Angleton, who would destroy Mary's papers after her murder, and Mary and Frank Wisner, who was Cord's boss. Then there was neophyte Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, with whom Mary would become close.

Mary, encouraged by Cord, devoted what spare time she had to her painting and remained aloof of the social scene until she became a regular visitor at the Kennedy White House.

When Mary filed for divorce from Cord in 1958, many friend were shocked, but the marriage had been on the rocks for years. Both had had numerous affairs, including Mary's liaisons with an Italian gigolo who sailed around the Mediterranean on a yacht with his dog. He promised to marry but eventually jilted her.

Mary remained a dutiful mother to her two surviving sons, but in her spare time resume painting in a converted garage studio behind the Georgetown home of her sister Tony and her husband, rising Washington Post star Ben Bradlee.

* * * * *
Mary and Kennedy reportedly had about 30 trysts, most of them in 1962 and many at the White House when Jackie was out of town. No matter, the First Lady was aware of these goings-on and remain a good friend of Mary's.

In January 1963, Post publisher Philip Graham revealed the ongoing affair to a meeting of newspaper editors, but his claim was never reported in the media. Although the president's philanderings were well known among the press corps and Georgetown elite, this was an era decades before the term "semen-stained dress" had entered the national vocabulary.

Ever the experimenter, Mary was turned on to LSD by Timothy Leary in 1962 and reportedly smoked marijuana and tripped with Kennedy during many of their trysts. Leary later claimed that Mary had influenced the president's "views on nuclear disarmament and rapprochement with Cuba."

On October 12, 1964, eleven months after Kennedy's assassination and two weeks after the Warren Commission report was made public, Mary finished a painting and went for a walk along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath in Georgetown. A mechanic trying to fix a car on Canal Road heard a woman cry out, "Someone help me, someone help me." He heard two gunshots and ran to a low wall looking over the path where he saw "a black man in a light jacket, dark slacks, and a dark cap standing over the body of a white woman."

Mary's body had two bullet wounds, one at the back of the head and another in her heart. An FBI forensic expert later said "dark haloes on the skin around both entry wounds suggested they had been fired at close-range, possibly point blank.

Minutes later a disheveled, soaking wet African-American man named Raymond Crump was arrested near the murder scene. No gun was found and Crump was acquitted after a trial at which Mary's background was kept from his lawyer, Dovey Johnson Roundtree, and the jury.

"It was as if she existed only on the towpath on the day she was murdered," Roundtree later said.

Mary had told close friend Ann Truitt to retrieve her diary -- actually a sketchbook with paint swatches and some writing -- if anything ever happened to her. Truitt was living in Tokyo when the murder occurred and called Angleton and Bradlee to ask if they have found the diary.

What happened next remains a matter of dispute.

"We didn't start looking until the next morning," Bradlee recalled. "Mary's house . . . was locked, as we had expected, but when we got inside, we found James Angleton, and to our complete surprise he told us he, too, was looking for Mary's diary."

Tony and Ben Bradlee later found Angleton trying to pick a padlock at Mary's studio. After he left, Tony found the diary and many letters in a metal box. These were given to Angleton, who later claimed he burned the diary, in which he said Mary wrote that she and Kennedy had taken LSD before "they made love," but then returned it to Tony many years later, who then burned it herself in Ann Truitt's presence.

Several of the key players believe that Mary would not have wanted Angleton to have been involved, while his role in the events after her death and his pursuit of papers that mentioned Kennedy or his assassination has made her private life seem like a matter of national security.

Some insiders have stated that while Mary's diary detailed her intimate relationship with the president, it gave no suggestion that she knew anything about the assassination.

Cord Meyer publicly stated that he was convinced that Crump had murdered Mary, a response to be expected from an Agency man. But years later, C. David Heymann, claimed that when asked Cord who had murdered Mary six weeks before his death in 2001, he reportedly hissed back, "The same sons of bitches that killed John F. Kennedy."


PHOTOGRAPHS (From top):
Ruth and Amos Pinchot (ca. 1915); Grey Towers; Mary at her debutante ball (1938); Mary at Vassar (1942); Mary and Cord Meyer (1942); Mary on assignment for Mademoiselle magazine (1944); Timothy Leary at Harvard (1962); Towpath crime scene; Ray Crump after arrest; James Angelton; Ann Truitt (1962); Mary (ca. 1963).


This post is based, in part, on Nina Burleigh's A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer.