Rumsfeld’s Own Private Idahoan

In his speech Tuesday to the American Legion convention in Salt Lake City, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that in America “many have still not learned history’s lessons”, saying that those who opposed or have come to belatedly oppose the Bush administration’s stupid war in Iraq are appeasers who don’t understand the imminent threat of “a new type of fascism”. He invoked a quote as an example of the the kind of thinking he abhors. He didn’t attribute the quote to anyone other than “one U.S. Senator” who — upon hearing that Germany had invaded Poland in 1939 — responded: “Lord, if only I could have talked with Hitler, all this might have been avoided.”

It’s possible that Rumsfeld didn’t mention who said that — although you have to wonder why he brought it up at all — because the senator in question was William Borah, of Idaho. Borah served as a senator for nearly 33 years. During that time, he vehemently opposed the formation of the League of Nations (about which Rumsfeld waxed — well — not so eloquent), had a love child with the married daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt, participated in exposing the scandals of the Harding administration, and coordinated with Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio in isolationist opposition to Franklin Roosevelt’s attempts to aid America’s European allies. As you’ve probably guessed by now, Borah was a Republican — considered to be a progressive Republican — but a Republican nonetheless.

I’m going to hazard a guess here, but I suspect that Mr. Henny Penny’s source for this quote was Charles “Chuckie” Krauthammer who — in an article excoriating Ned Lamont’s win in Connecticut earlier this month — used the quote and attributed it to Borah, but also didn’t mention Borah’s party affiliation.


National Collector's Mint 5th Anniversary World Trade Center Commemorative

When I was watching TV the other night and I saw the ad for the 5th Anniversary World Trade Center Commemorative coin from the National Collector’s Mint, complete with a silver rendition of the WTC that can stand up from the face of the coin — and made from actual silver scavenged salvaged from Ground Zero! — I immediately looked around for something from one of the usual venues — you know, the ones that advertise in PARADE magazine — to commemorate the disaster last year in New Orleans. Nothing so far as I could see.

Oh, sure, you could shell out $250-$1,000 to The Phoenix of New Orleans to get a plate with your name on it embedded in the sidewalk while the bulk of the money goes to rebuild “a community that has never had a heart, a neighborhood park, a school playground or safe streets at night”, but you can’t put that in your memory hutch or on your plate rail.

Inspired by the WTC coin’s message (“Even Grief Recedes with Time, But We Will Never Forget”) and its interactive use of materials from the site of the disaster, I quickly fired up the kiln to create the definitive collectible for the first anniversary of the flooding of New Orleans. Just in time, too!

The Mint Plant — have to do it backwards, French ancestry — is therefore proud to announce our 1st Anniversary Hurricane Katrina/New Orleans Commemorative Bowl. The bowl shape honors the geography of New Orleans itself; a city below sea level surrounded by poorly-constructed and maintained levees (not to worry, though, this piece of china is built to last!) Around the edge of the bowl are the words: “Hurricane Katrina ~ New Orleans ~ August 29, 2005” and “One Year Later ~ A Flood of Memories” in 24 karat gold leaf. The inside of the bowl evokes the image many have of New Orleans from the flood: rooftops of houses sticking out of the waters of places like the Lower Ninth Ward. Each plate comes with a flask of authentic, oily New Orleans flood water. Perfect for any collector’s shelf. Just stick it next to the WTC coin.

1st Anniversary Hurricane Katrina/New Orleans Commemorative Bowl

Now all I need is a former Congressman like Barry Goldwater, Jr. to endorse the project. Someone from the area would probably be best…I wonder if that William Jefferson guy’s looking for something to do?

Indirect Fire on Blond

In addition to my post here and on Daily Kos about NPR “Day to Day” host Madeleine Brand’s reaction to a statement that the US had facilitated Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign against the Iraqi Kurds, I wrote an email to NPR directly. In my email, I suggested that information about US involvement had been available for some twenty years and that anyone who had been paying attention to international politics — say, someone with the credentials to be in a position of interviewing politicians from around the world — should have been aware of that fact, especially if they’d been prepared for an interview on the subject of the massacre of the Kurds.

I received an email note back from Brand (note to anyone writing NPR, their comment form emailer apparently strips all of your apostrophes, making you look like some sort of typographical moron to the recipient) in which she took issue with my characterization, adding that she was trying to get Othman to make the distinction that the US “did not itself gas the Kurds or tell Saddam to do so.”

She closed her note with a sentence that struck me as particularly strange: “And, no, I’m not blonde.”

That was odd, because nowhere in my email to NPR, or in the post here or in the cross post on Daily Kos did I ever mention Brand’s hair color. When one of the commenters at Kos made a disparaging remark about blondes, I wrote a response on Monday afternoon — a full day before I received Brand’s email — about how much I disliked stereotypes of attractive women being stupid. On top of that, my wife’s blond, and she’s smarter than I am.

Barbara Moshofsky

As I mentioned in today’s update to “Clueless at NPR”, I thought that while Peter Galbraith’s interview essentially confirmed Othman’s charge to “Day to Day” listeners, Galbraith had left a lot of wiggle room for people to claim that the US was only “indirectly” involved with Saddam’s use of chemical weapons against Iran and the Kurds (both of which were war crimes) or that US approval of chemical warfare was more by “omission” rather than “commission”.

Personally, I’m not sure whether providing satellite imagery about where to use poison gas on human waves of Iranian children is “indirect” enough for me. Nor is selling helicopters that can be modified for use against “insurgents” hiding in civilian Kurdish populations, or selling Saddam anthrax or botulin cultures, all of which took place in the mid 1980s. (Look for Saddam’s lawyers to equate his fight against peshmerga fighters hiding amongst the Kurds to Israel’s use of force against Hezbollah in Lebanese civilian populations later this week.)

For an exhaustive rundown on the ties between the US and Saddam, check out “Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein: The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984”, from George Washington University’s National Security Archive.

Apart from the de rigeur video of Rumsfeld literally shaking hands with Saddam in 1983, it details how the US took Iraq off the terrorist states list in 1982 (it had been there because of support for Palestinian terrorist groups). The US helped Iraq obtain financing for the war with Iran, exported grain to Iraq, and finally restored full relations with Iraq in 1984.

One of the declassified US government documents linked from the site confirms “almost daily” use of chemical weapons by Iraq against Iran. Another (from November 1983) begins “We have recently received additional information confirming Iraqi use of chemical weapons. We also know that Iraq has acquired a CW production capability, primarily from Western firms, including possibly a U.S. foreign subsidiary.” The final pages of that same document include the statement: “In July and August 1983, the Iraqis reportedly used a chemical agent with lethal effects against and (sic) Iranian forces invading Iraq at Haj Umran, and more recently against Kurdish insurgents.” That report was made more than five years before the gas attack at Halabja.

Also worth a look — although it lacks links to original source material — is a 2002 article in CounterPunch by Kurt Nimmo called “Bush Senior: Hating Saddam, Selling Him Weapons”, which summarizes a statement made during a trial by Howard Teicher, a former NSC staffer who accompanied Don Rumsfeld to Baghdad. A wealth of information was also entered into the House records by the late Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez in 1992.

Read ’em and weep.

Clueless at NPR: Kurds Blame Who?

Say you’re the host of a radio show on a relatively-respected news network about to interview an Iraqi Kurdish politician. The topic is Saddam Hussein’s latest trial, on charges of genocide for the conduct of the Anfal campaign against the Kurdish people, including the use of chemical weapons to kill thousands of people at Halabja in March 1988. How much preparation do you do for the five-minute segment? How much do you have to do?

Personally, I’d take at least a quick look online — or have my researchers prep some material for me — to refresh myself about dates, the international reaction at the time — it was nearly twenty years ago — and little details that may have slipped my mind. But I was an adult at the time, and it’s not like Iraq’s been out of the news for the past three or four years. I seem to remember President Bush mentioning something about Saddam Hussein gassing his “own people” once or twice. So I don’t think that I’d have been as surprised as NPR “Day to Day” host Madeleine Brand was in this interview with Iraqi Parlimentarian Mahmoud Othman today. It was actually a little funny to hear, but I’ve made a transcript.

If you listen to NPR’s RealAudio stream, this exchange begins about half-way through, at 2:13, otherwise, just imagine the closest thing to a spit take you’ve ever heard on NPR:

MADELEINE BRAND: If Saddam is found guilty, what kind of punishment would you like to see him receive?

MAHMOUD OTHMAN: Well, I, uh, don’t have anything specific. I think, uh, the court should decide on that. We hope there will be also information revealed about who helped Saddam. Many countries outside Iraq were helping Saddam when he committed these crimes. We hope those countries will be revealed. That’s very important for our people.

BRAND: Which countries do you suspect helped him?

OTHMAN: Well, uh, United States first. Soviet Union. The European countries — Germany — some other European countries, and some companies who, they gave him material — they say they are giving these materials for agriculture but he used — he made chemical weapons of them — and they knew about it so, I think those companies and those countries should be held responsible, and they should compensate our people and the victims of those tragic operations for life. They have a responsibility towards them.

BRAND: Do you think the United States has a responsibility?

OTHMAN: Yes, definitely, because they were very friendly to him at that time and, uh, they were helping him and everything. Because he was in war with Khomeini, and they thought Khomeini was the main enemy, and they should help Saddam against him.

BRAND: Iran’s leader, Ayotollah Khomeini.


BRAND: (draws deep breath) Well — but — you’re not saying that the US facilitated the massacre of the Kurds, are you?

OTHMAN: They are indirectly responsible because they knew that those weapons are in the hands of Saddam, and Saddam is using them, and when he used them to kill all those people the US government didn’t do anything. They are indirectly, yes, responsible for what happened.

Comment at Daily Kos crosspost.

[UPDATE 2006-08-22] Kos commenter 3rdeye pointed out there that “Day to Day” followed up Othman’s comment today in an interview with Peter Galbraith. That’s a good thing, but neither Galbraith or Madeline Brand mentioned Galbraith’s work as an advocate for the Kurdish government over the past few years. Galbraith also downplayed the US’s ties to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, glossing over the sales of “crop dusting” aircraft and helicopters and other armaments. The Saddam/Rumsfeld meeting five years before Halabja went unremarked. Galbraith was able to paint the picture he wanted without any questioning or context because — once again — the host wasn’t really prepared for the interview.

A Tale of Two Oregon Towns

Photograph: Leah Nash for The New York Times
Photograph: Leah Nash for The New York Times

Two different papers today published looks at two different cities in Oregon that have suffered economic downturns in the past quarter-century.

The Oregonian‘s Laura Oppenheimer wrote an article about The Dalles, where Google has decided to buy 30 acres for a new server facility. In The New York Times, Erick Eckholm writes about Oakridge, a former logging town which faces a grim future. And present.

The Dalles is a town of 12,500, about 85 miles west of Portland on the scenic Columbia Gorge and Interstate 84. Its economy is based on its port and fruit and wheat farming, but for nearly half a century it was also the site of aluminum smelters that took advantage of the cheap hydropower produced by nearby Bonneville Dam. Oakridge — about 55 miles southeast of Eugene — has a population now of 4,500. It was a mill town. It’s not on any interstate. It’s in the foothills of the Cascades, which is a beautiful setting — my family passed through there all the time when I was young on the way to some camping trip or Boy Scout hike — but it’s a good two-and-a-half hours from Portland’s airport.

Oakridge’s plight is described in some of the numbers Eckholm cites:

About 700 Oakridge residents, from a population of about 4,500 in Oakridge and the surrounding area, visit a charity food pantry each month to pick up boxes of groceries worth $100 apiece. Two-thirds of public school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, meaning their families are near the poverty line or below it. About 260 of the town’s 1,200 housing units are single-width trailers.

Jobs at the mills paid wages “roughly equal to $20 or $30 an hour in today’s terms.” That’s $40-60K if you don’t factor in mill shutdowns (fairly common depending on harvesting schedules) and overtime (ditto). The last mill closed more than 15 years ago.

Google was lured to The Dalles by the same cheap power that drew the aluminum smelters, the last of which closed for the final time in 2000. Land speculation since the announcement drove home prices up 40% last year alone, although the median home price is seill only about half what it is in Hood River, just a couple dozen miles closer to Portland (both of which are cheap compared to Google’s home territory in the Bay Area).

But even the Google windfall isn’t a slam-dunk win for the locals:

Google’s ability to resuscitate the economy is unclear. The company has kept project details secret except to say it plans to hire 50 to 100 people, some area residents. That would be at most 1 percent of Wasco County’s 10,000 jobs.

Randy Elliott, who worked in the aluminum industry on and off for two decades, was laid off a few weeks ago. He’s looking at options across Oregon and beyond, relying on his experience in wastewater treatment and carpentry.

Google, he says, is one possibility. But rumors change almost daily as to whether the company will hire most workers locally. If not, Elliott says, “they’re not going to be welcomed very well.”

As Oppenheimer notes, change has been underway in The Dalles since before Google showed up in town. Its proximity to Portland, transportation, and recreation make it ideal for businesses like Google who are looking for lifestyle-friendly expansion or relocation. That said, it’s a tricky proposition, even for a place as unique as The Dalles.

Unfortunately, Oakridge isn’t unique. There are a lot of little places like Oakridge in Oregon — and other states — that need help. And difficult as the challenge of reinvention facing The Dalles is, the challenge of Oakridge is much, much greater.

Go By Brute Force

Today’s Oregonian has an interesting little article on the world of game programming centered around Orego, a computer program in development at the Math Department of Lewis & Clark College that plays Go.

I remember Go-playing being cited as one of the challenges in pattern recognition and AI development back when I was first getting into programming, it’s interesting to see how people have approached the problem over the past thirty years.

The article mentions that professor Peter Drake and his team had “tried nearly every novel approach out there: neural networks, cellular automata, and genetic algorithms” over the past few years. What they’re experimenting with now is known as a Monte Carlo method. Instead of using a specific strategy or algorithm to solve the problem, it iterates a series of random moves until a solution is reached, then does it again and again, then chooses which combination gives it the best results.

Sort of reminds me of the brute force approach to the proof of the four color theorem. For a guy who’s used the motto “Multimedia Design by Brute Force” for more than fifteen years, you know that has some appeal.

BONUS: The accompanying “Factbox” on Go notes that “The game reportedly has been played by such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and Rod Stewart.” Some company, that.

Iraq War In Spitting Range of the Length of WWII

Today is 16 August 2006.

Today is also the 1,245th day since the invasion of Iraq, on 20 March 2003. Why is that number significant? Because in exactly 100 days — which will be 24 November 2006, the day after Thanksgiving — the United States will have been in Iraq for the length of time that elapsed between the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and V-J Day, when the Japanese surrendered.

In World War II, the United States and its allies faced foes who were reasonably well-matched in technology, with military forces in place on land in Asia, Europe, and North Africa, and fleets of ships and submarines in the oceans of the Atlantic and the Pacific. They had fighter planes which — in the early years — were often better than what the Allies could field. In the 1,345 days of the American involvement in World War II, American forces lost and regained the Philippines; landed in and pushed their way through North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany; fought bloody battles on Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Guadalcanal, and other Pacific islands; conducted extensive naval campaigns and ran convoys on two oceans; and did much else that cannot be mentioned in a few short paragraphs. That’s what is possible to do in 1,345 days.

In Iraq, the supposed enemy was a country with one-twelfth the size of the US population. A country that had always been a consumer of arms from others, not one with its own major armaments factories. A country that had been under a variety of embargos — however porous — for a decade. That was the “enemy” George W. Bush and his administration chose for their Feat of Strength.

If Iraq had been a true threat — and assuming they were competent — the Bush administration should have been able to deal with it in less than the time it took FDR and Truman to deal with the real Axis in the 1940s.

Supporting Failed Policies: A MAD LIBerals Game

It was another time, another issue, when key members of the Democratic party stolidly supported a failed conservative policy opposed by most voters and declined to support the party’s candidate in the presidential election, helping to speed them to defeat at the polls. See if you can fill in the blanks or guess what the policy was.

The 1928 presidential election shattered the official, if not unanimous, Democratic party commitment to _____1_____, when the party’s presidential candidate, Alfred E. Smith, proposed _____2_____. Oswald West, former Oregon governor, longtime party activist, and Democratic National Committeeman, should have vigorously supported the party’s candidate in the Oregon campaign. Instead, West considered Smith’s nomination a defeat for the party and organized opposition to the _____3_____ movement among Oregon Democrats. However, Walter Pierce, another former Oregon governor and Democratic Party leader, supported Smith’s call for _____2_____.

Though West did not actively campaign against Smith in the fall, his inactivity helped ensure a clean sweep by Republicans in the November election.

from Iron Pants: Oregon’s Anti-New Deal Governor, Charles Henry Martin by Gary Murrell, Washington State University Press, 2000

By continuing to support a program that had once had the overwhelming public support of the national party long after it had been proven not only unpopular with the electorate but to have a deleterious effect on the well-being of the country, politicians like West — who had as many good things to his credit in history as Pierce had bad things — not only failed the Democratic party but helped elect Herbert Hoover as president.

Here are the answers:

  1. prohibition
  2. prohibition’s repeal
  3. repeal

Shockwave and … Ahhh, Crud

We’re less than three months from the date for the Las Vegas MAX and the Shockwave & Awe Director event I’ve been planning since last year at Anaheim.

But it’s not gonna happen.

I always considered it a long shot — the number of people in the Director seminars at UCON/MAX has seemed exceedingly small in recent years — but I’d hoped that there might be people who were interested that might have been otherwise occupied during the few Director sessions, or that some people might come to MAX for other things if there was a Director-related event preceding it. That might be the case, still.

But if the number of responses I got to the various inquiries I made was any indication, I misjudged things. The quantity of people willing to express interest — without even being asked to make any kind of commitment — is very, very small. Like less than three dozen small. Without a larger base of interested developers to draw on for attendees, there’s no justification for signing a contract for space in Vegas. I know the place is supposed to be for gambling, but that’s just plain crazy…

So I’m officially calling off plans for Shockwave & Awe 2006. If I can figure a way to make it work out, either in conjunction with another event or as a standalone, I hope to do so. Heck, Authorware still has conferences, Director ought to be able to field something of the sort.

Of course, there’s no reason to wait for me, anybody who can come up with a viable plan could do the same. It’s not like I’ve got some sort of evil control over the Director community.