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9.29.2003

Bless you boys 

The Detroit Tigers avoided tying the modern record for most losses in a season by beating (a team of mostly subs from) the Minnesota Twins last night.

9.28.2003

Treachery 

So I missed this story when it first ran, but apparently back in July somebody blew the cover of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative. The author of the column, Robert Nowak, claims that Plame's identity was disclosed to him by "two senior administration officials." Intentionally disclosing a covert operative's identity is a felony.

The CIA has asked the Justice Department to investigate the allegations; a report can be found in the Washington Post. The claim is that Plame's cover was blown because Plame's husband, former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, publicly challenged Bush's claim that Iraq had sought to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger.

Much more on this issue can be found at Daily Kos.

I've generally defended Bush's actions with respect to Iraq -- I supported the removal of Saddam Hussein, and I'm inclined to believe the scores of independent reports circulated by the conservative side of the blogosphere claiming that real progress is being made in the reconstruction of an Iraqi civil society, despite the generally negative reports published by the major media outlets. But if these reports about Plame and Wilson are correct, someone in the executive office has engaged in outright treachery. Bush himself may not have had anything to do with springing the leak, but his administration may be toast.

UPDATE: Unbelievably, there's still no mention of this on CNN.com, although it's been reported in several papers and all over the blogosphere.

UPDATE: Some sources (most notably the Washington Post and Nowak himself) appear to be retracting some of their words. Pejmanesque seems to think that there's a good chance the whole stench will blow over. Me, I'm just confused. Wilson originally said something to the effect that "I want to see if we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs, and I measure my words carefully," and now all of a sudden he's backing off from that rather explicit accusation. And Nowak can't decide whether or not people in the Bush administration did leak the information to him.

9.27.2003

Bet you won't find this in Webster's twelfth edition 

I think I'm going to start using the phrase "gay in the pejorative, nonsexual sense" to describe anything that is exceptionally campy, kitschy, or otherwise non-subtle and of questionable taste. I hope gays won't be offended by the phrase; I don't think they should be.

So far a Google search for

gay pejorative nonsexual

doesn't turn up anything like what I've described above; maybe that'll change dramatically. (Not bloody likely.)

Get in line 

Despite not being in (electronic) line at 10:00 am on Friday when tickets for the Barenaked Ladies' newly announced mini-tour date in Boston went on sale, I managed to score a ticket. Woo-hoo! Ticketmaster was sold out Friday night (actually, they were probably sold out at 10:02 am on Friday), but I checked again this morning. Either they released another batch of tickets, or some credit card orders fell through.

Anyway, they're playing in Boston's Orpheum Theatre (capacity 2,000 or so) on October 21, the same day their new album "Everything to Everybody" will be released.

9.26.2003

Viewpoint discrimination, again 

A couple is suing because they purchased an inscribed brick for a state playground and had their religious message bowdlerized. It was supposed to say "Thank you Jesus, Daria & Evan Buchanan" but was edited to read "Daria & Evan Buchanan".

Seems to me like this action amounts to an unconstitutional restriction of an individual's free expression of speech, not an instance of the government enforcing the constitutional disestablishment of religion. The brick has the Buchanans' names on it; how much more non-government-sponsored could it be?

Viewpoint discrimination 

The ACLU is suing the Secret Service for restricting anti-Bush protests.

Eugene Volokh has some very cogent thoughts on the matter here; he basically agrees that if the facts are as stated, the Secret Service is acting unconstitutionally by displacing anti-Bush protests large distances away from the events they are protesting.

Crank 

Thierry Meyssan, the fella who published a French bestseller claiming that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were orchestrated by the US military, is selling decks of cards with US government officials on them -- a parody of the US government's deck of cards of Iraqi officials.

Unfortunately for him, it's already been done, and more cheaply. On top of that, the American Bush cards are sometimes kind of funny, whereas the French cards seem dead serious.

Simpsons quote of the day, or week, or month 

Went to Bible study last night. The discussion that transpired brought to mind the following snippet from the Simpsons:



Homer: Marge ... Simpson!
Marge: Homer! It's you! I thought I'd never see you again!
Homer: You were wrong ... dead wrong!
Marge: Do you have to talk like that?
Homer: [reverts to his normal voice] No, not really.
Marge, you have to help me. I have to do one good
deed to get into heaven.
Marge: Well I have a whole list of chores. Clean the
garage, paint the house, grout the ...
Homer: Whoa, whoa, whoa. I'm just trying to get in. I'm
not running for Jesus.

From Treehouse of Horror XI.


9.25.2003

(Insert reference to Austin Powers here) 

Starbucks is launching a branch in France.

I just find it amusing that there are three of them in Harvard Square, all within five to seven minutes walking time of each other.

An apology, sort of 

The BBC expresses regrets about Andrew Gilligan's story on the "sexing up" of the British government's dossier on Iraq. Excerpt:



The BBC's lawyer has told the Hutton inquiry that the corporation "regretted" that Andrew Gilligan's first Today programme Iraq dossier story did not "sufficiently distinguish" between David Kelly's comments and the journalist's own interpretation of what he said.

Andrew Caldecott QC, in his closing statement to the inquiry, said the BBC also accepted the government should have been alerted about the story, which alleged that the dossier was "sexed up", before Gilligan's first broadcast at 6.07am on May 29.

But Mr Caldecott added that the BBC "defended the broad judgment" that it was "entirely right" to broadcast Gilligan's story, given that other media outlets had been reporting unease within the intelligence services about last September's Iraq dossier.

He admitted that Gilligan was wrong, in his 6.07am broadcast, not to make clear that allegations that the government inserted the 45-minute claim knowing it to be wrong and demanded more information from the intelligence services to "sex up" the dossier were his own interpretation of what Dr Kelly said, rather than direct quotes.



That's one thing that's always irritated me about journalists in Britain -- so often they insert their own spin or interpretation of a given quotation or incident without making it clear that that's what they're doing.

Life imitating art, or something like that 

In an otherwise enlightening piece on the efforts to US and Germany to cooperate in the reconstruction of Iraq, the BBC makes this colossal blunder:



After his meeting with George Bush, the German chancellor also met French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This is the threesome christened The Axis of Weasels by White House hawks for their opposition to the war.



Alert readers know, of course, that this is absolutely false. The origin of the "Axis of Weasels" tag can be found here.

9.24.2003

But are samples from Nobel Prize winners more effective? 

Another item from Korea: A pair of medical researchers from South Korea have found an inexpensive way to fight ovarian cancer.

(Via InstaPundit, via a chain of other sources.)

Links 

Apparently this blog has unwittingly found its way onto someone else's blogroll. The referring blog's URL is http://rizzol2000.blogspot.com and is called "Cali Loves Beth!"

I have no idea what that site is about. I also have no idea why my blog should have a link on it, but it does.

In case you didn't notice, New York was one of the blue states... 

Paul Lewis, a prof at Boston College, suggests that the Democratic states secede from the Union and join Canada.

The secession proposal is obviously tongue-in-cheek, but most of the rest of the article seems to be serious.

Okay, so most of the things he says in the article are foolish but harmless. But here's the kicker:


Alluding to the Middle East reminds us of one of the greatest benefits of joining Canada, a nation that has far fewer enemies than the United States. After declaring their affiliation with a country that respects the United Nations Charter, the newly created provinces would be far less likely to draw the wrath of international terrorists.


I can only interpret this to mean that he believes the US had it coming when the events of 9/11 hit.

Poll: Baghdad residents willing to suffer temporary setbacks for long-term benefits 

From the Associated Press:



WASHINGTON (AP) -- While most residents of Baghdad say that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth the hardships they've endured since then, they are divided on whether the country is worse off or better off than before the U.S. invasion, according to a Gallup poll.

Two-thirds, 67 percent, say they think that Iraq will be in better condition five years from now than it was before the U.S.-led invasion. Only 8 percent say they think it will be worse off.

But they're not convinced that Iraq is better off now -- 47 percent said the country is worse off than before the invasion and 33 percent said it is better off.

The Gallup poll of 1,178 adults was conducted face to face in the respondents' household from August 28 through September 4 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Gallup plans to poll extensively in the coming months and years in Iraq and has established a center in Baghdad to coordinate the polling effort.



Makes sense to me. I just hope that homicide bombers aren't still operating on a daily basis in Iraq in five years.

9.23.2003

Two degrees of freedom 

Every citizen of Earth should take this test of his or her political sensibilities (also added to the list of links at the left, for future reference). As Socrates said, "know thyself." As Socrates said on another occasion, "the unexamined life is not worth living."

In case you're curious, I've taken the test several times and come out as pretty firmly centrist, with slight libertarian/conservative leanings; I score about 1.18 in the the libertarian direction and about 2.25 in the free-market direction.

College football player's family sues priest, church over alcohol-related death 

From the Associated Press:



PHILADELPHIA (AP) The parents of a University of Pittsburgh football player who died after he fell through a church ceiling have filed a lawsuit seeking at least $75 million from church officials and a priest accused of giving the teen alcohol in the hours before his death.

Billy Gaines, 19, died in June while attending a cookout hosted by the Rev. Henry Krawczyk at the St. Anne Catholic Church in Homestead in western Pennsylvania.

Authorities have charged Krawczyk with involuntary manslaughter in the player's death.

The suit alleges that Krawczyk served alcohol for several hours to a group of teens on the night of the accident, then did nothing as the group got rowdy, watched pornography on television and used the chapel's sound system to rap and sing.

Gaines crashed through a ceiling while trying to get to the roof through a crawl space that Krawczyk had shown him, the suit said.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in Philadelphia, also names St. Anne's, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish over which Krawczyk presided, and the Our Lady of Joy parish in Plum, where he worked in the 1980s.

It seeks damages for Gaines' pain and suffering, compensation for what he may have earned over his lifetime and $75 million in punitive damages.

Gaines' parents also alleged that Krawczyk had been accused several times of giving alcohol to minors in the past, and of making sexual advances toward a minor boy, but had not been disciplined or removed from a position where he would have contact with young people.



Wow.

This is utterly reprehensible behavior by the priest, and I'm certain that he is legally liable for Gaines's death...but don't parents teach their kids about alcohol anymore? Don't people take responsibility for what they put in their mouths?

From this article written at the time of the incident, we learn that Gaines's BAC was 0.16 percent. I don't know if this is at the time of the autopsy or at the time of the fall; for argument's sake let's say this is their estimate of his BAC at the time of the fall. 0.16 percent is the equivalent of six drinks. The lawsuit alleges that the group had been drinking for several hours before Gaines fell. The human body expunges roughly one drink per hour. Gaines fell at 2:30 am. Let's estimate the cookout began at around 9:30 pm. This means that Gaines had around eleven drinks that night. Outstanding.

Also, I hope that Gaines's parents aren't expecting too much compensation from what Gaines's pro football career would have yielded. The average NFL career is around two or three years, and NFL contracts aren't guaranteed (if you get cut in training camp, you don't get paid). So the expected value of Gaines's pro football earnings is probably chump change compared to the $75 million Gaines's parents are seeking in punitive damages.

Patience of Job, indeed 

My hometown baseball team, the Detroit Tigers, notched its 118th loss last night. The major league mark is just two losses away, but in a rather perverse way Alan Trammell may be spared the sight of loss number 120 -- he's going to be away for two games to attend his mother's funeral. I feel so sorry for the man.

9.22.2003

Maybe if the entire nation were athletes or soldiers, the regime would feed them... 

I had no idea that North Korea is competing in the Women's World Cup. Apparently their side is the two-time defending Asian champion.

Come to think of it, it's maybe a little surprising that North Korea didn't boycott the WWC once it was moved from China to the USA. The USA and the DPRK play on Sunday, September 28.

Of course, it's utterly contemptible that a nation that tortures its people by the thousands and starves its people by the millions (1) thinks that maintaining national sports teams is a priority and (2) is allowed to compete at the highest levels of international sport.

Update: Chris Beaumont, whose blog Free North Korea really needs more traffic (not that it's going to get it from here), has a more sympathetic view of North Korean national sports teams. Very well. I don't necessarily have anything against the individual players on the North Korean team. But South Africa was banned from the Olympics for years for offenses of roughly the same magnitude of those being committed by the North Korean state. And let's not even get started on my reaction if the two Koreas do enter a unified team in Athens 2004.

9.21.2003

More on Iraq 

Accordring to the Associated Press, Iraq's leadership council wants to open up the country's industries -- with the exception of the oil industry -- to foreign investment. Of course, leftists could plausibly argue that the US wants the exclusive privilege of being able to negotiate favorable trading terms with the Iraqi oil industry, much as it does (unwisely) with the Saudi oil industry...

Also, an item from the Washington Post suggesting that Russia may be softening its stance on the US occupation of Iraq.

On Mormonism (or, Funny, I thought I was going for the IRS agent look) 

So I showed up to church today wearing a white shirt and a black tie and black pants. I was also wearing my nametag, since I was driving a church van that day and wanted to display my nametag as a courtesy to any visitors who might be coming to our church for the first time. Naturally, I got a whole bunch of comments about looking like a Mormon, and one guy jokingly suggested that I could infiltrate the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Well, a few minutes on Google yielded this treasure trove of (mis)information.

I won't comment on the allegations of improper touching or blood oaths of secrecy during the Mormon confirmation ceremony or any other things I haven't seen, but I will say that it is generally understood that Mormon doctrine disagrees very sharply with evangelical Christian doctrine.

The essential teachings seem to be that the person we (evangelicals) think of God was once an ordinary mortal who followed the precepts of Mormonism exceptionally well. Jesus Christ was a similar mortal turned divine, of a slightly lesser status than God. Salvation through Christ's atonement is a meaningless concept in the Church of LDS. We "ordinary" mortals are supposed to be able to achieve (lesser) divine status through a similar process.

As I understand it, the essential truths of Mormonism described above derive from the Book of Mormon, which was supposedly a work of divine inspiration penned by Joseph Smith in the 1800s. What is really puzzling is that Mormons claim that the Book of Mormon and the Bible are both divinely inspired. How do they resolve the contradictions between the two texts? By saying that they believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible "insofar as it has been correctly translated or interpreted," or something like that. Pretty big copout, I'd say.

Speaking from the point of view of a evangelical Christian, the things that Mormons believe in are pretty clearly heresy, though I don't know that having these incorrect beliefs automatically disqualifies them from entrance into heaven. Anyway, Christ himself warned us against speculating about such things.

They do seem like really nice people, though. After all, they were responsible for the name of the greatest album of the 1980s, the Joshua Tree.

9.20.2003

A traitor at Gitmo? 

I haven't seen this reported anywhere else, and the only source is anonymous, but if this story checks out, it's pretty disturbing...


An Army Islamic chaplain, who counseled al Qaeda prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base, has been charged with espionage, aiding the enemy and spying, The Washington Times has learned.

Capt. James J. Yee, a 1990 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., was arrested earlier this month by the FBI in Jacksonville, Fla., as he arrived on a military charter flight from Guantanamo, according to a law-enforcement source...

Capt. Yee, of Chinese-American descent, was raised in New Jersey as a Christian. He studied Islam at West Point and converted to Islam and left the Army in the mid-1990s. He moved to Syria, where he underwent further religious training in traditional Islamic beliefs. He returned to the United States and re-entered the Army as an Islamic chaplain. He is said to be married to a Syrian woman.


Thanks to Instapundit for the pointer.

Down with Yankee imperialism and exploitation of the poor! and so forth. 

David Adesnik of OxBlog writes:


IS DEMOCRACY PERFECT? No, of course not. Nor are the New York Yankees, but they just keep on winning and winning and winning. And, if politics were baseball, democracy would be the New York Yankees. And democracy would've won the last 20 World Series in a row, not just 5 of the last 10.

(I tempted to say that Communism would be the Red Sox, but that's an insult to Communism since it gave the Yankees more of a challenge than the Red Sox ever did.)


Ouch. I do have to say, though, that I think Adesnik is a little late with the analogy.

Of course, there's always Scrappleface... 

From the Guardian, a sober reflection on the recent journalistic scandals at the BBC and the New York Times.

9.19.2003

Ultimate heroes 

An item from Saratoga Springs, New York:


SARATOGA SPRINGS -- A group of five Skidmore College students on a road trip to an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Rochester quietly became heroes early Saturday morning.

The men rescued a semiconscious 19-year-old woman who collided head-on with a tow truck on Route 67 in Amsterdam. While one student called 911, the others pulled her from the wreckage just before it burst into flames.

'If it wasn't for those guys, she would have died,' said Nick Prusky, a paramedic with the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corp., who was one of the first on the scene.

When Prusky drove up to the scene, he saw the woman lying on the ground where she was carried about 15 yards away from her blazing Chevy Cavalier.

Prusky said the students -- David Williamson, 21, a senior; Ian Williamson (no relation), 19, a sophomore; David Frazier, 24, a senior; Matthew Gershun, 19, a sophomore; and Davin Lyons, 19, a sophomore -- cared for Martin as help arrived.

'They held her head and tried to keep her calm because she was pretty upset and crying and didn't know what was going on,' Prusky said.

After interviews with police, the students, who are all members of the Wombats, Skidmore's Ultimate Frisbee team, headed back on the road. Arriving in Rochester, they realized someone on the team had confused the date of the tournament, which was actually the following day.


Readers who are familiar with Ultimate Frisbee will note that while heroic actions might naturally be expected from Ultimate players, showing up to a tournament early definitely isn't.

The two things you don't talk about (part one) 


"In the rest of the world, the two things that you can't talk about are religion and politics. In Ireland the only things we talk about are religion and politics."

- Larry Mullen Jr., the drummer for U2


Well, that little gem explains why I love U2 so much. As a practicing Christian who is generally interested in the outside world, I find that the music and the message put forth by U2 inspire me in a way that no other band's work does.

I could ramble on for another couple hundred pages about how wonderful U2 is, but instead I'll lament the fact that it's really hard to have meaningful discussions about politics and religion. Actually, I'll probably just concentrate on political discussions here, since other issues come up when one wants to discuss religion.

In short, it seems like many people (myself included, sometimes) have a very difficult time dissociating individuals (including their own selves) from the opinions that these individuals hold. Disagreements about a particular policy or course of action usually result from the different weights two individuals might give to a given set of priorities or a different interpretation of a given set of circumstances, but they end up being extrapolated into attacks on character. Sometimes such attacks reach the point where both sides end up disagreeing about basic facts and end up calling each other liars. (Big Media seems to be a popular target -- liberals believe that the media are conservatively biased, and conservatives believe that the media are liberally biased. Go figure.)

The last paragraph was awfully abstract, so I'd better illustrate it with an example. We'll use everyone's favorite topic, the war in Iraq.

There are, I hope, a number of things on which we can agree:

- Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath party were a bunch of tyrants who could only be deposed by force.

- The total casualties, civilian and military, during major combat operations were remarkably few.

- Much of Iraq's infrastructure (physical, economic, social) is in shambles, and the country as a whole faces a long rebuilding process.

- As evidenced by protests and continuing attacks on troops, there are some people on the ground who don't want the US there.

There are other things that are not clearly known, such as:

- Are the protests and attacks on troops indicative of popular sentiment, or are they the last-gasp actions of marginalized groups of Ba'ath party remnants and other extremists in Iraq?

- How long will the reconstruction of Iraq take, and how much will it cost?

So one could argue, as I do, that the removal of Saddam and the reconstruction of a liberal society in Iraq were a moral imperative. On the other hand, one could argue that cultural and logistical difficulties in rebuilding Iraq, combined with the possibility of further blowback in the war on terrorism, made it unwise to invade Iraq. These and other arguments can then be debated on their foundations.

But instead we have been polarized into two distinct camps -- the imperialistic, brutish, bloodthirsty conquerors versus the cowardly, naive appeaseniks. Such is the level to which intellectual discourse has sunk in our age.

Welcome 

Well, machfive.blogspot.com is up and running. What's going to appear here? Thoughts on the news, music, politics, culture, sports, random junk, who knows. And of course, lots of links to stuff that other folks have written.

Why machfive? Back in 1995, I enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which of course is one of the finest institutions on this planet precisely because it allows new students to choose their own usernames. Correctly sensing that this choice would determine the outcome of my career and social life for many years to come, I spent a lot of time hemming and hawing about what I should call myself. As a lark, I settled on the name "speed", though I don't consider myself to be much of a fan of the old Speed Racer Anime show.

Apparently four years later a student with the last name of Speed enrolled at MIT. Whoops. My bad.

I hope that most of the stuff that gets published here will be of actual substance, instead of random boring self-indulgent anecdotes like the one above. Way to start off.

If any of you have any ideas for a good colorscheme to use, let me know. The original author of this template had these really ugly University of Texas-esque burnt orange background at the top of the page.

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