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Month: June 2004

The go-ahead

The working-group report elaborated the Bush administration’s view that the president has virtually unlimited power to wage war as he sees fit, and neither Congress, the courts nor international law can interfere. It concluded that neither the president nor anyone following his instructions was bound by the federal Torture Statute, which makes it a crime for Americans working for the government overseas to commit or attempt torture, defined as any act intended to “inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” Punishment is up to 20 years imprisonment, or a death sentence or life imprisonment if the victim dies.

This from the Wall Street Journal, on Monday. The full text of the article has been reproduced elsewhere.

It really makes those articles about our reluctance to employ torture seem naive, doesn’t it? “We don’t sanction torture, but there are psychological and other ways that we can get most of what we need.” Except right around the time Rockefeller said that, Bush’s administration decided that it was OK to sanction torture. Egg on his face.

Phil Carter discusses the difference between advice on how to stay within the law and advice on how to avoid prosecution for breaking the law. Bitter fruit.

Mists of the past

I’m normally not much of a Harry Turtledove fan. I found the Worldwar series to be incredibly long and dull with poor characterization and fairly uninteresting aliens. He clearly knows his history, but he wasn’t so good at getting the story across. For some reason I took a plunge on American Front anyhow.

Surprise, it was remarkably readable. I think this is perhaps because there’s a whole lot of populism in it, and I’m a sucker for populism at the moment. So I went ahead and read the whole trilogy, and then the second trilogy set in the same timeline, and now I’m waiting for the next one.

It’s an alternate history timeline in which the Confederates won because Lee didn’t lose his battle plans. A few years later, the South won again. Lincoln went over to the Socialists, marginalizing the Republicans and putting the Democrats solidly in power. Marxism became popular among blacks in the South. Utah is grumpy and rebellious. Etc.

In 1914, the CSA is allied with France and England while the US is allied with Germany. Archduke Ferdinand is assassinated in Serbia. Things proceed as one might expect.

Now, I’m not going to say it was smooth writing or anything. For one thing, it’s a multiple POV book, a lot like George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice. The POV segments are, oh, maybe four or five pages at a shot, so there’s no way it’s not going to get choppy here and there. Not all the characters are as interesting as one might like — but there’s good variation among them; he’s not writing the same character over and over again.

And, you know. Marxist rebellions in Georgia. Heated debate about the appropriate role of the Socialist Party with regard to those rebellions. Upton Sinclair, Presidential candidate. Custer as a should-be-retired general. Neither the CSA or the USA depicted as good guys. Mistakes made on all sides.

Half of me wants to lasershark it and use it as the setting for an Unknown Armies game. Or a Vampire game. Or something. Even if I don’t, though, it’s fun reading.


Since I posted my pieces on the upcoming draft and, I’ve gotten 687 hits on the first and 493 on the second. Total traffic: 1180 hits, most of which is probably not everyday visitors who saw it on the front page anyhow.

Over half of those came within the first couple of days; the counter-meme spread very nicely within LiveJournal. These days I’m getting hits from message boards of various stripes. I got few links from blogs outside LiveJournal, interestingly. I think it’s because the original rumor didn’t spread much in the blogosphere.

Monday Mashup #42: Harry Potter

I’ve been meaning to do this mashup for while, and this is probably a good occasion. Let it roll: it’s Harry Potter time. Any book is fine, or all of them, or whatever suits — one of the elements of the series that I really like is the time progression, although I’m not confident that Rowling won’t screw it up, but do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the mashup law.

(Hm. I should use Al next Monday.)

By the pricking

Ray Bradbury has pretty strong opinions about Michael Moore.

“Michael Moore is a screwed a—hole, that is what I think about that case,” Bradbury said according to an English translation of the story. “He stole my title and changed the numbers without ever asking me for permission.”

Continued the author: “[Moore] is a horrible human being – horrible human!”

When asked if he agrees with Moore’s political positions, Bradbury replied, “That has nothing to do with it. He copied my title; that is what happened. That has nothing to do with my political opinions.”

No doubt. Sort of like that scumbag who stole a line from Macbeth for his book.

Tiananmen Square memories

Seventeen years ago, I spent a month in the People’s Republic of China on a youth tour. There were 40 Western teens — mostly from the United States — and 20 Chinese teens on the tour. We travelled together for a month, from Beijing down through Shandong Province; we climbed Tai Shan, drifted along the Huang He by boat, stayed in Wuhan for a few days, and finally wound up in Shanghai. It was an amazing experience.

I met a lot of people on that trip. Stefani later introduced me to Pearl, her freshman year roommate. Pearl in turn introduced me to Susan, who got me back into the SF con scene. I met Leon through Susan, and Leon introduced me to TinyMUD, which is how I got my first job in the tech industry. It was a rather important month in my life.

I also met a few people whose names I’m still uncomfortable using in public, because… you never know. The Chinese kids we travelled with were all smart highly educated children of Communist Party members from Beijing. At the beginning of the trip, they were highly doctrinaire around us. By the end? Everyone had loosened up. There was more trust. The more radical among them were willing to admit to being uncertain about the rule of their parents.

We exchanged addresses at the end of the tour. Some of us kept up our letter writing — circumscribed, always, and careful, but knowing each other well enough to read between the lines.

A little more than fifteen years ago, the tone of some of the letters changed. Got more excited. Something was up.

Fifteen years ago, the world saw this.

Tanks and protester at Tianamen Square

We stopped getting letters after that. I don’t know why; I like to think it’s simply that writing letters to Westerners were unwise, but I know it’s possible that some of my friends died in the protests. Unlikely, though; not many students did. But… you never know.

Either way, Tiananmen Square was very personal for me. I’d spent an afternoon there, looking at the monuments and being amazed at the scale of the place. I had, at the time, a little wooden fan with a picture of the Square on it. I knew people who were probably there when the tanks rolled in.

Never forget.

Fight spam with

The only thing I really don’t like about MT-Blacklist is that I have to fiddle around and cut and paste URLs and click a lot when I want to mark a comment as spam. This is mostly my own fault for using an old CRT-based mail reader, but still. So I wrote a little script that takes an MovableType comment email as input and runs MT-Blacklist on the comment. Now, whenever I get comment spam, I pipe the email alert to this script and the comment spam goes away.

This works for me. It may not work for you. No warrantee, etc. Test before using. Requires the CPAN modules WWW::Mechanize and HTML::TokeParser.

Personal reasons

George Tenet resigned yesterday. This is kind of odd for a number of reasons.

First, some background: George Tenet is not exactly a friend of Bush. The split has been fairly clear since Tenet left Bush out in the cold on the “imminent threat” question. There’s also been plenty of speculation that the CIA is not pleased with the Bush administration about the Valerie Plame issue. The popular conception among Washington-watchers is that CIA and State are more or less aligned in an effort to blunt the impact of neocon foreign policy. Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans was a successful attempt to create an alternative channel by which intelligence on Iraq could reach the President.

This should in no way be interpreted as putting the CIA in a good light. The OSP could have been the best, most honest intelligence group in the world and the CIA wouldn’t have been pleased to have another competitor. Turf wars are a terrible thing. All we can say at this point, assuming the speculation is accurate, is that the CIA is not a friend of the various neocons in Bush’s administration.

So: the first question is whether Tenet quit or was fired. If he was fired, why? If he quit, why?

If he was fired it seems likely that he’s going to be the scapegoat for Iraq failures. This is darned risky, given that he’ll have little reason not to fight back since he’s out of a job. You also have to wonder how much the CIA likes Tenet; does Bush want to piss off the CIA more than it already is? Maybe he thought about it and decided it was worth it. But it seems like an odd choice, particularly when you’ve got Doug Feith as a more direct scapegoat with less ability to fight back. Maybe Feith knows where too many bodies are buried.

If he quit, is he just fed up? Does he have an agenda? Will he be writing a book? Will it come out before the elections?

It’s unusual for news like this to be announced on a Thursday; you want to announce big personnel changes on a Friday so that there’s no weekday news cycle chewing over the ramifications. Did Tenet force Bush’s hand with a threat to leak the news himself? Did Bush just blurt it out accidentally?

And I’m not even going to get into the conspiracy theories that link this and the Valerie Plame affair — but man, it’s bad timing for Bush to announce this the day after the news comes out that he’s consulting a lawyer.

You can see what I mean. This raises about a million questions, few of which will ever get answered.


Bush is ready to hire a lawyer in case he has to testify in the Valerie Plame case. This is quite right; you should be ready to hire a lawyer if you suspect you may be the target of a grand jury investigation. Clinton hired a lawyer, Charles Ruff, during the Whitewater investigation.

Mind you, that came after Ken Starr began his investigation. But if there’s a chance you’re being investigated, it makes sense to be prepared.