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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Saturday, 10 July 2004

Topic: For policy wonks...

Report Card: George Gets Another Gentleman's-C

The Senate Intelligence Committee report on prewar intelligence is out. It hit the streets Friday morning. If you want to read all 511 pages click here - it's in PDF format but it is free. It's not that bad. Whole chunks are blacked out - redacted, as the say. These parts seem to have something to do with African yellow-cake uranium sales - Niger to Iraq, or not. Given the current investigation of who at the White House leaked a CIA agent's name and blew her cover, to punish the fellow who said the whole thing was a hoax - well, best we not see those sections until the special prosecutor has done his job.

What to make of this big, thick pile of paper?

Well, its seems the reasons we said we had to got to war, against the advice of the UN and most of our traditional allies - not to mention most world opinion - were not supported by the facts of the matter. Of course since then we've said the original reason - that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was an immediate and grave threat to this country - wasn't the REAL reason. It was the ties to al-Qaeda - Iraq was in league with those guys to bring us down. Seems the facts don't support that either. We'll that wasn't the REAL reason. We went to war to liberate the Iraqi people. But they don't seem to like our version of liberation and things are a bit difficult on the ground there. They don't want this kind of liberation? Well, that wasn't the REAL reason we went war. It was set up a representative democracy there, with voting and a free press, and open, utterly deregulated markets - and the nations in the area would then get the idea and toss out their monarchies or theocracies or tribal confederations and jump on the Jeffersonian bandwagon. The Iraq example would transform the region. Well, that doesn't seem to be working out as planned - we're selling this idea and not many folks are buying it, even with our armed troops in their streets and with many, many local folks in prison being treated, to put it mildly, shabbily, and we won't tell them why they are in prison because we don't have to. Guess they just get this democracy thing. They think we're bullies and fools? Doesn't matter. That wasn't the REAL reason we went to war. It was humanitarian - Saddam was a bad man. Yes he was. Did horrible things to his own people. He did. Things are better with him gone. Probably. But that's a mixed bag too.

So this massive Senate Intelligence Committee report is not terribly significant as it is - let me count here - about five rationales behind the times.

Bush did say this -
The danger to our country is grave and it is growing. The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq.

President George W. Bush
Radio Address To The Nation
Ah, did the report this week say he was lying? Many say he was, and many say it is an honest mistake as the facts he had to work with were faulty.

And Bush was careful. Note in the clip from the radio address he didn't say Iraq could hit us in forty-five minutes. He said the British government said that. And there were al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq - in the Ansar al-Islam camp in northern Iraq outside the control of the Baghdad government. He did not say they were even talking to each other (they weren't). So he wasn't lying. Folks mistook geographical proximity for conspiracy. What fools.

But is this clip an example of Bush actually saying we have to go to war now to protect ourselves?

Well, it seems to be. But it has what you might call "wiggle-room." It seems folks just jump to conclusions. Funny thing.

But some of what he says we know now is just not true - but can Bush be held responsible the CIA getting it all wrong, and for each radio listener's stupidity? Hardly - or at least that what the Bush war supporters are saying now.

Still the Senate Intelligence Committee report does presents a real problem for war supporters.

Why? Try this summary from the New York Times -
The Central Intelligence Agency greatly overestimated the danger presented by deadly unconventional weapons in Iraq because of runaway assumptions that were never sufficiently challenged, the Senate Intelligence Committee said today.

In a long-awaited report that goes to the heart of President Bush's rationale for going to war against Iraq, the committee said that prewar assessments of Saddam Hussein's supposed arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, and his desire to have nuclear weapons, were wildly off the mark.

....On one important point, the committee found the C.I.A.'s conclusions reasonable -- that there had been no significant ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda terrorists.
So. The first two reasons to do this deed - the reasons that everyone lapped up, before the others were trotted out, one after the other, as the REAL reason we did the deed - well, the first two went down in flames this week.

Here is the Washington Post summary of what the two co-chairs had to say -
Asked if he believed Congress would have authorized the use of force against Iraq had it known the weakness of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, [Republican chairman Pat] Roberts said, "I do not know."...."I think it would have been argued differently," he said. "I think perhaps the battle plan would have been different."

Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va), the committee's vice chairman, said categorically that Congress would have rejected going to war in Iraq if not for the faulty intelligence.
Well, actually the Democrat from West Virginia said more.
"Tragically, the intelligence failures set forth in this report will affect our national security for generations to come. Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower. We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the panel's top-ranking Democrat.
But otherwise it went pretty well in Iraq.

Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly comments on how this falls out. He says the committee report lays the blame for bad intelligence squarely on the CIA. Points for the war supporters - they love it. Bush is off the hook and they always thought the CIA was foolishly picky about things.

But Drum a also points out - "they've been saying the CIA is too cautious, not too aggressive. What's more, the report also says there was no WMD and no ties to al-Qaeda, which basically knocks the props out from under the entire case for war. The only rationales for war they're left with are either humanitarian grounds or else the neoconnish grounds that a free Iraq will promote a wave of democracy in the Middle East. But even Paul Wolfowitz doesn't pretend that the former was sufficient reason, and the American public has shown no inclination to accept the latter."

Ah, yep. A problem.

His summary - The CIA screwed up, Bush was duped, there were no WMD, no ties to al-Qaeda, and a good chance that Congress wouldn't have authorized the war if they had known all this at the time.

That'll do. No need to read the report.

Oh yeah, here's key part of the New York Times editorial on the report -
The report was heavily censored by the administration and is too narrowly focused on the bungling of just the Central Intelligence Agency. But what comes through is thoroughly damning. Put simply, the Bush administration's intelligence analysts cooked the books to give Congress and the public the impression that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and was developing nuclear arms, that he was plotting to give such weapons to terrorists, and that he was an imminent threat.

These assertions formed the basis of Mr. Bush's justifications for war. But the report said that they were wrong and were not a true picture of the intelligence, and that the intelligence itself was not worth much.
Yeah, but that's the New York Times - eastern latte-drinking liberals, all of them.

Out here on the west coast (La-La Land or the Left Coast to some) our own Los Angeles Times this weekend gives us real detail of how this all got so screwed up.

See CIA Was Warned About Defector's Unreliability
Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times July 10, 2004, Page A1 (below the fold)
The only American who met a now-discredited Iraqi defector codenamed "Curveball" repeatedly warned the CIA before the war that the Baghdad engineer appeared to be an alcoholic and that his dramatic claims that Saddam Hussein had built a secret fleet of mobile germ weapons factories were not reliable.

In response, the deputy director of the CIA's Iraqi weapons of mass destruction task force -- part of the agency's counter-proliferation unit -- suggested in a Feb. 4, 2003, e-mail that such doubts were not welcome at the intelligence agency.

"As I said last night, let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn't say, and the powers that be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he's talking about," the CIA official wrote, according to information released Friday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to support the Senate Intelligence Committee's blistering, 511-page critique of America's prewar intelligence.

"However, in the interest of truth," the e-mail continued, "we owe somebody a sentence or two of warning, if you honestly have reservations."
And the long item goes into great detail. Yes, Curveball, the Iraqi exile who claimed that he had built biological warfare trucks for the Iraqi army later turned out to be the brother of one of Ahmed Chalabi's top aides.

And Colin Powell pounded the UN with the "facts" about this secret fleet of mobile germ weapons factories - with diagrams of just how these Winnebago's of Death were precisely configured, or so we knew. Geez. And we paid Chalabi and his group 340,000 dollars a month for many years for such information.

It seems we wanted this war bad.

What is the administration's defense for all this? Read our words exactly - what you thought, what you assumed, is YOUR problem, not ours? We never said....

That might work. You see it here and there in the conservative opinion pages.

Or this - Reasons one and two for why we went to war are so 2003 - and it's time to move on. Reasons three and four aren't working out. So let's move one. Reason five may still be a good reason. The world is a better place without Saddam Hussein. We're safer with him gone. Don't worry. Be happy. Americans are a forward-looking optimistic people. Optimism!

And that's what the president has been saying this weekend on the stump in Pennsylvania. And folks cheer, but maybe that's just a reflex - or cognitive dissonance.

There's a lot of that going around.

The war should have been... something else.

Here's a war supporter, Michael Ignatieff, agonizing about it all -
...the administration's arrogance. Gen. George C. Marshall began planning the postwar occupation of Germany two years before D-Day. This administration was fumbling for a plan two months before the invasion. Who can read Bob Woodward's ''Plan of Attack'' and not find his jaw dropping at the fact that from the very beginning, in late 2001, none of the civilian leadership, not Rice, not Powell, not Tenet, not the president, asked where the plan for the occupation phase was? Who can't feel that U.S. captains, majors and lieutenants were betrayed by the Beltway wars between State and Defense? Who can't feel rage that victorious armies stood by and watched for a month while Iraq was looted bare?

Someone like me who supported the war on human rights grounds has nowhere to hide: we didn't suppose the administration was particularly nice, but we did assume it would be competent. There isn't much excuse for its incompetence, but equally, there isn't much excuse for our naivet? either....
So sad.

But what about the idea of Bush as victim? Does seeing things that way make things better?

See this from Jerry Bowles -
The Doofus Card

There is a new meme developing that must be crushed before it turns into a full-fledged mindstorm and that is the notion of Shrub as victim. Under this formulation, our president is a likeable doofus who has been misserved by those around him, especially Dick Cheney. Maureen Dowd used it in her column last Sunday: By playing on the insecurities of an inexperienced leader, Mr. Cheney has managed to change W. from a sunny, open, bipartisan, uniter-not-a-divider, non-nation-builder into a crabby, secretive, partisan, divider-not-a-uniter, inept imperialist.

Now, Mois?s Na?m has returned to the theme in a piece called Bush's Willing Enablers in the July/August of Foreign Policy: Today, few doubt that the Bush administration's postwar planning was disastrous. Insiders' books, congressional testimony, and recent investigative reporting indicate that the miscalculations resulted from a toxic combination of ideology, terrorism, and an incurious president who allowed Vice President Dick Cheney and his allies to implement their unrealistic policies.

There are a lot of sins we can afford to forgive in our presidents; being a dummy is not one of them.
Yep. And Mark Schmitt - Director of Policy and Research at the Open Society Institute, in New York piles on -
And I also have come to think that there may be some truth to the idea that Cheney is the driving intelligence behind the entire Bush presidency. The insistence on being interviewed together by the 9/11 commission is one huge hint; the many instances in which Cheney seems to speak for the administration but with a tone and argument totally unrelated to Bush's, is another. The fact that Bush sometimes gets his message into line with Cheney's, rather than the other way around, speaks volumes.

... I am beginning to think that behind all the bluster, George W. Bush is a frightened, confused individual, totally unable to understand the magnitude of the decisions he got talked into making, and dealing with it by becoming paralyzed, letting the individuals who represent power centers within his administration, such as Rove, Powell, Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rice run off entirely on their own. Those who are able to manage the president's message, such as Cheney, are at a bureaucratic advantage. But politically, this White House is a sitting duck, and as a matter of psychology, I think the Final Days of this crowd will make for amazing reading.

The question is, when will be these final days? Late this year, or four more years down the road?

So the Senate Intelligence Committee report is out. But the polls won't change. Almost every mind is made up. Bush is our hero - or one really scary guy.



Things seem a bit more dicey in the UK at the moment.

Note this:
Spy Chiefs 'Retract Wmd Intelligence'
James Lyons, The Scotsman - Saturday 10 July 2004 - 10:13pm (UK)
Spy chiefs have retracted the intelligence behind Tony Blair's claim that Iraq posed a "current and serious" threat, it was reported tonight.

The Prime Minister's case for war was supposedly based on evidence that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons stockpiles and was trying to produce more.

But MI6 has since withdrawn the assessment underpinning that case, a senior intelligence source has told BBC1's Panorama.

The rare step amounts to an admission that it was fundamentally unreliable, according to The Observer which reveals details of the interview.
Oh my!

The full Observer report is online here if you want all the details. Basically, Tony's been hung out to dry, just now, this weekend, by MI6 - is own CIA.

If George Tenet, head our CIA, had had the balls to do THAT ... No. Here we know NO ONE crosses the Bush family, or the Rove-Cheney-Rumsfeld troika. (Somehow the term now seems appropriate, if you know your obscure political history.) Tenet resigned.

Then there is this -
The BBC claimed the PM had been "seriously reviewing his position" in the light of the electoral setbacks, the row over the European constitution and the continuing drama in Iraq, all of which had sapped his personal authority.

Blair has come under pressure from within party ranks in recent months, with some saying the time has come for him to step down. Some say he is no longer Labour's best electoral asset and is a liability because of the unpopularity of the Iraq war. Last month, Blair admitted the war had cost his party votes when it was trounced in local and European Parliament elections.

He will come under the spotlight again this week with the release of a report into British intelligence failings over Iraq's weaponry, and the staging of two closely watched by-elections.
Yep, you read that right. A national leader who, seeing he's lost his credibility, knows he's made some mistakes, or at least political misjudgments, knowing he is again going to be shown to be flat-out wrong about some major things... considers resigning! How odd.

What people like about Bush is he never admits he's wrong, whatever the facts. Steady-leadership. No flip-flopping. Bush still believes he has lost no credibility - in fact, he thinks he's gained credibility - and for us all. We do what we say - no matter how stupid, ill conceived or poorly planned. We do what we say. And Bush doesn't listen to pollsters. He leads. Competently, thoughtfully? Perhaps not. But he makes decisions, even if dim-witted ones, and he sticks to them. That's comforting. And bad news? You can take care of those who generate that bad news. Ask Joe Wilson. As his wife, Valerlie Plame. They'll get the idea.

George needs to ring up Tony and explain how to rule.

Posted by Alan at 21:33 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Culture

Automobiles - A Debate on Virtue and Exploitation

Who knew that every time my quiet and mild-mannered friend, the doctor who live nears Boston, drives into Cambridge the folks hanging around the Harvard Bookstore (the Co-Op) point at her and call her hip and "Hollywood" ... This week we see an explanation. And the item also contains an interesting comment on how the political right considers the moral question of cheeseburgers.

See It's square to be hip?
Ellen Goodman - Washington Post Writers Group - 07.09.04

Here's the set-up:
BOSTON - Over decades of driving, my cars have been called many things. Slovenly, for one. Decrepit, for another. The single adjective that has never been used to describe a car of mine is "hip." Trust me on this.

As a confessed car slob, my sole interest in the motor is that when I turn it on, it will go. Every 10 years or so, when I reluctantly enter a salesroom, I am more interested in cup holders and seat warmers than in anything remotely motor trendy.

Then, a few months ago, we bought a hybrid. This car has a name - Prius - so unracy that it sounds vaguely like a pill for erectile dysfunction. But it not only has two cup holders and optional seat warmers, it has a gas engine, an electric motor and a dashboard screen that tells me exactly how many miles per gallon I am getting every single obsessive second that I have my eyes on the screen instead of the road.

It also has this nifty, if unsettling, way of going absolutely dead silent at the stoplight as if I just stalled out. And, of course, it gets close to 60 miles to the gallon.

Now, for the first time, a car of ours has been accused of being "hip." And I do mean accused.
So how could this be hip?

Goodman explains that folks with these particular cars are "being typecast as granola-crunching, tree-hugging enviro-snobs. Not only did a New York Times writer sneeringly call our vehicles `hip,' another mocked us as `virtuous.' A third suggested that we were driving with moral superiority, `the automotive equivalent of corrective shoes.'" [That last comment would be from Dan Neil of The Los Angeles Times previously discussed here in What would Roland Barthes drive? - in the Feburary 23rd issue.]

Goodman does point out Susan Sarandon arrived at the Oscars in her own nice new Prius - just a few blocks down the street here in Hollywood at the Kodak Theater. No black limousine for her! And perhaps it is true that that driving a hybrid was a way of saying, "I'm more intelligent than the next guy."

Did Goodman want to be hip and Hollywood?

No. Goodman just felt all sorts of "liberal guilt" as it were -
... Every time I pulled up to a gas station in the wake of 9/11, I started thinking about our Middle Eastern "friends" and the Madrasa schools they support with my gas-guzzling dollars. Then too, there was global warming, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the fact of Americans using 10 times more gas than the global norm, the bright pink Victoria's Secret Hummer parked outside my office, and you get the idea.

If the car is to the environment as the cigarette is to the body, if I'm not about to go cold turkey -- or cold bike -- why not go hybrid? A New Yorker cartoon said all we needed to know about the technology: "It runs on its conventional gasoline-powered engine until it senses guilt, at which point it switches over to battery power."
That about sums it up.

But Goodman hits on what is so strange these days of conservative Republican dominance in matters of what is the right things to do - anyone who thinks about doing any good becomes a do-gooder, which is bad. As she says, doing the right thing is tagged as the left thing, which is the wrong thing.
It all began when folks sensitized to race or gender issues were politically corrected for being "politically correct." Now everything you say, do, or drive gets politicized, polarized and stereotyped.

If you follow the religious line of moral values you get inscribed in The Bill Bennett "Book of Virtues." If you follow the line of environmental values, you get mocked as "virtuous." If you eat cheeseburgers, you're one of the guys. If you buy organic greens, you're looking down on one of the guys.

This time, the image remakers may be on the wrong side of the highway, since hybrids are wait-listed and Hummers are discounted. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself has talked of turning one of his Hummers green -- though a hybrid Hummer is a little like a low-carb Krispy Kreme.

But I am sure there's a conventional automaker somewhere with a book called: "Real Men Don't Drive Hybrids."
I think I saw that somewhere or other.

She has some suggests to fight back - have every hybrid sold with a NASCAR sticker on the bumper. We could change the name from Prius to Pitbull.

Well, my doctor friend took the bait:
I frequently forget to go to the gas station to fill up my little Prius tank - the car drinks so little fuel. Then there is the stunned look of passersby when the car starts to roll away from the curb - completely silent. No, it's not a runaway car - it's merely electric powered at low speeds. Gets lots of torque that little motor. But for a brief instant, before the pedestrian realizes what's happening, there's panic in their eyes. What! A car without a thundering throbbing engine? Where'd the fumes from the tailpipe go? Not only that, I tempt fate with a Darwin fish to the left of the rear license plate. I might be pushing "hip" a bit too far to the left. But I'm happy to report that the most money I've spent on a fill from empty is $20.78. I think I'll take the kids out now for a bit of pizza in that "pitbull" car of mine and spend all that extra money I've saved on gas. That "hip to be square" silver Prius, that seats five, plus a Labrador Retriever. Here we go!
Oh, this is a Darwin Fish.

Rick from Atlanta chimed in -
Good for Ellen Goodman!

But I am a bit taken back that she says her Prius gets about 60 mpg, while our Civic Hybrid has only been getting about 40 mpg. Still, I love the part when the motor goes dead at stop signs and such!

And I do think it's about time that anyone who calls anyone else "politically correct" should be automatically labeled a "redneck snob". Not that it would shut them up, but at least they'd get a label, which I for one think is only fair.

"Redneck snob!" If there is no such thing in the real world, there ought to be.
Yep. And as labels go, that is a fine one.

Then Ric Erickson in Paris jumped in -
Hold on to your hats, there's bad news for these cheesy hybrid monkeys.

Germany, which had perfected synthetic gas back in WWII - where'd it go? - ever wonder why? - is now making bio-gas, and hydro-gas, which is being used in real cars, like mid-sized Mercedes sedans and BMWs. Yes folks, gas is being made out of wood, cow flops and good old sewer water and pumped into wonderful V8's made in Munich and Stuttgart. Bet you didn't know gas can be made out of wood. Guess which Nordic countries with lots of wood are likely to become targets of the democratic terrorist hunters in Washington.

If you care to add solar panels and windmills, there are several big European sites putting out megawatts of AC. The standard cow flop, and even green grass, is being used as fuel for this too. The solar people here are looking at the nearby Sahara; with the calculation that planting exactly one percent of it with solar panels will generate enough electricity for all of Europe's needs. They are trying this out in Spain as I write. The emissions from this are exactly nil, you know.

In comparison, a hybrid car is crude. It runs on imported pump gas, which also charges batteries, so it can run on electric motors. With two or more motors, and the batteries, these things are needlessly heavy - wearing out tires faster, wearing out bearings faster, causing ugly dents in hamburger drive-in lots, etc. - and they are expensive for what they are.

They are nothing compared to a car fueled by hydrogen. Hydrogen is explosive stuff. The world has more cheap hydrogen lying around than there are Wal-Marts. After putting the boom-boom in the gas tank, nothing but water vapor comes out the exhaust pipe. It looks like steam, because it is steam. If the internal combustion engine hadn't been converted to hydrogen fuel, they could have just made steam instead, and run the car with a steam engine. In other uses, the steam is run into turbines, to generate electricity, and heat whole cities. In Iceland, where they have free steam, they use it for central heating and swimming pools, both indoor and outdoor.

None of these alternatives require sucking up to Middle East satraps. You got a lot of cow shit in the good old USA, you got grass on millions of golf courses, you got wooden trees in Maine and Oregon, and you got not one but two oceans chock full of free hydrogen. Use your noodles!

You probably think I'm a Parisian flake. I can't show you the Wankel engine I accidentally 'invented' in the 1960's, but I might have a drawing of the H20 car I chanced to invent in the 1970s. I was before its time, and was unhonored for it. Well, the Wankel was a kind of mistake, not really worth any great honors. Not all inventions are perfect. Hydrogen, now, this is the stuff bombs are made of. Imagine tanking up Alan's little Kompressor Merc with some. That would be real Hollywood!

- from the garage in Montrouge, ric
Well, the hydrogen may be a problem.

Hydrogen is a non-starter (no pun really) - it's too hard to handle and bulky at that. There is a reason the Hindenburg was so big and floated in the air - the VOLUME of hydrogen. To fit enough of the good stuff in a car it must be highly pressurized and tightly compressed in a really, really good container. Or you can liquefy it, at extreme low temperature - and it takes more energy to do THAT, pretty much, than you save. Damn. And producing it? Pass an electric current through water (H2O) and at one electrode you get pure hydrogen and at the other pure oxygen. Did that in seventh grade science. Yeah, but where do you get the electric current? The energy needed to break the bond between the three atoms is considerable - water is very stable. Glance at the geometry of the periodic table. So the power needed to produce the hydrogen is the problem. Well, you could use solar-generated electric power. Not much of that available yet. General Motors and Ford and the energy companies - all the guys over here - are working the hydrogen problem - but they're talking about producing hydrogen from crude oil. You reconfigure the cracking towers at the refineries over here and you can get a lot of hydrogen pretty cheaply from the standard black hydrocarbon goop the Arab world sells us. Yeah. A problem, as you can see. Or as the oil companies see it, an opportunity.

Bio-mass fuel is, indeed, one answer. Wood? Hemp is probably the very most efficient energy source for that - grows fast and provides more thermal units per ton than almost anything else. And like peas and other legumes, hemp adds nitrogen back into the soil, improving it. Nifty! But you cannot grow hemp here, even if you grow the varieties that contain no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) at all. Our government sees this as a moral issue. Oh well. But much gasoline in the middle of this country is already ten percent ethanol - from corn. (You cannot use pure ethanol in gasoline or diesel engines without changing the composition of the gaskets and fuel lines and all the rest - it is a bit harsh and makes those things rapidly dissolve. Top-fuel drag racers, running pure ethanol, know this well and their build-teams use the proper parts.) More bio-mass fuel will come on line, of course, or a bit more. One doesn't want one's parts dissolving. I certainly don't.

The other source of bi-mass fuel? Bullshit and horseshit? We've got that. Lots of it. Methane is easy. We can do that. Why not put it all to use? This IS an election year.

Other stuff. Every few months you see stuff in the press (on a slow news day) about some America or Canadian greener using bio-diesel derived from the residue of deep fat fryers at McDo's and such - and refined, or at least well-filtered, this stuff is fine for any diesel engine. These folks tool around in their quite normal diesel cars leaving, it is said, just the scent of deep-fried potatoes and burnt fish. This is not mainstream. We don't do diesel engines over here. You guys in Europe get the new common-rail diesel designs with superchargers or turbochargers - and staged injection and all the new gizmos. They're pretty nifty engines and work just fine. I drove one from Avignon to Aix a bit back. Worked just fine. No one wants one here. Not cool. But really, we DO have more stale deep-fry fat than any nation on earth I'd guess. Too bad.

An H2O car? Explain!

Oh - the French-made Nissan diesel that took me to Aix one day...

Rick in Atlanta had an explanation for the H2O Car - Boat!

But Ric in Paris explained a bit more -
Look, I just invent these things. I'm not into fiddly details. A car with a H2O motor? Go to the lake or seaside to tank up. You don't need to know what's under the hood.

There was a docu on Arte last week, showing how the alternate energy is coming along. About halfway through, they're showing a Chrysler-Daimler suit tanking up his Merc, at a Chrysler-Daimler gas station, with hydrogen stuff. A pretty formidable gas cap there! Looked like an injection system. But nobody was wearing anti-flame suits or hardhats.

As for wood - it was wood not hemp. Taking all kinds of wood, wood scrap, whole freaking trees, reducing them to sawdust and cooking it up. Turns into energy. Doing the same thing with grass, weeds, any green junk lying around. A lot of stuff that used to be thrown away.

This alternate-energy is going on all over Europe, but perhaps more in countries that have to lay out hard cash for petroleum. They showed farms that were able to quit buying fuel and electricity - ones that produced enough of a surplus to sell it to the grid.

It's a long-range thing. Petroleum is too expensive and it isn't renewable. The nuclear reactors are all going to wear out, and nobody wants to replace them. There isn't enough hydro to go around.

But wood and grass are easy to grow. Shit from animals is free, as is wind and sunshine.
But the docu didn't mention anything to do with cost of the R&D going into alternate-energy resources. My guess is that it is no more than is routinely spent on petroleum exploration and development; it's probably only a fraction of it.

Another plus factor for alternate-energy resources is that the production is often near where it's going to be used - so there's next to no transport like super-tankers involved.

The people who have a lot of vested interest in the oil business do not want to see alternate-energy. This is okay because they haven't done us many favors. These new people, investing in these risks, will deserve the rewards they get - and we will be better off for it.

As for that French-made Nissan diesel that took you to Aix one day... I thought it looked like a Renault, but it's a.... two-generation old Nissan-Renault. It's Renault showing Nissan how to make an ugly car. [Yep, Renault now own a controlling interest in Nissan and the cars do show this.]

Diesel's dirty little secret is that it's very dirty. A lot of filters can cut down on emissions, but the cheaper diesels don't have these. Motorcycles are dirty too. It's possible that about 60 percent of all passenger cars sold in France are diesels. Fuel for them is a bit cheaper, and the modern ones get good mileage. High-end ones are quiet too, and the turbo ones are very powerful and fast.

But diesel motors are more expensive - they have to be stronger. It might take more than 100,000 kilometers to balance the extra price against the lower gas cost just to break even. The pollution from diesels is very bad because of the solid particles they spew out - in Paris.

Attached images done in early 1970s, in no-speed-limit Germany.
And I guess this is the Water Car. It says so.

But it doesn't look hip.

Posted by Alan at 13:11 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 10 July 2004 15:29 PDT home

Friday, 9 July 2004

Topic: The Law

Way down Guant?namo Bay way...

Last week much of the discussion was on the Supreme Court rulings that seemed to require that those we are holding at Guant?namo Bay at least be allowed some sort of hearing to argue they were not "enemy combatants" at all. See The Discussion: Second Thoughts and the related articles for all that.

Yes, the Supreme Court ruled on June 28 that these Guant?namo detainees can challenge the legality of their detentions. And the Pentagon actually is complying - setting up a system of hearings for all of them. Each hearing will be presided over by three military officials. And Reuters is reporting that in these hearings the detainees can't consult with or be represented by counsel.

Rachel Meeropol, a human rights lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, called the new procedures inadequate and illegal, and said they fall far short of satisfying the Supreme Court's ruling. "The fact is they're coming up with these procedures on the fly," said Meeropol, whose group has filed cases in federal court seeking the release of several Guant?namo prisoners.

Arriaga said that while the government should be doing everything possible in light of the court ruling to facilitate judicial review of the lawfulness of the detentions, it instead appears to be trying to narrow the scope of the review. Arriaga noted that the new process remains entirely within the U.S. military, and that all sorts of evidence will be admissible, including from anonymous witnesses and statements that may have been coerced.
But close enough? This shows we're trying to be fair, but not getting bogged own in a lot of silly detail?

Well, it's a start.

Except the Los Angeles Times reports this - exceptions we seem to be taking to make sure things don't get out of hand with all this legal stuff.
Despite pledging yearly reviews for all prisoners held by the U.S. military at Guant?namo Bay, Cuba, Pentagon officials tentatively agreed during a high-level meeting last month to deny that process to some detainees and to keep their existence secret "for intelligence reasons," senior defense officials said Thursday.

Under the proposal, some prisoners would in effect be kept off public records and away from the scrutiny of lawyers and judges.

... It was unclear Thursday whether the Pentagon had followed through with the proposal, or how it would be affected by last month's Supreme Court ruling that granted detainees access to American courts. It also was not clear how many detainees the proposal would apply to. The Pentagon said there currently were 594 detainees at the camp...
The number of 594 is, of course, counting only those on the books at the moment. The real number? That is unclear at the moment.

So. Rumsfeld and the Pentagon give in. Everyone gets a hearing - they just don't get advice and counsel.

Does this fall short of what the Supreme Court ruled? One supposes that will take further adjudication - one of these detainees will have to sue over not being allowed to seek legal advice and then take it up through the courts and see if it rises to the top. Gee, how will a detainee get help suing if the detainee cannot seek legal advice? Whatever.

Heck, what is the Supreme Court going to do about this "no lawyers here" rule - hold Rumsfeld in contempt and fine him, or send him to jail? He has the Army.

But he did give in. Everyone gets a hearing - every detainee. Everyone - depending on how you define the term. There will always be some who just aren't there. And they cannot get hearings if they simply do not exist. The Supreme Court cannot require an existential impossibility.

Well, it's a start.

Posted by Alan at 15:03 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Music


If you have a high speed internet connection note this -
Having (relatively) recently obtained over 100 versions of "Body and Soul", I've decided to share the wealth. Herein you'll find the first volume of what is planned to be a 5 volume set of my picks of the litter. This can also serve as a beginner's guide to jazz, as it moves from the most famous version by Billie Holiday, to the most influential version by Coleman Hawkins, to versions by such post-bop luminaries as Eric Dolphy and Sun Ra, to the most impressive recent version by Jason Moran. I plan (i.e. might) add some of the appropriate history of the various versions, especially those of Hawkins and Holiday, if I can dig up the tomes in which those nuggets are buried.
Handy instructions are included.

Needless to say, at tip of the hat to the web site Body and Soul.

Posted by Alan at 10:00 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 9 July 2004 10:08 PDT home

Thursday, 8 July 2004

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Yes, they're not even pretending to be serious anymore.

Two weeks ago here, and in Just Above Sunset, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, and I kicked around ideas concerning the Associated Press' recent suit seeking access to all records of Bush's military service during the Vietnam War. You see, the AP sued the Pentagon - as The Air National Guard of the United States, a federal entity, has control of the microfilm in question, which the AP said should be disclosed in its entirety under the Freedom of Information Act, or so the lawsuit says. ( See June 27, 2004: The news media wakes up and starts doing its job? for the whole thing. )

Last week here, and in Just Above Sunset, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, and I kicked around ideas around about how the government now claims they cannot make copies of computer files for the public because it's just too tricky. Might lose the data forever. Yep. Sure. ( See Your government at work... hoping there are some things you won't notice for that exchange. )

Now this - from the New York Times, Friday, June 9th....

Pentagon Says Bush Records of Service Were Destroyed
Ralph Blumenthal, The New York Times, July 9, 2004
HOUSTON, July 8 - Military records that could help establish President Bush's whereabouts during his disputed service in the Texas Air National Guard more than 30 years ago have been inadvertently destroyed, according to the Pentagon.

It said the payroll records of "numerous service members," including former First Lt. Bush, had been ruined in 1996 and 1997 by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service during a project to salvage deteriorating microfilm. No back-up paper copies could be found, it added in notices dated June 25.

The destroyed records cover three months of a period in 1972 and 1973 when Mr. Bush's claims of service in Alabama are in question.

The disclosure appeared to catch some experts, both pro-Bush and con, by surprise. Even the retired lieutenant colonel who studied Mr. Bush's records for the White House, Albert C. Lloyd of Austin, said it came as news to him.

The loss was announced by the Defense Department's Office of Freedom of Information and Security Review in letters to The New York Times and other news organizations that for nearly half a year have sought Mr. Bush's complete service file under the open-records law.
Interesting. They just found out? No one knew?

The Times quotes from the Pentagon letter -"The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) has advised of the inadvertent destruction of microfilm containing certain National Guard payroll records. In 1996 and 1997, DFAS engaged with limited success in a project to salvage deteriorating microfilm. During this process the microfilm payroll records of numerous service members were damaged, including from the first quarter of 1969 (Jan. 1 to March 31) and the third quarter of 1972 (July 1 to Sept. 30). President Bush's payroll records for these two quarters were among the records destroyed. Searches for backup paper copies of the missing records were unsuccessful."


But the best part of the letter seems to be where the Pentagon says they will answer no questions at all about this - because you'll only get answers to any questions you might have if you file another Freedom of Information application.

Go away. Don't ask. Just go away.

And these guys just remembered NOW that seven or eight years ago they'd lost this bunch of stuff?

The Times does mention that there was no mention at all of this "loss" when White House officials released hundreds of pages of the President's military records last February - and that was when the White House was in the middle of that big nasty scrum to deal with all those accusations that Bush was AWOL for a time during his commitment to fly the dangerous skies over Texas, Arkansas and Alabama in the Air National Guard as an alternative to flying over in Vietnam. He didn't even want to scoot around over Little Rock or Birmingham?

The Times called Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director about this "loss" of the microfilm that might have settled the matter, twice. Bartlett didn't return the calls.

Hey, why would he? What's to say?

Yes, these guys not even pretending to be serious anymore. They were trying to salvage the microfilm and something went wrong - Rosemary Wood was working on it that day?


Posted by Alan at 22:19 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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