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February 04, 2005

Blast from the past

Remember Enron? Little company run by George Bush's close pal, "Kenny Boy" Lay?

Well, it's back in the news:

A Washington state utility released audiotapes Thursday that it said revealed bankrupt energy trader Enron Corp. plotted to take a power plant off-line in 2001 to jack up electric prices in Western states.

That same day, shortages of power forced rolling blackouts in northern California that affected about 2 million customers.

Snohomish Public Utility District in Everett, Washington, released the tapes as part of its effort to void a $122 million lawsuit Enron has filed against it seeking payment for electricity it was contracted to provide.

The utility says an Enron employee and a worker at a power plant in Las Vegas, Nevada, made up phony repairs, taking the plant off-line January 17, 2001.

"We want you guys to get a little creative ... and come up with a reason to go down," the Enron worker tells the plant employee on one of the tapes.


February 02, 2005

Blah blah blog

The fundamental problem with blogging is the underlying assumption that ideas are best expressed quickly rather than thoughtfully. Frank Lynch illustrates:

If I blogged about every alarm, then a few weeks ago I'd have been raving about the NYC subway fire that knocked out an entire local line and struck an express line down to one-third its normal capacity, and how it was going to take 3-5 years to restore it, and the impact it was going to have not just on New Yorkers but on New Jersey commuters who come in on a bus over the George Washington Bridge. But I didn't, I was too busy. But then a few days later when the original timeline was brought back to a matter of months, I said, you know, I should write about how quickly things change and how sometimes it makes sense to hold your opinion back. But I didn't, I was too busy. And so now, today, that local line that was supposed to take years, then months, is actually working as of today.

The moral of the story remains: don't blog everything.

Churchill and O'Reilly

There's been a lot of talk lately about a fellow named Ward Churchill, a native American college professor from Colorado, who some simplistic propagandists are insisting speaks for the likes of me. Well, I'd never heard of the guy before the current kerfluffle, but if the excerpts I've seen from his essay about 9/11 victims are accurate, and not taken wildly out of context--i.e., stripped of a concluding Wayne's World-style negative modifier ("...NOT!"), then I can say pretty confidently that he doesn't actually speak for me in any way whatsoever. Nonetheless, he apparently became the right wing cause-du-jour after word got around that he was going to give a talk at a tiny college in upstate New York (hey, when you control three branches of government and have most of the media wrapped around your little finger, you have to take your enemies where you can find them). To give this a little context:

Hamilton, a campus of 1,750 students, has always had a reputation for accepting divergent voices. In November, the same program that invited this speaker - the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture - hired Susan Rosenberg, a former member of the Weather Underground, after her release from prison on explosives charges. She later withdrew in the face of protest.

On another end of the political spectrum, the scholar Elizabeth Fox-Genovese equated abortion to murder during her talk to a packed, polite campus auditorium last Thursday. According to The Spectator, the weekly student newspaper, she also said that empowering humans to choose who lives and who dies "opens the road to the Holocaust."

So a school that brings in a lot of controversial people invited Churchill to give a lecture (on native American activism, incidentally, not 9/11), and somehow all hell broke loose. I'm not sure who initially instigated the witch hunt, whether this came out of the blogs or started with O'Reilly, but the latter has definitely been a driving force. I was watching his show a couple of nights ago and at the end of his outraged report, he put the school's phone number and email address up on screen.

And, gosh, it's not hard to guess what happened next:

Over the last five days, tiny Hamilton College in upstate New York has been barraged with more than 6,000 e-mail messages full of fury, some threatening violence. Some donors have canceled pledges to an ambitious capital campaign. And prospective students have withdrawn applications or refused to enroll.

Then, on Monday night, a caller to the college threatened to bring a gun to campus.

Admittedly, O'Reilly also emphasized the need to be polite when contacting the university, though I guess the guy with the gun missed that part. Look, on the one hand, it's dangerous to suggest that a commentator is responsible for the actions of every single member of his audience--I wouldn't want to be held to that standard myself. On the other, it's not beyond the pale to assume that O'Reilly has some familiarity with Fox News viewers, and how at least a certain percentage of them will respond when red meat is tossed in their direction. Either that, or he's so naive that he still bears the bruises from his unfortunate tumble off the turnip truck.


February 01, 2005

(CNN) -- A photograph posted on an Islamist Web site appears to be that of an action figure and not a U.S. soldier being held hostage.

Liam Cusack, the marketing coordinator for Dragon Models USA, said the figure pictured on the Web site is believed to be "Special Ops Cody," a military action figure the company manufactured in late 2003.

"It pretty much looks exactly like the same person," he said.

Cusack said he was contacted Tuesday morning by one of his retailers, who informed him that the alleged hostage appeared to be one of the company's action figures.

"I thought it was a joke at first," he said.

But after reading a report on a news Web site about a U.S. soldier allegedly being captured, "I looked at it and said, 'It does look like one of our action figures.'"

Story (and photo).

The more things change

This one's been making the rounds; chances are you've seen it but I thought I'd post it if only to keep my own inbox from overflowing with copies. I held off when I first saw it because it struck me as one of those too-perfect-to-be-true email forwards, like a Nostradamus prediction that a president named for shrubbery shall sow chaos in Babylon, or some such. But it's legit--it's on the Times' own website, and I've seen a PDF of the original article.

U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror

by Peter Grose, Special to the New York Times

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 (1967)-- United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

....A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam. The election was the culmination of a constitutional development that began in January, 1966, to which President Johnson gave his personal commitment when he met Premier Ky and General Thieu, the chief of state, in Honolulu in February.

The purpose of the voting was to give legitimacy to the Saigon Government, which has been founded only on coups and power plays since November, 1963, when President Ngo Dinh Deim was overthrown by a military junta.


From a reader:

In 1993, Senate Democrats lined up to oppose the confirmation of Zoe Baird, President Clinton's choice to be the nation's top law enforcement officer, over her hiring of undocumented immigrants in violation of the law. Now, the Senate is poised to vote on the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales, who has effectively advised President Bush that he was above the law, and could order the torture of detainees in U.S. custody. Clinton withdrew Baird's nomination, at her request. Today, however, neither President Bush nor Mr. Gonzales appear inclined to free Senate Republicans from the embarrassing choice of either voting for torture, or voting against their president. I think we can all agree that the issue of torture carries greater moral and practical weight than does the green card status of two household workers.

I'm generally inclined to let the President have his choice of cabinet members. But not today. Democrats and conscientious Republicans should join in opposing Mr. Gonzales' confirmation. Call your Senators today and tell them how you feel.

You can find contact information for your Senators here.


January 31, 2005

The best fans in the world

More personal thank yous are forthcoming, but I wanted to post a shoutout to those of you who sent stuff via the wish list. This job of mine is relatively isolating, and it's an extraordinary thing that anyone is inspired to respond like that. That's not something I take lightly, or for granted.

Not this year

Every year, probably for the past decade or so, I've put together my own entry for the Pulitzer (because, as a freelancer, I don't have a home paper to do it for me). It's a tedious process--you have to mount original clips in a scrapbook format, which, for me, means hassling various editors to dig up the clips I need (because I never remember to save that stuff), and then spending several hours breathing spray mount as I play cut-and-paste, and then writing a fifty dollar check and sending the whole package off into the void, from which it shall never be heard again. (Some of you may remember that I've mentioned my disgust with the whole process before.)

In short, it's always been a complete waste of time.

And this year when I thought about acting out that pointless little ritual once again, I found that I just didn't have it in me. Let's face it--the gatekeepers of the most prestigious award in journalism are not going to be handing it to Tom Tomorrow anytime soon. Not that I am wallowing in self-pity over this--just feeling reality-based.

Anyway, I'm done. This is my declaration of liberation. I'm not going to waste my time chasing that particular brass ring any longer. Deadline's tomorrow, and I won't be slipping in under the wire.

The Bush war on the media...

...continues unabated:

I had arrived early to get a head start on mingling among the roughly 6,000 people eating and dancing to celebrate the president's reelection. Unaware of the new escort policy (it wasn't in place during the official parties following the 2001 inauguration), I blithely assumed that in the world's freest nation, I was free to walk around at will and ask the happy partygoers such national security-jeopardizing questions as, "Are you having a good time?"

Big mistake. After cruising by the media pen -- a sectioned-off area apparently designed for corralling journalists -- a sharp-eyed volunteer spotted my media badge. "You're not supposed to go out there without an escort," she said.

I replied that I had been doing just fine without one, and walked over to a quiet corner of the hall to phone in some anecdotes to The Post's Style desk.

As I was dictating from my notes, something flashed across my face and neatly snatched my cell phone from of my hand. I looked up to confront a middle-aged woman, her face afire with rage. "You ignored the rules, and I'm throwing you out!" she barked, snapping my phone shut. "You told that girl you didn't need an escort. That's a lie! You're out of here!"

* * *

Recovering quickly, I explained that I had been unaware of the escort policy. She was unbending and ordered a couple of security guards to hustle me out. I appealed to them, saying that I was more than happy to follow whatever ground rules had been laid down. They shrugged, and deposited me back in the media pen.

* * *

Consider that the escorts weren't there to provide security; all of us had already been through two checkpoints and one metal detector. They weren't there to keep me away from, Heaven forbid, a Democrat or a protester; those folks were kept safely behind rings of fences and concrete barriers. Nor were the escorts there to admonish me for asking a rude question of the partying faithful, or to protect the paying customers from the prying media.

Their real purpose only occurred to me after I had gone home for the night, when I remembered a brief conversation with a woman I was interviewing. During the middle of our otherwise innocuous encounter, she suddenly noticed the presence of my minder. She stopped for a moment, glanced past me, then resumed talking.

No, the minders weren't there to monitor me. They were there to let the guests, my sources on inaugural night, know that any complaint, any unguarded statement, any off-the-reservation political observation, might be noted. But maybe someday they'll be monitoring something more important than an inaugural ball, and the source could be you.

Via Frank Lynch, whose photoblogging almost makes me miss Brooklyn.

Photos from hell

A reader forwards this article from The Australian:

THE US Defence Department has been asked to investigate a website being used by American soldiers to post grisly pictures of Iraqi war dead.

The site, which has been operating for more than a year, describes itself as "an online archive of soldiers' photos".

Dozens of pictures of decapitated and limbless bodies are featured on the site with tasteless captions, purportedly sent in by soldiers.

Captions include "plastic surgery needed", "road kill" and "I said dead".

This comes via what appears to be an italian links-roundup site called uruknet.info, which provides the URL of the photo site in question. I'm unfamiliar with the former, but the latter appears to be legit. There are currently 64 pages of galleries, most of which contain inoffensive pictures of mundane daily life--Iraqi street scenes, soldiers goofing around, things like that. But there are a few pages of extraordinarily disturbing images. I'm not sure the summary above really prepares you for it. I'm going to link to the main page; the photos mentioned above seem to start around page 50. But seriously, I'm warning you, this stuff will haunt your nightmares for weeks. If you have a weak stomach, don't follow the link.


...this was mentioned in a Daily Kos diary a few days ago. A commenter there found further, rather enigmatic, information about the site in question. (Same entry on his blog here.)

SpongeBob and Keith

After covering the James Dobson/SpongeBob story, Keith Olbermann found himself the target of a spam campaign:

The spam e-mails began coming in Tuesday night. They were pretty routine, damning me to eternal fires and reminding me what they "did" to Dan Rather and how I'd be next. But they were generated from Dobson's own website, which of course negates their impact, and as a result a lot of them were downright hilarious.

Something approaching 20 percent of them were simply blank. Others began with, or consisted entirely of, the preamble "(Please delete these words and type your own message here.)" Others referred to Dr. Dobson as Dr. Dobsin, Dr. Dobsen, or Mr. Dobbins. Many were cut-and-paste repetitions of one another, and about 20 percent were from false e-mail addresses.

One particularly useful one included the actual instructions on the Website as to how to conduct the campaign...

* * *

Firstly, you wouldn’t think a member of this group could misspell “Christian,” but sure enough, one of the missives had the word as “Christain” three times. I think just about every word you could imagine was butchered at some point (and we’re not talking typos here - we’re talking about repeated identical misspellings):

Spong, Spounge, Spnge - presumably meaning “Sponge.”

Dobsin, Dobsen, Debsin, Dubsen, Dobbins - presumably Dr. Dobson.

Sevility— I’m not sure about this one. This might be “civility,” or it might refer to the city in Spain.

The best of them was not a misspelling but a Freudian slip of biblical proportions. A correspondent, unhappy that I did not simply agree with her fire-and-brimstone forecast for me, wrote “I showed respect even though I disagreed with you and yet you have the audacity to call me intelligent.”

Well, you have me there, Ma’am. My mistake.

More here.


Judith Miller, transcribed by Atrios:

We now are told, according to my sources, that the administration has been reaching out to Mr. Chalabi, to offer him expressions of cooperation and support and according to one report he was even offered a chance to be an interior minister in the new government.

I saw Chalabi being interviewed on Fox yesterday, and he was certainly talking like a man about to assume authority.


I don't have a lot to say about the elections right now--like Pulling Down the Statue Day, it's just too soon to know if it matters. Clearly the high turnout is a positive development. Even if half the voters had no idea who or what they were voting for, they ignored personal risk, turned out in large numbers. We'll see where it goes from here, though.

* * *
Call me a masochist, but I spent a few minutes cruising through the righty blogs this morning, including Instapundit. Now, usually I think responding to the Instant Pundit is one of life's more futile endeavors (though Max and Oliver have made noble efforts recently). But this one hit a little too close to home:

IS THIS A GREAT COUNTRY, OR WHAT? Our drunks are more lethal than their insurgents.

This enigmatic little entry links, in turn, to a blogger who notes:

Number of people killed in Iraq on election day: 35 (source: The New York Times, 1/31/05)

Average number of Americans killed daily by drunk drivers: 47 (source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2003 data)

* * *

It's been more than ten years since I got a phone call late one Friday night: my mother's car had been rear ended by a speeding drunk, sent rolling down an embankment, killing her instantly. She was 55--twelve years older than I am today.

Unless you've been through something similar, I can't possibly explain the devastation which follows, when someone is ripped suddenly and meaninglessly from your life. Even now, so many years after the fact, there's this hollow feeling that never quite goes away, this sadness that is simply part of the fabric of my life.

Some people may view statistics like this as fodder for snarky little blog posts. For me, it just drives home the fact that there are real people behind every one of those numbers, families whose journey of grief and pain has only just begun. And to so casually dismiss their loss--"is this a great country or what?"--is beneath contempt.

(Edited for clarity.)


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