Stop—right now, and forevermore to come—pretending that George W. Bush and his advisers have a shred of competence. This war, the mad quest for WMDs, their backing of dubious old creeps like Ahmed Chalabi, has come to this:
Agency: Chalabi group was front for IranRemember the reports about how, in the early days of the administration, George & Co. imprudently devised a special “pipeline” setup in the national intelligence agencies, so that reports about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, WMDs, etc., would get sent to them faster? This is what they were so anxious to get their hands on that they bypassed the usual oversight, fact checking, and analysis functions our intelligence agencies are set up to provide.
WASHINGTON—The Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that a U.S.-funded arm of Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress has been used for years by Iranian intelligence to pass disinformation to the United States and to collect highly sensitive American secrets, according to intelligence sources.
“Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program information to provoke the United States into getting rid of Saddam Hussein,” said an intelligence source Friday who was briefed on the Defense Intelligence Agency’s conclusions, which were based on a review of thousands of internal documents.
The Information Collection Program also “kept the Iranians informed about what we were doing” by passing classified U.S. documents and other sensitive information, he said. The program has received millions of dollars from the U.S. government over several years.
An administration official confirmed that “highly classified information had been provided [to the Iranians] through that channel.”
The Defense Department this week halted payment of $340,000 a month to Chalabi’s program. Chalabi had long been the favorite of the Pentagon’s civilian leadership. Intelligence sources say Chalabi himself has passed on sensitive U.S. intelligence to the Iranians.Patrick Lang, former director of the intelligence agency’s Middle East branch, said he had been told by colleagues in the intelligence community that Chalabi’s U.S.-funded program to provide information about weapons of mass destruction and insurgents was effectively an Iranian intelligence operation. “They [the Iranians] knew exactly what we were up to,” he said.
Initial reports have been playing up how triffically intelligent and sophisticated this Iranian operation was; but if I were you, I’d take that with a grain of salt. Long before the war, before the 2000 elections, George & Co. were known to have a major letch for war with Saddam Hussein. Like Dubya’s courtiers, all the Iranians had to do was listen to find out what it was he wanted to hear. It wasn’t hard. After that, it was just a matter of handing him the straw and letting him suck it up.
This has been an awfully expensive way for George to find out why intelligence operations do all that dreary ol’ fact-checking and analysis. He could have phoned any one of dozens of experts, his father among them, and asked about that. I’ll bet they’d have told him for free.
So let me put it thusly, boss, and youse Who is the molls and goons and likewise guysThe second installment:
To him who is your leader. You got nix
To keep you outta French guys’ speaks and joints,
But some bull from this mouthpiece Pharamond,
“In terram Salicam mulieres ne succedant,”
“No doll can get the goods in Salic land,”
Which neighborhood those Frogs make like what is
The French North Side, which this guy Pharamond,
Pulled out of his own keister, so to speak.
Yet judges bought with their own moolah say
This Salic property is German, like
Up in Detroit and on the Pittsburgh side,
Where Big Chuck having whacked the Saxon gang,
They set up shop and started making gin.
And, since they did not fancy German dolls
(Though I got no such preferences myself)
They made this regulation that no broad
Can wear no pants up in no Salic land. [Laughter from the nobles.]
HARRY. Let’s hear the guys what Dolphin-boy has sent.Third installment, y-clept ‘A Coupla French Chicks Sittin’ Around Talking’:
[Some flunkies take a powder.]
So now we make to parley. On our feet,
Is everybody packin’ proper heat?
We own that joint. They just ain’t got the word.
And if they still don’t, we must bust stuff up,
And run things big, like Barnum tendin’ bar
In big fat France, her racetracks and her numbers,
And maybe we will blow it. Them’s the breaks.
There have been lots of guys we only knew
From all the flowers at their funerals.
And if I get a daisy-patch in France
These Frogs will know that they was right messed with,
And all of Harry’s guys will take the Fifth.
[The Consiglieri slouch in.]
AMBASSADOR. Bonjour, Big Henry. You is lookin’ good.
But I have gotta make things understood:
You wanna sit and listen for a while,
Or shall we settle this back-alley style?
HARRY. What is not messed with, there we do not mess.
Our beer is strong, our judges paid on time,
And every jerk we whack has whacking won.
So lay it on the table from your boss
And what is up his snoot.
AMB. Let’s cut the crap.
You sent a note that him what’s runnin’ France
Should give a wad of territory up
‘Cause Crazy Eddie ran a game there once.
On this, my boss the Dolphin ain’t so keen,
Says that you is a, or is smokin’, dope,
An’ wonders how you got in them long pants.
You risk a grabbing by the wide lapels,
And havin’ your hat handed you real hard.
But hey, he pays his markers. So here is
A bunch of boodle that should square things up,
And put this stupid tsimmis in the bag:
So’s all the gloves stay on. Thusly the swag.
HARRY. What ante, Uncle?
EXETER. Crooked dice, big guy.
HARRY. Dis Dolphin, he’s a stand-up guy, with style.
We thank you muchly, as we like to say.
But tell youse, when we make our come-out roll
On your green felt, we’re gonna hit a streak
That you are gonna pay some vig to fade.
You let him know we got a golden arm,
And he had better hock the silver now
‘Cause Dolphins do not swim too good with sharks.
I guess he heard how we hung out with grinds
And welshers. But, y’know? That marker’s paid.
We sniffed at our joint here, ‘cause of its looks,
But then we saw the second set of books.
But, you know kids. They ain’t got no respect.
And what ain’t theirs, it gets it in the neck.
But you tell Fish-face that my dice are square
As is his noggin, and he can lay odds
When I step up to make my play in France
The way I knot my tie and wear my hat
May make me look a Reuben at the Ritz,
But I got me an open-fronted suit,
And when I hoof it on your bully-vards
You’re gonna think I came from MGM.
And tell the welsher that his lousy dice
Will knock him over like a hick-town bank,
And he may end up short a rib or two
When dem bones roll. For Adas from Decatur
And corners and Big Reds are on the line,
He’ll get the hardways, make a cocked-up toss
And find he’s starin’ at two bloodshot eyes
Till he can grab a boxcar out of town.
But hey, we’ve drawn, but we ain’t seen the flop.
Your boss, he might get lucky. And he might
Get called while holdin’ bupkis. Get my drift?
He’s ponied up his bankroll like a mensch,
So tell him I will cover all of it.
My boys are all dressed up; can’t keep ‘em down
On no damn farm, when they see Paris town.
Now eighty-six these wiseguys. Toodle-oo.
But don’t plug them or nothin’. We is through.
[Ambassadors make tracks.]
EXETER. Cripes, what a buncha patzers.HARRY. Like the man said, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
[Rouen. The FRENCH KING’S resort and casino.]Thank you, Mike Ford.
[Here comes ALICE. solus, she thinks.]
ALICE. Bon Dieu, achetez-moi un Mercedes-Benz, Je travaille pour Katy —
[KATHERINE busts in.]
KATHERINE. Alice, tu as ete en Angleterre, et tu parles bien le langage.
ALICE. Un peu, madame.
KATHERINE. Je te prie, m’enseignez; il faut que j’apprenne a parler. Comment appelez-vous le café en Anglais?
ALICE. Le café? Elle est appelee de joint.
KATHERINE. De joint. Et les gentilhommes?
ALICE. Les gentilhommes? Ma foi, j’oublie les gentilhommes; mais je me souviendrai. Les gentilhommes? Je pense qu’ils sont appeles de guys; oui, de guys.
KATHERINE. La café, de joint; les gentilhommes, de guys. Je pense queje suis le bon ecolier; j’ai gagne deux mots d’Anglais vitement. Comment appelez-vous le alcool?
ALICE. Le alcool? Nous les appelons de hooch.
KATHERINE. De hooch. Ecoutez; dites-moi si je parle bien: de joint, de guys, et de hooch.
ALICE. C’est bien dit, madame; il est fort bon palaver.
KATHERINE. Dites-moi l’Anglais pour le musique.
ALICE. De boogie-woogie, madame.
KATHERINE. Et le boulevardier?
ALICE. De cheap bastard.
KATHERINE. De cheap bastard. Je m’en fais la repetition de tous les mots que vous m’avez appris des a present.
ALICE. Il est trop difficile, madame, comme je pense.
KATHERINE. Excusez-moi, Alice, ecoutez: d’hand, de fingre, de hooch, d’bookie-wookie, de cheap Bastille.
ALICE. De cheap bastard, madame.
KATHERINE. O Seigneur Dieu, je m’en oublie! De cheap bastard. Comment appelez-vous la danse?
ALICE. De Sharleston-Sharleston, madame.
KATHERINE. De Sharleston-Sharleston. Et le chevalerie?
ALICE. De made guys.
KATHERINE. De made guys. Sans peur et sans reproche?
ALICE. Peut-étre, madame.
KATHERINE. La danse, de Sharleston-Sharleston; le chevalerie, de made guys.
ALICE. Oui. Sauf votre honneur, en verite, vous prononcez les mots aussi droit que les natifs de Brooklyn..
KATHERINE. Je ne doute point d’apprendre, par la grace de Dieu, et en peu de temps.
ALICE. N’avez-vous pas deja oublie ce que je vous ai enseigne?
KATHERINE. Non, je reciterai a vous promptement: de joint, de guys, de pooch —
ALICE. De hooch, madame.
KATHERINE. De hooch, de boogie-woogie, de sheep-bastard.
ALICE. Sauf votre honneur, de cheap bastard.
KATHERINE. Ainsi dis-je; d’cheap bastard, de sharleston-sharleston, et de made guys. Comment appelez-vous les flics et la prison?
ALICE. Les cops, madame; et le joint.
KATHERINE. Le cops et le joint. Mais le joint, c’est le café aussi! O Seigneur Dieu! ils sont mots de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et non pour les dames d’honneur d’user: je ne voudrais prononcer ces mots devant les seigneurs de France pour tout le monde. Foh! le cops et le joint! Neanmoins, je reciterai une autre fois ma lecon ensemble: de joint, de guys, de hooch, de boogie-woogie, de cheap bastard, de Sharleston-Sharleston, de made guys, de cops, d’autre joint.
ALICE. Excellent, madame! Madame c’est prêt á la fête de soir!KATHERINE. C’est assez pour une fois: allons-nous a Yves Saint Laurent.
A distinctive body of comments that really deserve their own thread.
Show me shoyu.
This story of Todd James Pierce, dispenser of thoroughly bad advice, has taken an unexpected turn. Can anyone out there tell me what an “IAP Award for Fiction” might be? Mr. Pierce has been listing it as one of his achievements for some time now—see his web pages here, and at Clemson where he’s now an Assistant Professor—but so far, the only IAP award I’ve found that’s given to individuals is given to UW Madison undergrads and Wisconsin residents, and Mr. Pierce doesn’t seem to have any history in Wisconsin. Moreover, the only hits I get from the string [“IAP award” fiction] are either references to Mr. Pierce, or mentions of the International Advocate for Peace Award that also happen to mention the word “fiction”.
Maybe there’s an explanation. But if there isn’t, I can’t think Clemson’s going to be very happy about this.
If you have a Macintosh running OSX, you have a problem. Deal with it right now. Tonight. Seriously.
A completely terrifying demo of the hole. Click on it and watch how the “help:” protocol can be used to (for instance) fire up your Terminal program and run “du”. As the demo says, it could just as easily have run “rm -rf”.
(Mom, “rm -rf” means “Wipe everything on my hard drive.” If Matt’s got OSX running on your computer, you need to take care of this.)
Here’s where to get the fix—but read the other stuff first.
Here’s how Patrick explained it to me:
It is possible to write a URL that, when invoked from one’s default browser, invokes Apple’s Help program, which is itself a mini-browser which uses a subset of HTML. The trouble is that unlike a well-written, full-fledged, OSX browser, the Help program is (a.) fully scriptable; and (b.) fully capable of running any application or command for which the user has privileges.
This is where “rm -rf” and other nightmares come in. Terminal is a very powerful program. For instance, instead of wiping your hard drive, a malfeasant could have Terminal send all the data on your hard drive to the destination of his choice.
When you click on the URL for the demo, it launches the Help program, which in turn launches Terminal on your own machine—and then, without any intervention from you, runs “du”. This is harmless, but has the quite terrifying property of scrolling through a complete list of the files on your computer. At that moment, you realize that you’re the data loss equivalent of a spider held above a fire by someone’s cupped hands.
The solution is to break the link that allows the “help:” protocol to launch the Help program. Read the links, download the software, and do what it says. It’s fast and easy. Once you’ve done it, anyone who tries to get at you via the “help:” protocol security hole will wind up launching the chess game, which at worst will beat you at chess.
One of the pitfalls of the writing trade is that anyone who has basic writing chops can spout authoritative-sounding advice about the biz, even if he doesn’t know a bare pope from a hole full of shinola. The latest specimen I’ve run across is the Cover Letter Tips page. It’s the work of one Todd James Pierce, a grad student in the Creative Writing department at Florida State University. The following may or may not be true of Mr. Pierce:
Presently I am the Assistant to the Director of Creative Writing at Florida State University, where, next year, I will graduate with a Ph.D. I also hold an MFA (UC Irvine) and an MA (Oregon State). My stories have been published in about 15 journals, the most recent being American Short Fiction, The Literary Review, and The Greensboro Review. This year, I will have stories in The South Dakota Review, The South Carolina Review, Speak, and again in The Literary Review (a novella this time). Earlier this year I won the Charles Angoff Award for Literary Excellence, and in previous years I received an IAP award and a Humanities Grant. I’ve had non-fiction anthologized in a number of books, including Southern Studies, Australia Literature, the textbook Rethinking How We Teach Creative Writing, and Salon’s Guide to Contemporary Authors (Viking/Penguin, 1999).Why the doubt? Read on. Mr. Pierce preaches the doctrine of the short three-paragraph cover letter. That’s not a bad idea in its own right. Cover letters say too much far more often than they say too little. It’s his list of eleven sure-fire tips that made me yelp out loud. Naturally, I immediately forwarded the URL to Patrick via Instant Message:
teresanh: You have to see this.He’s right. Here goes:
(tnh sends URL)
patricknh: This is a joke, right?
teresanh: It’s serious.
patricknh: This is stupid. I now have stupid all over me.
11 Cover Letter TipsRejected is forgotten, and second and third chances are common. If you resubmit the same work it’ll very likely be recognized, at which point the slush reader will think you’re clueless and lame; but if the version you’re submitting has been substantially rewritten, just say “You may recall an earlier version of this book, which I submitted to your house [however long ago it was]. Since then it has been substantially rewritten and is, I believe, a much stronger work.”
Tip One: Wait until your work is absolutely finished before submitting. You rarely get a second chance with a good editor or agent.
Tip Two: Find the right agent or editor. Find novels which are like your manuscript, then find out their agent and editor. How? Simple, call the publishers. Most are very willing to offer this information.Some are happier than others, but most are willing.
Tip Three: Worried about Paragraph Two, the personal history? Have nothing to say? Be imaginative. Why are you the best person to have written this novel? How has your personal experience prepared you for it?I have to wonder whether he got that advice from an article about how to submit work to a nonfiction publisher, where the quality of the information and the credibility or celebrity of the author are so much more important. A novelist’s primary credentials are his novels, with his sales figures coming in a close second. Prestigious awards and prior publications are nice, and will get his manuscript read with more patience than you’d give a book out of nowhere. But beyond that, great credentials only help if they’re attached to a good book.
A while back a friend at another house was sent a financial thriller written by a former financial officer of a formerly high-flying company that had taken a huge and highly-publicized fall. He was certainly qualified to write that book—but alas, his credentials were much better than his novel. The proof’s in the reading. The only real answer to “Why are you the best person to have written this novel?” is, “I wrote it, and no one else did.”Moving on now to the tip that made Patrick hit his “caps lock” key:
Tip Four: Still worried? Never published anything? Lie a little. Yes, lie. A cover letter is a persuasive document designed to do one thing: entice an editor or agent to read your manuscript. Say whatever you have to, within reason, to accomplish this. No publication credits? Write the words “West Coast Fiction Review” on a piece of paper, staple it to one of your stories, and boom, you’ve just been published in West Coast Fiction Review. Is there such a publication? Not that I know of, but it sure sounds impressive. No awards? Ask your best friend—let’s say her name is Martha Green—to give you the 1999 Martha Green Award for Outstanding Achievement in Fiction. What’s the Martha Green Award worth? Not much, unless it entices an editor or agent to read your work.DON’T EVER DO THIS. First, an editor is not going to be impressed by a bunch of awards and publications they’ve never heard of. An author with no publishing credits might turn out to be interesting. Getting in at one or two small-time publications means you can write readable prose. But a long string of penny-ante credits means you’ve been scraping bottom for a long time, and chances are this submission is more of the same.
Second, if your manuscript is sufficiently interesting to make me want to know more about you, or if I catch a whiff of BS while reading your letter, it’s the work of a moment to type “Martha Green Award” or “West Coast Fiction Review” into Google. Real awards and publications will turn up dozens or hundreds or thousands of hits. If I don’t see that evidence, my willingness to have anything to do with you or your manuscript will plummet. I’ll cease to believe without hard documentary proof that any of your other claims are legit, including your claim to have written the work in hand. Unless you’ve written a book so awesome that its manuscript glows in the dark, you are now more trouble than you’re worth. Furthermore, your name will be remembered.Third, and speaking of plummeting credibility, shouldn’t someone mention this interesting theory to Mr. Pierce’s department at FSU? I should think that at minimum they’d want him to take it off the university’s website ASAFP; and if I were his department, I’d find or make time to do a close audit of his academic career to date. One instance of falsifying data might be aberrant behavior, but when someone’s publicly advocating the practice, you have to figure it’s a habit, possibly a lifestyle.
Tip Five: Don’t take this too far. You can get away with some small lies. It’s best not to say you’ve been published in, say, The New Yorker, if you haven’t. Editors and Agents may ask about that.Not “may”. Try “will”. We may not even have to ask. For instance, I automatically doubt any claims of publication that don’t mention the title and publisher. There may exist an author who thinks those aren’t relevant or interesting details, but I have yet to meet one. In general, it’s best to just tell the truth. Cover letters only matter a little. Manuscripts matter a lot.
Tip Six: Never, never, never list the word count. Not even on short stories. It’s says, HACK, in bold letters. It is a lie perpetuated by Writer’s Digest Books. No one cares about the exact word count. Editors and agents can see that a 300 page manuscript is, well, a 300 page manuscript.Is he insane? Of course you should mention the wordcount. Three hundred manuscript pages from Darren Rhett Bird, who uses proportionally spaced type in a small point size, and scants his margins and leading, contain between two and two and a half times as many words as the same number of manuscript pages from Joan Skriftlode, who prints out her pages using twelve-point Courier in a canonical manuscript format. This variability undoubtedly accounts for our otherwise inexplicable habit of saying WE WANT TO KNOW THE WORDCOUNT.
Tip Seven: If you talk about your own life, make sure it is related to your manuscript. No one will care if you’re a Tennis Pro and Mother of Three, unless your novel is also about these things.True. Mostly true. One or two sentences can’t hurt. Don’t get cute about it, unless you’re really good at cute.
Tip Eight: Call. That’s right, Call. Introduce yourself. Be confident. Let them know your work is coming. It’s the surest way to get out of that slush pile and on to a desk. Too afraid to call? Write out what you want to say, call AFTER HOURS, leave a voice message. It’s not as good talking to a real person, but hey, it’s better than nothing.The surest way? Say what? Calling in advance is an irritating waste of the editorial department’s time, and will do nothing to get you out of a trade publishing slushpile. Leaving a message after hours is even more clueless. I can’t imagine where Mr. Pierce got this idea, unless he’s been taking advice from someone who secretly hates him. There is one significant effect this might have. Because you’ve phoned to say something about a submission, someone may write down your name and the title of your book, and pass the note on to the slush readers. They’ll be puzzled—why did you say you were phoning again?—and will stick the note up on their bulletin board. When your manuscript crosses their desk, they may remember that there was something-or-other they were supposed to remember or do about it, and will set your manuscript on the Inscrutable Problems stack for later diagnosis. Some slow afternoon—of which there aren’t many—they’ll have a go at the Inscrutable Problems stack, and will look at your manuscript again. They won’t be able to tell what the problem was. They’ll set the manuscript aside for later. After several cycles, they’ll either figure that any manuscript that’s been around this long should be returned to its author on general principles, or they’ll move on to another job and the new slush reader will run your manuscript through several more Inscrutable Problems cycles before it gets so old that they return it to you on general principles.
Tip Nine: Do not—I repeat—Do not include postage for the return of your whole manuscript. A large, SASE with five bucks of stamps on it says, Shove it back in here right now. Instead, enclose a letter sized stamped envelope suitable for a letter only. This encourages the editor or agent to at least write to you. (But, as always, really good news comes with phone calls! Letters, for the most part, mean bad news.)Only a grass-green newbie would think we need any encouragement to send back your manuscript. The pertinent phrase here is “default option”. A large SASE with full postage means you get your manuscript back. A letter-size SASE means you get a standard rejection letter and we throw your manuscript into the recycling bin. Neither option increases your chances of getting a personal letter.
Tip Ten: Mention only one or two manuscripts, at most, to any editor or agent. If you say, I’ve got seven more novels just like this, it tells the editor or agent, Hey, no one’s wanted the other seven.It depends on the manuscript and the author.
My Last Tip: Send a whole lot of letters out. Cast a big net. Expect rejection. Don’t worry when you get it. Keep sending out more letters. …This sounds like advice for sending out query letters. Cover letters are sent out with manuscripts. If he doesn’t know the difference, he doesn’t know how to submit his own work, much less advise others on how they should submit theirs.
If you have a friend who has an agent, ask that person to recommend you to their agent. That’s the shortest way to the front of the line. If you don’t have such a friend—or let’s say that agent nixed you, too—consider attending a Writers Conference which agents and editors will attend. That’s another short way to the front of the line. Be persistent. Be prepared to shell out a lot of bucks at the post office. …If he’s sending out cover letters and manuscripts this indiscriminately, he may need to read up on simultaneous submissions.
I can think of no one—and, to be honest, I know a LOT of writers—who has found a book contract after only a few months of submitting.I can think of quite a few, though it’s not the way to bet. It’s a frustratingly slow process, and we ought to speed it up. But trust me: these tips Will Not Help.
You know what’s really scary? A half-hour’s plonking around on the web would probably net me four or five pages of advice that are at least this bad. Let the writer beware.
Rumsfeld won’t resign, and Bush won’t sack him.
I believe this is the first time I’ve seen George miss an opportunity to distance himself from failure and blame. The atrocities at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere will still have happened on his watch, so he’ll still have ultimate responsibility—hey, that’s what it means when you take on a command position—but firing Rumsfeld would at least have given him a cut-out, a figleaf’s worth of cover. It’s the minimum price for having anyone believe his apologies.
But no. He means to keep Rumsfeld, and so necessarily endorses him; which means the blame flows straight up through Rumsfeld and attaches to Bush. That’s so unlike him. All these times, we’ve watched him dodge responsibility; yet now, when the charges are so foul that any sane man would want to distance himself from, Bush is right in there saying “Bring it on.”This pretty much nails down his title as the worst President in American History, except for the matter of his not having been legitimately elected. I don’t know. Maybe this will be a trick question in future presidential trivia quizzes:
“Worst President ever?” “That’s easy! —George W. Bush.”Like that.
“Is not, it’s James Buchanan.”
“Got you! Bush was never elected. He was acting chief executive, or something.”
“Jeez, what a rip.”
Arkhangel, who is former military, writes a very distinctive weblog, Better Angels of our Nature. He’s been furious with grief since the Abu Ghraib story broke. I linked to him the first time I wrote about it. Here he is on the underappreciated issue of our national honor.
There is no honor.
I saw Don Rumsfeld’s testimony today, and there is no honor. Certainly, the other men present at the witness table did not acquit themselves well, but in the end, it comes down to Rumsfeld and the President. And there is no honor.
“Who was in charge? What was the chain of command?” Simple questions, these. Asked by John McCain, an honorable man. Simple questions, deserving of a simple answer. But the simple answer never made it past the lips of the Secretary. There were evasions and dodges, a dance of deceit, if you will.
No one was in charge, it seems—because that way, the only people who suffer punishment are the sergeants and privates in the photographs and videos. And as for the chain of command, well…uh…well, that was left behind somewhere in the recesses of the Pentagon. And there is no honor in that.
“When did you see the pictures?” Another simple question, asked by another honorable man, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, deserving of a simple answer. Answered not with a simple answer, but with a desperate dodge.
Certainly, the Secretary had his defenders. The schools, the schools, they cried, all of them—Hutchinson and Dole, and two men who wouldn’t know honor, dignity and grace if they went twelve bloody rounds with them. I speak of Saxby Chambliss and Jeff Sessions, and the less spoken about them, the better.
But what of the schools? What of all the good we’ve done there? So what? Does it make the horrors we’ve seen, and those we’ve yet to see any more excusable? Is this what Republican morality is all about? Getting an extramarital blowjob in the Oval Office is a national crisis, but you can abuse and torment all the Iraqis you want—just make sure you build them 2,000 schools to make up for it.
And just when you thought one side had the market cornered on moral hypocrisy, you had Saint Joe Lieberman, patron saint of pious sanctimony, try to wash away the sins of Abu Ghraib by saying that since the Secretary had apologized (the way a six-year-old apologizes, only after being caught red-handed with the broken shards of pottery in his hands), and the 9/11 hijackers hadn’t, that made things better.
I thought the world of Joe, once. Not anymore—I despise his empty bromides, his saccharine piety. If there was any way I could run against him in two years, I would. Hey, Sen. Dodd, there’s something you can do with all that money you’re squirrelling away: get someone to run against this sorry excuse for a Democrat.I harbor no illusions that Secretary Rumsfeld will resign, or be impeached. The President is far too mired in the muck, the web of deceit, corruption, and irresponsibility for him to fire one of his closest advisors—because ultimately, the final responsibility lies with him, in the Oval Office.
They did. They are. And today’s the day, from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
I’m not the only defrocked medievalist around here. Jim Macdonald just posted this souvenir of his student days to one of the open threads. What the hey. We could all use a good laugh just now; and the more you know about English metrical romances, the funnier this gets.
O Mary Quene ond Nicholas seinte
Patron lord of clerkes quente
Mercy to us sende.
Ther was to once a noble knight
That Lancelot du Lak was hight
Yet was there ane mo hende.
His nam was Syr Agri Colie
I sey the sooth and wol nat lie
Also may God him spede.
He was a wight of muckle lor
And lik to ben a professour
In romance as we rede.
He was as doughty as Horn Childe,
As mighty as Gawain the mild
Or Havelok the Dane.
Of Orfeo or Syr Launfal
Sir Ageri he bet hem al
As paynims wot wtih payne.
Now to the tale I wol begin—
Ance on a day as did Turpin
He fought the Saracen.
And bolder than Octavian
He rode into the press again
And slaugh x thousand men.
And as he rode as the Sowdan
Sir Agre, bold and doughty man,
Was smote down from behind.
The swerd cut down unto his brain,
“Alas,” quod he, “An hedious peyn!
That was a stroke unkind.”
And from his steed he tumbled off
That made the Sowdan for to loff
That Sir Agre was lorn.
Than said the Sowdan with great gle,
“Bring him bounden unto me
He’ll wish he ne was born.
We’ll make him read of Gamelyn
And Parceval and al his kin
Until his teres shal run
Ond he shal rede of Geofferey
That with his quil pen maked fre,
Thus shal we have our fun.
If of al this he may not choke
We will bring ut another boke
Ywritten by Iohn Gower,
And he shall red the Pearl-rime
Ond therewith shall he spend his tyme,
Thus shal he know oor power.
If from al this he be nat ded
We’ll feed the bugges on his hed
Until he be ner wode.
And then tak yow a broad-swerd blak
And stik him swiftly in the bak
That shal be for the gode.”
Sir Agre, when he herd al this,
He was wonder sad, iwiss,
And wished he had ben slo.
And lik Cressid he wept ful fast
As if his hert had ben tobrast
And thus he mad his wo.
Then said Syr Agre unto him,
That saracen that was so grim,
“How kan I win me fre?”
Then spoke the wicked saracin
That was come of Caines kin,
“Ye must pass ordels thre.
First ye must go into a tent,
I sey yow soothe, for verrament,
There is a noble grail,
And iv gallons of clary win
There is that god cuppe within
Exactly like a pail.
And ye maun drink it from the top
And drain it to the lastest drop
And never lose a bit
And aye may never take a breath
To do so it would mean your death
There is no help for it.
Then you maun go without delay
And nowhere may you stop nor stay
Unto another tent.
Within that tent, enchained ther,
Stands a grisly groaning ber,
Our hunters have him hent.
His fangs are long, his look is fell,
There is one thing, the sooth to tell
And maken no mistake;
You maun go unto him there
And with both your handes bare
Cure him of tooth-ake.
Ye maun pull out his aching tooth;
When this is done, I sey you sooth,
A thrid task ye maun do.
There is another tent here madye,
And therein is a lusty ladye
Ye maun go her to.
Ther never was a lusty knight
Could satisfy her in a night
Had he the strength of x,
For when she swyves, she swyves for keeps
And layes the bodies up in heaps
She hath slain xc men.
If yoe can satisfy her lust
I wol do what thing is just
I wol give you a steed
Ond I wol sent you back again
To your lord and to his men
Dressd in your battle weed.
“Alas then,” said Syr Agaree
What a thing to fall to mee
That I must needs me do.
Had he offred to play Slap right
Or ‘What’s the Colour of My Knight?’
I would have end to wo.
But I maun rede on Athelstan
Until I be a dede man
Or do his ordels well:
To drink his win and ese his ber,
And also ese his dame, I swer,
Though she look lik Dame Ragnel.”
They went unto the firstest tentThe tale is done, par charitay,
And ther the cupp of win he hent
His hert it did nat quaile.
He set it up al to his lip
And backwards then his hed gone tip,
So seys the Ffrensch Tale.
Then from the tent he gan to go
And wild he shouted as wodwo,
“Now bring me to the ber!”
He saw the ber so ferse and grim
The sight did nat now trouble him
His brains so turned wer.
He went the foul ber there into
And whispered softly, “Sleepest thou,
Min leeve brother dare?”
“I wot we’ve seen the last of him,”
Then upspoke the Sowdan grim.
Said the others, “Right yow are.”
They saw the tent shak to and fro
For ii hours and some mo
Almest unto the night.
The fur flew fast frae ut the tent
And clothes too, par verrament,
That was a frightful fight.
At last there cam a dreadful still
The Sowdan’s blud al for to chill
And ther was Syr Agri.
Clothes al to-rent
Iccumen ut of the tent
Covered in blude-wrack.
Then saide the knight with steven slurrd,
He spake nat pleynly ony word,
“Wheresh th’ dam wi th’ tooth-ack?”
O lord, graunt to him an ‘A’
That hath these wordes wrot.
Or if nat that, then graunt a ‘B’
Or even graunt a ii-point ‘C’
So that yow fail him nat.
There’s no light wit in me just now. Other matter will serve:
…within the hollow crown That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life
Were brass impregnable…
This article in tomorrow’s Guardian suggests that some of these sexual humiliation methods apparently practiced at Abu Ghraib are taught to various special forces and military intelligence troops in the US and the UK, both to use them and also to prepare themselves to withstand them.What the Guardian suggests is in fact correct.
No, I’m not going to name my source on that.Back to Josh Marshall:
What’s now happening in Iraq is that the same methods are being passed down to untrained and unsupervised reservists; and the whole situation spirals out of control.As I said when I first wrote about this, those photos from Abu Ghair didn’t look to me like the kind of thing a bunch of novices would come up with on their own.
I’m not sure this is the whole story. But it has a ring of truth to me, mixing, as it does, ugliness with disorganization and a spiralling cycle of unaccountability.[He quotes from the Guardian]The sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an invention of maverick guards, but part of a system of ill-treatment and degradation used by special forces soldiers that is now being disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors who do not know what they are doing, according to British military sources.
The techniques devised in the system, called R2I - resistance to interrogation - match the crude exploitation and abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad.
One former British special forces officer who returned last week from Iraq, said: “It was clear from discussions with US private contractors in Iraq that the prison guards were using R2I techniques, but they didn’t know what they were doing.”
He said British and US military intelligence soldiers were trained in these techniques, which were taught at the joint services interrogation centre in Ashford, Kent, now transferred to the former US base at Chicksands …
Many British and US special forces soldiers learn about the degradation techniques because they are subjected to them to help them resist if captured. They include soldiers from the SAS, SBS, most air pilots, paratroopers and members of pathfinder platoons …“The crucial difference from Iraq is that frontline soldiers who are made to experience R2I techniques themselves develop empathy. They realise the suffering they are causing. But people who haven’t undergone this don’t realise what they are doing to people. It’s a shambles in Iraq”.
We delude ourselves when we give permission to commit evil acts to what we tell ourselves is a limited group of specialists.
There’s going to be some unavoidable human evil in any large undertaking. We can prepare for it, and do what we can about it when it happens, but nothing we do can wholly eliminate it. Still, in its state of nature it’s going to be limited, sporadic, improvised, situational, and in most cases not very effectual. That’s because only a fraction of the population will think up and carry out evil actions on their own steam; and, as with any other naive inventions, what they initially come up with probably won’t work very well.
A lot of what military discipline, employee supervision, law enforcement, and other rules maintenance systems boil down to is spotting these actions, and keeping them from happening again so that the people who commit them don’t have the opportunity to get additional practice, refine their techniques, make contact with other like-minded individuals, and share what they’ve learned about what works and what doesn’t.
This level of everyday enforcement is hugely important—one of the underappreciated bases of a law-abiding society—because while only a small percentage of people will do evil on their own, a much larger middle group will do so if they see others committing evil acts unchecked. Things the midrange would never think up to do on their own, they’ll learn in the company of others; and it will become part of their character. It’s the difference between four or five drunk, irresponsible louts jumping some defenseless person and beating them half to death—heinous though that is—and the complex learned social behaviors of American lynch mobs during the first half of the twentieth century.
No one ever forgets how to do something that’s worked for them in the past. Just replacing it with another behavior can be hard enough, and the old behavior is still going to be lurking there underneath it. Thieves keep stealing. Liars keep lying. Drunks never forget about chemically modifying their nervous systems. And what our troops are learning to do in Iraq, they’ll know when they come home again. For the best of them, that knowledge will be a sickening burden. For the worst, it’ll be usable expertise. And for that broad moral midrange, this will be stuff that doesn’t shock and nauseate them the way it once might. They’re our children, and this is what they’ll be bringing home to share with us.
We delude ourselves when we think we can keep a little pet evil set aside, telling ourselves it’ll only be used on Bad Guys. Whomever that turns out to be. Not that we’ve been thinking about that question real hard.
…And now, a list: The Nine Ways of Being an Accessory to Another’s Sin.
1. By counsel. 2. By command.Anybody feel like keeping score?
3. By consent.
4. By provocation.
5. By praise or flattery.
6. By concealment.
7. By partaking.
8. By silence.
9. By defense of the ill done.
The CafePress thing is now marginally presentable. There’s a small gaudy link to it in the sidebar. Everything in the store area’s on one big page. Someday I’ll figure out how to set up separate areas within it, but not yet. Not this month.
Following suggestions made in the comment thread for Making shirt, LL YR VWLS R BLNG T S has been duly transformed into a large colorful splotch on shirts and tote bags.* I didn’t have time to turn all the other good suggestions into spiffy designs, so I combined them all on one very wordy mug, for anyone who might find that amusing. Oops, except for Virge’s double dactyl. That I put on the CafePress page, next to the logo.
I DEEPLY RESENT THE WAY THIS ADMINISTRATION MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A NUTBAR CONSPIRACY THEORIST is now available in two legible versions, supplementing the original allegedly illegible version.* Harriet Culver reports that she wore her girly pink Nutbar Conspiracy shirt to a lecture at the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in New York. She doesn’t mention anyone there remarking on it, which was doubtless very diplomatic of them.
The list of Varieties of insanity known to affect authors has also been shirted, in two versions: one in a bright optimistic rainbow of colors, the other darker and more somber. Both can be had with or without a stripe on the back that says I AM A PROFESSIONAL WRITER. I TELL LIES TO STRANGERS FOR MONEY. For those with changeable temperaments or bipolar disorders, the light and dark versions are available together as the two sides of one tote bag.
That’s not the whole of what I’ve put up there, but this is more than enough explanation for what is after all intended as an amusement; and I optimistically believe that everything else is self-explanatory. If I’m wrong, I trust I’ll hear about it.
I’ve taken down my flags and put them away until after the war is over. I love my flag and my country as much as ever, but I’m mourning actions that have been committed by our troops, under our banner.
Jim Henley has been writing about this in Unqualified Offerings, eloquently and at some length. Start here. Jim’s actually been keeping an eye on the prisoner abuse issue for some time. So has Talk Left. Rivka’s last three posts need to be read.
The military bloggers have been taking it hard. Sgt. Stryker comprehensively denounced the responsible parties in full NCO style. Arkhangel and Citizen Smash are furious. (Those links courtesy of Jim Henley; there’ll be more.)
News over the weekend was that apparently British forces have been abusing prisoners in Iraq as well. The story got kicked around a little, with some questions being raised about the authenticity of the photos, but the Daily Mirror hasn’t budged on the story.As of this morning, the unnamed soldiers from the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment who originally released the photos have also announced that they’re standing pat. As the BBC reported it:
“We stand by every single word of our story. This happened. It is not a hoax and the Army knows a lot more has happened.”
One said: “Maybe the officers don’t know what is going on - but everybody else does. I have seen literally hundreds of pictures.”
Doubts were cast over the weekend about photos published in Saturday’s Mirror appearing to show a hooded man being struck with a rifle butt, urinated on and having a gun held to his head. But the two soldiers who gave these images to the paper say they represent only the tip of the iceberg.
In Monday’s Mirror the soldiers, who wish to remain anonymous, claim many pictures were destroyed in September when the troops’ luggage was searched as they left Iraq. They also detail other alleged incidents of brutality towards local people, including a baton attack which left a prisoner with a compound fracture to his arm.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the authorities were not aware of other photos of prisoners being mistreated or of a culture of trading pictures. “If people have got evidence of such activity, then they should bring it to the attention of the Army authorities. We won’t stand for activity like that,” he said. …The Mirror’s editor Piers Morgan earlier said the alleged abuse had been “common knowledge among disgusted British servicemen in Basra for months”.
This morning’s other news is that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the highest-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, has recommended issuing a severe administrative rebuke to six officers responsible for supervising the Abu Ghraib prison. A seventh will receive an admonitory letter.
I know those aren’t trivial actions—those officers’ careers are now dead in the water—but reprimands and admonitions aren’t the language we should be hearing just now. Not when the Army’s other actions have been to replace the officer in charge of Abu Ghraib with the guy who’s been running the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and to report that a high-level investigation of prisoner interrogation techniques in Iraq has found no evidence that abuse by U.S. military police or intelligence officers is widespread. That report was fast work. It also accords strangely with stories like this one, weeks old at this point, which said that senior British commanders had condemned the U.S. military’s tactics and its attitude toward the Iraqi people.Stuff like this is not going to reassure anyone that the U.S. military is addressing the problem. As Sen. Joseph Biden said yesterday on Fox News Sunday,
I don’t get the sense that they understand what an incredible sense of urgency there is here to get this straight, to let the whole world know who—names, places, times—who.No kidding. We’re being denounced all over the world. We could hardly have done ourselves a worse injury in Iraq.
No one’s going to believe in the Arab world, no one’s going to believe in Europe, no one’s going to—many people are not going to believe in the United States of America, that in fact we are earnest about this, until they see somebody, somebody—even the names. Look, if there was a criminal defendant arrested, we’d give their name.We should demonstrate to the Arab world that this is urgent. This is the single most significant undermining act that’s occurred in a decade in that region of the world, in terms of our standing.
It is now impossible for us to win this war. I’ve thought so ever since the Iraqis’ spontaneous mass resupply of Fallujah in the first week of April. When the other side is getting the miracles, it’s time to think seriously about bailing. And they did; no doubt about it. Here’s a good summary of that story, if you missed it.The short version is that Shiites are in the majority in Iraq, but under Saddam Hussein the Sunnis had the power, and some of them weren’t gentle about using it. And Fallujah isn’t just a Sunni-dominated area:
The level of sympathy for Fallujah in Shia areas is remarkable because the city once formed a backbone of support for Saddam Hussein’s regime, and was home to many officers in his intelligence services and Republican Guard. Some of those Baath Party loyalists were responsible for the brutal suppression of a 1991 Shia rebellion in southern Iraq, in which tens of thousands of people were buried in mass graves.But when the rest of Iraq saw what we were doing in Fallujah, their ethnic and religious differences evaporated. All of a sudden you were getting amazing quotes like “No Sunnis, no Shiites, yes for Islamic unity,” the marchers chanted. “We are Sunni and Shiite brothers and will never sell our country.” Here’s a report from the Lebanon Daily Star about the response in one Baghdad neighborhood:
Baghdad’s Muslims have been rushing food and medical supplies to their local mosque for delivery to the beleaguered residents of Fallujah. Since the mosque imam in Baghdad’s Adhamiya district set up his appeal last week, the response has been phenomenal. The mosque courtyard has been transformed into a giant warehouse filled with white UN bags containing rice or beans, boxes of vegetables and bottles of oil and water. …In a lot of cases, people were simply gathering up whatever supplies and transportation they could muster, and heading for Fallujah to deliver it in person. They broke through U.S. roadblocks to get there. This is from Helen Williams, a Welsh humanitarian aid worker:
“It took only an appeal from the imam and the faithful from the neighborhood flocked with supplies and medicines for the besieged residents of Fallujah,” said Monder Moslah, a mosque security guard. On Saturday, a supply convoy sent by ethnic Turkmen from the northern city of Kirkuk arrived, he added, highlighting what he said was a national example of solidarity by all Iraqi communities. …Iraq’s Christian Chaldean minority, which fears an emergence of an Islamic republic, expressed support for the Fallujah residents. Father Butros Haddad, who heads the Virgin Mary church in Baghdad’s Karrada district, said the patriarchate Saturday donated some $1 million to buy food and medicine for Fallujah residents.
People were shouting good luck to us and blessing/thanking us for going to Fallujah. At one junction some boys threw bread and cake into the bus for us.I’m sorry I can’t find more photos. It was one of those improbable events—not quite on the scale of the evacuation of Dunkirk, but definitely beating out Joffre’s reserves getting to the Battle of the Marne courtesy of the Paris taxi fleet. And the focus of this sudden, miraculous sense of unity and resolve was their determination to have us get the hell out of their country.
As we approached Fallujah on these back roads they deteriorated, becoming no more than a bumpy dirt track, barely two cars wide. Coming the other way were cars full of families and their possessions and vehicles with signs on them reading “Aid to Fallujah - from the people of Hilla/Nagaf/Ramadi” for example.It seemed that all the people of Iraq, whether Shia, Sunni or Christian wanted to help Fallujah with whatever they could - water (there is no clean drinking water in Fallujah), blankets, food or medical aid - it was wonderful to see.
Mind, all that was before they saw the souvenir snapshots of our troops grinning while they tortured and humiliated Iraqi prisoners.
If both cases that we know of so far are primarily documented via snapshot, there are lots of other cases where they didn’t take pictures.
How many guys are we going to be bringing home who’ve added behavior like that to their personal strategic arsenal? That’s one of the problems you get when you let your troops misbehave overseas: they come home knowing how to do things no one should know how to do.
Why are we torturing guys in Abu Ghraib, and putting them through intensive interrogation, when we’re supposedly pulling out on June 30? (For that matter, why are we bothering to attack Fallujah? Is “getting out of Iraq” going to be one of those George-things, like declaring the war is over when it isn’t?)
As I said, it’s now impossible for us to win this war. We can still win specific military actions, albeit not as easily or as certainly as we might have done a year or two ago; but that’s not the same thing. The immediate goal of battle is to persuade the other guys to give up and stop fighting that day. The longer-range goal is to persuade the other guys to stop fighting the war, because that way you don’t have to fight more battles.
So much depends on how they feel about it. They may stop fighting, or never fight in the first place, if that seems reasonable or advantageous to them. At the other end of the spectrum, they may only stop fighting when it becomes physically impossible for them to continue. It’s the difference between the Anschluss and the Siege of Stalingrad.
Our standard military doctrine—that body of plans and analyses and preparations that Rumsfeld personally, repeatedly, explicitly insisted on throwing out the window during the run-up to this war—makes it easy for the other guy to find it reasonable to quit fighting. You go in with overwhelming force. You don’t just operate in the enemy’s territory; you take control of the area in which you’re operating. You choose what you’re going to attack, and how and when you’re going to attack it, which helps maximize the effectiveness of things you do, and minimize the collateral damage while you’re doing it.
Ideally, this makes the other guys think, “[Bleep], there’s no percentage in keeping up the fight.” And since you’ve been careful to minimize collateral damage, maintain order in the area you control, and behave yourself in an honorable and professional manner, the other guys don’t feel like they have to do the doomed self-sacrifice thing to keep you away from their wives, children, homes, and miscellaneous valuables.
It’s easier to behave yourself well when you have some degree of control of the area around you, and you’re not grossly understaffed. Help maintain civil order, and civil order will help maintain you. Besides, going in at full strength means you’re taking fewer people in with you who don’t answer to the UCMJ. That’s good. If someone misbehaves, the locals can’t be relied on to make fine distinctions about the terms on which that person is employed.
But we didn’t do that. Rumsfeld is on record as repeatedly insisting that we go with only a fraction as many troops as the professional military planners said we absolutely had to have. It’s been a complete mess. Only the quality of our troops has kept it from being more of a shambles than it is. So what do we have instead? Looting and general destruction, because we didn’t have the resources to maintain even minimal public order. Soldiers going down every day, killed by ambushes and booby traps and RPGs. No manpower to secure nuclear sites, which is why yellowcake from one of Iraq’s nuclear plants recently turned up on a barge in the Netherlands—and isn’t that an interesting thought! Reservists serving overseas far longer than they’d ever expected, and no relief in sight. Overstretched, overstrained, badly-provided-for troops having to do impossible jobs on little or no training.
I don’t excuse anyone’s misbehavior, but this is Bush and Rumsfeld’s war, and they’ve made a complete mess of it, and put our guys in an impossible situation where bad things are bound to happen. Bush has said he’s appalled by those photos. Hell, a dog would be appalled by those photos. But where’s the apology? Where’s the acknowledgement that it happened on his watch? Where’s Rumsfeld’s acknowledgement of fault? They wanted to be in command positions. In a democracy, taking the heat is part of the job.
And there’s one other thing that’s bothering me. I went to high school in my native land. I know from American stupid and American mean. But what I’m seeing in these photos and reports doesn’t look like the kind of mean shit a bunch of young Americans would come up with on their own. It’s not improvisational enough. Nobody’s dragged their personal kinks or their alma mater’s mascot into it, and none of it is funny. Instead, there’s something slick, something creepily knowledgeable about it. And those grins on the soldiers’ faces aren’t the grins of people who’re making it all up as they go along. If they were doing that, they’d look more serious, more intent on what they were doing. They’d be thinking about the task, trying to figure it out and get it right. I could be completely wrong about this, but I swear, those facial expressions look to me like the grins of people who’re doing what they’ve been taught.
Anybody want to bet me a bottle of decent hootch that somewhere in this story, there’s at least one person and possibly more who attended the School of the Americas?