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Journal Journal: Thinking of getting a new PC, or a Mac

I sadly have come to realize my 4 year old computer with the AMD Athlon XP 2200+ chip, cannot go above a 512K RAM. I stupidly spent money on Adobe and Macromedia stuff for Windows and so now I am faced with a hard decision. Do I buy a new PC and transfer all of my shiny graphics software to it? Or, do I buy a new Mac (which would be much cooler) and buy all new software? This is an expensive option and one I do not want if there's a way around it. So I'm wondering if the new Intel Macs will run Adobe and Macromedia Windows version software and if so does it run it well? Will I be able to upgrade my current CS2 (Win) to Apple and pay just the upgrade price?
User Journal

Journal Journal: A curse on both your houses. 7

This is, already, turning out like I predicted. From the wire:

"She [House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi] said she would be "the speaker of the House, not the speaker of the Democrats." She said Democrats would aggressively conduct oversight of the administration, but said any talk of impeachment of President Bush "is off the table."

In the Senate, Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record) of New York, the head of the Democrats' Senate campaign committee, said, "We had a tough and partisan election, but the American people and every Democratic senator - and I've spoken to just about all of them - want to work with the president in a bipartisan way."

Fuck it. Give me the Republicans back. At least I can respect them on a "political demagoguery" level.

The serious prospect (no matter how futile) of justice for all is the only thing that would shock this complacent nation out of its stupor.

Compare and contrast:

Whitewater, Enron
Lewinsky, Warrantless Wiretapping
Travelgate, Haliburton

You could say we've impeached for less.

Where is Kenn Starr when you need him?

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Journal Journal: Well, happy election 5

Well, like after every election these days, I'm disgusted - the same way I would have been disgusted if Al Gore or John Kerry took the Whitehouse with a 51-49 split.

It's foreboding - even today Republicans can send so many candidates back to Washington that it's close.

Something is deeply broken in this country's social machinery, and a few years of the world's most tepid opposition party is not going to fix it. The architecture of the new conservative movement took generations to build, and it will take generations to tear down.

At this point, I almost wish conservatives didn't have this small abberation to contend with. Why let some of the slightly more responsible theives (Democrats) back in the game? What can they possibly do to clean up such a collossal, epic-making mess?

Iraq can be abandoned but it cannot be "solved" - it's a no-win situation, thank you neocon hawks.

The government's finances can only be saved with the dramatic readjustment that must come whenever the party ends and your loans come due - service cuts and tax hikes.

Our economy is deeply endangered, and the world knows it, and quietly buys Euro-denominated assets... and gold ($600-$700 per ounce anyone?).

You have to envision individuals rather than numbers. Elections hide that, which leads to a dangerous complacency.

What would it take for someone to shake this manufactured faith? An American who voted twice for Bush, who is pro-forced-birth, who believes that opposition to the war supports the terrorists, will certainly not understand the subtleties of how you futilely try to fix this mess. I see many of these people still patiently trolling liberals on slashdot even in some hypothetically ruined America, where the economy and the government have collapsed and such activity can only be a brief respite from dealing with another Great Depression. I think if a Nuke went off in Washington, or gas hit $10 a gallon, they could look you in the eye and blame the liberals.

What's so dangerous about the conservative movement is that it is built with not only the same self-satisfied superiority to truth that Hitler and Lenin enjoyed, but even some of the same extremeties of belief.

If you doubt messianic Christians and athiest oligarchs have the same capacity for self-deception, lawbreaking and violence that messianic Muslims do, turn on your television. Sometimes I wonder - is this a movement that could go quietly, when its successor arrives? Parents homeschooling their children to hate religious rivals and liberals sounds exactly the way it sounded to me to hear Palestinian parents (not violent extremists, just ordinary people) teaching their little children about Jews. When you take it that far, when does it ever end?

To be clear, American conservatives are not suddenly winning after a long American past full of respect for Enlightenment principles and the Bill of Rights. They're turning around a brief, 50 year losing streak. In many ways they are conceding defeat - by trying to accept other races, if not other religions, and trying to accept women (though read the fine print). The Catholic Church is even rumored to be considering liberalizing its ban on condoms.

It's time now to look at what's changed over the last 50 years, and think carefully about how we made the progress we have. My first hint is, you have to fight hard - much harder than this new generation ever has. That was perhaps easier when there was a draft and people could see politics as a life or death struggle. But it always is.

Second hint: fight smarter. Conservatives didn't just run on the treadmill faster. They build their own high schools. Train young recruits in the competitive and twisted debate team culture they've fostered. Created bent law schools and launched bent newspapers (and television news networks). They coordinate their PR campaigns with viciously effective, neurolinguistically vetted talking points authored by scientists.

Well, back to today. I am disgusted. But the day is not without its satisfactions.

The conservatives' inner circle is forced to live quite a bit more in reality than most members. It's the only way they can shape it. It's been fascinating to watch their anguish. I imagine most "true believers" are fairly insulated from these sad moments, and will wake up in the morning fully tuned up to exploit a returning scapegoat for a little while.

So with that, I leave you with some quotes by famous neocon hawks. You know, the people who said Iraq would be a cakewalk, and that they'd throw flowers at our troops' feet. Courtesy of Barista.

        Richard Perle: 'The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn't get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly.... At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible.... I don't think he realized the extent of the opposition within his own administration, and the disloyalty."

        Kenneth Adelman: "I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."

        Michael Ledeen, American Enterprise Institute freedom scholar: "Ask yourself who the most powerful people in the White House are. They are women who are in love with the president: Laura [Bush], Condi, Harriet Miers, and Karen Hughes."

        Richard Perle again: "I'm getting damn tired of being described as an architect of the war. I was in favor of bringing down Saddam. Nobody said, 'Go design the campaign to do that.' I had no responsibility for that."

To me, the strangest line comes from David Frum, who wrote the 'Axis of Evil' speech:

"I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything."

If you spurn the reality based community, and live in a world of will, you have to believe the spell as you cast it.

Otherwise, you may accidentally call forth the Golem, and it will punish you, and not your enemies.

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Journal Journal: Saddam verdict on Sunday, U.S. election on Tuesday...

(A post I just made...)

So, Saddam Hussein's verdict, the death sentence, is read 48 hours before the U.S. midterm elections...

That's just a coincidence, right?

But, when Republican congressmen are discovered to be gay pederasts, or famous evangelical ministers are outed for using methamphetamines with male prostitutes and the news comes out in the weeks prior to the election...

That's a deliberate attempt to time the news with the election, right?

What do you believe?

If you are an American Republican, you will incur the wrath of your fellow party members unless you answer yes to both questions.

What do you think the Iraqis believe?

Given that there are very few Republicans in Iraq, do you suppose it's possible that they might take a more cynical view on the timing of the verdict?

Could an appearance of impropriety by the Iraqi court could be, by far, the most reckless of the "October Surprises"? (Though neither in October, nor a surprise...)

U.S. troops could actually die in greater numbers because of such blows to the credibility of Iraq's supposedly new, independent government (and its courts).

User Journal

Journal Journal: geek fit

I found this interesting website/blog podcast at Geekfit. I haven't had a chance to listen to the podcasts yet but it looks like a humorous approach to fitness.
User Journal

Journal Journal: racism?

In an online journal community I read a post from a guy who took umbrage to a lawsuit filed by a white student who wish to be admitted into a minority based journalist organization. He said:

"Programs such as these are designed to attract future journalists at a young age and groom them into professional reporters and editors. By allowing white students into these programs, we're defeating that very purpose."

I responded:
"It would help to understand what this group's mission is. If it is to train/educate journalist to focus on minority issues, then I think what does it matter what your race is? Would it make it more acceptable to you if they gave minorities preference in the scholarship process, but still admitted whites? There are white journalists, lawyers, and activist who are advocates for minority issues. Cutting them out just shrinks the pool of people minorities have to lend their voice.

I will give you an example of my thinking. Do you know what Open Source software is? It is software that is free to distribute, but also the base code that makes it is open for anyone to modify and build their own additions upon. Teams of people, and sometimes it's just one person, create this software then put it "out there" for the world to consume.

People join in as a "community" and work on making it better. They know no race, no color, nor does it matter what country you come from. The idea is to make the software work better. There is no feeling of competitiveness because there is a higher ideal -- that if another team comes along and makes a similar piece of software -- it is viewed that *we all* benefit and that it increases the distribution of Open Source software, it's "visibility" in the world, and that is the higher ideal.

I'm wondering if you can see the higher ideal of increasing journalistic endeavors which bring attention to minority and race issues, above the smaller issue of what color the contributors are."

~~~~~

So my thoughts are, is this true though? Is what I said true, or is it some kind of pie in the sky way of thinking and I just wish it were so? Should I break out the tie dye and birkenstocks?

I'm unsure why I even thought to use Open Source collaborative process as an example, but I think in the back of my mind I was remembering how non-discriminating the develpment process is in terms of things like race -- you can't see someone half a world away, to make those kinds of judgements. But I am reminded that even when sending correspondence through the Ether, people will try to make race an issue even when it isn't possible [CmdrTaco].

User Journal

Journal Journal: Why Did Iraq Go Wrong? 1

Best-Connected Were Sent to Rebuild Iraq

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 16, 2006; 4:06 PM

Adapted from "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, copyright Knopf 2006

After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans -- restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions to some candidates about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade .

Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance -- but had applied for a White House job -- was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting.

The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation that sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort.

The CPA had the power to enact laws, print currency, collect taxes, deploy police and spend Iraq's oil revenue. It had more than 1,500 employees in Baghdad at its height, working under America's viceroy in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, but never released a public roster of its entire staff.

Interviews with scores of former CPA personnel over the past two years depict an organization that was dominated -- and ultimately hobbled -- by administration ideologues.

"We didn't tap -- and it should have started from the White House on down -- just didn't tap the right people to do this job," said Frederick Smith, who served as the deputy director of the CPA's Washington office. "It was a tough, tough job. Instead we got people who went out there because of their political leanings."

Endowed with $18 billion in U.S. reconstruction funds and a comparatively quiescent environment in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion, the CPA was the U.S. government's first and best hope to resuscitate Iraq -- to establish order, promote rebuilding and assemble a viable government, all of which, experts believe, would have constricted the insurgency and mitigated the chances of civil war. Many of the basic tasks Americans struggle to accomplish today in Iraq -- training the army, vetting the police, increasing electricity generation -- could have been performed far more effectively in 2003 by the CPA.

But many CPA staff members were more interested in other things: in instituting a flat tax, in selling off government assets, in ending food rations and otherwise fashioning a new nation that looked a lot like the United States. Many of them spent their days cloistered in the Green Zone, a walled-off enclave in central Baghdad with towering palms, posh villas, well-stocked bars and resort-size swimming pools.

By the time Bremer departed in June 2004, Iraq was in a precarious state. The Iraqi army, which had been dissolved and refashionedby the CPA, was one-third the size he had pledged it would be. Seventy percent of police officers had not been screened or trained. Electricity generation was far below what Bremer had promised to achieve. And Iraq's interim government had been selected not by elections but by Americans. Divisive issues were to be resolved later on, increasing the chances that tension over those matters would fuel civil strife.

To recruit the people he wanted, O'Beirne sought résumés from the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks and GOP activists. He discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect, even if the applicants possessed Arabic language skills or postwar rebuilding experience.

Smith said O'Beirne once pointed to a young man's résumé and pronounced him "an ideal candidate." His chief qualification was that he had worked for the Republican Party in Florida during the presidential election recount in 2000.

O'Beirne, a former Army officer who is married to prominent conservative commentator Kate O'Beirne, did not respond to requests for comment.

He and his staff used an obscure provision in federal law to hire most CPA personnel as temporary political appointees, which exempted the interviewers from employment regulations that forbid questions about personal political beliefs.

There were a few Democrats who wound up getting jobs with the CPA, but almost all of them were active-duty soldiers and State Department Foreign Service officers. Because they were career government employees, not temporary hires, O'Beirne's office could not query them directly about their political leanings.

One former CPA employee who had an office near O'Beirne's wrote an e-mail to a friend describing the recruitment process: "I watched résumés of immensely talented individuals who had sought out CPA to help the country thrown in the trash because their adherence to 'the President's vision for Iraq' (a frequently heard phrase at CPA) was 'uncertain.' I saw senior civil servants from agencies like Treasury, Energy . . . and Commerce denied advisory positions in Baghdad that were instead handed to prominent RNC [Republican National Committee] contributors."

As more and more of O'Beirne's hires arrived in the Green Zone, the CPA's headquarters in Saddam Hussein's marble-walled former Republican Palace felt like a campaign war room. Bumper stickers and mouse pads praising President Bush were standard desk decorations. Other than military uniforms and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" garb, "Bush-Cheney 2004" T-shirts were among the most common pieces of clothing.

"I'm not here for the Iraqis," one worker noted to a reporter over lunch. "I'm here for George Bush."

When Gordon Robison, who worked in the Strategic Communications office, opened a care package from his mother to find a book by Paul Krugman, a liberal New York Times columnist, people around him stared. "It was like I had just unwrapped a radioactive brick," he recalled.

Finance Background Not Required

Twenty-four-year-old Jay Hallen was restless. He had graduated from Yale two years earlier, and he didn't much like his job at a commercial real-estate firm. His passion was the Middle East, and although he had never been there, he was intrigued enough to take Arabic classes and read histories of the region in his spare time.

He had mixed feelings about the war in Iraq, but he viewed the American occupation as a ripe opportunity. In the summer of 2003, he sent an e-mail to Reuben Jeffrey III, whom he had met when applying for a White House job a year earlier. Hallen had a simple query for Jeffrey, who was working as an adviser to Bremer: Might there be any job openings in Baghdad?

"Be careful what you wish for," Jeffrey wrote in response. Then he forwarded Hallen's resume to O'Beirne's office.

Three weeks later, Hallen got a call from the Pentagon. The CPA wanted him in Baghdad. Pronto. Could he be ready in three to four weeks?

The day he arrived in Baghdad, he met with Thomas C. Foley, the CPA official in charge of privatizing state-owned enterprises. (Foley, a major Republican Party donor, went to Harvard Business School with President Bush.) Hallen was shocked to learn that Foley wanted him to take charge of reopening the stock exchange.

"Are you sure?" Hallen said to Foley. "I don't have a finance background."

It's fine, Foley replied. He told Hallen that he was to be the project manager. He would rely on other people to get things done. He would be "the main point of contact."

Before the war, Baghdad's stock exchange looked nothing like its counterparts elsewhere in the world. There were no computers, electronic displays or men in colorful coats scurrying around on the trading floor. Trades were scrawled on pieces of paper and noted on large blackboards. If you wanted to buy or sell, you came to the exchange yourself and shouted your order to one of the traders. There was no air-conditioning. It was loud and boisterous. But it worked. Private firms raised hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling stock, and ordinary people learned about free enterprise.

The exchange was gutted by looters after the war. The first wave of American economic reconstruction specialists from the Treasury Department ignored it. They had bigger issues to worry about: paying salaries, reopening the banks, stabilizing the currency. But the brokers wanted to get back to work and investors wanted their money, so the CPA made the reopening a priority.

Quickly absorbing the CPA's ambition during the optimistic days before the insurgency flared, Hallen decided that he didn't just want to reopen the exchange, he wanted to make it the best, most modern stock market in the Arab world. He wanted to promulgate a new securities law that would make the exchange independent of the Finance Ministry, with its own bylaws and board of directors. He wanted to set up a securities and exchange commission to oversee the market. He wanted brokers to be licensed and listed companies to provide financial disclosures. He wanted to install a computerized trading and settlement system.

Iraqis cringed at Hallen's plan. Their top priority was reopening the exchange, not setting up computers or enacting a new securities law. "People are broke and bewildered," broker Talib Tabatabai told Hallen. "Why do you want to create enemies? Let us open the way we were."

Tabatabai, who held a doctorate in political science from Florida State University, believed Hallen's plan was unrealistic. "It was something so fancy, so great, that it couldn't be accomplished," he said.

But Hallen was convinced that major changes had to be enacted. "Their laws and regulations were completely out of step with the modern world," he said. "There was just no transparency in anything. It was more of a place for Saddam and his friends to buy up private companies that they otherwise didn't have a stake in."

Opening the stock exchange without legal and structural changes, Hallen maintained, "would have been irresponsible and short-sighted."

To help rewrite the securities law, train brokers and purchase the necessary computers, Hallen recruited a team of American volunteers. In the spring of 2004, Bremer approved the new law and simultaneously appointed the nine Iraqis selected by Hallen to become the exchange's board of governors.

The exchange's board selected Tabatabai as its chairman. The new securities law that Hallen had nursed into life gave the board control over the exchange's operations, but it didn't say a thing about the role of the CPA adviser. Hallen assumed that he'd have a part in decision-making until the handover of sovereignty. Tabatabai and the board, however, saw themselves in charge.

Tabatabai and the other governors decided to open the market as soon as possible. They didn't want to wait several more months for the computerized trading system to be up and running. They ordered dozens of dry-erase boards to be installed on the trading floor. They used blackboards to keep track of buying and selling prices before the war, and that's how they'd do it again.

The exchange opened two days after Hallen's tour in Iraq ended. Brokers barked orders to floor traders, who used their trusty white boards. Transactions were recorded not with computers but with small chits written on in ink. CPA workers stayed away, afraid that their presence would make the stock market a target for insurgents.

When Tabatabai was asked what would have happened if Hallen hadn't been assigned to reopen the exchange, he smiled. "We would have opened months earlier. He had grand ideas, but those ideas did not materialize," Tabatabai said of Hallen. "Those CPA people reminded me of Lawrence of Arabia."

'Loyalist' Replaces Public Health Expert

The hiring of Bremer's most senior advisers was settled upon at the highest levels of the White House and the Pentagon. Some, like Foley, were personally recruited by Bush. Others got their jobs because an influential Republican made a call on behalf of a friend or trusted colleague.

That's what happened with James K. Haveman Jr., who was selected to oversee the rehabilitation of Iraq's health care system.

Haveman, a 60-year-old social worker, was largely unknown among international health experts, but he had connections. He had been the community health director for the former Republican governor of Michigan, John Engler, who recommended him to Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense.

Haveman was well-traveled, but most of his overseas trips were in his capacity as a director of International Aid, a faith-based relief organization that provided health care while promoting Christianity in the developing world. Before his stint in government, Haveman ran a large Christian adoption agency in Michigan that urged pregnant women not to have abortions.

Haveman replaced Frederick M. Burkle Jr., a physician with a master's degree in public health and postgraduate degrees from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and the University of California at Berkeley. Burkle taught at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, where he specialized in disaster-response issues, and he was a deputy assistant administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which sent him to Baghdad immediately after the war.

He had worked in Kosovo and Somalia and in northern Iraq after the Persian Gulf War. A USAID colleague called him the "single most talented and experienced post-conflict health specialist working for the United States government."

But a week after Baghdad's liberation, Burkle was informed he was being replaced. A senior official at USAID sent Burkle an e-mail saying the White House wanted a "loyalist" in the job. Burkle had a wall of degrees, but he didn't have a picture with the president.

Haveman arrived in Iraq with his own priorities. He liked to talk about the number of hospitals that had reopened since the war and the pay raises that had been given to doctors instead of the still-decrepit conditions inside the hospitals or the fact that many physicians were leaving for safer, better paying jobs outside Iraq. He approached problems the way a health care administrator in America would: He focused on preventive measures to reduce the need for hospital treatment.

He urged the Health Ministry to mount an anti-smoking campaign, and he assigned an American from the CPA team -- who turned out to be a closet smoker himself -- to lead the public education effort. Several members of Haveman's staff noted wryly that Iraqis faced far greater dangers in their daily lives than tobacco. The CPA's limited resources, they argued, would be better used raising awareness about how to prevent childhood diarrhea and other fatal maladies.

Haveman didn't like the idea that medical care in Iraq was free. He figured Iraqis should pay a small fee every time they saw a doctor. He also decided to allocate almost all of the Health Ministry's $793 million share of U.S. reconstruction funds to renovating maternity hospitals and building new community medical clinics. His intention, he said, was "to shift the mind-set of the Iraqis that you don't get health care unless you go to a hospital."

But his decision meant there were no reconstruction funds set aside to rehabilitate the emergency rooms and operating theaters at Iraqi hospitals, even though injuries from insurgent attacks were the country's single largest public health challenge.

Haveman also wanted to apply American medicine to other parts of the Health Ministry. Instead of trying to restructure the dysfunctional state-owned firm that imported and distributed drugs and medical supplies to hospitals, he decided to try to sell it to a private company.

To prepare it for a sale, he wanted to attempt something he had done in Michigan. When he was the state's director of community health, he sought to slash the huge amount of money Michigan spent on prescription drugs for the poor by limiting the medications doctors could prescribe for Medicaid patients. Unless they received an exemption, physicians could only prescribe drugs that were on an approved list, known as a formulary.

Haveman figured the same strategy could bring down the cost of medicine in Iraq. The country had 4,500 items on its drug formulary. Haveman deemed it too large. If private firms were going to bid for the job of supplying drugs to government hospitals, they needed a smaller, more manageable list. A new formulary would also outline new requirements about where approved drugs could be manufactured, forcing Iraq to stop buying medicines from Syria, Iran, and Russia, and start buying from the United States.

He asked the people who had drawn up the formulary in Michigan whether they wanted to come to Baghdad. They declined. So he beseeched the Pentagon for help. His request made its way to the Defense Department's Pharmacoeconomic Center in San Antonio.

A few weeks later, three formulary experts were on their way to Iraq.

The group was led by Theodore Briski, a balding, middle-aged pharmacist who held the rank of lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. Haveman's order, as Briski remembered it, was: "Build us a formulary in two weeks and then go home." By his second day in Iraq, Briski came to three conclusions. First, the existing formulary "really wasn't that bad." Second, his mission was really about "redesigning the entire Iraqi pharmaceutical procurement and delivery system, and that was a complete change of scope -- on a grand scale." Third, Haveman and his advisers "really didn't know what they were doing."

Haveman "viewed Iraq as Michigan after a huge attack," said George Guszcza, an Army captain who worked on the CPA's health team. "Somehow if you went into the ghettos and projects of Michigan and just extended it out for the entire state -- that's what he was coming to save."

Haveman's critics, including more than a dozen people who worked for him in Baghdad, contend that rewriting the formulary was a distraction. Instead, they said, the CPA should have focused on restructuring, but not privatizing, the drug-delivery system and on ordering more emergency shipments of medicine to address shortages of essential medicines. The first emergency procurement did not occur until early 2004, after the Americans had been in Iraq for more than eight months.

Haveman insisted that revising the formulary was a crucial first step in improving the distribution of medicines. "It was unwieldy to order 4,500 different drugs, and to test and distribute them," he said.

When Haveman left Iraq, Baghdad's hospitals were as decrepit as the day the Americans arrived. At Yarmouk Hospital, the city's largest, rooms lacked the most basic equipment to monitor a patient's blood pressure and heart rate, operating theaters were without modern surgical tools and sterile implements, and the pharmacy's shelves were bare.

Nationwide, the Health Ministry reported that 40 percent of the 900 drugs it deemed essential were out of stock in hospitals. Of the 32 medicines used in public clinics for the management of chronic diseases, 26 were unavailable.

The new health minister, Aladin Alwan, beseeched the United Nations for help, and he asked neighboring nations to share what they could. He sought to increase production at a state-run manufacturing plant in the city of Samarra. And he put the creation of a new formulary on hold. To him, it was a fool's errand.

"We didn't need a new formulary. We needed drugs," he said. "But the Americans did not understand that."

A 9/11 Hero's Public Relations Blitz

In May 2003, a team of law enforcement experts from the Justice Department concluded that more than 6,600 foreign advisers were needed to help rehabilitate Iraq's police forces.

The White House dispatched just one: Bernie Kerik.

Bernard Kerik had more star power than Bremer and everyone else in the CPA combined. Soldiers stopped him in the halls of the Republican Palace to ask for his autograph or, if they had a camera, a picture. Reporters were more interested in interviewing him than they were the viceroy.

Kerik had been New York City's police commissioner when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. His courage (he shouted evacuation orders from a block away as the south tower collapsed), his stamina (he worked around the clock and catnapped in his office for weeks), and his charisma (he was a master of the television interview) turned him into a national hero. When White House officials were casting about for a prominent individual to take charge of Iraq's Interior Ministry and assume the challenge of rebuilding the Iraqi police, Kerik's name came up. Bush pronounced it an excellent idea.

Kerik had worked in the Middle East before, as the security director for a government hospital in Saudi Arabia, but he was expelled from the country amid a government investigation into his surveillance of the medical staff. He lacked postwar policing experience, but the White House viewed that as an asset.

Veteran Middle East hands were regarded as insufficiently committed to the goal of democratizing the region. Post-conflict experts, many of whom worked for the State Department, the United Nations or nongovernmental organizations, were deemed too liberal. Men such as Kerik -- committed Republicans with an accomplished career in business or government -- were ideal. They were loyal, and they shared the Bush administration's goal of rebuilding Iraq in an American image. With Kerik, there were bonuses: The media loved him, and the American public trusted him.

Robert Gifford, a State Department expert in international law enforcement, was one of the first CPA staff members to meet Kerik when he arrived in Baghdad. Gifford was the senior adviser to the Interior Ministry, which oversaw the police. Kerik was to take over Gifford's job.

"I understand you are going to be the man, and we are here to support you," Gifford told Kerik.

"I'm here to bring more media attention to the good work on police because the situation is probably not as bad as people think it is," Kerik replied.

As they entered the Interior Ministry office in the palace, Gifford offered to brief Kerik. "It was during that period I realized he wasn't with me," Gifford recalled. "He didn't listen to anything. He hadn't read anything except his e-mails. I don't think he read a single one of our proposals."

Kerik wasn't a details guy. He was content to let Gifford figure out how to train Iraqi officers to work in a democratic society. Kerik would take care of briefing the viceroy and the media. And he'd be going out for a few missions himself.

Kerik's first order of business, less than a week after he arrived, was to give a slew of interviews saying the situation was improving. He told the Associated Press that security in Baghdad "is not as bad as I thought. Are bad things going on? Yes. But is it out of control? No. Is it getting better? Yes." He went on NBC's "Today" show to pronounce the situation "better than I expected." To Time magazine, he said that "people are starting to feel more confident. They're coming back out. Markets and shops that I saw closed one week ago have opened."

When it came to his own safety, Kerik took no chances. He hired a team of South African bodyguards, and he packed a 9mm handgun under his safari vest.

The first months after liberation were a critical period for Iraq's police. Officers needed to be called back to work and screened for Baath Party connections. They'd have to learn about due process, how to interrogate without torture, how to walk the beat. They required new weapons. New chiefs had to be selected. Tens of thousands more officers would have to be hired to put the genie of anarchy back in the bottle.

Kerik held only two staff meetings while in Iraq, one when he arrived and the other when he was being shadowed by a New York Times reporter, according to Gerald Burke, a former Massachusetts State Police commander who participated in the initial Justice Department assessment mission. Despite his White House connections, Kerik did not secure funding for the desperately needed police advisers. With no help on the way, the task of organizing and training Iraqi officers fell to U.S. military police soldiers, many of whom had no experience in civilian law enforcement.

"He was the wrong guy at the wrong time," Burke said later. "Bernie didn't have the skills. What we needed was a chief executive-level person. . . . Bernie came in with a street-cop mentality."

Kerik authorized the formation of a hundred-man Iraqi police paramilitary unit to pursue criminal syndicates that had formed since the war, and he often joined the group on nighttime raids, departing the Green Zone at midnight and returning at dawn, in time to attend Bremer's senior staff meeting, where he would crack a few jokes, describe the night's adventures and read off the latest crime statistics prepared by an aide. The unit did bust a few kidnapping gangs and car-theft rings, generating a stream of positive news stories that Kerik basked in and Bremer applauded. But the all-nighters meant Kerik wasn't around to supervise the Interior Ministry during the day. He was sleeping.

Several members of the CPA's Interior Ministry team wanted to blow the whistle on Kerik, but they concluded any complaints would be brushed off. "Bremer's staff thought he was the silver bullet," a member of the Justice Department assessment mission said. "Nobody wanted to question the [man who was] police chief during 9/11."

Kerik contended that he did his best in what was, ultimately, an untenable situation. He said he wasn't given sufficient funding to hire foreign police advisers or establish large-scale training programs for the Iraqi police.

Three months after he arrived, Kerik attended a meeting of local police chiefs in Baghdad's Convention Center. When it was his turn to address the group, he stood and bid everyone farewell. Although he had informed Bremer of his decision a few days earlier, Kerik hadn't told most of the people who worked for him. He flew out of Iraq a few hours later.

"I was in my own world," he said later. "I did my own thing."

User Journal

Journal Journal: Watching Neocons Attempt to Rewrite the History they Wrote 1

Anyone remember David Frum?

The following quoted from here:

Glenn Greenwald directs our attention to this astonishing column from ubercon David Frum, in which the master of disaster essentially recants four years worth of views on the wisdom, necessity and feasibility of invading Iraq -- without, of course, ever admitting that he is doing so.

It's like some baby boomer nightmare: after decades of swearing that we would never repeat the mistakes of our parents, we are re-enacting the errors committed in Indochina in the 1960s and 1970s, every single one.

It seems like everybody's hopping on that bandwagon these days. Of course in Frum's view, the Vietnam errors repeated in Iraq weren't the lies and distortions used to sell the war to the public, the absence of a realistic plan, the lack of international support, the bureaucratic inefficiency, the ideological blindness, etc. etc.

No, the big mistake we repeated, according to Frum, is underestimating the strength of Iraq's "internal enemies" and the willingness of hostile neighbors to provide them with sanctuary and support:

Only the US has tried to pretend that the war zone stops at the international border. In some horrible rerun of Vietnam, the US has let the enemy establish safe havens just on the other side of the line, from which it draws supplies and reinforcements with impunity.

Now this is a bit unfair, in my opinion, because it's easy to understand why the Pentagon and the Cheney administration lowballed the potential for guerrilla warfare. They were told by some pretty world-class foreign policy experts that they didn't have to worry about the risk of guerrilla warfare. And who were these experts? Why, David Frum and his mentor, Richard Perle.

Here's what the two of them had to say about it in their 2004 book, And End to Evil:

Now the pessimists are quivering because the remnants of the Baath Party have launched a guerrilla war against the allied forces in Iraq. These guerrillas are former secret policemen and informers, the regime's specially recruited enforcers, murderers, torturers, and rapists . . . But it is wrong to describe these paid killers as a "national resistance," as some even normally sensible people have sometimes done. For a dozen years after Appomattox, former Confederate soldiers terrorized their neighbors, robbed trains, and killed Union soldiers. Was the Ku Klux Klan a "national resistance"? Was Jesse James?

Well, seeing how the Iraqi version of the KKK is on the verge of running our sorry asses out of the country, I guess the answer to that question is yes. And it would appear Frum now agrees, since he seems to have been reduced to a "quivering" plate of strawberry-kiwi jello. Welcome to the Pessimists Club, David. You're going to love the initiation rites.

The other Vietnam-era boo boo that has Frum weeping and tearing his clothes is the Army's failure to stop the Grand Kleagles and Imperial Wizards of the Sunni Klavern from establishing safe havens in neighboring countries, like Syria.

Now it's not clear the rat lines into and out of Syria played a very big part in the growth and success of the domestic resistance movement -- as opposed to the imported Al Qaeda wannabes like Abu Zarqawi. Certainly Iran has played a very important role in building up its favorite Shi'a political parties and helping infiltrate their militiamen into the Iraqi security agencies. But at least up until fairly recently, this was just the Cheney administration's idea of good, solid nation building -- not the 21st century version of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

In any case, this is another problem the experts told us we didn't have to worry about -- the expert in this case being Paul Wolfowitz, a.k.a. Wolfowitz of Arabia. Here's Wolfy expounding his theory of "desert impotence" to the Washington Post in June 2003:

I think it is worth emphasizing that these guys lack the two classical ingredients of a victory in a so-called guerrilla war if that's what you want to say they're conducting. They lack the sympathy of the population and they lack any serious source of external support. (emphasis added)

Really David, if you can't take Paul Wolfowitz's word for these things, who can you trust?

It should be clear from the sources cited that Frum's problems are all in his head -- probably the result of too many nights spent smoking dope with Ward Churchill or reading the collected works of Noam Chomsky. Iraq is not collapsing into chaos and ruin. Iran is not poised to pick up the pieces. Only "sunshine patriots" and "weak-kneed media elites" believe such things. Why, Dave and Dick even warned us about people like that:

The gloomsayers were unembarrassable. Having been proven wrong when they predicted the United States would sink into a forlorn quagmire in Iraq, they reappeared days later to insist that while military victory had been assured from the beginning, the United States was now losing the peace.

I think David Frum badly needs to sit down and re-read his own book. Maybe then he'll remember that Iraq is a stunning success -- a role model for the war on terrorism, the key to democracy in the Middle East, the cure for the heartbreak of halitosis and a lot of other wonderful things, although I can't think of any more at the moment.

David should be proud of the role he played in making this foreign policy triumph possible. He should give himself a manly pat on the back. And then I think he ought to take a 45 caliber pistol, lock himself in his office, and "do the right thing."

It's the least his grateful adopted country owes him.

User Journal

Journal Journal: spimes

A friend pointed me to the "95 Theses of Geek Activism" at http://www.scienceaddiction.com/2006/07/23/95-theses-of-geek-activism/

One thing I noticed is his mention of "spimes" which I haven't thought about for awhile. I like Bruce Sterlings futurism more than I like his fiction. I like viridian design - if someone were to ask me if I were a "Green" I'd probably counter that I was more of a Viridian (technocrat green rather than luddite green). So I goggled about for spimes and it doesn't look like the term has caught on, basically since people can't seem to wrap their heads around it and picture a concrete example.

So, here I'll take something that seems to me almost a spime and add a few features that would make it truly a spime. Sterling originally used the Treo/Blackberry as an example of a highly evolved gizmo with spime qualities. I like mine better:

The Line Six Variax Guitar [url]http://www.line6.com/variax/[/url]

Looks like a guitar, plays like a guitar, but its not really. It's a computer that you interact with via strings. It acts and sounds like dozens of different guitars (though honestly none perfectly) and a few non-guitars. It's a ditial modeling insrument, digital modeling being Line 6's forte.

It's very cool.

It's not quite a spime yet. Part of what holds it back is Line 6's desire to keep it proprietary, part is probably just a failure of imagination or a fear of putting in things that their customers don't know they need yet.

As a punchlist here are the six technologies that converge into a spime and how they could come together as a next gen guitar spime based on the Variax.

These six facets of spimes are:

  1. Small, inexpensive means of remotely and uniquely identifying objects over short ranges; in other words, radio-frequency identification.

    You could do exactly that, but it's not very interestng. How about we blutooth it? That gives us 3 Mbps bandwidth to play with. The drummer can grab your initial E power chord wirelessly and map it to his low tom. The keyboard player can set his system to change patch settings when you switch from a faux telecaster mode to a faux banjo setting. You could do stuff I can't think of right now (and that's rather the point).

  2. A mechanism to precisely locate something on Earth, such as a global-positioning system.

    Sure, why not. If I loan my guitar to a friend for a gig and ask google "where is my guitar" and get back a location for the local pawn shop - I can take action. I'd be more interested in knowing where my glasses are, or my car keys. But sure, why not add it?

  3. A way to mine large amounts of data for things that match some given criteria, like internet search engines.

    I can't thing of a useful way to map this to a guitar, but others probably can.

  4. Tools to virtually construct nearly any kind of object; computer-aided design.

    Keeping within the context of a useful guitar...

    As a guitar the Varix leaves a lot to be desired. The first model had build quality and playability about equivalent to a ~$100 Epiphone. Not horrible, but not somethng that made people eager to plop down $1200 for one. Build quality on the new ones are better, but not top drawer. Add a CAD/CAM order system. Custom scale lengths, custom neck parameters: baseball bat, single radius compoind radius, thick thin, fngerboard radius, jubo or regular frets? Better yet - why don't you hold your favorite old guitar up to the nice lasers and we will scan it and make it just like that.

    If you are Eric Clapton, you can get this now. Gibson or Martin will lovingly your favorite axe in every detal and then update it to be better than the original. As has been said - "the future is here, it's just poorly disseminated".

  5. Ways to rapidly prototype virtual objects into real ones. Sophisticated, automated fabrication of a specification for an object, through "three-dimensional printers."

    They have this one, within limits. A couple of years ago they came out with a workbench editor that allows you to create models of guitars that don't exist ... yet. Take off the limits (many of which are probably there to try to limit reverse engineering)and:

    create things that are not remotely guitars

    share patches transparently. If a "myspace" friend of yours creates a new instrument, have your guitar automatically grab it.

  6. "Cradle-to-cradle" life-spans for objects. Cheap, effective recycling.

    Guitars are not really like that. I know I've never thrown one away. Cradle to cradle makes good sense though, they do become obsolete. How about if the next time you walk withing bluetooth range of your net connection your guitar tells you "dude! there's a new DSP for me that outputs a Dolby 5.1 signal - can I have it?!".

User Journal

Journal Journal: The Russian News

Ghosts of Soviet propaganda machine haunt Russian media

MOSCOW (AFP) - Dead bodies, striptease quiz shows, gala concerts for the secret services: nothing is off limits on Russian television -- except objective news coverage, say critics of media freedom under President Vladimir Putin.

Russian television today is light years from its drab Soviet incarnation, full of brash, sometimes stomach-churning programmes, as well as slick dramas.

But the ghosts of Soviet propaganda haunt the hourly state news broadcasts, dominated by dreary footage of Putin and his ministers at work, patriotic features on army life, or alarming reports about the pro-Western governments in Georgia and Ukraine.

Putin, who hosts the G8 summit in Saint Petersburg later this week, is accused of destroying media freedoms won in the 1990s by monopolising television and marginalising the few remaining independent newspaper journalists.

Russia ranks below countries like Egypt and Haiti in terms of journalists' freedom, the US-based organisation Freedom House says.

A study released in April by the Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations, which defends journalists' rights in Russia, found that 91 percent of political news on the national television channel ORT was devoted to Putin and his "ruling powers."

Almost three quarters of that coverage was positive and the rest neutral, while opposition voices barely got a look in, the study found.

"There's not censorship as there was in the Soviet Union," said the centre's director Oleg Panfilov, "but there is self-censorship, there's internal editorial censorship, when editors are too scared to give information, and there's censorship by owners."

The Kremlin has also come under fire in Washington and other Western capitals, but insists there is nothing to apologise for.

Putin told a gathering of world media executives in June that Russia's media law "is recognised as one of the most liberal in the world." And last week, his close advisor Vladislav Surkov dismissed allegations of anti-opposition bias on state-run television as "a matter of taste." [I think they stole this line from Rupert Murdoch]

Nikolai Svanidze, a presenter on state-owned Rossiya channel, even suggests that Russians actually demand one-sided news.

"Our guests from the United States and European countries may not understand what I'm talking about, but the classic Soviet viewer is not used to alternatives," he said. "It's tiring to have a choice because you have to think."

The Kremlin's defenders also point to the lively Internet scene in Russia and several high-quality newspapers which frequently publish criticism of the authorities.

But experts said newspapers and Internet sites have a puny impact compared to the three national television channels, which reach almost all this vast country's 143 million people. Serious newspapers rarely have circulations of much more than 100,000.

"There are still media outlets that are not controlled, but those voices are almost totally irrelevant in Russian politics and with the Russian people," said Maria Lipman, an expert on Russian politics with the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.

"Free voices are for all practical purposes dissident voices."

A free media was seen by many as one of the biggest achievements of former president Boris Yeltsin's rule, reversing abruptly from 2000 when Putin took over.

Putin accused media barons of trying to undermine the state and in 2001, state-run gas company Gazprom took over the trailblazing television channel NTV. Several leading publications were shut down.

Gazprom has since gone on to buy Ekho Moskvy radio and the once highly authoritative daily Izvestia, while other Kremlin-linked businesses have also moved into the media sector.

But Margarita Simonyan, head of the new English-language 24-hour channel Russia Today and a rising media star, says that press freedom under Yeltsin is a myth.

"Television was as much an instrument for corporate aims as any other," she said. "The idea that television was free in the 1990s is hilarious."

Simonyan also defended the blanket coverage given to the Kremlin on the main channels.

"The state channels show the president of Russia," she said. "State television should tell the people what the state is doing."

Sergei Parkhomenko, who lost his job as editor of the Itogi news magazine under Putin, blamed Russian society.

"Freedom of speech came as a gift. It fell from the sky. But people quietly let it go. Now they struggle to remember why it is they need it," he said.

PC Games (Games)

Journal Journal: The Trouble With PC Games 5

I just bought my first PC game in a long time. Oblivion. So far I've been at this for about five hours and I still haven't managed to actually get around to playing the game. No sir. First you must troubleshoot. Now I remember why I stopped buying PC titles.

The First issue on install was the graphics. My card is an older Nvidia 5200, which to be fair, did have 256MB of RAM. After much questing, I eventually discovered that I needed to change a shader setting in an ini file to get things to run anywhere near smoothly. An ini file!! I was under the impression that those days were long behind the PC gaming sector. Clearly not.

The major difficulty turned out to be with my joypad. Oblivion, by default, is set to use the diabolically carpal tunnel inducing control scheme known as "The Keyboard and Mouse". I would use the handy and ergonomic dual analog joypad I have, but Oblivion flat out refuses to detect the last of the four available axes, blowing that idea out of the water. And no matter which way I tweak the setting, the game simply will not become playable without that fourth axis.

After over eight years away, I return to find that PC game creators still expect me to use the keyboard to move about. What's worse, they now expect me to use WASD instead of the arrow keys. Who came up with that bright idea? W is not directly above S you know.

Never mind the fact that before I even installed the game needed an obscene 4.6GB of hard disc space!! Going on the last "first person" type PC game I purchaced, MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, which took up 65MB of space in 1997, that corresponds to a space requirement inflation rate of about 60% per year. Take that, Moore's Law. Well, the hard disc equivalent at any rate.

I suppose I should thank Bethesda, the creators of Oblivion. I had been considering upgrading my current PC to avail of what the PC industry might offer me, now that the console market is in a slump. Now, having spent 60 on the best game the PC sector has to offer, I can say with confidence I won't be buying a gaming rig anytime soon.

I'm still going to try and play Oblivion. It seems a student of the old school western RPG. Lots of dungeons, item and quests to keep you busy. I will not be "comfortable" playing it, hunched as I shall be, hands splayed out over two devices, one paticularly ill suited to its task; rather than reclined comfortably in a nice soft chair with controller neatly in my hands. Alas.

The moral of this story, is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I missed you too PC gaming... you cantankerous old bastard.

Update: After a few hours of research, I managed to get the game to run very reasonably throughout the first dungeon. Everything was fine, including the control scheme, and I ironed out a few minor bugs on the way. It was al looking quite good. Very good in fact.

However, once I reached the overworld, things quickly took a turn for the worse. It looked terrible, crashed continuously and I have neither the time nor the inclination to basically debug Bethesda's beta software. So Oblivion is going to stay on the shelf for a few years. Maybe when I next upgrade my main rig, the game will be playable. Until then, I'm not wasting my time with what is essentially a buggy Xbox360 port.

My advise to anyone considering purchasing the game is to leave this one to stew for a year or two, because it's not finished.

Slashdot.org

Journal Journal: New Slashdot CSS Font Size 3

The new Slashdot CSS redesign is here. I suppose we can all learn to live with it. I've got some misgivings about the contrast, but I imagine I'll get used to it. The font has also changed to sans, but I guess I'll get used to that too.

There is one thing, however, that really is bugging me. And it isn't just a trivial gripe. It's the new font size. In short, it's too small. What's worse, horror of horrors, this change has been applied to the comments section.

My eyesight's not the best, and I imagine most slashdotters have less than 20/20 vision. I run at 1024x768 resolution normally, and it's my understanding that many people run even higher than this. I can only presume that the main site's text would be around 3mm tall on a 17'' monitor at 1280x1024. I can't see that this is a good thing for the eyes.

I don't agree with the view that "smaller looks better", when it comes to text, or indeed, any UI at all. I blame winamp for the recent trend towards ever smaller font and button sizes, but I digress.

The most important thing about any redesign is keeping the site useable. In the case of Slashdot, most users are simply reading text, sometimes writing. in this regard, the redesign has slipped up,(not failed, just slipped up) in that reading has now been made harder by the smaller text. This isn't a small issue, it's a big one.

Reasons for the slip up? Perhaps CmdrTaco sits too close to the screen? Perhaps he's got a 22'' monitor? Perhaps he has better eyesight than most of us. Regardless, this is a serious issue, and needs to be addressed.

KDE

Journal Journal: Moving To KDE 5

It's time. I've moved to KDE.

The long list of grievances I've suffered uder GNOME is simply too long to recount, here or anywhere. The last straw was, in the end, nautilus' removal of an address bar, and so I could not type in, for instance, smb://, anywhere.

And before anyone tries to point out that there really was an address bar there somewhere if I'd just typed ctrl-/ or something, I simply don't care anymore.

KDE is looking good already. Quite frankly, Konsole alone is enough of a reason to make the switch. The system is responsive and options and customisation are where I expect them to be, and do what I expect them to do. I'm not too fond of the lack of history in the CPU monitor applet, but sacrafices must be made I suppose.

In the end though, it was not KDE that lured me away. It was Gnome's beligerance that forced me to find better pastures. Simply put, it's a disaster I don't care to try and live with, or fix. I'm aware of KDE's issues with TrollTech, and it does bother me, but frankly in my opinion, Gnome are abusing the FOSS movements goodwill towards their GPL'ed status.

Gnome isn't going to change, so I am instead.

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