Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Expecting the Spanish Inquisition

The so-called "Mitchell Report" on the use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball is due soon. Though the contents are, so far, unknown outside Mitchell's staff, ESPN has a lengthy and important analysis of what we already know are serious problems with it.

I won't try to summarize that article here, but recommend that you read it entire. But just to give you a flavor of how this vaunted report has been assembled, try this:

Expecting their interviews with the investigators to be solution-oriented, at least in part, many strength coaches said they discovered instead that only one thing seemed to matter to the questioners: the names of players that the coaches thought were using steroids.

One coach said he recalled an investigator asking him outright to guess. "The problem was, what did they want us to say?" said a team trainer who was interviewed by Mitchell's investigators in 2006. "They wanted us to speculate. And I wouldn't do that. They wanted me to say who I thought was using steroids. And when I said, 'I don't know,' they would say, 'Well, you work most closely with these guys. You work on their bodies every day. You weren't the least bit suspicious when you saw their bodies change?'

"This was the kind of stuff I was most afraid of, because they didn't ask me about specific people with specific information that they had. They asked me to guess."
Can you spell w-i-t-c-h-h-u-n-t? I think y'can.

I want also to point out here yet again the threshold issue that apparently no one at all outside of the very few concerned folk with some actual medical expertise--none consulted or even quoted by anyone in the press--seems to be aware of: steroids do not help ball players hit home runs. If they would help any ball player, it would be a pitcher; it may well be that some pitchers, including stars, have taken steroids and benefitted from them, but all the hoo-hah so far is over home-run hitters. I guess chicks dig the long ball is the official MLB slogan.

Today's Giulianium comes from Jonathan Alter at Newsweek:
So we'd better get used to that google-eyed chuckle when reporters bring up his hostile attitude toward dissent in New York, his placing of the emergency command center in the World Trade Center after it had already been bombed in 1993, his use of on-duty police officers to take his mistress shopping and walk her dog, his attempted unconstitutional power grab when his term ended, his recommendation that Bernie Kerik, who was associated with people who themselves had suspected mob links, protect the nation from terrorism, his still-undisclosed profiteering off of 9/11 and whatever else might be relevant to predicting the temperament he would bring to the laugh riot that would be his presidency.

The results of a 16-month probe by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which drew on 27,000 documents gathered from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the US Department of Commerce, have been released, and the conclusion is thoroughly unsurprising: "The Bush Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policy makers and the public about the dangers of global warming."

Just about everybody but the White House and a few true looney tunes like Senator James Inhofe ("This thing is a hoax. . . . Al Gore is full of crap . . . . An Inconvenient Truth is like Mein Kampf") is in full agreement. And so what? What exactly is the penalty those liars and twisters, from Bush on down, will have to pay? With the spineless Democratic party of the last generation, Republican lying is "heads I win, tails you lose" as to consequences. Unless maybe Pelosi and Reid are going to take turns pushing the White House doorbell and running.

It's more than a little frightening, it's terrifying, how prevailing ignorance, greed, and flat-out Inhofe-style stupidity make it fatally likely that we as a species will, in fact, not do what we need to right now, nor even any small approximation to it. Scientists who, by training and habit, have been polite and soft-spoken about these matters are now starting to speak up; but, though by their standards it's shouting, by political standards it's just whispering a little louder. The consequences are going to be far too grave for just having the satisfaction of saying "We told you so" to compensate.

Beware what you wish for: you might get it. Mike Huckabee wanted to be taken seriously as a candidate. Big mistake. Now nobody is giving him a free pass on questions that till now he has been answering with a smile and an utterly irrelevant quip. Let's see how it plays out over the next few weeks. (The New York Times has already labelled him "HIV Clueless" in a recent editorial).

Some fuss is being made over George Bush's recent comments that 20 years ago he had a major alcohol problem, which he adamantly insists that he kicked cold turkey in 1986. I have only two thoughts: first, he should have simply said "I'm an alcoholic"; it is my understanding--which may be incorrect--that all treatment programs, not just AA, insist that making the admission openly is the vital first step, and Bush's doing so would be an example and support to alcoholics still struggling. Second, what are we to make of his semi-famous falling off the couch while watching a football game a few years ago? A minor choking episode on potato chips? (Or whatever was claimed.) If he's dry, it would be cheap and tawdry to pick on him for his previous state. But we need to know. If he's not dry, it's the story of the century.

A former CIA agent claims that waterboarding of al Qaeda's Abu Zubayda, undertaken after he had been "wholly uncooperative" for weeks, instantly converted him to a fountain of information, including some that indirectly led to the the 2003 raid in Pakistan yielding the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an alleged planner of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

My thoughts here: first off, I am quite fond of the word indirectly--I have always found it useful for suggesting a strength of correlation that the real world lacks in a given instance. Second, I have certain doubts about the contrast between weeks of tough resistance and a 35-second conversion. Third, where is the proof, or even just decently sound assumption, that continued standard-form interrogation would not have gotten what there was to get?

The endlessly repeated advice of experts--of military officials most of whose career consisted in interrogating hostile captives--has always been that torture does not get solid answers effectively. But now we are to take the word of one junior operative, who was not even there when this "sudden conversion" took place, that all the generations of experts before him and his buddies were incompetent nincompoops.

There is also a massive discrepancy between today's assertions and the information set out a year or so ago by journalist Ron Suskind in his book The One Percent Doctrine (as reported by Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly):
"The guy is insane, certifiable, split personality," [Dan] Coleman told a top official at FBI after a few days reviewing the Zubaydah haul....There was almost nothing "operational" in his portfolio. That was handled by the management team. He wasn't one of them...."He was like a travel agent, the guy who booked your flights....He was expendable, you know, the greeter....Joe Louis in the lobby of Caesar's Palace, shaking hands."

....According to CIA sources, he was water-boarded....He was beaten....He was repeatedly threatened....His medication was withheld. He was bombarded with deafening, continuous noise and harsh lights.

....Under this duress, Zubaydah told them that shopping malls were targeted by al Qaeda....Zubaydah said banks — yes, banks — were a priority....And also supermarkets — al Qaeda was planning to blow up crowded supermarkets, several at one time. People would stop shopping. The nation's economy would be crippled. And the water system — a target, too. Nuclear plants, naturally. And apartment buildings.

Thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each flavor of target. Of course, if you multiplied by ten, there still wouldn't be enough public servants in America to surround and secure the supermarkets. Or the banks. But they tried.
Sometime later (still per Suskind), Zubaydah finally provided some actionable intelligence: the name of Jose Padilla and the news that "Mukhtar," a code name that had popped up multiple times on NSA sigint, was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. But that information didn't come because Zubaydah had been tortured. It came only after a CIA interrogator slipped under Zubaydah's skin by convincing him, with the help of some ideas from the Koran, that Zubaydah was predestined to cooperate with them.

Folks just like us, only different: The Iraqi government has ordered all policewomen to hand in their guns for redistribution to men or face having their pay withheld. Of course, Iraqi law still prevents policewomen from advancing to commanding-officer levels, so this should not be a shock: they only got the guns because the U.S. had insisted. A ministry official supposedly remarked that "Females are taken care of by men in this country. They are not out there being police officers."

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