Friday, April 30, 2004
Despite its somewhat to the right of Stalin editorial pages, Dow Jones media properties -- most notably the WSJ and Barrons -- has been publishing some of the most cogent and damning critical reporting on the war. Meanwhile, the rest of the Press (at least much of it) has been AWOL.
Of all the things I've read about Iraq, the most disturbing by far came in (yet another) WSJ article this week: Former General Sees 'Staying the Course' In Iraq as Untenable.
Its one of those reads that makes the hair on your neck stand up. It was written by John Harwood, the Journal's political editor. Harwood discusses the perspective of retired Gen. William E. Odom, who is the author of "Fixing Intelligence: For a More Secure America."
Here's the money quote:
Maybe it's time, in other words, to listen to retired Gen. William E. Odom. It is delusional, asserts the Army veteran, college professor and longtime Washington hand, to believe that "staying the course" can achieve President Bush's goal of reordering the Middle East by building a friendly democracy in Iraq. For the sake of American security and economic power alike, he argues, the U.S. should remove its forces from that shattered country as rapidly as possible.That is brutal criticism from a person who is one of the nation's leading experts on strategic warfare and comparative politics. And, he's a guy who has actually donned a uniform and fought in wars. His perspective, his view of strategic planning, comes from a place with more gritty realism and experience than the administration's current war planners -- much of whom avoided military service.
"We have failed," Mr. Odom declares bluntly. "The issue is how high a price we're going to pay. ... Less, by getting out sooner, or more, by getting out later?"
His is not the voice of an isolationist, or a peacenik, or Republican-hater. He is talking from the conservative Hudson Institute, where he was hired years ago by Mitch Daniels, later Mr. Bush's budget director. His office displays photos of Ronald Reagan, under whom Mr. Odom directed the National Security Agency, and Jimmy Carter, on whose National Security Council staff he served.
Rather, his unsettling view reflects a broader reassessment of America's predicament as Iraq looks ever-uglier. It can be seen as well in U.S. Administrator L. Paul Bremer's tacit admission of error in disbanding the Iraqi Army and Mr. Bush's new reliance on United Nations help.
Mr. Odom opposed the Iraq war before it happened. An expert in comparative politics who teaches at Georgetown and Yale, he warned that there was no reason to expect that Iraq could soon develop the ingredients for constitutional democracy: individual rights, property rights and a tax-collection system supporting a government to enforce them. The violence of recent months, he concludes, has exposed Mr. Bush's vision of doing so as a dream.
Odom has started to do the circuit: He appeared on NBC's today show yesterday morning (I missed it). When people with these sort of credentials start speaking out against the war, it raises very serious issues -- not of the politics of the war, but rather, of the execution and administration of it. As the rest of the interview makes clear, he is gravely concerned about the unintended -- but not unexpected -- consequences of the Iraq war:
"Following the planned June 30 handover of nominal sovereignty, Iraqis may go to the polls and vote. But the result, Mr. Odom explains, will resemble theocracy more than liberal democracy. As televised images of Iraqis cheering attacks on U.S. troops suggest, it's not likely to be anything Americans would consider worth the war's cost in blood and treasure.Jeez. How's that for thinking something through?
"Anybody that's pro-American cannot gain legitimacy," he says. "It will be a highly illiberal democracy, inspired by Islamic culture, extremely hostile to the West and probably quite willing ... to fund terrorist organizations." The ability of Islamic militants to use Iraq as a beachhead for attacks elsewhere may increase.
But can't U.S. troops there tamp down such hostile activity? Well, yes, he says -- at a cost of rising hostility to the U.S. throughout the region.
"It probably will radicalize Saudi Arabia, [and] it could easily radicalize Egypt," Mr. Odom says. Violence yesterday between security forces and terrorists in Syria hinted at what may come, heightening dangers for Israel and the U.S. Iran might agree not to stir trouble among fellow Shiites who are 60% of Iraq's population -- provided the U.S. eases its hostile stance toward Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
Yet the stakes, in Mr. Odom's view, are much bigger. The longer U.S. troops hang tough, he reasons, the more isolated America will become. That in turn will place increasing strain on international economic and security institutions that have undergirded the emergence of "America's Inadvertent Empire," as Mr. Odom's latest book calls it. "I don't know that the UN, the IMF, the World Bank, [or] NATO can survive this," he says.
Harwood also notes that General Odom's proposed solution sounds a lot like Mr. Kerry's: a call for the U.N. and European allies to take charge of political and security arrangements. Where he differs is in the tactic that along with our request we make a "unilateral declaration that U.S. forces would leave even if no one else agrees to come in."
Such a move, he concludes, might even provoke an unexpected result a year after Mr. Bush brushed off opposition from France, Germany and many others to oust Saddam Hussein. "The Europeans might get scared [of chaos] and go in," Mr. Odom says. "There'd probably be a big effort to try to rescue" Mr. Bush. But U.S. troops would be gone within six months in any event.Um, sure. Not likely to happen under either candidate.
It is a jarring prescription. But ask yourself, as bullets fly in Najaf and Fallujah, which sounds more credible: Mr. Odom's gloomy forecast, or Mr. Bush's prediction of success?
The real problem that lay at the heart of this misadventure is the utterly miserable and often missing strategic planning done -- or not done -- before the war.
I was not rabidly anti-invasion 1 year ago. In fact, we published a Pre-War Analysis on March 19, 2003: Not-So-Hidden Agenda: Strategic and Economic Assessments of U.S. led Invasion in the Middle East.
This was in response to an enormous demand from our European clients -- who all thought the United States had lost its collective mind. I tried to evaluate what credible reasons existed for invading Iraq, so they would have a better sense of the political situation here.
And it turns out, there actually were justifiable strategic reasons to "reshuffle the deck" in the Middle East. The problem is, Team NeoCon dropped the ball.
Like all wars, this one also required forethought, extensive planning, intelligent strategies, and superb execution to result in a positive outcome. As General Odom makes all to clear, those elements are notably missing in the current misadventure in Iraq.
What's worse than bad policy? Bad policy poorly executed . . .
UPDATE: May 15, 2004 6:33am
There is a May 12 interview with the General posted at Democracy Now: Ex-National Security Agency Head Calls For U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Iraq
Former General Sees 'Staying the Course' In Iraq as Untenable
WSJ, Page A4, April 28, 2004
Not-So-Hidden Agenda: Strategic and Economic Assessments of U.S. led Invasion in the Middle East
March 19, 2003
TESTIMONY BEFORE THE HOUSE INTERNATIONAL
17 April 2002
by William E. Odom, LT GEN, USA, Retired
Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute
Fixing Intelligence: For a More Secure America
Gen. William E. Odom
Yale University Press, March 2003
Thursday, April 29, 2004
DON’T BE EVIL
Don’t be evil.
Anyone think they might want to avoid turning into another Microsoft?
Here's the actual letter:
Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.
Google users trust our systems to help them with important decisions: medical, financial and many others. Our search results are the best we know how to produce. They are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating. We also display advertising, which we work hard to make relevant, and we label it clearly. This is similar to a newspaper, where the advertisements are clear and the articles are not influenced by the advertisers’ payments. We believe it is important for everyone to have access to the best information and research, not only to the information people pay for you to see.
MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
We aspire to make Google an institution that makes the world a better place. With our products, Google connects people and information all around the world for free. We are adding other powerful services such as Gmail that provides an efficient one gigabyte Gmail account for free. By releasing services for free, we hope to help bridge the digital divide. AdWords connects users and advertisers efficiently, helping both. AdSense helps fund a huge variety of online web sites and enables authors who could not otherwise publish. Last year we created Google Grants—a growing program in which hundreds of non-profits addressing issues, including the environment, poverty and human rights, receive free advertising. And now, we are in the process of establishing the Google Foundation. We intend to contribute significant resources to the foundation, including employee time and approximately 1% of Google’s equity and profits in some form. We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
Google is not a conventional company. Eric, Sergey and I intend to operate Google differently, applying the values it has developed as a private company to its future as a public company. Our mission and business description are available in the rest of the prospectus; we encourage you to carefully read this information. We will optimize for the long term rather than trying to produce smooth earnings for each quarter. We will support selected high-risk, high-reward projects and manage our portfolio of projects. We will run the company collaboratively with Eric, our CEO, as a team of three. We are conscious of our duty as fiduciaries for our shareholders, and we will fulfill those responsibilities. We will continue to attract creative, committed new employees, and we will welcome support from new shareholders. We will live up to our “don’t be evil” principle by keeping user trust and not accepting payment for search results. We have a dual-class structure that is biased toward stability and independence and that requires investors to bet on the team, especially Sergey and me.
In this letter we have explained our thinking on why Google is better off going public. We have talked about our IPO auction method and our desire for stability and access for all investors. We have discussed our goal to have investors who determine a rational price and invest for the long term only if they can buy at that price. Finally, we have discussed our desire to create an ideal working environment that will ultimately drive the success of Google by retaining and attracting talented Googlers.
We have tried hard to anticipate your questions. It will be difficult for us to respond to them given legal constraints during our offering process. We look forward to a long and hopefully prosperous relationship with you, our new investors. We wrote this letter to help you understand our company.
Onion Interview: David Byrne
As I wrote in "Greatest American Rock and Roll Band?," about the Talking Heads:
"You either 'got' and loved the T. Heads in the '80s, or you didn't, in which case you were probably a disco loving jerk -- but lets not start with the name calling so soon, ok?"So you can guess I like the T-Heads. Thats prolly why I enjoyed this interview with David Byrne in of all places, The Onion.
Here's a quick clip:
"In a funny way, music—certainly now—just seems more emotional to me. That's what people say about music, that it has a more direct link to the conscience, the emotional centers, or the brain or heart or whatever. Certainly more than the word, which is something you have to read and then translate, and then it has to affect you somehow. With music, you often don't have to translate it. It just affects you, and you don't know why. It seems almost backwards to me that my music seems the more emotional outlet, and the art stuff seems more about ideas. Whereas maybe years ago, it may have been more of the opposite: My music was more idea-based."
"David Byrne is best known for his stint with one of the weirdest and greatest rock bands of all time, but he's kept busy since Talking Heads broke up in 1991. As a musician, he's maintained a steady and eclectic solo career, funneling his worldly interests into soundtracks and pop albums that strain his strange sensibility through increasingly stately songs. On his new solo album, Grown Backwards, Byrne croons through opera arias, string-swept ballads, and wily torch songs—like the sly pro-America ode "Empire"—that undermine their own status as anthems.
Byrne has carved out a big presence in the art world, too. His book The New Sins, a quasi-Bible published in 2001 by Dave Eggers' McSweeney's imprint, was first conceived for an art show in Valencia, Spain, where Byrne distributed the books in hotel nightstands. Readings for the book led to a series of art projects made with Microsoft PowerPoint, the ubiquitous software used for all manner of corporate presentations. A number of Byrne's PowerPoint works were recently collected for Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information, a handsome book packaged with an accompanying DVD. Byrne's merchandise pile also grew last year with Once In A Lifetime, a four-disc retrospective of Talking Heads' career. "
Good stuff . . .
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
The White House's first choice for "The Book on Bush"
The WSJ's Alan Murray had a very interesting article yesterday: Woodward's Portrait Of Bush Nails Down The Man as He Is. Murray sought to explain why Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack is the number one book on the White House's suggested reading list. Note that:
"Rush Limbaugh called it an "anti-Bush, antiwar screed" in The Wall Street Journal. Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution calls it a "deeply disturbing indictment of the president and his policy," while MSNBC's Bill Press says it would cause presumed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to "win by a landslide" if widely read. It is fast becoming a staple on the Bush-hater's bedside table. According to Amazon.com, those buying "Plan of Attack" also bought John Dean's "Worse than Watergate" and Al Franken's "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them."All this leads to the obvious question: Why is the "White House giving Mr. Woodward such a warm embrace?"
Some suggest that the Bush administration does not want to repeat the mistake of making another "all-out attack on former U.S. terror adviser Richard Clarke," which only served to increase book sales. "By endorsing Mr. Woodward's [book]" Mr. Murray suggests, perhaps officials think it might "get less attention."
The really interesting part of "Portrait Of Bush" is, as Murray terms it, the simpler explanation:
"This book gets it right. The president is exactly as Mr. Woodward portrays him: a man who judges his counterparts by their character -- he often uses an earthier term -- rather than their intellect. A man so certain of his positions that he loses no sleep to doubts. A man who talks to God about key decisions, but avoids long discussions with advisers who disagree. Love him or hate him, this is the real George W. Bush. And the presidential election of 2004 is less about defining him -- Mr. Woodward has done that very well -- than it is about defining us, the voters who will either re-elect him, or not."I find that to be an astute observation. But where I disagree with Murray -- where he simply goes off the rails -- is his indictment of Bush's political opponents using a strategy of trying to accurately depict the President as who he is:
"There is a tendency among Mr. Bush's critics to think that if word just gets out -- if Americans find out what he is really like -- they will toss him from office. An example of that kind of thinking slipped onto the front page of Sunday's Washington Post, in a story arguing that the president's "skillful use of language and images" had enabled him to retain high poll numbers despite misadventures in Iraq. The story seemed to suggest that Americans were tricked by clever public relations into supporting Bush and his war.Here's why I disagree with Alan Murray (for whom I have a wealth of respect): The public doesn't really know this President. This has been the most secretive administration since Nixon. Rove & Co. have displayed an ingenious ability to use misinformation and propaganda. Why do 57% of Americans still believethat Iraq was responsible for 9/11? This degree of prevalent false belief persists, despite Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield admitting Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11.
Hogwash. That's "Blue America" elitism at its worst. By now, all Americans have taken fair measure of their president. And their sharp disagreements have less to do with who he is and what he has done than with who they are and what values they hold. Mr. Bush has become the ultimate Blue America-Red America litmus test. Your response to him determines which side of the great divide you populate.
Of course, the fact that the book places all of the WMD blame on CIA Director George Tenet didn't hurt. Indeed, Woodward quotes Bush as initially not buying into the WMD argument: "One of the book's best moments is when the president reacts skeptically to intelligence suggesting Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Tenet shuts the discussion down by rising up, throwing his hands in the air, and saying: "It's a slam-dunk case!"
Whether that actually happened or not is irrelevant to the White House. Bush has boxed in Tenet via Woodward, who has given the President a "fall guy" for the catastrophic failures in intelligence. Any Democrats who question the President's intelligence or political acumen would do well to pay attention to this brilliant bit of manuevering.
Indeed -- number one on the Bush Campaign reading list -- with a bullet . . .
Woodward's Portrait Of Bush Nails Down The Man as He Is
WSJ, April 20, 2004; Page A4
Voice activated credit card
A credit card that will not work unless it hears its owner's voice could become an important weapon in the fight against fraud. The card requires users to give a spoken password that it authenticates using a built-in voice-recognition chip. The idea is to prevent thieves using a stolen card or fraudsters using someone else's credit card details to buy goods online.
A prototype built by engineers at Beepcard in Santa Monica, California, represents the first attempt to pack a microphone, a loudspeaker, a battery and a voice-recognition chip into a standard-sized credit card.
They are not quite there yet: the card is the length and width of an ordinary credit card, but it is still about three times as thick. Alan Sege, Beepcard's CEO, says the company now plans to use smaller chips to slim it down to normal thickness.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Seinfeld & Superman
The Spot: In a short film available solely on the Web (www.americanexpress.com/jerry), Jerry Seinfeld loafs around with his good buddy Superman. They nosh at a diner, take in a Broadway show, and (briefly and distractedly) fight crime. The product pitch, for American Express cards, is almost an afterthought.
It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a … Webisode?
Seinfeld's new short film for AmEx.
By Seth Stevenson
Slate, Monday, April 19, 2004, at 11:56 AM PT
Monday, April 26, 2004
Kurt Jones Photography
Kurt Jones is a Sports Photographer. His site has some absolutely astounding photos.
One of his most famous shots (above and below) is being circulated around the Net -- either without attribution or with someone else wrongly claiming them as their own. Also, these are not -- as erroneously described -- sharks attacking surfers:
1) Kurt Jones took the photos, and not the idiot claiming them as his own;
2) These are Dolphins, not sharks. (Its even been debunked by Snopes).
UPDATE: April 27, 2004
Kurt and I exchanged emails -- yes, these are his photos; no they are not sharks, they are merely Dolphins being playful.
Check out the rest of his way cool photographs.
Kurt Jones Photography
Sunday, April 25, 2004
The Funk Show
While you're enjoying that delicious brew, check out yet another delight on BBC 6: The
CRAIG CHARLES Funk Show.
So far, just by clicking around, I've discovered a few great shows on BBC 6 and BBC2.
Just go random.
Here's the streaming digital radio access: Launch BBC 6 Player
Your Coffee Sucks!
I've been to your home or apartment. We've broken bread, drank some wine or beer, had a few laughs and a good time. Its getting a little late, and a little caffeine would be good for the ride home.
Here's the problem: Your coffee sucks. That's right, I said it: You do not know how to brew a good cup of Joe.
You suffer (actually, I'm the one who suffers) from one of four likely problems. Lucky for you, opinionated bastards like me are here on the 'net to give you good advice you didn't even know you needed:
1) You Use Crappy Coffee. Forget instant, that's not even under consideration. Store bought, no name, canned ground coffee is at its best, mediocre. If you buy a good French Roast, and use 5 to 6 heaping scoopfuls (not spoonfuls, but those little plastic scoopers), you get a halfway decent brew.
But most people don't. They buy whatever lame ass coffee is on sale that week, and then they use miserly portions. Bleeeccch.
2) Your Coffeemaker Sucks
That's right, its a piece of shit: It brews too fast, and it doesn't make the coffee hot enough.
A good brewer will slowly let the water drip into the basket, allowing the natural oils, flavor and aroma of the beans to come out. Ahhhhh, can you smell that? Hmmmmm.
Ideally, your brewer will use fresh filtered water, crank up the heat, and then have the warmer turn off quickly -- otherwise, it will burn the brew.
By the way, when was the last time you cleaned that stanky coffeemaker of yours? You can buy commercial products, or just run a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water. Clean it every six months or so.
3) Your Coffee Was Ground Ages Ago
Forget the stuff in the can -- that was factory ground in 1994. I'm talking to the people who buy beans, ground them up immediately, and then put them in a jar in the fridge for months. That starts the gradual loss of flavor and aroma immediately. (Why even buy beans?)
You want beans, and you want them ground as close to the brewing process as possible.
4) Your Tap Water is Nasty
Depending upon where you live, your tap water ranges from tasty to industrial run off to chemical comtaminants to carcinogenic.
Cancer flavored coffee tends to taste bad.
OK now you know why your coffee sucks. Let's resolve each of these issues for you poor shlumps who up until know, did not know any better (but now ya do):
1) BUY GOOD COFFEE
There, that wasn't too hard to figure out, was it? It doesn't have to be expensive, just good.
My favorite coffee supplier is Porto Rico Importing; They have excellent coffee, and its about 1/2 to a 1/3 of what Starbucks charges. Here's their contact info:
201 Bleecker St.
New York, N.Y. 10012
If you are tight with the moolah, then you can stock up during their twice yearly sales: Going on right now is the Springtime sale (April 15-30); They run a fall sale (for Peter's birthday) in October.
Try the Danish Blend (1/2 Mocha & Java, 1/2 French Mocha), or Peter's Blend (1/3 French Mocha, 1/3 Colombian Supremo, 1/3 Venezuelan Tachira). Both are on sale for $3.99/lb this week.
I'm sure there are plenty of other good roasters in your region. Outside of NYC, the Fairway on Long Island has their own roaster -- also good coffee at reasonable prices.
Hunt around a bit, you'll find something.
2) Get a Kickass Coffeemaker
My machine is the Capresso 453.01 CoffeeTeam Luxe 10-Cup Electronic Coffeemaker with Conical Burr Grinder. It cost me about 2 beans (I never see it go on sale). Its a great balance between performance and cost. The next step up beyond it are $600 to a few grand (see picture at bottom). That's a lot of wood, Jerry.
For half the price of my machine -- about $100 -- there's a decent looking Cuisnart. It comes in Black or White; You can spend $150 for the Chrome machine, but at that point, you are better off spending the extra 50 clams for the Capresso. I've never used this Cuisnart machine (but I have used their previous model grind and brew). Please post any comments on this if you have first hand experience (There's a wide range of opinions at epinions).
Way back when, Toshiba made a grind and brew called "My Cafe" -- and it was terrific. They still pop up on eBay, and in used appliance stores from time to time. Nice symmetrical design, too. There was a cottage industry repairing them. If you see one, grab it.
3) Grind Your Coffee Fresh
The 'grind and brew' machines resolve this issue. If you don't want to go that route, than buy a small burr or blade grinder. As close as possible to the actual brewing, freshly grind the coffee beans. (Hmmmm, smell the aroma).
If you grind them at night for the morning's coffee, that's acceptable. Anything longer than that loses too much flavor.
4) Use Fresh Filtered Water
You have plenty of options: Some people buy the large 5 gallon jugs of bottled Deer Park water, or, you can buy the 2 gallon refrigerator size. Others use a separate filter (i.e., Brita) -- its a pain, but better than tap water.
We installed a Moen carbon filtration system right into our kitchen sink; Most brand name kitchen hardware companies -- Moen, American Standard, etc. -- offer this as a modestly priced option. If you are remodelling your kitchen, this is a MUST DO option. If not, it is merely highly advised.
Yes, I'm being a bit on the picayune side here? Yes, but that's the price for really good java.
I've been meaning to get this post up for sometime. Now go make me a good cup of coffee. I'll be right here waiting . . .
UPDATE October 29, 2006 7:53 am
I originally posted this here over 2 years ago. This week, I received as a birthday gift the latest Capresso Design -- and its awesome: The Capresso 455.05 CoffeeTEAM Therm Stainless Coffeemaker/Burr Grinder Combination
Yeah, its $300 -- but its the best machine I've come across that's under 4 figures.
P.S.You probably don't want to spend this type of wood, but consider what you get if you spend 10X as much, you can get the $3,000 Magic Saeco.
Now that's a nice looking machine . . .
Graphic courtesy of New York Times
Saturday, April 24, 2004
More Bill Hicks
Time for an update on the late great Bill Hicks:
Frequently asked questions
Hicks in a Comic