Friday, May 27, 2005

Downing Street Memo Letter

Rep. John Conyers is seeking 100,000 signatures for a letter to President Bush asking him to come clean about the Downing Street Memo and pre-war intelligence on Iraq. He sent a very similar letter to Bush a few weeks ago, signed by 89 Congresspeople, but the letter wasn't answered. You can read it and sign it here.

Here is an excerpt:

... The memo appears to resolve that debate as well, quoting the head of British intelligence as indicating that in the United States “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

As a result of these concerns, we would ask that you respond to the following questions:

1) Do you or anyone in your administration dispute the accuracy of the leaked document?

2) Were arrangements being made, including the recruitment of allies, before you sought Congressional authorization to go to war? Did you or anyone in your Administration obtain Britain’’s commitment to invade prior to this time?

3) Was there an effort to create an ultimatum about weapons inspectors in order to help with the justification for the war as the minutes indicate?

4) At what point in time did you and Prime Minister Blair first agree it was necessary to invade Iraq?

5) Was there a coordinated effort with the U.S. intelligence community and/or British officials to “fix” the intelligence and facts around the policy as the leaked document states?

It is time the Bush Administration answered these questions.

A few words on torture

Today on NPR, (I think you can listen here: May 27 Day to Day) I heard an interview with David Rifkin, who was watering down the definition of torture. He failed to answer a good question from Alex Chadwick, something like "What if Americans are taken prisoner? Would you want to see them treated this way?"

To avoid that question, near the end of the interview, Rifkin made a ridiculous comparison between the rough basic training of our armed forces and the beyond-the-pale treatment of war-on-terror prisoners. He noted that we seem to treat both groups similarly, with sleep deprivation, loud noise, and stress positions, then asked rhetorically whether we are abusing our recruits. But there is every difference in the world between people who submit to short-term abuse in return for the long-term rewards that US military service offers, and people who are stressed and injured without consent, without an end in sight, and without a promised reward.

Are we are using torture to help POWs be all that they can be? No. This is hardly an adequate defense of our well-documented abuse of Muslim prisoners.

See Slate for the well-documented way we have treated our prisoners. Frankly appalling, here is some of the conclusion, from the interactive primer:

These policies were deliberately designed to carve out exceptions to international rules regarding prisoners of war that the United States had once championed and led the world to embrace. The rules would remain in place for everyone except the detainees in Guantanamo and Afghanistan purported to possess valuable information that they would not otherwise divulge. "These are the worst of a very bad lot," Vice President Dick Cheney said of the Guantanamo prisoners, according to Rose. "They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans, if they can." It is difficult to challenge such a consequentialist argument, for few Americans would rather follow the rules than prevent another terror attack. The exceptions to the standard military doctrine of interrogation, however, did not remain exceptions. They swallowed the rules, as exceptions are prone to do.

The real legacy of American interrogation practices, post-9/11, is that practices and justifications that should have been reserved for the worst of the worst (assuming we could know who they are) began to be used indiscriminately. In the eyes of the government, they began to seem almost normal. The effect has been to turn America from the world's leader on many issues of international human-rights law into the world's tyrant.

God alone knows how many people this inhuman policy will kill: Americans, Iraqis, POWs, jailors, civilians, soldiers, Christians, Muslims, atheists, Jews, men, women, and children.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Computer Science

Well, I'm trying to decide now my future for a while. Now a few people have advised me to try to get into the PhD program instead of the MS. I would be able to swim, I think, but I have never been skilled in navigating the bureaucracies that would be required. I totally biffed it in my undergraduate program in Linguistics. "I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger." I probably would have advised younger me to get a 4.0, stop skipping classes, and get into the Computers program at UW. That, and a little earlier capitalize on scholarship opportunities and not go into deep student debt. On the other hand, I would probably have neither a wife nor a son right now.

I always had this vague idea that I would be the best of the best, peerless in my chosen profession. But I looked today at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab; basically, there were 50 or 60 faculty that I'd never heard of, and there was one guy, Tim Berners-Lee, who basically created the World Wide Web as we know it today. It made me feel like a little drop in the ocean of humanity.

I think I've decided on artificial intelligence. Software development sort of interests me, but I'd rather bring something smarter and more difficult to the table. I mean, I know that people have built their entire careers on software, but it seems like a pretty interchangeable sort of role. How great can software get really? But artificial intelligence is a name to conjure with, really interesting things are coming down the pipe, and I want to be there.

For a comprehensive introduction to real AI, go to AI Topics, a web resource about many different aspects of AI computing.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


Hi everyone. Alexander has given us a fun-filled week of snot, choking and coughing. He doesn't know how to spit out the phlegm or blow his nose, so we have had to do it all for him.

We decided to bite the bullet and do DSL with Vonage (internet telephone). Hopefully that means everyone will hear from us some more.

I have been thinking some interesting things lately, but they will just have to wait for later. Now we are getting ready for grocery shopping.

I don't know if you have been paying much attention to politics lately, but the one must-read thing for the month, maybe the year, is the Downing Street Memo, concerning a secret report by the head of MI-6 to the heads of the British government from July 2002. It says that the Americans had already decided to invade Iraq by then, and were fixing the facts around the policy of pre-emptive war. It was leaked just before the British election.

You know, I think this really takes the cake for me. I remember when Bush addressed the nation the first time to say we would invade Iraq because of the dangerous WMDs. I remember thinking "You'd better be right about this" and I saw it as a gamble on the legitimacy of his presidency. Colin Powell did his song and dance at the UN, and we all believed them. Thousands of military and police deaths, and tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

Then, the story goes, they lied to us repeatedly.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Today was the GRE. I got my scores for Verbal and Math. I did well. It was kind of a marathon.

I got to write an essay about why the internet will not make tourism obsolete. Yes, a pretty dumb and obvious topic. But I got to talk about the false promise of experience at a distance, the false familiarity and intimacy that comes from just reading about something, or even seeing video of it, as opposed to just doing it. I was going to add, but it was offtopic, that reading blogs is like that too; you really read personas on the internet, you don't read people. The best blogs either disguise this fact, sounding homey and natural, or play it up, creating fictional characters like in the Fafblog.

Then I critiqued an argument about the merits of switching your primary fuel from wood to charcoal. As for me, I have always preferred clean-burning propane and propane accessories.

The verbal section was the most nerve-wracking. I think I actually spent five minutes staring at one of the incomprehensible reading comprehension questions, and I just could not compute it in my head. I started glazing over and I couldn't read the words on the screen. I can't remember anything remotely like this happening to me on a test ever. But it is par for the course in these tests, because you only get one question at a time, and after you lock in your answer, it is completely permanent. I had to rush through the end a bit.

The math was easy.

For fun, I sent my GRE scores to three schools I won't apply to: University of Utah, University of Washington, and Caltech. I suppose if I ever start a doctorate somewhere they will have me on file. They were free score reports, and I didn't really have anywhere else to send them.

This is the last school-related thing I will do before turning in my grad school application, and starting the summer semester. Four weeks of bliss! I am in the seventh Sten book, so I can put something else in my brain soon. I finished the Bridge of San Luis Rey the other night. Man, it was good. It is tempting to just reread it, but too many other things are calling. I finally have time to start Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell. And I have 30 solid mornings to write the Great American Novel!

Time will tell.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Sorry for the delay. Final projects are due tomorrow. GRE next Tuesday. Then I can fulfill my monthlong ambition: to become rich and famous through steady, incisive blogerature.

So I was watching that nanny show on Monday with my wife. One of the unruly kids was named Chase. On the way to the commercials, the voice-over announcer did one of these "Coming up next..." routines. They show video of Dad running around the house after Chase. And then the announcer actually said it! Something like, "Chase gives [Dad's name] the runaround." I laughed, then explained to Sarah that this was a Tom Swiftie, like "'Time for your bypass surgery,' the doctor said heartily." We laughed about this for a minute, about our gotcha of the media being absurd and punny, like in a Warner Brothers cartoon.

Then Sarah asked me for something from the kitchen, so I twisted from my sitting position on the floor to get up. My knee landed on something squishy, and to my surprise it squeaked, in a wet, high-pitched ee aw. I looked down, and there was the rubber duck. What else could it have been? I was a parent.

And all of a sudden I was in that cartoon, laughing like crazy.