Damn Those Pesky Facts…

I tend to try and test ideas against facts as much as I can. Which is well and good until new facts come up that undermine the original assumptions…

Back in March, writing about the boneheaded coverage of the mine disasters early in the year, I cited a study done of the contractor building the new Bay Bridge here in California, suggesting that a new cooperative, rather than adversatial approach to safety monitoring and accident prevention might be paying off.

A newspaper article today suggests that the numbers may have been fudged.

The contractor building the Bay Bridge’s $1 billion replacement segment concealed worker injuries behind a sophisticated curtain of bonuses, pliant medical workers and a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy of handling workers’ compensation claims and safety conditions, a review of state records shows.

Workers for KFM, A Joint Venture, were routinely fired when their injuries were too severe to hide, according to official interviews with workers, foremen and safety officers, as well as a state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) review of injury logs and medical records.

That’s completely scummy if true.

I’ll see if I can dig a bit more and see where this leaves the notion that working cooperatively with regulators lowered the rate below the norms – even if not extraordinarily below the norms. But there’s no way this doesn’t challenge the point I raised in my post (while leaving the main point, which was that the journalists covering mining were looking at fines rather than deaths).

And I’ll stand by my final point from March:

…there’s a good post-millenium Democratic issue – how do we take the regulations that got us from the polluted, deadly 50’s to today and make them smarter? How do we make them effective, not at fining or delaying or harassing industry, but at meeting the goals we set when we established the regulations in the first place?

Let’s track deaths and injuries and pollution instead of violations. And let’s fight for policies that lower them – rather than those that track revenue from violations.

Somehow It Feels Like Peter Sellers Should Be Involved

There’s an interesting piece to do on the intersection of the media world – made-up, filtered, and framed – and the ‘real’ world as it exists away from the lens.

It would discuss the role of media in amplifying the effectiveness of terrorism, the impact of agenda and sensationalism on media choices. And all kinds of relatively serious things. Because it is, for-real, a serious issue.

But I just tripped (via the great Global Voices blog) over something a little more whimsical – the internal conflict over the role of the character Borat, invented by the comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen (better known as Ali G) – within the Kazakh government.

As a recent piece in New York magazine points out, there may even be a split in the Kazakhstani elite over Borat and his role (both positively and negatively) on the image and name recognition of Kazakhstan in the United States. The short article also suggests, however, that the real test of the tenuous relationship between Borat and the Kazakhstan government will emerge in the upcoming weeks as the public relations blitz being planned by the Kazakhstan government to publicize the country in the U.S. in the run-up to President Nazarbayev’s long awaited trip to Washington clashes with the advertising blitz ongoing to promote Borat’s new film, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan“.

Movie Night With Armed Liberal

I mentioned Pierre Rehov’s film “Suicide Killers” a while ago when I talked about ‘Violence, Suicide, and Bad Philosophy‘.

Well the film is in a short-run theatrical release in New York and here in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Grand in downtown Los Angeles…

And there’s no way I’m going to miss it. The first time I can go see it is Monday night.

It’s playing at 5:45, at a pretty inconvenient time. But I’ll make it – and I’ll extend an invitation to Los Angeles area readers to come see it with me, and then go out for dinner and a discussion afterwards.

So if you’re interested, just show up at the Laemmle Grand, at 345 S. Figueroa St. at the corner of 3rd Street (in the Sheraton complex). We’ll probably go have dinner afterward at Cuidad down the street, so you may want to go park there.

What’s A Liberal Muslim To Do??

Got a trackback and email from an interesting blog post. Over at ‘Eteraz’, blogger Ali Eteraz is asking who in the West liberal Muslims should ally with

Should American-Muslims like me just become Democrats? How does being a Democrat jive with the things I am most active and capable in: 1) exposing Muslim extremists, 2) not being in bed with Muslim tyrants, 3) engaging the Muslim world with the underlying assumption that Enlightenment thinking whether through intellectual smuggling or through blatant polemic needs to be made part of the Muslim discourse…

Go read the rest. He points out the problems that someone like him – a liberal Muslim – faces in picking sides in the current political puzzle.

I’d pay attention to what he says; I’ll bet there are more people like him, and that when we win them all over we’ll be doing a whole lot better.

Voting? Examine How.

I’ve got a new piece up at the Examiner – on e-voting. They even spelled my name right this time!

Chad-free voting machines can be hacked.

Yes they can, in fact.

I’ll have some more in the next week, including some suggestions. But the issue isn’t just the machines – although they’re a good indicator of the care that’s (not) being taken with the whole system, from end to end.

What’s required is a systems approach to voting – not looking at the links, but at the chain.

Thanks to Captain Ed, for picking up on this and the kind words.

Hipness or Assholery? You Decide…

You know, it just effing blows my mind that self-styled ‘progressives’ get a pass on this stuff…

Late Nite FDL: Faster, Pantywaist! Shill! Shill!

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Dan Gerstein, Joe Lieberman’s director of media relations and Public Enema No. 1.

…a post at Firedoglake about a gay political aide to the Lieberman campaign.

I don’t know if it’s an ‘I’m such a hip white person that I’d show you by being transgressive, nigga‘ kind of thing, or just TBoggian assholery. But I’ll tell you the simple truth: if a key supporter of Lieberman (or Bush, or any of the other candidates the Netroots froths at the mouth over) posted something as offensive to gays as that it’d lead the news cycle.

TG is phonebanking for gay marriage at a GL center here in Los Angeles. I’ll ask her to pass this around and see what they think next time she goes.

Imperial Grunts, Imperial Police

It’s funny how many times I get prompted by reading two things and rubbing them against each other. There’s a discussion going on about the performance of the Israeli military vs. Hizbollah, and the presumption that they did poorly (I’ll suggest from my limited knowledge that urban warfare against an emplaced, well-armed enemy that doesn’t involve massive artillery or air strikes is probably a damn difficult exercise. I’d be shocked to see what other militaries operating under the constraints the Israelis chose to operate under would have done.)

Phil Carter points to an interesting issue of military doctrine (from an op-ed in the NY Times by Lt. Col. Terry Daly (ret):

…a counterinsurgency expert who served as an Army intelligence officer and provincial adviser in Vietnam, has an interesting op-ed in Monday’s New York Times. In it, he argues that the solution to the seemingly intractable security situation in Iraq might not be a few more soldiers — it might be a few good cops instead:

There is a difference between killing insurgents and fighting an insurgency. In three years, the Sunni insurgency has grown from nothing into a force that threatens our national objective of establishing and maintaining a free, independent and united Iraq. During that time, we have fought insurgents with airstrikes, artillery, the courage and tactical excellence of our forces, and new technology worth billions of dollars. We are further from our goal than we were when we started.

Lt. Col. Daly suggests:

Counterinsurgency is work better suited to a police force than a military one. Military forces — by tradition, organization, equipment and training — are best at killing people and breaking things. Police organizations, on the other hand, operate with minimum force. They know their job can’t be done from miles away by technology. They are accustomed to face-to-face contact with their adversaries, and they know how to draw street-level information and support from the populace. The police don’t threaten the governments they work under, because they don’t have the firepower to stage coups.

Phil suggests:

We should build an expeditionary constabulary force like the one Lt. Col. Daly envisions. The sun may be setting on the U.S. involvement in Iraq; there may not be time to deploy such a unit here. However, that should not hinder us from learning the lessons of this war to be ready for the next one.

Definitely interesting and worth further discussion. I’m working on a piece that tries to segment the problem I see and map it to responses. This will certainly help my thinking about it.

Let’s switch over to Josh Marshall, who sees moral rot instead, and cites an article in Ha’aretz:

In the Israeli daily Ha’aretz tonight, military affairs writer Ze’ev Schiff says that the main conclusion that will be drawn from the IDF’s disappointing performance in the Lebanon war will be that the army’s fighting capacity and edge has been blunted by years of policing duties in the territories.

Writes Schiff …

Most units, in their training and operations, followed fighting doctrines of police forces and not of standing armies. Hizbollah trains, fights and is equipped as an army, utilizing some of the most advanced anti-tank missiles and other weapons.

Marshall goes on to quote his reader EM:

The IDF’s troubles are the bitter legacy of the endless occupation. Armies engaged primarily in harassing civilians tend to perform poorly in combat. The Argentine army, which had been engaged in a dirty war against its own people, mostly powerless to fight back, suddenly found itself in a real fight in the Falklands. The British soldiers and Marines did not arrive strapped to tables with electrodes attached to their genitals, so the Argentines didn’t know how to handle them. They lost pretty quickly. Nor is this because the whole Argentine military were simply bullies and cowards; the Argentine air force, which had not been involved in rounding up and torturing helpless people, put up a good show against the Royal Navy. Occupation duty is always bad for combat units. The American units in Korea in 1950 and those sent to Korea from occupation duty in Japan to stop the North Korean offensive performed poorly by most measures. It would take months to get them back into fighting trim, and non-occupation troops, brought in from the States, would do most of the heavy lifting in driving the North Koreans back from Pusan and Inchon.

It may well be that both are making a similar practical point – that troops trained for combat make poor occupation troops, and that troops trained for occupation make poor combat troops. That makes sense, the skills and mindset of each are dramatically different – as they should be.

But I’ll suggest that the moral center of each argument is in a far different place. Marshall:

Occupation degrades a fighting force — a reality the Israelis need to confront right now and we Americans need to come to grips with as well. The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is something Israel really cannot afford now as it becomes more clear that she is in renewed need of a very potent fighting army.

But, of course, this goes beyond the military sphere. Or rather the military sphere is revealing a deeper reality. The occupation itself is corrupting Israeli society just as it seems to have corrupted (remember that in its original and deep meaning, ‘corruption’ means ‘decay’, ‘rot’) the IDF. And here too, can we not see the echoes for ourselves?

What Marshall sees as ‘rot’, Carter sees as a requirement.

I’ve argued before that the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank was a drain – morally (in terms of international politics), economically, and militarily – the original justification was to keep Syrian tanks further from Tel Aviv. A tank invasion is arguable the last issue the Israelis need to face – war has changed that much since the 1970’s.

But the moral center of this conflict isn’t in the head of a young Israeli and what occupying Gaza has done to him – although that impact matters. It’s in the schools and back streets of the Arab world where the rot of hatred and genocide exist – and in Israel, where the full power of that hatred falls. Marshall may choose to focus on the Israeli, while offering an ‘of course on the other side…’ – I don’t.

Direct Electronic Voting? Nein, danke.

Professor Avi Rubin has a column in Forbes this month on e-voting. His suggestion? Let’s not.

You don’t like hanging chads? Get ready for cheating chips and doctored drives.
I am a computer scientist. I own seven Macintosh computers, one Windows machine and a Palm Treo 700p with a GPS unit, and I chose my car (Infiniti M35x) because it had the most gadgets of any vehicle in its class. My 7-year-old daughter uses e-mail. So why am I advocating the use of 17th-century technology for voting in the 21st century–as one of my critics puts it?

He then chats briefly about the weaknesses of the current implementations of DRE (Direct Recording) technologies; I’ll go a step further and suggest that even robust voting devices present some of the systems problems – the problems in the end-to-end chain of voting process – don’t get addressed.

I’m working on something longer – but note that no modern American corporation could run financial systems as risky as the voting systems we propose to use for electing our public officials without the directors of the company facing sanctions under Sarbanes-Oxley.

Ahistorical Illiterates Invade New York Times Editorial Board

..there’s really no other explanation.

Today’s editorial was about “Rewriting the Geneva Conventions“, and criticized Administration efforts to lawyer their way through the standards for prisoner care in such a way as to allow rougher treatment of prisoners.

I’m flatly against torture, although I’m not sure that I subscribe to a set of standards that would make the ACLU happy; but I’m against them for three core reasons: they damage the people who do the torturing irremediably; they don’t necessarily work very well; the damage to they do to the perception of American might and behavior is typically out of proportion to any benefit gained (see “they don’t necessarily work very well”); and they damage my society through the acceptance of that kind of behavior.I’ve said in the past that the man or woman on the spot who decides to use duress or brutality to interrogate someone who’s planted a ticking time bomb should do so fully aware of the legal consequences he or she will face when it is over.

But the Times says we shouldn’t torture captives because:

The Geneva Conventions protect Americans. If this country changes the rules, it’s changing the rules for Americans taken prisoner abroad. That is far too high a price to pay so this administration can hang on to its misbegotten policies.

Maybe if our troops ever get captured by the French. But to suggest that the standards of behavior of those we fight or have fought since World War II match our own – or that by degrading ours we somehow risk their lowering theirs is just ludicrous.

From 2003:

The ground offensive in the 1991 Persian Gulf War was in its second day when Joseph Small III piloted his OV-10 Bronco toward Kuwait City. The low- flying plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. He ejected and was captured. Within days, the war ended and, after being beaten and tortured, Small was released.

“I’ll be honest, there’s not a day in the past 12 years when I haven’t given some thought to the experience,” he said Monday from his home in Racine, Wis.

Because of the grim experiences of Small and 22 other POWs from the last Gulf war — officials say all were beaten and one of the women was raped — the Pentagon is especially concerned about the fate of Americans now believed to be held in Iraq, including two pilots confirmed as POWs Monday. U.S. officials repeatedly warned Iraq on Monday to abide by the Geneva convention that prohibits mistreatment or humiliation of prisoners.

“It’s a concern,” said Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, spokesman for the Defense Department. “It’s a brutal regime, and their past experience would make us concerned.”

From Andy McNabb’s memoir of his captivity in Iraq. Go to Amazon, look up Bravo Two Zero, search within the book for ‘beating‘:

1. on Page 195:
“… the crowd. The soldiers started pushing the people away. It was a wonderful feeling. Just a minute ago they were beating me up; now these boys were my saviors. Better the devil you know … I was lying on my stomach …”
2. on Page 204:
“… and moaned. Some of it was put on. A lot of it wasn’t. Then, as if on a signal, the beating stopped. “Poor Andy, poor Andy,” I heard, and a mock clucking of concern. I got to my knees and put …”
3. on Page 223:
“… site. The slaps became punches that knocked me off the chair, but it wasn’t very exciting compared with the last beating. Probably they thought they’d now …”
4. on Page 277:
“… BRAVO TWO ZERO 277 split in several places during the beatings, and the wounds kept trying to congeal. But even the slightest movement made them reopen. My arse and lower back …”
5. on Page 296:
“… certain point; beyond that, it’s not a viable inducer of the goods. They can assess your physical state from the beatings they’ve given you. What they can’t gauge for sure is your mental state. For that, they need to know your …”
6. on Page 325:
“… and for what must have been quite a few days, it just carried on. Hour after hour, day after day, beating after beating, taking my turn with the other two, lying curled up, cold and in pain, waiting for the terrifying …”
7. on Page 359:
“… an American. We weren’t sure about Russell. We decided to initiate some form of contact with them. We risked a beating or worse if we were caught, but we decided it was worth it. If they were released or escaped , …”
8. on Page 366:
“… “Come on, then.” They backed off, shouting, “We’re going to split you up.” The threat was more horrifying than a beating would have been. Miraculously, nothing happened. We could only surmise that the boys didn’t report the incident in case their …”
9. on Page 380:
“… amazement. He was wearing a dish-dash. His body looked wasted, and he still bore the bruises and scars of severe beatings. “When we had that last contact and we both went down, I went left and got caught up in fire. …”

Here’s Admiral James Stockdale, a year after his return from North Vietnam:

For the sane man there is always an element of fear involved when he is captured in war. In Vietnam the enemy capitalized on this fear to an extreme degree. We were told we must live by sets of rules and regulations no normal American could possibly live by. When we violated these rules and regulations, we gave our captors what they considered sufficient moral justification for punishing us–binding us in ropes, locking us in stocks for days and weeks on end, locking us in torture cuffs for weeks at a time, and beating us to bloody pulps. As we reached our various breaking points, we were “allowed” to apologize for our transgressions and to atone for them by “confessing our crimes” and condemning our government.

Or this, from the Korean War:

Confinement of U.S. military personnel in the POW camps located in North Korea operated in three phases: July 1950 until the entry of the CCF into the war in November; the winter of 1950-1951 when several temporary camps were created that included the three “Valleys”; and the permanent camps. As mentioned, the NKPA had no POW system, just collection points. During the summer and fall of 1950, the NKPA moved POWs to the rear on foot, often by a death march. For example, during a 120-mile forced march during November 1950, approximately 130 of 700 POWs died. The First Offensive of the Chinese Communist Forces in late 1950 resulted in the capture of several thousand U.S. soldiers and Marines. Like the NKPA, the CCF at that time had no established POW system. As an expedient, the CCF set up a temporary camp called the “Valley” located 10 miles south of Pyoktong, North Korea, near the Yalu River. Primitive living conditions there resulted in the death of 500 to 700 of the 1,000 internees. American soldiers, most of them members of the 2d Infantry Division captured at Kunu-ri in November 1950, were kept at a place called “Death Valley,” 30 miles southeast of Pukchin. Forty percent of the camp’s 2,000 inmates died within three months. The other internment point known as “Peaceful Valley,” located near Kanggye, that held about 300 U.S. POWs, had better living conditions than the other two “Valleys” and only a 10 percent death rate.

Iraq, Vietnam, Korea. In which of these wars were captured American or allied troops treated in accord with the Geneva Conventions? What is the liklihood that a future American soldier, captured by Hizbollah will meet the standards in Guantanamo?

Again there are dozens of good reasons to insist that we treat captives firmly but decently (no matter how badly they may behave).

The reason proposed by the Times editors has nothing to do with reality or history, and isn’t one of them. But it speaks volumes about how they see the world, and what they know about it.

Back To The Drawing Board

Wow. Based on the comments, my post below on “Les Mains Sales” and Grim’s “On The Virtues Of Killing Children” missed the mark entirely. It’s an important issue, I believe, so let me take sometime soon and try to reframe it.

A capsule version is that I believe that Grim’s post was really about bearing the unavoidable costs of warfare – which include killing children – by, in no small part, soldiering well and winning. Mine was about bearing the unavoidable cost of living in modern Western society. Or any society with a long history, where what you have comes in no small part from the historical accident of your birth, and what you owe comes in no small part from that.

Working on a longer, clearer explanation…