August 04, 2004
The Queen of Uppity Women
The Queen of Uppity Women, Helen Thomas, who has covered White House Press briefings for as long as I've been alive, spoke the truth today, at a summer social given by a small newspaper called the Falls Church News-Press.
When Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, interviewed Fidel Castro a couple of years ago, he asked Castro, "What's the difference between your democracy and ours?" and Castro replied, "I don't have to answer questions from Helen Thomas."
Today Thomas noted:
"Both the president and Britain's prime minister say [the Iraq war] was worth it all to get one man. Of course the U.S. expects much more: access to Iraqi oil, big business and permanent military bases, a foothold in the Middle East, the neoconservatives' agenda."
"It's interesting about investigating committees and commissions today. They see no evil, no one is to blame. It's the institution that's at fault. So the Senate Intelligence panel found the CIA falsely clocking Iraq's ability, but no pressure from the White House to slant the report. And now 9/11! No one is at fault for the misreading of the clues, it was just a lack of imagination on the part of the leaders, the commission said."
Thomas also recorded, for posterity, the opinion of the press held by some of the men who occupied the oval office, during her reign:
"Kennedy said I'm reading more and enjoying it less. What LBJ said is unprintable. Nixon looked up when a pool of reporters and cameramen came into the cabinet room and said it's only coincidental that we're talking about pollution when the press walks in.
"When President Reagan was told that a press helicopter had been fired on at the Honduran border, he said, 'There's some good in everyone.' "
July 28, 2004
Meanwhile, back at the Ranch
John Dean examines Halliburton's business connections with Iraq while Vice President Dick Cheney was employed by Halliburton in Dean’s book Worse than Watergate.
Cheney was hired by Halliburton for . . . his [contacts] . . . particularly in Arab oil nations, from his tenure as secretary of defense. Cheney’s contacts gave Halliburton “a level of access that [no one] else in the oil sector [could] duplicate,” according to Halliburton’s president, David Lesar. . .
Under Cheney, Halliburton did business with Iraq, Iran, Libya, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Azerbaijan . . . countries notorious for violating human rights. Several of them are avowed enemies of the United States. . . . In late July, the New York Times reported that “Mr. Cheney’s company has already done business in countries still facing American sanctions, including Libya and Iraq, the enemy Mr. Cheney helped vanquish in the gulf war.”
After four years of the Bush administration, it will come as no surprise to learn that Cheney denied these allegations on national TV.
. . . The New York Times stayed on the story and a month later removed all doubt about the untruthfulness of Cheney’s [denial]. The Times, quoting Halliburton’s vice chairman, Donald Vaughn, reported that Halliburton’s subsidiary did, in fact, have “business relations” with Iraq. . . . [A]fter the campaign . . . the Washington Post obtain[ed] records from the United Nations showing that Haliburton’s subsidiaries had sold more than $73 million in oil-production parts and equipment to Iraq. In fact, no one did more oil-related equipment business with Saddam. . . .
“Principal is okay up to a certain point, but principle doesn’t do any good if you lose,” Cheney once advised one of his White House associates during a campaign. This appears to be the guiding philosophy of Cheney’s political and business careers.
July 26, 2004
John Dean's book, Worse than Watergate, argues that secrecy is the leading characteristic of George W. Bush's White House. Dean recalls the stock sale that enabled Dubya, in part, to purchase the Texas Rangers. What stands out as notable to this dog is not the fortune that Dubya built on his insider trade, nor the secrecy that surrounds the trade, but rather the cadre of extremely powerful and influential men that clearly watched Dubya's back.
To participate in the Rangers deal, Bush borrowed $500,000 from the United Bank of Midland (Texas), where he had earlier served as director. . . . [H]e collateralized his loan with [212,140] shares of Harken stock, which had about the same value. . . In 1989 and 1990 . . . [Bush] was . . . on the board of directors of Harken, [and was also] on the board’s audit committee. In June 1990, [Bush] sold [the] Harken shares at $4 each in a private transaction for $848,560. Eight days after the sale, Harken reported a $23.2 million loss, and the share price fell to $2.37. Bush used [the proceeds from the sale] to pay off his half-million-dollar loan and pocketed almost $350,000 from the [stock sale] . . .
[W]hen the Securities and Exchange Commission looked at the transaction and Bush’s late filings of his insider trade, they said no enforcement action was called for against him, no did any U.S. attorney convene a grand jury to look at the potential federal offenses. . . .
. . . The SEC chairman [at the time of the investigation into the June 1990 Harken stock sale] had been appointed by Bush’s dad and was also a partner from the law firm of James Baker, Bush senior’s White House chief of staff and later secretary of state. [George W.] Bush’s attorney during the SEC investigation [was] a former partner of the SEC lead investigator. The lead investigator at the SEC . . . . happened to be Bush’s former personal attorney who had helped put together the Texas Rangers deal.
March 24, 2004
Puzzles - An answer and a question.
The answer to the puzzle posed here is the following, from William Poundstone's How Would You Move Mount Fuji?:
Mike has $20.50 and Todd has $0.50. If that is not obvious, you can write out the equations and use algebra. You can also prove that this is the only answer. But the interviewer insists that there can be no fractions in the answer. The interviewer is wrong (or hiding behind the technicality that whole cents aren't "fractious"). You're supposed to stand your ground and defend the $20.50/$0.50 answer. That's life in a big organization.
Poundstone's book, a short but entertaining read, is not a puzzle book. The subtitle, Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle, gives a better description of its contents. It examines Microsoft's use of puzzles in the employee interview process. This use of puzzles has spread to many other companies, primarily through its perceived success at finding high-caliber employees at Microsoft. Poundstone sketches a short history of the I.Q. test, and the eventual replacement of those tests by puzzles, logic tests, and brainteasers as measures of high intelligence. Unquestionably those tests do measure some logic skills, and perhaps an ability to think under extreme pressure. But he also documents a sort of exuberant fetishizing of those skills among companies.
The book also includes many of the puzzles that employees might encounter in a job interview today. He supplies his best estimate of the correct answers. In many cases, the questions do not have a single correct answer, but are meant to elicit a dialog about the question which will provide insights into the applicant's reasoning skills. If you could remove any of the fifty U.S. states, which would it be?, is an example of one such question.
So here is another more straightforward puzzle:
You've got six matchsticks. Arrange them so they form four equilateral triangles.
February 25, 2004
As much as the conversation these days concerns good and evil, I want to point you to these words by the great poet, moral philosopher, and writer Joseph Brodsky:
Such is the structure of life that what we regard as Evil is capable of a fairly ubiquitous presence if only because it tends to appear in the guise of good.
A prudent thing to do, therefore, would be to subject your notions of good to the closest possible scrutiny, to go, so to speak, through your entire wardrobe checking which of your clothes may fit a stranger. That, of course, may turn into a full-time occupation, and well it should. You'll be surprised how many things you considered your own and good can easily fit, without much adjustment, your enemy.
By the same token, the surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even - if you will - eccentricity.
Because the Son of Man was in the habit of speaking in triads, the young man could have recalled that the relevant verse doesn't stop at
but whosever shall smite thee on thy right cheek,
turn to him the other also
but continues without either period or comma:
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take
away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go
with him twain.
Quoted in full, these verses have in fact very little to do with nonviolent or passive resistance, with the principles of not responding in kind and returning good for evil. The meaning of these lines is anything but passive, for it suggests that evil can be made absurd through excess; it suggests rendering evil absurd through dwarfing its demands with the volume of your compliance, which devalues the harm. This sort of thing puts a victim into a very active position, into the position of a mental aggressor. The victory that is possible here is not a moral but an existential one.
Joseph BrodskyAll of which leads me to another reason for this post. Because operating on the sides of the saints, for showing that evil can be made absurd through excess, is World O' Crap. Enjoy.
A Commencement Address
Less Than One