Bush at West Point
I finally had the opportunity to see the President in person, in the one venue representing the intersection between our worlds. These worlds physically intersect only on the rarest of occasions. His is dominated by “friendly audiences” – fat cat contributors at fundraisers and the most rightward components of the Republican Base, like the Christian Right. The one place our worlds do intersect is at West Point, where Bush speaks at graduation every four years. While the last West Point graduation I attended was my own, I had a special reason to be at this one – the graduation of my niece, mentioned from time to time in this journal. As you will recall, the last time Bush spoke at West Point it was to define the Bush Doctrine of Preemptive War, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. While the speech this weekend did not have that level of significance, it was of interest for several reasons. For example, it was interesting that Bush’s speechwriters apparently did considerable research on West Point idioms, apparently to underscore his reputation for folksiness. Most interestingly, though, he completely dropped the idiom most anticipated by the cadets to whom he was directing his remarks. This is particularly surprising because, four years ago, he got it right. The idiom is question is the West Point colloquialism “amnesty,” the tradition by which a head of state can declare forgiveness for all outstanding cadet infractions. In place of the term, Bush used a convoluted verbal construction that had a number of my fellow graduates wondering whether he had in fact declared amnesty. Could it be that, this time, he didn’t want to be on tape uttering that particular word? (The preceding is an example of a rhetorical question). Something else I found interesting was the true extent of his Texas twang when heard in person. The most interesting aspect of the speech, though, was his linkage of the Truman Administration to his own. He took great relish in pointing out that the Marshall Plan cost $100 Billion in today’s dollars (but not mentioning that those dollars were sourced from the taxpayers of the day rather than Japanese, Chinese, and Saudi bondholders). He spent a good deal of time linking his newly renamed War on Islamic Radicalism to the Cold War. Considering that the Iraq War is not particularly cold, he invoked the Korean War as the hot war equivalent. The overall message was clear, even if you can’t find these precise words in the text. It was: “it took decades for Truman’s wisdom to be recognized via total victory in the Cold War, and his poll numbers in the middle of his second term were even worse than mine, so get off my case!” The problem with tortured historical comparisons, though, is that they make it all the easier to see the more direct historical precedent to our current optional war. Despite spending quite a bit of time on the history from 1946 through 1991, Bush somehow missed mentioning our last optional war: the one in Vietnam.
05.29.06 @ 07:57 PM EDT [link]

Let’s Show them How We Do a Presidents Day Riot!
I was out today demonstrating for the freedom of graphically-oriented humorists to harness irony to deliver political insight. This happens to be the same thing that Muslim extremists from around the world are agitating against. I’m not burning embassies or boycotting products, though. Indeed, I’m demonstrating in a manner entirely appropriate for a new-Millennium American – by shopping. Specifically, I was out this morning buying any Danish products I could find. And I then I had a delicious lunch of Havarti cheese, Carlsberg beer, with Beautiful Denmark butter cookies for dessert. I’m guessing that the we in the Western World, if we put our minds and wallets to it, could make it a very bright year for Danish firms, even (and especially) in the face of a Middle-East boycott. If anything stops further embassy torching, that’ll be it. So meet you at the Mall!
02.18.06 @ 02:25 PM EDT [link]

Why the NSA Disclosures are a Big Deal
The year-delayed spilling of the beans by the NY Times of an expanding role for the National Security Agency NSA (37k image) is of particular interest to this journalist, considering that I worked for that fine institution for a number of years. (Frequent readers of these musings will note that I don’t normally actually spell out its name, considering that there are likely automatic parsers out there looking for internet (TCP/IP) packets with those character strings. However, given the press they’re getting today, exposure that’s doubtless driving them absolutely bonkers, we’ll err today on the side of being explicit. The thing that’s striking about the newly unveiled insights is the breach of the wall preventing the NSA from monitoring within the US. When everything was set up after WWII, the theory was that we needed to have the very most powerful foreign espionage capabilities that money could buy. With the explosion in technical capability over the last 50 years, it became apparent that money could buy a lot of spying capability. Foreign intelligence is much simpler than domestic intelligence in one important aspect: the only impediments are those presented by the laws of physics. In particular, there are no pesky warrants required. That’s why domestic monitoring was given to the FBI, an organization properly chartered to deal with the limits imposed by the Constitution. This has freed the NSA to be a truly state-of-the-art snooping agency. Giving the NSA a domestic mission is a huge, huge change. It’s akin to employing attack-trained security Dobermans as seeing eye dogs. It’s not what they were bred to do, and it would be small wonder if things turned out badly.
12.16.05 @ 07:48 PM EDT [link]

The Bush Administration’s Skill with Bullets
One of the core competencies of the Bush Administration, a competency first noted in this journal two years ago, is finally becoming generally recognized: their skill with bullets. This is not in reference to the .222 rounds of the M16 or the .762 employed by the M60 machine gun, but 12 point bold bullets launched from PowerPoint. This is not to dismiss the Administration’s enthusiasm for metal-jacketed lead as a tool for foreign policy; it merely recognizes that Karl and company aren’t “one trick ponies.” You have to give them a certain amount of credit for recognizing that they can’t achieve domestic (as opposed to foreign policy) goals by spraying the “traditional” form of bullet. Not that they probably haven’t fantasized about it; however, they’ve resisted the impulse so far, an act of uncharacteristic restraint that we must applaud for as long as it lasts! Given their gusto for launching bullets, is it any surprise that they’ve seized on the PowerPoint variety as a primary tool for achieving domestic ends? Their skill with this tool can’t be denied. This skill is immediately apparent to expert users like this journalist, who honed his mastery over a decade as a management consultant. If the connection isn’t immediately apparent, let me hasten to explain that thorough familiarity with PowerPoint is in fact the one essential skill required of a consultant. Like Bush’s political handlers, the consultant needs complete mastery of all of PowerPoint’s advanced presentation options. The recent PowerPoint backdrop, planforvictory (34k image) displayed behind Bush at his recent speech at the Naval Academy, is an excellent case in point. (OK, they don’t use bullets in speech backdrops, but don’t forget Colin Powell’s speech to the UN as the premier example in all of history of using PowerPoint bullets to justify bullets of the hole-making variety!) In “Plan for Victory,” Bush’s advance team (certainly with the personal review of Karl Rove) skillfully employed all of the available advanced features for PowerPoint’s key “fill,” “line,” and “font” graphic components. For example, “fill effects” features enable a pleasing 3-D look to what would otherwise be flat and boring space. Not to mention the very nice use of font shadowing to create a slogan hover effect. I particularly admired their use of the Naval Academy’s insignia in the background, to add additional “gravitas.” While I’m fond of my own Alma Mater’s insignia, I have to grant that the squids did employ a competent designer for the graphic they use on their cufflinks. (I actually still have a pair of those cufflinks, acquired when I stayed in Bartlett Hall during my Cadet exchange visit to Annapolis. “Exchange” is the right word, since I got the Canoe U cufflinks by trading in my Duty Honor Country cufflinks for Ex Scientia Tridens – From Knowledge, Seapower.) With the Bush Administration under fire for incompetence, we think it’s only fair that skills they do demonstrate, specifically their ingenuity in throwing up simplistic slogans with artistic attention to detail, be fully appreciated. Indeed, future generations will likely count their pervasive mastery of PowerPoint as a major school of art, right up there with Stalin’s Socialist Realism.
12.10.05 @ 07:42 PM EDT [link]

Feature of the Week
Here’s a prediction from over a year ago of what it would look like if Bush were reelected. So tell us, was the crystal ball clear or what!
The Reelected Bush as Emperor W The First
12.03.05 @ 06:59 PM EDT [link]

As I noted several months ago, I’ve been wrapped up in a professional certification program that has been soaking up all the free time I was previously applying to skewering right wing pretensions and hypocrisy. And then some. My ambition to get back to the skewering suffered a setback when i recently took a day off from work to sit for the four hour exam, after exhaustive preparation, only to find out at the 3:59 point when I had submitted my answers for scoring that I had flunked! I called the instructor of my prep course from the parking lot to tell him, and he was absolutely floored, as he considered me to be the most experienced and best prepared student he’d ever had in his course. For my part, I just assumed I’d have to put some more time into it, although failing my first exam since elementary school took a bit of getting used to. I thus shelled out several hundreds of dollars for an exam simulation CD with 1,200 questions, and have been taking four hour practice exams until my eyes crossed. In addition, I’ve been doing other prep, for example spending Saturday night creating a spreadsheet of the key inputs, techniques, and outputs of the dozens of processes relevant to the certification. I had in fact just started taking one of these practice exams today when I heard those familiar words, “you’ve got mail.” The original plan had been to focus on the practice exam for its four hours, but since I had just started I decided to check out the email. It was from the certifying agency, and this is what it had to say: “Before offering the new examination, [the organization] assembled a group of volunteers to help establish the passing score. Using a method known as the “Modified Angoff Technique” (a proven exam development method), a group of global [certified people] in the summer of 2005 assessed each test question and independently evaluated the questions to determine their difficulty level. Their responses were then sent to [the organization’s] psychometric (exam development) experts and averaged. From that information, [the organization’s] psychometricians recommended that [the organization] adopt a passing point of 81 percent (141 correct questions). After the examination was introduced, [the organization] monitored candidate performance to verify the validity of the passing score. In addition to its analysis of the actual test results from over 800 candidates, [the organization] sought review by an additional volunteer team. After performing a statistical analysis of the additional data, [the organization] and its independent psychometricians were able to make conclusions about the performance of questions as well as candidate performance. This second review, initiated by [the organization] as part of standard exam development procedure, indicated that the passing score should be adjusted. Accordingly, [the organization] revised the passing score for the exam to 61 percent (106 correct questions). [the organization] then applied the new passing score to all examinations taken since 30 September 2005 by candidates who sat for the new exam. [the organization] is pleased to inform you that you have successfully passed the examination and have been awarded the [professional] credential.” I called my instructor, who told me that he had spoken with every instructor in the NY area and determined that not a single NY area student had passed the new exam! So, while I’ve always been certifiable, I’m now officially certified!
11.30.05 @ 07:11 PM EDT [link]

Feature of the Week
Palestinians can now cross into Egypt. In commemoration, here's a thought from several years ago. It got clobbered on the site when the blog tool started looping back, but I had it backed up.
July 28, 2003
One Land, Two People
There was once a land occupied for many generations by a single group with a common religion and ethnicity. Then, a group with a very different religion and ethnic background began to come to this land in a trickle that soon became a flood. Initially there was room for all, but frictions from the mass immigration eventually sparked a war for independence, which the immigrants won. They gave the new country the ancient name of the land. The early years of this fledgling democracy were marked by much conflict. How did it turn out for these two groups sharing a single land? You certainly know the answer. The two peoples now live together in peace and prosperity, citizens under a Constitution that guarantees all equal status under the law. Indeed, there is no mention in this Constitution of either group’s ethnicity or religion. Both groups participate fully in their joint democracy, with members of both fully represented in the legislature, armed forces, and all other aspects of their shared society. What’s that you’re saying? This doesn’t sound anything like modern Israel? Who said anything about Israel? This story is about Texas. It could also be California.
11.26.05 @ 09:50 PM EDT [link]

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