That Was Easy

After the US government reported being unable to track down witnesses that Guantanamo detainee Abdullah Mujahid claimed would prove his innocence of terrorism, England’s lefty newspaper the Guardian took a shot at it. The paper claims that it

searched for Mr Mujahid’s witnesses and found them within three days. One was working for President Hamid Karzai. Another was teaching at a leading American college. The third was living in Kabul. The fourth, it turned out, was dead.


Each witness said he had never been approached by the Americans to testify in Mr Mujahid’s hearing.

The statements that the Guardian obtained from Mr. Mujahid’s witnesses do not necessarily clarify his innocence, but may help clarify the US government’s competence or the seriousness of its efforts to allow the detainee a fair hearing. The newspaper notes that

The three living witnesses he requested were easily located with a telephone, an internet connection and a few days work.

Shahzada Massoud was at the presidential palace, where he advises Mr Karzai on tribal affairs. Gul Haider, a former defence ministry official, was found through the local government in Gardez.

The interior ministry gave an email address for the former minister, Ahmed Ali Jalali, although he could as easily been found on the internet – he teaches at the National Defence University in Washington DC.

So why couldn’t we find the man’s witnesses? Is it because we didn’t try? Is it because we don’t have anyone who speaks the language? Could it be because the government used [warning: Flash with audio] the Internets for its search? Maybe they should have used the Interweb.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Wear ‘Em Down

I kind of hope we are in for a redistricting boom in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold most of the DeLay Texas map.

I hope that all state legislatures (both Dem- and GOP-controlled) take this opportunity to shamelessly re-draw districts to their advantages every chance they get. Several good things could come of this:

  1. Sheer confusion could force the American people to realize we need serious redistricting reform, and perhaps we’d see some momentum for independently drawn districts.
  2. Sheer confusion could also oust some incumbents, as people who’ve been shoved into a new district vote for a challenger just because they no longer recognize any names on the ballot. Anything that drops the incumbency rate below 98% is probably a good thing, no matter who gets elected!
  3. As more members of congress realize that their own seats are dependent on the whim of their home state legislature, perhaps they themselves will enact some sort of redistricting reform (I know — fat chance).

Either way, this should be interesting. DeLay’s audacity has challenged the status quo and kicked the debate to a new level. No more “tradition” or “restraint.” Time to take the gloves off and take it up a notch. Or two.

Hillary McCain

Not to pile on Hillary (following Bruno), but her McCain-esque* triangulation on flag burning — damn you dirty hippies and your lighter fluid! — is apparently pleasing absolutely no one:

Perhaps even more than her stance on the war in Iraq, it is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s position on flag desecration that has drawn the scorn of the liberal Democratic base.

When Mrs. Clinton took a stand on the matter last year — co-sponsoring legislation that would have criminalized the desecration of the American flag even as she opposed a constitutional amendment that sought to achieve the same end — she was pilloried from the left. Editorial boards criticized her for political maneuvering, the political commentator Arianna Huffington attacked her for “stars, stripes and triangulation” and even some of her supporters quietly wondered why she had gone out on a limb on such a controversial issue.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton played a leading role in the flag-burning debate once again, co-sponsoring a measure similar to her previous one as an alternative to the constitutional amendment that was about to come up for a vote in the Senate.

“Fortunately, we have an opportunity to protect our flag in a bipartisan and constitutional way,” Mrs. Clinton said in her floor speech.

The measure, brought to the floor by Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, failed, 64 to 36, minutes before the proposed amendment fell short of the 67 votes it needed.

. . .

Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and a former presidential nominee, voted for the measure, which closely resembled past efforts to pre-empt an amendment to the Constitution. Democrats who voted for the measure in effect bought themselves the right to claim that they had voted against flag desecration, potentially inoculating themselves against possible charges of lacking patriotism in a general election campaign. The broader measure to amend the Constitution failed by a single vote, 66 to 34.

*In other words, a “While I’m against a constitutional amendment, I’m also opposed to gay marriage” kind of triangulation.

Conditions on the Ground

That’s what will determine troop levels in Iraq, according to President Bush. However:

The withdrawal of 20,000-40,000 U.S. troops from Iraq this fall would greatly help Republican chances in the November election, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) said at a fundraiser Thursday at the National Rifle Association.

Souder acknowledged in his remarks that the war in Iraq has dampened support for Republican candidates but added that withdrawing 30,000 troops could have a big impact, said Martin Green, Souder’s spokesman.

Jonathan Kaplan, The Hill, May 3

The top American commander in Iraq has drafted a plan that projects sharp reductions in the United States military presence there by the end of 2007, with the first cuts coming this September, American officials say.

Michael R. Gordon, N.Y. Times, June 25

All administrations are political, of course. But never before has the White House inserted electoral priorities into Cabinet agencies with such regularity and deliberation. Before the 2002 midterm elections, for instance, Rove or Mehlman visited with the managers of many federal agencies to share polling information and discuss how policy decisions might affect key races.

Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger, L.A. Times, June 25

Conditions on which ground, again?

Those Who Did And No Longer Do, Blog

No 15 minutes here — Ken Jennings has a blog*! And it’s pretty interesting, showing that maybe you do need to be extra smart to succeed at Jeopardy:

The British love trivia (one in ten Britons self-identified as a “quizaholic” in one recent survey) but my sense is their nomenclature is a little different from ours (and if I’m wrong, I hope a British reader puts down his steak-and-kidney pie, pops in his monocle, and writes in to inform me). The word “trivia” has been in use in the UK ever since the Trivial Pursuit fad of the mid-80s, but most hardcore players refer to their pastime as “quizzing.” I’m not entirely crazy about the word “quiz,” since it makes trivia sound about as fun to me as seventh-grade algebra, but I like the idea that there might be two separate words: one for the concept of trivia (the enjoyment of odd facts, and questions about them) and another for quizzing (a specific, public, competitive game built largely on trivia). The difference between “trivia” and “quizzing” is sort of like the difference between “stamps” and “philately,” or “caves” and “spelunking.”

Then there’s snark Ken:

Posting this from Sun Valley, Idaho, where I’m speaking at a thingy. Sun Valley may be located in the second ugliest state of the union (sorry, Wyoming!) but it’s actually quite scenic up here.

Then there’s Where-did-THAT-come-from? Ken:

Is it just me, or are Sam Raimi and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck rapidly becoming the same person as they get older?

*Remember him? The Ken Jennings Drinking Game?

[Link via.]

Joe Biden’s Italian Side

The pinstripe suits… the slicked-back hair… the silk hankerchiefs. I’ve long wondered if Joe Biden has any Italian heritage like I do. Finally, I think we have proof, in the form of his answer to a question on being president:

Speaking to a group of 130 twenty- and thirty-something supporters of his leadership PAC last Thursday, Biden indicated that while he thinks he could be an effective chief executive, as far as the job itself goes, he could take it or leave it.

“I’d rather be at home making love to my wife while my children are asleep,” he said.

Biden’s PAC spokeman, Larry Rosky, said the line illustrates that “this is not an egostistical pursuit for him” and that he is “frankly totally in love with his wife.”

Now that’s a paisan!

Wacky Government Intervention Sucks

On this week’s show, we discussed the silliness of the government-fueled Ethanol boom. Here’s another example of the wackiness that ensues when government policy is aimed at short-term expediencey as opposed to true long-term goals.

Virginia allows hybrids and other low emission vehicles to use carpool lanes. This causes the carpool lanes to get crowded and traffic increases. So the VA government makes a bad situation worse by delcaring that all hybrids bought after June 30 will no longer be allowed in the lanes!

So now basically what you’ve done is made pre-June 30 hybrids a special commidity, whose value will increase over time, creating yet another market perversion. In 5 or 10 years you’ll have chop-shops in Virginia whose sole specialty will be taking a brand-new Toyota Corolla and encasing it in the shell of a dead 10-year-old Prius just so the car’s owner can drive in the HOV lane.

Which gets back to the point we made on the show, which is that the government does not, and should not, want more hybrids on the road, per se. That’s not the real goal. The real goal is to consume less gasoline. So let’s tax gasoline. Let’s phase in a $1/gallon tax, gradually over a few years so people can adjust to it, and let the market re-adjust accordingly.

(Via Autoblog Green )

Roughly Equivalent To Having Sex With All Of The Other Fans, Simultaneously

Like a social drinker or smoker, I’m a social soccer fan, which means that I’ve watched some of the World Cup with a passing interest. This, however, is a nice post about why soccer is great, and it made me rethink some of my latent, usually unstated qualms with the sport:

Re the infrequency of scoring: Nick Hornby, in his wonderful soccer memoir “Fever Pitch” (highly recommended), has a wonderful list of the ingredients that go into making a truly great soccer game, the kind of out-of-body ecstasy that soccer can induce and which all soccer fans understand. Some of the ones I recall (I don’t have the book with me): home game for your team; home team wins, 3-2, after trailing 2-0; outrageously bad penalty call against your team [followed by a missed penalty kick by the other side].

So it is absolutely true: if you’re losing a soccer game 2-0 with 10 minutes to go, you have a mighty slim chance of winning, and you are almost certainly going to be walking out of the stadium depressed and disappointed. But . . . it does happen. Teams do come back. And if this is the game in which it happens, you will never, ever, forget the experience of watching it. It will be roughly equivalent to having sex with all of the other fans, simultaneously.

In 1999 Man. U scored two goals in the last 4 minutes of a Champions League Final — unlike the World Cup final, which will be watched by ten times more people than watch our “Super Bowl,” the Champions League final is watched by only 4 or 5 times more people than watch our Super Bowl. It’s kind of a big deal. I’m not a Man U. fan — but I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to be a Man U fan in that stadium that night.

You might have to watch many, many games before it happens. You may go a lifetime and only experience it once or twice — or, god forbid, never. That’s why you go to a lot of games — to be sure to catch it when it happens.

This is probably true for no hitters and, say, an unassisted triple play, but beyond these two rare occurrences (the latter is actually the rarest thing in baseball, having happened only twelve times in all of Major League history*), there is a lot more in baseball to keep you satisfied. Just this weekend I watched Curt Schilling strike out five batters in a row (before blowing the game in the seventh). That was cool — and it actually sent a slight — just slight — shiver up my spine that reminded me why baseball basically rocks. And why sometimes soccer seems a little bit of a downer . . .

Question for the Professor, though — why must there be penalty kicks at the end of a tie game? It’s one of the things that bums me out the most about soccer. (The 1994 World Cup final was l-a-m-e.) One of the most rad things about hockey is the playoff games that stretch six or seven periods. The players are dead tired, busted and those games are sweet to watch. Why not play sudden death into eternity? The players would have to get tired at some point and let a goal go by, so there’s a built-in escape, and it’d be freakin’ epic to watch! You could even allow unlimited substitutions, which could keep players fresher.

*I actually was at the Yankee game in 2000 when Oakland’s Randy Velarde made an unassisted triple play, the eleventh in history. Although it was amazing, it happened very fast and was almost anticlimactic**.

**Witnessing this wasn’t at all like “having sex with all of the other fans simultaneously,” so maybe soccer fans are on to something . . .

You Moron, Strike Out Already!

Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of the longest professional baseball game ever. If you’ve ever groaned after watching a scoreboard operator reset the inning display, if you’ve ever rooted against your team just so the damn game would end or if you’ve ever felt a twinge of disappointment after the home team tied the game again in the bottom of the 14th, you’ll appreciate this piece of baseball lore in which Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken, Jr. and Joe Morgan figure prominently:

The game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings, the Class AAA affiliates of the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, began in Pawtucket, R.I., on the night of April 18, 1981, went into the early morning of April 19 (when the game was halted), and concluded June 23.

It became the longest game in the history of professional baseball, lasting 33 innings, with a total of 882 pitches thrown and 156 baseballs used over 8 hours 25 minutes. It finally ended with Pawtucket scoring a run in the bottom of the 33rd.

A reunion commemorating the 25th anniversary of the game’s conclusion was held Friday at a downtown hotel here, with 20 former Pawtucket players and 9 former Rochester players attending a luncheon. There was another ceremony Friday night at McCoy Stadium, the Pawtucket team’s home park.

The 1981 game began on a Saturday night at McCoy Stadium with 1,740 fans in attendance. When it was stopped, after 32 innings, at 4:09 Easter morning, with the score tied at 2-2, 19 fans were left in the stands.

“No, none of the players fell asleep,” Hurst said. “We were just trying to stay warm. It was the coldest I’ve ever been in uniform.”

Marty Barrett, then the second baseman for Pawtucket, recalled that as the game went on, the temperature began to drop. “It must have been in the mid-30’s, and the wind was blowing in at about 15 miles an hour — I bet the wind chill factor was 20 degrees,” he said. Barrett said that Bob Ojeda, the eventual winning pitcher, found a 55-gallon trash can and lit a fire with the numerous bats that broke during the game.

. . .

“When I doubled in the tying run in the 21st inning, I didn’t know if the guys wanted to hug me or slug me,” said Wade Boggs, now a Hall of Famer, who played third base for Pawtucket. “But, being competitors, we did want to win the game.”

As for why the game stretched on and on and on, it’s simple: it took place before the advent of cell phones:

The game was stopped after repeated calls to Harold Cooper, the president of the International League, in Columbus, Ohio. Cooper had been at a wedding and did not get home until 3 a.m. Hurst said, “I heard that he said: ‘You idiot, this is absurd. Call the game.'”