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Who killed Dale Stoffel?


The above cartoon—published in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mutamar last October—shows an insurgent shaking hands with a civil servant carrying suitcase labeled "Administrative Corruption."

The intersection of these sinister forces has now resulted in an American murder mystery—one that could have far-reaching implications for the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and whatever government  emerges from the January 30 elections.

The Los Angeles Times reports :

An American contractor gunned down last month in Iraq had accused Iraqi Defense Ministry officials of corruption days before his death, according to documents and U.S. officials.

Dale Stoffel, 43, was shot to death Dec. 8 shortly after leaving an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad, an attack attributed at the time to Iraqi insurgents. Also killed was a business associate, Joseph Wemple, 49.

The killings came after Stoffel alerted senior U.S. officials in Washington that he believed Iraqi Defense Ministry officials were part of a kickback scheme involving a multimillion-dollar contract awarded to his company, Wye Oak Technology, to refurbish old Iraqi military equipment.

The FBI has launched an investigation into the killings and whether they might have been retaliation for Stoffel's whistle-blowing activities, according to people familiar with the inquiry. The FBI declined to comment.

Stoffel, of Monongahela, Pa., made his allegations in a Dec. 3 letter to a senior Pentagon official and in a meeting with aides to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Soon after, Stoffel was summoned to the Taji military base in Iraq by coalition military officials to discuss his concerns about his contract. He complained about payment problems with a mysterious Lebanese businessman designated by the Iraqis as a middleman, sources said.

As Stoffel, Wemple and an Iraqi interpreter left the Taji base in a car Dec. 8, another vehicle rammed theirs head-on. Two masked men jumped out and executed the two Americans in a fusillade of bullets, according to news accounts at the time. Their interpreter fled and is missing.

Here's where the story gets interesting:

The attackers stole Stoffel's computer from the scene. About a week later, a video showing photographs and identity documents of Stoffel and Wemple was posted on a website frequently used by insurgent groups. A group calling itself the Brigades of the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the killings. The group was not previously known to terrorism experts.

The timing and the unusual details of the killings have raised suspicions in the U.S. and Iraq that the video was a ruse to disguise an assassination.

"The video was very unusual," said Evan Kohlman, a terrorism consultant who examined the video.

"It didn't show bodies or the killing, but only photos, documents and materials taken from the bodies. It is certainly possible that someone [other than insurgents] manufactured the video." [The video is available for viewing at this website, but a free registration is required for viewing.]

But what really intrigues me are the companies that Stoffel and Wemple worked for:  Wye Oak Technology and CLI Corporation.

The company's web site describes Wye Oak Technology as "a team of engineering professionals who can meet your project needs today and into the future. With over 50 years of development and engineering experience we can analyze your needs, create a plan and rapidly move your organization into it next stage of technical impact." This could be just about anything technology related, though the home page then goes on to describe services such as "programming solutions," "web development," "database solutions" and a nebulous category called "special projects." I don't know about you, but I think it's pretty unusual for a bunch of webheads to be over in Iraq refurbishing outdated Soviet tanks. It's also pretty unusual for a web design firm to be registered as a lobbyist by the U. S. House of Representatives. Listing Wye Oak Technology as his employeer, Stoffel also contributed $2,000 each to the campaigns of Nevada Senator John Ensign and Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha. (I find it curious that I can't locate any information about Wye Oak Technology's domain name, webrenovators.com, in the WHOIS database.)

Dale Stoffel is also described as "executive vice president of  international development " for  CLI Corporation (based in Canonsburg, PA). CLI, according to its website, "provides engineering, construction, equipment and management services in the field of coal and mineral processing (solid-liquid separation and waste removal)." David Hartley and Robert Irey of CLI each contributed $1,000 to Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spector's recent campaign.

Again, what does "coal and mineral processing" have to do with refurbishing tanks?

These paragraphs from the Times' story are very revealing, however:

Stoffel's killing drew scrutiny from investigators not only because of his whistle-blowing activities but also because of his mysterious and controversial past. Stoffel worked on a top-secret U.S. program in the 1990s to buy Russian, Chinese and other foreign-made weapons for testing by the U.S. military, according to documents and interviews.

Stoffel's Iraq contract was the first large-scale contract issued and funded directly by the Iraqi government for military purposes, and was crucial for training and equipping the Iraqi army, considered a key component of the U.S. strategy for exiting Iraq.

All in all, something about this whole thing doesn't smell right.

I wonder if—as the de-Baathification effort in Iraq has stalled—a nexus of former Saddam loyalists in the MoD, with ties to Lebanon (most likely via Syria), has managed to insert itself into the contracting process. The alleged kickback scheme via a Lebanese third party certainly has all the hallmarks of an oil-for-food-like set-up. And the Saddamites are certainly very skilled at manipulating the terrorists into doing their dirty work.

This is definitely one to keep an eye on.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has more on the story: "Stoffel had negotiated a project to rehabilitate Soviet-era tanks, armored personnel carriers and other armored machinery for Iraqi security forces to use, according to colleagues at CLI USA Inc., a Pennsylvania-based consulting firm where Stoffel was executive vice president. The project was the first of its kind issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and was part of the effort to bolster Iraqi forces, a key element of the United States' exit strategy in Iraq. Stoffel was administering the umbrella contract through his own firm, Wye Oak Technology, but CLI was poised to do much of the work, colleagues said."

UPDATE: This website offers a photograph of the investigation, credited to the USMC, which features a man in a business suit:


The man in the business suit would appear to be the same guy we see in these photographs of Stoffel from the video:



Any ideas out there who the man in the suit might be? (The man immediately on Stoffel's left would seem to be Ahmed Chalhabi.)

UPDATE: Stoffel's obituary in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contains this intriguing passage:

Wye Oak, which was based in a house Mr. Stoffel owned in Alexandria, Va., is described on its Web site as "a development and engineering company." But at Wye Oak, Mr. Stoffel marketed himself as an international weapons dealer.

One of his biggest successes was landing an $11.5 million contract with Boeing Co. Boeing hired Mr. Stoffel to obtain Russian X-31 missiles.

But the missile deal fizzled and a contentious court case followed.

Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. sued Mr. Stoffel last year in St. Louis, seeking return of $6 million it had paid him. McDonnell Douglas claimed Mr. Stoffel delivered just five of the 32 missiles he had promised.

Mr. Stoffel countered that he would not return the money, which he said was essential to his efforts to secure more missiles.

The lawsuit was before U.S. District Judge Richard Webber in St. Louis. One of the judge's staff members said yesterday the case was closed Sept. 27. The outcome, though, is unknown, as Webber sealed the file.

Court documents obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before the case was closed said Mr. Stoffel intended to obtain the missiles through contacts he had in Ukraine, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia itself.

As the lawsuit implies, Mr. Stoffel previously worked for the U.S. government. The nature of his government job and how long he held it were not clear yesterday. [My emphasis.]

A news account of the Boeing arms-deal-gone-awry can be found here. The story describes Stoffel as "an obscure weapons dealer."

This account, which appeared in the Monessen Valley Independent last December, adds some details of Stoffel's background and what he was purportedly doing in Iraq:

It was learned later that Stoffel, who was a partner of Robert Irey at CLI Corp. in Cecil, was a resident of Carroll Township. Stoffel was the company's executive vice president of International Development for the company

"We are just stunned and devastated by what has happened," said Irey. "It is hard to believe that Dale is no longer with us."

"Dale was my partner since January of this year," said Irey. "He came to me and my other partner, Bill Stein, one day and said, 'I want to go to Iraq.' He was driven. He had an unbelievable passion for what America is doing in Iraq."

Irey said that Stoffel was driven by a desire to make things right in that country.

"You don't go there just to collect a paycheck," said Irey.

CLI Corp is an engineering and construction firm with Irey serving as chief executive officer. The firm has been involved in a project to construct a center in Taji, which would perform work for the Iraqi civil defense force. [My emphasis.]

Stoffel and Wemple reportedly had just left Taji when their vehicle was ambushed.

Irey explained that CLI is doing work in the Green Zone, a fortified safe area near Baghdad, and in Taji.

"They had left Taji and were driving back to the Green Zone for a meeting," Irey said. "They were 10 minutes from the Green Zone when they were ambushed."

Irey described Stoffel, who had a strong military background, as "bigger than life."

"He was an experienced military Special Forces guy who knew what he was doing, how to handle weapons and was always heavily armed," said Irey. "He always felt if ever there was an altercation, he'd get them before they got him.

Something or someone must have lulled Stoffel and Wemple into a false sense of security; I'm betting it was their interpreter who helped tee up the hit.

UPDATE: This article from The New York Times may shed some light on the Lebanese connection:

Earlier this month, according to Iraqi officials, $300 million in American bills was taken out of Iraq's Central Bank, put into boxes and quietly put on a charter jet bound for Lebanon.

The money was to be used to buy tanks and other weapons from international arms dealers, the officials say, as part of an accelerated effort to assemble an armored division for the fledgling Iraqi Army. But exactly where the money went, and to whom, and for precisely what, remains a mystery, at least to Iraqis who say they have been trying to find out.

The $300 million deal appears to have been arranged outside the American-designed financial controls intended to help Iraq—which defaulted on its external debt in the 1990's—legally import goods. By most accounts here, there was no public bidding for the arms contracts, nor was the deal approved by the entire 33-member Iraqi cabinet.

As the article goes on to describe, the Iraqi defense minister, Hazim al-Shalaan, seems to be the one who created the arrangement—and who may have ordered the hit on Stoffel and Wemple. Why has no news organization begun to connect the dots?

UPDATE: I've created a photo album of screen shots from the "Brigades of the Islamic Jihad" video here.

UPDATE: Steven Vincent, author of In the Red Zone, has some good insights on the Stoffel/Wemple murders.

UPDATE (4-05-05): A second video claiming responsibility for the murders has been released. I've discussed it in a separate post here. An album of still images from the video can be found here.

Posted by Rodger on January 22, 2005 at 02:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)


Bachrach biting


Judy Bachrach of Vanity Fair has won her 15 minutes of fame in the left-wing blogosphere for her diatribe on FOX News about the supposed "extravagance" of the Bush inaugural. (iFilm is hosting the video here .)

Bachrach wrote a scathing piece last year on John Ashcroft—and her magazine is hardly a cheering gallery for the Bush administration—so it's a little surprising that Bridgette Quinn was blindsided by the attack.

Say Anything has a superb takedown of Bachrach's comments:

The left side of the blogosphere seems to be going nuts over this Fox News clip …. It shows Brigitte Quinn interviewing Judy Bachrach from Vanity Fair who does little more than recycle a bunch of nonsense, left-wing talking points. If anything the clip is notable for Quinn’s apparent inability to respond to such idiotic rhetoric.

The two biggest points made during the clip are:

    1.      FDR scaled back his inaugural celebrations in 1945.

    2.      Bush shouldn’t be celebrating so “extravagantly” while the troops are in Iraq without enough armor, etc.

To respond to the first accusation we need to put FDR’s 1944 election into some historical context. Lets remember that it was his fourth election victory meaning that the celebration he scaled back was his fourth run through inaugural festivities. After being elected three times I’d probably be a little tired of celebrating too. His first three inaugural celebrations were also right in line with the elegance and “extravagance” such occasions are known for despite the fact that they took place with the Great Depression in the background. I’m not criticizing that, I’m just expanding the background of an offered comparison.

It also might be worth keeping in mind the fact that FDR died four months after the 1945 inauguration. It is widely known now (though not back in 1944) that FDR’s health had been deteriorating for some time. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us at all that he wouldn’t feel up to celebrating his fourth inauguration with the typical extravagances.

To address the accusation that it's “improper” for a President to celebrate an inauguration “extravagantly” during war time one has to ask, “Why are they only using FDR as an example? Why aren’t they mentioning any other Presidents? America has elected more Presidents during war time than just FDR, why not mention them?”

Well, it's because FDR is the only President to ever scale back inauguration festivities during war time, and the reason he scaled them back probably didn’t have anything to do with the war as I pointed out above.

And as for the troops and their armor … why is it that we only hear these armor complaints from left-wing demagogue looking to score some political points? As far as I’m concerned the Humvee armor issue was being addressed back before the soldier even asked Sec. Rumsfeld that now-famous question and the situation was entirely resolved shortly afterward. And even if the problem weren’t already addressed it still wouldn’t be the President’s fault because Congress, not the White House, is responsible for handing out funding for the military budget. If there’s a problem with troop armor we should be calling our Senators and Representatives on it, not the President.

Apparently Quinn was a little taken aback by Bachrach’s launch into attack mode and couldn’t come up with any of this. Her responses were lame and, by comparison, made Bachrach come off looking shrewd which probably explains the popularity of this clip.

I'd say Bachrach ends up looking more shrewish than shrewd, but evidently for the trendoids of Condé Nast stridency is the new wit.

Posted by Rodger on January 21, 2005 at 08:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday dogblogging


Mason takes his afternoon nap.

Posted by Rodger on January 21, 2005 at 05:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Angel in the whirlwind


If nothing else, President Bush's inaugural address yesterday should have silenced those who find him wanting in intellectual depth. (It won't, but that's another matter.) The speech was, by turns, difficult, elliptical and visionary. It was completely devoid of the simple, conversational rhetoric that earned the President so much success during the campaign season. In its ambitions, Bush's second inaugural can only be compared to Lincoln's, and it is—in large measure—a gloss on a single line of that document, "The Almighty has His own purposes."

God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. When our Founders declared a new order of the ages; when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty; when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner "Freedom Now"—they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.

Like Lincoln's, Bush's imagery is somber and forbidding. He doesn't avert his eyes from the sacrifices that have been necessary to achieve freedom in places where it has long been muzzled.  He understands, as Lincoln did, the difficulty of waging an unpopular war and governing in circumstances where the "ancient hope" of universal liberty isn't universally shared.

The second Bush inaugural likewise harkens back to these prophetic words from his first (which was itself a gloss on Jefferson's "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists"):

After the Declaration of Independence was signed, Virginia statesman John Page wrote to Thomas Jefferson: "We know the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?''

Much time has passed since Jefferson arrived for his inauguration. The years and changes accumulate. But the themes of this day he would know: our nation's grand story of courage and its simple dream of dignity.

We are not this story's author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet his purpose is achieved in our duty, and our duty is fulfilled in service to one another.

Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today, to make our country more just and generous, to affirm the dignity of our lives and every life.

This work continues. This story goes on. And an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm.

The angel is the whirlwind is something this president sees as vividly as William Blake saw his prophecy of America:

In the flames stood and view'd the armies drawn out in the sky,
Washington, Franklin, Paine, and Warren, Allen, Gates, and Lee,
And heard the voice of Albion's Angel give the thunderous command;
His plagues, obedient to his voice, flew forth out of their clouds,
Falling upon America, as a storm to cut them off,
As a blight cuts the tender corn when it begins to appear.

Bush, like Blake before him, has beheld the angel and invites the world to behold it too.

When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public and the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, a witness said, "It rang as if it meant something." In our time it means something still. America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof.

Peggy Noonan—one of our most sensitive interpreters of Presidential rhetoric—has described this closing line of the President's inaugural as "over the top" and "mission inebriation."

Renewed in our strength—tested, but not weary—we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.

Noonan writes: "One wonders if they [the White House] shouldn't ease up, calm down, breathe deep, get more securely grounded. The most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not." On the contrary, one wonders if Ms. Noonan has been spending too much time with Brent Scowcroft. Passing the torch of freedom to other nations isn't the perfection in the life of man on earth—it's simply a continuation of a 229-year-old experiment in liberty.

Bush wasn't describing a New Jerusalem in his second inaugural. He was envisioning the possibilities of an enlarged American dream.

Posted by Rodger on January 21, 2005 at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)


J'accuse, Benihana


News of the Weird offers some powerful ammunition against the opponents of tort reform, who see litigation as a way of obtaining social justice for the "disenfranchised" of our society:

Mr. Jerry Colaitis of Old Brookville, N.Y., died of complications from spinal surgery in 2001, and the next year, his family filed a $10 million lawsuit blaming everything on the Benihana Japanese restaurant chain. Benihana hibachi chefs engage in colorful hand acrobatics while skillfully slicing and grilling food at tableside, and on the night in question, Colaitis flinched at a shrimp the chef had tossed his way. The flinch jarred two vertebrae in his neck, which eventually required surgery and then a second surgery, after which complications developed, leading to Colaitis' death. In November 2004, a judge cleared the case for trial. [New York Law Journal, 11-23-04]

In February 2004, two 11-year-old boys cut classes at the Ronan Middle School in Ronan, Mont., found some alcoholic beverages, and hours later died of hypothermia in a snow-covered field. In November, the parents of the two filed a lawsuit, asking $4 million in damages from the local public schools for not preventing the truancy. School personnel should have known, according to the lawsuit, that the kids were of Native American heritage, with a high rate of alcoholism in the community, even though neither boy had any alcohol-related incident on his record. [Missoulian, 11-6-04]

Ladell Alexander, serving a 16-year sentence for molesting a child in a public library in South Bend, Ind., filed a lawsuit in 2004, asking for $4 million in damages, charging that his predicament is actually the fault of the library's security company because officers should have seen him with the boy in a staff-only area of the building and kicked him out before he could do anything bad. (A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in December.) [South Bend Tribune, 12-9-04]

In February 2004, a 20-year-old woman stole OxyContin and Xanax from The Medicine Shoppe pharmacy in Wood River, Ill., and gave some to her boyfriend, Justin Stalcup, 21, who died of an overdose the next day. In December, Mr. Stalcup's family filed a lawsuit against The Medicine Shoppe, claiming that the reason for their son's death was that the pharmacy didn't safeguard the drugs from the thief. [Belleville News-Democrat, 12-17-04]

A very successful attorney of my acquaintance said to me years ago, "What a lot of people in this profession don't get is that not every problem in life has a legal remedy."

Unfortunately, if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Posted by Rodger on January 19, 2005 at 12:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)


Where the evidence leads?


Dick Thornburgh may have titled his memoir Where the Evidence Leads, but it's a good thing the latest chapter in his career came after the book was published.

His Memogate report—by near-univeral consensus—never bothered to follow the evidence at all.

John Podhoretz:

The Thornburgh-Boccardi team said little more than CBS News had already acknowledged all the way back on September 20, the very day the two men were first asked to undertake their investigation. Aside from some fascinating tidbits here and there in the course of its 224 pages, the report adds little to the storehouse of knowledge about the libelous hit job on the president--a storehouse of knowledge that was already nearing capacity within a mere 18 hours of the broadcast itself.

Stockholders in Viacom, the parent company of CBS, may want to grill network president Leslie Moonves about fiduciary responsibility. Not because CBS has been forever tainted by the scandal, though it surely has been. Simply put, there was no reason for Moonves to spend half a million dollars of the network's money on a report that could have been written for free by an intern with a dial-up Internet connection and a decent knowledge of how to use Google effectively.

Charles Krauthammer:

First comes the crime: Dan Rather's late hit on President Bush's Air National Guard service, featuring what were revealed almost immediately to be forged documents.

Then comes the coverup: 12 days of CBS stonewalling with Dan Rather (a) calling his critics "partisan political operatives," (b) claiming falsely that the documents were authenticated by experts, (c) claiming he had "solid sources," which turned out to be an anti-Bush partisan with a history of prolific storytelling.

Now comes the twist: The independent investigation, clueless and in its own innocent way disgraceful, pretends that this fiasco was not politically motivated.

Tony Blankley:

So the lawyers hired to independently investigate CBS have a lawyer/client relationship with CBS. Presumably, as a senior member of that firm, Independent Review Panel Member Richard Thornburgh also has CBS as a fiduciary client. Thus, unlike similarly named government independent investigations — this one is paid for by, and carried out on behalf of, the target of the investigation.

The foregoing is not meant to impugn the integrity of Mr. Thornburgh. He is a man of proven integrity. But it is meant to try to determine what his ethical obligations required of him. If CBS is his legal client, then he has an ethical obligation to represent CBS's best interests — and certainly to minimize any exposure CBS might have to legal liability for their conduct ….

The crisis has been defused. The damage has been limited. Kirkpatrick Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP have earned every last penny of the undoubtedly huge legal/PR bill that is now, presumably, in the mail to CBS.

William Campenni:

CBS paid Kirkpatrick & Lockhart big bucks for this report …. If Kirkpatrick & Lockhart's aim was an attorney's protection of its client, intentional ignorance was a good strategy.

The lesson here: If you are a big media entity with a political agenda and have reporters with a five-year obsession to get George Bush on his Guard service even if it means using fake documents from an incredible source (hint to USA Today) get Kirkpatrick & Lockhart. If you want the unambiguous truth, look in the yellow pages for a good but inexpensive private investigator.

If this report is his swan song, Mr. Thornburgh doesn't seem to be ending his public career on a high note.

Posted by Rodger on January 18, 2005 at 06:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


Mo-Do: always a bridesmaid


Maureen Dowd wrote a much-discussed column last week—headlined "Men Just Want Mommy"—regarding the supposed tendency of successful men to marry women who "tend to them and care for them in some way: their secretaries, assistants, nannies, caterers, flight attendants, researchers and fact-checkers."

Besides some slight anecdotal evidence (and the plotlines of two romantic comedies, "Spanglish" and "Love Actually"), Dowd's argument rests mainly on two recent bits of academic research:

A new study by psychology researchers at the University of Michigan, using college undergraduates,  suggests that men going for long-term relationships would rather marry women in subordinate jobs than women who are supervisors.

As Dr. Stephanie Brown, the lead author of the study, summed it up for reporters: "Powerful women are at a disadvantage in the marriage market because men may prefer to marry less-accomplished women." Men think that women with important jobs are more likely to cheat on them.

"The hypothesis," Dr. Brown said, "is that there are evolutionary pressures on males to take steps to minimize the risk of raising offspring that are not their own." Women, by contrast, did not show a marked difference in their attraction to men who might work above or below them. And men did not show a preference when it came to one-night stands.

A second study, which was by researchers at four British universities and reported last week, suggested that smart men with demanding jobs would rather have old-fashioned wives, like their mums, than equals. The study found that a high I.Q. hampers a woman's chance to get married, while it is a plus for men. The prospect for marriage increased by 35 percent for guys for each 16-point increase in I.Q.; for women, there is a 40 percent drop for each 16-point rise.

The men-want-to-marry-their-mommies theme, of couse, is as old as psychology itself, not to mention a founding principle of the feminist movement. It's also a theme Dowd has touched on before, notably in her 2002 column, "The Baby Bust."

Men veer away from "challenging" women because they have an atavistic desire to be the superior force in a relationship.

In the immortal words of Cher: Snap out of it, guys.

Male logic on dating down is bollixed up: Women who seem in awe of you in the beginning won't stay in awe once they get to know you. Women who don't have demanding jobs are not less demanding in relationships; indeed, they may be more demanding. They're saving up all that competitive energy and critical faculty to lavish on you when you get home.

If men would only give up their silly desire for world dominance, the world would be a much finer place.

Of course, it would never occur to Dowd—in her quest to find answers in social science—that she might be the cause of her own relationship difficulties. Like the Tea Leoni character in "Spanglish," Dowd is a successful career woman who is endlessly critical of men (most notably, of course, Republican men). Yet, without the slightest hint hint of irony, she takes men to task for not being magnetically attracted to successful women who are likely to be critical of them.

In the immortal words of my daughter Maggie: Well, like … duh.

Who—male or female—wants to marry someone who's going to criticize them 24/7? In fact, feminists already have a word to describe men who criticize women constantly in a relationship: abusive.

Poor Mo-Do.

After all these years, she hasn't figured out why she's always a bridesmaid and never a bride.

Posted by Rodger on January 16, 2005 at 10:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

A foolproof cure for hiccups


I don't claim to be the next Jonas Salk. But I have discovered a cure for hiccups.

It works like this:

  • Fill a drinking glass with water.
  • Cover it with a clean handkerchief or a dish towel.
  • While holding the cloth stretched tightly over the top of the glass, drink all the water through the cloth.

By the time you're finished, the hiccups will be gone.

Don't ask me why this works, but it does.

In 30-odd years, I've never seen it fail.

(Tip of the hat to Piers Gardner—now a London barrister—who showed me this little trick when we were schoolboys at Bryanston School England.)

Posted by Rodger on January 16, 2005 at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thornburgh for the defense


Mike McGough, editor at large of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's national bureau, has an interview with Dick Thornburgh regarding the Memogate report. Although it's hardly what one would describe as a "hard-hitting" interview, McGough raises at least a few of the questions that have been raised in the blogosphere.

Here are some of the most interesting (with my emphasis added):

Q: You conclude in the report that CBS's reporting of the controversy over George W. Bush's Air National Guard Service failed to meet two core principles of journalism —accuracy and fairness. As a former governor and Cabinet member, you've had a lot of experience with media coverage. Have you personally experienced breakdowns in standards of the kind you found at CBS?

A: I think anybody in public life is going to be able to recount episodes when they thought they were treated unfairly and there was inaccuracy in reports of their activities. Part of that's just human nature. I'm no different from the rest.

Q: Have you encountered journalistic lapses as egregious as this, or did the CBS story strike you as a really unusual breakdown of standards?

A: We were engaged to look at one segment of one program, and I think it would be a mistake to extrapolate from our investigation and conclusions to look at journalism in full.

Q: But in this case were you surprised that the procedures were so shoddy?

A: It was troublesome to discover some of the features of the process here.

We were frankly very surprised to find that nobody at CBS had any experience in the authentication of documents, which can be a very tricky proposition.

The failure to more thoroughly examine the background of various sources involved and the failure during the vetting process to ask the tough questions or to follow up on the tough questions—those were all somewhat disquieting. Extremely troublesome was the contact between the show's producer and a high-level official of the John Kerry campaign. We thought that was totally inappropriate.

Q: Your report has been criticized for hedging on that very point. The report says you found certain actions that could support charges of an anti-Bush political bias, but then says the panel doesn't believe that political motivation drove the segment. What's the standard here—that there's no absolute certainty that there was bias but that it's a possibility?

A: Political bias is an easy charge to make but a difficult one to prove, because you've got to get into somebody's head. We didn't want to make the same mistake that CBS made —making charges that we didn't feel we could prove. We expressed our concern about their insensitivity about appearances, the using of a variety of anti-Bush sources, the lengthy nature of the investigation spread out over a period of five years, the apparent lack of appreciation of the effect this would have in the midst of a hard-fought presidential campaign and, most of all, the appearance created by [the producer] contacting a high-level official of the Kerry campaign. Those were all very troublesome, but taken together with the numerous indications that the segment was motivated by the sincere belief that this was a significant and accurate story, we could not come to a definitive conclusion that the story was motivated by political bias.

Q: The centerpiece of your criticism is that CBS rushed to report this story without authenticating these four documents that supposedly were from the file of Bush's commanding officer. But you say in the report that you yourselves did not reach conclusions about the accuracy of those documents. Did you try to do that?

A: We looked very extensively at the authentication issue and spoke to a number of persons with knowledge on that subject. Given that they are multigenerational copies, we could not reach a definitive conclusion on whether they were authentic. We did report on a number of issues that seriously question the authenticity of the documents. Our assignment was to examine the reporting, and clearly our opinion was that CBS should never have gone with a segment based on them. CBS had four experts and none of those four could authenticate the documents. It was simply irresponsible for CBS to say on the segment that these documents had been authenticated.

Q: Have you reached a tentative conclusion yourself about whether these documents are bogus?

A: I have a lot of concern about their authenticity, to be sure, but again we don't want to make the same mistake that they made on the show by coming to a conclusion on the basis of insufficient facts.

Q: Should CBS have gone further in dismissing people?

A: I don't know. That's a management decision. We tried to tell the story as fully and accurately as we could. Whatever decisions are made on the basis of that is a matter for CBS.

The interview is headlined, "That's the way it was, alas." It's not entirely clear whether the "alas" of the headline refers to Memogate or the Thornburgh-Boccardi report.

I prefer to think the latter.

Posted by Rodger on January 16, 2005 at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Why blog?


Frank Wilson, books editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, has an excellent review of Hugh Hewitt's new book, Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World.

Wilson really seems to get it:

Hewitt, as his subtitle indicates, sees a comparison between the rise of the blogosphere and the Protestant Reformation. That may sound odd at first, but thanks to Gutenberg's printing press, Luther's opposition to papal authority could be widely and persuasively publicized (between 1517 and 1534, according to Mark Edwards' Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther, more that 6.6 million pamphlets were printed, mostly by Protestants). Thanks to the blogosphere, people no longer have to "persuade someone to be allowed to attempt to persuade someone." They can simply start a blog. And Hewitt offers plenty of good advice about how to go about doing that. (For example, make the title short and catchy, post often and link freely, keep entries brief, etc.)

Naturally, a blog can only be as good as whoever does the blogging. The people behind some of the better-known blogs tend to be talented and accomplished. Glenn Reynolds, whose InstaPundit probably garners the most visits of any, is a law professor at the University of Tennessee. The guys behind Powerline, voted blog of the year by Time magazine, are all lawyers. These are people who know how to weigh evidence, marshal arguments and write.

Blogs that focus on issues of public policy are the ones that have drawn the most attention, because they have come into direct conflict with the mainstream media. But there are plenty of others besides those. Books, cars, food, art, gardening - you name it, somebody is blogging about it, and Hewitt has a lot to say about how businesses, churches and you can make the most of opining online.

Lots of other books tell you how to blog. Only Hugh's really tells you why.

Posted by Rodger on January 16, 2005 at 09:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)