October 2004

Connecting a few dots…

Just in case you were tempted to believe the spin that the HMX, RDX and PETN explosives at Al-Qaqaa had already disappeared when our troops arrived:

Dick Cheney:

It is not at all clear that those explosives were even at the weapons facility when our troops arrived in the area of Baghdad.

Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel:

The weapons were not there when the military arrived, making John Kerry’s latest ripped-from-the-headlines attack baseless and false.

Tom Brokaw:

Last night on this broadcast we reported that the 101st Airborne never found the nearly 380 tons of HMX and RDX explosives. We did not conclude the explosives were missing or had vanished, nor did we say they missed the explosives. We simply reported that the 101st did not find them.

For its part, the Bush campaign immediately pointed to our report as conclusive proof that the weapons had been removed before the Americans arrived. That is possible, but that is not what we reported.

Associated Press, 5 April 2003 (emphasis mine):

Closer to Baghdad, troops at Iraq’s largest military industrial complex found nerve agent antidotes, documents describing chemical warfare and a white powder that appeared to be used for explosives.

UN weapons inspectors went repeatedly to the vast al Qa Qaa complex, most recently on March 8. But they found nothing during spot visits to some of the 1,100 buildings at the site 40 kilometres south of Baghdad.

Col. John Peabody, engineer brigade commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said troops found thousands of five-centimetre by 12-centimetre boxes, each containing three vials of white powder, together with documents written in Arabic that dealt with how to engage in chemical warfare.

A senior U.S. official familiar with initial testing said the powder was believed to be explosives. The finding would be consistent with the plant’s stated production capabilities in the field of basic raw materials for explosives and propellants.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (emphasis mine):

RDX stands for Royal Demolition eXplosive. It is also known as cyclonite or hexogen. The chemical name for RDX is 1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine. It is a white powder and is very explosive.

(Props to Media Matters, and to comments from Omri for prompting me to look for it.)

Connecting a few dots… Read More »

Terrorists endorse Bush?

I’m not sure what to make of this. It’s apparently old-news, though new to me, but after the Madrid attack the terrorists who claimed credit for the Madrid bombing actually endorsed Bush:

A week after the Madrid attack, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, which claims to act on behalf of al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the bombing and declared a truce in Spain to see if the new government would withdraw its troops from Iraq, but warned that it was gearing up for new attacks.

This part of the declaration was widely reported. However, very few mentioned the more ominous part of that declaration, short of excerpts which were reported by the BBC and Reuters.

The declaration turned its attention to President Bush, saying:

“A word for the foolish Bush. We are very keen that you do not lose in the forthcoming elections as we know very well that any big attack can bring down your government and this is what we do not want.

“We cannot get anyone who is more foolish than you, who deals with matters with force instead of wisdom and diplomacy.

“Your stupidity and religious extremism is what we want as our people will not awaken from their deep sleep except when there is an enemy.

“Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilisation.

“Because of this we desire you [Bush] to be elected.”

The logic makes sense to me, though I’m skeptical about their assessment of Democrat cunning. Bush supporters will no doubt claim it’s a double-bluff, and that “The Terrorists” really fear Bush. I think the scarier question is whether “The Terrorists” realize that a terrorist attack would mean a landslide for Bush? Could that be why there’s no evidence of an attack being planned before Nov. 2nd? [edit: what I mean is, if they do want Bush, will they lie low thinking an attack will have a Madrid-style effect, or try something thinking that will shore up Bush’s support? Ditto for if they’d like Bush out. This is why I was never good at poker…]

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IAEA: Tons of Iraq explosives missing

IAEA: Tons of Iraq explosives missing:

The explosives — considered powerful enough to demolish buildings or detonate nuclear warheads — were under IAEA control until the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. IAEA workers left the country before the fighting began.

So we went in ostensibly looking for weapons of mass distruction, then didn’t even secure the sites we knew about? Why do people feel safe under this administration? For all the bickering about what mistakes they’ve made so far, what scares me is what mistake they’ll make next

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Touchscreen interface problems

There’s been a lot of talk about how touchscreen voting is a better interface than paper ballots, but that we should not (and should not have to) sacrifice the security, understandability and reliability of having a paper audit trail as well. Now it seems we’re seeing interface problems with touchscreen voting.

I expect the voting officials are right that this is a case of “user error” — that’s what we call it in our industry when the interface designer didn’t do enough of a good job and now wants to blame someone else. Having watched technologically-minded researchers get confused when they accidentally trigger our giant presentation touchscreen at work, it doesn’t surprise me much either. Unfortunately, with all the cases of actual voter-registration fraud, invalid and highly-suspicious selctive purging of voters from the rolls, back doors secretly coded into official vote-counting software, and laughable “security” protocols in voting machines these voters (Democrat and Republican) are right to be skeptical. We need to do better.

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Price of gas

Regular Gas: $2.65 99/100Picture taken last night at the gas station near my work in Menlo Park. That’s a little high for the area, by the way — gasbuddy.com (great site!) shows as low as $2.36 if you’re willing to drive a bit.

I remember watching news reports back in 1979, late in Carter’s term, when the big story was how gas prices were so high that stations had to upgrade their pumps and signs to include a dollars column. For months you could see makeshift cardboard past-overs adding the $1 to the listed price.

Adjusted for inflation, that $1 price comes out to around $2.47 in today’s dollars.

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