Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ford Disagreed With Bush About Invading Iraq

Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. "I don't think I would have gone to war," he said a little more than a year after President Bush launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford's own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the current president's justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney -- Ford's White House chief of staff -- and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford's chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief."Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

In a conversation that veered between the current realities of a war in the Middle East and the old complexities of the war in Vietnam whose bitter end he presided over as president, Ford took issue with the notion of the United States entering a conflict in service of the idea of spreading democracy.

"Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people," Ford said, referring to Bush's assertion that the United States has a "duty to free people." But the former president said he was skeptical "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest." He added: "And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."

The Ford interview -- and a subsequent lengthy conversation in 2005 -- took place for a future book project, though he said his comments could be published at any time after his death. In the sessions, Ford fondly recalled his close working relationship with key Bush advisers Cheney and Rumsfeld while expressing concern about the policies they pursued in more recent years.

"He was an excellent chief of staff. First class," Ford said. "But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true."

Describing his own preferred policy toward Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Ford said he would not have gone to war, based on the publicly available information at the time, and would have worked harder to find an alternative. "I don't think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly," he said, "I don't think I would have ordered the Iraq war. I would have maximized our effort through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer."

Ford had faced his own military crisis -- not a war he started like Bush, but one he had to figure out how to end. In many ways those decisions framed his short presidency -- in the difficult calculations about how to pull out of Vietnam and the challenging players who shaped policy on the war. Most challenging of all, as Ford recalled, was Henry A. Kissinger, who was both secretary of state and national security adviser and had what Ford said was "the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."

"I think he was a super secretary of state," Ford said, "but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend."

In 1975, Ford decided to relieve Kissinger of his national security title. "Why Nixon gave Henry both secretary of state and head of the NSC, I never understood," Ford said. "Except he was a great supporter of Kissinger. Period." But Ford viewed Kissinger's dual roles as a conflict of interest that weakened the administration's ability to fully air policy debates. "They were supposed to check on one another."

That same year, Ford also decided to fire Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger and replace him with Rumsfeld, who was then Ford's White House chief of staff. Ford recalled that he then used that decision to go to Kissinger and say, "I'm making a change at the secretary of defense, and I expect you to be a team player and work with me on this" by giving up the post of security adviser.

Kissinger was not happy. "Mr. President, the press will misunderstand this," Ford recalled Kissinger telling him. "They'll write that I'm being demoted by taking away half of my job." But Ford made the changes, elevating the deputy national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to take Kissinger's White House post.

Throughout this maneuvering, Ford said, he kept his White House chief of staff in the dark. "I didn't consult with Rumsfeld. And knowing Don, he probably resented the fact that I didn't get his advice, which I didn't," Ford said. "I made the decision on my own."

Kissinger remained a challenge for Ford. He regularly threatened to resign, the former president recalled. "Over the weekend, any one of 50 weekends, the press would be all over him, giving him unshirted hell. Monday morning he would come in and say, 'I'm offering my resignation.' Just between Henry and me. And I would literally hold his hand. 'Now, Henry, you've got the nation's future in your hands and you can't leave us now.' Henry publicly was a gruff, hard-nosed, German-born diplomat, but he had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew."

Ford added, "Any criticism in the press drove him crazy." Kissinger would come in and say: "I've got to resign. I can't stand this kind of unfair criticism." Such threats were routine, Ford said. "I often thought, maybe I should say: 'Okay, Henry. Goodbye,' " Ford said, laughing. "But I never got around to that."

At one point, Ford recalled Kissinger, his chief Vietnam policymaker, as "coy." Then he added, Kissinger is a "wonderful person. Dear friend. First-class secretary of state. But Henry always protected his own flanks."

Ford was also critical of his own actions during the interviews. He recalled, for example, his unsuccessful 1976 campaign to remain in office, when he was under enormous pressure to dump Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller from the Republican ticket. Some polls at the time showed that up to 25 percent of Republicans, especially those from the South, would not vote for Ford if Rockefeller, a New Yorker from the liberal wing of the Republican Party, was on the ticket.

When Rockefeller offered to be dropped from the ticket, Ford took him up on it. But he later regretted it. The decision to dump the loyal Rockefeller, he said, was "an act of cowardice on my part."

In the end, though, it was Vietnam and the legacy of the retreat he presided over that troubled Ford. After Saigon fell in 1975 and the United States evacuated from Vietnam, Ford was often labeled the only American president to lose a war. The label always rankled.

"Well," he said, "I was mad as hell, to be honest with you, but I never publicly admitted it."

Google removes sex-positive sites from search results

In recent weeks, Google has been changing its search algorithms and now many sex websites have been dropped. It seems to have coincided with changes they made relating to their pay-for-play keyword ad program, AdSense. What's disturbing to me (besides the harm it's done to small businesses over the holidays) is that Google's snafu seems to have dropped more sex-positive businesses (that focus on accurate sex ed) than big-gun, mainstream adult businesses (that sell unsafe sex toys and skanky product). To me, this also shows the huge problem with having a monoculture wherin a single business is depended on to provide a communication service. They screw one thing up, and an essential feature (like access to accurate search result information) disappears. For instance, I remember talking to Johannes at Monochrom a few weeks back in Vienna, and he was upset that Google had just totally dropped from the search results, when it had been coming up first (now only the .com comes up).

It used to be that if you searched for Good Vibes, Comstock Films, Tiny Nibbles and Violet Blue, you'd get each of these sites in the top rankings or on the first page (SafeSearch off, natural results). No more. However, if you search for Adam and Eve or Vivid, you get the mainstream sex toy and porn sites on the first page.

So, as Tony Comstock explains eloquently in his post about how his indy film business has been seriously affected, if people read about any of these entities in a magazine and then go to search for them, searchers don't find what they're looking for. Unsafe sex toys and "interracial" porn from huge companies, no problem, but books and toys from women-owned sex-positive healthy sex businesses? No.

Tony actually pointed this out to me this morning; I actually don't Google myself very often but Tiny Nibbles used to come out as the first result -- especially important to me when a woman has been running around using my name *as her business*. But Babeland had put together this excellent post about how they'd been suddenly dropped before the holiday season, and I hadn't had time to research it and do a post; now it seems to be corrected. Comstock Films and many others are realizing that they're affected too. My page ranking is seriously FUBAR in a weird way that can only be a mistake; search for "HOWTO: give an erotic gift (for the holidays and beyond)" and you get Fleshbot, Viviane's Sex Carnival... and then the actual post I did about ten days ago. Conversely, search for "great news for schizophrenics" (a post on Jamie Zawinski's blog) and it's the first Google entry result.

It seems to me that Google screwed something up -- something, we will never know, because they are secretive and proprietary. And for people who depend on tools like Google Search to mine the internet for accurate links to news, people, articles, and everything else that makes media happen, well, we just have to keep in mind that Google isn't as accurate as it used to be. It's just lame the way the reshuffling has happened -- we in the sex-positive communities have worked so hard to make a place for ourselves outside the huge, entrenched old-boys' distribution network that companies like Adam and Eve and Vivid take for granted (and still exclude indies from). I truly believed that things like Google made the playing field a whole lot more even for those of us struggling against gender stereotypes, sex-negative portrayals of healthy sexuality and -- yes, even abstinence education.
And, I'm all for thinking that one should always first jump to the conclusion of stupidity (mistakes) and not malice, but one reader writes, "why would any company compromise its product (any search for 'tiny nibbles' should reasonably come up with the result '') unless there was a reason? my guess: money. they didn't get rid of *all* sex sites, so it's not because the christian right forced a change. rather, they quietly changed their search algorithms so that the big companies would be prominent and the small independent businesses would be lost."

The most expensive stamp in the world

Usually when you hear about an item purchased for $2.3 Million, you expect it to be something like a grandiose house, or maybe a heavily modified car, you surely don’t think of a stamp that was printed in Sweden, in the year 1855.

But that’s not the only surprising thing about the most expensive stamp in the world named Treskilling Yellow - The stamp samples are actually a result of an unnoticed mistake in stamp-printers and were later discounted in 1858.

The question of how many stamps of this kind have been printed remains unanswered, but only 1 copy is known to exist, which was sold for $2.3 Million in 1996, a whopping $71 Billion per kilogram.

2006: The year in astronomy

The year 2006 was one of things lost and found. The solar system lost its former ninth planet and NASA lost a long-serving Mars probe, but scientists found good evidence for dark matter, signs of liquid water flows on present-day Mars, and a planet just a few times more massive than Earth around another star.

The year opened with the spectacular return to Earth on 15 January of the Stardust mission, which had spent years travelling to and from Comet Wild 2 to collect samples to be examined in the laboratory.

Early analysis of the samples led to the surprising finding that although the comets were formed in the frigid outer solar system, some of the building blocks must have been transported there from very close to the Sun, because they appear to have been heated above 1000°C.

In other comet news this year, the close passage of a disintegrating comet by the Earth in April gave astronomers a rare view of what may be a common fate for comets.
Planet crisis

Some say Pluto is just an overgrown comet, and the International Astronomical Union controversially voted to redefine the term "planet" in a way that excludes Pluto, relegating the former ninth planet to a second class of "dwarf planets".

Pluto's demotion was partly prompted by the confirmation earlier in the year that at least one object in the distant reaches of the solar system is bigger than Pluto. Initially called Xena, or the "tenth planet", it was given the official name Eris, after the Greek goddess of discord.

Amidst all the controversy, the New Horizons spacecraft continued towards its planned 2015 encounter with Pluto, following its January launch.
Land of lakes

NASA's Cassini spacecraft went on dazzling scientists and the general public with its investigation of Saturn and its moons. About 100 lakes of liquid methane or ethane, or both, were revealed on Saturn's largest moon, Titan, making it only the second body – after the Earth – known to have surface liquids fed by rain and rivers. Vast fields of dunes were also revealed on the Titan's surface, probably made of frozen hydrocarbon particles.

Cassini also found a giant storm raging at Saturn's south pole, somewhat reminiscent of a hurricane, a faint new ring around the planet, and ripples in a previously known ring perhaps resulting from a comet or asteroid strike in the 1980s.

A new phase in the exploration of Venus began with the arrival in orbit of the European Space Agency's Venus Express spacecraft, which promptly returned images of a curious double vortex structure in the clouds above the planet's south pole. There were also hints that Venus's surface might be older than previously believed, preserving a much longer record of its history.
Recent water

ESA's SMART-1 spacecraft ended its lunar observing mission in a deliberate crash landing on the Moon, destroying itself in a flash of light and producing a small crater.

Two new Sun-observing missions were launched in 2006, NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) mission and JAXA's Hinode (formerly Solar-B), which has already returned some initial results, including video of evolving plasma loops in the Sun's atmosphere.

A fleet of robotic probes at Mars delivered many new discoveries this year. A new NASA spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter arrived in orbit in March, and began returning stunning images of the Martian surface, including a portrait of the rover Opportunity next to Victoria crater and a view of sand dunes carved with gullies.

But NASA experienced disappointment at Mars as well this year, with the disappearance of its 10-year-old Mars Global Surveyor. Before it disappeared, however, it returned images showing changes suggestive of recent water flow in gullies that it had been monitoring.
Unstoppable rovers

Radar sounding suggested there is a lot of water locked up in the form of ice buried beneath the surface near the planet's south pole.

Other research suggested that weird sand geysers erupt on Mars, and that toxic dust rains onto its surface.

NASA's unstoppable Spirit and Opportunity rovers surpassed the 1000 Martian day mark in 2006, despite having been originally rated for only 90 days on the Red Planet.

One of Spirit's wheels seized up permanently, but even that led to a new discovery by gouging a track in the Martian soil and revealing a buried layer of sulphates, yet more evidence of past water on the Red Planet.

While parked for six months during Mars's southern hemisphere's winter, Spirit created the most detailed panoramic view of the planet ever made. Opportunity finally arrived at the 800-metre-wide Victoria crater, returning some beautiful pictures of its own, and was looking for a good way into the crater when the year ended.
Earth-like planets

There were also many new discoveries about planets beyond our solar system. Astronomers found the smallest planet yet around a normal star, with just 3 to 11 times the mass of Earth. There were also some oddities, including a puffed up planet with a density less than that of a wine cork, two objects with the mass of planets orbiting each other instead of a star, and dusty discs around two hypergiant stars, suggesting planets might form even in the turbulent environment near these enormous suns.

Beyond our own galaxy, more progress was made in understanding gamma-ray bursts - the most powerful explosions in the universe. Analysis of an unusual gamma-ray burst called GRB 060218 suggested it was not powered by a star collapsing to form a black hole – thought to be the case for most of the observed long gamma-ray bursts – but may have been a less massive star collapsing to form a highly magnetised neutron star instead.

And two more GRBs detected in May and June may result from an entirely unknown process.
Big bang leftovers

The larger-scale universe made headlines this year as well. Physicists John Mather and George Smoot were awarded a Nobel prize for their work with the COBE satellite, which detected the first variations in the cosmic microwave background leftover from the big bang.

Scientists saw the gravitational effects of dark matter in isolation for the first time by studying a region of space where a colossal collision between galaxy clusters separated it from ordinary matter, results that were hailed as proof of dark matter's existence.

Of course, other scientists put forward arguments against dark matter, saying that modified gravity theories could explain astronomical observations.

A survey of the most distant supernova ever seen revealed some precious new information about dark energy, the mysterious force that is speeding up the universe's expansion and whose properties make it very difficult to study.

The new observations showed that dark energy has been present for at least the past 9 billion years and that its strength cannot have varied much during that time.
Solar system in a can

Among the more bizarre things announced this year, scientists proposed building a spacecraft carrying a miniature solar system to test for subtle gravitational effects due to hidden extra dimensions, and a team of astronomers suggested observations of a quasar indicated it was powered by an exotic ball of plasma called a MECO rather than a black hole.

The future appeared to hold promise as well, as the European Southern Observatory approved plans to build a giant 42-metre infrared and visible-light telescope, four times bigger than any existing telescope that observes at these wavelengths.

NASA announced that it would send a space shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2008 to extend the venerable observatory's life and install more powerful instruments. Hubble recovered twice in 2006 from the temporary shutdown of its main camera.

Chess Player Banned 10 Years For Cheating With Bluetooth, Computer

An Indian chess player was banned Tuesday from competition for 10 years after he was caught using a Bluetooth headset sewn into a cap earlier this month to get help from a computer.

The All India Chess Federation slapped the 10-year sanction on Umakant Sharma, who had been using a Bluetooth device stitched into a cap he typically pulled down over his ears. According to the federation, Sharma's accomplices relayed moves made by a computer chess program to him via the Bluetooth headset. Bharat Singh Chauhan, the AICF treasurer, showed the cap and Bluetooth device at a meeting convened Tuesday that decided Sharma's punishment.

Sharma was found out during a random check at a New Delhi tournament Dec. 4; he had been seeded second in the tournament.

The World Chess Federation (Federation Internationale des Echecs, or FIDE) bars the use of mobile devices during play. "It is strictly forbidden to bring mobile phones or other electronic means of communication, not authorized by the arbiter, into the playing venue," the group's rules read. "If a player's mobile phone rings in the playing venue during play, that player shall lose the game."