Archive for May 5th, 2008|Daily archive page

The Monstrous Killer-Cyclone That Devastated Burma


PETA Says Horseracing = Dog Fighting. They’re Wrong.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Anybody that saw the Kentucky Derby Saturday was treated to a spectacular race, and then immediately robbed of that memory with one of the most heartbreaking sights in racing. Eight Belles, the first filly running in the race since 1996, which having just turned in the best finish by a girl since Winning Colors, collapsed and broke both ankles shortly after finishing.

When a horse is that severely injured, the track doctors are faced with a tough decision: a Barbaro-style, months-long, publicity stunt of a death watch, or putting the horse down. Eight Belles was euthanized on the track. PETA, maybe my least favorite advocacy group of all time, and never able to miss an opportunity to turn public opinion against them, posted this on their blog later that day:

While the trainers, jockeys, and owners may weep their crocodile tears today over Eight Belles’ euthanasia, they will be back on the track tomorrow, putting other horses at risk. Thoroughbreds are raced on hard dirt surfaces—like the one at Churchill Downs. Their bones simply can’t take it, as Eight Belles’ two broken front legs showed last night. Despite the wealth associated with thoroughbred racing, for the horses—most of whom end up broken, cast off, or sent to Europe to be killed for the dinner table—it’s a dirty business and no better than dogfighting.

There are so many things wrong with this statement that I could go on for hours, but I won’t. Suffice to say that Kentucky has a farm that receives significant taxpayer subsidy that houses retired thoroughbreds. More importantly, let’s look at the last sentence of this uneducated salvo; an assertion that horseracing is no better than dog fighting.

Too soon? Image from Wikimedia Commons

I’ll say that no person who could possibly make that statement could have ever been around a trainer, jockey, owner, because the love–yes, love–that develops between the animals and those that work with them on a daily basis. However, that’s an emotional argument, and therefore inadmissible. No, this is more appropriately cast into proper relief when I point out that in dog fighting at least half of the animals die, and all of them live in the most deplorable conditions imaginable.

Here’s a dog kennel:

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a horse farm:

Image from Wikimedia Commons

I’ll take this moment to note that in the 134 years of the Kentucky Derby, this is the first time a horse has had to be euthanized. Then there’s the issue of the track surfaces–PETA seems to think that horses can’t run on hard, hard dirt. I’ll point out again that Churchill Downs has a phenomenally low injury rate, despite being known for having a rocket-fast inside track.

This is a bit of an aberration, and a testament to the team behind the track surface at Churchill. You see, the new wave in horse racing, and the safest surface yet, is polytrack, a plastic turf that absorbs the shock of a giant, running animal, crashing down on it. Polytrack is slowly taking over racing, and has been installed in the other holy site of horse racing, Keeneland, where it’s had a phenomenal safety record.

PETA is grandstanding for their own political gain, they’re doing it in a phenomenally stupid way, and they’re doing it over the body of a horse that made a lot of people cry very real tears on Saturday.

One Motorcycle That I’ll Never Ride (PIC)

Clinton mailing’s gun gaffe

Sen. Hillary Clinton’s mailing attacking Sen. Barack Obama’s record on guns appears to include a striking visual gaffe: The image of the gun pictured on the face of the mailing is reversed, making it a nonexistent left-handed model of the Mauser 66 rifle.

To make matters worse, a prominent gun dealer said, it’s an expensive German gun with customized features that make it clearly European.

“The gun in the photo does not exist,” said Val Forgett III, president of Navy Arms in Martinsburg, W.Va. Forgett’s company was Mauser’s agent in the United States when the gun was released, and it sold Mauser guns here again in the 1990s. “The bolt is facing to the left side of the receiver, making it a left-handed bolt action rifle, indicating whoever constructed and approved the mailer did not recognize the image has been reversed.”

Forgett said the error would be obvious to sportsmen.

“I find it laughable on its face,” he said. “It’s like a picture of Babe Ruth hitting right-handed.”

The gun’s image in Clinton’s mailing is above; a correct image of the gun is below.

Other rifle enthusiasts e-mailed Politico after an image of Clinton’s mailing was posted to this blog.

“I bet the Clinton folks did a mirror flip on the stock image to make it look more ‘aesthetic,’” wrote one, David Phillips. “What a latte-sipping, Gucci-wearing thing to do.”

The Mauser 66, released in 1966 and no longer manufactured, is a high-end hunting rifle that found military use as a sniper rifle. In Clinton’s mailing, it’s pictured with a double-set trigger, a customization that’s popular in Europe but “almost unheard of in the United States,” Forgett said.

“It’s a $2,200 German import — it’s hardly typical of what the average workingman in Indiana uses,” he said.

Five Things Indiana Voters Should Know Before the Primary

Voters in Indiana have received a barrage of campaign statements and posturing over the past few weeks, as their role in this Democratic Primary is becoming central to the future of the 2008 election. But among all of that information, there are five important facts (not opinions, guesses, or ruminations…100% demonstrable facts) that all Hoosiers should know:

1. Hillary Clinton supports NAFTA

Policy wise, Hillary Clinton is out of step with 90% of working middle class Americans.  Despite her current claim that she never backed it, Clinton’s support of the North American Free Trade Agreement (which made outsourcing US jobs a no-brainer for corporations who care more about their bottom line than their employees) is well-documented.  In his book Take This Job and Ship It, Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota cited NAFTA as one of the key pieces of legislation still burdening American workers today.  And Clinton knew that workers would be hurt, disregarding the vociferous objections of their unions. In her own memoir, Living History, Clinton wrote, “although unpopular with the Unions, expanding trade opportunities was an important goal of the Administration,” even at the expense of thousands of American jobs.  On multiple occasions, she’s given speeches praising both the trade deal and its primary architects, putting it on par with other “successes” of the Clinton White House, like the Brady Bill. To this day, her closest and most visible advisor, Bill Clinton, continues to defend NAFTA and the effect it has had on the American economy.  The San Francisco Chronicle said Clinton’s stance on NAFTA was “clearly a flip-flop.”  You have to ask yourslef, would Hillary Clinton honestly work to undo one of the most “important victories,” as she herself called it, of her husband’s White House?

Then consider the fact that Mark Penn, Clinton’s chief strategist until a few weeks ago, when he was demoted to “top adviser,” attended meetings in South America with the express goal of expanding free trade to some of the nations there.

And look at the state in question: Indiana is one of the most important manufacturing states in the entire country. The Calumet region in northwestern Indiana is the single largest producer of steel in the United States. The Hoosier State also produces an incredible amount of transportation equipment, and is a mainstay of the American mining and pharmaceutical industries. It is these manufacturing jobs that suffer most under trade agreements that put American workers at a serious disadvantage to those in foreign countries. And because history is the best indicator of what’s to come, it’s safe to say that there is a strong likelihood that Hillary Clinton will espouse policies that sell the Indiana worker short, along with all the other laborers across the country.

Contrast that against Obama, who supports fair trade, rejects free trade and the burden it places on the American job market, and calls for an immediate restructuring of the plan in place.

2. The Bosnia Lie Was More than Just A Punchline for Latenight TV

It’s not just getting caught telling a little white lie on the campaign trail. It goes far beyond that. What Hillary did with her Bosnia tale was beyond forgivable. She told a story about her own heroism – and foreign policy “experience” – that she knew to be false. But she thought she could get away with it. It raises questions about her integrity in other areas that very well may have a large impact on the shape of this nation in the next four years (i.e., NAFTA, immigration, and the war).

But beyond that, Clinton’s slip-up was an all-too-vivid reminder of the dishonesty that plagued an otherwise effective White House during the 1990s. It was a White House that- for all it’s successes with balancing the federal budget, peace in foreign policy, and domestic civil liberties- denied accountability to the bitter end. From “I never smoked marijuana,” to “I did, but I never inhaled.” From “I never had sexual relations with that woman,” to “I did, in fact hace an inappropriate relationship with Ms. Lewinsky.” It made their utter denial of wrongdoing in the Whitewater deal that much harder to accept. And now, with Hillary’s talking about a return to the greatness of those days, one has to consider the deceit that comes with it.

And certainly, with moments like the Bosnia speech, Hillary is giving us every reason to believe that it’s a valid concern.

Plus, imagine what would happen if John McCain- like it or not, a real war hero who sacrificed his body and put his life on the line in defense of our country- gets a hold of Clinton and her tall tale. He will make a mockery of the patriotism of the Democratic Party, contrasting someone who has given his all against someone who has merely lied about it.

3. Hillary Clinton is NOT the More Experienced Candidate

It’s hard to figure exactly what Hillary Clinton means when she touts her “35 years of experience.” She’s been in elective office for seven. That leaves the other four-fifths of her accounting up for debate.

“First Lady” is a ceremonial title. In fact, the official capacity of the presidential spouse is “hostess of the White House.” That hardly screams ‘hands on training.”

Hillary Clinton spent eight years as First Lady of the United States after spending another stint as First Lady of a Southern state before that. But guess what: so did Laura Bush, and it’s difficult to see how that constitutes presidential pedigree. Simply being along for the ride does not qualify as experience. There were many, many individuals- like Leon Panetta, or Erskine Bowles- whose involvement in the Clinton White House far exceeded that of Mrs. Clinton. They were key ingredients in policy decisions every single day. Not one of them has considered his time there fodder for a White House bid. Where do you draw the line? Chelsea was there, too. Is she the next Clinton candidate?

Compare Clinton’s seven years in real office to Obama’s eleven (8 in the Illinois State Senate, three in the U.S. Senate). That’s over a decade of making policy, gathering support, and enacting law. And don’t be fooled into thinking that state government is somehow the minor leagues of legislating- it’s grittier, harder, and more hands-on than anything on the federal level. It just doesn’t come with the national notoriety.

Clinton was more than a presidential sidekick, but not by much. She never served in any official capacity whatsoever until Bill left Washington. To convolute that stint into “35 years of experience” is simply dishonest…but we already covered that.

4. Hillary Clinton is NOT more likely to win in November

Don’t believe the hype. Hillary Clinton is not more likely than Barack Obama to win in November.

In 2004, there were sixteen states that were decided by margins of victory of 9% or less (there were actually 19, but I’ve subtracted those states whose primaries have either not been held or certified).  Of those, the 16 most competitive states of the most recent election, Obama has won the primaries in 10 of them, as compared to just 6 for Clinton.

And if you tabulate the number of electoral votes attributable to each of those states, it’s more good news for Obama.  His 10 primary victories count for 82 electoral votes.  Clinton’s count for 70.  Mind you, this is including Hillary’s “big-state wins” in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Look at Clinton’s margins of victory on the states that she did win: 3 points in New Hampshire.  6 points in Nevada.  1 point in New Mexico.  Even in the states she won, she never did it by a whole lot.  Compare that to Obama, who’s won more than a few blowouts.  On average, Clinton’s average margin of victory in those most competitive of states was 6.7%.  Obama’s total is more than triple that, at 20.7%.  Remember his 29-point victory in Virginia, or his 34% wins in Minnesota and Colorado, both of which are among the top 16 in 2004.

The fact is, Obama opens up new electoral markets, presenting the possibility of victory in the South in a way that neither of the last two Democratic presidential candidates could even hope for.

5. Hillary’s flip-flops on the war and immigrant drivers’ licenses were more than just slip-ups.

Example 1: In the run-up to the Texas Democratic Primary, Bill Clinton made an interesting (albeit completely false) assertion: he claimed to have opposed the Iraq War from the outset. He vehemently denied ever backing the plan, maintaining that he was in the right all along. But his claim brought up another question: if that was the right side to be on all along, why wasn’t Hillary against the war, too?

At least John Edwards had the decency to outright apologize for his vote in favor of the war, calling it the biggest mistake of his career. Hillary maintains that she made the right decision.

Example 2: In one of the early Democratic presidential debates, Hillary Clinton contradicted herself in a matter of one minute. In the same breath, Clinton both claimed she supported then- New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to give illegal immigrants access to drivers’ licenses, and that she opposed it as well. After she got a chance to confer with her advisers on the more politically expedient position, she clarified. It took weeks for her to come back from that slip up. In the meantime, Barack Obama took a stance- one that was unpopular with many, many voters- and stuck to it. That’s principle.

What these two scenarios exemplify is that Hillary Clinton- just as it became apparent during the 1990s that Bill was as well (then pollster Dick Morris had a legendary stranglehold on the president’s ear)- is a slave to the opinion poll. She makes her decisions based on what is popular, not on what is right. And even when the course of events calls her actions into question, her utter hubris prevents her from admitting any wrongdoing, as Edwards did. That’s not leadership.

Indiana voters are going to have a lot to sift through when it comes to deciding who their candidate will be.  But in doing so, it’s important to remember that- as I said before- an individual’s past is a true indicator of their future disposition.  And with Clinton’s history of contradiction and outright dishonesty, there are serious concerns with what her future would mean for this country.

May 5, 1992: Wolfenstein 3-D Shoots the First-Person Shooter Into Stardom

Massive online dissemination of Wolfenstein 3-D made it the first breakaway first-person shooter hit.
Courtesy id Software

1992: Id Software releases Wolfenstein 3-D, and it launches a huge computer-game category.

Wolfenstein 3-D may not have been the very first “first-person shooter,” as the genre came to be known, but it was by far the most successful. Technically the genre goes back to the ’70s, but no one really paid any attention to it. Even id released an earlier FPS called Catacombs 3D, but again, it wasn’t nearly as good as Wolfenstein.

But through massive online dissemination of the game’s shareware version, Wolfenstein 3D (the hyphen was later dropped from the name) introduced millions to an immersive world in which the action seemed to be happening from the player’s perspective.

“It was an incredible sensation, really unlike anything gamers had seen before,” said Jamie Madigan, who helps operate the GameSpy Network’s 3D Action website. “You could move smoothly in 360 degrees. You felt like you were there.”

“Everything that’s followed in [its] footsteps has just been a modification of that basic style,” id Software CEO Todd Hollenshead said in 2001.

Players in the game assume the role of an American commando battling Nazis and their supernatural servants. It was banned in Germany because of its use of Nazi symbols, like the swastika, and music, like the “Horst Wessel Lied.”

Wolfenstein 3D did more than define a genre. It also launched a company, id Software of Mesquite, Texas, which leveraged Wolfenstein 3D‘s success into a franchise of wildly successful first-person shooters, including the seminal Doom and Quake series.

These games, in turn, begat a slew of sequels, imitators and adaptations, from Half-Life to Max Payne. Game|Life blogger Earnest Cavalli added, “The key to the whole Wolfenstein thing is that its success — which was massive — paved the way for … thousands of games that mimicked them, transforming the PC into a gaming system best known for FPS titles. Plus, who doesn’t like killing Nazis?”

Geek Squad lawsuit opens up with employee confession

Minneapolis (MN) – As a high-profile lawsuit against Best Buy’s Geek Squad technical support service gets ready for court, a new employee confession has come through detailing one of the company’s more questionable policies.

The lawsuit, filed in Hennepin County, Minnesota, claims that when a computer comes into a Geek Squad center, the employees comb through personal files and sometimes copy lewd or other content over to their own personal flash drive.

According to Minneapolis newspaper The Star Tribune, the lawsuit was filed quickly after an anonymous employee sent a letter to online consumer advocate site The Consumerist.  In the letter, the employee wrote, “If you have any interesting pictures of yourself or others on your computer, then they — will — be — found.”

Geek Squad says it takes “reasonable precautions to protect against the loss, misuse and unauthorized access of your personal information.”

Geek Squad, which is the self-claimed largest computer support company in the country, downplayed the event by saying it was an isolated incident.  However, a new employee has come forward confessing a similar action.

William Giffels came forward and said he sought out revealing pictures of a customer who brought in a computer for repairs.  He copied the pictures to his flash drive, and then were copied to multiple CDs used in the Geek Squad department of the store.

“It was dumb, and I regret that lapse in judgment. I have placed Best Buy in a precarious position, both legally and ‘reputationally,'” said Giffels.  Several other people claiming to be Geek Squad employees have quietly admitted to doing the same kind of thing.

Best Buy says it has increased the number of audits it conducts at its Geek Squad locations, but advocates suggest the store needs to completely overhaul its operation.  “No matter what investigative protocol Best Buy uses, someone is going to find a way around it,” said Consumerist editor Ben Popken to the Star Tribune.

With regard to controversy, though, Best Buy remains defensive.  “Our agents only see the data they need to,” said Best Buy spokesperson Paula Baldwin.

G4: Video of Force Unleashed for Wii, Duel Mode


Ah the Wiimote. An elegant weapon, not as clumsy or as random like a blaster. Paired with the Nunchuk, it’s pretty awesome too, according to this video from G4, which got an exclusive hands-on with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for the Wii’s duel mode. (Man that was a mouthful).

G4’s reporter went as Luke Skywalker, duking it out in a TIE Fighter bay with Asajj Ventress There’s saber-slashing and Force-choking galore, all arising from a pretty shrewd use of combinations and reverse moves in both controllers. It’s not all lightning bolts and throws, either. Check out that old-school kick to the grill Luke delivers at the end.

The video says you’ll get 9 different arenas and 27 characters to choose from, classics to the expanded universe. I know that LucasArts is promising exclusive gameplay for all consoles. But I had the two Jedi Knight games on Xbox, where lightsaber combat was a lot of button mashing and getting lucky. Honestly, if the purpose of this is to at last swing a lightsaber in 1:1 combat, then this is your baseline version.

It’s probably going to make me buy a Wii. The question, will it make others do the same?

The reason fat people find it hard to lose weight is found

Scientists have discovered why fat people find it so hard to lose weight, which will lead to many new approaches to weight loss.

  • Scientists find fatness gene
  • Blood pressure drug could help weight loss
  • Sleep can help obese children lose weight
  • The difference in the number of fat cells between lean and obese people is established in childhood and, although fat people replenish fat cells at the same rate as thin ones, they have around twice as many.

    This remarkable glimpse of what gives us beer guts, love handle and muffin tops could also lead to new approaches to fight the flab, by cutting the overall number of fat cells in the body, as well as providing an insight into why fat people find it so hard to lose weight, because the number of fat cells in a person remains the same, even after a successful diet.

    The details of how humans regulate their fat mass is reported today in the journal Nature by a team led by scientists at the Karlolinksa Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, as a second team, led by Imperial College London, reports in the journal Nature Genetics the discovery of a gene sequence present in half the population linked to three quarters of an inch bigger waistline, four lb gain in weight, and a tendency to become resistant to insulin, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.

    The fundamental new insight into the cause of obesity comes from an international team lead by Dr Kirsty Spalding, Prof Jonas Frisén and Prof Peter Arner who found the body constantly produces new fat cells to replace equally rapid break down of the already existing fat cells due to cell death.

    They also show, that overweight people generate and replace more fat cells than do lean – and that the total number of fat cells stays equal after a diet program.

    Until now, it was not clear that adults could make new fat cells. Some had assumed that they increase their fat mass by incorporating more fats into already existing fat cells in order to maintain their body weight (lean, overweight, obese). However now it seems we constantly produce new fat cells irrespective of our body weight status, sex or age.

    “The total number of fat cells in the body is stable over time, because the making of new fat cells is counterbalanced by an equally rapid break down of the already existing fat cells due to cell death”, says Prof Arner.

    The study was made possible by a method to use radioactive isotopes in fat cells from people who had lived through the brief period of Cold War nuclear bomb testing from 1955 to 1963 to determine the age of the fat cells in the body.

    This was combined with methods to carefully measure the size of the fat cells in relation to the total amount of adipose tissue in 687 people with a large individual variation in body weight who had undergone liposuction and abdominal reconstruction surgery.

    Fat cells are replaced at the same rate that they die – roughly 10 per cent every year. The level of obesity is determined by a combination of the number and size of fat cells, which can grow or shrink as fat from food is deposited in them.

    Even if obese subjects go on a diet they keep the total number of fat cells in the body constant, but the size of individual fat cells is decreased markedly.

    The findings therefore provide a new target for treatment of obesity, namely by attacking the signals and genes in fat cells that control the formation of new such cells.

    “The results may, at least in part, explain why it is so difficult to maintain the weight after slimming”, adds Prof Arner.

    “Until now it was not clear whether there was fat cell turnover in adults,” adds Dr Spalding. “Now we have established this does occur, we can target the process.

    “Various groups are looking at compounds that might regulate the formation of fat cells but this work is at too early a stage to say when anti obesitiy drugs based on this understanding will be tested on patients, if at all.”

    Other new insights into how to treat obesity could come from the gene sequence linked to an expanding waist line, weight gain and a tendency to develop type 2 diabetes in the Imperial led study.

    Professor Jaspal Kooner, the paper’s senior author from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, says: “Finding such a close association between a genetic sequence and significant physical effects is very important, especially when the sequence is found in half the population.”

    The study shows that the sequence is a third more common in those with Indian Asian than in those with European ancestry. This could provide a possible genetic explanation for the particularly high levels of obesity and insulin resistance in Indian Asians, who make up 25 per cent of the world’s population, but who are expected to account for 40 per cent of global heart disease by 2020.

    The new gene sequence sits close to a gene called MC4R, which regulates energy levels in the body by influencing how much we eat and how much energy we expend or conserve. The researchers believe the sequence is involved in controlling the MC4R gene, which has also been implicated in rare forms of extreme childhood obesity.

    Previous research on finding the genetic causes of obesity has identified other energy-conserving genes. Combining knowledge about the effects of all these genes could pave the way for transforming how obesity is managed.

    This research, backed by the British Heart Foundation, was carried out with scientists from the University of Michigan and the Pasteur Institute, France.

    Last year a British led team found that if people carry one copy of a variant in a gene called FTO, as does half of the general population, it will lead to a gain in weight of 2.6lb or put just over half an inch on their waists and raise their risk of being obese by one third.

    If people have two copies of this variant in the FTO gene, which is the case in one in six of the population, then they will gain almost 7lb more than those who lack the variation and are at a 70 per cent higher risk of obesity.

    According to the 2001 Health Survey for England, more than a fifth of males and a similar proportion of females aged 16 and over were classified as obese.

    Half of men and a third of women were classified as overweight.

    I’d Like To Buy A Vowel… [Political Cartoon]

    How Much Did Rumsfeld Know?

    Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq in 2003-2004, has written a new memoir, Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story, an account of his life and his service in Iraq. Sanchez was a three-star general — and the military’s senior Hispanic officer — when he led U.S. forces in the first year of the war. He was relieved of his command by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2004 following the revelations of the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. In 2005, Marine General Peter Pace, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called him to say his career was over and he wouldn’t get the promotion to a full general — four stars — that Sanchez says he was promised. Six months later, at Rumsfeld’s request, he showed up at the Pentagon for a meeting with the defense secretary shortly before retiring. In this exclusive excerpt, Sanchez details what happened next:

    I walked into Rumsfeld’s office at 1:25 p.m. on April 19, 2006. He had just returned from a meeting at the White House, and the only other person present in the room was his new Chief of Staff, John Rangel.

    “Ric, it’s been a long time,” Rumsfeld said, greeting me in a friendly manner. “I’m really sorry that your promotion didn’t work out. We just couldn’t make it work politically. Sending a nomination to the Senate would not be good for you, the Army, or the department.”

    “I understand, sir,” I replied.

    Then we walked over to his small conference table. “Have a seat,” he said. “Now, Ric, what are your timelines?”

    “Well, sir, my transition leave will start in September with retirement the first week of November.”

    “That’s a long time. Why so long?”

    “I want to have my son graduate from high school in June. After that, I’ll have forty-five days to hit my three years’ time in grade, so I can retire as a three-star without a waiver.”

    “Oh, yes, I remember now. That’s why we kept you in Germany in your current job.”


    “Ric, I wanted to tell you that I’m interested in giving you some options for follow-on employment as a civilian in the Department of Defense.” Rumsfeld then talked about a possibility with either the Africa Center for Strategic Studies and the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies. There was a director they were thinking of moving to make room for me, he explained.

    “Well, I’ll consider that, sir, but I’m not making any commitments. I have some other opportunities I need to explore.”

    Secretary Rumsfeld then pulled out a two-page memo and handed it to me. “I wrote this after a promotion interview about two weeks ago,” he explained. “The officer told me that one of the biggest mistakes we made after the war was to allow CENTCOM and CFLCC to leave the Iraq theater immediately after the fighting stopped — and that left you and V Corps with the entire mission.”

    “Yes, that’s right,” I said.

    “Well, how could we have done that?” he said in an agitated, but adamant, tone. “I knew nothing about it. Now, I’d like you to read this memo and give me any corrections.”

    In the memo, Rumsfeld stated that one of the biggest strategic mistakes of the war was ordering the major redeployment of forces and allowing the departure of the CENTCOM and CFLCC staffs in May�June 2003.

    “This left General Sanchez in charge of operations in Iraq with a staff that had been focused at the operational and tactical level, but was not trained to operate at the strategic/operational level.” He went on to write that neither he nor anyone higher in the Administration knew these orders had been issued, and that he was dumbfounded when he learned that Gen. McKiernan was out of the country and in Kuwait, and that the forces would be drawn down to a level of about 30,000 by September. “I did not know that Sanchez was in charge,” he wrote.

    I stopped reading after I read that last statement, because I knew it was total BS. After a deep breath, I said, “Well, Mr. Secretary, the problem as you’ve stated it is generally accurate, but your memo does not accurately capture the magnitude of the problem. Furthermore, I just can’t believe you didn’t know that Franks’s and McKiernan’s staffs had pulled out and that the orders had been issued to redeploy the forces.”

    At that point, Rumsfeld became very excited, jumped out of his seat, and sat down in the chair next to me so that he could look at the memo with me. “Now just what is it in this memorandum that you don’t agree with?” he said, almost shouting.

    “Mr. Secretary, when V Corps ramped up for the war, our entire focus was at the tactical level. The staff had neither the experience nor training to operate at the strategic level, much less as a joint/combined headquarters. All of CFLCC’s generals, whom we called the Dream Team, left the country in a mass exodus. The transfer of authority was totally inadequate, because CENTCOM’s focus was only on departing the theater and handing off the mission. There was no focus on postconflict operations. None! In their minds, the war was over and they were leaving. Everybody was executing these orders, and the services knew all about it.”

    Starting to get a little worked up, I paused a moment, and then looked Rumsfeld straight in the eye. “Sir, I cannot believe that you didn’t know I was being left in charge in Iraq.”

    “No! No!” he replied. “I was never told that the plan was for V Corps to assume the entire mission. I have to issue orders and approve force deployments into the theater, and they moved all these troops around without any orders or notification from me.”

    “Sir, I don’t … ”

    “Why didn’t you tell anyone about this?” he asked, interrupting me in an angry tone.

    “Mr. Secretary, all of the senior leadership in the Pentagon knew what was happening. Franks issued the orders and McKiernan was executing them.”

    “Well, what about Abizaid? He was the deputy then.”

    “Sir, General Abizaid knew and worked very hard with me to reverse direction once he assumed command of CENTCOM. General Bell also knew, and he offered to send me his operations officer. In early July, when General Keane visited us, I described to him the wholly inadequate manning level of the staff, and told him that we were set up for failure. He agreed and told me that he would immediately begin to identify general officers to help fill our gaps.”

    “Yes, yes,” replied Rumsfeld. “General Keane is a good man. But this was a major failure and it has to be documented so that we never do it again.” He then explained that he would be tasking Adm. Ed Giambastiani, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to conduct an inquiry on this issue.

    “Well, I think that’s appropriate,” I said. “That way you’ll all be able to understand what was happening on the ground.”

    “By the way,” said Rumsfeld, “why wasn’t this in the lessons-learned packages that have been forwarded to my level.”

    “Sir, I cannot answer that question,” I replied. “But this was well known by leadership at multiple levels.”

    After the meeting ended, I remember walking out of the Pentagon shaking my head and wondering how in the world Rumsfeld could have expected me to believe him. Everybody knew that CENTCOM had issued orders to drawdown the forces. The Department of Defense had printed public affairs guidance for how the military should answer press queries about the redeployment. There were victory parades being planned. And in mid-May 2003, Rumsfeld himself had sent out some of his famous “snowflake” memorandums to Gen. Franks asking how the general was going to redeploy all the forces in Kuwait. The Secretary knew. Everybody knew.

    So what was Rumsfeld doing? Nineteen months earlier, in September 2004, when it was clearly established in the Fay-Jones report that CJTF-7 was never adequately manned, he called me in from Europe and claimed ignorance, “I didn’t know about it,” he said. “How could this happen? Why didn’t you tell somebody about it?”

    Now, he had done exactly the same thing, only this time he had prepared a written memorandum documenting his denials. So it was clearly a pattern on the Secretary’s part, and now I recognized it. Bring in the top-level leaders. Profess total ignorance. Ask why he had not been informed. Try to establish that others were screwing things up. Have witnesses in the room to verify his denials. Put it in writing. In essence, Rumsfeld was covering his rear. He was setting up his chain of denials should his actions ever be questioned. And worse yet, in my mind, he was attempting to level all the blame on his generals.

    But why now? Why was he doing it in September 2006? I wasn’t completely sure. I knew it had been a hectic week. The media was hounding Rumsfeld, because a number of former generals had staged something of a revolt and were calling for his resignation. Perhaps he wanted to set up this link in his chain of denials before I left the service, or gauge how I was going to react to his position. Or Rumsfeld might have been anticipating a big political shift in Congress after the midterm November elections, which, in turn, might lead to Democratic-controlled hearings. I didn’t know exactly why it happened at this particular time. I just know that it did happen.

    Upon returning to Germany, I had some very long discussions with my wife, especially about Rumsfeld’s offer of a possible high-paying job in the Department of Defense. “I’m not sure I want to pursue something like that,” I said. “But given my reaction to Rumsfeld’s memorandum, he now knows that I’m not going to play along. So I don’t think he’ll pursue it.”

    “Ricardo, they are just trying to buy you off and keep you silent,” said Maria Elena. “I don’t think we should mess with them anymore.”

    My wife had hit the nail right on the head. “I believe you’re right,” I replied. And sure enough, no one from the Department of Defense ever followed up. So at that point, I closed out all options of doing anything with DoD after retirement.

    On my first day back in the office, I received a phone call from Adm. Giambastiani, who had obviously talked to Rumsfeld. “Ric, what happened in that meeting?” he asked. “The Secretary was really upset.”

    “Well, sir, I essentially told him that his memorandum was wrong,” I said. “I guess he didn’t like that.”

    “Well, no, I guess he didn’t. Anyway, he’s asked me to make this study happen, so we’ll get right on it.”

    Giambastiani assigned the task to the Joint Warfighting Center and gave them a pretty tight timeline. So it wasn’t long before I was giving the investigative team a complete rundown of everything that had happened in Iraq between May and June 2003. I later learned that Gen. Tommy Franks, however, had refused to speak with them.

    A few months later, I was making a presentation at the Joint Warfighting Center and ran across several of the people involved with the study. “Say, did you guys ever complete that investigation?” I asked.

    “Oh, yes sir. We sure did,” came the reply. “And let me tell you, it was ugly.”

    “Ugly?” I asked.

    “Yes, sir. Our report validated everything you told us — that Franks issued the orders to discard the original twelve-to-eighteen-month occupation deployment, that the forces were drawing down, that we were walking away from the mission, and that everybody knew about it. And let me tell you, the Secretary did not like that one bit. After we went in to brief him, he just shut us down. ‘This is not going anywhere,’ he said. ‘Oh, and by the way, leave all the copies right here and don’t talk to anybody about it.'”

    “You mean he embargoed all the copies of the report?” I asked.

    “Yes, sir, he did.”

    From that, my belief was that Rumsfeld’s intent appeared to be to minimize and control further exposure within the Pentagon and to specifically keep this information from the American public.

    Continuing the conversation, I inquired about the “original twelve-to-eighteen-month occupation deployment,” because I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. It turned out that the investigative team was so thorough, they had actually gone back and looked at the original operational concept that had been prepared by CENTCOM (led by Gen. Franks) before the invasion of Iraq was launched. It was standard procedure to present such a plan, which included such things as: timing for predeployment, deployment, staging for major combat operations, and postdeployment. The concept was briefed up to the highest levels of the U.S. government, including the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, and the President of the United States.

    And the investigators were now telling me that the plan called for a Phase IV (after combat action) operation that would last twelve to eighteen months.

    To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I had never seen any approved CENTCOM campaign plan, either conceptual or detailed, for the post�major combat operations phase. When I was on the ground in Iraq and saw what was going on, I assumed they had done zero Phase IV planning. Now, three years later, I was learning for the first time that my assumption was not completely accurate. In fact, CENTCOM had originally called for twelve to eighteen months of Phase IV activity with active troop deployments. But then CENTCOM had completely walked away by simply stating that the war was over and Phase IV was not their job.

    That decision set up the United States for a failed first year in Iraq. There is no question about it. And I was supposed to believe that neither the Secretary of Defense nor anybody above him knew anything about it? Impossible! Rumsfeld knew about it. Everybody on the NSC knew about it, including Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, and Colin Powell. Vice President Cheney knew about it. And President Bush knew about it.

    There’s not a doubt in my mind that they all embraced this decision to some degree. And if it had not been for the moral courage of Gen. John Abizaid to stand up to them all and reverse Franks’s troop drawdown order, there’s no telling how much more damage would have been done.

    In the meantime, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars were unnecessarily spent, and worse yet, too many of our most precious military resource, our American soldiers, were unnecessarily wounded, maimed, and killed as a result. In my mind, this action by the Bush administration amounts to gross incompetence and dereliction of duty.

    Interactive Graph of American Spending (GRAPH)


    Marvel turns `Iron Man’ into gold with $100M-plus debut

    LOS ANGELES – “Iron Man” was pure gold at the box office.

    The Marvel Comics adaptation, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the guy in the metal suit, hauled in $100.7 million during its opening weekend and $104.2 million since debuting Thursday night, the second-best premiere ever for a nonsequel, according to studio estimates Sunday.

    The film also scored overseas with $96.7 million in 57 countries where it began opening Wednesday, putting its worldwide total at $201 million.

    The movie, distributed by Paramount, is the first release by Marvel Studios, which has begun financing its own productions after such studio-backed hits as the “Spider-Man,” “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four” flicks.

    “We could not have hoped for a better way for Marvel Studios to blast off,” said David Maisel, chairman of the unit, a division of Marvel Entertainment, which stands to pull in a greater share of box office receipts and merchandising money by financing movies itself.

    Debuting in second place with $15.5 million was Sony‘s romantic comedy “Made of Honor,” starring “Grey’s Anatomy” heartthrob Patrick Dempsey as a man who tries to woo his best pal after she asks him to be “maid of honor” at her wedding.

    “Iron Man,” which won rave reviews from many critics, features Downey as billionaire arms designer Tony Stark, a boozy womanizer who builds a high-tech suit and becomes a superhero, mending his ways after he’s taken captive and sees firsthand the devastation his weapons cause.

    The film is directed by Jon Favreau, and also stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard.

    Despite the huge “Iron Man” opening, Hollywood’s overall business was down compared to the same weekend last year, when “Spider-Man 3” had a record debut of $151.1 million. The top 12 movies took in $154.1 million, off 15 percent from a year ago.

    “Nonetheless, `Iron Man’ did better than expected,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Media By Numbers. “This is certainly the shot in the arm the marketplace has needed.”

    Movie attendance this year is running 6 percent behind that of 2007, so the arrival of “Iron Man” may jump start the box office as the busy summer season begins.

    “If that first May movie is a big hit, it tends to lead to a big summer,” said Rob Moore, Paramount vice chairman. “There hadn’t been a big event movie yet this year. So you have the first event movie of summer, and people go `And I hear it’s really good. All right, I’m in.'”

    “Iron Man” was the 10th biggest opening of all time and the fourth biggest for a superhero movie. Among nonsequels, it came in behind only the first “Spider-Man,” which premiered with $114.8 million.

    “If we have to, we’re happy to come in second to another Marvel property,” Maisel said. “It emphasizes how lucky we are to have such a powerful brand that’s not loved by just comic book fans but also general movie fans.”

    The next Marvel production arrives in June with “The Incredible Hulk,” distributed by Universal and starring Edward Norton.

    In limited release, David Mamet‘s martial-arts drama “Redbelt” opened solidly with $68,646 in six theaters. Released by Sony Pictures Classics, “Redbelt” stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as an honorable instructor caught up in corruption in the world of mixed martial-arts competitions.

    Paramount Vantage’s “Son of Rambow,” a comic tale of two British boys making their own “Rambo” movie, also opened well with $52,549 in five theaters.

    Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.

    1. “Iron Man,” $100.7 million.

    2. “Made of Honor,” $15.5 million.

    3. “Baby Mama,” $10.3 million.

    4. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” $6.1 million.

    5. “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” $6 million.

    6. “The Forbidden Kingdom,” $4.2 million.

    7. “Nim’s Island,” $2.8 million.

    8. “Prom Night,” $2.5 million.

    9. “21,” $2.1 million.

    10. “88 Minutes,” $1.6 million.


    On the Net:



    Universal Pictures, Focus Features and Rogue Pictures are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co.; Sony Pictures, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; DreamWorks, Paramount and Paramount Vantage are divisions of Viacom Inc.; Disney’s parent is The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is a division of The Walt Disney Co.; 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox Atomic are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros., New Line, Warner Independent and Picturehouse are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a consortium of Providence Equity Partners, Texas Pacific Group, Sony Corp., Comcast Corp., DLJ Merchant Banking Partners and Quadrangle Group; Lionsgate is owned by Lionsgate Entertainment Corp.; IFC Films is owned by Rainbow Media Holdings, a subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corp.

    “Family Guy” Creator Signs Record Megadeal

    LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – From wunderkind to TV mogul: After 2 1/2 years of negotiations, “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane has inked a new overall deal with 20th Century Fox TV that would make him the highest-paid writer-producer working in television.


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    The pact, which could be worth more than $100 million, will keep MacFarlane at 20th TV through 2012. It covers his services on “Guy” and his other two animated series for 20th TV and Fox — “American Dad!” and the upcoming “Guy” spinoff “The Cleveland Show” — as well as his series development, which includes a multicamera comedy with “Guy” writer Gary Janetti. It also encompasses new-media projects related to MacFarlane’s TV series as well as DVD and merchandising revenue from them. (“Guy” alone has grown into a $1 billion franchise with red-hot DVD and merchandise sales.)

    “I get a lot of pleasure out of making shows,” MacFarlane said. “It’s a bonus to be getting paid well for it, and it’s a double bonus to be getting paid exorbitantly for it.”

    Neither side would comment on the size of the deal, with 20th TV chairman Dana Walden noting only that “no one will ever have to offer Seth a handout of any kind.”

    MacFarlane’s deal is expected to eclipse the $60 million five-year feature/TV pact J.J. Abrams (“Lost”) inked with Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. TV in 2006.

    The deal is retroactive, as MacFarlane’s previous pact with 20th TV expired more than a year ago.

    “It’s a relief to have it done,” 20th TV chairman Gary Newman said.

    Added Walden, “Today marks the first time in a long time (20th TV top business affairs execs) Howard Kurtzman and Neal Baseman did not have their shoulders up to their ears with anxiety.”


    Just as “Guy’s” winding path to success was full of roadblocks — Fox canceled the show twice before it triumphantly returned to become the network’s top-rated comedy — the road to MacFarlane’s new deal was a long and bumpy one.

    At one point in October 2006, when the negotiations had stalled, 20th TV delayed the start of production on the sixth season of “Guy” by two and a half months.

    Still, throughout the process, 20th TV brass never considered letting MacFarlane go.

    “I’d rather lose a limb,” 20th TV chairman Newman quipped.

    MacFarlane, who also voices most of the characters on “Guy,” admits that the thought of going to another studio crossed his mind during the drawn-out negotiations.

    “But it didn’t seem like anything was worth leaving ‘Family Guy,”‘ he said. “And despite all the statements to the contrary, with the lawyers getting at each other’s throats, deep down I knew it would eventually be resolved in a positive way.”

    The talks came to a halt during the Writers Guild of America strike, when MacFarlane was very outspoken against the studios. He also publicly objected to 20th TV and Fox’s decision to complete episodes of “Guy” without his blessing.

    Both sides stressed that the events during the strike didn’t affect the negotiations.

    “No one can afford for the strike to permanently affect the relationship with the studio that you work for,” MacFarlane said. “And on some level, you have to pretend it didn’t happen, and at the same time continue to press ahead.”

    Fox is the only TV home MacFarlane has ever known.

    Ten years ago, fresh out of college, he pitched to Fox an idea for an animated comedy based on characters from his thesis and his sequel to it.

    The network and 20th TV gave him $50,000 to make a presentation. After working day and night for six months doing virtually all the animation and drawing in his home, he created “Family Guy.” The network picked it up, and at 24, MacFarlane became the youngest executive producer/showrunner ever.

    Soon thereafter, before “Guy” even premiered, 20th TV signed him in a multimillion-dollar long-term overall deal. The studio also helped keep “Guy” alive after it was canceled by Fox.

    “I’m lucky to be at a place that creatively had been nothing less than 100 percent supportive,” MacFarlane said. “Signing such a long contract is something I can feel good and relaxed about because I know they have tight purse strings, but they certainly give you a lot of creative freedom.”

    Did they really have to give Uranus that symbol?