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March 09, 2007

Comments

I recently read the blog of a consultant who went with the army to Afghanistan, to assist in projects to get local economy re-started. One of the things she was involved in, was introducing the (fabrication of) the solar cooker. Weirdly enough I immediately had to think about you ;)

Anyone have an opinion on this op-ed by Debra Burlingame? Specifically, do you know how much validity there is to her claims? This is news to me and I’d appreciate any opinions on it. I’m googling but not finding much.

The DC circuit struck down DC's restrictive gun laws as a violation of the 2nd amendment. I think that's a fairly significant happening. :)

After much procrastination and foot-dragging, I finally booked my honeymoon.

OCSteve: Her allegations are very general in nature. For example: Begin with flimsy information, generate stories that are spun from uncorroborated double or triple hearsay uttered by interested parties that are hard to confirm from halfway around the world.

It would be nice, and by nice I mean responsible, to go into greater detail and actually demonstrate why something is hearsay.

That a law firm also commissions a PR campaign isn't exactly a relevation to me either. Other governments and parties do it, so it's not quite so sinister.

My 2 uneducated cents.

I plan to go to Belgium in a week.

I can't find my passport, and I don't have a driving license.

I'd have got a new passport two weeks ago, except that the British government instituted US-compliant chipped passports last year, and I don't want one.

I am building up a whole foamy head of real anti-American hostility as a result. But I'd rather find my passport.

I am building up a whole foamy head of real anti-American hostility as a result.

Take it out on me Jes. I’m American, Republican (for now), and voted for GWB 2 times. I’m here for you. Wail away…

Other governments and parties do it, so it's not quite so sinister.

I hear you. This was just news, and a little disturbing to me. I’m weighing how much credence to give it. I mean, her moral authority is absolute (based on the 9/11 widows anyway). (yeah, snark.)

I mean, her moral authority is absolute

I feel compassion for her loss, but that doesn't mean I grant her allegations on this matter more weight.

Found this, which may be of interest.

OCSteve:
1) that is a vvery highly colored view of what happened at Qala Jangi. There was a riot, a CIA agent was killed, but that is simply not evidence that every person there was a bloodthirsty terrorist. (Read this guy's CSRT). Some of them were conscripts who got caught up in the crossfire, or people who really had surrendered--some of the bodies they recovered had their hands tied behind their backs.

Basically, Rashid Dostum & his forces had the bright idea of holding prisoners in a fortress where they outnumbered guards by a large ratio, without searching everyone for weapons first.

I also vaguely remember reports that: a) the Afghans among the prisoners originally surrendered with the impression that they would NOT be imprisoned, but Dostum later changed the deal because the U.S. asked him to; b) Dostum badly mistreated the prisoners on the way to the prison (but I could be confusing this with other reports about atrocities by Dostum's forces--not a nice guy); c) the riot started because prisoners got the idea that they were about to all be executed. Wouldn't swear to any of these.

2) Here's the full Ratner quotation. Burlingame and Graham both elided it in what I think is a pretty deceptive way:

The litigation is brutal for them. It's huge. We have over one hundred lawyers now from big and small firms working to represent these detainees. Every time an attorney goes down there, it makes it that much harder to do what they're doing. You can’t run an interrogation and torture camp with attorneys. What are they going to do now that we're getting court orders to get more lawyers down there? Lawyers are down there to interview their clients, and statements that are coming out on a weekly basis referring to sexual abuse, religious abuse, the use of dogs.
(source.)

3) this:

"Approximately 20 former detainees have been confirmed as having returned to the battlefield, 12 of them killed by U.S. forces."

Totally unverified and highly suspect. There are people who have been killed by the U.S. in battle after being imprisoned at Guantanamo but they've given details on only a very small number. There are also cases of, e.g. Russia deciding to simply round up the usual former Guantanamo prisoners when a crime is committed, even if there's not really evidence of their involvement, and cases where the Pentagon has simply given no details. (And of course, we don't actually know if they've returned to the battlefield or only decided to join it after /as a result of their imprisonment--that's impossible to prove.)

4) I don't know much about the specific Kuwaiti detainees she mentions, unfortunately. I don't consider her a remotely reliable source, though.

5) Shearman and Sterling did receive some money from the Kuwaiti gov't, IIRC, but they donated all of it to charities for 9/11 victims. No one else has made a dime. And this litigation is quite expensive. The idea that it's a money making enterprise remains absurd.

OCS, I have strong views on much of the subject, but don't know all the facts of Shearman's representation. I hear that they think the piece is riddled with inaccuracies, which wouldn't surprise me in the least. They'll be responding, I'm sure.

I certainly know everything there is to know about my involvement in this matter, and if anyone wants to come tell me they think I'm conveying messages on behalf of AQ, I invite them to do so to my face. Hiding behind 'some people think some people are doing something' is chickensh*t squared, in my view.

She repeats the frequent point about releasees being involved in the war -- but doesn't discuss names or circumstances. I can tell you for a fact, though, that the number of these 20 or so prisoners who were released as a result of a court order is exactly zero. And that the number released by the Administration because it's trying to curry favor with someone or other -- say the Afghan electorate during a campaign -- is going to be much higher. I wouldn't be surprised to see it include every one of the releasee-combatants. Thus, I don't see why the releasees' conduct tells you anything at all about what happens when people are given a fair trial.

I'm not sure I accept the statements about the releasee-combatants anyway -- facts and figures would be nice. Are we counting people killed when a bomb drops on a house? You have to be sensitive when DOD talks that there's a lot of 'meaning of is is' stuff going on: for example, the government position is that the entire world is a "battlefield." So what does it mean to say that a releasee returned to the battlefield?

In any event, 20 guys out of 400 released, and every one of them lowest level footsoldiers, is just not that big a deal. If they weren't in the fight, a different 20 footsoldiers would be, and it wouldn't make any difference in the grand scheme of things.

The bottom line, though, I guess is that we can save a whole lot of money on our criminal justice system if we just accept whatever is said in an indictment as true. Why bother with trials? We can just take what the government says on faith. Even easier, lets just ask Ms. Burlingame to decide who's guilty and who's innocent: she seems to know without having seen any cross-examination of any witnesses. (Of course, I'm sorry for her loss. But that only makes her less qualified to make these kinds of judgments, not more qualified.)

Begin with flimsy information, generate stories that are spun from uncorroborated double or triple hearsay uttered by interested parties that are hard to confirm from halfway around the world.

Maybe she has been reading CSRT transcripts after all. ;- )

"Wail away"

I believe the dialect I learned this expression in (Cornellese) spelled this "whale away".

"And have a WONDERFUL day ;)"

... it's fine, just fine. A real good day.

Chickensh*t dissipates moral authority. I think it's maybe a chemical properties thing.

Also--I don't me to be insensitive; God knows she has suffered horribly because of the 9/11 attacks. But accusing lawyers of trying to "transform the Constitution into a lethal weapon in the hands of our enemies" sounds like a line only Giblets would write.

OCSteve: I don't know anything about Wilmer, Levick, et al. I do know that as someone who has followed these issues, I would find it odd that I hadn't heard of them if they were the main driving force behind publicity for Guantanamo detainees. Offhand, of the lawyers, I would have named Joseph Margulies as the person who has written the best stuff.

When I read that op ed, I thought: well, I don't know anything about the particular cases she's citing, but I do know something about the overall message she's using it to suggest. Some things she says are just wrong -- e.g., that anyone has suggested that all the Guantanamo detainees are innocent. To me, that would be just as surprising as if they were all guilty. Human institutions, in my experience, tend neither to get everything right nor everything wrong. So I personally would be amazed if there weren't guilty people at Guantanamo.

What I and (iirc) most of the stuff I've read have been saying is just: you need to have some decent procedure in place to tell who the guilty ones are. We scrapped the procedures we had had in previous wars to sort people out when captured. We then deprived people of anything resembling due process. The reason this bothers me is not that I think that everyone is actually innocent. It's that a decent country does not just disappear people without presenting any evidence or giving them any shot at all at clearing their name.

(I recognize that wartime is different. But two points about that: (a) wartime is different in part because you can't expect people on a battlefield to hold trials. But I do not believe that point holds when people have been taken off the battlefield and held in a prison thousands of miles away from the battlefield for years. (b) Normally, you can have some confidence that the POWs you capture are, in fact, enemy combatants -- if, for instance, they are wearing uniforms. But when you pay bounties -- as really was done -- you set things up in a way that invites capturing the innocent.)

But the most important point, to me, is this: she's talking about Rasul v. Bush. That was a case that was decided by the Supreme Court. They held that the administration was wrong to say that the courts had no right to determine whether detainees were rightly held. I do not believe that the members of the Supreme Court make up their minds on the basis of PR campaigns. I don't like all of them; I disagree wildly with them; I think that on certain issues they can be swayed by political (Bush v. Gore) or ideological (Scalia on abortion) stuff but I honestly don't believe that on a matter of the court's rights to oversee detainees' due process, they would do that.

It has been one of the heartening things, to me, to watch the legal system not be swayed by PR campaigns, at least not much. It's why I really liked Patrick Fitzgerald, in part because he didn't indict e.g. Rove when he thought he couldn't get a conviction: the legal system has, on the whole, been a standing refutation to the idea that everything is political, and no one just up and does his or her job to the best of his or her abilities.

Scooter Libby just discovered the limits of political power and PR and feelings of unstoppability. If that had been the only thing the lawyers she talks about had going for them, I suspect they would have too.

Another thing about this that bugs me about her op-ed is the extrapolation from individuals. I don't know what the Kuwaiti guy she talks about was doing.* She's completely comfortable saying that since this guy is a bad apple, they're all bad apples. Well, a former Navy guy was just arrested for passing information to AQ. Only a first class idiot would say that this tells anything about any other member of that service.

* Neither of my guys was at that prison, and indeed neither was ever involved in any combat at all. So says the government.

The DC circuit struck down DC's restrictive gun laws as a violation of the 2nd amendment.

and Matt Yglesias says he wants a gun.

so much for stereotypes!

The whole idea of "lawfare" is so stupid, really. The Pentagon defines the term as: "a strategy of using or misusing law as a substitute for traditional military means to achieve military objectives"...Combine that with Clausewitz' "war is politics by other means."--I guess lawfare is a strategy of using courts as a substitute for violence for achieving political goals? Ooh, scary.

spartikus: Valid – but they need to be careful busting on a 9/11 widow. Snark yes, but we heard so much of that when the 9/11 widow’s group was questioned.

Katherine: Thanks. I was particularly looking for your viewpoint.

CharleyCarp: Ditto. Thanks. I particularly wanted your and Katherine’s opinion. I do take it seriously and give it a lot of weight.

I suppose I give it 20% weight vs. the 80% weight I give all the horror stories you folks have pointed me to. I need to do more research and sleep on it – but as with anything I assume there is some kernel of truth there.

The trick is to dig it out and filter out the political noise. Sigh.

So I personally would be amazed if there weren't guilty people at Guantanamo.

If by "guilty" you mean 'engaged in combat in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001' or maybe 'after October 6, 2001' I think it's a certainty. Afghans had an ongoing civil war, many people from the losing side were picked up.

If you mean 'actively engaged in plots to cause terrorism against the United States' I think the case is much thinner -- but still there are likely to be some -- prior to September 2006. (When the government moved the high value prisoners to Gitmo so they could get the MCA passed).

In any event, we have ways of actually answering these questions: trials under the UCMJ. It could have been done at any point over the last 5 years, and will end up getting done, for some small set of prisoners, once the Supreme Court strikes down the MCA, and the government finally decides that getting convictions is more important than aggrandizing executive power.

80:20, huh? Given the number of cases we've pointed to, the number of cases she's pointed to, and our respective approach to the facts? Well, okay. As Charlie keeps saying, the guilt of the two (yes, two) guys she actually gives specifics about doesn't really tell you anything about the merits of habeas anyway...

Thanks for that OCS.

Hilzoy: Thanks as well. Well said.

I started the comment something like, “Katherine, CharlieCarp, Hilzoy – what do you think about this…”. Then I said no, it’s not right to expect them to comment right away.

The cool thing is that all three of you did anyway.

I think that she is still really, really pissed of at this point, and I won’t blame her for that. I can’t. She has written some good stuff in the past. I thought this might be a little over the top, and based on the feedback that seems mostly true. My heart aches for her but that doesn’t mean she gets a free pass from me. Mostly I’d like to put my arm around her shoulders and tell her, “It’s going to be OK.”

God what a mess.

OCS Steve: I think this page links to Mutairi's CSRT transcript, the Qala-e-Janghi detainee she discusses. I think this is Adel Zamel's factual return. Would not swear to either. Transliterating the names from Arabic can be tricky. Never heard of either of those two guys before I read her piece; never seen how Shearman and Sterling characterizes their cases so I can't speak to that.

Katherine:80:20, huh? Given the number of cases we've pointed to, the number of cases she's pointed to, and our respective approach to the facts?

Political indoctrination. I have a lot of sympathy for her, and anyone in her situation. Her opinion does carry some weight with me. I try to weigh what I read from the right with (mostly) you guys. I try to filter out the bias from both sides and figure out what the hell is real.

You started at 0:100. Now you are at 80:20, your favor. Hello? I can’t reverse direction that fast without lasting damage…

Fair enough. And the cases I wrote about were never and never intended to be a representative sample...but I promise, I didn't get them from a PR firm.

but I promise, I didn't get them from a PR firm

And I would never expect that. Online integrity is something pretty weird, almost impossible to tie down. You learn to trust someone after months of reading them and following their links. I suppose it is a matter of consistency and always being up front. Face to face I decide whether to trust someone or not in about 30 seconds and I stick with that first impression. Online, the body language is missing and of course any of us could really be a very talented German Sheppard.

So it takes more time. But I trust your integrity, as I do Hilzoy’s, CharleyCarp’s, all the front pagers and all the regular commenters here.

I don’t always agree – but never doubt that I respect your opinion and assume it is entirely honest and up front.

I just read the unclassified http://www.cageprisoners.com/downloads/nasiralmutayri.pdf>return for the Kuwaiti. OCS, I strongly encourage you to read this. You can come to your own view about whether he's a combatant or not -- he has one, certainly -- but it seems to me that there's no reason on earth for the US to be afraid of this guy. (You're not scared of him, are you?) Or that we would want to visit vengeance for 9/11 on him. In short, it seems to me that release of this guy, after 3 years in prison, should not be considered either reckless or overly lenient. Certainly not evidence of DOD (the author of his release) going crazy in the face of a PR assault.

Does Ms. Burlingame have some information on this guy not presented in the unclassified file? No. If this guy is the poster child for unlimited unreviewable detention, for the worst of the worst, she's making our case.

OCS: "I don’t always agree – but never doubt that I respect your opinion and assume it is entirely honest and up front."

The same way I feel about your opinions. Honest respect is hard to find these days.


You're not scared of him, are you?

Well, I’m scared he might be my brother-in-law and show up at my door and need a place to crash for a month…

“The FBI properly certified in exhibit R-2 that the redacted information would not support a determination that the detainee is not an enemy noncombatant.”

I suppose that is the center of it all. Reading the rest of it, if I was on the tribunal during Sep 04 I would likely say hold him for now. I would recommend that his claims be investigated, evidence to be presented in 3 months. Not likely Huh?

If they had no more incriminating evidence by Jan 05 I would say let the poor bastard go and give him $50k for his trouble.

Besides Scooter?

Um, let's see.

Turns out that the Admin decided that Walter Reed would be a better hospital if they took out the whole medical care part of the operation.

There was something about some U.S. attorneys. Oh, and FBI investigations something or other.

Newt was having an affair during the Clinton impeachment, but he apologized for it, so that's all cool now. Turns out that between Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, Jeff Gannon, and now Newt, the Republicans really are the party of tolerance and inclusion.

The Dems were going to have a debate on Fox, but Edwards and Richardson, being the political powerhouses of the race, nixed it.

Oh, and Obama is part of an Islamist plot to corrupt our parking meters.

It was a pretty boring week.

Chuchundra: After much procrastination and foot-dragging, I finally booked my honeymoon.

Missed that somehow. Congrats. I hope it is somewhere warm with good food and drink. Feel the sun on your face for me.

does anybody else get teh vibe that the new arcade fire album is some weird pseudo-springsteen homage?

john miller:Honest respect is hard to find these days.

Yup. If I could get all you folks into a room with a nice variety of libations we would not get world peace, but we’d come away with something better for our country, I have no doubt.

For world peace we’d have to make a beer run…

I just filled out my goals for the next year, and if I complete only half of them, I should be getting paid twice what I am now.

Maybe two and a half, but I'd be happy with twice.

For some reason, there's either a shortage of graduating engineers or an unwillingness to pay them fair market price in the defense sector.

So, maybe three times.

I wasn't kidding about being busy last year. It hasn't gotten less busy (a lot more, in fact), but it's the best work I've ever had.

OCSteve: respect back at you.

Also, clever me didn't read Ms. Burlingame's bio, so I didn't realize who her brother was. I understand where she's coming from better now. Which is not to say that I agree with her more, on the substance.

The thing is: if you leave aside the Uighurs, some of whom had been cleared by the CSRTs when I was writing about them, and the rest of whom have (as I understand it) no more evidence against them than the ones who have been cleared, I have never been writing because I want the people in Guantanamo to be released (just like that.) I want them to get tried, or to have some trial-substitute that provides acceptable due process. I have always assumed that this would result in some of them being found guilty, unless we completely screwed up -- which is a non-negligible possibility, given that torture is a way of producing evidence that can't be introduced in court.

There are some specific detainees that I feel awful for -- the Uighurs, again. And there are some abstract ones: whoever the innocent detainees are who have spent years in prison incommunicado. Who knows why they were picked up? Did they just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Did someone have a grudge against them?

But one of the main things, for me, is: this is my country. I have always believed that it stood for something. I have also always believed that I shouldn't just wonder whether it does, as if I were a passive bystander, but do what I could to make it stand for those things. One of them is the rule of law, and another one is freedom; and freedom has to be not just an abstract thing, but made concrete in certain things our government is not allowed to do.

And one of the things I found spooky, after 9/11, was that when my country was attacked, I wanted to protect it, but I never saw how protecting it meant throwing away everything that was best about it. -- Leaving aside the fact that I also didn't see how al Qaeda was an existential threat to us, I couldn't see why our first response wasn't to hold closer than ever all that we loved most about the US, and stick up for it.

So, in this strange way that I have yet to understand, it seemed to me that the country morphed from being united in grief straight into one of those periods I had only ever read about, like the days of the Alien and Sedition Acts or the McCarthy era, when central parts of our country were under threat, and it was our job to try to protect it.

It was so strange, to me. Guys with box cutters can do enormous damage to us when they hijack planes, and they made me furious; but they were never, ever going to be able to damage what this country was all about. But strange to say, there was my government trying to do it for them.

Baffling.

But, as I said, it was never about releasing people whether innocent or guilty. It was sorting the two out, and maintaining our right to call ourselves a people who care about justice.

For some reason, there's either a shortage of graduating engineers or an unwillingness to pay them fair market price in the defense sector.

Shortage. Kid’s these days… Math is hard. Calculus sucks like an Electrolux. I have no kids but I have lots of nieces and nephews, and I have tried for years to convince them that math/science is the way to go. Not much luck, one niece is in AF boot now – technical, but she’s a bit heavy and may not make it.

All you have to do is get through Calc II and you can make a nice living…

Um: by "central parts of our country were under threat" I meant 'central parts of its ideology and what it stands for', not e.g. Nebraska.

Hilzoy:Which is not to say that I agree with her more, on the substance.

I agree – I got a little snarky because of all the “moral authority” the 9/11 Widows seemed entitled to.

I want them to get tried, or to have some trial-substitute that provides acceptable due process.

Me too.

But, as I said, it was never about releasing people whether innocent or guilty. It was sorting the two out, and maintaining our right to call ourselves a people who care about justice.

How can a reasonable person argue with that? Give me something to work with here… :)

Kid’s these days… Math is hard.

As someone who barely made it out of trig, I can't really argue with that one.

But math has always been "hard," and kids used to learn it anyway. Even if they never got further than simple algebra, and even if they never used math again after they graduated.

The teaching profession knows more about the process of cognition than ever before, so you'd think there would be ways to teach math to everyone. You'd think it would be a huge priority to figure out how to teach math, considering the US is slipping behind places like China and India in the sciences.

Maybe the "process" of teaching become more important than the subject matter.

Maybe people who are good at math are less interested in teaching, when there are less stressful, more prestigious and better paying jobs available to them.

I know that teaching can be a thankless profession nowadays, with uncontrollable students, uninvolved parents, and not enough money for anything. (My aunt, recently retired from Philadelphia's public school system, had no end of horror stories, up to and including being assaulted by students.)

The politics of education aren't doing the kids any good. Between the self-esteem ninnies on the left and the anti-science fundies on the right, seems like everyone's using education to further agendas that are about everything except actually teaching useful, important skills.

As of tomorrow evening I will have been living for a full week in My Own House. It still feel weird to say that. I'm not renting anymore, i can do whatever I want to it (mostly) (with my wife's permission), I don't have to be worried about putting a hole in a wall or moving this or changing the color of that . . . it's great. Now if only I had a money fountain.

I never made it past the fourth graf of that Burlingame link because this -- His case reveals a disturbing counterpoint to the false narrative advanced by Gitmo lawyers and human-rights groups--which holds that the Guantanamo Bay detainees are innocent victims of circumstance, swept up in the angry, anti-Muslim fervor that followed the attacks of September 11, then abused and brutally tortured at the hands of the U.S. military. -- is such a patently stupid strawman that I saw no need to read any further.

For the record: whoever people were spending their money trying to influence with a big campaign and glossy press releases, I never saw any of it. Pout.

Many women in the US military are harrassed or assaulted by guys who are supposedly their comrades; story gets little media traction; comments at Salon are a cesspit that supports the general truth of the story; I conclude that pacifism or at least strong anti-militarism looks more and more reasonable.

Female law students harrassed at web site; Feministe blogger Jill gives her story about being one of the targets; comments at WaPo are a cesspit; comments at the site itself are a worse cesspit; I conclude that American lawyer culture is tilted toward sociopathology.

It was International Women's Day, couldn't you tell? she asked bitterly.

Here's the website. I'd also never seen or heard of it before the article...

Speaking of Club Gitmo, the CSRTs for the former high level CIA detainees started today. Unlike the original CSRTs, the press is barred even for the unclassified session, and only redacted (I would guess heavily redacted) transcripts will be released. It's important to note: this is NOT because the government will be introducing classified evidence--remember, the prisoner does not see the government's evidence in a CSRT. Rather, it's because during their time at the black sites, they "may have come into possession of information, including locations of detention, conditions of detention, and alternative interrogation techniques that is classified at the TOP SECRET//SCI level"--they almost certainly intend to censor all allegations about waterboarding, mock burial, where the prisoners were held, etc. etc. That's not clear in all the press reports about secrecy, and I don't think a reporter has directly asked gov't officials about whether torture allegations will be redacted.

Burlingame's op ed looks and sounds to me like a continuation of the WSJ - Charles Stimson - NRO campaign to delegitimize lawyers acting on behalf of detainees.

Katherine and others: Jane Mayer gives a fairly detailed account of the events at Qala-I-Jangi in a March 10, 2003 New Yorker article about how the John Walker Lindh prosecution collapsed, mainly due to our government's failure to follow the rule and rules of law.

Disturbingly, that Mayer article has been taken offline in the last few weeks. I know because I read it just recently, when one of its principal sources, a Justice Dept. whistleblower named Jessica Radack, went public about the ways in which this administration sought to punish her long after she left the government.

Doctor Science, I hear you. The level of contempt for women in evidence all over the web this week has harshed my 'Libby is Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!' buzz.

Also, I need book recs.

Just finished A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918 by G.J. Meyer. Well-structured, about the appropriate level of depressing.

Also finished The Deserter's Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq by Joshua Key helped by Lawrence Hill. Key's voice comes through very clearly, it always sounds like the person he was, not like the writer. Shocking, depressing, most especially about how hardscrabble Key's life (and his wife's and their kids') before he found his courage to go North. Nortluft macht frei.

CaseyL: Regarding math teaching -- kids generally learn a lot more math these days than they used to. It's more and more common for kids to have a semester or two (college semester or two) of Calculus under their belts when they get out of high school.

The problem with teaching math is that math is an ability somewhat like music -- some kids are going to have no aptitude, and others will be brilliantly gifted.

It's not quite on the same level -- drills and repitition can pretty much teach anyone anything up to algebra -- but once you hit algebra, you're dealing with far more abstract concepts.

Counting math -- addition, subtraction, mutliplication -- that can be taught to virtually everyone, although the approach varies depending on the child.

Abstract math -- where you move away from the easily visualized -- is where aptitude comes into play.

That can also be overcome to a degree -- by good teachers, dedication, and desire. But that's where you start losing people.

I am keenly aware of my defeciencies in math -- despite having something like 20+ hours of higher math. I can apply it, but I simply lack any real talent at it. I'm far closer to "monkey-see, monkey-do" when it comes to complex math than I'd wish.

The renewed propaganda push at Guantanamo ("Not a prison!"), in conjunction with the start of the Kafkaesque proceedings for Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and the dozen or so others transferred there from the secret prisons, reinforces me in my view that Ms. Burlingame's piece is part of an organized campaign.

Please read the whole thing.

Compare her characterization of the lawyers with the Gitmo officers' (from the link above):

4. No trustworthy lawyers come to Guantanamo. Our handlers use the term "habeas lawyers" as a seemingly derogatory catch-all for lawyers in general, both defense attorneys -- those who are defending their clients before the military commissions -- and habeas attorneys, those who seek to challenge in U.S. courts the government's right to detain their clients. The U.S. military and its Public Affairs Officers are convinced that the terrorists are transmitting information to their colleagues in the outside world via their lawyers. According to our escorts, "habeas lawyers" may be the unwitting pawns of terrorists. As a power-point presentation at the outset of our formal tour (and as subsequent remarks make clear to us), it is the belief of the American authorities that the detainees are using their lawyers in accordance with the directives outlined in the al-Qaeda training manual that was discovered in Manchester, England in 2000. This manual, they assure us, encourages terrorists to "take advantage of visits with habeas lawyers to communicate and exchange information with those outside."

OCSteve: we would not get world peace, but we’d come away with something better for our country, I have no doubt.

For world peace we’d have to make a beer run…

For world peace, we'd have to make a real ale run.

There's a nice pub about 20 minutes walk from where I live, serves a variety of real ales and free pretzels. I'd love to have an ObWing convention there.

I agree about math being "teachable" only up to a certain degree to everyone but I would not recommend to underestimate how far one can go with even that. I consider myself only mediocre in that department but did get a university degree in technical chemistry (i.e. chemistry with about 2 years of engineering thrown in) nonetheless. At least today a lot can be done without really deep understanding because there are supportive tools available. I think an engineer 50 years ago needed much more mathematical talent than today, although the total amount of math has increased.

Well, no and yes, Hartmut.

If you read Neville Shute's autobiography, Slide Rule, he describes the work he did for the design of a British airship. And it's clear that a lot of the work he did, would be done these days by inputting figures into a spreadsheet. They'd decide to change one element in the design, and young Neville had to sit there and work out exactly how that one change would affect all the other elements of the design, doing - as he said - thousands of calculations.

If he'd had a spreadsheet, he could have done the calculations in seconds, not in days or weeks.

But the thinking required would have been the same. He would still have to know what the figures on the page meant.

From my personal experience it is often not the problem of understanding at some level but the ability to put it into equations and solve them. The latter part is very often beyond my abilities but not a computer program's. For the equation "building" part, tools can be very helpful (even if it is just a fast check whether it basically fits or not). The "understanding the problem" part is (again just in my experience) often mathematical to only a minute degree. I always had trouble with exams where I was able to explain a problem in detail but the examiner was only interested in me putting down the (memorized) equations. On the other hand my current professor shocked a lot of students with the sentence "I do not want the equation, I want you to explain the model to me in your own words".
Obviously one can't do without math in engineering but I think one can do without a lot that was essential in the past.
One thing (all to often underestimated) essential is the ability to judge results for plausibility. I see lots of students that know the formulas but fail to recognize even blatant miscalculations (e.g. results that are several orders of magnitude off).
Short: "Common sense" needs at least as much emphasis as raw math skills.

Yep, Nell. Nothing like a vague unsourced accusation of treason -- even unwitting -- to get bitter-enders worked up. And she's complaining about Shearman's 'propaganda' campaign?

Read the CSRT for the Kuwaiti I linked to, then think again about the accusation that lawyers are transmitting AQ messages. There's no question but the guy was a nobody. What information is someone going to pass on? That's why to those of us who represent people who are minions at most get a good laugh when people bring up Lynne Stewart: she was working for a leader of a group, who wanted to communicate to his followers. What kind of direction does a footsoldier have to give?

Or course the fact that the US government reviews every single thing that we communicate from a prisoner to the outside makes the accusation all the more lame. I guess Ms. Burlingame's unnamed interlocutors would say that DOD's classification review teams are pawns of the terrorist masterminds.

The problem with teaching math is that math is an ability somewhat like music -- some kids are going to have no aptitude, and others will be brilliantly gifted.

If I recall correctly, there were two perfect SAT math scores in my high school; one of them wound up being a fairly accomplished musician. No damned good with hardware, though; he probably couldn't make the jump from conductor to semiconductor.

I agree with Hartmut about math proficiency. People without much aptitude for the higher maths can still be taught to be functionally proficient with calculus and linear algebra. Witness: me. There's a lot of math one can learn to do without being very talented at it.

Re: spreadsheets, computers, etc: they help a LOT, but Jesurgislac is correct in noting that it's absolutely necessary to understand the result, and to be able to spot when the result is wrong. In other words, you have to be smart enough to understand what it is you're asking your algorithms to do, and smart enough to recognize error when you see it.

Even when you're using a canned product. I recall about fifteen years ago, using SimuLink to simulate a control system with some fairly crucial nonlinear elements, and the thing just would not work with their integration scheme of choice. I had to tell it to use trapezoidal; then it worked.

Obviously one can't do without math in engineering but I think one can do without a lot that was essential in the past.

Right. But I couldn’t understand why I had to get through Calc II to get a computer science degree. I have very little aptitude for it, and only made it through by the skin of my teeth due to hundreds of hours of study and practice equations.
And of course once acquiring the degree I’ve never had to use so much as algebra in my entire career.

I should note that I came across the Karen Greenberg report from Guantanamo via Gary Farber, who's back blogging (he was partly Blogger 2.0'd).

He has a don't-miss post on Stan Lee and Marvel, for fanboys and girls...

and Matt Yglesias says he wants a gun.

so much for stereotypes!

Six years of BushCo has convinced this liberal that the gun nuts were right all along. We do need to arm ourselves to protect ourselves from our government.

Obviously one can't do without math in engineering but I think one can do without a lot that was essential in the past.

Depends on the discipline. In chemical and mechanical engineering 30 years ago, calculating all but the simplest models was essentially impossible with a slide rule. You used computers, but computer time was so expensive that a great deal of thought had to go into setting up the problem. Knowledge of ordinary and partial differential equations and their solution methods was required (along with a lot of empirical correlations). With the advent of cheap personal computers brute force methods became common, where you did not need to know the math. Some things I learned (like Laplace transforms, etc) are no longer necessary because of canned programs developed over the years.

By the way, engineering is no longer a good bet for employment. Offshoring is beginning to hit those areas hard.

Nell, Ms. Greenberg was at the base when I was in February, and we had a nice chat at the airport on the way home. (Along with the French journalist who short that short film you may have seen). I thought she was writing something for TAP.

They arrived the same day we did, and they were in the Leeward-side galley, getting oriented by a Sgt, when we went in for dinner. I was going to re-orient them later in the evening, but it turned out that they slept on the other side of the base, while the Sgt, a reservist from St. Louis, hung around our side waiting to meet a late flight with an additional journalist. Nice guy. Not interested in repeating any calumnies (if indeed he'd offered any when we came in the galley) to my face.

The Frenchman's film has a short shot of the Leeward-side galley, and a quick look at the Windward-side McDonalds: the physical plant is more interesting than the propaganda. Same with the German film broadcast Thursday night.

OC Steve:

Re the Sherman & Sterling/Gitmo story, the op-ed (as pointed out by others) has a lot of questionable factual arguments -- the primary one being that you can generalize as to the whole legal fight involving Gitmo based on her recitation of the Kuwaiti case. This is profoundly wrong both factually and as a matter of simple logic.

But assuming basic accuracy as to that one storyline involving the Kuwaiti, what it really says is that the Gitmo prisoner who managed to get out was one with close ties to oil industry and Kuwaiti royalty and with access to enormous wealth and connections.

That to me is far more of a condemnation of how Gitmo is run than a condemnation of the general legal effort involving the detainees -- if you are rich with connections, then you get an exception.

Also, what are foreigners supposed to do, when the US locks away its citizens without any process or hope for a hearing? To some extent, the unorthodox response championed by Kuwait is the natural result when people are incarcerated without a lawful process to resolve their status.

Her status as a 9/11 victim really adds nothing to her credibility here.

And what is her message? -- that the entire legal effort on behalf of detainees is a cynical and false charade, and therefore we should do away with all legal process for detainees? That everyone in that Afghan prison should have been locked away forever without process? That seems to be her point by referring to the benefit of a "lawyer-free" zone.

Also, using Spann as a counterpoint is just crass.

By the way, engineering is no longer a good bet for employment. Offshoring is beginning to hit those areas hard.

Needless to say, this doesn't apply to defense to any regardable extent.

One major problem with offshoring engineering is that engineering doesn't, for the most part, lend itself to export in quite the same way that call centers do.

OCSteve, I know quite a few computer scientists that are effectively engineers, because they're that good at math. Most of the software people I work with have at least a working understanding of math; it'd be damned hard for them to encode algorithms without some understanding of how the algorithms work.

Which is not to say this is a universal truth. There's huge swaths of CS/programming that doesn't deal with algorithms, quite so much. Probably that's where you make your home.

Chuchundra: After much procrastination and foot-dragging, I finally booked my honeymoon.

Please tell me your procrastination doesn't include finding a spouse...

OCSteve: All you have to do is get through Calc II and you can make a nice living…

As someone who is in fact teaching Calc II right now, I might have to invite you as a guest speaker...

I was going to invoke your name here, Anarch, as someone with some real talent in maths. But I figured you'd be showing up sooner or later, anyway.

I might have to invite you as a guest speaker...

Ha. Maybe I should say getting past Calc II and then busting your butt for 20 years. :)

It was the final hurdle for me anyway. Actually cost me cum laude. It was one of my final classes closing in on graduation time. Teachers had to submit an estimated final grade when the class was about half over so they could calculate final GPAs and print diplomas etc.

She was convinced I was never going to pull above a D so that is what she submitted. Knocked my GPA down enough that I just missed it. Then in the end I pulled a solid B.

Toughest class in my undergraduate experience.

One major problem with offshoring engineering is that engineering doesn't, for the most part, lend itself to export in quite the same way that call centers do.

On the other hand, if your manufacturing facilities are in China you have little need for engineering staff here.

Off on a tangent: but still too good not to want to share: via Shakespeare's Sister : an object lesson in the value of "proofreading" one's videos. Probably NSFW, but since it's the weekend, who cares?

(h/t Crooked Timber )

Abstract math -- where you move away from the easily visualized -- is where aptitude comes into play.

That can also be overcome to a degree -- by good teachers, dedication, and desire. But that's where you start losing people.

My impression is that many people "hit a wall" at some point in their math studies. It's pretty easy for a while, and then gets very hard all of a sudden. That happened to me, at least. I was an undergraduate math major, but was sort of stumbling through at the end.

I think colleges put too much emphasis on Calculus as a doorway or benchmark; they should drop it and insist on Statistics, instead.

Watching my eldest take Calc right now emphasizes to me how much of it I've forgotten through disuse. Even in the sciences and engineering, you just don't need calculus all that often. What you need is statistics -- and not just for tasks in your area of employment, but for things like evaluating your finances, your health care, and your politicians.

Please tell me your procrastination doesn't include finding a spouse...

I knew there was something else I forgot to do.

With respect to Calc II et al, one of my CS profs expressed to me the opinion that Calculus requirements for computer science degrees are more of a filter than a pump. That annoyed some of my classmates quite a bit, as you might expect. A good number of them were sweating blood trying to pass their Calculus classes.

My EX-Father-in-law once told me that people who have serious aptitude for math will often look at a problem and intuitively know the answer, but not know why. Then they have to sit down and grind out the work to prove it. That was never me, but I did manage to sail through Calc without too much difficulty.

My fiancee (oh right, I do have one) told me the other day that she was always good at math, just not very good with numbers.

Everyone, check out the Krispy Kreme story. It's a hoot. Someone's gonna get it, and not in a good way, at that news station.

And Shakes asks the same question that, er, popped into my mind.

On the other hand, if your manufacturing facilities are in China you have little need for engineering staff here.

Mine aren't. Decent point, though.

Off on a tangent

Heh.

My impression is that many people "hit a wall" at some point in their math studies. It's pretty easy for a while, and then gets very hard all of a sudden. That happened to me, at least. I was an undergraduate math major, but was sort of stumbling through at the end.

It was worse for me; I got my undergrad in engineering, got about halfway through a Master's in Applied Math,and encountered PDEs. That was my wall. Then I became a family guy, and time all of a sudden got more valuable. Here I am, still not having made it past PDEs.

Watching my eldest take Calc right now emphasizes to me how much of it I've forgotten through disuse. Even in the sciences and engineering, you just don't need calculus all that often. What you need is statistics -- and not just for tasks in your area of employment, but for things like evaluating your finances, your health care, and your politicians.

Gotta disagree. The basic unit for predicting anything in engineering is the differential equation, from micro to macro. You must at least know what it is, even if they're all solved numerically these days. Both should be taught as a minimum.

I was fine at math in high school, though it was my worst subject--took the harder calculus AP & did quite respectably, etc. But I've completely forgotten all of trigonometry and all of calculus. I mean, I don't even know what the sine, cosine, and tangent are anymore. This bothers me, because normally I have a very good memory--I guess the problem is that it's a cumulative subject, and if you don't do it at all you lose it completely. (I don't remember so much chemistry, either, which was a much better subject for me but similarly cumulative--but I don't have the same feeling that it isn't even vaguely familiar and I'd have to learn it again from scratch like math).

BTW I'm sort of strolling through one of Anarch's papers, and not only do I not understand what he's saying, I don't understand what he's talking about. I don't even recognize any landmarks; there's literally nothing familiar there.

That's real math, I guess. Actually looks more like meta-math, as compared to what I do.

Well, katherine, if you ever want to resurrect your math knowledge you can use a computer accompaniment. Here's a link to Octave, a free MATLAB clone that will solve algebra and calculus problems.

Octave

"It's pretty easy for a while, and then gets very hard all of a sudden."

For me it was real analysis (Rudin?). Having it at 8:30 AM second semester senior year on top of an icy hill from a professor with limited English and an interest in abstruse applications didn't help, but probably it was just the wall. Now I wish I'd actually learned measure theory because in retrospect it seems really cool.

My notion of this is that it's not THE wall, it's a sequence of walls. What you see as THE wall is the one you didn't get over. I almost didn't get over ODEs, because I thought they were teaching me how to solve ODEs, when all they were teaching me was cookbook solutions to particular kinds of ODEs. Once I got that I wasn't learning anything but some particular methods (whose origins would have been pretty clear had I had complex variables under my belt at the time), it was a piece of cake.

Italiacto!

But I've completely forgotten all of trigonometry and all of calculus.

That struck my curiosity so I just pulled my old Calc textbook off the shelf, blew the dust off it, and thumbed through.

Complete gibberish. Even the notes in my own handwriting. It might as well be written in Latin.

rilkefan links at March 09, 2007 at 07:10 PM: "... it's fine, just fine. A real good day."

This seems to be a link to completely stolen property. There's no copyright notice, and it appears that the guy simply posted Jerome Bixby's classic story with no permission from, or payment to, the estate. This is evil theft.

And Bixby's dead; I don't know, off-hand, who manages his estate, but notification would be in order. Stealing from the families of dead people is particularly loathsome.

"This seems to be a link to completely stolen property."

Good point. My bad for linking - my only excuse is that's it's actually been one of the sorts of days described in the story. Maybe the Kitten could reroute the link to wikipedia.

This indicates the site is abandoned.

I'm enjoying the math and Krispy Kreme outtakes and other conversation, so don't take this revisiting a bleak topic as anything other than having just run into another item that reinforces my earlier comments.

There is a concerted campaign to deligitimize defense attorneys:

in my nearly thirty years of work as a human rights monitor, I have noted some features which are common to tyrannical, particularly to wannabe totalitarian regimes, whether they be of the left or the right. One is that defense counsel - and particularly defense counsel in politically sensitive cases who do their job professionally and articulately - always draw fire, and sometimes brutal repression. The tyrannical regime wants and needs defense counsel to give their show trials credibility. Their role is to insure a smooth functioning of the legal process. ...

I witnessed vicious repression of defense counsel in the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe and Cuba. I certainly never expected to see it in America. But under the Bush Administration, it has arrived. The particular victims are counsel who volunteer on a pro bono basis - doing a public service - to handle cases for prisoners in the "War on Terror," but detailed JAG lawyers have also taken their blows.

Followed by several specific and chilling examples. The whole piece, Scott Horton's addendum to the NYTimes editorial 'to-do list' for repairing this regime's damage, is worth reading. Forest, trees...

I wasn't meaning to particularly jump on you, rilkefan, and I'm sorry I didn't make that clearer.

It's the guy who posted the story (and whose other comments make clear that he [was, at least] looking for yet more material to post, without regard to copyright) I meant to jump on.

Once copyright has been violated, I regard reading or viewing the material as a pretty minimal sin, at worst, if at all. But I can't see any excuse at all for engaging in the blatant theft in first place. I blame the poster, and in such cases, well, who thinks well of thieves?

But I'm not inclined to scold anyone, or even frown at them, for simply reading/viewing stuff posted on the internet.

I don't fault linking to something, either; the most I'd do is note that I, myself, wouldn't link to a copyright violation without noting that it is, indeed, illegitimately posted material; but that's all. The only real wrong-doing in such cases is that of the original thief/poster/copyright-violator, in my view. Linking? Well, that's just pointing to something, and any wrong in that is pretty minimal, in my view.

It's a great story, of course. And, naturally, if Bixby's estate was fine with the posting, that would be fine.

It's the people who don't understand that you can't post /copy&distribute other people's writings/creations/art without their permissions, without stealing from them, that get up my nose. If Bixby has grandkids, and I believe he does, it could literally deprive them of money, by lowering the value of reprint rights to the story for the remaing years of the copyright (which is now too long, in America, but that's another discussion).

Slarti,

Yeah. I found the cookbook aproach to differential equations annoying also, though manageable once you just accept it. I wouldn't assume that knowing complex variables would have helped. Analytic functions was one of my stumbles.

rilkefan,

rudin sounds familiar. Is that a text that would have been in use in the mid-60's? (Please. No expressions of surprise that we had texts other than Euclid).

Speaking of Guantanamo Bay, On the Media today has an interview with Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald about CSRTs.

I found I didn't understand Laplace transforms when I was taught them (I could use them -- but it was monkey-see, monkey do on the test use). I did understand them, two years later, when I was using them in a circuits class. Suddenly the whole reason they exist and what you do with them made sense -- because I was solving real problems, and not "Solve this equation via a Laplace transform" -- I was using Laplace to come up with the voltage or current at a given spot in a circuit. (One with a capacitor or inducter, of course).

I don't use much of the math I learned for my CS degree -- even now, in the graduate program. What I do use is pretty elementary -- how to implement equations in a program (generally using a math library or someone's canned solution), how to estimate the efficiency of a given algorithm, that sort of thing.

I used to think we learned all that math just on the off chance we coded it at some point (but then we had a special class in doing higher-order math through code, and you really didn't need to know WHAT a differential equation was to solve it algorithmically. Just how exact a solution was wanted).

Then I thought maybe we learned it because the sort of thinking required to handle higher order math was useful in programmer. But I'm very mediocare at math and struggled through anything after Cal II, but I am a very good programmer -- not just in terms of being a code monkey, but capable of very innovate and elegant solutions. Maybe I just like coding more than math, but I honestly think they're different skills -- complimentary in ways, perhaps.

It's always useful when skills are polite to each other.

In math, I just hit the boredom wall. Calc 2, in college, and it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't actually have to take math any more, ever again.

That was that.

Until I took biostatistics, decades later. And logic. (Where I really did have the experience of knowing what the answer was, and how to get it, often in unorthodox ways, and without being able to explain how it worked, or why. Only time I've ever had that experience in a math-y subject.)

Looking back, I very much wish that someone had explained why calc mattered and why it was beautiful. I remember it only as a series of annoying memorizations.

C-SPAN is re-running the Tuesday Senate testimony of four of the forced-out U.S. Attorneys. Even allowing for their professional skills, I don't think I've ever seen any more consistently impressive, personable group of witnesses.

On some level, it's pretty stupid to turn a group with this kind of candlepower against you...

My spouse studied math at Imperial College in London and he always says that the real difference between people who "can do math" (like him) and people who are mathematicians is the level of abstraction they can understand. It comes out as intuition, but is more a kind of über-conceptualization. He says that the people he knew would really think in a different way - and real math is one of the most creative things in the world.

He also says that, like with most subjects, it matters enourmously how well your teacher loved it him/herself.

Picked up from math courses the necessity of having to deal with special cases (discontinuity) when analyzing waveforms. Have to minimize the ringing, you know. Back in the olden days when I was coding live FFT's on the 8087 during data acquisition the main concern was coding for the fewest instructions, while still being interruptible, plus windowing and overlapping input, etc.

Also ran into very odd conditions when trying to tease out tiny signals with data averaging. Used DMA in those days to move data from the A/D converter to RAM. Son of a gun, we would pick up the signal from the DMA address being asserted on the bus. (ISA bus with big honking connectors.) Totally synchronous. We eventually resorted to reprogramming the start address for the DMA transfers so that they would average out.

He also says that, like with most subjects, it matters enourmously how well your teacher loved it him/herself.

I totally understand that. Much of who I am is due to teachers who loved what they teached.

"Much of who I am is due to teachers who loved what they teached."

(Pure chain-yank ahead: not meant seriously; sentence may appear larger in mirror than in reality.)

Taught. Who loved what they taught. Which may not have included your English teacher....

(I keed, I keed; plis not to hurt me, kind sir. Plis! Hokay, I run now.)

On the open thread non-topic, I just saw both Happy Feet and The Departed. [An odd double feature, I'll grant you, but I would've seen Babel first had the bus schedule not changed; Happy Feet was intended to function as a palate cleanser.] Happy Feet was a much better movie than I'd expected, although probably too dark for many younglings -- and way too frickin', well, there for the screamy youngster three feet to my right. Oy. On the plus side, the kiddies dancing in front of the screen during the credits warmed even my cynical heart.

OTOH, The Departed, winner of Best Picture, was clearly the third best movie of 2006 that I've actually seen -- and once I see Babel, I suspect it'll slip to fourth, if not even further. It wasn't bad, by any means, and there were some exceptional performances, but the movie as a whole was... well, disappointing. I don't know if my expectations were too high, or too off-topic, or if the crowd I saw it with was simply on the wrong wavelength, but I figure I got my $3 worth [yay second-run theaters!] and not a whole lot more.

On which note, anyone seen any good movies recently? I'm thinking about getting a group to go see 300 but it's been getting some dreadful reviews from friends and I'm suddenly wary...

And now, in my capacity as Math Ho...

Chuchundra: With respect to Calc II et al, one of my CS profs expressed to me the opinion that Calculus requirements for computer science degrees are more of a filter than a pump.

The Engineering school, the Business school, as well as various departments like CS, Econ and Bio (?!) have not just admitted this, but have flat-out insisted that the Math department function in this capacity round these parts. [Business is particularly irritating in this regard.] What I find particularly odious about this situation is that they've only admitted it to the faculty; they're, well, fundamentally dishonest about the purpose of these courses to their own students, which can lead to some awkward moments in my classroom.

OTOH, the sheer volume of students we process each semester -- we'll push around 2000 students through Calc I and II each fall -- keeps me employed, so it would perhaps be churlish of me to complain.

Slarti: Here I am, still not having made it past PDEs.

Oh lord, do I hate PDEs.

[Except the partial d. I loves me some fancy d's.]

Morat20: I used to think we learned all that math just on the off chance we coded it at some point (but then we had a special class in doing higher-order math through code, and you really didn't need to know WHAT a differential equation was to solve it algorithmically. Just how exact a solution was wanted).

Based on what my friends in applied & computational tell me, the huge applications for CS are linear algebra, number theory, combinatorics and asymptotics. [Most of which includes a fair whack of analysis, actually; generating functions are marvelous things.] And a side order of topology and quantum mechanics, depending on one's purview.

hilzoy: Looking back, I very much wish that someone had explained why calc mattered and why it was beautiful. I remember it only as a series of annoying memorizations.

*beats your former professors with a clue stick*

"On which note, anyone seen any good movies recently?"

I just finished watching my Netflixed copy of HBM movie of "Truman," with Gary Sinise, which I enjoyed, although I'd read spoilers.

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