September 18, 2004

Literary Digest Revisited: It turns out the polls showing Bush with a significant lead over Kerry overweight Republicans in their sample by a significant margin. Registered Democrats narrowly outnumber Republicans by about three points, but the Gallup and NY Times pollsters are interviewing more Republicans, giving them a margin of between 4-7 points. In fact, the NY Times poll not only shows Bush with an eight-point lead, but does so from a sampling base that preferred Bush to Gore four years ago by the same margin, varying ever so slightly from the actual result, which saw Gore winning by a point. If you factor in the party bias in those polls, the race is suddenly dead even.

In fact, I would predict that if the hardworking people at Gallup were to arbitrarily oversample Democrats, lets say by between 10-15 percentage points, their results would show a dramatic shift by the voters, and Kerry would suddenly have a double-digit lead. The Chattering Class would suddenly be talking about how Kerry's staff shakeup has led to a resurgent campaign, while the continuing controversy about his National Guard service has put the President into freefall. On the other hand, they could simply interview only Republicans, and probably reveal a massive surge in support for the President, and a likely historic loss for the Democrats.

September 17, 2004

Europe 6 1/2, U.S. 1 1/2: I wonder if American golfers are going to slammed in the same manner as our men's basketball team in the Olympics.
Europe 3 1/2, U.S. 1/2: Horrible start for the American Ryder Cup team. Two of the four-ball sets were routs; a pairing of Tiger Woods and Gagger Vance flopped. This is becoming a familiar story.
Mickey Kaus, who was kind enough to bring my Grand Hypothesis to wider exposure through his weblog on Wednesday, referred me to the following e-mail, from an "RP". It's a bit on the longish side, but then again, so is my response, so if you want to skip to the next post, go here. The e-mailer has kindly consented to my publishing his thoughts, so here goes:
Grand Theory that documents are forgeries but transcribed from handwritten notes taken after viewing the originals has some flaws.

1) If true the documents shouldn't have any errors of style or jargon that have also come into question (e.g. OETR vs. OER, billet vs. a more appropriate word for slot in the air force). Presumably Killian wouldn't make those mistakes.

2) If true, isn't it possible that they still could be substantially or slightly embellished? Why bother to reproduce slightly incriminating documents when you can make them blockbuster smoking gun documents? I might change one to reflect a DIRECT ORDER rather than something less inflammatory. How can an accurate but fake document ever make us comfortable with all of it? In fact, why not take the liberty of creating one extra document just to seal the deal. If you are making a forgery, do you really have to be so morally pure as to recreate the original exactly, without changes, and without the addition of inaccurate info?

3) If true, why would Killian create errors of fact? Supposedly there are errors as to when a physical would be required, as in on his birthday. Also the question of Staudt's retirement or of his use of the phrase sugar coat hurts the theory as well.

NEW GRAND THEORY: Rumors of Bush's failure to follow orders, show for a physical, and complete his full requirements for National Guard service have been floating around for a long time in TX politics. The issue has been brought up in every one of his campaigns for office. Each time, opponents of Bush watch the issue not stick even though they know in their heart of hearts, that it has to be true and should ruin him. Someone finally fed up with Bush getting away with this for so long convinces them that evidence is required to take him down. After thoroughly reviewing Bush Guard documents released by the military, an individual Bush opponent decides to create some evidence. It seems easy enough and with the author of the documents deceased, no one can contest them. And if they feel they have stuck almost
entirely to the "word on the street" or "rumor" that exists about Bush's service, then it is believable and quite possibly accurate. Sorry to burst the theory bubble, but this one has fewer flaws.

BONUS PLOT TWISTER (trying to prove that I am a fair and balanced, not so alert reader): Possible that this is an elaborate Linda Tripp like trap for the President to fall into. The documents are in fact forgeries, but exact copies of real documents. The conspiracy is lying in wait with the originals ready to release them once the White House and the President categorically deny their validity. The conspiracy then puts the authentic documents out for verification, they are verified. So not only is the President a "duty-shirker" but also a liar. BUSH LIED AGAIN!!!

I think that this second theory is just as plausible as the Smith Grand theory, but much less than my new grand theory
Obviously, I propounded the original Grand Hypothesis before Ms. Knox came forward on Tuesday. People who are engaged in a search for the truth cannot let themselves be tied down by speculations that have been proven false, and it's always a good idea to keep Occam's Razor in mind. Even Steven Hawking has to publicly disavow former viewpoints once the facts on the ground make them no longer operative. And if I'm wrong about other particulars, and if the Killian Papers are not what I believe, then I'd like to break that story as well....

The first point is clearly the most troublesome to my hypothesis, if it is correct that the errors of jargon and style referred to would not have appeared in a TANG memo (and since Marian Knox' other statements are the best support I have for the rest of the G.H., I have to reluctantly concede that these probably weren't "verbatim"). Deep throat could still have been working from transcribed notes derived from real documents, but made inadvertant changes to the style/format of the documents when he reproduced them later.

His other two points I don't buy, simply because whoever did this had to have known that the real Killian documents might be released at some point, making any embellishment or exaggeration extremely risky. As I posted, the documents themselves, with one exception, do not contain any bombshell evidence, and even the "Direct Order" letter was something that could have been presumed based on Guard policy regarding annual physicals. And if Killian's actual file contained factual errors, such as the exact date his subordinate was required to take his annual physical, Deep throat could not well correct those mistakes afterwards if he wanted to avoid getting burned in the event the real documents were released.

The New Grand Theory (and technically, it's a "hypothesis"; none of this has been proven under laboratory conditions yet) brings up a very interesting issue, which is the role of "rumor" (btw, it is not simply a "rumor" that the future President didn't show for a physical; he didn't show up for his physical, period. The controversy has been why he didn't show up, and/or whether his failure to do so was somehow excused.) Although it is unfair to base impressions on people based on rumor, there is often something in the background that gives credence to those rumors, especially rumors as specific as the ones mentioned here. In Bush's case, the "rumors" may well have derived from the documents kept by the TANG, including the Killian file, but which were heretofore kept from public view.

Even more importantly, the one "rumor" about George Bush from that period that doesn't show up anywhere in the doppelgangers is the one about his alleged coke habit. A forger unconcerned about the truth, and hungry to destroy the President at all costs, could have easily dropped a reference in, let's say, the August 1 Memo, alluding to his "recreational" activities, and made it seem just as credible as the other statements. In terms of the public reaction, such a charge would have been far more devastating to the B-C campaign than alluding to what Staudt (or whoever) was doing to Hodges in August of 1973.

In any event, thanks to all of you who responded in the last few days; I didn't get a single comment, even from those who probably believe that yours truly must enjoy a coprophilous existence to come up the idea in the first place, that could be considered rude, nasty, or unpleasant. I can only hope that some of you return in the future.

September 16, 2004

Nothing like spending eight hours at an amusement park in Valencia to painfully remind me that I'm about to hit 41. It used to be that roller coaster rides would simply frighten me; now, I ache just about everywhere in my body. The neck I possess is not in any condition to withstand the G-forces I imposed on it today.
The argument that I've read most frequently to counter my Grand Hypothesis is the view (summarized here by Tom Maguire) that Bush's "silence" on this issue is appropriate: when your enemy is doing his best to destroy himself, the adage goes, it's best to stay out of his way. As I noted below, however, the White House hasn't been silent. The immediate response assumed the memos were authentic, and attempted to explain away the President's actions at that time. If the Killian Papers were anything other than "fake but accurate", the more reasonable response would have been to immediately challenge the factual allegations contained within (and they were given copies of the documents in advance), but concerning the one document that the President would have had first-hand knowledge of, the letter ordering him to take a physical, he didn't do that. And regardless of what happens to Rather and CBS, he's stuck with this albatross.

September 15, 2004

In what may well be a nadir for Sports Illustrated, the magazine published a story today alleging that Kobe Bryant admitted to having an affair with ANOTHER WOMAN when he was interviewed by police investigating the now-discredited rape charge in Eagle, Colorado. Just a reminder, folks: rape is a crime; cheating on your wife isn't.
In reaction to the "fake but accurate" story in the morning's paper, Josh Marshall writes:
The word is out and about now that the CBS Bush National Guard memos are not forgeries but rather recreations of actual documents authored by Lt. Col. Killian.


There's a word, though, for these sorts of recreations, if that's what they are: forgeries.

There's no sense or possibility of getting around that.
Actually, that's not quite true, either. The correct word for that sort of recreation is counterfeit, which Webster's Ninth Collegiate Dictionary defines as something "made in imitation of something else with intent to deceive: FORGED". Forgery, on the other hand, is defined as "the crime of falsely and fraudulently making or altering a document (as a check)." While forgeries are always counterfeit, not all counterfeits are forgeries; the distinction is whether the creator of the document intended to defraud another, that is, to obtain some form of pecuniary benefit through his act of trickery, and not merely done solely to trick or fool someone.

September 14, 2004

Oh yeah, I almost forgot about the other "triumph" of the blogosphere this presidential campaign: the Swift Boat fraud. Bob Somerby hasn't....
The first confirmation of yesterday's Grand Hypothesis has come from a former secretary for the late Col. Killian, who states that the Killian Papers are forgeries (and she should know, since she was his typist), but that their contents accurately reflect real documents that she prepared in the course and scope of her duties. Also of interest in the Dallas Morning News article is the reference to a possible forger, who definitely did have a motive. And, of course, this is now the sixth consecutive day the President has refused to denounce the alleged fraud.

September 13, 2004

Doppelganger v. Forgery: So far, the dog that hasn't barked in the Killian Papers controversy has been any sort of non-denial by the President. In fact, the original reaction (and thus probably the more accurate reaction) by the White House was to a) dispute the meaning of the documents, by claiming that Bush was actually working to obey the direct order he received; and/or b) accuse the Kerry campaign of desperately trying to reverse its slide in the polls by dredging up old news. Even now, after the authenticity of the documents has been a matter of public dispute for four days, there has been no attempt by the White House to challenge the truthfulness of the contents. And that fact alone, no matter how advocates for the President try to shrink fonts in order to superficially derive a match with certain memos from the Killian Papers, is enough to keep this controversy alive.

I would like to posit another hypothesis, one that I believe is consistent with both sides in this matter. The Killian Papers given to CBS and USA Today, and released to the world by the White House, are documents that were created recently, by a third party from a computer, and did not come directly from any personal file kept by the late colonel. Everything about them, from the typesetting and fonts used to the signature of Col. Killian on two of the letters, are recent creations. However, they are verbatim reproductions of actual documents, documents that may still exist somewhere, probably with the Texas Air National Guard, in their original form.

There are several reasons to believe that this might be a more accurate explanation than anything else we have heard to date. The source for these documents was apparently a retired officer connected with the TANG. If Col. Killian actually had a "personal file", that officer may have had access to those documents. However, he might not have been able to remove those papers for photocopying, so he did what he thought was the next best thing: he transcribed them for posterity.

Perhaps nursing a grudge against the President, this officer may have approached other media outlets for years with the information he had obtained from the Killian file, but without solid evidence, reporters may not have had any desire to pursue something that was little more than a hearsay account of what a long-deceased colonel had written. So, out of frustration, he goes home one night, transcribed notes in hand, and recreates the Killian Papers on his home computer. Suddenly, 60 Minutes is interested, and the documents take on a life of their own. The officer with an axe to grind has people listening to him again. And the White House, knowing that the original Killian documents are identical in content to the doppelgangers provided to CBS, doesn't press the issue.

Why do I think this is a better explanation than what Bush's allies and foes have proferred to this point? Well, first of all, CBS has not yet presented a strong case for the authenticity of these documents. The expert they cited on Friday merely authenticated the handwriting, but I suspect it may not be that difficult to transpose a copy of an actual signature on a fake document, especially one that has been copied and re-copied several times. If they did use forensic typing analysts to authenticate these documents, they have not provided any information as to the names, qualifications, or services performed by those experts. The provenance of these documents has not been established to the satisfaction of anyone. And we do know that most of the experts who have studied these documents have concluded that there is a high probability that they were created by a computer, not an early-70's typewriter.

Second, though, is the fact that witness after witness has stated that the sentiments expressed in those documents reflect the actual state of mind of Colonel Killian during those months. Even his superior officer, who said on Friday that he now believes these documents are forgeries, who backs the President, and who states that he believes Bush was an outstanding pilot, affirmed that Col. Killian shared the opinions expressed in the memorandum, and that his earlier "authentication" was based on a belief that the papers in question were handwritten, not typed. Another officer who worked under Killian at the time stated that the memos were consistent with his normal practices, while the retired general who ran the TANG at that time said it was common practice for his officers to generate personal memos for the file.

And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the President, who is the one person who could give a categorical denial of these events, has not done so. The single most damning piece of information in any of these documents comes from the May 4, 1972 letter, giving George Bush a direct order to undergo an annual physical. The other stuff, from frustrating his superior officers with his lackadaisical commitment to his duties at that time to the fact that well-connected people were assisting him avoiding the consequences of his behaviour, has already been reported on at length, and the Killian Papers add little new to the discussion.

But his refusal to obey a direct order is a new charge, and, if true, one that should potentially disqualify him from remaining Commander-in-Chief during wartime. It is also a charge that he would have first-hand knowledge of its accuracy; he may not have known what "Staudt" or "Hodges" were doing on his behalf in August of '73, but he should definitely know whether he was given a direct written order from a superior officer that he didn't obey. If the May, 1972 letter is a fraud, and the information contained within is false, he should have said so by now. The fact that he hasn't, and that he has instead used surrogates over the last four days to try to explain away the substance of that charge, speaks volumes.

Anyways, that's how I see it. If you don't buy this hypothesis, let me know.

UPDATE: Dan Rather tonight did another report attempting to justify the story, finally introducing some forensic typing expert to buttress the authenticity of the Killian Papers. Perhaps the most significant evidence has to do with the use of the number "1" in place of the small case "L" (or "l") in some of the documents, something that is more difficult to pull off on a computer. Whatever. This story seems to be petering out; without a smoking gun one way or the other, we may still be arguing about this four years from now.

UPDATE (Pt. 2): Thanks to everyone who has put in their two cents, both in the comments section and through e-mail. The discussion has, for the most part, been civil, even where you disagree with me, and I appreciate that. I will respond in a new post shortly.

September 12, 2004

For those of you who still want to believe in the authenticity of the Killian Papers, here's an article from Media Matters, detailing how much of what has been reported about the capabilities of early-70's typewriters has been subsequently discredited. These posts, here and here, on the Daily Kos website, takes to task the amateur sleuths who've transposed the PDF files of the Papers with their own concoctions created by the computer in their mom's basement, and reveals discrepancies in the documents that could only have been created by a typewriter. And Jerralyn Merritt discusses the fallibility of "expert witnesses" in the field of forensic typing comparison. To that I would like to add that it is not uncommon for expert witnesses in any area to provide that testimony most desired by the side employing them, and that one of the experts used to challenge the authenticity of the Killian Papers received hate mail and threatening phone calls after he seemed to back away from that position to the Boston Globe. And, of course, the one person who could provide an account different than that contained in the Killian Papers, the President, remains silent.

None of this is to say that I remain any less skeptical of the Killian Papers. As usual, the digital brownshirts went over the top in their early posting, making claims about typing technology and the like that went way beyond the facts, and their efforts to play investigative journalists have merely shown what the level of quackery that pervades the fields of both blogging and forensic typing analysis. But something still tells me to be wary, especially since CBS has not been particularly forthcoming as to how it received these papers, where these papers came from, and (with one exception) who their authenticating experts are. Since it doesn't appear that 60 Minutes ever received originals, we may never get a resolution of this dispute.