Archives for December, 2002
I don’t think for a minute that Trent Lott wants to see the reinstitution of state-enforced segregation. Nor do I think he’d sacrifice his seat making a principled stand against it, if Jim Crow suddenly became popular again. When it was popular and considered acceptable in the South, he was for it. When people awoke to its injustice, and it rightly became anathema in American political life, he was against it. In neither case was he guided by principle. Trent Lott doesn’t have principles—he has interests. Or “interest,” in the singular, more appropriately. His interest is staying in office.
If you had any doubts about that, look at his reaction to the current controversy. He’s apparently made a veiled threat to bolt the Senate and let Mississippi’s Democratic governor appoint his successor. If he had any allegiance to GOP principles—such as they are—he’d never consider such a course. And he wouldn’t go on BET, like he just did, and declare that hell yes, he was for affirmative action “across the board.” (That was the dullest 30 minutes BET’s had on in all my years of channel-surfing, BTW.) Lott didn’t challenge interviewer Ed Gordon’s premise that having a lousy score on the NAACP’s legislative report card is tantamount to supporting segregation (that report card, by the way, graded legislators on support for such key civil rights as the sacred right of a sitting president to play grab-ass with the interns.) In fact, Lott talked about “moving an agenda” that would expiate the “pain caused” by his words. I get the distinct feeling he’s going to demonstrate his spiritual growth by lightening my paycheck.
Anybody who wants the job this badly has already disqualified himself. I’m not gonna miss him.
I happened by a coworker’s office in the late afternoon today. On her TV (yes, some people where I work have TVs in their offices) I caught a clip of Al Gore’s SNL appearance. He was sitting, shirtless, in a hot tub. Christ, I’d rather see Rosie O’Donnell in a Saran-Wrap diaper. I think he shaves his chest.
The D.C. Council yesterday debated a bill to put District neighborhoods under video surveillance under a pilot program to test the effectiveness of cameras on street crime. “It is almost out of necessity that I support them because we don’t have meaningful police presence in our neighborhoods,” said council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat.
Hey man, whatever it takes. Just so long as they don’t let ordinary law-abiding citizens own handguns. That would be really scary.
At least one commentor on this site asked why libertarians and conservatives cringe when celebrities get involved in politics. Here’s Exhibit A. Sean Penn, about to embark on his Potemkin Village tour of Iraq, declares:
“I would hope that all Americans will embrace information available to them outside conventional channels. As a father, an actor, a filmmaker, and a patriot, my visit to Iraq is for me a natural extension of my obligation (at least attempt) to find my own voice on matters of conscience.”
Catch that? You may have thought this was about averting an unnecessary war, against a country that has done us no harm, a war that will kill at a minimum, hundreds of innocent people, and may very well increase Americans’ exposure to terrorism. But you’d be wrong–it’s actually about larger things, such as Sean Penn’s personal growth and his struggle to find his “own voice on matters of conscience.” Sean, we’re rooting for you, buddy.
Very interesting, and a powerful argument for nature over nurture: a study of vervet monkeys shows males prefer male toys, females, female toys:
In the experiment, Alexander says, male monkeys spent more time playing with traditional male toys such as a car and a ball than did female monkeys. The female monkeys, however, spent more time playing with a doll and pot than did the males. What’s more, both male and female monkeys spent about the same amount of time with “gender neutral” toys such as a picture book and a stuffed dog.
The implication is that what makes a “girl toy” and what makes a “boy toy” isn’t just human society or stereotypes but rather something innate that draws boys and girls to different types of toys, she explains.
Steve Slivinski has the harrowing truth…
So, those of us against the war are “objectively pro-Saddam,” according to Glenn Reynolds, king of the blogosphere.
This episode does Reynolds no credit. He’s either saying something utterly vapid and obvious: Saddam opposes war on Iraq; antiwar protestors oppose war on Iraq; therefore antiwar protestors support a policy outcome that Saddam also wants. This is so contentless it’s hardly worth saying. Reynolds (and all the rest of us) are also “objectively pro-Mugabe” because none of us support a war aimed at overthrowing him.
Either that, or he’s making a cheap insinuation that we have Hussein’s survival as an independent goal–a benefit that goes with opposition to war. If Reynolds believes this slur, he ought to have the cojones to actually come out and say it.
“Credible report.” “Government analysts suspect.” “Sensitive and credible source.” Not much to sink your teeth into in today’s WaPo cover story about an alleged Iraqi transfer of VX gas to Islamic terrorists.
Now, I’m not demanding that the Bush Administration put all its classified intelligence assessments on the web like the Starr Report so we can all read them. But this doesn’t rise above the level of “trust us.” Given the war-justifying myths that emanated from Dick Cheney’s Pentagon in the first Gulf War, and given the Bush II administration’s cavalier attitude toward the truth in the run-up to the Gulf War II (look out for those Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicles!), you’ll excuse me if I don’t start beating the war drums just yet.
UPDATE: Unnamed officials disagree with other unnamed officials about shadowy report about shady activity:
Commenting on a Washington Post report that Islamic extremists affiliated with al-Qaida might have taken possession of VX, a chemical weapon, in Iraq, Rumsfeld said the possibility “should come as no surprise to anybody.”
Other officials strongly disputed the report. Counterterrorism and defense officials said they have no credible evidence Iraq supplied the nerve agent to al-Qaida operatives. Speaking to reporters in Qatar on Thursday, Rumsfeld demurred when asked whether credible evidence exists. “I am inclined not to discuss intelligence information,” Rumsfeld said.
Can be found here.
I don’t know who’s behind this, but I like it: the John Poindexter Awareness Office (JPAO). The JPAO seeks “total information awareness about the personal lives, purchases, relationships, entertainment interests, reading habits, and travels of each and every employee of DARPA.”
Good news for those of us who love dystopian science fiction and have started to forgive Mel Gibson for that movie he did with the execrable Helen Hunt where he hears women’s voices in his head: Mad Max Four is in the works.
Some atavistic, superstitious reflex makes me hesitate to say this, but, knock wood, here goes: maybe Al Qaeda ain’t so tough. In fact, maybe they’re pretty small and weak.
We’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop since the Anthrax attacks ended a year ago. But maybe there isn’t another shoe.
Since 9/11, we’ve had Bali and Kenya. Domestically, nothing beyond the El-Al counter shootout (unless you count the anthrax mailings, which, to the best of our knowledge, were domestic). This suggests two possibilities:
1. AQ’s planning something huge, something that rivals 9/11;
2. AQ has tapped its well.
If the American Jihad/mullahs under the bed/the-country-is-riddled-with-sleeper-cells theory is correct, then why so quiet? If Al Qaeda wants to trash the U.S. economy, why didn’t we hear from them the weekend after Thanksgiving—the busiest shopping weekend of the year?
In the run-up to Thanksgiving break, a friend sent me this piece from NRO. In it, security expert Mark Riebling argues:
The attacks on New York and Washington will be most effective in rallying Islamists if they occur during the holy weeks of Ramadan, already underway. They will be most disruptive to the U.S. economy and to our way of life, and will maximize casualties, if they occur during business hours on a weekday. It is therefore probable that before the end of Ramadan, on December 4, the terrorists will attempt attacks in New York and in Washington, on a weekday that is not a holiday.
So convincing was Riebling—among other things, he predicted an attack on the NYC subways—I briefly considered cabbing it the entire time I was in the City.
But yet, nothing. Why not? Consider—as you probably have countless times since the Twin Towers fell—how pathetically easy it would be:
Most Americans aren’t armed. How hard would it be to take the Colin Ferguson act to a Northeastern mall during Christmas season and kill scores of shoppers? How hard would it be for the same number of folks that took out the WTC to do that at several malls in a hideously choreographed murder-binge?
Consider Malvo and Muhammed. Two none-too-bright jokers with a $300 rifle and no formal training repeatedly shut down the Beltway and terrorized Greater Washington for almost a month. If America really is riddled with sleeper cells, why not activate another 20 guys? Ten two-man-shooter teams, two or three different cities, months before they’re all caught—the disruption and terror it would sow would be enormous. As on September 11, America would be full of fear from its north to its south to its west to its east. If I can figure this out, so can they. So what gives?
Maybe (shhhhh)—maybe there aren’t that many of them. Maybe they’re not nearly as rich in suicidal maniacs as Hamas and the Al-Asqa brigades. Maybe we’ve killed a good portion of them, and put a good bit more on the run. Maybe—just maybe—we’ve won.
Now, maybe in a blogosphere version of “just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water,” Al Qaeda will pull off a big one next week, and I’ll feel like a complete schmuck. If so, I’ll apologize to the ten people reading this site.
But it’s worth considering that perhaps we’ve weathered the worst. And if so, it’s also worth considering whether the measures we’ve adopted domestically—USA Patriot, a parallel court system for citizens accused of terrorism, Total Information Awareness—are not only unconstitutional, but vastly disproportionate to any threat currently presented by the enemy.
None of that is to downplay the threat that Al Qaeda could represent, if we handle this struggle as foolishly as I fear we might. In this much, Brink is surely right: a free society is vulnerable at an incalculable number of points. And therefore, as Robert Wright has pointed out: it matters greatly whether there are 100 Richard Reids, or 10,000 of them.
A hundred Richard Reids means an occasional terrorist gets lucky. It’s a background risk we factor into what we do, and then largely forget about. But 10,000 Richard Reids means America becomes more like Israel, more like the greater Washington DC area for those weeks in October when the snipers ran free. Ten thousand Richard Reids means that every time you kiss your wife and kids goodbye, the thought crosses your mind: “will I see them again?”
We may have won this round, but we can still lose. We can lose by fighting this war so as to multiply the number of Richard Reids.
I’m continually amazed and annoyed by ideological compatriots who understand the Laffer Curve and buy into rational choice theory and yet stubbornly, myopically insist on a static theory of terrorist recruitment. “They’re crazy, and they hate us.” Yes, but won’t certain policies create more of them? Like, if we conquer Iraq, take over its oil fields, forcefully suppress ethnic separatism, and use the country as a staging point to bring about regime change in Iran and Syria, won’t that create more of them? “No, they’ve got all the reasons they need to hate us. Did I mention that they’re crazy?”
Perhaps it’s not accurate, though, to assert that the number of terrorists is fixed and static in the neocon/neolibertarian worldview. It might be more accurate to say that that number can only go down. It can and will go down when, by invading Iraq and whoever’s next, we (1) show the Islamic world we mean business; and (2) sow the seeds for a freer Middle East.
Put aside the observation that helping other countries secure their liberty doesn’t usually seem to produce a deep and abiding love for Americans. (See, e.g., South Korea). Put aside also the fact that pounding the snot out of the entire Arab world four times over and crushing the Palestinians hasn’t helped Israel acheive normalcy. Assume that war doesn’t have a logic of its own, and that those who come as liberators won’t be driven by events to conduct a far bloodier campaign than they’d have countenanced before launching themselves into the unknown. Assume that laser-guided bombs can be effective tools of social reform and put aside your skepticism about social engineering–as most of the Right seems to have done already. Finally, suppress the urge to get snarky, and crack “Chee, when you’re done with that trick, I’ve got an economy I’d like you to centrally plan!”
Instead, recognize that even if they’re right–even if everything goes perfectly swimmingly in Iraq and with whoever’s next in Wolfowitz’s game of Risk–the risk of terrorism could still increase by multiplying the number of Richard Reids. (How is that possible? c.f. Gulf War I’s impact on terrorism). Then consider just how crashingly unlikely it is that everything will go as planned.
OK: I was wrong. I see no other choice but to be for the war now. Let’s roll.
Meanwhile, Julian has irked NRO’s Stanley Kurtz with his defense of gay marriage. Without having studied either issue in depth: I support the privatization of marriage and I’m in favor of ending the ban on gays in the military. But it is kinda amusing that so much of the gay rights debate centers on access to two institutions that many straight guys go to great lengths to avoid…
Jim Henley on Iran-Contra Old Home Week in the administration:
Given the present Bush Administration’s propensity for giving these people jobs, why would you believe even a word of what it has to tell you about National Security?