Archives for June, 2003

Credo and Epitaph

I recently finished Terry Teachout’s compulsively readable The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken. Two quotes remind me of what I love about the Sage of Baltimore:

Credo: I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant.

Epitaph: If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.

Posted on Jun 28, 2003 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

On to Burma, with a Pit Stop in Zimbabwe

Tony Blair privately backs the removal of all dictators, according to the Evening Standard.

Posted on Jun 28, 2003 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Notes toward the Hawk’s Case Against Bush

I don’t believe that preemptive war in the name of nonproliferation is a smart policy, but many of you do. If so, you ought to be angered at how President Bush’s cavalier approach to evidence has undermined the case for it, perhaps to the detriment of American national security.

I don’t think Bush made up out of whole cloth the notion that Iraq had banned weapons. Everyone from Hans Blix to Jaques Chirac to Michael Moore thought he did have them, after all. But if you were paying attention at all during the run-up to war, you noticed that Bush was willing to say just about anything to scare up support. Remember the threat from Iraq’s fleet of balsa-wood gliders, or “Unmanned Arial Vehicles”?

What’s come out since then has confirmed the suspicion that the administration has a complex and self-serving orientation towards truth. For example, it seems clear that key figures advising the president knew that the Niger uranium-deal documents were bogus–but they let Bush rely on them anyway in his January State of the Union address.

By exaggerating and/or lying on the way to war, the administration squandered its credibility, a commodity that’s particularly important when you’re asking people to take action on the basis of intelligence assessments. And by picking the Axis of Evil nation that represented the least plausible WMD threat–and squandering the finite American will-to-war on a costly and protracted occupation–he’s used up much of the political capital he’d need for a more serious threat.

Let’s say we have some evidence sometime in the future that North Korea’s about to start selling A-bomb starter kits to the highest bidder. Even a tie-dyed in the wool peace creep like me recognizes that’s a serious matter. But how many in Congress or in the informed public are now, post-Iraq, likely to want to follow the administration into war on the basis of trust?

Posted on Jun 27, 2003 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Surfing is the Life, the Only Life for Me

New in Blogworld:

Max Sawicky makes the Dove’s case against Howard Dean, the peace candidate who’s called for more troops in Iraq:

The inability to reject a bad policy puts you in the ridiculous position of demanding that the Bush adventure be done “right.” You end up more interventionist than Bush. You condemn more American soldiers to be casualties for the sake of Bush’s honor. Rational steps along an insane path. It’s what did Hubert Humphrey in. If you weren’t there, check the history.

Jim Henley slams “the American Way of Remote Control War Against Individual Enemies,” as seen in the recent attack on a convoy of trucks in western Iraq suspected of carrying Baathist officials. Says Jim:

Bomb first, swab later. It reduces the risk to American infantrymen at a known cost in lives of innocent foreigners. No surrounding the convoy and demanding surrender, no up close and personal. Hit them with a Hellfire or a helicopter autocannon. Act on “intelligence” that you lack the knowledge and experience to vet. Pick through the cinders to see how you did.

And Julian says that the popular Hipster Handbook is a put-on, which makes me feel better. I recently took the “are you a hipster” quiz in the back of the book and got a score that landed me squarely in the “poseur” camp.

Posted on Jun 27, 2003 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Truth in Labeling?

About three years ago there was a story in the Legal Times about a startup lawyer-boutique that put a dummy grenade in the envelope for its promotional mailing to potential clients. “Exploding onto the Silicon Valley Scene” or something like that. Of course half the companies that got the mailings evacuated their buildings, figuring the grenade was real.

Similar marketing genius seems to go into choosing monikers for domestic security initiatives. “Carnivore,” “Total Information Awareness,” (complete with the spooky eye-in-the-sky, knowledge-is-power logo), and now “Talon.”

According to a report in Wired, that’s the name for a Pentagon plan to create

a new database that will contain “raw, non-validated” reports of “anomalous activities” within the United States.

According to a Department of Defense memorandum, the system, known as Talon, will provide a mechanism to collect and rapidly share reports “by concerned citizens and military members regarding suspicious incidents.”

Jesus: “Talon”? Who thinks of these things? Why not just call it “Jackboot” or “Iron Fist” or “Thumbscrew” or something?

Here, it’s hard to tell whether this is merely a way for DoD to keep tabs on people casing military bases, or a sub rosa attempt to institute Operation TIPS. Unfortunately, all too often with these initiatives, the grenade is real.

Posted on Jun 25, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

“The Attribution of WMD Events”

One of the biggest “deterrence doesn’t work anymore” arguments has been that we’ll never know who hit us if a chem/bio/nuke event happens. If a rogue regime hands off WMD to terrorists, then, it may well escape retribution.

There isn’t a shred of evidence that anyone in Iraq ever seriously contemplated that sort of handoff, but put that aside. Since WMD proliferation is inevitable, it’s conceivable that somewhere down the line somebody might think they could get away with such a stunt. What can we do about it?

This article from the Journal of Homeland Security argues for improving the technology and techniques available for “the Attribution of WMD Events.” If we could improve our ability to figure out who hit us after the fact, that would further enhance our deterrent capability against states contemplating WMD transfer to terrorists (not that I think a lot of states are likely to try it anyway). It would also take the number one argument for preemptive war off the table. Here, at last, is an idea that the government should spend some money on.

Posted on Jun 24, 2003 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Oh Shut Up

“I thought it was important that there be a strong message in it. I loved what the first film did for young women all over the world. In the sequel, I wanted to show that you can be giggly and frivolous but still be successful and driven… The film is about female potential in the future and that’s what’s really exciting to me.”

Reese Witherspoon on “Legally Blonde 2″

Posted on Jun 24, 2003 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

On to Burma?

George Will and Robert George join Bill Buckley in the ranks of pro-Dubya conservatives who aren’t willing to accept “move along, nothing to see here” as the answer to the WMD question. In terms of the publicly stated rationale for the war, we started with “a bad man with some bad weapons,” which was never justification enough for me. We’re down to “a bad man.” That’s even further away from a good enough reason. Will puts it succinctly (well, as succinctly as George Will ever puts anything):

Some say the war was justified even if WMD are not found nor their destruction explained, because the world is “better off” without Saddam Hussein. Of course it is better off. But unless one is prepared to postulate a U.S. right, perhaps even a duty, to militarily dismantle any tyranny — on to Burma? — it is unacceptable to argue that Hussein’s mass graves and torture chambers suffice as retrospective justifications for preemptive war.

If they did, then why not “on to Burma?” After all, as Fred Hiatt notes in today’s WaPo:

If Saddam Hussein’s rule was monstrous, the regime of Burma’s junta is no less so. Ethnic cleansing, rape as an official tool of repression, heroin and HIV/AIDS as primary exports, a vast security apparatus spreading fear throughout society, slave labor — Burma’s got it all.

To George Will’s question, Hiatt would answer, “hell yes, on to Burma!” He asks, “Is it fanciful to dream of a democracy-keeping force that would liberate the people of North Korea (where at least 2 million have died of officially induced starvation) or Burma?” I think it’s a fair question to put to the Wilsonian libertarians and conservatives who accept mass graves as a post hoc justification for a war packaged in the name of national security. What, if anything, don’t you like about Hiatt’s vision of wars of liberation, ad infinitum?

Posted on Jun 23, 2003 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

More from Our Buddy Bloomberg…

… who runs New York the way Nurse Ratched ran McMurphy’s psych ward:

June 23, 2003 — MAYOR Michael “Tali-ban” Bloomberg can’t fix the economy, but he sure can ruin a party. At the reception for artist Michael Raedecker at the Andrea Rosen Gallery the other night, revelers were enjoying beers and cigarettes on the West 24th Street sidewalk when cops raided. “An unmarked car and a taxi pulls up,” says a witness. “Undercover cops jump out and everyone is moving fast in all directions.” Few escaped being ticketed for public drinking. This has become routine. “There have been hundreds of these raids on art galleries in Chelsea in the last year,” says our spy.

Posted on Jun 23, 2003 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Brains and Manpower

Last week, Iyman Faris, a Kashmiri-born American citizen, pled guilty under the material assistance to terrorists statute. Jacob Sullum’s already commented on one interesting aspect of the case: DOJ officials secured the plea in part by threatening to have him declared an enemy combatant and strip him of his citizenship. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason to doubt Faris’s guilt. Nor does there seem to be any good reason to doubt that this technique will be used in far more doubtful cases in the future.

But there’s a cheerier aspect to the Faris case as well. It provides further evidence that September 11th may have been a lucky punch. I’m no civil engineer and no security expert, but it seems to me that the plan Faris was researching on the Internet–taking down the Brooklyn Bridge by using “gas-cutters” to sever its cables, is pretty half-assed. Let’s assume you could cut the cables with commercially available tools. How long would that take? You’re not going to bring down the bridge by cutting one cable. What are the odds of them getting the job done before they’re discovered and shot?

Let’s face it, Al Qaeda has some pretty stupid characters in its ranks. How about Mohamed Odeh, the AQ operative who helped with the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Tanzania? As recounted in Peter Bergen’s Holy War, Inc., Upon his arrival in Karachi’s airport shortly after the bombing, Pakistani immigration officials took Odeh aside because his passport showed a man with a beard, but he had subsequently shaved his off so as to appear less religious. They asked Odeh, “are you a terrorist?” Instead of denying it, he stayed silent. When they pressed him about the bombing, he tried to persuade the immigration officials that it was “the right thing to do for Islam.” What a genius.

Or go back to 1993, when Mohammed Salameh, a conspirator in the first WTC attack, was captured because he went back to the Ryder truck rental agency after the bombing to demand his $400 deposit back.

Under the direction of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Al Qaeda’s “brain” and the guy who hatched the cable-cutting scheme, AQ was working to develop its own supplies of anthrax. My guess is whatever they developed would have been no more effective than Aum Shinrikyo’s homegrown sarin and anthrax in Japan in 1993.

This is not a counsel of complacency. It’s a suggestion that the nature of the terrorist threat is somewhat different than we’ve been led to expect. We should worry less about a Big Event, and more about multiple, smaller-scale strikes. Al Qaeda may not be strong enough, connected enough, and smart enough to pull off another big event like a gas attack in a subway or a bridge demolition.

But you don’t have to be particularly smart to sow terror. John Lee Mohammed and Lee Boyd Malvo were no geniuses (though the “sniper’s nest” set up in the trunk of their Chevy Caprice was pretty clever) and they paralyzed the greater Washington D.C. area for more than a month.

You don’t have to be that smart–but you need the manpower. Multiply Mohammed and Malvo severalfold. Al Qaeda sets teams loose all up and down the East Coast in edge cities outside major metropolitan areas. Low-tech, low-training, and extremely effective. Dozens of innocent dead, several months of red alert and we’d be revisiting Korematsu and trying out Patriot III.

As it stands now, Al Qaeda does not seem to have the manpower necessary to pull something like this off. But the biggest effect of our latest adventure in Iraq may be to boost their recruitment drive. Splendid little war.

Posted on Jun 22, 2003 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Torturing Telemarketers

When you get a call from a telemarketer, say: “Can you hang on for a second?” Then go do something else for 20 minutes. Try it, it’s really quite liberating. Pass it on.

Posted on Jun 21, 2003 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Welcome to the Occupation

The Baathist rebels seem to be taking a page from the IRA’s playbook circa 1970. Hit and run, sniper fire, sneak attacks on enemy soldiers. Keep the troops nervous, and heighten their distrust of the local population. Send them out into that population on weapons sweeps. Turn once-friendly locals into dedicated enemies of the occupying force. Terrorism/Guerrilla Warfare 101.

Peter Taylor’s book Behind the Mask: The IRA and Sinn Fein describes the short honeymoon beginning August 1969, when British troops were greeted by the Catholic population as gallant protectors. He quotes one soldier:

I felt like a knight in shining armor. It was marvelous. “Cheers!” “Nice to see you!” “Hello soldier!” Kids were following you everywhere… Six o clock in the morning and you’d have full breakfast. They’d be out there with trays.

Sectarian violence and IRA attacks on British troops soon put an end to this, however. By Easter 1970, after a vicious firefight, the Falls Road neighborhood of Belfast was under curfew and:

Street by street and house by house, the army combed the area for guns, in some cases literally taking houses apart. No doubt for many soldiers, it was their first real opportunity to go in and sort out the IRA, who they knew were in there because the troops had just been engaged in a major gun battle.

Said one soldier interviewed by Taylor:

“I think the major effect was that it gave the community in the Lower Falls the opportunity to see the IRA, who were I think, just about beginning to flex their muscles, as their saviors and they saw the British Army as the enemy, a foreign occupying force.”

The result was summed up by Gerry Adams. “Thousands of people who had never been republicans now gave their active support to the IRA.”

And it would get worse. From early 1971 until Bloody Sunday January 30, 1972, IRA snipers had killed 24 British soldiers. By that time, British paratroopers were understandably paranoid, and increasingly contemptuous of the Catholic population. The result was 13 dead civilians and untold new recruits for the IRA (Still, I bet Derry was safer than Washington D.C.!)

Does any of this sound familiar?

Posted on Jun 20, 2003 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Who’ll Stop the Rain?

OK, I wasn’t going to complain about the ongoing monsoon season. I like the rain, and I figure it’s just putting off the period in which I sweat through my shirt in the five minute walk from the bus stop. But Jesus Christ, this is ridiculous. I feel like I’m in an endless film noir. It makes me want to smoke a lot, wear a trenchcoat, and do my own gruff voiceover.

OK, wait: now that I look at it that way, I like it again.

Posted on Jun 19, 2003 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Castro Gets Punk’d

Kids today, they just don’t have any respect for ruthless amoral dictators any more…

Posted on Jun 19, 2003 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Pretty in Pinko

Caught a bit of a John Hughes/Molly Ringwald trip down memory lane the other night when Pretty in Pink was on cable. It used to be my pet theory that John Hughes got stuffed in a locker once too often by popular kids (or perhaps had his buttcheeks duct-taped together a la Anthony Michael Hall’s nerd buddy in the Breakfast Club).

But it’s more than that. He had an ideology. Marxian at that. The class struggle features prominently in almost every Hughes film (at least the teen angst films. I didn’t notice an ideological subtext in National Lampoon’s Vacation series). The preppies: so smarmy, so snotty: “Eeew, you couldn’t paaahsibly date her, Blaine. She’s trash.” And the po’ kids, so painfully concscious of their supposed inadequacies.

Case in point: Molly Ringwald, out on a date with posh Andrew McCarthy refuses to let him drive her home, finally blurting: “I don’t want you to see where I live!!” Where does she live? A double-wide with cars on blocks and a forest of lawn ornaments in the front yard? No, a perfectly respectable ranch house kept up neatly by concerned single father Harry Dean Stanton who’s not even a drunk or anything.

Now, I was a little younger than the kids in JH flicks when they came out–but I went to public high school in the 80s. With rich kids. I wasn’t poor. I wasn’t rich. I hung out with rich kids and with what passed for poor kids in a wealthy town on the Jersey shore. Nobody cared at all in picking friends whether you lived in a Godfather-style mansion-compound or a modest four-room shack. It was as integrated, income-wise, as the street gangs in Death Wish are racially integrated. But watch P in P, Some Kind of Wonderful, or other, non-Hughes early-Brat-Pack vehicles made at that time, like the Outsiders (“greasers” vs. the “socs”) and you’d think it was all Montagues and Capulets between the classes. I don’t get it. It wasn’t like that, and it’s irksome enough to make flicks of the period difficult to watch.

Plus, that frumpy dress. Ugh. Who puts a redhead in pink, anyway? She looks like walking diaper rash.

Posted on Jun 18, 2003 in Uncategorized | 14 Comments