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Friday, October 19, 2001

Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday that Americans should expect more attacks by terrorists [...] Justice, Cheney added, "will be delivered methodically, unsparingly and in full." However, he predicted, "we have to assume there will be more attacks. ... And, for the first time in our history, we will probably suffer more casualties here at home in America than will our troops overseas."

You know, when I first read the headline on that article, I thought, "So he's saying there will be more attacks. We already knew THAT." But I have to admit, that last sentence above ... I'd never actually thought of it that way before. That if terrorist activity becomes that sort of constant background noise that Israel lives with, more civilians will be killed than soldiers. (Actually, assuming that things go more or less they way they have, we've already suffered more civilian casualties than we'll have among soldiers during this whole thing. We lost more civilians in one attack than we have soldiers since Vietnam.)

Granted that the administration wants people to resume something like normal activity ... that's just one of those deer-in-the-headlight moments, isn't it? Can't you just imagine all those people, paying $800 a plate, suddenly being frozen into shock because they'd never thought about it that way before?

@ 12:04 PM CST [Link]

Thursday, October 18, 2001

Emmys 2001-III: This Time It's For Real!! ... (they hope.)

Seriously, why don't they just announce the winners, and then ship them lovely little pre-engraved trophies? (Well, actually, I've seen and held an Emmy up close and personal. "Little" is not the word to describe them. But I digress.) It's clear that nobody in the business is in the mood for the awards. Yes, it would lead to a one-year major income crunch for ATAS, but it's just one year; they could manage. (Barely. OK, missing $15 million from a $45 million budget would be a major pain. But still ...)

@ 03:24 PM CST [Link]

The use of the armed RQ-1 Predators is a revolutionary step in the conduct of warfare.

So ... using a somewhat more sophisticated version of a buzz bomb is "revolutionary"?

As far as I can tell, the only really revolutionary aspect is that they're being operated by the CIA, which is just a bit peculiar. (And must have the Air Force and Navy's knickers completely in a knot.)

@ 02:03 PM CST [Link]

The Constitution? What's that? People who use computers don't need no stinkin' Constitution!

Seriously, using a computer is all it would take. With this proposal, the government could go to the FISA Court -- the powers requested would probably simply be added to its charges, since it already exists -- and say, "We think we ought to be able to tap this person's communications and search his things without telling him because we think he's a hacker." They wouldn't really have to offer proof -- the FISA court has rejected exactly one request in all the years it's existed -- and you'd never have a chance to defend yourself against the charges because, of course, you wouldn't know about them until it was far too late.

@ 11:31 AM CST [Link]

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

... a letter sent to a Planned Parenthood office in Martin County tested positive for anthrax in an initial screening.

Now you know, THAT one I'd expect to have some sort of purely domestic link. I can't imagine that the people targeting the media would have the least concern about a Planned Parenthood office.

That said ... even considering the Microsoft Nevada mail as a pure target of opportunity -- Microsoft sent the initial mail, a check, and the infecting agents sent that very letter back -- whoever is doing this has shown a decided East Coast bias (not that we want them to expand their focus, oh no no no) and a focus on what might be called the pillars of the American establishment: media, government, business. Planned Parenthood is ... out of scale for their targets. The other targets make a kind of sense; Planned Parenthood makes you scratch your head and think, "Wait ... that's just not right." It's always possible, of course, that they could have picked something to demonstrate that nobody, big or small, is beyond the reach of ... whoever they are, but it just "feels" wrong, especially with the leter from "Army of God."

It may well be that all of the anthrax attacks are from the same domestic source, although I rather doubt it. For one thing, most domestic terror groups would be reluctant to piggyback on someone else's attacks this way, especially so in that most of our domestic terror groups are from the racist far right wing. They would NEVER want to be associated with someone like bin Laden and friends. For another ... getting hold of weapons-grade anthrax to send to Congress is more difficult than getting hold of anthrax generally.

And now AMI is declining to go back to their office space in Boca Raton: An American Media spokeswoman said the company would sell its Boca Raton facility and would not reopen in that building because many employees are concerned about returning to work there. . (Who the hell would BUY the thing?) That's going to be a major financial hit, replacing EVERYTHING. (Although the company that publishes the Inquirer, the Globe, the Weekly World News, and the Sun can certainly afford it -- the profit margins on those papers are monstrous large.)

And of course Congress doesn't have the choice of selling their building. (Although they could meet at the Greenbriar bunker in West Virginia while the ventilation system is purged and cleaned and every piece of paper in the building is ironed or gamma-irradiated. (I dare say that gamma irradiators will be installed in the Congressional mailrooms and White House almost immediately, if not sooner.) The Greenbriar ventilation system is even designed to handle bioattacks of this sort. Really, can't you just see it? Busing Congress to and fro, their staffs stuck in DC during the day because the Greenbriar isn't THAT big ...

@ 01:45 PM CST [Link]

Well, surely this can't be the least bit surprising. The businesses involved are aware now, in a way that they never were, of the attractiveness and effect of having a consolidated financial district as a target. Add in the fact that lower Manhattan will be disrupted for up to two years by clean-up, and for up to a decade following by reconstruction of some sort, and you've got a situation tailor made for businesses to decide to leave Manhattan. Add to that the lower costs of office space elsewhere, and the fact that any facilities they move into will be at least somewhat long-term, and you've got a net business loss for New York that's likely to be permanent. (Frankly, I don't quite understand why Morgan Stanley would have their two major facilities within one square block of each other in the first place; that doesn't make any sense whatsoever.) Living in the area promises to be a nightmare for years to come, as well.

What I wonder is if this is going to have a similar effect in other large cities. The Sears Tower is already reporting difficulties with tenants in the upper floors. (Some of the businesses are buying parachutes for their employees. Just in case. Urgh.) And it would make sense for businesses in the central cities of Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, and other places to decide that perhaps a bit more physical dispersal and paper and data redundancy would be an ideal to strive for.

@ 01:23 PM CST [Link]

Were All Hijackers in on Suicide Pact?: ... nearly five weeks later, FBI investigators and their European counterparts are considering another scenario: that many of the hijackers did not know they were going to die. Some evidence, combined with knowledge of how Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network has operated in the past, has led some investigators to suggest that as many as 13 members of the four terrorist teams may have believed they were part of a traditional hijacking operation aimed at landing and issuing demands.

It's a pity there will never be conclusive evidence of this, one way or the other. Or that it couldn't be gathered from some demonstrably neutral source; after all, coming from the US, it can be dismissed as propaganda.

But it would damage the recruitment effort if it could be proved that people were going to be lied to in order to get them to die the glorious martyr's death. Not that many of them wouldn't choose such a death in any event; it's the deception that would cause the damage.

@ 11:52 AM CST [Link]

Ashcroft seeks to limit info requests: Ashcroft said the Bush administration is committed to complying with FoIA so that Americans “can be assured neither fraud nor government waste is concealed.”

Oh, yeah. I believe that an administration that has been relatively hostile to the press since its start is VERY committed to complying with disclosure laws. And I believe that an attorney general that supports detaining people indefinitely using secret evidence that neither they nor their attorneys NOR the judge ever gets to see ... I truly believe that such an attorney general is committed to providing people with information. Don't you?

Why, yes, the moon IS made of green cheese. Why do you ask?

@ 11:45 AM CST [Link]

You know, I have to admit, I've wondered what exactly all the ordnance IS supposed to accomplish. Aside from toppling the Taliban, which would be a good thing in and of itself if there were something to replace them with that wasn't at least equally as bad. (There IS a reason that the Afghans initially supported the Taliban, after all; the Northern Alliance are spectacularly vile people. And the enthusiasm for the loya jurga headed by the former Shah of Afghanistan is notably lacking.)

That said, it does look like there is no good solution.

We can't submit our grievance to the World Court; we refuse to recognize its jurisdiction.

We couldn't just do nothing; that would only encourage more and worse attacks.

However ... bombing Afghanistan seems like an almost perfect example of a lose-lose situation; it's a situation with no good outcome. (And bombing Afghanistan and then dropping flyers that say, "We're not really bombing you! We don't hate Afghans!" is just idiocy. I'm sorry; someone drops a bomb or 6000 on my city, I'm likely to take it as a sign that you're not real happy with me, you know? It will not predispose me to thinking that you're nice people.)

@ 11:26 AM CST [Link]

So, apparently, the presence of the US troops in Saudi Arabia dates back to the 1940s and is at least partly due to bin Laden's own family. My goodness, that Irony, she do carry some big anvils, don't she?

@ 10:46 AM CST [Link]

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

You know ... it's not the fact that the guys got drunk and stole 700 pounds of explosives that bothers me, quite. After all, people do terribly stupid things when they get drunk.

It's the fact that they stole, with apparent impunity, 700 pounds of explosives from an ATF storehouse in THIS day and age that boggles the mind. I mean, wouldn't you think that the FBI, of which Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms is a subset, would think, "Hey, Beavis. We suspect that terrorists are wandering around the country in big trucks waiting for their chance to make something big go boom. Maybe we ought to put a guard on our explosives caches, or at least put tracers or something in them so we can find them if someone takes them. Whaddya say?"

@ 03:35 PM CST [Link]

To be sure: this is absolutely and entirely a cynical, self-interested move. It's also the right thing to do. Who knows; maybe by the end of 2002 or a few months into 2003, we could have the whole thing paid off! After all, Jesse Helms -- who has singlehandedly opposed and blocked UN payments for years -- will be gone, Strom Thurmond will be gone, the Senate and House may be more inclined to view the UN in a favorable light. (In other words, if all goes somewhat well, Congress will be thinking, "Will nobody take Afghanistan off our hands?")

@ 03:14 PM CST [Link]

Yes ... yes, that would be one DAMN expensive lunch, wouldn't it?

@ 02:38 PM CST [Link]

Oh, for the love of ... can we PLEASE get a grip? Please?

@ 01:32 PM CST [Link]

Gays and lesbians are more affluent and more likely to vote than heterosexual Americans, according to a new online poll.

OK, let's just stop right there, shall we? In that one sentence, we learn almost everything that could possibly be wrong with that poll.

1) It's an online poll. Automatically, this biases the results upward; you need a computer -- or access to one -- and a connection to the net. Additionally, as an online poll, it gets almost purely those people motivated to answer the questions; they sought it out somehow. It's not any type of random sample. (And as a sample of a relatively small, self identified group, there's no way it could be completely random, true.)

2) It's a poll that asks about sexuality. You will only get people answering such things when they're comfortable doing so. It just happens that relative comfort with such things is likely to follow income lines; the more secure you are financially, the more secure you are in answering obnoxious personal questions generally.

3) Many people only have access to the net through work. Which may chart where they visit. Which means that many people who might otherwise have answered and helped give a truer picture would never go near this, because they don't want the work to know what they do.

4) A later section of the survey results notes "a high percentage of gays and lesbians were employed in computer or technical related fields." OK, say it with me, folks: it's an online poll. You think that maybe -- just maybe -- the method of taking the survey might bias the results in that section toward more technical fields? Ya think? You're not comfortable working online, working with computers, you maybe don't ever see the poll, hear about it, know about it ...?

It's really a textbook case of demonstrable survey bias. GSociety, the group for which Syracuse University composed and performed the study, "is a leading media and entertainment company in the $340 billion global gay and lesbian marketplace. GSociety offers advertisers online and offline marketing opportunities to reach more than 2.2 million members of the gay and lesbian community per month," offering "concept bundling", whatever that is, to advertisers. They also state that they are part of an alliance "destined to make an historic impact on gay/lesbian consumer research". Um. Yeah. Right. In any event, given that type of presentation, they have every reason in the world to present gay consumers as more affluent, more motivated, more everything than heterosexuals.

It is ... if not quite a lie -- after all, the people who respond are, we assume, what they say they are -- it is certainly an extraordinarily selective presentation.

Any road, a more detailed breakout of the survey results may be found at the glcensus.org website.

Or try a more detailed and realistic overview.

@ 01:24 PM CST [Link]

Monday, October 15, 2001

University of New Mexico history professor Paul Hutton says the United States can win a war against Afghanistan, a country whose rugged terrain and hard-bitten people have thwarted the military ambitions of the British and Soviet empires. "We can succeed where the British and the Soviets have failed because we have no interest in staying," said Hutton, who teaches military history at UNM. [...] "I have been struck by how close this is to our use of Filipinos against Filipinos during the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1901)," he said. "I have even been struck by the similarities to the American Indian Wars."

THAT'S winning?

You know ... this strikes me as an awfully selective reading of history. If you look at what the Soviets did in other countries, they weren't typically interested in staying, as such, either. Once they had a regime installed to their liking, they generally departed as well. (After all, if East Germany had actually been occupied at the time, the Berlin Wall would never have fallen.) If they'd ever been able to leave Afghanistan without humiliating defeat, they certainly would have; they never could get a regime installed that was both stable and able to defend itself -- and that model somehow seems to bear more immediate relevance to the situation.

And if the model for this war is going to be the Philippine Insurrection ... well, heaven help us. It was long (compared to the war that lumbered us with the Philippines, that is) and it was staggeringly gruesome and enjoyed very little support among the American public.

The Indian Wars lasted for what, 125 years or so? And were made considerably easier at the outset by diseases to which the Native Americans had little resistance. (Though "easier" isn't to say "easy"; there were just fewer of them around later on.) And somehow, I don't see us forcibly relocating every person in Afghanistan to reservations, do you?

@ 05:52 PM CST [Link]

You know, I'd love to see the email and letters the Salt Lake Tribune gets after running this column. Strikes me that there will be a whole lotta pissed-off Mormons running around.

Though it does bring up the question of why Mr Kirby goes to church with "narrow-minded, self-righteous, fat-headed [bigots]", and why he goes at all if he can't take it at all seriously. (I like the argument about "sin elitism", though.)

@ 01:34 PM CST [Link]

Michel is also gay. Stories like Tareq’s and Samira’s are why he also believes he can only live his life outside Lebanon. Last year, he found a job in California and for the first time, he lives his life without the constant fear of being found out and the constant worry that his family’s reputation would be destroyed. Michel has decided to try to stay in America. Unwilling to enter into a Green Card marriage, he has opted for a bolder strategy to secure residency. Earlier this year, he began an application for asylum on the grounds that as a gay man, he cannot live freely in his home country

Poor guy. Just a masterpiece of bad timing, isn't it? What chance is there that, in the current climate, the US will extend asylum to any Arab? (Afghan women are about the only group for whom I'd think an exception might be made, and most of them have absolutely no way to get here to make the application in the first place.)

@ 01:00 PM CST [Link]

Daschle's office received letter with anthrax.

Well, of course. I mean, given everything else, why on earth would the people sending out the disease skip Congress? They're hitting media targets (although the selection of American Media is just peculiar), they're hitting large commercial outfits, why on earth wouldn't they go after Congress?

That said ... well, I suppose there are enough large commercial targets that warning people what to do makes sense. (Although you wonder why the FBI Advisory (PDF file) didn't add, "Don't open any letters postmarked Trenton NJ if you don't know who the sender is." I mean, given what they do know -- all known anthrax letters have originated from Trenton or Malaysia -- that would seem a remarkably basic precaution.)

@ 12:52 PM CST [Link]

What the hell are they DOING? NOW? Does India really not care how fragile the Pakistan state is at the moment? Do they really want a radical Islamic state on their border in Pakistan? Do they think that having a radical Islamist state on the border of a radical Islamist region will be helpful to them? What? (Of course, this assumes that India really did shell Pakistan. It's rather ... odd that Pakistan's response to this translates more or less to "Huh? The hell?")

@ 12:40 PM CST [Link]

The nearly absolute secrecy surrounding the detentions is a growing concern to civil libertarians and legal observers who fear basic rights are being violated as authorities pursue the terrorist conspiracy responsible for the attacks in New York and Washington. [...] It is unknown whether the detainees are considered conspirators in the worst act of terrorism in U.S. history, valuable witnesses or merely people who might have information because they crossed paths with the terrorists responsible for the deaths of nearly 5,000 people Sept. 11. A senior federal law enforcement official involved in the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the detention of material witnesses and others is "pushing the envelope" of civil liberties. The source said some people are being detained based on circumstantial evidence and held for a week or longer without legal representation or permission to contact family members. "Some of these people have done nothing more than give someone a ride in their car," the official said. [...] At least 165 of the 698 people detained have been held for violations of immigration law. Their detentions can be virtually indefinite if deportation proceedings are begun. [...] During his [three-weeks of detention], Al-Salmi was denied contact with family and had a few, brief visits from his attorney, Randall B. Hamud. Despite being told early on that he was not a suspect, Al-Salmi said he was confined to a dirty, high-security cell in New York, where he was deprived of a shower and toothbrush for the duration. [...] Hamud said that his clients repeatedly asked to contact him during their time in federal custody but that the requests were denied.

Let's see: deprivation of proper diet, deprivation of any hygiene (how on earth do the guards stand it?), refusal to allow contact with family or lawyers. And civil libertarians only "fear basic rights are being violated". What, they need MORE evidence?

Not only is it crystal clear that these people have no rights at the moment -- after all, if you can't exercise a right, then you don't really have it, do you -- it's clear that nobody in the government cares in the least. Information out to the public is limited, and at the moment, most of the public wouldn't care. Many in this country would be perfectly happy to have all Arab-looking people locked up for the duration, no matter that they were perfectly innocent of anything criminal.

Unfortunately, it's likely to continue like this for some time. The antiterrorism bills, once they're reconciled and passed, will ease some of the abuses ... but only some of them. After all, the government can simply start deportation proceedings under the still-in-force Secret Evidence portions of the old antiterrorism laws. It will then take the person in jail years to wind his way through the bureaucracy to get his case heard by a court; that's been the experience of all held under those laws to date. Mind, they've all won their court cases, when it gets that far, but because they have to sue for the right to judicial review in the first place, it tends to take quite a while.

And, of course, because the government is doing this under color of law, the person arrested has no right to sue for recovery even if he is released. Al-Salmi lost his home, his possessions, his job, his education. Since the government can do what it will, and he's now a terrorized (the word is used advisedly) foreign national, he has no right to recover any of that. Since he can't catch up on his education, through no fault of his own, he'll almost certainly lose his student visa (which he would almost certainly have had removed anyway) and because he was arrested, INS won't let him back in the country. (And if you think INS doesn't keep records of major arrests, regardless of charges and convictions or lack of same, and doesn't use them to make decisions, then you're an utter fool.)

"I was completely racially profiled because of my last name," Hassan told the panel. "I don't know what my rights are. Do I have the right to say, `I'm not a criminal, so I shouldn't be treated like this'?"

Nope. Sorry. You don't. And never did, to be sure. As many of us know from experience, saying something like that while the police are interrogating you or searching you or doing whatever they're doing is pretty much a sure way to an actual arrest and possibly worse.

Welcome to our brave new world. Ain't it fun?

@ 11:07 AM CST [Link]

The End of Snail Mail?

Oh, for heaven's sake. Can we please get a grip? The only way that any such thing could have a chance at working is if computers, internet access and email were all viewed as essential commodities, in much the way that the telephone is. Somehow, I can't imagine that happening any time soon. (If nothing else, internet services providers have been fighting tooth and nail to prevent access from becoming any sort of required commodity; that allows them to charge what the traffic will bear.) Eventually, we'll figure out what on earth is going on in Trenton, of all places, and things will probably settle down a bit.

@ 10:49 AM CST [Link]



the last ten ...

12/19/2001: vive la france

12/19/2001: princess, redux

12/19/2001: yemen and rumsfeld

12/18/2001: you're NOT in the army now

12/18/2001: interesting donation

12/18/2001: shame on winn dixie, indeed

12/18/2001: saudi princess

12/17/2001: new resolve

12/17/2001: a victim of the attack ... yeah, right

12/17/2001: polluters ho!


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