Getting Ready For The Fourth
Sunday, June 30, 2002

Believe it or not, the Fourth of July is actually my second favorite holiday, right after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is all family and great food, Independence Day is fireworks, grilled meat and beer.

What's not to like?

A slightly deeper element in each of these occasions is gratitude. Gratitude - or, in my internal language, "knowing what you want, and being smart enough to recognize it" - is something worth making an effort for. It actually improves your life. I would not be diminished if I failed to mark the birthday of god's first kid or the nation's first president, or if I neglect to consider the Easter Bunny or the yearly Jack-o-lantern in it's proper light. But if I managed to go a whole year without getting fat and happy and thinking about how fucking lucky I am, and how happy I am to mark another year in the prosperity to which I have, incredibly, become accustomed, well, I'd be an idiot.

Especially if I took it all for granted and let it slip away.

This year's celebration will be somewhat complicated by the fact that we may be getting shot at before it is over. I'd propose that we make it a point of national pride to rise to this challenge rather than shrink from it.

We are going to have to live with this sort of risk for a long time. We can cover up and lose a little every day, bleed ourselves dry over time with worry and with fear; we can get all childlike and stupid and pretend that nothing bad will ever happen, and get really surprised and hurt when it does; or we can be brave and united and face down danger with indignation and with pride.

Use the Fourth as an opportunity to advertise to your friends and your neighbors that you are one of the folks who can be counted on over the coming years. You're not going to hide under the bed, and you'll be damned if a bunch of ignorant savages are going to screw up a good barbecue, or take the fun out of blowing some shit up in the backyard with some contraband fireworks.

You're going to be the sort of American Citizen that doesn't worry about every goddamn little thing, because you know you can deal with what happens. You get a flat tire, you can fix it. Your neighbor gets tangled up in his mower, you patch him up and run him to the hospital. And if somebody is trying to build an ANFO bomb in a Ryder truck, they'd better hope they don't let you catch a glimpse of it because you're just itching for the chance to personally blow their cover and fuck up their whole day.

We'll use the day to show everyone that we have made our choice and we are sticking with it, unbowed, unintimidated, and unafraid. We don't need to ask permission to be free, we take our freedom, thank you very much, and we manage it, and defend it, ourselves.

You know. Independence Day. A chance to celebrate what we have, and to demonstrate that we intend to keep it.

The Pledge, Take II
Thursday, June 27, 2002

1. Do you support a pledge, with or without the word "god" in it?
2. Is the word "God" in the pledge an unreasonable violation of the separation of church and state?

Let me answer that second question first. Eugene Volokh has a nice legal analysis here which includes the following:

America has a long tradition, as he points out, of "ceremonial Deism" -- the use of general and relatively nondenominational references to God (though of course all references to God do prefer some religious beliefs over others) to solemnize various occasions or sentiments. We see it in the Declaration of Independence, in the Star-Spangled Banner, in various other patriotic songs, in nearly all the preambles to state Constitutions, and in other contexts.

These sorts of references, Judge Fernandez argues -- and Justice O'Connor, an important swing vote in these cases, has generally agreed with this -- should not be seen as unconstitutional, because they are such a firm part of American constitutional traditions.

...and I agree. Getting twitchy about "God Bless America" or "In God We Trust" is, in my opinion, a symptom of the same oversensitivity that makes it impossible to call your baseball team "The Indians". Does it bother me? Sure, but it's way down on there on the list.

However, the "under god" part of the pledge does come quite close to crossing the line. Unlike the other examples, it is something that we make kids say, every day, in public school. Consider the following three hypotheticals:

1) We change it to "under no god" and assure all the religious people that their kids can chose to not say that part. They'd hit the fucking roof, and rightly so.

2) Take it out. Does this diminish from the good, patriotic part of the pledge? Is it less true to the original?

3) Imagine it was not part of the current tradition, and somebody wanted to add it. We'd tell him to take a hike, without even a second thought.

Personally, I'd be happy to see the "god" reference go, but it's not a big deal.

1. Do you support a pledge, with or without the word "god" in it?

Nope. I hate it.

I don't hate it because I'm unpatriotic, I hate it because I am patriotic, and I think it's exactly the wrong way to introduce children to the American traditions of liberty and government. I realize that many people don't see it that way; it's a symbol, and people read different meanings into it. That doesn't mean we disagree about freedom being good, or about the importance of teaching kids the right stuff.

But obviously, symbols matter. It's unfortunate we have to be having this discussion while we are in the middle of a war, but I'm sure that this case didn't make it to the Federal appeals court in nine short months; it was probably filed long ago, well before 9/11. On second thought, maybe it is best that we are having this discussion now. Lots of people are now thinking about freedom, and patriotism, for the first time in many years.

My bottom line? It'll get overturned, and I don't really care, but if it didn't I'd be happy. What's important to me is this: Ask a random adult what the Tenth amendment says, and if one in five can answer you, you're doing well. Ask about the Ninth, and if one adult in ten gets it right you're quite lucky indeed. I honestly believe this represents a real threat to the future of our freedom.

Ask any adult to recite the pledge and most can do it. It seems to me that we are missing a real opportunity here.

Oh, and one other thing: here's my take on the "creator" reference in the Declaration. It's pretty good, if I do say so myself...

This Is So Lunatic... I Love It
Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Fox News is reporting that a federal judge (in San Francisco, I believe) has just declared that the public-school tradition of reciting the Pledge Of Allegiance each morning is an unconstitutional state endorsement of religion and is no longer allowed.

About. Fucking. Time.

I have no details yet, but I suspect the ruling is, from a legal standpoint, a poor one. It will probably be overturned like most of the startling rulings spawned by these left-coast judges, who seem to see themselves as self-appointed legislators. The "under god" part, which I presume is central to this case, has been optional since at least the time that I was in school.

That doesn't mean the pledge doesn't suck.

I got into a serious go-round with a teacher about this in high school. By some unforeseen accident, I had actually learned enough about America, her constitution, and our democratic traditions to see that the pledge had a stink about it; it was a loyalty oath, a cold war hold-over that belonged in deep storage somewhere, next to the black lists and Hoover's dress. You want me to take a moment each morning to celebrate freedom, and the proper relationship between a good American citizen and his government? You got it. I will sit quietly and respectfully, but I will refuse to repeat this pledge.

The teacher who got so freaked out about this was married to the man who eventually became Ithaca's first Socialist mayor. (That's not a pejorative - he really ran as the Socialist party candidate). I suppose a lot of my angry, rebellious, and independent nature - you know, the pro-American, pro-Freedom stuff - was just one more unintended consequence of putting a old, bitter socialist woman in a position of power in a government school.

Why not recite an amendment from the Bill Of Rights each morning? You know, start with the First, and then the Second, all the way down to the Tenth, and let the little government appointees who run the asylum fend off the questions that get asked as this stuff starts to soak in to the kid's heads? That'd be much more amusing, and no judge could disagree.

Update: I wasn't kidding about the "socialist" part. Read all about the The Strange Origin of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Update: Discussion of this topic is fast and furious; most of the people who disagree with me claim that saying "under god" imposes no burden on atheists.

I wonder how they would feel if their children were in a classroom where the students recited it as "under no god". Would they still see no burden there?

Update: Before you get too excited about all the Republicans having a fit about this, cast a quick eye at the Democrats, too: Fox News reports that the U. S. Senate has condemned the Ninth Circuit Court's ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance by a 99-0 margin. The whole lot of them were on the Capitol steps, saying the pledge and emphasizing the 'under god' part. Hillary was doing her best to look inconspicuous, but she was there, too, as was Kennedy, and Schumer, and the rest of those gutless losers.

I also heard Gore's old running mate talking about it, saying how our faith in god is what keeps us together as a country, and how if the courts don't overturn this, the legislature will. Maybe somebody ought to remind him that he can't overturn it unless he changes the constitution first. (Constitution, schmonstitution - we're talking god and country here)!

Nine Months Later
Tuesday, June 25, 2002


Looks a lot different now

(The original image was too big for my browser to display properly - a medium sized version is here).

(Via FR)

I'm standing in line at Wegmans today. All I want to do is to give the nice lady four bucks or so in exchange for a fresh turkey sandwich and be on my way. The sandwich in question is in my left hand. A five dollar bill is in my right. The obese, elderly woman in front of me is holding up the entire fucking line while she struggles with her checkbook, scrawling her life story with her fat fingers on a couple of little slips of paper.

Her elbows are on the counter, her fat ass blocking the aisle and precluding any hope of escape. The pages in her check register flutter as she forgets the check number and has to page back to see it again. She inquirers about the date, then double-checks the amount for the third time; once as a number, once in script, and once in the register itself.

Her clothes are from K-mart. You can feel the stifling closeness of her little trailer out in a paved lot somewhere, chained dogs barking in the background, a grimy plastic gnome in the yard, the number "12:00" flickering unnoticed on her VCR like a songbird in a forgotten cage.

Years pass. Eventually, uncertainly, the little slip of paper changes hands, and as the checkout girl patiently continues the scrawling process in a vain but hopeful attempt to actually validate this budding transaction, it occurs to me:

It's the Twenty-First Fucking Century, people. Let's start acting like it.

There is just no excuse for writing a check in a modern supermarket anymore. None. Just fucking get over it, and get with the program. If you can't pay with cash, use your credit card, or your debit card, or your ATM card, or your check-cashing card, and just swipe the fucking thing in the little swiper there and move along.

I realize not everybody has credit, but, clearly, you do have a checking account. That means you have a card. I realize that you might like to keep a record of the money you spent today, other than the nicely-printed receipt containing exactly the information that you need, which the nice lady will hand to you moments later. Fine. DO YOUR FUCKING HOUSEKEEPING AT HOME. If you enjoy writing numbers in columns and adding them up, go wild. Just do it on your own time.

Let's look at the bottom line, shall we?

If you swipe your card:
1) The supermarkets stop getting ripped off with bad checks,
2) the transaction goes quickly, smoothly, and easily,
3) you get a nice printed receipt,
4) and you get out of my fucking way in a reasonable goddamn amount of time.

If you insist on breaking out the ol' quill pen and writing your own currency by hand:
1) The supermarket is not going to trust you, and they are going to insist on seeing your ID and writing all sorts of numbers down and shit,
2) everything takes longer and it's a much bigger pain in the ass,
3) everybody in line behind you gets to watch while you fumble with the 'debits' column and add the numbers up wrong because you're in a hurry, so then your next goddamn check bounces and it costs you an extra fifty bucks.

And here's another little piece of advice: the girl at the checkout there can make change 50 times faster than you. She's a professional, and she has a professional-grade cash drawer right there, ready to go. Don't even THINK about opening your little change purse and making me wait while you fish out exactly seventy-two cents from the lint and the breath mints you carry around all day, like you're doing us all a favor by making it 'easy' for the checkout girl. Just hand over an extra buck, throw the change in a jar when you get home and let the rest of us get on with our lives, for chrissake.

There is a reason why the FBI was prohibited from conducting "domestic surveillance" and sharing information with the CIA. Memories are short, so here's a little reminder as to why this was important:

According to thousands of pages of FBI records obtained by The Chronicle after a 17-year legal fight, the FBI unlawfully schemed with the head of the CIA to harass students, faculty and members of the Board of Regents, and mounted a concerted campaign to destroy the career of UC President Clark Kerr, which included sending the White House derogatory allegations about him that the bureau knew were false.

[...] According to the documents, Hoover became outraged over an essay question on UC's 1959 English aptitude test for high school applicants that asked: "What are the dangers to a democracy of a national police organization, like the FBI, which operates secretly and is unresponsive to public criticism?"

In response, Hoover ordered his aides to launch a covert public relations campaign to embarrass the university and pressure it to retract what he called a "viciously misleading" question.

The director also ordered his agents to search bureau files for derogatory information on UC's 6,000 faculty members and top administrators.

The resulting 60-page report said 72 faculty members, students and employees were listed in the bureau's "Security Index," a secret nationwide list of people whom the FBI considered potentially dangerous to national security who would be detained without warrant during a crisis.

[...] The FBI's 1960 report on UC also alleged that faculty members had engaged in misconduct such as "illicit love affairs, homosexuality, sexual perversion, excessive drinking or other instances of conduct reflecting mental instability."

The FBI records show that after the Free Speech Movement staged the nation's first large campus sit-ins of the era, CIA Director John McCone met with Hoover at FBI headquarters in January 1965 and planned to leak FBI reports to conservative regent Edwin Pauley, who could then "use his influence to curtail, harass and at times eliminate" liberal faculty members.

By 1971, this evolved to the point where the President used Federal agents to bug the offices of the opposition party, steal private medical records from doctor's offices and attack rival newsmen with LSD to discredit them. Thankfully, he was forced to resign in disgrace.

I have long advocated that a 24 hour armed guard be established over Nixon's grave, just be be certain that he is really dead.

You can't have it both ways; this sort of thing is inevitable once you build a large, secret police force, accountable only to the people who run it. I don't think you can find an any example in human history were such an organization wasn't misused for personal or political gain.

The alternative, of course, is that our Federal police are hamstrung and inefficient, and that we pay a real price for their inefficiency when our enemies exploit it.

This is the price of freedom, right here.

The Great Inevitable
Saturday, June 8, 2002

I've been keeping a close eye on the media as discussion of the proposed Department Of Homeland Security develops. There has been plenty of criticism, some quite valid and helpful. There has been some handwringing (such as my own) and some outright hostility to the idea, but what I find remarkable - inevitable, perhaps, but remarkable nonetheless - is that there has been no principled opposition* to the basic idea by anyone in a position of real authority or influence.

People will argue the details of the plan - (should we focus on intelligence gathering, or information analysis? Should we allow profiling? Which department should handle which tasks?) - and some people have flatly rejected the entire approach, but without actually offering any alternative. What I have not seen, and what, frankly, I believe I will never see, is anyone in a real position of authority or influence who will offer an alternative to the underlying idea that a huge, invasive growth of government power is required now.

It's easy to see why.

Everyone with any sense knows we will be hit again, and probably hit hard. Who among us would stand up and say "we should not consolidate our government like this, and we should not embark upon a program of domestic spying, and we should accept the consequences of our restraint" when we know that the inevitable will occur? How would you answer the critics who would charge - perhaps correctly! - that the government powers you opposed may have prevented the attack?

We have been challenged, as a people, and we have answered very clearly. We want security, or at least a good-faith promise of security, and we will give up a great deal to get it.

Despite my tremendous misgivings I support the President's proposal. Anything we do, anything large, at least, is going to be a god-awful, expensive, liberty-consuming mess, but we simply don't have a realistic alternative.

This is what the people want, and they are entitled to it.

If I had my way we wouldn't do it. If we had my way we'd have armed pilots and flight attendants, and you could keep your goddamn nailclippers when you got on board. If I had my way, we would not hesitate to profile visitors from hostile countries, we would exploit the inherent strengths of our decentralized, distributed law enforcement system instead of falling back on a bureaucratic, centralized approach. We would hold the management of the INS and the FBI and the Border Patrol accountable for the performance of their organizations, we would support them with the best information technology available, and we would actually fire them if they failed to do their jobs. We would solve our problem from the ground up, using free-market forces and competition, our superior technology, our ability to self-organize and innovate, and the inherent adaptability of a decentralized, cooperative structure to learn to defeat our enemies in place. We would fight tyranny with freedom, and we would accept our inevitable losses as the price of our freedom.

But it's not going to happen.

I don't get my way, because there are 280 million of us, and we all get to decide together. That's not something I'd ever wish to change, and that's the way it's going to be regardless of what I think anyway.

So if we are going to do it, let's do it, and let's not fuck around. Make this thing work, and when the danger has finally past, let's hope we remember to dismantle it when we are done. Let's get good value, for the costs.

And let's remember this - when the time came, nobody offered an alternative. There are no heroes or villains here.

*Update: I suppose I should clarify what I mean by "principled opposition". A principled opponent will not blindly obstruct if he can't get his way. A principled opponent couples each criticism with a practical and realistic option, and he accepts the criticism of his options he offers.

I offered an idea above which I believe is practical, but it is not realistic and I know it. I couldn't ask my representative to vote for my idea instead of the President's, because I know that if he did, he'd get his ass handed to him so quickly in the next election that he probably wouldn't make it through the primaries.

I could obstruct, and oppose the President's plan anyway, but we are at war now and we should pull together. Pulling together does not mean we don't criticize, but it does mean that we settle our differences, make a decision and accept it, so that we can move decisively against our common enemy. Obstruction now is worse then useless.

The minute I have a principled point to make, I'll raise it. Until then, count me in.

There has been a lot of talk about how to readjust our law enforcement capability - particularly Federal capabilities, like those of the FBI - to react to the new reality of terrorism in the United States. Yesterday, President Bush outlined a proposed, large-scale change which will create an enormous new federal agency to handle this problem. The President's proposals are quite popular with both political parties and will probably be quickly approved.

I have little to say about the details, but the big picture is troubling. What troubles me most is that I simply don't know what to hope for now. I can't even imagine the right answer to this question.

There is no doubt that we need to adopt a stronger security profile in this country. We are facing a very real, immediate, and long-term threat, which we are clearly ill-equipped to counter. The consequences of our failure to adapt, quickly, to this threat may well be measured in many thousands of American lives.

We are on the verge of the largest, and least reversible, expansion of federal police power in my lifetime. We are building a mechanism for domestic spying which may dwarf J Edgar Hoover's most ambitious and terrible dreams.

There is a legitimate trade-off between security and civil liberties; they have always existed in a dynamic balance, and it is correct to weigh the benefits of a proposed expansion of government power against the cost. When the threat is clear, present, and severe, it is legitimate to take unusual steps to address it.

It is almost always a mistake to trade liberty for security; if history is any guide, the threats come and go but the liberties are forever lost. The eternal vigilance necessary to preserve freedom includes, most of all, a vigilance against the impulses acts of the majority of our own people. Popular rights do not need protections. It is when the majority turns against a liberty, that the fight to preserve that liberty becomes essential.

Information and organization are essential now. While our military is employed in an offensive capacity to destroy the threat, our Homeland forces are required to detect and prevent upcoming attacks. This is a fundamental change from traditional police investigation, which is reactive, and designed to pick up the pieces after a crime has occurred. Prevention requires surveillance, and excellent, centralized handling of information processing and authority.

Once the government invents billions of dollars to hire tens of thousands of people to spy, in secret, on our citizens, we might as well hang up a "Game Over" sign on the front door and emigrate to France. This agency will long outlive the terrorist threat, it will grow in power and in size and we will look back upon this day and ask why we were so afraid, why we were so cowardly to sacrifice so much, so quickly.

We simply can't protect ourselves without organizing the many dispersed federal agencies - everybody from the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard, to the INS, the FBI and CIA, and allow them to share information and work together under a unified command. The old rules, which did protect us from exactly this sort of consolidation of power, will cripple our ability to respond.

There is a word for a place where the police are free to do their jobs without unnecessary constraints which hamstring their efforts; it's called a "Police State". Would we have been happy if we had built something like this during the Gangster era of the 20s or the Red Scare of the 50s, leaving President Nixon with this agency at his disposal in 1968?

If we fail to get our act together and we allow another, massive attack to slip through, it might very well make 9/11 look like a day at the beach. We really are facing that risk, right now. We really have to deal with it. When I think about what can be done to our cities with an LNG tanker or a truckload of pesticides it makes my stomach hurt.

Our strength is our freedom; Terrorists, like Nazis and the Imperial Japanese, like the Mob and the Drug Runners and the Communists, can be defeated by a free people. We can do it without identity cards and an army of federal spies, without secret indictments and gigantic databases. The time to set the limits is now. This might grow to be the largest single agency in the Federal government. When I think about what this can become, it makes my stomach hurt.

Update: Here's the official version of the President's proposal, and here's the speech describing it, which is a much quicker read.

More importantly, here's a link to an important point which I should have repeated: it's easy to be critical of something like this, but it's hard to offer up a plan of your own, and to face the criticisim of others. No fair saying "don't do it" unless you can say "do this instead". Taking potshots from a position of safety - especially if that safety was won by the very people you are attacking - is the cheapest trick in the book.

Update: Another thoughtful post, which offers some useful perspective to both sides of the argument. [Note: The permalink seems to be broken, scroll down to "LIBERTY VS. SECURITY"]

I ran across a report today that really troubled me. There is something about this story that brings up those little hairs on the back of my neck.

A dive shop in Florida reports that five, Middle-Eastern-looking men purchased some sophisticated diving gear from a local shop. Details are scant, but this was some form of rebreather gear, the kind that does not leave a trail of bubbles as you swim. This sort of equipment is very specialized, and quite dangerous to use without significant training. It is typically sold to photographers (bubbles scare the fish) and to commercial divers who work in enclosed spaces. The shop owner became suspicious when the men turned down his offer for instruction in how to use the equipment, which is unusual.

One method of destroying a large vessel is to magnetically attach a small packet of explosives to the hull, under the water. The water pressure acts as a tamp, holding the pressure of the explosion against the target and increasing its effectiveness. Terrorists have already used this technique to destroy naval ships with considerable success elsewhere in the world.

This story becomes even more interesting in the context of this report, which describes how the Coast Guard is now enforcing a permanent ban on allowing any private vessel to come within 100 yards of a Navy ship. This was how the USS Cole was attacked; Al Queda suicide bombers came alongside her in a small boat packed with explosives.

My bet is that Navy ships already have pretty good defenses against divers carrying explosives. I'd also expect that cruse ships and natural gas tankers do not. This is scary stuff, especially when you consider that if these men really are a threat, they already have the gear and they are ready to go, right now.

You heard it here first.

Update: It occurs to me that I owe an apology to the people who have been putting out those vague, annoying, and allegedly self-serving terrorist alerts that I have been so quick to criticize. Their recent warning - be on the lookout of terrorist frogmen - was custom-made for ridicule.

Well, maybe it was pretty damn good idea, after all. Some guy somewhere sold some gear, thought about the warning, and made a call. Little things like that can mean the difference between a good catch and a disaster.

We live in a different world now. It's going to take a while before we learn how to adapt to it, to learn what's going to work and what's not. I'm more than happy to learn, too, and that means changing my mind sometimes.

Cool-ass Link Of The Day

Intrepid Russians explore the ancient sewers and tunnels under Moscow, finding... well, finding exactly the sorts of cool stuff you'd hope they'd find.

(Via IM)

You Do The Math

Because, you know, I did it, and sometimes I sort of screw it up...

Anyway... we had an asteroid of meaningful size pass about 75k miles from us a few weeks ago, and another one came even closer in '94. Let's assume we'll see a rock like this come within 80k miles of earth every eight years or so. How long until we get hit?

Let's also remember that "meaningful size" means "explodes with a force greater than a big pile of atom bombs".

The earth is about 8k miles across, so we have a bullseye of radius 4k, within a target of radius 80k. That means that the bullseye is 1/400th the size of the total target, which means we have a 1 in 400 chance of getting clobbered by a rock, every eight years.

That's also 1 in 200 every 16 years, or about 1 in 50 per lifetime.

Seems rather high, doesn't it?

If You Thought Saddam Was Bad

Wait 'till you meet his kids.

Normally, I wouldn't believe stuff like this, it's just so horrible and over the top. But I've heard bits and pieces of similar stories from credible sources for a long time now.

I think most of it is probably true.

(Via YOB)

Homefeeding Children: Threat or Menace?

Amusing commentary on home schooling, and its critics.

Another Great Speech

Bush gave his big speech on the Middle East today, and he got it exactly right. You can read it for yourself here.

This guy starts backing up the talk with some action, and we might actually dig ourselves out of that hole in our lifetimes.


VP offers an excellent brief summary.

USSC offers an excellent, in-depth analysis, followed up here and here.

The Palestinian response? Anybody want to bet they can't go 48 hours without blowing up some more women and children?

Of Course, My Wife Won't Wear This


She'd look pretty goddamn good in it, though.

Just In Case You Were Wondering things might be different now if Al Gore had become president, here's his running mate, Joe Lieberman, offering a tantalizing glimpse:

Lieberman proposed substantial U.S. economic aid to Palestinians and said he would allow more into America as part of an effort to improve ties and separate young Palestinians from the culture of suicide bombing.

That's just perfect, isn't it? Let's invite lots and lots of young, disaffected Palestinian teenagers - you know, the ones who are 'at risk' - to come by for sort of an international fresh-air visit. After all, we know that real security comes from making friends; we all learned that in Kindergarten.

Coming up next: Details of the historic, 1940s era "Lieberman Plan" to invite Japanese airmen to fly a goodwill mission over the White House in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.

(Via FR)

If You Remember Lord Of The Rings

Read this and see if you can resist refering to the bad guys as 'Orcs' for the rest of the afternoon.

(Via IP)

I Don't Know If He's Right

I don't even know if he's got his facts straight. He sounds like he knows what he's talking about, and he certainly writes well, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

What I can tell you is, he's written something pretty interesting:

The first thing to understand is that Osama bin Laden is neither crazy nor stupid. He is a very intelligent, educated, visionary man who is operating from deep within the Islamic worldview. He's trying to do on a global scale what the Ayatollah Khomeini did in Iran in 1979; he's bucking for the job of Caliph of Islam...

Despite my initial skepticism, I have to admit I hear a ring of truth in this. If you buy this line of thought, the implications get interesting in a hurry.

Cool Science Thingie

Zoom in from a galaxy to a proton.

(Via HG)

OK, Make That Three Things To Worry About

I almost didn't report this, but I just saw this man on Fox News. Older guy, unpretentious, seems credible to my eyes...

Hamdan, 54, said he's a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Lebanon and speaks Arabic. Hamdan said he was trying to call his wife on his cell phone Saturday when he heard Arabic voices.

"They said in Arabic, not even a word of English, 'We are in the city of corruption, the city of prostitution, the city of gambling, the city of unbelievers,'" Hamdan told The Associated Press late Thursday. '"We are going to hit them on the day of freedom.'"

Hamdan said the call lasted about 90 seconds before the line went dead. He said he believes the men were talking about July Fourth. "I was frozen, absolutely cold," Hamdan said. "I was sweating. I couldn't believe what I heard."

And this next report is, as usual, unsubstantiated and unconfirmed, but worth keeping in mind; there have been two such attacks overseas in recent months.

The FBI is advising law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for terrorists who may be plotting to use fuel tankers in attacks against Jewish neighborhoods and synagogues [...]

[...] the warning was not based on a specific threat, but on interviews with captured al-Qaida and Taliban fighters who indicated such a plot had been discussed. The interviews with detainees did not reveal a target city or time, this official said.

One More Thing To Worry About

From the New York Post:

Fire and police brass are on alert for a new and especially insidious threat - terrorists bearing bombs in replica cop cars, ambulances or firetrucks.

Fears of such a tactic were fueled this month when two unidentified Middle Eastern men tried to purchase a replica ambulance from a company in north Jersey, law-enforcement sources told The Post.

The two men tried to pay in cash, then fled when company employees began grilling them on their motives, the sources said. [...]

There are a couple of interesting morals to this story:

1) This is a very real threat. The bad guys often use secondary devices designed to destroy the people who respond to the scene of the primary incident. An ambulance or a fire truck can carry a huge payload and can be driven unhindered to the heart of the target area.

2) The guys behind the counter were paying attention, and they might very well have prevented a disaster. As corny as it sounds, all of us have a duty now to pay attention, and to follow through if we become suspicious.

3) "Paying attention" invariably includes racial profiling. Get used to it.

(Via FR)

This Is A Shooting War

Last month, reports of a discarded missile tube near an American air base in Saudi Arabia led to some speculation that a terrorist might have taken a shot at an US military jet. However, since nobody saw a missile launch, the report was widely ignored.

ABC News is now reporting it was the real deal:

A month ago, U.S. security first stumbled upon what was left of a portable anti-aircraft missile after it had apparently been fired at the main U.S. operating hub in Saudi Arabia, the Prince Sultan Air Base. The missile tube was found just outside the fence line.

Sources told ABCNEWS the terrorist who fired the weapon has been captured, is in custody in Sudan and is talking.

Be On The Lookout

You can run...

Bret Michael Edmunds, 27, wanted for questioning in the abduction of Elizabeth Smart.

6' 2" 235 lbs. Thought to be living in Green Saturn sedan, Utah plate 266XJH. Outstanding warrants, including assault on police officer.

Dangerous, do not approach - call 800-932-0190 or 801-799-3000 with information.

Update: Got him.

Why They Hate Us

'Why We Fight America': Al-Qa'ida Spokesman Explains September 11 and Declares Intentions to Kill 4 Million Americans with Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Read it yourself. Here's a hint:

...the entire earth must be subject to the religion of Allah - not to the East, not to the West - to no ideology and to no path except for the path of Allah...

Obviously, we brought these attacks upon ourselves...

(Via FR)

800 Pound Elephant Award

New York-born, Chicago-raised, American citizen Jose Padilla - aka Abdullah al Mujahir - has been described as a former Chicago gang member, who underwent a jailhouse conversion to Islam before traveling to Pakistan, joining Al Queda, and returning to the US with the intent of detonating a radiologic bomb in an American city.

How long before someone in the press has the balls to ask the obvious question? "What is this guy's ethnicity? Is he Hispanic, or Black, or what?"

It's not like this dosen't matter, for chrissake...

Update: Photo from MSNBC

Not so smug now, are you, you fuck?

I Learned Something Important Today

Do not pick an argument with Jane Galt unless you really know what the hell you are talking about.

Her opponent hit the floor so hard it make my cage rattle.


How many Native Americans lived on the continent before Columbus arrived? Was it a very few million, or was early America as heavily populated as Europe?

A fascinating Atlantic Magazine article offers some intriguing possibilities.

(Via EL)

Red Flag V1.0

Here's a handy little program for tracking your partner's menstrual cycles; it puts a colored flag in your system tray, changing it from green, to yellow, to red as the danger level increases.

Dive Shop Update

Alert reader Tony Shepps writes:

According to CNN about an hour ago, the FBI is alerting dive shops.

And in Florida...

and in San Diego, at least, they are actually checking customer records.

You Make The Call

OK, folks, place your bets...

This rather astonishing quote appeared in our local paper (mirrored here in case anything happens to the original):

In an April interview with The Ithaca Journal at his family's Cayuga Heights home, Guckenheimer, 22, shared his experiences during Operation Anaconda. He was sent on March 6 in a company of more than 100 soldiers to participate in the largest U.S.-led ground engagement in Eastern Afghanistan.

"We were told there were no friendly forces," said Guckenheimer, an assistant gunner with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum. "If there was anybody there, they were the enemy. We were told specifically that if there were women and children to kill them."

So, what do you think? Is this direct evidence of a war crime and a court-martial offense, or just bullshit?

I vote "bullshit" personally, and others agree. Place your vote now (use the "comments" button below) and we'll see how this one falls out.

The Most Amazing Thing Ever

If this doesn't become the breakthrough amazing story of the early twenty-first century, I'll eat my hat:

Boston-area researchers created miniature cow kidneys and heart tissue from cloned cow embryos, then implanted them in the original animals without complication, according to a new study that scientists said demonstrates the enormous medical potential of cloning.

"The study is proof of principle that therapeutic cloning can be used to create tissues without any threat of rejection," [...] They created a clone, harvested the versatile stem cells while the clone was still an embryo, grew the cells into tissue, and implanted the tissue into the patient.

So what's the really amazing part? Some chowderheads are against it.

Still, the science involved remains mired in controversy. The US Senate plans to vote this month on a bill that would criminalize all human cloning, including therapeutic cloning where the cloned embryo only grows for days before its destruction.

Although I am ferociously pro-choice, I do understand and even sympathize with the pro-life folks; if I considered a fetus to be a child, I'd oppose killing it, too. But something like this - such a sweeping and obviously humane breakthrough for those who would ease suffering, and bring health and vibrancy to the ill - to oppose this on the grounds of protecting the sanctity of human life is madness. It is what happens when the consistency of your argument overrides the good sense of your heart.

Fortunately, the governments of the world do not have a stranglehold on science. We will live to see this technology mature no matter what the Democratic Senate, or the Republican President, has to say about it.

(Via IP)