RantList Archive

Sunday, December 30, 2001

Lessons Learned

The salvation of Flight 63 is the legacy of Flight 93.

We'd already known that many innocent lives were saved--and the White House or U.S. Capitol spared--when Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick and their fellow passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 thwarted Osama Bin Laden's hijackers. But we now know that they probably also helped save those aboard American Airlines Flight 63 on Saturday, when a man trying to set off a bomb in his shoe was quickly overpowered over the Atlantic by flight attendants and passengers, French and American, who instantly understood what they had to do.

Nearly one year ago, in his inaugural address, President Bush spoke of an America "bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens." Civility itself, he went on to say, "is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos." How true those words ring today, and how well they describe the initiative taken by the men and women aboard both United Flight 93 in September and American Flight 63 this past weekend.

As heartened as we are by the new expression of old virtues, we're inclined to agree with Rudy Giuliani, who dismisses talk about a changed world. "We're not in a different world," he told Time magazine. "It's the same world as before, except now we understand it better."

On Sept. 11--armed with hot water, a butter knife and an understanding that they were the only thing between the hijackers and their monstrous goal--the passengers of Flight 93 taught us that a free people rely on themselves. The response on Flight 63 this past weekend tells us that we have learned the lesson well.


In this first picture, about eight passengers used belts and earphone wires to tie up Mr. Reid.

The plane was diverted to Boston, and in the two hours of flight remaining, passengers including Kwame James, a professional basketball player, took turns standing guard over Mr. Reid. Mr. James later said he was amazed at how difficult it was to restrain Mr. Reid. "He was almost possessed," Mr. James said.

Monday, December 24, 2001

Another Watershed Moment

As most of you no doubt know, disaster was narrowly averted on Saturday when a man tried, and failed, to detonate a bomb an an American Airlines 767 flying from Paris to Miami. According to the FBI, the would-be bomber carried two 'functional' bombs, one in each shoe, which were designed to be detonated by lighting a fuse with a match. Fortunately, the flight crew noticed his efforts and nearby passengers were all too ready to assist in stopping him. Had he succeeded, the craft would have likely disappeared forever into the depths of the Atlantic ocean.

To my surprise, it seems that most of the media has overlooked what I consider to be the vitally important lesson that we should have quickly learned from this. Perhaps this is because the idea of a guy lighting his sneakers on fire sounds sort of funny, or because we assume that his use of a match instead of a lighter suggests he was just some harmless idiot rather than a real terrorist. Let me lay it out for you and see what you think...

Arms and armor have been locked a well-known cycle of measure and countermeasure since the days when the first pointed stick was raised in anger. Every time somebody dreams up a new weapon or a new means of attack, somebody else dreams up a new way to prevent it. Bad guys are carrying guns into your planes? Make them walk through a metal detector. They put bombs in the luggage? Make sure that no luggage flies without the owner on board. They seize the plane with boxcutters? Search everyone for anything with a point on it. Most people just assume that these cycles can go on forever, and assume that there is always a solution to each new problem that develops.

Well, sometimes there isn't. Sometimes, you hit a limit, and until many years pass and the technology really changes, there is just no practical way to trump that last hand. Like it or not, folks, we hit the limit on Saturday. The bad guys can drop any plane they want to now, and we cannot prevent them from doing it.

Two recent advances have made this possible:

1) The availability of suicide bombers.
2) The availability of tiny, cheap, non-metallic bombs. (That's why he used a match, folks. No batteries, no wires, no metal).

The bomb we saw on Saturday was 99% there; replace the matchstick ignition with a more reliable chemical device and you've got it. The result would be about the size of your thumb and can be molded into almost any shape; you can hide this thing in your shoes, in your laptop, or, to be quite blunt and deadly serious, even hide it up your ass. Unless we are willing to board naked and submit to cavity searches, we simply cannot stop someone from doing this.

How about bomb-sniffing dogs or machinery? It might help, someday, but neither of these systems will scale using existing technology. We have something like 20 thousand domestic flights per day in this country, and many hundreds of planes coming in from airports overseas. With current methods, we would expect to spend several hours screening people for each flight, with frequent false-positives that could only be resolved though an even more time-consuming strip search. Possible? Sure. Practical, and economically feasible? Not a chance. Currently, we don't even sniff luggage on most domestic flights, and we don't match most of it to passengers, either. It's just too expensive and too time consuming to do it.

This latest incident marked a critical step. For the first time in aviation history, the bad guys have surpassed our countermeasures for the foreseeable future. I would not be surprised if we lose another half-dozen aircraft to these types of assaults in the coming year.


So what are we going to do about it? I'd suggest two courses of action:

1) Be aggressive as hell about the offensive war we are waging, and cripple these people before they can implement their plans.

2) Grow up and get serious about airport security. Getting serious means taking a hard look at what has been proven to work in other countries, and ditching the feel-good nonsense we are doing now. The Israelis have a lot to teach us, and Lesson One is 'racial profiling'. Arab-looking people are a threat, because one weakness that our enemies share is an inability to recruit white people as suicide bombers. Bomb-sniffing everybody is not practical, but you can bomb-sniff young, Arab-looking men who can't prove they were born here. If you feel bad about it, offer them a discount afterwards.

Stop the bullshit with the nailclippers, the plastic knives, and the National Guard guys walking around with empty M16s in the terminals. Match every piece of luggage to a non-Arab passenger and sniff the rest with a dog or a machine. And, like it or not, face the fact that flight crews are expected to handle violent situations in the air. We go to great pains to disarm everyone, but we still require them to fight effectively in case anything unusual happens. Air crew, like cops, should be armed with suitable weapons, so they can do the job we already expect them to do.

Friday, December 21, 2001

Huge Bomb Possibly Intercepted En Route To London

A SUSPECTED plot by Moslem fanatics to destroy the heart of London was smashed yesterday in a high-seas raid on a cargo ship.

More than 20 tonnes of plastic explosives - enough to blow up Parliament - are feared hidden aboard the MV Nisha.

The search of its 26,000-tonne cargo of raw sugar could take days.

The ship was seized 30 miles off the English coast after a tip-off from MI6 agents in the Middle East.

A Special Branch source in London said: "This is not a speculative operation.

"We have information that the ship was loaded in the Yemen with a large consignment of explosives, which were to be carried to England for a devastating attack in London.

"We believe UK-based Islamic militants were planning to transfer the explosives to a large lorry or another smaller boat, for a suicide attack on Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament or similar high-profile target."

Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network has a long history of working in lawless Yemen. It is believed British agents saw the explosives going aboard the ship.


The Nisha set sail from Mauritius on November 20, stopping off at Durban in South Africa.

But there is a two-month "hole" in its recent history of voyages.

The ship left the African port of Djibouti on September 21 and there are no records of its movements until its arrival in Mauritius on November 20.

It would have had plenty of time to sail along the coast from Djibouti to Yemen, to be loaded with the plastic explosives and other bomb-making equipment.

A spokesman for Lloyds List, the organisation which monitors shipping movements, confirmed: "There is a big gap between Djibouti and Mauritius."


The Nisha was headed for the world's largest sugar refinery, the sprawling Tate and Lyle plant at Silvertown, east London.

It was due to arrive at 4am today, carrying a cargo from the Mauritius Sugar Syndicate.


This is a developing story and it may still turn out to be nothing, but Jesus Christ... it does bring to mind a couple of questions:

1) How big a mess do you suppose you could make of London with a 40,000 pounds of plastic explosive? That's just an astonishing amount, something like a hundred times the explosive power of the Oklahoma City bomb.

2) Just how big do your balls have to be to be a Royal Marine, and board this giant floating bomb in the middle of the ocean when you know the crew might set it off rather than face capture?

3) Note that the planning and preparation for this terrorist mission almost certainly began well before the ship 'disappeared' on September 21, and well before the Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. London has been on the target list since the beginning. So much for all those smug European cocksuckers telling us how we brought these attacks upon ourselves...

4) I wonder what Robert Fisk has to say?

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

"American Taliban" Walker will not be charged with treason


[...] Walker is to be charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization. The maximum penalty for a conviction on that charge is 10 years in prison.

Walker has reportedly admitted that he was not only a member of the Taliban, but Al-Queda as well, and that he received terrorist training in Bin Laden's camps. He certainly shouldn't walk.

On the other hand, he is, to be blunt, an incredibly insignificant part of the Big Picture, and I agree that it would not be wise to spend political capital in order to serve him with a harsher punishment. This is probably a good compromise, as we have much bigger fish to fry.

Of course, it would be nice if a guy like this could be hanged without there being a lot of political opposition in the first place. Remember, he volunteered to join the one of the most repressive, horrible governments on earth, and to serve it as a gun-toting soldier so as better to force its ugly doctrine on innocent people. It's not like he was some local citizen just trying to be patriotic, or some company clerk somewhere shuffling papers. He was a foreigner who joined so he could personally hammer the unbelievers with the butt of his AK rifle... and that's before he accepted Al-Queda's invitation. What exactly did he think he'd be doing for those folks after they taught him to make truck bombs?

And its not like his defenders are really in it to make a point about civil liberties - the government has every right under the constitution to strip him of his citizenship at this point, or to try him under military law, or even to hand him back to the Northern Alliance. No, his defenders see him as some harmless, misguided kid. In short, his defenders are being pukes about it, and are refusing to see him for what he really is.

So what is he? He's everything that good liberals despise most - a gun toting, racist, sexist, violent, religious fundamentalist prick, and yet virtually all of his supporters are liberal. "Nitpicking raised to the level of an ideology"? I can't find a better explanation. It's like watching them defend a skinheaded neo-nazi, it's just inexplicable.

The good news? He'll probably be beaten to death in prison. Even our felons have some sense of decency.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

I hate it when that happens

You might remember a rant from a couple of months back, in which I asked if anybody who opposed the war in Afghanistan had any bright ideas about what we should do, as opposed to what we shouldn't do. The main point I was trying to push was that it is easy to criticize but hard to be constructive, and that criticism that is not followed by something constructive is just blather. A secondary point, one that I hope was well taken, was that most of the antiwar sentiment of the time was in the 'blather' category; heartfelt, perhaps, but ultimately unrealistic, comprised more of wishful thinking than anything else.

It took me like 500 words to try to describe this. Now I stumble upon an 18 word quote that expresses the whole point better than I did:

"Today, the Left doesn't even offer an alternative - just endless nit-picking raised to the level of an ideology."

(Robert Harris, http://www.portal.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2001/12/18/do1802.xml&sSheet=/news/2001/12/18/ixhome.html)

My god, talk about hitting the fucking nail on the head. We launch the most precise, careful war in the history of the universe, with collateral damage minimized better than anyone had ever done it before, and we see people bitching about the handful of bombs that went astray. We excise a horrid government from a far-away country leaving food, medicine, hope, and self-determination in our wake and we have to listen to lectures about how we delayed somebody's aid shipments. We crush a hostile army that presented a huge, immediate danger from London to New York to Sidney to Rome and we listen to people speculate that it was really just about an oil pipeline all along, or how the new Afghan government won't quite be up to Western standards, or how it's all just an excuse to roll back civil liberties.

Nit-picking is too kind a word.

Even Chelsea Clinton has had a bellyful of it, and is talking about leaving Oxford for a place where she feels more welcome. Here's a favorite link to a story in The Nation, which not only illustrates Chelsea's predicament but follows it with exactly the sort of whining I've described. It's priceless:


Think of it - when the shit handed out by the left gets thick enough to sicken a Clinton, you know something is seriously wrong.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Mike Goes Deer Hunting

It's really been much harder than it's had to be.

I've decided that, this year, I'm killing a deer, goddamnit, and I'm going to eat it, too. I've approached this problem with a vigor that surprised me, considering how much of it typically occurs before the sun rises. Even the wife was surprised.

"I've never seen you so intent on going hunting before."

"I've never been unemployed during deer season before."

Eager not to repeat my dismal performance in '97, when I emptied an entire magazine of 6 rounds at a bouncing four-point without so much as mussing his hair, I took to the field with my beloved 590 - the most businesslike of my various weapons, the one I reach for when something absolutely, positively needs a really big hole in it, right now. Needless to say, I did not see even the hint of a buck during the entire course of the season.

Does, however, I saw in abundance. Wandering around like college girls at the mall, eating, chatting, taking little deer-naps when the sun got warm, secure in their knowledge that I did not bother to apply for a doe tag before September tenth, back when I was still working and the presence of meat in the freezer was sort of a given. They were really starting to piss me off.

But now it's my turn. The regular season ended this evening at sunset, and tomorrow's bright dawn opens upon the start of blackpowder season, where the affirmative action program is over and deer of either gender are treated as equals under the law. So long as you are willing to use a gun that was growing obsolete back when Lincoln was elected, you can stay afield for one more week. And I just happen to have one, too.

I also have some enormous 50 caliber bullets to go with it - 348 grains (huge!) of copper-plated lead, with a high-tech plastic jacket around the base to capture every ounce of energy from the burning powder. Firing my light percussion gun with these things feels a lot like getting punched in the head, but the season is running out and I am not taking any chances. If I manage to shoot one, it's goddamn well going to stay shot.

So, in accordance with The Way Things Must Be Done, my rifle is freshly cleaned, very lightly oiled and stuffed to the gills with powder and lead, ready to go. My plan is simple. Most mornings a whole herd of the hoofed rats will wander through my front yard, driving the dogs crazy and taking turns looking in our windows until they grow bored and wander off. At 6am I'll be there, half dressed, coffee cup in hand, rifle in my lap, watching FOX news and waiting for the money shot out the upstairs window.

My friend Dan has already laid claim to the liver, heart, and the "thymus gland", whatever the hell that is. I assured him that all the vaguely ovaloid shapes I could pull out of the gutpile would be set aside for him. He also wanted the brains, too, but I reminded him that I have a rule about not sticking knives into things that weigh half as much as I do until I'm really sure that they are all the way dead. The brains are just not going to be a factor.

The rest will be made into steaks, roasts, speedies, burgers, jerky and sausage, and I promised our kitten she could have the tail to play with. I have big plans for this animal.

Wish me luck.



Original Content Copyright 2001 Mike Spenis