Monday, 25 Jul 2005
I'm one of those people who likes to be careful.
Careful doesn't mean timid or fearful. Good firefighters are careful. It doesn't mean risk aversion or fogeyness or paranoia, either, but it can seem that way sometimes, especially to your wife.
Ask her, and she'll tell you that she married a guy who doesn't like to leave the house without a first aid kit, a forty-five and an emergency backup parachute. I respond by objecting to the part about the parachute and reminding her to please put on her goddamn seatbelt. We've had this conversation for years.
"I just don't like surprises, that's all".
Sometime around my 20th birthday I figured out that a good, consistently applied level of watchfulness opened the doors to a lot of interesting things. Scuba diving, rock climbing, caving, all sorts of fun stuff; anybody can do them and live to tell the tale, so long as they are willing to pay attention, all the time. Is that knot right? What's your depth now? Do all three flashlights work? This sort of thing drives some people nuts, but it was effortless for me.
Looking back, I find that never regret having been too watchful, and I seldom regret even those important things which I somehow failed to see. It always seems that whenever a memory makes me wince, makes me wish I could do that one part over again, it's invariably because something that I noticed, but which I choose to ignore.
In his excellent book The Gift Of Fear, Gavin De Becker reminds us of our incredible ability to notice the things that matter:
...to successfully navigate through morning traffic, we make amazingly accurate high-stakes predictions about the behavior of literally thousands of people. We unconsciously read tiny untaught signals: the slight tilt of a stranger's head or the momentary sustained glance of a person a hundred feet away tells us it is safe to pass in front of his two-ton monster. We expect all the drivers to act just as we would, but we still alertly detect those few who might not - so that we are also predicting their behavior, unpredictable though we may call it. So here we are, traveling along faster than anyone before the 1900s ever traveled (unless they were falling off a cliff) dodging giant, high-momentum steel missiles, judging the intent of their operators with fantastic accuracy...
It's surprising, but true; you almost always notice the things that are going to hurt you, and usually in plenty of time to avoid them, too. Sadly, we do not always deal with what we have noticed. That's the rub.
Some people are just wired up a little too tight and notice everything; unable to filter the trivial from the vital, they are forced to ignore it all. Others notice what they should, but they somehow talk themselves out of it before they can act. In any case, if you let the important things slip by, it's not long before one of them turns around and bites you on the ass.
Those ass-scars are how you learn. Me, I've had enough learning to derive a personal motto, a three-word, all-purpose directive to guide my way through life, and I would be pleased if any of you adopted it as your own:
When Warned, Act
It's been a very good guide.
Of course, any motto worth having ought to look right at home when inscribed on a dagger's hilt or along the backstrap of a .45. That means it simply must be written in Latin, and I'm pleased to say that I have finally addressed this lingering concern.
Doc Weevil has kindly tacked the problem for me (at a more than reasonable price) and has provided a pronunciation guide as well:
Plural would be 'admoniti facite'. Feminine singular would be 'admonita fac', feminine plural 'admonitae facite', but these are only if the people you are addressing are all female. Latin uses the masculine for mixed groups and unspecified persons.
So there you have it. Admonita fac, darlin', that seatbelt don't fasten itself.
Thursday, 21 Jul 2005
Details are still a bit fuzzy, but it's clear now that four would-be suicide bombers attacked three trains and a bus in London today. None of their devices worked as planned; apparently they detonated but each produced only a small blast, just large enough to tear apart the backpacks they were hidden in and to break a few windows on the bus. Only a handful people were injured.
I'll go out on a limb here and assume that is was the detonators which exploded, but that the main charges failed to go off.
I am very distressed that so many people have been quick to dismiss this as the work of amateurs or copycats. To be blunt, that's just nonsense. These guys are arguably more capable and even better organized than the 7/7 bombers just two weeks ago. And all of them are reportedly still at large.
London has recently been described as the most secure city in the Western world, and that's probably an accurate assessment. Long before 7/7, Londoners faced a ferocious IRA bomb threat which lasted for decades and killed scores of people. Like the Israelis, the people of London have adapted to these threats. There are cameras everywhere and little tolerance is shown for those who carelessly leave suspicious packages behind. Soldiers are stationed in the air and train terminals and they operate under broad anti-terror laws which make our Patriot Act look like a childish joke.
Today, just two weeks after the 7/7 bombings, train and bus security is surely at it's peak. Police pressure is very high, known or suspected terror supporters are under careful watch, and at least some of the leaders of the bomb cells have already fled overseas. Every suspect phone is tapped, every rumor reported, every informant questioned.
Yet even under these extraordinary conditions, they successfully hit the same targets, in the same way. This is a remarkable tactical achievement, and everything worked except for the bombs themselves. There was nothing amateur about it.
The most critical detail, in my opinion, is a stark, unambiguous truth about these bombers. That first group of bombers might have been fooled, but these guys surely knew they were on a suicide mission. They knew they would be walking right into the toughest security screen the British could put up, and they performed their missions perfectly.
These guys are very capable, and they are a very serious threat. Anybody who tells you differently simply does not understand what happened today.
Why did the bombs fail? It could be any number of reasons. The obvious guess is that it was a bad batch of explosives, poorly prepared or poorly stored for too long. Perhaps the detonators were weak, or the design of the containing vessel allowed the force of the detonating charge to escape. The good news is that the British police have surely recovered a treasure trove of forensic evidence now, and they might well recover one or more of the bombers before too long. If we are very lucky, they might catch all of them. If we are not lucky, then we will be facing them again.
This is a critical time, for both the British and for us. Just yesterday we learned that one of the men who may have been behind the London bombing was also involved with the establishment of a failed terror-cell right here in the states. You may recall that James Ujaama was arrested in 2002 after building a jihadist training camp in Bly, Oregon. This did not get a hell of a lot of coverage at the time, but it was serious business - Ujaama is still in prison, despite his subsequent cooperation with authorities.
It's the men like Ujamma who train and equip these bombers. There are surely more like him, both here and abroad, and our only real chance to stop them is to find them before they strike. What happens is London over the next several days is going to be critical. Innocent lives really do hang in the balance.
Tuesday, 19 Jul 2005
Suppose that you got hit by a bus today - or that a bomb on a bus hit you. How long would it take emergency workers to figure out who to call on your behalf?
It's no big deal if your name is unambiguously listed in the phone book, and if that number is the right one for the authorities to call. For the rest of use, this can be a non-trivial problem for the authorities to solve.
Now a simple initiative, conceived by a paramedic in Britain, has gained momentum on both sides of the Atlantic to try to solve this problem. Cell users are being urged to put the acronym ICE -- "in case of emergency" -- before the names of the people they want to designate as next of kin in their cell address book, creating entries such as "ICE -- Dad" or "ICE -- Alison."
At least two police forces in the United States are considering the idea, according to the initiative's British-based promoters, who say there has been a flurry of interest since the recent bombings in London.
Seems like a good idea to me. I'm adding this to my address book right now.
Taking a somewhat broader view of the problem, keeping a slip of paper in your wallet with this same information is probably an even better idea; paper can survive far more abuse than any cell phone can. (Years ago, I used to go rock climbing with a military-style metal dog tag around my neck for exactly reason. I liked to think of it as a good-luck charm).
Don't forget that criminals might get ahold of your stuff someday, so be careful about what you choose to reveal. Personally, I don't think there is any harm in just listing an emergency contact number, but your own circumstances may vary.
(Via Marginal Revolution)
Here's what the back of my driver's license now looks like:
Sunday, 17 Jul 2005
A few weeks ago, the guy who runs the anarchangel blog got a few of his friends together and they made a video of themselves blowing up Korans with various firearms. This was done in response to the Gitmo Koran-flushing story.
I didn't forward it along because I thought it was stupid. Worse, I thought it was needlessly offensive to the many good Muslims who are our crucial allies in this war.
Well, it seems that somebody got offended - the anarchangel now claims that the FBI has warned of a Fatwah against him, which they regard as a credible threat to his life (more details here, via Hell In A Handbasket).
He might be bullshitting, of course, but my gut feeling suggests he's being straight. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt until I hear otherwise.
I hate it when I have to defend people that I don't much like, but obviously, nothing would make me happier than to learn that those who made these threats had met some fitting end, either in a jail cell or on a slab. I'd be nice to just dismiss these threats as internet noise, maybe some bored 14 year old flaming anonymously from his Mother's basement, but the truth is that you can't just dismiss this sort of thing anymore.
I can't help but wonder how this might play out. Will such threats might become more common against blogs? What happens if they do? My advice is to be thoughtful about what you write, thoughtful enough that you'll always be willing to stand up for it. This is the real world, and somebody might call your bluff at any time.
Having said that, the whole Koran-shooting thing was just dumb. Since this war began, bad guys from Buffalo to California have been flipped in by good, loyal Americans who live in our Muslim communities and who can see what the bad guys are up to. Unsurprisingly, this information is essentially unavailable to law enforcement any other way; I don't think many people really appreciate how we depend upon these folks and their willingness to help. In some cases, these folks are genuine heroes, risking real retaliation from decidedly evil people as a result of their selfless action. They are our front line defense against the recruiters and the bomb makers.
They are also the last people in the world I would want to insult. I'm proud to have them as my neighbors and my countrymen.
So this is just an ugly situation all around, isn't it? The bottom line is that being an ass is not a capitol offense, so I'll stand by the anarchangel and wish him the best. Even thoughtless bloggers, like ordinary Muslims, are welcome here and we are all in this together.
Wednesday, 13 Jul 2005
This is speculation on my part, but after conversations with several people I have come to believe that the London bombers did not know they were on a suicide mission. Here's why:
1) At least three of the four bombers died with their ID cards with them, leading police directly back to their homes.
2) The bombs went off simultaneously, strongly suggesting they were set off by either timers or remote control.
3) The bombs were unusually small and light, reportedly only ten pounds. They were carried in backpacks, not vests.
4) There were no boasting videos left behind, no suicide notes.
5) From what I have seen in the press, the bombers did not seem to fit the profile of suicide bombers we've seen in Israel - people with a personal score to settle, people with obvious jihadist ambitions, or people who have shamed their families and who are looking for redemption. Furthermore, bombers are typically nervous and quiet when approaching their targets; these guys "were captured on CCTV at 8.20am walking through a subway at King's Cross. One security source said last night: 'They looked like they were going for a hike. They were chatting to each other and smiling.'"
This is not to say they were likely to be entirely innocent, either; one left his car behind, presumably with more explosives inside. However, if these guys were tricked into carrying these bombs I think it would be a fairly big deal. For one, it would suggest that the bad guys have less influence in London then we feared, and secondly, it might generate some backlash against the bomb plot leaders from fellow Muslims, and make future recruits less willing to trust their handlers.
Just a thought, but a good one, I think.
Thursday, 07 Jul 2005
This is not an attack on some of us. This is an attack on all of us.
Tuesday, 05 Jul 2005
Justice O'Connor's upcoming retirement has, as you might have noticed, reawakened some minor interest in the philosophical composition of the Supreme Court. I would hesitate to say that everyone and their dog has seen fit to post about this on the internet, had I not caught one of my own beagles trying to log into my FTP account this very morning.
You will not be surprised when I point out that the bulk of her concerns seemed to revolve around Roe.
I know how I feel about Roe, and I know how the President feels, too. I also realize that the President gets to decide how our newest Justice is likely to feel about Roe, while I, and the senate democrats, do not.
We are all, quite simply, just going to have to get over it.
Happily, there is more to this than Roe - quite a lot more, actually. The Roe part is already decided. The other things are a lot more interesting because they really might go either way.
We've had property takings, of course, and the medical pot case, and the death penalty decision, and the sodomy ruling, and the interstate wine shipment thing. Needless to say, a fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff. The next few years are likely to offer plenty more of the same.
So, forget about Roe for a minute, and look at the rest of the picture. What else is important to you? How would all these other decisions have turned out with your favorite nominee in the driver's seat?
Thanks to the splendid FindLaw web site, you can see for yourself. Click here and behold the last 141 constitutional cases, complete with easy-to-read summaries, hard-to-read details, and a full scorecard showing how each justice voted. Don't be afraid; just skim through and look for the cases that seems important to you. Take note of how close the decisions were, and who was on your side.
I did, and honestly, I was surprised. Surprised enough to change my whole opinion about what I think a good Justice really is.
I used to consider myself a minor originalist, but I was never really happy with that approach. I was quite certain that I didn't like that 'living document' crap, but I also had a nagging feeling that there was too much bad precedent hanging around, and that cleaning the place up was going to be an unavoidably activist process. Stasisim just does not feel right to me.
Lately I'd been pretty pissed off at the liberals, but of course they've had their uses, too. (Lawrence is one good example; if you can't escape the government long enough for some quick oral sex in your own bedroom, than what does the 9th amendment even mean any more?)
About an hour into the process, it hit me. In almost every case, I wanted the government to be limited in what it could do. And, in almost every case, I opposed the creation of each new civil privilege that came wrapped in the false language of civil rights: affirmative action is one fine example, school busing another, and hate speech a third.
In short, I want a libertarian Justice. The simplicity of this revelation still makes me suspicious, but it does seem to cover the whole situation very nicely.
Now, don't get me wrong... in my opinion, libertarians are utterly useless as political candidates, they can't write domestic policy for crap and their foreign policy frankly horrifies me. But as justices, they shine.
It's really not so surprising. I've argued for years that the primary duty of the Supreme Court is to uphold the restrictions imposed on our government by the constitution. Why? Because if they don't do it, nobody else will. Government has every incentive to push the limits, every day, and often for what seem like very good reasons. If those limits are going to mean anything, they simply have to be in the way a lot of the time; they have to prevent things, even things that seem like a really good idea. If they don't, then we might as well not have a constitutional republic at all.
The court is the watchdog. It's all we've got. If they screw it up and let our rights slip away in the popular tide, no one else is there to bring them back.
You don't have to be an originalist to believe this. Honestly, I don't care if the court occasionally invents a new right, just so long as it is a real right of the leave-me-alone variety, and not a backhanded privilege that imposes new duties on others. I'm happy when old precedent is sometimes challenged, because, quite frankly, some of the old precedent is crap. I realize it's not 1776 anymore, and that it wasn't 1776 anymore even in 1865. It doesn't have to be. A libertarian court will still make the right decisions.
Rights can endure even when times change, because rights are not complicated. They are simply limits imposed upon government. Libertarians understand this.