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Stardate 20011110.2118 (On Screen via long range sensors): bin Laden has made a video where he states that he and al Qaeda were behind the attacks on September 11 -- as if there were any doubt about that among those not trying to deceive themselves. He states that the point was what amounts to genocide: it wasn't a military action, it was a political one, and their ultimate goal is to kill us all. He says:

There are two types of terror, good and bad. What we are practising is good terror. We will not stop killing them and whoever supports them.

This tends to argue against pacifistic response, for obvious reasons, unless you're trying to deceive yourself. I found something else he said interesting:

The Twin Towers were legitimate targets, they were supporting US economic power. These events were great by all measurement. What was destroyed were not only the towers, but the towers of morale in that country.

This supports something I suspected: al Qaeda didn't expect the response it got from the US. It thought that the attack would make us fearful and cause us to withdraw; its goal was to weaken our morale. The actual result was precisely the opposite: to fill us with a cold rage and resolve to see this to the end. They did not expect us to attack the way we did; they expected us to pull our troops out of Saudi Arabia and to withdraw support for Israel. The attack in September was not viewed by them as the opening salvo in World War III, it was viewed by them as being the entire war, and they expected victory because of it.

That is supported by something else. If indeed it was intended to be the opening salvo in a war, why have there been no further attacks? But if they actually expected that one attack to cow us and make us withdraw, giving them the political result they seek, then it makes more sense that they had no other attacks planned and ready to go. (discuss)

Update: This in turn adds credence to the idea that they don't have nuclear weapons. If they thought that a single blow would be enough to win, then it's clear that they wanted to make that blow as major as they could make it, which is why they tried to hijack at least four jets. If they had a nuclear device, they wouldn't have been fucking around with jets; they've have levelled lower Manhattan.

Stardate 20011110.2024 (On Screen): With bin Laden's claim that he has nukes which would only be used in retaliation to our use of nukes (which I think is a canard) there's been much discussion of the likelihood that al Qaeda actually has access to nuclear weapons. I don't think they do, if for no other reason than because if they did I believe they would have used them by now. But most discussion of where they might have been acquired has focused on the possibility of gaining them from the ashes of the USSR.

Actually, I think that the most likely scenario is that they would acquire them from Pakistan, either by capture or bribery or most likely within the chaos following a revolution. In a circumstance like this it is necessary to be ruthless, and if indeed there is any chance of Pakistan losing control of its bombs, it will be necessary for the US to guarantee that they are destroyed rather than being captured, most likely through the use of bombing. This may even require that we use a nuke of our own (though I hope it doesn't come to that), for this is a matter where we must be certain. (discuss)

Update 20011111: Pakistan's government claims that it is increasing the security of the weapons, among other things by dispersal. If that means that there are now several sites instead of only one each of which contain all that is needed to set off a blast, I am not reassured; and since the primary objective in such an installation would be fissionable materials, that's what this amounts to. All I can hope is that US intelligence is keeping track of all the locations.

Stardate 20011110.1836 (On Screen via long range sensors): Howard Zinn objects to the characterization of our war in Afghanistan as a 'just war". He does that by equating the attack on NYC with our attacks in Afghanistan and asks what moral difference there is between them.

On a purely legal basis, the big difference is that our attacks on Afghanistan are being made after a legal declaration of war, whereas the attacks on NYC were a surprise attack with no declaration. But that's quibbling. The real answer is that this war is not being fought for justice.

There have been a few commentators who have tried to portray this as a just war, but that's not the rationale for fighting it, and I don't make any bones about it. My opinion is that it doesn't matter whether its just: it's necessary and that is sufficient even if it is unjust.

He argues that this war will proliferate terrorism. That's not by any means certain; his argument is that this war will anger many people, which is probably true. But angry people do not necessarily instantly transform into terrorists, and an international terrorist campaign such as the one launched by al Qaeda is not simply a manifestation of anger. It requires organization, training, and in particular it requires a great deal of money -- and those are things which can be eliminated. A million angry people without any of those things are much less dangerous than ten thousand who have them. If we can anger many people but eliminate their ability to organize, train and finance a campaign against us, we will reduce international terrorism.

Ultimately his argument comes down to an extended attempt to show moral equivalence between the two sides, a concept I find both intellectually repugnant and totally irrelevant. But I don't feel the need to defend that repugnance because the irrelevance is sufficient. Even if we were fighting this war for selfish partisan unjust reasons, it would still be worth fighting. I want to fight this war not to uphold some sort of shining international emblem of justice and fairness, but simply to protect my fellow citizens from being attacked again. Someone is going to die in this war -- on that we Americans don't have a choice. Our only choice is whether it will be more Americans, or someone else somewhere else. I unhesitatingly affirm my belief that it is sufficient for us to fight to protect ourselves -- and if the price of that is other people elsewhere dying, so be it.

His other arguments are equally fatuous: for example, he argues that we can't be certain we will win, as if this somehow suggests we shouldn't try. But when is anything we ever do certain? Life is risky; you have to make decisions and stick with them. The only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never attempts to do anything. It's entirely possible that this war will go dreadfully wrong; but I think the chance of that is low -- and it doesn't matter anyway.

Of course, it doesn't help that he's distorting history on occasion:

Recall that in the midst of the Gulf War, the U.S. military bombed an air raid shelter, killing 400 to 500 men, women, and children who were huddled to escape bombs. The claim was that it was a military target, housing a communications center, but reporters going through the ruins immediately afterward said there was no sign of anything like that.

First off, those people were not huddling to escape bombs: they'd been collected by the Iraqi government and placed there as a human shield to try to keep us from bombing that installation. Second, it was a communications center; his idea that reporters said otherwise is sheer fantasy. Now if someone deliberately plants civilians on top of a military target and then they are killed, who's fault is that? Well, he seems to think that it's the fault of those who dropped the bombs. Problem with that is that it completely devalues the single most important aspect of war: to win. If our enemy can make targets off limits by putting civilians on top of them, then we can't win. If we're only permitted to fight a war in such a way as to guarantee that no civilian is ever harmed, then we can't win. But it's clear that he doesn't want us to win.

Not one human life should be expended in this reckless violence called a "war against terrorism."

That's utter claptrap. We didn't start the killing, and even if we didn't do anything to kill, our enemies still would. He claims that he doesn't like to characterize himself as a pacifist because it's suggests something absolute. Damned straight it does, and his argument demonstrates that he is indeed a pacifist. How, exactly, does he expect us to prevent al Qaeda from killing more of us without our taking the fight to them?

Pacifism, which I define as a rejection of war, rests on a very powerful logic. In war, the means--indiscriminate killing--are immediate and certain; the ends, however desirable, are distant and uncertain.

This characterization of war is a distortion which resembles an outright lie: war is far from indiscriminate killing; on the contrary, war is carefully targeted violence for a political end. But to him it's clear that "indiscriminate killing" is one word and there can be no other kind.

Pacifism does not mean "appeasement." That word is often hurled at those who condemn the present war on Afghanistan, and it is accompanied by references to Churchill, Chamberlain, Munich. World War II analogies are conveniently summoned forth when there is a need to justify a war, however irrelevant to a particular situation. At the suggestion that we withdraw from Vietnam, or not make war on Iraq, the word "appeasement" was bandied about. The glow of the "good war" has repeatedly been used to obscure the nature of all the bad wars we have fought since 1945.

Let's examine that analogy. Czechoslovakia was handed to the voracious Hitler to "appease" him. Germany was an aggressive nation expanding its power, and to help it in its expansion was not wise. But today we do not face an expansionist power that demands to be appeased. We ourselves are the expansionist power--troops in Saudi Arabia, bombings of Iraq, military bases all over the world, naval vessels on every sea--and that, along with Israel's expansion into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has aroused anger.

It was wrong to give up Czechoslovakia to appease Hitler. It is not wrong to withdraw our military from the Middle East, or for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, because there is no right to be there. That is not appeasement. That is justice.

Opposing the bombing of Afghanistan does not constitute "giving in to terrorism" or "appeasement." It asks that other means be found than war to solve the problems that confront us. King and Gandhi both believed in action--nonviolent direct action, which is more powerful and certainly more morally defensible than war.

Nonviolent direct action is only powerful and successful in very special circumstances. Both Ghandi and King were able to use the tactics they did because they were working within what amounted to an extremely decent environment, where they could be certain that their opponent recognized very strong limits on what could be done in retaliation to them for their actions. But when the opponent recognizes no such limits, such actions are simply a very virtuous way to commit suicide. Perhaps it would get you into heaven, but it would have no measurable success here on earth. If either Ghandi or King had attempted what they did in occupied Europe in 1944, they would have been disappeared by the Gestapo and would not be even a footnote in history.

If anything, the contrast between the French Resistance and King's efforts in the US South in the 1960's make an overwhelming case in favor of violent prosecution of this war. King's tactics or anything remotely resembling them would be an abject failure.

Well, at least he attempts to suggest what some of those alternatives would be. Let's consider them:

The United States could have treated the September 11 attack as a horrific criminal act that calls for apprehending the culprits, using every device of intelligence and investigation possible. It could have gone to the United Nations to enlist the aid of other countries in the pursuit and apprehension of the terrorists.

Only problem is just how we could "apprehend" the terrorists if critical nations refused to cooperate. For instance, the Taliban isn't a member of the UN. But we could negotiate with the Taliban:

There was also the avenue of negotiations. (And let's not hear: "What? Negotiate with those monsters?" The United States negotiated with--indeed, brought into power and kept in power--some of the most monstrous governments in the world.) Before Bush ordered in the bombers, the Taliban offered to put bin Laden on trial. This was ignored. After ten days of air attacks, when the Taliban called for a halt to the bombing and said they would be willing to talk about handing bin Laden to a third country for trial, the headline the next day in The New York Times read: "President Rejects Offer by Taliban for Negotiations," and Bush was quoted as saying: "When I said no negotiations, I meant no negotiations."

Actually, the US has been attempting seriously to negotiate with the Taliban for three years, ever since the Kenya and Tanzania bombings, and the Taliban have been willing to talk, but not been willing to actually say anything. The Taliban offered to talk about trying bin Laden in their own court, but that was a crock; and it ignores a different issue entirely: this isn't about justice and punishment, it's about prevention. Even if there had been the ability to apprehend and punish everyone involved in this attack, that wouldn't have been sufficient because it would have left the rest of the al Qaeda organization in place to plan future attacks against us. He also ignores the fact that the Taliban offer of negotiations after the bombing had begun was little more than a veiled attempt to stop the bombing. ("Delay is the deadliest form of denial"; the mere fact of negotiations would have been a victory for the Taliban even if they came to nothing.) Zinn assumes that the Taliban would have been willing to negotiate in good faith -- and they weren't. They proved that in the prior three years when we did attempt to negotiate with them.

Instead of using two planes a day to drop food on Afghanistan and 100 planes to drop bombs (which have been making it difficult for the trucks of the international agencies to bring in food), use 102 planes to bring food.

Take the money allocated for our huge military machine and use it to combat starvation and disease around the world. One-third of our military budget would annually provide clean water and sanitation facilities for the billion people in the world who have none.

That would score us plenty of points in heaven -- which is where we'd all meet each other after al Qaeda made its next attack, which this would not prevent.

Insist that Israel withdraw from the occupied territories, something that many Israelis also think is right, and which will make Israel more secure than it is now.

In short, let us pull back from being a military superpower, and become a humanitarian superpower.

Let us be a more modest nation. We will then be more secure. The modest nations of the world don't face the threat of terrorism.

That sure sounds good -- except that it's false. Being "modest" would not make us more secure, and it is false to say that the modest nations of the world don't face the threat of aggression. In fact, despite his disclaimer this is a straightforward attempt to justify pacifism -- and pacifism cannot work. (discuss)

Stardate 20011110.1747 (On Screen via long range sensors): Robert Fisk writes a denunciation of some of the coverage of the war; a few of his points are partially correct but he draws the wrong conclusion from them. For instance, he criticizes the fact that press coverage mentions "coalition forces" and indeed it is true that there is no such thing. Virtually all of the fighting has been done by the US (not that this is any virtue for our allies who are conspicuous by their absence). But that doesn't mean there is no coalition; there is one. It is not, however, a coalition of Europeans. Except for the UK, the important members of this coalition are all in the Middle East: Oman, Qatar and Pakistan. Britain is also important not only because of its political assistance (which has been invaluable) and its military assistance (which has been less so) but because of its permission to use Diego Garcia. The other members of the coalition are important because they are letting us use their territory for airbases or, in the case of Qatar, for the base of one of our fleets. The fact of the matter is that in this particular war we don't really need any military assistance from anyone in the sense of substantial commitment of military forces; the US is quite capable of fighting and winning this without substantial help. All it really needs from Europe is for them to fill in for us while we pull our forces out of there to use them for our own purposes -- which is happening.

He complains about the term "air campaign", and on this one he's wrong. There is unquestionably an air campaign going on. It's not our fault if he doesn't know what the term means. It is ironic that just the day after his commentary was published, that air campaign had its first major strategic success.

He complains about the "war on terror"; he asks rhetorically whether we've begun to work on terrorism in Chechnya or in Beirut. Like too many, he's trying to set too tight a time limit on this. An intelligent general doesn't attack on all fronts simultaneously; he selects his battles and tries to defeat his opponent in detail. We're taking on al Qaeda now; when that's finished we'll start working on Hamas and so on. (By the way, "terror" is not a synonym for "war"; if there are terrorists in Chechnya they're Chechen, not Russian.) But he's reading things into the term "war on terror" which aren't there, for he's trying to make it an idealistic war -- and war is rarely idealistic. We're not fighting to eliminate all terror everywhere; this is being fought by the US military for partisan US interests. We're fighting to eliminate terror which is a threat to the US. That mainly means terror aimed at destabilizing the current world commercial and political order, which means that our war is also in the best interests of many other nations -- but we're not doing it because of that. We're fighting this war because we were attacked and we want to make sure we don't get attacked again. It's fallacious to try to extrapolate from a label to an entire political strategy.

Now the odd thing is that Fisk proceeds to make the most amazing leap from that argument I think I've ever seen -- do they give an Olympic prize for greatest non-sequiter? He'd be a shoo-in. You see, he concludes from all this that western press can't be trusted. It's all under government control. It's all lies; it's all propaganda. But fortunately for Fisk he seems to have found a bastion of free press where he can find out the real truth of what is going on in the world: Pakistan.

At which point I find myself wondering what kind of drugs he's been smoking, and whether I might be able to get a few ounces of it. (On second thought, maybe I don't want any...) Our hero is actually trying to hold up the Arab press as the real source of accurate coverage of this war. (As examples of their accuracy, they've been reporting that it was actually Israel who was behind the attack in NYC.) And how does Fisk know that they are the source of all wisdom? Because they are anti-US and anti-war, so obviously they've got the straight dope. (Ahem.)

What, after all, are we supposed to make of the so-called "liberal" American television journalist Geraldo Rivera who is just moving to Fox TV, a Murdoch channel? "I'm feeling more patriotic than at any time in my life, itching for justice, or maybe just revenge," he announced this week. "And this catharsis I've gone through has caused me to reassess what I do for a living." This is truly chilling stuff. Here is an American journalist actually revealing that he's possibly "itching for revenge"

What we are supposed to make of that, perhaps, is to notice just how broad the support in the US is for this war. In a democracy it's supposed to be a good thing for a broad majority of citizens to agree with the policy of their nation -- unless, it seems, that majority disagrees with Fisk. In that case democracy has run amok; its citizenry has been deceived and brainwashed by its press who are not slanting the news heavily enough against the war (or, from his point of view, are slanting it too much in favor of it and not telling enough of the truth about why it's a lousy idea). It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that Americans actually didn't need any slanting one way or the other: just watching two buildings be destroyed and thousands of people die was enough.

Mr. Fisk's mistake is to assume too much power on the part of the press. He seems to think that public opinion is plastic and that as long as there is enough of the right kind of coverage then the populace will go along. This is extremely elitist; it denigrates the ability of the public in general and the American public in particular to reject bullshit and to make up its own mind.

Bullshit such as Fisk's own writing, for example. (discussion in progress)

Update 20011112: Some examples of the highly reliable Pakistani press reports.

Stardate 20011110.1641 (On Screen): Ah, the power of the First Amendment. Behold it in action: Some journalists are trying to spin the campaign as not making any progress. Others have begun talking about "quagmires". Some activists concentrate on how awful war is and portray the plight of the Afghan people. Many try to equate our bombing in Afghanistan with the WTC attack. Aid agencies demand a ceasefire. Our enemies try to tell us we're doomed. Analysts tell us we're falling into a trap set for us by al Qaeda. The banner of Viet Nam is being waved high by some. They all argue against the war. There are demonstrations, there are articles, there is open debate. There is scare-mongering. There is hand wringing.

And it isn't working, for the beauty of the First Amendment is that people don't have to believe everything they hear. 84% of Americans support the war in Afghanistan. More than 60% are satisfied with the progress of the war. About 90% disagree with stopping the bombing during Ramadan. And most think that there are still al Qaeda operatives in the US, with about half expecting another attack on us. All in all I'd say that's a pretty rational view of the situation; I'm completely satisfied that the people of the US understand what's going on and aren't being deceived. (discuss)

Stardate 20011110.1555 (On Screen): The EU says that it doesn't see any reason why there should be a halt to the bombing in Afhanistan. Their support is welcome.

Not that they have any say in the matter, mind. (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011110.1543 (On Screen): So the world commits to the struggle against terrorism. But somehow that means different things to different people. It means fighting drug addiction; it means fighting poverty; indeed, it seems to mean dealing with everyone's pet problem. (It doesn't seem to mean shutting down terrorist cells or working on money laundering, oddly enough. No mention of that.)

Which is why I fully expect to see a pan-African initiative to fight terrorism which features a request for immense amounts of money from the US and Europe being plowed into the continent. (Hey, blackmail didn't work and neither did the Cargo Cult; third time's a charm.) (discuss)

Stardate 20011110.1127 (On Screen): A peace demonstrator in Berlin carries a sign which says (translated) "Solidarity with the victims of terrorist attacks in New York and Afghanistan." As an American I find that sign extremely offensive -- and by its nature it proves that its bearer has no solidarity with the victims in New York. To equate what happened in New York to what is happening in Afghanistan is despicable. (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011110.1052 (Crew, this is the Captain): If you missed your chance to see the original three episodes of Samurai Jack, the Cartoon Network will be running them as a TV movie tonight. It's well worth seeing; the third part is some of the most powerful storytelling I've ever seen in animation. (discuss)

Stardate 20011110.0935 (On Screen): The BBC reports that Mick Jagger is a "roll model" -- from which one would assume that someone has used him as a pattern for the manufacture of breakfast Danishes. (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011110.0741 (On Screen): The FBI has released a profile of who they think is responsible for the anthrax mailings, and it can be summarized as "Another Ted Kaczynski". Oh joy; it took 17 years to catch him, and then it only happened through a fluke. The only good news is that if indeed this is the case (and I think it is), then this will not be a widespread campaign. (discuss)

Stardate 20011110.0630 (On Screen): bin Laden claims, in an interview, that he has access to both nuclear and chemical weapons but that he'll only use them if we use such weapons against him. He says they only have them as a deterrent. I don't give much credence to this report, simply because such restraint is completely out of character. It's entirely possible they do have access to some form of chemical weapons; the more primitive ones (i.e. chlorine) are extremely easy to make. More advanced ones like nerve gas are much more of a challenge but not really difficult if you only want to make them in small quantities. Dirty nuclear weapons, which is to say conventional bombs packed with radioactives to produce fallout, are not hard to make if you have access to a quantity of radioactives. But that's also not a very important weapon; it's more of a nuisance than anything.

Coming up with an adequate amount of fissionable material to actually produce a fission weapon is a different matter, and if they had such a thing I believe they would have used it already. I think this is a bluff. (discuss)

Stardate 20011109.2204 (On Screen): The Taliban Foreign Minister has confirmed that the Taliban have lost Mazar-i-Sharif.

CNN provides this analysis of the importance of the city. It points out that the primary asset is the airfield. Almost certainly we will begin operating that as soon as the area is fully pacified, but that won't happen without a considerable US ground presence. There is no chance that the US would rely on Northern Alliance forces exclusively for security and protection, especially for bulk supplies once those are shipped in.

I am becoming more convinced that elements of the 10th Mountain Division will move down from Uzbekistan and take over the airport. This will also open a reasonable supply route whereby the Russians can begin to ship in arms and ammunition, which is important, though for the moment that would have to be done with heavily-armed convoys because that road isn't secure yet. The vast majority of the weapons that the Northern Alliance have been using until now have been Russian; it would make no sense for the US to begin to ship in primarily American weaponry for the Northern Alliance, and the Russians have expressed a willingness to continue to supply them with what they know. (Although there may be some kinds of things we could provide: grenades are pretty straightforward and single-shot rocket launchers like LAWS could be useful.) Other kinds of supplies, on the other hand, from the US should start flowing once the airfield is usable, such as food and winter clothing, tents, blankets and medical supplies.

"Usable" comes in three stages. Anything open and secure is usable for parachute drops of supplies, for obvious reasons, and if a battalion of the 10th does move in, that will initially be the primary way by which they will be supplied. Food, construction material (i.e. cement, steel matting, prefab buildings), clothing, and medicine can be brought in this way, but heavy equipment cannot be. Once a reasonable section of the airstrip has been cleared, it's possible for a cargo plane to perform a low-level operation where it flies about 10 feet above the airfield and drops a palette out the back, which is then slowed to a stop by a parachute as it drags along the ground. The plane doesn't land, and this doesn't require that the airfield be all that long nor that its surface be completely regular. That will permit them to bring in heavier equipment like bulldozers which would be needed to fully repair the airstrip. This can also be done on an open stretch of flat hard ground, like a dry lakebed. Light tanks or armored cars or light artillery pieces can also be dropped this way. The primary requirement for this is that the area not be under fire because the cargo planes are vulnerable while they do this.

Once the strip is fully recovered, of course, then big transports would be able to land, which can bring in anything up to main battle tanks and self-propelled artillery. (discuss)

Stardate 20011109.2124 (On Screen): In the latest video tape delivered to Al-Jazeera TV, a top al Qaeda official named Ayman el-Zawahri says the following:

"Its campaign is a failure," he said, referring to the United States. "Bush is defending this campaign and saying he has destroyed al Qaeda network and Taliban forces. ... They can lie as much as they want, but the whole world will find out, after the fierce destructions, who is the liar and who is telling the truth."

Fateful words indeed. Let us remember them, after he is dead and al Qaeda's organization is in ruins. (discuss)

Stardate 20011109.1836 (On Screen via long range sensors): This article laments the fact that there have been almost no American casualties in this war so far and contends that the reason is that we're acting like cowards. That is not the words they use but that's the upshot. What they're trying to say is that the US has gotten used to fighting wars with almost no casualties on its own side and seems to be trying to fight this one the same way, and that it can't be won that way. So why haven't the ground forces moved in yet?

Because winter is coming. That's really the reason; it has nothing to do with a lack of willingness to commit ground forces. Unlike magazine editors, generals have to contend with the real world, and in the real world it snows.

It's convenient for armchair generals to create military units out of nothing, to advance across mountains as if they were flat plains (after all, they look flat on the map), to create supplies where there are none, and to generally fight a fictitious war. Anyone can win a fictitious war, but it's a bit harder to win in the real world, where real troops eat real food and consume real gasoline and really get cold and tired and dispirited and lonely and afraid. Real troops have to sleep, for instance. Everyone would love to attack 24 hours per day forever, but it simply isn't possible.

Having found refuge in places that America will not, or cannot, bomb, it appears the Taliban will rule Afghanistan through the winter, thereby handing the United States a humiliating and gratuitous defeat.

How exactly is it a defeat that we have not won the war yet? It's a defeat when we lose the war, which hasn't happened. This is an example of "setting the bar" -- it's something you see during Presidential primaries. Going into some particular primary, the press will set the bar for what percentage some particular candidate is expected to win, and if he wins more then it's a "victory", while if he wins less it's a "defeat" -- at least to hear the press tell it. It's all about beating the point spread. That has lead to ludicrous reports where some candidate "only" won 70% of the vote; his leading opponent "stunned" him by taking 20% instead of the expected 16%. Still, somehow it seems to be that guy who keeps winning 70% who wins the nomination, even though he seems to "lose" all the primaries by "only" taking 70%.

And now you're going to see the same thing happening here: the press have not merely decided that the US needs to win this war (which is fine -- I think so, too) but that they need to do so in a particular way, though what way that might be depends on who is doing the coverage. In some cases it has to be "fast". In other cases it has to be "with a minimum number of civilian casualties". In other cases there are other concerns. And each time this comes up, whoever it is who is doing the reporting will use that phony criterion to try to claim that things are going badly and that we're losing this war.

Relax, people. It's going to be a long time. There's much to be done, and despite what you think there really is no hurry. Our military will finish this in a reasonable amount of time, but the goal is to win this in as efficient a manner as possible. That means that we don't eagerly seek out opportunities for friendly casualties; that isn't courage, it's just a waste of good men. Equally, it doesn't mean that we shy away from combat or retreat as soon as the first soldier stubs his toe. We're going to lose some people, probably a lot of people. But the goal is to win this in a reasonable time period consistent with low losses on our side, while doing so in a very convincing manner which will give our government a credible threat in diplomacy with the next nation we decide needs to seriously stop supporting terrorist organizations within its border.

As to the commitment of ground forces, I think that will happen. But it's not going to happen just to prove that we can do it, it will happen because it is militarily necessary. For the moment it isn't; moving them in there just as winter sets in would serve no purpose, unless for instance it is to protect and start to operate the airfield at Mazar-e Sharif, which just fell. (discuss)

Stardate 20011109.1553 (Crew, this is the Captain): Just wanted to apologize (well, boast actually) in case people are having trouble getting in. Two major sites linked to me in the last 18 hours and my traffic is going through the roof. Yesterday I set an alltime record for hits on the main page with 901; I'm going to bust through that easily today since as I write this I'm only 40 hits short and the counter won't reset for another 12 hours. (Aw, shucks, folks -- I'm honored...) (discuss)

Stardate 20011109.1537 (On Screen): Doug writes to me as follows:

On NPR the other day there was a discussion about the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to WTC-like attack. The response of the nuclear power industry representative was not reassuring. Nukes are designed to withstand a lot -- 12 feet of reinforced concrete and steel surround the container vessel -- but they are not invulnerable, and probably could not withstand the impact of a fully fueled jumbo jet. It seems to me that this type of attack is far more likely than the use of a real nuclear device.

The anti-nuke spokesman of course took this to mean that the nukes should all be shut down immediately. I wonder, though, why can't the FAA impose "no-fly" zones around nukes enforced by Army anti-aircraft units? Isn't this what the Army is for? Why is no one talking about this? Am I just being an alarmist?

Obviously I can't speak for the government. My opinion is that this is a case of activists hijacking (ahem) an issue to serve their own agenda, in this case opposition to nuclear power. But it isn't really an issue in my opinion. For instance, there has always been a no-fly zone around nuclear power plants; you can't fly over one unless you're above a certain altitude.

Use of surface anti-aircraft defenses would not be efficient; right now our defense against any future attacks such as the four on 9/11 is to scramble interceptors to accompany any suspicious flight, so that it can be shot down before reaching a critical target. Several such incidents have taken place already, such as the case where passengers subdued a guy who went crazy and tried to force his way into the cockpit of a jet headed towards Chicago. But the jet was also accompanied by two F-16's until it landed safely at O'Hare; had it diverted and seemed to be priming for an attack, they would have shot it down. That's better and more efficient than trying to base fixed defenses at specific locations.

That said, if someone does manage to take over another jet in the US and wants to use it for an attack, I'd much rather they attacked a nuclear power plant than that they attacked a city. These are not actually all that accurate of missiles; the reason they were able to hit what they did on 9/11 was because the targets were large. The containment building at a nuclear power plant is quite small and the likelihood is that they'd miss it. And even if they did hit it, and in the unlikely event that they broke it open, the actual result would be much less severe than anti-nuclear activists would like you to believe. As bad as it was, Chernobyl didn't kill as many people as the WTC attack did, and the result here would be far less severe than Chernobyl.

I suppose it bears repeating at this point that it is physically impossible for a nuclear power plant to detonate as if it were a nuclear bomb. The fuel contained within it is only enriched to a couple percent U-235 and isn't capable of an uncontrolled fission reaction building up to detonation. It's no more likely to explode than you are. The worst possible outcome would be a substantial scattering of radioactive fallout, but the only explosion would come from chemical energy.

But that would require that the containment building rupture, and even on a direct hit I'm not too concerned about breaking the containment enclosure open. Note that the crashes in NYC did not actually bring the buildings down: two buildings hit, two buildings still standing. It was the fires which caused the catastrophe; they weakened the remaining structural members of the buildings and began the collapse. For all its mass, a jet liner is actually quite flimsy; when it hits something it causes a pretty diffuse impact. There isn't any sharp kinetic blow; what there is is slow and spread over a very wide area. 12 feet of steel-reinforced concrete can stand up to quite a blow, and unlike the steel frame of the WTC towers it would be largely impervious to a major fire afterwards.

When the military wants to attack a reinforced bunker, it doesn't rely on high explosives because all that does is to make small craters in the concrete. They use things like the GBU-28. It's about 80% steel, and extremely good steel at that. It's long and thin and extremely strong, and it penetrates the concrete as a kinetic weapon -- and only detonates after penetration. Equally, when tanks fire on lesser concrete fortifications they don't use explosives and they sure as hell don't use incendiaries. A tank is far more likely to use a sabot round (which doesn't carry any explosives at all). The fact is that a commercial jet, considered as a weapon, is just about the worse design you could conceive of for penetration of steel reinforced concrete.

Nothing is indestructable, of course, but the point is that we are already adequately defending nuclear power plants, both by design and by practice, against the threat of attacks such as the ones launched on 9/11. (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011109.1222 (On Screen): The Dutch government will commit a substantial (for it) force to our war in Afghanistan. It consists of a fair number of aircraft and some ships. The aircraft consist of six F-16 fighter planes, several transport aircraft, four Orion search planes, a refueling plane. But what possible good does a Dutch submarine do us? I don't understand why so many nations want to send ships. Aircraft and ground forces we can use (especially air tankers), but the only ships which would do any good would be carriers and ships armed with cruise missiles, and I doubt that the Dutch have that capability. For that matter, it's not clear what good six Dutch F-16's will be if they don't participate in combat operations (as was claimed). When I was a kid, my grandmother taught me the following song:

Mother, may I go out for a swim?
    Yes, my darling daughter.
Hang your clothes on the hickory limb,
    But don't go near the water.

So of this lot, it looks like the only real asset is the lone air tanker they're sending, since their transports will probably spend their time hauling supplies for themselves. That air tanker will be most welcome. The rest will simply consume supplies. The inescapable conclusion is that these gestures of support are primarily political. They don't appear to be militarily significant. (By contrast, the assignment of Australian ground forces to the theater may well be very valuable when the time comes.) (discuss)

Stardate 20011109.1205 (On Screen): This piece of idiocy passes the horse-laugh test but doesn't pass the "God-dammit, not again!" test. The sovereign state of Alabama requires that all biology textbooks have a sticker attached which warns that evolution is a "controversial theory". Controversy is another one of those words which means different things to different people. Evolution isn't controversial among scientists; it's only controversial among religious zealots, and that has nothing whatever to do with its scientific validity. The battle against religious fundamentalism is a world-wide and never ending one. (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011109.1150 (On Screen): The strategically important city of Mazar-e Sharif appears to have fallen to the Northern Alliance. Fighting is still continuing but it appears that Taliban resistance is crumbling and their units are retreating in the direction of Kabul.

If true, this is an important event. First, it's a major defeat for the Taliban. Second, this city has a large airport which can be used to bring in supplies to Northern Alliance forces during the upcoming winter. Third, it removes all ability for the Taliban to directly threaten Uzbekistan, which may well make that nation less reluctant to permit US forces to operate offensively from its territory.

If indeed Taliban forces are retreating towards Kabul, they are probably mostly using that single road extending through the mountains, and in that case they are in deep trouble. Once they are well away from that city, likely that road will be turned into a killing zone by our air units. It appears to be at least 400 km but probably nearer to 500 depending on how windy that road is to reach Kabul, and through terrain that rough it isn't going to be fast movement. There probably are bridges on it, and once the retreating forces are committed those bridges will come down. (But not until then!) Little with wheels or tracks is going to survive this retreat. (discussion in progress)

Update: Nick reports that the road in question isn't passable because a major tunnel on it was destroyed three years ago. If that's the case, the Taliban forces are in even bigger trouble; they'll be retreating over open terrain without any kind of supplies; movement will be slow and they will be very vulnerable. That means that this force will be militarily useless for a long time if not forever.

Update: I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict what will happen next. What I suspect is that after the Northern Alliance has secured the city and the Taliban really are away, one of the two reinforced battalions of the 10th Mountain Division which are currently in Uzbekistan will move forward to Mazar-e Sharif and secure the airport there. Their engineers will repair any damage and begin to operate it, while the infantry will form a perimeter to guard the place. Then we'll start bringing in supplies and possibly other forces. Almost certainly a few helicopters will be based there. I also don't think that American units will try to control the city itself; that will be left to the Northern Alliance.

Stardate 20011109.0729 (On Screen via long range sensors): Every administration has stars and bums, and a crisis brings out their best and worst characteristics. Powell and Rumsfeld are revealed to be stars -- and Ashcroft is revealed to be a bum. In his zeal to enforce the law he seems hell-bent to discard the Constitution; all those pesky guarantees of rights and limits on the power of government just get in the way.

This has been an occupational hazard of the position of Attorney General since the position was created, of course, but Ashcroft seems to be taking it to extremes. A few days ago he decided to ignore state's rights, and now he wants to shred the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. Without a Fifth Amendment privilege on communication between a client and his lawyer, he can't be given his Sixth Amendment right to a fair defense at his trial. Ashcroft's argument is that without that protection he could do a better job of law enforcement -- which is true, no question of it. But the price is too high. Ashcroft is hereby sentenced to write "I will not shred the Bill of Rights" 100 times on the classroom chalkboard. (discuss)

Stardate 20011109.0713 (On Screen): Nando Media will offer a version of its site without advertising for a small weekly fee to subscribers. Didn't Salon try this (and eventually give up on it)? The problem then, and the problem now, is that customers don't have to retrieve the ads. All they need to do is go purchase a program such as AdSubtract Pro (which gets the Captain's seal of approval), and then not only does Nando show up without advertising, but so do hundreds of other sites. (discuss)

Stardate 20011109.0618 (On Screen): It's not just the Christian right who fail the horse-laugh test; leftists often do, too. One particular librarian in Boulder needs to spend some serious time looking in the mirror: she decided that it would be offensive to hang an American flag over the entrance of the library -- but a display of ceramic penises was perfectly acceptable. Say what? It's not that I object to the ceramics; that part was fine. But this pernicious idea that somehow displaying the flag is objectionable is truly stunning. Where, exactly, did this idea come from? (All together now: Postmodernism! Multiculturalism! Of course. [Ye Gods.]) (discuss)

Update 20011112: The ceramics were stolen and replaced by a flag. The original artist is offended.

Update 20011112: They caught him.

Stardate 20011109.0610 (On Screen):

Saudi Arabia has expressed anger and frustration at the failure of the Bush administration to come forward with an expected initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal reportedly said it was enough to "make a sane man go mad".

There's a war on, haven't you noticed? We're just a little bit busy right now. In any case, it's never been clear to me why everyone is expecting the US to solve this. We've been working on it, off and on, for something like thirty years. Successive Presidents have launched serious peace missions, and indeed a year ago we damned near had what I think was an acceptable compromise in hand -- which failed because of Palestinian demands for the "right of return", which is absolutely unacceptable and will never be part of any ultimate settlement of the issue. We'll probably keep trying, no doubt about that. But if the Saudis think that somehow the US is suddenly going to wave a magic wand and impose peace on the region, then they need to think again.

But that's not the point. I still want someone to explain why it is our responsibility to solve it? Actually, I know the answer: the Saudis are expecting the US to bully Israel. That's not going to happen. (discuss)

Stardate 20011109.0601 (On Screen): I have not seen "Saving Private Ryan"; I don't go to movies much. I hear that by all accounts the first part, which gives a beach-eye-view of the landing at Omaha Beach is some of the best film making of all time, and that men who were actually there who saw the film started having nightmares because it brought the memories back to them so vividly. For anyone who thinks that war is some sort of fun, I suspect it would be a very good thing to view. War is deadly serious and men get killed and maimed.

It's finally arriving on network TV and ABC has decided to broadcast that first segment uncensored. Bravo! But it makes me wonder: how are they going to handle advertising? Generally they tend to back-load the advertising, with the first segment of a film not being interrupted and the ads appearing later when the audience is hooked, so presumably they'll run the initial invasion sequence as a whole. But it should be more than a bit disorienting to be dragged away from Normandy to a car showroom to see new cars, and then be told about the latest antiperspirant -- and then to be bodily shoved back into the hedgerows for further fun and games with the Wehrmacht. Should rather disrupt the experience, don't you think? I don't intend to find out. (But then I have no illusions about the horrors of war.) (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011109.0555 (On Screen via long range sensors): One of the particular benefits of our right of free expression is that when certain people on the extreme fringe take advantage of it they disqualify themselves by their own words. A good sign that someone is over the edge is when their proclamations don't pass the horse-laugh test. Case in point: certain fringie fundamentalist Christians are up in arms over the immensely popular Harry Potter series of books. The problem? It desensitizes children to the inherent evil associated with witchcraft, meaning they'll be more liable to go over to the AntiChrist when he shows up Real Soon Now. (discuss)

Stardate 20011108.2100 (On Screen): And today's triumph of marketing is... (wait for it) escape parachutes for people who work in high-rise buildings. Yes, folks, with one of these babies you need never worry about stray jets again. Just strap it on your back and head for the nearest window -- out you go, and you can float safely down to the street.

Until, that is, someone else jumps out above you and lands on your 'chute and deflates it before theirs opens, resulting in the death of you both. And you better hope that your building actually has windows big enough for you to jump out of, which hardly any of them do as a safety measure to keep people from falling out accidentally. And there's a limit of ten of these per building -- so you better get yours first. After all, if a thousand people try to do this at once out of the same building, no-one's going to make it to the street alive. Just $795 -- call that number on your TV screen NOW!!! (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011108.1758 (On Screen): Bill suggests that in bad economic times, corporations should be legally required to lay off H-1B's before they lay off citizens. There's only one small problem with that plan: it violates Section 1 of the 14th Amendment.

  1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
  2. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;
  3. nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;
  4. nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

I quote the entire thing because it's critical to notice that the first two parts use the word "citizen" while the other two use the word "person". This distinction is legally critical and was deliberate; the protections of third and fourth clauses of Section 1 apply to everyone within the US even if they are not citizens. That means that "equal protection" cannot discriminate against non-citizens. (Them's the breaks.) (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011108.1504 (On Screen via long range sensors): This is an interesting strategic analysis of the war, attempting to reconstruct the potential grand strategies envisioned by al Qaeda. I think it is a bit extreme but it makes many good points. I think it primarily errs by overestimating both the sophistication and the resources of al Qaeda. I do not think that the top leadership of al Qaeda is quite as machiavellian as this gives them credit for being; there is more dogma involved in their activities and somewhat less cogitation.

The primary thesis is that we are playing into al Qaeda's hands, and with our current attacks we are doing exactly what they want us to do. I don't think that's necessarily true. For one thing, there's good reason to believe that they expected our reaction to be somewhat similar to what happened to us in Somalia. To review, we moved substantial troops into there in support of a peace-keeping mission and to support humanitarian gestures. In the course of that operation there was a firefight in which 18 Americans were lost while killing more than 300 Somalis. After that, the government of the US lost its nerve and pulled out. Another example is Beirut: the US moved substantial troops into Lebanon and a single car-bomb killed 200 Marines at the barracks there, after which the US lost heart and pulled back out. Those events, along with other acts by both the US and Europe over the course of the last 20 years, led to the assumption that the US was gutless and couldn't stand blood-letting, that its morale was fragile and that it was only willing to fight as long as its own casualties were very light, and that in the face of massive losses would turn tail. In that scenario, the WTC attack was intended to be a larger replay of the Beirut bombing, with the expectation of a larger replay of the withdrawal from Lebanon. I honestly believe that al Qaeda thought that we would substantially withdraw from the mid-east after the 9/11 attack. I think that the resolve and murderous hatred it raised in the US caught them by surprise.

Another problem with this report is that it contends that a goal of the attack was to get the US to commit substantial military forces into the region where they would become vulnerable, the idea being that in the US they could not be defeated but in the field they could be. This implies that al Qaeda actually expected that it would be possible to achieve a military victory over the US. I think that idea is a bit farfetched, in as much as even in the field there's no indication that al Qaeda or anyone else is actually capable of substantially destroying our military capability without the use of nuclear weapons -- and if they had those, I believe they would have used them by now. They wouldn't be hording them in hopes of using them against a US regiment in the field, they would rather have tried to smuggle one of them into NYC instead of taking out a paltry couple of buildings. (And such smuggling would actually be very easy.)

The real problem with this in my opinion is that it overanalyzes. Instead of the cold calculating leadership who were quite literally planning out the course of World War III, I think the explanation is quite a lot simpler and more shallow. For them to do what is described here, they'd have to think like we do, in quite mechanistic terms -- and they don't. They're not trying to goad us into attacking to create a widespread war; I think they're attacking us simply because we're the "Great Satan". They are lashing out at us because they are religious fundamentalists and they have a very polarized and idealistic view of the world. The plan described here is very much the result of a humanistic analysis (i.e. that the course of history is decided by the behavior of humans) whereas our enemies quite literally think that God will get involved in their war, on their side. (If so, they'll win. I'm not too worried about that prospect, though.)

In other words, I don't think that our enemies are fighting us because they have a concrete and well thought out plan for victory, I think they're fighting us to rack up points in heaven. That's not to say we should ignore this analysis, because even if this does not describe the plans made by al Qaeda, it still describes some of the secondary and tertiary negative results which might unintentionally come out of it. In that sense it's still valuable. (discuss)

Stardate 20011108.1204 (On Screen): A federal judge in the US has declared that courts outside of the US do not have the right to try to control what US citizens and companies place on web sites which are hosted within the US, even if they can be accessed from the country of that foreign judge. This is absolutely a correct decision; it was all-or-nothing and if he had decided foreign judges could apply their own laws about content to the US then our online First Amendment rights would have been shredded. If it was France this year, next year it might have been China and the year after that Afghanistan.

But rest assured that no matter what decision a judge makes, someone somewhere will decide he was a fool. (That's why judges get the big bucks.) In this case it's The Register who states that this has opened a massive can of worms because the US judge let "parochial concerns" prevent him from seeing the "wider implications". I'm sorry, I can't agree that the First Amendment is a parochial concern, and the decision was clearly correct precisely because it was based on the wider implication of the possibility of US speech being limited only to that which would be permitted by anyone anywhere in the world. The French have no more right to control free speech by Americans inside the US than do the Taliban. (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011108.1114 (On Screen): Mush word watch: President Musharraf of Pakistan wants this war to be "short and targeted". I think we can all agree on that, at least until we talk about what those words mean. It's unlikely that anyone really wants a long war; and we certainly want it to be as short as we can make it consistent with winning. But that may still take a year, or maybe longer (possibly much longer). Equally, "targeted" seems to be a code-word for "with as few unnecessary deaths as can be managed" and I think we're all in favor of that, too.

So what, exactly, is Musharraf actually saying here? Let me see if I can't read his mind: "Taliban supporters in my nation are starting to get out of hand and the longer this goes on the greater a chance there is of Pakistan erupting in civil war." (discuss)

Stardate 20011108.1100 (On Screen): Russia's traditional allies are General Winter and General Mud, and they were invaluable to the defeat of the Germans in World War II. Much has been made of the fact that the winters in Afghanistan are quite brutal, which is true, with the implication that General Winter will fight on the side of the Taliban. That may not be true. Winter affects everyone, and General Winter may favor us. One interesting fact about winter is that it makes IR imaging particularly effective. The greater the temperature differential, the easier it is to spot, and in winter the temperature differential between human activities and the background cold is particularly distinct. For instance, hidden cave complexes should be easier to find; regardless of how well hidden they are they must be ventilated, and the exhaust vents will cause heat plumes which can be spotted. Tanks in the winter must have their engines run periodically to prevent them from seizing up, but that causes heat and it can be spotted right through camouflage. The same thing applies to other kinds of vehicles. Infantry can't be as easily dispersed in cold weather because of the threat of hypothermia, and they'll be easier to find, because they'll be in a warm place, and to hit because they'll be concentrated. Moving supplies in the winter is difficult enough, but truck columns moving in the snow are particularly easy to spot even with normal cameras, let alone thermal imaging. All of those things can be bombed

And winter is not something which is a foreign concept to the US; some parts of this country have pretty severe winters. Our combat aircraft are designed to operate in extreme weather conditions, so there should be no difficulty in continuing the bombing campaign against the Taliban once the weather sets in. If anything, it should be even more effective. More important is that the 10th Mountain Division is specifically trained and equipped to fight in foul weather. And elements of the 10th are already in that area. (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011108.1009 (On Screen): It's a mistake to dwell on bodycounts in war. It's a natural reaction, of course; it's sort of like the score in the game. But it's not a game, and victory or defeat isn't measured by how high a pile of dead bodies you manage to create. The USSR beat Germany in WWII while losing something like five times as many dead as the Germans did. There was never a battle between the two where the Germans actually lost more men than the USSR. But the USSR still won.

The Vietnamese lost at least twenty men for every American they killed -- but won. On the other hand, the Japanese losses were always higher than the Americans but the Japanese still lost. And in Korea the losses tended to be about 5:1 against the Chinese and the result was stalemate. Bodycount is not a predicter of victory.

Still, it's inevitable that it will be covered if for no other reason than because it's something which changes from day to day and gives reporters something to do. It's also grist for propaganda mills. I've already seen doves looking for an excuse to declare the current bombing campaign a failure citing the low body count among Taliban soldiers from the bombing as an indication that it isn't working and should be abandoned -- which is fallacious not only because that's not a valid measure, but also because we don't really have any accurate way of determining what it is. (We're sure not going to believe what the Taliban itself reports about that if we're smart.) And once ground action begins one thing we're sure to see is a daily litany of how many Americans have been killed and wounded. Don't be too surprised if that information is not reported in a timely fashion; the US Army learned its lesson on that from Viet Nam. (discuss)

Stardate 20011108.0805 (On Screen): The Guardian seems to think there is a dilemma facing the US and UK: if we do capture bin Laden or other top members of al Qaeda and decide to put them on trial, where and how? To hear the Guardian tell it, our top leaders are spending all their time worrying about this issue. (Evidently it's more important than things like "winning the war" and "working on the recession".) I think that the Guardian is doing some projecting here, and I seriously doubt that there is any major concern about this in Washington, at least. If (and it's a big "if") we capture bin Laden, he'll be tried in the United States.

There is no way that the people of the US will accept having him be tried by an international tribunal in Europe. That's the irreducible political fact. It runs against the grain. The "crime" was committed here, and we're going to be the ones who try and punish him. Partly that's because of a long-standing tradition among Americans not to force anyone else to do our dirty work, but also because of a not inconsiderable suspicion that if he were tried in Europe he wouldn't get a full measure of justice, i.e. that they wouldn't execute him if he was convicted. If McVeigh used to be the pro-death-penalty's poster child, bin Laden will soon replace him on the posters; there is no way that Americans will settle for less than the death penalty. Given the strong and vocal criticism for capital punishment by Europe in the last couple of years, there's no chance that Americans will accept a trial there. (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011108.0428 (On Screen): The Concorde has finally begun to fly again. In the meantime, British Airways, like all airlines, has faced staggering losses in the last two months as people have decided they don't really need to fly after all. The Concorde in particular requires a steady diet of well-heeled travelers willing to pay a premium price for tickets, and many of those have traditionally been from show business. So the head of British Airways has extended his hand to Hollywood and nicely asked them to return to their old habits.

Well, not exactly. Actually what he's done is to hold a press conference and call them cowards. He even singled out specific people by name. This is not exactly what you'd ordinarily think of as being good marketing. Unfortunately, it's also libel -- and I'm expecting either lawsuits or a formal apology any time now. Absent that, the next time Bruce Willis does fly to London I suspect he won't be taking the friendly skies of British Airways. (discuss)

Stardate 20011107.2247 (On Screen): There's been a very important legal decision and it went the right way. A French court ordered Yahoo to remove material from a US web server because it violated French law and could be accessed from France. Yahoo went to court and asked for an order declaring that the French court had no jurisdiction in the US and that its order could not be enforced. A US judge has now declared that indeed the French court order, which would have violated the First Amendment, cannot be enforced in the US. That was the only possible decision; nothing else was acceptable. Without that, the First Amendment would have been meaningless. (discuss)

Stardate 20011107.1853 (On Screen via long range sensors): The man described in this article is third-generation American; he was born here and his parents were, too. He's a citizen of the US, no less so than I am. He's also in Pakistan, waiting to cross the border into Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban against any invasion by US forces.

A word which has been bandied about a lot lately is "treason"; it's another of those words which is overused and is usually hyperbole. What you're seeing here, however, is real treason, and if he's captured he'll be tried for it, and he may well be executed. (discuss)

Stardate 20011107.1813 (On Screen): There are so many mushy phrases which can mean whatever you want them to mean, so that you can create a sentence using them and everyone will nod their heads even though they interpret them in radically different ways. Take for example this one:

''This campaign (must) end as soon as possible so that the Afghan people will be spared any further rigors."

What does "as soon as possible" mean? Well, it could mean "as soon as an order to cease hostilities can be transmitted to all American military formations in the theater." Equally, it could mean "as soon as the Taliban have been defeated and the war is over." In other words, it could mean an hour or a year.

Once the allied forces capture bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ''he should have a fair trial,'' Moussa said, without elaborating.

What does "fair trial" mean? It could mean a trial in NYC in front of an American jury, or a trial in Afghanistan in front of an Islamic judge.

To some extent, that's why the history books are written by the victors. Who is to decide these issues? Well, whoever wins. The bombing will definitely end "as soon as possible" but that decision will be made by the US, not by the Arab League. If bin Laden actually is captured, he'll be given a "fair trial" but it will be under American law in front of an American jury.

And then we'll execute him. (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011107.1802 (On Screen): My home state is Oregon. I haven't lived there for twenty years, but in some ways the attitudes I learned there are with me now, and I'm the richer for it. Oregonians tend to frown on (or laugh at) labels like "liberal" and "conservative"; they're really rather pragmatic about things. There isn't a lot of corruption there, for example, because the voters won't stand for it. (An immigrant from NYC once told me that the government was "preposterously honest". It wasn't until I moved to Boston that I saw what he meant.)

Oregon was the first state to pass a mandatory deposit bill on soda bottles and cans. Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana. Going back further, Oregon was one of the first states to give its voters the right of initiative and referendum.

Recently the voters of Oregon used their right of initiative to pass a law making physician-assisted euthanasia legal. If you knew Oregonians, that wouldn't surprise you in the slightest; we (and after all these years I still think of it as "we") have a strong sense of letting everyone control their own fates. Of course, it instantly hit the radar of a lot of pro-life organizations, and it had to be passed again, which it was. Now it's law there, and 70 people have taken advantage of it so far. But AG Ashcroft doesn't like it, and he just declared that any physician who assists in such a voluntary death will lose their right to prescribe drugs, which means they wouldn't be able to practice medicine any longer.

The Bush administration is wrong in this, and I expect them to lose the lawsuit that the state of Oregon just filed against this action. But it has other ramifications, too: it's become a political issue. Oregon has a US senator from each party, and the Republican is up for reelection, and he's indicated that he's supporting this decision by Ashcroft. Given that the initiative passed by a 2:1 margin both times, this suggests that this is not a very popular position to take in that state -- and it may cost the Bush administration a Republican seat in the Senate. (discuss)

Update 20011108: A federal judge has issued a restraining order temporarily overriding Ashcroft.

Stardate 20011107.1710 (On Screen via long range sensors): And now for your perusal, a demonstration that there exist at least some members of the anti-war left who have gone over the line to hallucination. You got your scare quotes. You got your conflation of coincidence and correlation and causation. You got your innuendo. You got your flights of fantasy. You got your Post Hoc fallacy. You got your selective quotations from questionable sources.

What you got is something that reads like a Kennedy Assassination Theory. Or more to the point, like one of the many attempts to prove that Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor and deliberately let it happen.

For example, it cites an intelligence report from India which tried to prove a relationship between Pakistan and al Qaeda in the aftermath of the attack. Folks, in the aftermath of the attack all kinds of intelligence reports got forwarded to the US by friendly allies which sought to prove that their deadliest enemies were involved and thus should become enemies of the US as well. (For example, Israel claimed that Iraq was involved.) It's hardly surprising that India said Pakistan was involved; India and Pakistan have been at each other's throats for fifty years. That doesn't mean it's true.

But this article then takes that bouillon cube and makes a stadium full of soup out of it. It shows the "possibility" of contacts between ISI (Pakistan's intelligence service) with the guy who lead the bombing, and that the US government "might" have known about it all ahead of time. And out of all this hazy mist he derives the following conclusion:

Whether this amounts to the complicity of the Bush Administration remains to be firmly established. The least one can expect at this stage is an inquiry. What is crystal clear, however, is that this war is not a "campaign against international terrorism". It is a war of conquest with devastating consequences for the future of humanity. And the American people have been consciously and deliberately misled by their government.

Ultimately the truth must prevail. The falsehoods behind America's war against the people of Afghanistan must be unveiled.

It's amazing that anything "crystal clear" can emerge out of this murk -- unless it was a priori. And that's the point. This guy knows the answer; he's simply on a hunt to find evidence for it. Regardless of what he finds, he's sure he's proved something because the answer is so obvious. To him, anyway.

Sadly, it also seems to be obvious to other people. I'd love to report that the person who posted this on MetaFilter recognized the absurdity of it, but I cannot. She was quite serious; she thought it was profound. She actually defended it in the resulting discussion. I by no means think that all leftists swallow this kind of rubbish whole; we're talking lunatic fringe here -- 8 sigma out, at least. (discuss)

Stardate 20011107.1328 (On Screen): Why do all the heroes in animé look European? I know this is not a new observation, but I've never understood it. You get lots of blonde hair and blue eyes and everyone's eyes are round. Sometimes you see orientals in animé but they're always villains (and in many cases you don't see them at all). Recently I have stumbled a few times on the show Dragon Ball Z (on Cartoon Network) and it's rather odd, not least of which because it's a serial and they're making no attempt to run the episodes in order. But from the five or six episodes I've watched, I'm beginning to get at least some idea of the plotline (say what?). Still, they got a guy with green skin, but no-one evidently from Japan. Which is strange, because they all seem to have Japanese names. I'm confused. (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011107.1313 (On Screen): Someone linked to me from a CNN discussion board, and what they linked to is my essay on how the genetic veriability in the human Y chromosome proves that the Noah story is untrue. In that same posting, I found this link, which partially explains why it is that the Y chromosome is so small. But it leaves something out.

What it shows is that the Y chromosome is uniquely destined for genetic damage. What it doesn't explain is why it's small. They leave out an interesting bioengineering fact: the race is to the swift. Selection of sperm cells is based on speed, and all other things being equal, lighter cells have an edge. (This is a good thing; it means that sperm cells which, because of a mistake in meiosis, carry an extra chromosome are heavier and are unlikely to win the race and thus form a deformed child.) That's why a slight majority of births are male: sperm cells carrying Y chromosomes weigh slightly less than sperm cells carrying X chromosomes. So for every hundred girl babies born there are about 103 boys. (But by the time you reach age 6 the numbers have equalled out, because boy babies also have a slightly higher death rate.)

According to this, originally the Y chromosome was an X chromosome carrying a critical mutation. Over time, it begins to accumulate damage due to the fact that it ceases to recombine. But if there were physical damage to Y chromosomes during sperm formation, so that some of them were physically smaller than others (because they'd physically dropped sections of genetic material which were unimportant anyway) then those sperm cells would be lighter and faster than the ones with the full sized chromosomes. Thus not only is there a long term trend towards genetic damage on the Y, but also towards decreasing its size.

But this can only happen for the Y chromosome because it is the only chromosome which cannot ever double in a child. (There isn't any way that both parents can carry Y chromosomes.) A Y chromosome invariably is matched to an X which carries all the missing information the Y lost. (discuss)

There is only one way a YY egg could form, and it would require simultaneous mistakes in meiosis by both parents. First, the mother would have to create an egg with no X chromosome. Second, the father would have to produce a sperm cell with two Y's. Such a sperm cell would still weigh less than one carrying an X chromosome so it wouldn't be out of the race. If such a sperm cell fertilized a normal egg then you'd get an XYY, the notorious "supermale". If it fertilized our X-less egg, you'd get a YY. But a YY egg would not be viable; there is essential genetic information on the X chromosome which would not be expressed and the fetus would die early.

Stardate 20011107.1211 (On Screen): One reason the RIAA may be waving a white flag is that their new lawsuit against producers of file swapping software is exceptionally weak. Against Napster they had a reasonable case, because the music files were being hosted by Napster itself on its server farm. That meant that Napster was actually party to copyright infringement. Napster tried to hide behind the principle that it was no more responsible for the music on its site than would AOL be for personal web pages they host -- but that was wrong and the judge quite rightfully rejected that argument.

However, when you talk about MusicCity, the latest target of RIAA's wrath, the situation is different. MusicCity creates a software package which they give away. When the package runs, it displays advertising for which MusicCity is paid but aside from that it doesn't connect to MusicCity's servers. Rather, it is used by people to create their own file swapping networks, and the information moves directly from one person to another.

MusicCity's product is legally identical to a photocopier or a CD burner. The company making it has no control whatever over how it is used. It can be used to violate copyright, and both are indeed used that way routinely. Yet the manufacturers of those products are not themselves liable in any way for violation of copyright, and copyright law cannot be used to prevent sales of CD burners or of photocopiers. By the same token, a VCR has that same ability and it's even more blatant, since easily 98% of the use of VCRs is for capture of broadcast material all of which is copyrighted. And yet the landmark Sony decision declared that VCR manufacturers were not liable for copyright infringement even if it was routine with those products. Sony now makes a device specifically intended for burning your own CD anthologies by copying music tracks from other CDs; I have seen no indication that RIAA intends to try to stomp on that, either.

RIAA is trying to do to MusicCity what it did to Napster, but I don't think it's going to work this time. The EFF is putting together a legal dream-team on MusicCity's behalf, and they are going to fight based on the fact that MusicCity itself is not involved in transacting copyrighted material.

The legal issues are far from clear, despite a year-and-a-half of litigation by Napster and the record industry. Federal judges have deemed Napster potentially liable for copyright infringement damages largely because it ran a central indexing server that allowed people to swap files, and e-mails showed that executives knew massive amounts of copyrighted music were being traded.

I disagree; I think the issue is extremely clear. RIAA doesn't have a case, and they're going to go down in flames. (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011107.1105 (On Screen): A sure sign that you've been spending too much time in front of your computer is if the paint on your mouse is wearing off. (Although now that I notice it, there's a shiny spot on my space bar where my right thumb rests, and the "S" and "L" key caps are getting a bit faded. Sigh.) (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011107.0725 (On Screen): The revolution is here! Linux has achieved near parity with Windows and desktop users will switch in droves! (In your dreams.)

An alternative can't be "just as good"; it has to be substantially better in ways which matter to the users -- and it isn't. (It may be better in ways which matter to the developers and advocates, but the differences for most users are much less important.) That's because the very act of change is itself an expense, and it's a very high one. Even if the new alternative is "free", there is still that cost of change to surmount. Which is why it's hardly surprising to learn that there's little impetus in big business to switch to Linux even if it is free. (discuss)

Stardate 20011107.0647 (On Screen): Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, has given a speech at a gathering of software developers working on peer-to-peer networking software, and it wasn't full of hellfire and brimstone. She compliments them; she asks them to work with the RIAA to protect intellectual property. This article describes it as her waving an olive branch; to me it looks more like a white flag. (discuss)

Stardate 20011107.0638 (On Screen): In the wake of the September 11 bombing, Americans all over the country (and people all over the world) opened their wallets for the benefits of the victims of that terrible event. But aware of the potential for such largesse to be siphoned off by unscrupulous "charities", the majority have chosen the Red Cross to be the conduit by which their money would be funneled to those victims.

Except that the Red Cross itself is doing a lot of siphoning, too. It claims that it never intended for the majority of that money to go to the victims; it's already finding all sorts of other things to spend it on. Upwards of half a billion dollars was collected and less than a quarter of it has actually found its way to the victims and their families. Those who have applied for help have found a bureaucratic barrier a mile high.

A few years ago the United Way was seen to be the best and most trustworthy place to make charitable giving. Then there were scandals where it turned out that the top managers of that institution had been spending funds lavishly on themselves, and giving to United Way dropped precipitously. Americans are charitable people but don't like to be stolen from, and credibility is difficult to build but easily lost. The American Red Cross gets one chance to handle this right: that money was given by people not for the Red Cross to use as it saw fit, but to be used specifically for the benefit of the victims in NYC. If the Red Cross treats this as a windfall, and even if with the best of intentions routes much of that money into other worthy directions, then its ass is grass and it will be permanently soiled. It doesn't matter what else they think the money could be used for; they should use it for what the people who gave it thought it should be used for. The American Red Cross has spent a hundred years building its credibility; it can squander it in a week by being greedy and stupid. (discussion in progress)

Stardate 20011107.0559 (On Screen): Anthropology and Archeology continue to grapple with faint clues to our origins. The evidence for our evolutionary origin in southern Africa is now beyond argument; the real question is when we spread out to the world. In that case there seemed to be different and contradictory pieces of evidence. First, traces of relatively primitive hominids are found all over the world going back quite a ways -- perhaps a million years. But if that were the only diaspora, then local evolution would kick in, and modern humans would have become far more diverse than we are.

Part of the problem was that for decades this field was partially blinded by European arrogance and blatant racism, and the degree of diversity in modern humans was exaggerated. But as the scales of racism have fallen from our eyes and as modern genetic analysis has been used to give quantitative measures of the differences between the peoples of the world, it's become apparent that we really are all alike; the differences are minor. Finally it became clear: there had been two diasporas.

There was an early one, which lead to such things as the homo erectus "Java man" and "Peking man" finds. From this developed the Neanderthals in Europe. And among them you do see the kind of local differentiation that such a time period would imply. But quite recently a new breed of humans developed in Africa and again exploded into the world: the CroMagnons. These expanded out and replaced all the other hominids elsewhere, and from them all of us are descended. In every regard, the CroMagnons seem to have been modern, but that trace of European ethnocentricsm has hung on, and there was still an urge to try to believe that somehow even if they were genetically modern, well, at least they were not technologically modern and the european strains of them had somehow developed technologies which hadn't been in Africa.

So this article describes as "surprising" the fact that it's now been demonstrated that the CroMagnons in Africa had been using bone tools (a quite advanced technology compared to wood and stone) at the time of the second exodus. I don't find it surprising at all. Every piece of evidence I've seen says that the people who left Africa the second time were for all intents and purposes modern humans. The only important difference between them and us would be due to nutrition and culture and such unimportant things as skin color. (discuss)

Stardate 20011106.1551 (On Screen via long range sensors, and On Viewer via motion sensors): Exhibit A: Professor Bruce Ackerman of Yale University writes that the proper response to the 9/11 attack is to turtle up: to withdraw from the world and firm up our defenses, thus preventing any future attacks on us. Since this will consume all our resources, obviously there will be none left over for external aggression and thus we should not fight any other wars elsewhere. Then we can be safe and sound behind our armored walls here in America and ignore without needing to annihilate those who seek to do us ill, relying on the CIA and FBI to sniff out their plots and prevent them from coming to fruition.

That, of course, doesn't answer the question of what happens to all the Americans who would be risking their lives going overseas for tourism, or to study, or for business reasons; nor about all the investments we have around the world which could be attacked. (Minor details.)

Professor Ackerman is an ass. A perfect defense isn't possible. The only way to guarantee that a threat doesn't attack you in future is to remove that threat. The core of Ackerman's argument against international action is that it is akin to trying to capture a bubble of mercury under your thumb; no matter where you do it, it slips to the side and goes somewhere else. There's some truth to that, but nothing like as much as Professor Ackerman thinks, since the kinds of large operations we're really trying to prevent require considerable assets and infrastructure and organization and pretty much can be prevented at the source. We can't prevent everyone in the world from hating us and having weekly meetings where they vent about how evil we are, but those kinds of groups won't be flying planes into buildings.

But don't take my word for it. Henry Kissinger describes in concrete terms how this is not a quagmire war with no discernable objective for victory. His point is well taken: the primary goal of this war is to make all nations of the world agree to not harbor or tolerate such organizations within their borders, or fundraising for them, or training bases, or other kinds of assets.

The mistake Professor Ackerman is making is one of all-or-nothing; he rejects the idea that a partial success is worthwhile. If as a result of the upcoming war only one US city is nuked instead of two or three, that's worthwhile. It's not a victory, but it's far from a defeat.

It's promising that those opposing the war are actually beginning to propose alternatives. Next mission is for them to propose credible alternatives. (discuss)

Stardate 20011106.1112 (On Screen): It's reported that undercover police in Turkey purchased two and a half pounds of Uranium from smugglers, who claimed it was "weapons grade" (i.e. that it was nearly pure U-235). I think they're going to find that it's a scam. If it is Uranium at all I suspect it's either unrefined or even DU. But if it is actually U-235 then the smugglers will get the death sentence, not from the nation of Turkey, but from the Uranium itself. It's not safe to be close to that much of the stuff for long periods.

Based on what I know, that amount is nothing like enough to make a bomb, but it would be a serious start. I hope this turns out to be a hoax, because if it isn't then the idea of a lot of U-235 running around on the black market is a pretty scary prospect. (discuss)

Update: I'm informed by a reliable source that first of all, a quantity of U-235 that small can be handled safely. At that quantity its level of fission is imperceptible and the metal itself acts as shielding so that only the outer part becomes a source of radiation. My source also informs me that this is tiny by comparison to the amount of U-235 which really would be needed to produce a weapon. The official IAEA "significant quantity" of U-235 is 25 kg. For U-233 or Plutonium it is much smaller, but neither of those occur naturally. Plutonium-239 is manufactured by neutron activation of U-238 (which creates U-239, which beta-decays to Np-239, which beta decays to Pu-239), and U-233 is manufactured by neutron activation of Th-232 (with a double-beta-decay via Pa-233). Both of them have a much shorter half-life than U-235, and thus the quantity needed for critical mass is much lower.

Anyway, according to my source, the only way a kilo of U-235 would be harmful is if it were set on fire and the fumes breathed in. Given that U-235 is a pyrophore that's not actually a trivial concern, but it doesn't seem to have happened.

Stardate 20011106.0946 (On Screen via long range sensors):

The Bush team should tell our Arab partners: Look, we don't need your bases or armies. We just need you to open your societies so the voices of those who want a different Arab future can really be heard. We'll take care of bin Laden — but you have to take care of bin Ladenism.

It won't work. The reason those societies are closed is because their governments are incompetent. The reason their (state-controlled) media try to blame outsiders for everything is that if they didn't the blame would land on their own governments. Hosni Mubarek holds the title of "President", and Egypt holds elections at which he is routinely re-elected. But those elections are no more free than were the ones held in the USSR in the 1960's and 1970's. Egypt is a police state and Mubarek is a dictator, and the only reason he's our friend is that the US buys him off with a multi-billion-dollar bribe every year. (Egypt receives more foreign aid from the US than any other nation besides Israel.) If Mubarek were to open Egyptian society so that "voices of those who want a different Arab future can really be heard" then it would be very good for Egypt -- but very bad for Hosni Mubarek, and he knows it. So it's not going to happen.

And if that's true for Mubarek, it is even more true for the Saud dynasty. They're getting upset over US press coverage of their corruption, their tolerance of private support for al Qaeda, their lack of cooperation in the investigation, and their unwillingness to publicly and forthrightly support us in this -- and they don't like it. (Tough.) But by some reports the Saud monarchy's grip on power is weakening. If they were to open the flood gates of public opinion the result would probably be revolution. In the long run (perhaps a century from now) this would result in a better place to live, though it might take a fifty-year trip through horror to get there. But in the short run the result would be several thousand Saud Princes with no nation to rule or loot. That is not a prospect which appeals to them.

Friedman's proposal presumes that the leaders of the Arab nations actually have the best interests of those nations at heart. That's rather naive. (discuss)

Update: Matt Welch does a good job describing the sheer hypocrisy of the Saudi government.

Stardate 20011106.0910 (On Screen): Can an Islamic nation have a secular liberal democratic government? Indeed it can. There is one, and in many ways it's the most successful Islamic state in the world: Turkey. It's not as liberal as the US, but it is far more liberal than neighboring Syria. Its economy is strong and not based on an accident of natural resources. It has a healthy and prosperous middle class and a strong legal system. And it has now legislated complete equality between the sexes. Though it already had more freedom for its women than most other Islamic nations, it has gone even further now in that direction. Turkey is the proof that Islam and democracy are not incompatible. Islam doesn't require theocracy. (discuss)

Stardate 20011105.2244 (On Screen): Well, we have definitely started dropping fuel-air bombs, the legendary BLU-82. This is a 15,000 pound bomb, 80% of which is explosives. It's dropped from a specially-fitted C-130 cargo plane and its drop is retarded by a parachute, primarily to permit the plane to leave the area before detonation. (Information about it here and here.) I had always thought they contained something like propane or some hydrocarbon, but evidently the "fuel" is primarily aluminum powder, along with some ammonium nitrate and some water to form a slurry. It's certain that the Taliban front-line troops have never witnessed anything like it before. They were originally used in Viet Nam, and a few of them were dropped in Iraq. It's likely that they've undergone a certain amount of development over 35 years, and the exact contents of the warhead are probably classified. Some news reports are claiming that it contains a great deal of ammonium nitrate but that doesn't sound like it makes sense in terms of the theory, which is to take advantage of local atmospheric oxygen. NH40N02 is an oxygen donor, not a consumer, during a blast.

One of the problems with using a pure fuel is getting the dispersal right; if you disperse too far you don't get a blast at all, whereas if you don't disperse far enough then your blast is restricted but more important you get a big fire instead of an explosion because it's oxygen-starved during the first critical milliseconds. I've read that proved difficult to get the dispersion just right. It occurs to me that mixing an oxygen donor into the fuel would grant you some leeway on the high side, so that you could still get an explosion if the mix was too rich.

The word "terror" has come to mean a lot of things recently, so I'm hesitant to use it in this context. But there really isn't any other word which makes sense, so let's come right out with it: part of the reason to use a weapon like this is to terrorize the enemy troops. It's as much a psyops weapons as anything else. (This isn't "terrorism" in the classic sense, of course, though no doubt someone will claim that it is.) Some of it is to neutralize mine fields (because the concussion can set off mines in a wide area), but mostly this is being used now just because it is impressive as hell. With any other weapon, even with cluster bombs, there's a certain amount of luck involved and some men in the zone of attack will come out with minor wounds or even be unscathed -- but not with this. Everyone within a certain range of the detonation will die from the concussion. In fact, within a nearer zone, there won't be any bodies to find because the pressure of the blast will vaporize them. At the same time as these are being dropped, I suspect they're also dropping leaflets saying "You're next" on other parts of the line. Thought these are conventional weapons, they are sufficiently powerful to create a mushroom cloud. Something of the kind was done in Iraq, too, and it was quite effective at sapping Iraqi morale (as well it might; it's a scary weapon).

This really is "the heavy artillery" -- and it doesn't seem like something we'd start doing in preparation to putting the theater to sleep for six months to wait out the winter. It really does sound like they're getting ready to try to convince the Northern Alliance to take Kabul before winter sets in -- for the other effect this has is to strengthen the morale of a force that sees it land on their enemies. (discuss)

Update 20011107: Here is BBC coverage of the BLU-82. Some carps: they're not called "daisy cutters" because of the shape of the blast zone; they're called that because they use a fuse which causes them to detonate just above the surface. The term "daisy cutter" goes back a long way; some bombs used in WWII were also called that. The distinguishing feature of all daisy cutters is a long portruding fuse sticking out of the nose of the bomb to make it detonate above the ground. Second, there isn't time for the fuel mix to penetrate bunkers and suchlike before the detonation; the detonation follows the bursting charge by only a fraction of a second. The reason that fuel air bombs are effective against bunkers is because they burn up most of the oxygen in the vicinity and because they generate such an immense concussion.

Stardate 20011105.1800 (On Screen): Our immune systems have a form of memory, embodied in certain T4 cells. After they've been sensitized to a certain specific invader, they roam our blood seeking that invader and usually not finding it. But if they do, they begin to rapidly divide, generate antibodies to attack that invader, and generate a certain hormone which activates the rest of the immune system. As a result, you can only get a given viral disease once. There are, for instance, four kinds of measles viruses. Now there are vaccines for them all, but when I was young those vaccines didn't exist and it was routine for all kids to get all four of them -- and I have had them, and can never get them again because my body "remembers" them and is ready to fight. If I'm infected with one of those viruses, my immune system will react rapidly and kill it off before the viruses can cause me any harm at all.

So why do I seem to get a cold every winter? It's because each time it's a new disease. The ability of the T4 cells to recognize an invader is extremely specific; it takes very little change in the invader to evade previous detection and force a new round of recognition and sensitization. Adenoviruses are very mutable in certain areas and each year somewhere in the world some virus mutates and changes its antigens in such a way as to be different than before. This new strain then spreads all over the world, fostering yet another mutant somewhere, and so we all get sick every year. (Or at least it seems as if I do. I always get everything which is going around; I always have.)

The point of a vaccine is to pre-sensitize you to the antigen for a given virus (or something-else). In the case of a relatively stable virus like the four versions of measles, or smallpox, it's not too hard to make a vaccine and once given it (with a suitable booster schedule) you're fixed for life. But they can't vaccinate against adenoviruses because of this pesky mutability; even if they could make a vaccine for all the existing strains, they couldn't predict what new ones would pop up, and thus the vaccine wouldn't prevent them.

This article describes how a new form of HIV has appeared which is particularly mutable; this is obviously bad news. But while one reason it's bad is because of the stated fact that it may be able to develop resistance to the drugs used to suppress it, another reason is that HIV is already a virus which, like adenoviruses, has the ability to change its antigens. There are already many unique strains known which are sufficiently different to require separate vaccination, and there's every reason to believe that new ones will continue to develop -- and now, that they will develop at a much higher rate. I've always been skeptical about the prospects for an HIV vaccine; now I'm even more so. (discuss)

In the meantime, it seems as if it should be unnecessary to mention that having sex with a virgin won't cure you of HIV.

Stardate 20011105.1235 (On Screen): Last night's final in the World Series was one of the best games I've ever watched, with all the drama you could have hoped for, and with brave performances by people on both teams. The game was decided by good play, not by errors and flukes, and it was close -- and that's the best it can be. Of all the performances in the game, to me one stands out. Randy Johnson came out and closed the game for Arizona, getting five Yankees out in the 8th and 9th innings. That in itself is an achievement, but he did it after pitching more than 7 innings the day before, and that is astounding. It should have been Kim's job, but after the 4th and 5th games Brenley wasn't willing to trust Kim with it. Even for a young man what Johnson did would have been difficult; for Johnson at age 38 it was stunning. Arizona's manager, Brenly, showed tremendous guts and poise in this series; he's already demonstrated himself to be one of the greats and this was his rookie season as a manager. His decision to go with Johnson at the end of last night's game was totally unorthodox, gutsy as all hell, and clearly absolutely correct. Keep an eye on him; he's going to have a long career.

The decision to award the MVP trophy to both Johnson and Schilling was absolutely correct. It would be difficult to decide which contributed more to this victory overall. But Johnson's performance last night was beyond spectacular. He's a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. (discuss)

Stardate 20011105.1155 (On Screen): The impetus to do something even if it is meaningless has become overwhelming in certain quarters, such as the capitols of Europe. So most of the heads of the EC met in London to consult about the war that most of them aren't fighting, evidently so as to decide how the US should conduct the war. Notably, the US wasn't present at the meeting (in as much as it was EC and not NATO).

"We were unanimous on the absolute need to find a solution to the current problems of the Middle East,'' Chirac told reporters after leaving Blair's Downing Street residence.

Yup, they took the bold step of actually coming out to say that it would be really nice if there could be a solution. What a monstrously brave step. Pfeh.

"We reaffirmed our complete solidarity with the Americans, while being aware that...military action is not the only way to fight international terrorism and that we must reinforce the means of finding a political solution to the organization of Afghanistan,'' Chirac said.

I have a suspicion that there was a mistranslation in this, in as much as nearly everything said here is inconsistent with the concept of "complete solidarity". Is there a French word for "complete" which implies "only partial"? (The way that the Japanese often use the word "Yes" to mean "No"?)

In fact, the most intelligent comment about the whole enterprise came from Portugal, which didn't attend:

Absentee Portugal raised a dissenting voice on Sunday's London meeting. "Initiatives of this type contribute neither to the cohesion of the anti-terrorist coalition, nor to European unity,'' a cabinet source told Reuters in Lisbon, adding such limited meetings among EU nations "should not set a precedent.''

I couldn't have said it better myself. (discuss)

Stardate 20011105.1143 (On Screen): After returning from my vacation last week, I have spent a couple of days catching up with the writings on various web logs and other sites I follow routinely. But I kept putting off one with dread -- Lileks. That's because I knew what would happen: in my diseased state, he would keep making me laugh and every time would set off a coughing episode. It's a plot, I tell you; he planned the whole thing to have revenge against me for my comments about Minnesota. He knew ahead of time what I'd say and planned for it. Curse you, James! Your fiendish plot is revealed for all to see! Back, I say, back to the depths of the X-files from whence you came! (He probably had someone in Vegas infect me.)

Anyway, in one of his columns he mentioned someone I'd never heard of before, Colman McCarthy. So off to Google I went, to see what this individual might have written.

Folks, may I present to you a priceless fool? I couldn't create a strawman as extreme as this guy, even if I wanted to try. Check him out:

The first class of every semester I ask my students, "Is anyone here armed?" No one has ever raised a hand. "You are all armed," I reply. "You're armed with ideas, and you're in school to become armed with more ideas."

Occasionally a student will come back with the charge that I asked a trick question. Of course I did. Nonviolence is a tricky subject. The beauty and sanity of it doesn't get into our heads easily or automatically. It takes years and years of study. Why do we dismiss nonviolence so quickly by saying that it's a wonderful theory but unreal, yet we are willing to go slowly with other complex subjects?

Because it doesn't take years and years of study to realize that you can't stop someone shooting you by thinking good thoughts in their general direction. I give years and years of study to ideas which deserve that level of consideration, but many don't. To unilaterally adopt non-violence is a form of suicide.

But more to the point, it mistakes goals for means. "Being at peace" is like "being rich". If you're rich, you don't have to work for a living; you can live in idle luxury. Being at peace means you don't have to struggle with anyone. But you can't become rich by ceasing to work for a living; all that does is land you on the street. Equally, ceasing to struggle will get you mugged or killed. You can't just decide to live as if you were rich; it doesn't work that way. By the same token, you can't just live in peace if no-one will cooperate with you. "Peace" is a condition that everyone must agree to, or it doesn't exist. The only way one side can unlaterally create peace in a struggle without using violence is by surrendering.

Of course, that was written ten years ago. Think he's changed since then (or since 9/11)? Heck no! Here's an interview with him published 3 days after the bombing and he's advocating no reprisals. So how to break the cycle of violence? "The same way you break the cycle of ignorance -- educate people." In other words, we vanquish al Qaeda not by sending in the Rangers but by sending in the First and Second Armored Teachers divisions. (Let's get those education colleges cranking out graduates, OK? I think we're going to run through a bunch of them, considering that teaching anything in opposition to Islam is a death-penalty offense in Afghanistan.) (discuss)

Stardate 20011105.0949 (On Screen): Be very afraid. There is nothing more determined and ruthless than a teenage American male who feels his turf has been violated, and the retaliation can be terrible to behold. If such a guy is willing to go to this kinds of lengths over a bit of plagiarism and defamation, imagine what they'd be willing to do to the Taliban? Islamic militants have got nothing on us. (discuss)

Especially once we learn to spell "triple"!

Stardate 20011105.0934 (On Screen via long range sensors): The refrain we keep hearing from those who oppose the war seems to be "Yes, what they did to us was bad. But aren

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004