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Stardate 20011208.2209 (On Screen): One of the classic mistakes to make in science is to use too short a baseline for extrapolations. There are some classic examples of that. For instance, at the beginning of the 20th century, the US government decided to do some major water projects in the US Southwest, particularly with respect to damming up the Colorado river and rerouting much of its water to various states in the area. So they decided to do a study of rainfall patterns to figure out what the expected flow of water in the river would be, and then divvied it up. A study was done for 15 years watching the rainfall, and at end of that time, they made the allocations and then started building dams. The problem was that once the projects were built, the river usually didn't run as much water as they expected. Someone went back and did a more comprehensive study including things like treerings from the entire Colorado basin and came to a surprising conclusion: the fifteen years they looked at had been the wettest fifteen year period out of the last thousand. They'd lucked into a statistical freak and had overallocated the river by a substantial margin. (And for decades now the Colorado River has not actually reached the sea. It gets smaller and smaller, turns into a stream and then a trickle and actually dries up a few miles short of the Gulf of California. What the United States doesn't take, Mexico does.) When it comes to something like climate, fifteen years is infinitesimally small. In point of fact, a thousand years is infinitesimally small.

There are a lot of people out there who hate industrialization and have seized on carbon dioxide release as a way of fighting back. "Green House Effect!" they say; "Global Warming!" Oddly enough, thirty years ago they were saying "New Ice Age!" No-one seems to notice the contradiction. And now they claim that the earth is warming up even though for the last 60 years it's actually been cooling down slightly. (Details, details...)

Still, they've even gotten enough credibility to try to pass an international treaty about it, one which Bush has dumped (for which he has reaped bitter criticism). It's possible that they're right, but the science is not there to prove it yet and right now at best what they have is guesses. The studies on which they base their conclusions are highly preliminary and do not explain much that we know about. For example, it's now known that there is a climate cycle of about 1500 years which tracks activity of the Sun (which is slightly variable). It happens to be the case that we are now in the warming phase of that cycle, which was at its trough in the 16th century (during the "mini-iceage") and which is expected to peak in about another hundred years. Then it's expected to cool until about the year 3100. There is evidence that this has been going on for about 12,000 years, which is much longer than humans have had heavy industry. But there are other factors which affect global climate and we do not understand them all. Deep ocean currents in the Atlantic ocean appear to be extremely important, but no-one knows how for certain yet. And there may be other factors involved as well.

Here's a strange one; it doesn't rank as a "theory" but it's an interesting conjecture. Ice cores were drilled in Antarctica on several of the glaciers, so as to study the snowfall patterns there. When they drilled to the bottom, they were surprised to find that there was several feet of slush beneath the ice; it was actually quite warm down there. Ice is actually a very good insulator, and the heat seems to be from the friction of the glacier as it travels along at a snail's pace; the motion is slow but the actual energy release is quite large. So the entire glacier is sitting on a layer of lubricant; it's being held in place by the strength of the ice in the glacier and a few places near the top which actually do hold on, plus much less friction beneath it than had previously been thought. The idea occurred to someone: what if it broke loose? Then the entire glacier would slide off into the sea and immediately break up into millions of ice bergs, converting a substantial part of the surface of the ocean from dark to white, and that would raise the albedo of the earth by a small amount -- which would cause further cooling world wide. The guess is that it would set off a new ice age.

There's no real evidence for this, but it's an interesting fact that the recent cycle of periodic ice ages begins about the time that Antarctica moved over the south pole due to tectonic movement; it may be that every few hundred thousand years a glacier lets loose and starts a new one.

There is much more that is known; other kinds of studies on glacial cores and tree rings and deposits of pollen and numerous other kinds of indirect evidence has permitted a comprehensive evaluation of the world's temperature over the last two hundred thousand years:

(The timescale is non-linear.) Note that the stability of the last 10,000 years is a historical aberration, a freak. And extremely rapid changes in temperature are not abnormal at all, such as a 13 degree F rise which seems to have happened within a fifty year period about 12,000 years ago. Also note that in the last inter-glacial period the temperature fluctuated very wildly, and was sometimes several degrees warmer than it is now. Trying to evaluate the climactic significance of the warming of the last 500 years is just as liable to error as trying to judge the flow of the Colorado river by watching it for fifteen years. To the people who worked on the river, fifteen years was a very long time. It was, after all, one fifth of a lifetime. But the universe cares little for our lifetimes and doesn't choreograph all things to a human timescale. The fact that something seems stable for 50 years (or 10,000) doesn't mean it's stable for 500,000.

Not that this uncertainty will stop some lawyers. One of them has had the bright idea that anyone in the world who is imperiled by rising sea levels should sue the US government for its refusal to ratify the Kyoto accords, since it has "joint and several liability" for increasing the carbon dioxide level of the atmosphere. It remains to be seen whether any court will even hear such a case. I think that the appropriate legal action here should be a sanity hearing. (discuss)

Stardate 20011208.2044 (On Screen via long range sensors): It's official: the war has been won. We know because The Guardian has actually said it was wrong about the war. Well, sort of. It's a begruding, indirect, veiled statement. It says that those people who doubted the war were wrong and that they were fearful instead of wise. (No sign of we in there.) And it does its best to point out as many bad things about the current state of affairs as it possibly can. And never let it be said that The Guardian cannot turn anything into a criticism of someone else: it ends by making it clear that the big loser in all this is Tony Blair. I suppose that this was the best we could have expected; an outright confession that "we goofed" was probably not part of the universe of discourse. Still, it's something. (discuss)

Now we have to work on Amnesty International.

Stardate 20011208.2028 (On Screen via long range sensors): The "bruised ego" problem in Afghanistan may be taking a turn for the much worse. Gul Agha, one of the warlords in the south which was contending for Kandahar, is claiming to have besieged the other warlord, Naqibullah, and is also making plans to move out and try to take control over several provinces and the city of Herat. That city is already in the hands of one of the warlords of the Northern Alliance, Ismail Khan. If Agha really does this, it could cause a complete breakdown of the coalition government and reduce the entire nation to all-out intertribal war. It has to be prevented, no matter what. I hope he's just rattling his sabers; I hope that he doesn't really intend to move on Herat. But if he does, and if there is no other way of stopping him, then the US may have to fire a shot across his bow (or draw a line in the sand) by bombing just in front of his forces as they advance. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. This is the first crisis that Karzai faces; we can only hope that he can deal with it without our help. (discuss)

Stardate 20011208.1638 (On Screen): The Arab League scheduled, and now has cancelled, an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Israel wrt the Palestinians. One of the diplomats said that Arab states wanted to give U.S. peace efforts a chance.

The United States is making an intensive effort to secure a lasting cease-fire in the conflict, where some 800 people have been killed on the Palestinian side and more than 230 people on the Israeli side since Sept. 28, 2000.

That's a laugh. United States efforts now are oriented around putting pressure exclusively on Arafat to crack down (really crack down) on the terrorist groups. The US peace effort is to let Arafat know that his lukewarm cooperaion in the past is no longer adequate. The traditional American stance of "condemn both sides and try to work for accomodation" is out the window now, as of a couple of days ago. It's really rather surprising that the Arab League doesn't recognize this -- and it speaks well for their disunity and (whatever the antonym of "formidable" is).

Arafat, in the mean time, is in a dither and can't seem to get his story straight. Over the last day in different interviews he's variously said that he doesn't care about America, that he needs America to bring pressure to bear on Israel, and that he doesn't need that because he'll really take care of the militants himself. I feel like I've got a front-row seat at a coin-flipping contest; does this man actually have a concrete plan?

Of those, the one most deserving of the "DUHH!" award is his claim that the US has a pro-Israel bias. Quite an acute observation, I must say. Nothing gets by that man. (Except, apparently, for hundreds of militants and dozens of suicide bombers.) Arafat's time has come, and I think he knows it. He's frantically scurrying around looking for a way out, and I don't think he's going to find one. And now even the Arabs have abandoned him. They've given him some lukewarm words of encouragement, pro forma condemnations of Israel, but no concrete action. He's on his own -- and he's never been strong enough to stand on his own. (discuss)

Stardate 20011208.1619 (On Screen): I've had words here about Robert Fisk a couple of times. I think he's a deluded fool. But I'm sorry to learn that he was severely beaten in Pakistan. It's bad when that happens to anyone. So I'm glad he's alright and will recover. (But that doesn't alter the fact that I think he's a deluded fool.) (discuss)

Stardate 20011208.1612 (On Screen): The BBC laments that if Mullah Omar or bin Laden are actually captured, then the US would have a problem. A public trial would turn into a media event and permit them to act as martyrs and victims; a military tribunal would attract negative attention from civil liberties groups (gasp!). The BBC is wrong. There's no problem. If either of them is captured, then they'll be shot and killed while trying to escape. (We Amurricans call that "frontier justice.") (discuss)

Do I have to say that I'm not serious about this? I suppose I must.

Stardate 20011208.1547 (Crew, this is the Captain): I guess I'm not a true Californian yet; having the ground jump around still freaks me out. We just had a quake here which I would say probably lasted four or five seconds. I have no idea yet where the epicenter was; I tried to get to the USGS California Quake site and it's unreachable. (Then I remembered that the Department of the Interior took itself offline for some reason or other.) So I'm going to hunt around and try to find out what happened. No damage here, though; it was really barely noticeable except for the novelty. In five years living here, it's only the second one I've felt. (discuss)

Stardate 20011208.1233 (On Screen): Prince Faisal, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, says that if any Saudi citizens are captured after having fought for al Qaeda in Afghanistan then they should be turned over to Saudi Arabia for punishment. Given how the Saudi government has been blowing hot and cold about this war (and generally about its attitude toward and relations with the US), I'm not so sure that the US will rubber-stamp this idea. After all, if a given prisoner is a member of a rich and powerful family then he might be able to buy his way out from under. On the other hand, such prisoners might actually get much more harsh punishment from Saudi Arabia than from us, such as public decapitation. (discuss)

Stardate 20011208.1029 (On Screen): Louis Freedberg demonstrates an absolutely classic version of leftist tunnel vision: applying compassion in the microscopic at the expense of macroscopic brutality. He takes the cult of victimhood to its logical extreme, trying to excuse a traitor for his treason because he was a victim of society. At what point is anyone ever held responsible for their own actions? Is everyone an ethically-neutral automaton who never makes choices but only responds to stimuli?

Freedberg argues that John Walker, the American who was an active soldier fighting for the Taliban against American forces, should be given back to his parents and permitted to get on with his life.

We'd want nothing less for our own children, who could easily have found themselves in a similar mess.

This guy didn't "find himself in a mess"; he deliberately sought it out. He made a conscious decision to join the Taliban knowing full well that it opposed the United States. And he stayed with the Taliban and continued to fight even after the war against the US broke out. He's 20; he's an adult, and he's legally responsible for what he does. So yes, it's understandable that his parents want him to go free. I'd be surprised if that weren't true. But what about the parents of the men he fought against?

What of the parents of the Special Forces he opposed, who might have been killed by him? What of the parents of the CIA man who died in the prison riot Walker was part of? Or the parents of the US Marines who Walker might well have been fighting against and might have killed or wounded? Where is Freedberg's compassion for them?

Treason is the only crime specifically described in the Constitution itself. It is the worst crime that any citizen of the US can commit. Walker is guilty of making war against the US and of adhering to its enemies, both of which are explicitly described in the Constitution as acts which are considered treasonable. Freedberg's compassion makes a mockery of the entire concept of personal responsibility, and by so doing devalues human dignity for us all.

Walker is an adult and made a decision to commit the worst crime any citizen can commit. He must accept the consequences of his decision. (discuss)

Consider this: if none of us can be held responsible for our mistakes, then how can any of us take credit for our achievements? If no-one ever feels ashamed, how can anyone ever feel pride? Either we take responsibility for our actions and accept all the consequences of them, both good and bad, or we don't. The cult of the victim is the ultimate dehumanization.

Update: Additional comments by Charles Johnson, Matt Welch, Moira Breen and apparently also Andrew Sullivan. Hmmm... think we all been trolled?

Stardate 20011208.0943 (On Screen): The new coalition government in Afghanistan is very fragile. The groups which are cooperating now have been at each other's throats in the past; in some cases as recently as a week ago. The Afghans are used to changing sides and cooperating this week with someone they were fighting last week -- and again changing sides and fighting again next week. That's going to be a problem here. As this article points out, it's going to take a lot of work from outside to keep the coalition government together. But the situation is far from hopeless.

The "warlords" gain their power from patronage. No-one is forced to follow them; they follow because they get benefit from doing so in the form of prestige and direct rewards. Each top level warlord rules a coalition of lower level warlords, and it continues down right to the point where individual warriors will change leaders when they think it makes sense to do so. The warlords have to guarantee a continual flow of perqs down the chain of command or their forces will start to leave them and join someone else who does a better job. That's what we'll take advantage of to keep them in line. There is going to be a lot of aid moving into the country, and some of that will be distributed through these warlords. That then becomes a source of perqs which will keep their forces loyal. But it also means that we'll be able to cut that off if need be. So all the warlords will get told, "Play along and the goodies will flow. Become disruptive and we'll shut off the spigot." And as this process continues, these warlords will have more and more stake in keeping peace and in cooperating so as to keep the flow of foreign aid coming.

We've already used that threat once. In the middle of last week, Karzai said that he'd let Mullah Omar go if Omar apologized and promised not to do it again. By Friday Karzai had declared Omar an enemy of the state and asked the people of Afghanistan to hunt him down. What changed? He got told by the US that if Omar went free, the United States wouldn't provide any reconstruction aid to the nation, but if Omar were captured or killed, then aid would flow in quantities of billions of dollars. (And it will, too.) Money talks, even in the Muslim world. Karzai knows better than anyone what sad shape the nation of Afghanistan is in, and since he was educated in the west (and has siblings living in the US) also knows what we are capable of, both constructively and destructively.

Right now General Dostum is having a snit because he wasn't given as much power in the transition government as he felt he deserved. Don't be too surprised if in a couple of days he suddenly becomes more cooperative and "for the good of the nation" (or for some equally face-saving reason) decides to play along. A little birdie will tell him that it's to his benefit to do so, and he's going to listen.

US bombs won this war. US dollars can win this peace. (discuss)

Stardate 20011208.0857 (On Screen): Uzbekistan has agreed to reopen the "Freedom Bridge" across the Amu Darya river. This will permit humanitarian aid to flow much more easily into northern Afghanistan, since it won't have to be ferried across on barges.

Which leaves me confused about something. Way back in October, the NGO's and various other agencies "called for" a bombing halt during the month remaining before winter was expected to set in around the middle of November. The idea was that enough supplies to feed Afghanistan absolutely had to flow into the nation during that month because once winter set in it would no longer be possible to move supplies at all. So why is it that these self-same humanitarian agencies are now, a full month into that self-same winter, going to use this bridge to move supplies in. Weren't we told it wouldn't be possible by now? (discuss)

For that matter, we were also told that ground war would be impossible once winter set in.

Stardate 20011208.0033 (On Screen via long range sensors): The Times of London reports that Mullah Omar may be under the control of a local Pashtun tribal leader who was and maybe still is somewhat sympathetic to the Taliban cause. If this is true, and given that he didn't manage to find a martyr's death for himself, then it raises the interesting issue of whether the new government of Afghanistan would be willing to turn him over to us.

But then the Times comes up with this gem:

Fears were setting in that the anti-Taleban coalition had lost the man without whom, along with Osama bin Laden, the United States cannot claim victory in its war against terrorism.

I am using main force to keep from spouting profanity here. Where did the Times' writer get the idea that Omar and/or bin Laden were the point of this war? Actually, I don't think that's it. What I think we're seeing here is a projected wish that maybe if the US manages to get its hands on Omar that it will be satisfied and won't feel the need to spread the war to other places. That is utter horseshit; this war was never about capturing and punishing anyone. It always was and still is about eliminating forces in the world which were and are intolerably dangerous to the US. We've had one of ours cities pasted; we're going to do our best to make sure it doesn't happen again. Destroying al Qaeda and eliminating the Taliban were always, always, seen as merely being a first step in that process, because al Qaeda was always seen as being only one of several such groups which were dangerous, and it was always expected that no matter how the war in Afghanistant turned out that it would be necessary to take care of other problem-spots in the world. Those places may or may not require actual combat; one would hope that most of them will not. But the capture of Omar will not change them nor remove the necessity of dealing with them.

Capturing Omar won't mean we won this war, and not capturing him won't mean that we lost it. This war was never about Omar. (discuss)

There's a difference between things going badly and things not going perfectly. These writers are seizing on a series of small setbacks and blowing them all out of proportion. Yes, some Taliban fighters escaped from Kandahar; that was to be expected. Yes, they're going to go into the hills and fight a guerrilla action; that, too, was expected. Yes, we still don't know where bin Laden is. What of it? Those are small things by comparison to all that's gone well in this. No military operation every runs ideally; there are always setbacks. The way to judge a military operation is by whether it achieves its goals despite the setbacks, not by whether there are setbacks at all. So far this one has been spectacularly successful at achieving its political goals. However, it's clear from this that these writers don't have a clue as to what the goal of this war actually is; they still think it was revenge or law enforcement or retaliation. It was never about any of those things.

Stardate 20011207.2336 (On Screen): The UN and various western nations are becoming frantic about making sure that peacekeepers are ready to move in on December 22, when the transition government is scheduled to take power in Kabul. There is a great deal to work out yet, such as who exactly will be on the force, how large it will be, what its responsibilities are, and what nations will contribute the bulk of the force.

Not to mention the question of why they'll be there at all. As far as I can tell, this seems to be something that none of the Afghans requested during the negotiations in Bonn, and indeed generally were rather cool about. There was one point where the Northern Alliance stated that it didn't want any at all, and then there was some back-room dickering and it changed its mind.

So who exactly is it that does seem to think that peacekeepers are such a good idea? It seems to be something that the UN insisted on, most likely the UK, Germany and France. I'm quite certain that the United States was not one of the nations insisting on this; the US has been keeping peacekeepers out (for instance, about 60 French troops who are cooling their heels in Uzbekistan waiting for permission from the US to deploy in Mazar-e Sharif).

Let's look at this closely: much of the strategy that the US has adopted in this war has been oriented around making use of local forces so that when the war was over they'd say "We did it ourselves" and thus have a strong commitment to whatever government was formed afterwards. That turned out to be one of the four biggest benefits of using the locals to do the majority of the fighting. (The other three were to permit rapid progress in the war due to not having to wait for massive American deployment, to face the Taliban with other Muslims, which sapped their morale, and to minimize American casualties.) Now the UN (or at least certain powerful nations within it) want to bring a huge number of foreign troops into Afghanistan to patrol and whatever else it is that peacekeepers do, right smacko in the middle of one of the most xenophobic nations on earth who have just spent 25 years fighting to eject foreigners from their nation. If the new government is propped up by foreign troops or is perceived by the Afghans as being propped up by them then it instantly loses credibility with the people of Afghanistan. It ceases to be "we did it ourselves" and becomes "they forced it on us", and by so doing completely shatters one of the biggest accomplishments of the war as it was fought. In terms of lending stability to the new government and letting it gain momentum, it would be much better to continue the policy of using local forces as much as possible. Otherwise it may come to be viewed as a western puppet (just as the Karmal/Najibullah government was viewed as a Soviet puppet).

This war has gone well, and so far the peace is also going well. I really think that this insistence on foreign peacekeepers will lead to disaster. Peacekeeping has generally been hit-or-miss anyway, and the local circumstances here suggest it will be particularly counterproductive. I don't think that this insistence on deployment of peacekeepers is actually motivated by an examination of the local situation; it's rather some sort of a kneejerk "of course there will be peacekeepers" reaction; it's just how things are done, you understand? It's in the rules.

Well, it wasn't in the rules in Serbia; and yet Serbia managed to put together a demoncratic government anyhow. And it was in the rules in Bosnia, and yet during the time that the peacekeepers were there war continued and the locals continued to be slaughtered. As far as I can tell, there seems to be no correlation between peace and presence of peacekeepers. Peacekeepers are only present at peace when the locals want peace anyway -- and it's not clear but that in such cases they'd make peace themselves even if no peacekeepers were present.

Part of the problem is working out rules of engagement. In some cases (e.g. Bosnia) the peacekeepers were under orders to never fire their weapons -- and thus had no ability to stop hostile locals from doing anything non-peaceful. On several occasions the local commander strongly requested, indeed nearly begged, for permission to engage, which was always refused. The hope that they would stop conflict just because they were standing there wearing perky blue berets was shattered in Bosnia, and in many cases they actually stood and watched fighting because they were under orders not to interfere. It was a dismal failure. On the other hand, when the peacekeepers are armed and willing to fight, they can become viewed as just another partisan power among many, as happened in Somalia and Beirut. In all of thsoe cases, a large number of the locals actually did not want peace, and there was nothing the peacekeepers could do about it.

Peace is always a side effect; it is not and can never be a goal to be directly accomplished. Peace is not an end in itself. You get peace when you eliminate the sources of conflict; but that is not something peacekeepers can do. Soldiers can do it, and so can diplomats. Peacekeepers get to be present at peace only when they're lucky enough to be someplace where the soldiers or diplomats have done their jobs well. And in Afghanistan, the peacekeepers will be by their very nature introduce a source of conflict if they are foreign troops. Which is why I think it is essential that the peacekeepers be Afghan. (discuss)

Stardate 20011207.1245 (On Screen): NATO head Lord Robertson says that the invocation of Article V of the NATO charter might well continue to apply in case action begins in Iraq. "Should evidence be put forward that Iraq is involved, Article V could take hold." Also, "The duty to support one another was invoked unanimously. It can only be revoked unanimously."

My suspicion meter just pegged. (Dammit, I thought I told engineering to recalibrate that sucker.) See, that could be read two ways. First, it might mean "German and French reticence notwithstanding, if there's really a good reason to fight there then NATO ought to help." But it might also mean "The United States is legally bound to only fight in Iraq if it can convince all the other NATO members that Iraq was directly involved in the 9/11 attack, and even then only in ways approved by the other NATO members." Is this yet another attempt by Europe to restrain the impetuous Americans who won't listen to reason and go back to that oh-so-effective path of negotiation and sanctions?

I don't yet know if the US will attack Iraq. I don't even know whether it should. I do know that we're not going to submit that question to our allies or require their approval to make it. The United States will decide for itself whether to fight in Iraq and will fight alone if need be. Article V was intended to motivate member nations to war, not to restrain them from it. It's a mobilization clause, not a paralysis clause. (discuss)

Stardate 20011207.0958 (On Screen): I think there's hope for the future. At least some young people in this country are not buying the stupidity of their parents. I've mentioned Jord before; he's one of the contributers to WankerCounty and though he's a pretty typical teenager, obsessed with girls and video games and music and his friends and girls, he's also creative and deep-down sensible. He's been the victim of adult stupidity more than once. For instance, he went downtown and started taking pictures of a building there -- and was roughly questioned by a security guard who suspected he might be a terrorist. And now "zero-tolerance" has struck him; his art collage was suppressed at school because it contained pictures of a couple of men with guns. I might mention that about the most violent that Jord gets is when he and a buddy went to visit the keeper of another blog and soaked him with squirtguns. (Alas, the photos from that expedition are no longer online, lost in their upgrade.)

Jord rejects the idea that he and his fellows are stupid imitators of whatever they see around them, and he's right. A kid who is raised well and taught well will not confuse the movies for reality, and those who really are deeply disturbed (such as the murderers at Columbine) are likely to explode even without such exposure. Jord understands what the parents in his community (and, seemingly all around the US) don't: everyone has to take responsibility for their own actions. The cult of the victim is morally bankrupt

Another thing that gives me hope (thanks, Iain): the high school student body in a town in New Hampshire voted on the "class sweethearts" for their yearbook and overwhelmingly chose a lesbian couple. The school principal overrode that result, but the superintendent reversed that and the choice will stand. Evidently the students in that school have not inherited the anti-gay baggage of many in my generation. And that is as it should be. Each generation should harvest the best it can from the one which comes before, but leave the worst behind. I was, for instance, deeply heartened the first time I saw a mixed group of black and white teenagers hanging around together in the Boston area. They didn't seem to think this was remarkable; but I knew just how unusual it was. Boston was where school-busing first caused riots; if it's not where the term "neighborhood schools" first became a euphemism for apartheid then it is surely where it became established that way. And yet the kids ignored it, and discovered that kids with different skin colors are fun to hang out with.

I want to see more people that age telling people my age that we're full of shit, and start ignoring what we have to say -- because we are full of shit about many things. We have a great deal to teach which is valuable, but we also have a great deal to teach which belongs on the compost heap. And they have to decide which is which, because we naturally think it's all valuable (or we wouldn't be trying to pass it on), even though we're wrong. Primary among those things which should be compost is the idea that teenagers have to be protected from evil influences because they're too stupid or naive to recognize evil when they see it. The right solution, as Jord points out, is to teach them before that to recognize and resist evil so they can protect themselves. (discuss)

Stardate 20011207.0738 (On Screen):

Security, including a cash-for-guns program, was vital, Brown said.

"One has to de-mine and re-establish a police force and judicial system, and collect weapons. We need a cash-for-guns program, like we had in Mali, Albania and Sierra Leone."

Say what? Have we forgotten the lesson of Flight 93 so soon? Security doesn't come from disarming; it comes from the willingness and ability to fight back. The most recent effort to disarm Afghanistan was imposed by the Taliban itself in order to prevent those it ruled from having the ability to save themselves from Taliban brutality. Now the remnants of the Taliban will move into the hills and will probably resort to banditry to support themselves; the only defense will be the fact that everywhere they go, everyone they try to attack, will have the will and ability to fight back. The last thing that Afghanistan needs now is a "guns for cash" program. Aid? Yes. Disarmament? Hell no! (discuss)

Former Ambassador Zaeef says that even with this collapse, that the Taliban will continue to exist, will bide their time, and will rise again. "In every village, mosque, home and province there is a Talib." The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said in the 19th century, "The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance." I don't believe that the Afghan people will believe the good wishes of the Taliban again. But they'll need more than their own good wishes to keep the Taliban from rising again.

Stardate 20011207.0708 (Crew, this is the Captain): Yesterday was my first 2000-hit day on the front page; the actual count was 2111 (as well as hundreds of references to specific log entries). For whatever it's worth, this is what the traffic chart looks like:

I'm grateful folks; I couldn't have done it without you. Of course, it didn't hurt that on Wednesday I got a side-bar link from Glenn Reynolds; the number of refers from there has been astounding. I hope that this doesn't mean that it's getting hard to reach the server. Just watching the blink rate on the ethernet port it still looks as if there's still a lot of capacity even during prime time. Also, we're going to be getting a 50% boost in uplink bandwidth here in the next month for free, and they're going to be offering higher tiers of service sometime in January. If traffic keeps increasing I'll look into getting more bandwidth. (discuss)

Stardate 20011207.0653 (On Screen): The orderly surrender of Kandahar has broken down and turned into a rout instead. In some ways this is actually desirable; it solves a couple of political problems, for one thing. The city is being taken, and this liberates the last major concentration of Afghans who were still under Taliban rule. (All the other Taliban strongholds seem to be collapsing now as well, such as Spin Boldak.) Omar and his top Taliban leadership (such of whom still live) are nowhere to be found and have probably fled the city.

The reason for the collapse is pretty clear now. It was because the bombing had become intolerable. There are reports of as many as 10,000 dead, mostly soldiers, in the Kandahar area as a result of the bombing. With a concentration of the zone of conflict, the US air assets could concentrate mostly on the Kandahar area, and the ferocity achieved new levels. Mullah Omar urged his troops to "fight to the death" but while they were dying, they weren't being given any opportunity to fight. The friendlies mostly stayed out of range and moved into power vacuums and in any case were fellow Muslims, and the Americans were nowhere to be seen, except straight up in their damnable aircraft. For warriors, this was the worst of all possible worlds: to die, to be slaughtered in droves, with no chance at all to fight back. And it only looked to continue that way and get worse. Eventually morale cracked and the troops demanded a change in the situation. The Taliban were running out of men but the Americans didn't seem to be running out of bombs. If that 10,000 figure is correct, it may well represent half the force which was defending Kandahar. From the point of view of the Afghan/Muslim warrior ethic, the situation had become untenable.

What will happen next is two things. A lot of the escapees will try to make their way to Pakistan. But that is quite a forlorn hope. The distance to be moved is considerable, all the locals along the way will be against them, and the Americans will be watching with satellites and UAVs and will bomb hell out of anything seen to be moving in that direction. And between Kandahar and the Pakistani border, there are also US Marines with orders to stop all such movement. And if they get to the border, the Pakistani Army is deployed there in strength.

Other Taliban and al Qaeda troops will go into the hills and try to reorganize there in strength, with the intent to start a guerrilla action. The experience with Tora Bora speaks against the possibility for success here; it was by all accounts the best and most defensible remote position they had and it too has now fallen, again primarily because of bombing. But smaller groups are harder to find, and they may just turn into roving bands. They will have no foreign help and over a period of months or years will wither away from combat casualties, desertion, starvation and old age. To support themselves they may take to banditry. There will be low grade warfare for years with Afghan troops and American air support taking care of pockets of resistance as they're discovered. It's unlikely that this will be done by Navy jets; it's too expensive to keep a carrier there indefinitely. Instead there will be a force of American land-based aircraft either based in Afghanistan itself or more likely in a neighboring nation. My best guess is that it will be in Uzbekistan. Having it be based in a neighboring nation has several advantages: it reduces the possibility of Afghan xenophobia eventually turning on the American forces and coming to view them as foreign occupiers, and it means that the base itself will be in more secure and ordered surroundings and will be easier to supply.

In the mean time, the situation keeps us from having to deal with issues such as the Afghans themselves offering amnesty to Omar. He's on the run and even the Afghans now want him dead because he no longer has anything to offer in a deal. He's a hunted man. (If we haven't already, we may put a price on his head, too.) For everyone involved, except him, the best outcome is for him to die violently, and his chance of that just went way up. (discuss)

Stardate 20011206.2224 (On Screen): With the negotiated surrender of Kandahar, and a report that Tora Bora has been taken, we're in the end-game now in Afghanistan. The Taliban no longer exist as a relevant political force and will never wield power in Afghanistan again, and because of this debacle likely will have little influence in Pakistan. al Qaeda has been dramatically hurt, with most of its main organization wiped out. It will take years for it to recover, if it ever does. It's almost certainly not completely dead; there are still cells operating elsewhere in the world, but the central leadership is gone (mostly dead or in captivity). There will be more combat activity in the next few months in Afghanistan primarily intended to continue finding and neutralizing caves which al Qaeda stragglers may be trying to use, but the pace of combat and bombing will now taper off substantially.

It's been one for the books. As a student of military history, I'm hard pressed to think of a military operation which has been run as well and has had such spectacular results. US strategy leveraged our strengths to the maximum and minimized the strengths of our opponents. And let's be clear: handled wrongly, the Taliban could have been extremely formidable. A direct assault by American troops in quantity would have united the Taliban's army and given them better morale than they actually had, and the result would almost certainly have been substantial American casualties -- and more important, no decisive victory and quite possibly a defeat. And even if such an approach had won, it would have left the Afghan people bitter and resentful and made a post-war settlement nearly impossible.

American precision bombing set a whole new standard for surgical application of force. Yes, there were misses -- but damned few. There were friendly casualties, but what was remarkable was how rare those were.

Of course, the biggest point to notice is the contrast between the Soviet experience there and that of the United States. The Soviet Union moved troops into Afghanistan and stayed there nine years, and accomplished nothing. The United States began its war there and won it in two months. Why were the results so different?

The results were different because nearly everything about how the two wars were fought were different. The Mujahideen who fought against the USSR were aided by a tremendous covert flow of supplies and money and information and advice from the US via Pakistan; the Taliban had no patron, with every surrounding nation (and nearly all of the rest of the world) hating it. The USSR tried to fight a western war, with the primary emphasis being on attack and battle. The US fought a traditional Afghan war, with the primary emphasis being on convincing Afghan groups to change sides. The USSR fought with foreign (Soviet) troops against the home-grown Mujahideen, and so the traditional Afghan xenophobia was directed against the USSR. The United States used the bare minimum number of American troops necessary and used local troops to do most of the fighting, with heavy and effective use of American air power to give them the edge in battle. Since the core of Taliban military was foreign (al Qaeda) troops, Afghan xenophobia was directed at the Taliban, not at the US. And it has to be said that the US military was better in nearly every regard than the Soviet military was: better planning, better training, better equipment, better doctrine, better flexibility.

But the biggest difference was the goal: the USSR fought to create and sustain an unpopular government, whereas the point of the US war was to dislodge the unpopular government which was there and to let the Afghans themselves create a popular replacement. The USSR was fighting a war of conquest and intended to stay; the US was fighting what amounted to a war of liberation and intended to leave afterwards. The USSR was fighting against the will of the Afghan people; the United States had the will of the Afghan people on its side. That was the biggest difference, and one to keep in mind if we go into combat again, in another nation such as Iraq. We will need local popular support to win; it will be far more difficult to prevail if the people of the next nation actually do believe in and support the government against which we fight. If that should turn out to be Iraq, then it's fortunate that there's every reason to believe that the Iraqis hate Saddam Hussein just as much as the Afghans hated the Taliban. (discuss)

Oh, by the way, here's why we're going to lose in Afghanistan. (Thanks, Andrew.)

Stardate 20011206.2035 (On Screen): Laying in bed, Abdul Rahman's one wish in life is to go back into combat fighting against Americans and Zionists. It's interesting, and a bit chilling, to read what he has to say. No, not because "why does he hate us so much", but because there's no way he's going to stop hating us or stop wanting to fight against us. We have to fight him, because he won't stop fighting against us until he's dead or crippled or imprisoned. (discuss)

Update: Now wait a minute: the AP story said that he was speaking Arabic and had to have his anti-western curses translated for the reporter. This WashPost article reports the same events but says that he spoke flawless English with a NY accent. I wonder whether this event actually happened at all; sounds like someone might be making things up.

Stardate 20011206.1646 (On Screen): Sometimes I just know what someone else is going to say. Take the current situation in Kabul: because of American bombing and Pashtun ground assault, the Taliban are falling apart and ready to give up. They've been negotiating a surrender with the Pashtun, with the proviso that Mullah Omar be guaranteed safety. The US won't accept that. Here's what I know at least someone will say in the next 24 hours: "The United States is an obstacle to peace." The war in Afghanistan could be over, they'll say, if only the United States was less martial, less aggressive. Look, they'll say, the Taliban are ready to negotiate.

We didn't go into this war for the hell of it. We went into this war to destroy al Qaeda, which was a danger to the United States, and to make a clear example of the Taliban for the benefit of other nations we may need to fight. The one thing we cannot do here is to end the war with the Taliban's leadership getting off scot free, because then our threat to other nations will be blunted. We need to be able to say to Saddam and other similar leaders: Knuckle under or we're going to get you personally. If Omar gets away, even to internal exile, then that threat won't be as credible. Omar tolerated a force inimical to the US within the area he controlled; he refused several years worth of demands that he stop, and it became clear later that he'd sold himself to al Qaeda and acted as a puppet for bin Laden. Omar himself must suffer as a result of this war; either imprisonment or as a casualty of war, but he must suffer; because the heads of other states must be given graphic proof that they themselves will also suffer if they don't change their ways.

If the United States prevents the immediate end of the conflict in Afghanistan because of this it will be because the United States is trying to maximize the chance of not having to fight in any other country. (discuss)

Update: Whew! that's a relief. Hamid Karzai, newly designated leader of the Afghan transition government, says that Omar and the other top Taliban leaders must face trial.

Stardate 20011206.1041 (On Screen): It appears to be confirmed: the Taliban are surrendering. Omar made a deal and sold out his troops to save his own ass. He will be afforded "tribal protection", whatever that means. The US has previously said in no uncertain terms that amnesty to top al Qaeda figures was not acceptable, and I think also that amnesty for top Taliban figures would not be permitted. But if indeed Omar did sell out his own, any chance he might have of being politically important later will be nil -- who would trust him again? The best answer might well be to let him have his internal exile, and then to have a sniper pick him off some time. I doubt anyone will mourn. But I don't know if that's what the US government will actually do. We are, after all, a co-belligerent here. On the other hand, we do have men attached to the friendly headquarters in the Kandahar area, and it's hard to see how a deal like this could be made without US assent. (After all, the Pashtun friendlies have no way to stop the bombing.) So I suspect the US may be viewing this as another Hirohito, a small price to pay to win the war. Ultimately the top Taliban leaders were not really the target for the US, and the remaining al Qaeda forces holed up at Tora Bora will get no such deal. (discuss)

Update: Apparently Omar doesn't get to be this war's Hirohito.

Stardate 20011206.0944 (On Screen): Well, Andrew Sullivan created the "Sontag Award" (which was co-opted by the Weekly Standard). Seems to me that there's plenty of material worthy of note, though, and Aaron sends in this prime example of leftist vision dated October 27, published in the NYT (where else?):

Since the administration tightly metes out the news from Afghanistan, we can only hope that the war there is being executed more effectively than the war here — even as Mr. Rumsfeld and his generals now tell us that the Taliban, once expected to implode in days, are proving Viet- Cong-like in their intractability. The Wall Street Journal also reported this week that "instead of a thankful Afghan population, popular support for the Taliban appears to be solidifying and anger with the U.S. growing."

Just as a matter of historical record, two weeks later the Taliban did "implode" rather spectacularly. (Searching for evidence of "anger with the U.S." is left as an exercise to the reader, not to mention "popular support for the Taliban".) For this amazing achievement, USS Clueless bestows to Frank Rich the first Weisberg award. (discuss)

Stardate 20011206.0430 (On Screen): Recently it was reported that Mullah Omar was in the process of negotiating the surrender of Kandahar, and then Allah sent him a dream where he ruled Kandahar forever. After that he broke off negotiations and urged his soldiers to fight to the death. Now it's reported that he is again negotiating a surrender. One can only hope, but does this mean that Allah sent him another dream which indicated that the previous one was inoperative?

If indeed such an agreement has been reached, it will also be interesting to see what the terms are. For one thing, if they include having Taliban forces evacuate the city, then they're going to have to talk to the US Marines about it. (discuss)

Stardate 20011205.2238 (On Screen): Arafat is trapped. He no longer can wiggle out. His forces attempted to make one of the necessary arrests and were beaten back by Hamas. He phoned Peres, usually the most tractable member of Israel's government and Peres told him bluntly that there was no longer any more time and Arafat had to act immediately and decisively, and nothing less would do. Peres gave him 12 hours.

He has pleaded for international support to reign in the Israelis but that's not going to happen, because the United States won't do it and no-one else can. And even other Arab nations are telling him that he's out of time and that the militants have to be completely stopped immediately and that only he can do it. There's no way for him to talk his way out; he has no friends and no way to dither and delay. There's no where to turn, no way to hide. He's screwed, big time. (discuss)

Stardate 20011205.1847 (On Screen): Arafat is begging for more time to fight terror. It's not like he hasn't had plenty of chances until now, and I suspect that both the United States and Israel will recognize this for what it is: stalling. If Arafat gets a time extension, it will be measured in hours and not in weeks. But I think he will get one because I think Sharon really does want him to crack down -- because I think Israel is trying to set off a Palestinian civil war. (discuss)

Stardate 20011205.1641 (On Screen via long range sensors): Jacob Weisberg tries to claim that there is not truly and anti-war liberal movement. Here's the key point in his argument:

But neither Hitchens nor anyone else can produce the name of a single prominent "liberal"—as opposed to a radical literary figure or European intellectual—who actually opposes military action against Osama Bin Laden.

So when someone like me mentions, for instance, Chomsky then Weisberg dismisses him as a crank. When I mention Oliver Stone, Weisberg says "No, he's a literary figure." This is what is known as the No True Scotsman fallacy; it's a form of victory by definition. He's dynamically altering the definition of "Liberal" on the fly to exclude anyone who does oppose the war, and by so doing prevents anyone from bringing up a counterexample. His argument is tautological because he gets to define what a "liberal" is, and his definition is "left wing people who don't oppose the war". It's also meaningless because his use of the term no longer coincides with the normal usage. He's creating his own language, and it isn't English anymore (though it sounds a lot like it)

The rest of us think that Chomsky and Stone are liberals. If Weisberg doesn't like being associated with them, he better go talk to them and try to convince them to change. (discuss)

Tim Blair points out this classic example of a liberal who opposed the war and, in late October, declared it a failure.

Stardate 20011205.1424 (On Screen): About three weeks ago, shortly after the fall of Kabul, a group of planes landed at Bagram air base just north of the city and unloaded a hundred Royal Marines plus an unidentified group of Americans. Some members of the Northern Alliance objected to the presence of the British (and there was a diplomatic scuffle which was quickly settled) but no-one seemed to mind the Americans. In fact, no-one seemed to even notice them. The press never even reported who they were, let alone what they were doing there, and the Northern Alliance didn't object to their presence. Now it's revealed: they were elements of the 10th Mountain Division, and what they've been doing is to repair the airfield (and clear mines and unexploded ordnance). They're still being coy about the mission (they won't reveal the number of men involved), which is a bit curious. I think it's that they're trying to lay low to avoid worrying the locals, who are probably always going to be suspicious of foreign troops. (discuss)

Stardate 20011205.1359 (On Screen): By far the most remarkable aspect of the newly agreed-to Afghan government (besides the fact that it exists) is that a Pashtun was chosen to lead it. That above all gives me hope that it will be effective, because it shows that the members of the Northern Alliance were sincere in wanting it to be effective. By all accounts the man chosen for the top job was the best possible choice, but there was always the possibility that the Pashtun would get dealt out of the game, leaving them resentful and ripe for rebellion. In fact, despite the attempts of the press to portray these talks as bogging down and showing every sign of failing, the fact that they were able to come up with this settlement in just one week truly shows that they all always did want a result. They showed up there not to make an impression but to really deal.

Though war is reputed to be the national sport of Afghanistan, I think that 30 years of it have exhausted the nation and no-one there wants it anymore. Even ambitious tribal leaders can see the effect this has had on their own people, and they also can see the huge aid package that the Western nations offered if and only if a stable government was formed. So I think they really are genuine about this. They're out of the habit of being unified, to be sure, and there are going to be disputes and hurt feelings and personal ambitions getting in the way of cooperation. There will be crises. But I think that it's going to work because the Afghans themselves want it to work, and believe that it can.

And the people who hold the most important positions in the government have them because they proved themselves in this war. The use of "proxy troops" in this war by the US is now paying dividends in winning the peace, and the willingness of the Northern Alliance to accept Karzai is to a great extent due to the fact that he raised and led the southern Pashtun against the Taliban. If it had been predominately western (read "American") troops who had fought and won this war, there would not be the same potential now for a stable government afterwards. Because the government is formed from those who liberated Afghanistan, it has credibility and a real chance to succeed. (discuss)

Stardate 20011205.0936 (On Screen):

NATO, stung into action by the September 11 attacks on the United States, will declare war on terrorism this week and consider how best to gird itself for a new kind of battle.

"It's not just rhetoric," a senior NATO official said ahead of a two-day meeting of foreign ministers that will end on Friday with a special standalone statement on terrorism.

But apart from sending early warning planes to patrol U.S. skies and putting on a show of naval power in the eastern Mediterranean, it has not played a visible role in the U.S.-dominated theater of war against terrorism in Afghanistan.

Officials insist that NATO has not been sidelined. They point to offers by several allies to send troops and refueling and overflight facilities provided for U.S. warplanes.

They also deny that NATO's exclusion from the frontline means it has lost its purpose as a military machine.

In fact, the reason for the lack of participation in Afghanistan is that the US didn't want them there. The point is precisely that NATO has been sidelined and that it's largely lost its purpose (which was to oppose the Warsaw Pact). Kosovo killed NATO and this war may well bury it. This is their last chance to dig back out of the grave. So what have they got planned? Damned little, actually, because they really don't have the ability to do much. Among NATO members, the only nations with substantial capability to project force outside Europe are the United States and the United Kingdom -- and both of them are already doing so, not under NATO command. So the Europeans plan to "call for" more defense spending in Europe, to try to develop the ability to project force (which won't be cheap and won't come soon -- ten years at a minimum) and they promise to increase cooperation and intelligence sharing. It appears to be an empty gesture.

So what's this really about? I think it's three things. First, I do think it's one last attempt to try to get included in the decision-making process in this war, mainly so as to hold back the US. In particular, I think it's intended as a way of preventing the US from attacking Iraq. They're going to say "See, America, we're at war now too, so stop all that unilateral action and don't do anything unless we all agree to it. In particular, let's we not fight a war in Iraq, OK? OK? Right? OK?" That's not going to fly; the US had quite enough of that in Kosovo and won't be submitting to a coalition command in this war.

Second, I think it's a round-about apology; it's a way of admitting that Europe was wrong about Afghanistan and about the war on terror as such. (Remember that their plan for responding to 9/11 was aid and diplomacy and sanctions.) Third, it's a last ditch attempt to keep the US from pulling out of NATO once the war is over. (discuss)

By the way, notice what their definition is of "all out war against terrorism": rethinking the organization of NATO and its forces, enhanced border security, law enforcement cooperation, and coordination witn non-NATO countries like Russia. If that were all the US had done after 9/11, bin Laden would have laughed himself silly -- and then started to plan his next attack.

Stardate 20011205.0653 (On Screen): An old saw goes that "An optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds; a pessimist fears that this is true." The one consistent pattern in anti-war writing so far has been the sheer pessimism in how each phase of the war would take place.

Immediately after the attacks in NYC and DC, the pessimists predicted that the US would lash out violently, unthinkingly, and cause a revengeful blood bath irrespective of who the victims were; that someone was going to die in response even if they had nothing to do with it. Of course, that didn't happen; the US spent nearly a month planning and investigating and started a very carefully targeted campaign at al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But then it was going to be a "quagmire" and we were going to be carpetbombing cities causing tens of thousands of civilian dead as we burned the house down to get rid of the rats -- and that didn't happen either, as Americn pin-point bombing was applied with a degree of precision never before seen in war. Of course, there was going to be a huge commitment of US ground forces who would die in droves -- not, as it turned out, careful application of special forces who did a superb job. Then we were told that the bombing was doing no good; nothing was actually going to happen; it was just pointless brutality, here at last was the mindless slaughter they'd warned us about. That rhetoric subsided starting on November 9 when the great Taliban collapse began with the fall of Mazar-e Sharif. And, of course, there was not the predicted rioting in the streets of the Arab world, when unrest subsided with the fall of Mazar-e Sharif and the breathtaking collapse of the Taliban.

There was also the claim that the war would stop the flow of supplies and cause millions of starvation deaths (one prediction was 7.5 million, about a third of the nation) -- but with the collapse of the Taliban, supplies have started flowing and indeed given the corruption of the Taliban it's very likely that things for the starving will actually be much better now than before. There's going to be famine but not as much as predicted and not because of the bombing.

OK, well, yeah, the war is going pretty well, but you're going to lose the peace! The next warning was that the Northern Alliance was little better than the Taliban and that the nation was going to collapse into a bunch of rival tribes battling each other and being just as brutal to the people as the Taliban were. This despite consistent news reports of men shaving and women exposing their faces and kids flying kites and little girls attending school and the streets of freed Afghanistan suddenly being filled with music for the first time in years -- and many, many pictures of smiling faces (including women's faces) coming out of the liberated areas. As to that anticipated chaos, that's the latest prediction which now looks to be incorrect. While no-one can know the future for certain, the meeting in Bonn has now turned out to be just as successful in its own way as the war was. A new interim government has been planned and while many problems remain, it's yet another great step along the way to making things much better in Afghanistan.

What is ironic about all this is that those who oppose the war do so wearing the cloak of humanitarianism. They oppose the war, they claim, because of their sympathy for the Afghan people and their fear of the horrors that the war will bring to them. They accused those who favored the war of being brutal monsters interested only in revenge, motivated only by bloodlust. And yet the clear result has been that the war is the best thing to happen in Afghanistan in the last ten years, and that the lot of the people there will be immeasurably improved by it. If there is anything which is clear now it's that the war must continue and that the Taliban must be dislodged from their last remaining stronghold in Kandahar, and then annihilated in the hills. That's not to say that there will not be reverses in future; it's virtually certain that there will be. But there's clear reason now to believe that the finish is within reach, and the military problem which remains is much smaller than that which faced us two months ago when the bombing began. There are political problems remaining and there will be military setbacks (large or small). The rebuilding problem is immense. Getting the new government actually working is going to be a bitch. But no problem can be solved if you're convinced ahead of time that you'll fail, and the problems remaining appear to be soluble. The "voices of caution" in this case have devolved into voices of hysterical fear who have contributed nothing relevant to the debate, except, ironically, to convince the majority that action and war are probably the right course.

The voices opposing the war have been wrong so often and so consistently now that they're coming to be viewed as a reliable negative indicator of what to do next. And now they oppose attacking Iraq? Obviously that's the next step. (discuss)

Stardate 20011205.0614 (On Screen and On Scanners): It's interesting how the same story can come out sounding subtly different depending on who's doing the writing. Colin Powell is being pressed by Turkey to make more clear US intentions towards Iraq, and what he said is that no decision has yet been made on whether to attack there. Fair enough. But when AP and Reuters both reported this, the headlines they used give much different implications:

Powell says Bush has yet to decide on Iraq

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) Secretary of State Colin Powell told anxious Turkish leaders on Wednesday that President Bush has not yet decided whether the next phase of the war on terrorism should include Iraq.

Powell Says No Plans for Iraq Attack

ANKARA (Reuters) - Secretary of State Colin Powell reassured NATO ally Turkey on Wednesday that the United States had no immediate plans to extend its "war on terrorism" to Turkey's southeastern neighbor Iraq.

Reuters implies "There's probably not going to be a war in Iraq." AP says "it's anybody's guess." So who's slant is more accurate? My opinion is that AP is more correct and that Reuters is seeing what it wants to see. (Note that the BBC's coverage is more similar to AP.)

I think Powell is prevaricating here; while there may not have been a decision, I still think there's solid intent to straighten the Iraqi situation out; it's more a matter of not yet being certain whether much stronger diplomatic efforts can bring about the solution than whether anything at all will be done there. Moreover, even if there was intent to engage in military operations in Iraq, it would not be "soon" because it would have to wait until hostilities in Afghanistan were over and sufficient force had been moved into the Gulf. (discuss)

Update: CNN goes even further than Reuters did.

Stardate 20011204.2201 (On Screen): I don't know what Israel should do. I'm not sure there's anything it can do that is satisfactory. The situation there is a tough one. But I do know that tit-for-tat retaliations will be completely useless. If they decide to go after the Palestinians, they'll have to go for broke.

Small "proportional" retaliations, especially those targeted at Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, have the effect of weakening them and of angering more Palestinians who will then join such groups as Hamas and the PFLP to get back at Israel. It seems as if they're giving Arafat one last chance to "crack down on the militants". It is indeed true that previous efforts by the Palestinian Authority to do that have been half-hearted and ineffectual, but the reason is that they cannot do anything more than that. For Israel, cooperation with the Palestinian Authority is pointless and negotiation with them is equally pointless. I can only really see two courses of action and they're both unsatisfactory.

First is what amounts to ethnic cleansing. Eject all non-citizen Palestinians from Israel permanently; if they wish to move between Gaza and the West Bank they'd have to fly, but would not be permitted on the ground. All border areas would then be fortified, with a double barbed-wire fence with a mine field in between, and regular patrols to look for evidence of incursions. (In this scenario, Jerusalem is a special problem, for obvious reasons.) This would be extremely drastic and would have profound economic effects, because the Israeli economy relies heavily on cheap Palestinian labor, but it's slowly been weaned away from that in the past because of periodic closures of the borders. This would also require a 100% withdrawal of "settlers" from Palestinian lands. Israel would then become a garrison state, and let the Palestinians do whatever they wanted to do in their own lands.

Second is to go all out into war, no delay, no argument, no half measures. Send the army in to both Gaza and the West Bank, occupy the whole area and take over. No more "messages", no more warnings, no more anything limited. Balls to the wall, and fight until there is no more resistance.

And both answers are unsatisfactory because neither solves the problem. If Israel becomes a garrison state, it is still subject to attack (because no defense can ever be perfect and no border non-porous) and it's hard to see what it could do in response. If it takes over the Palestinian lands, it will have perpetual warfare. Either way, it will become an international pariah (even worse than now).

One thing is evident, however, and that is that Arafat's "round up the usual suspects" act isn't going to fly this time. Israel (and the United States) are demanding much more out of him. That suggests that they're trying to find a third course, and I think I know what it is: I think they're trying to set off a Palestinian civil war.

Whether Arafat understands the reason for it or not, he's resisting the pressure and trying to look for a different way out, one which preserves the status quo (which includes preserving his life and such power as he retains). That's not possible within the theatre, so he's appealing for help to the outside world. He's asking the Europeans for help, but there's not much they can give him besides their usual clucking and handwringing and "calls" for peace and restraint. Israel isn't going to listen to that this time, any more than the US is with respect to Afghanistan, and it is exceedingly unlikely that the Europeans would do any more than that. Arafat is also asking the UN Security Council for action, but of course the US is a veto power and there will be no such action.

The situation is very fluid; it's almost impossible to predict what will happen. One possibility is that the Israeli government will fall, though in that case it is virtually certain that an even more right-wing government will replace it, with no Peres to push for restraint. That means that the political climate in Israel can only get worse for Arafat. Another possibility is that Arafat will recognize that he isn't going to be rescued from outside, and he'll tell Israel to stuff its demands for action against the terrorists. That will set off a full scale war with Israel. (The same thing happens if he attempts a half-hearted response.) The third possibility is that he knuckles under and really does try to take out Hamas, which likely sets off the Palestinian civil war. The fourth possibility is that he boogies, and the resulting power struggle to replace him also sets off the civil war. Or Israel might kill him, again setting off that same power struggle. (As part of his process of keeping himself in power, Arafat has made sure there is no obvious successor; it was a way of preventing a palace coup.)

The only thing which is certain at this point: a lot of people are going to die violently. It's too late to pull back from the abyss; all paths lead to war. (discuss)

Update 20011205: Here's a BBC analysis of the situation.

Stardate 20011204.1845 (On Screen via long range sensors): I don't ordinarily make a post which consists primarily of quotation, but I'm going to make an exception in this case. Richard Perle is a former assistant Secretary of Defense. He says the following:

An alliance today is really not essential, in my opinion. We don't need the bases, or at least we don't need much in the way of bases. And those bases that we do need are in places Where individual arrangements can be made -- with Uzbeks, who are interested in what we can do for Uzbekistan and there's a lot we can do and it isn't really very expensive. The term "alliance" confuses the phenomenon that's taking place there. It's good to have the Europeans supporting us to the degree they do, and the British have certainly been enthusiastic in our support, but the enthusiasm drops off substantially when you cross the channel and the price you end up paying for an alliance is collective judgment, collective decision-making. That was a disaster in Kosovo. We had lengthy negotiations over which targets could be struck -- the French had one view, the Germans had another - the military authorities and the civilians often disagreed, targets were struck from the lists, and you all remember the spectacle of President Chirac proudly proclaiming after Kosovo was over that he had personally spared any number of targets in Serbia. We don't need that in the war against terrorism. I think it is time for us to say to the world if necessary that we have been attacked, a war was initiated against us, and we are going to defend ourselves, and we're not going to let the decisions to do that, the manner in which we do it, the targets we select to be decided by a show of hands by countries whose interests cannot be identical to our own and who haven't suffered what we have suffered.

One of the sources of enthusiasm for the coalition I suspect is a strong desire on the part of those who are promoting the coalition to see the United States restrained -- to submit judgments about what we should do to a larger collective. I think we should reject that.


Stardate 20011204.1750 (On Screen): Chris discusses whether those of us who publish online without advertising have any right to claim virtue over those who use advertising to pay the bills. His points are interesting, but he misses two other paths. First is the subscription model, where the bills are paid by the readers. That's rare but not unheard of in the magazine business, and there do exist a few sites online that scratch out a precarious existence that way, discounting porn, of course, where that model is exceedingly successful. The WSJ seems to be getting by with that, but it's got an inherited reputation and clientele from its print version. Slate gave it up, and Salon is still clinging to it but may soon modify it due to lack of success.

There's also the collective-subscription model, where a single subscription pays for access to a large number of sites. Here, too, porn leads the way and I do not know if anyone has made an attempt yet to generalize that model to the broader market. It might be interesting to see if a hybrid model was possible here: use nekkid wimmen as the draw and other more substantive material to bring 'em back (i.e. the Playboy Magazine approach); a site trying to produce substantive material might become a member of ACGold or Platinum just for the income stream. That's been done without subscription just as a way of bringing in traffic, using more soft-core material, and then using advertising for financing.

And the final way to go about it is to slut for tips. (USS Clueless would never do that, of course.)

The real question which Chris brings up is the extent to which each of these models affects content and independence of the writer. On some level, all online publishers will modify their material one way or another (if for no other reason than to avoid jail or legal action). Many pure pay-your-own-way sites will find themselves pandering to a certain audience in order to bring them back. The extent to which pure advertising-supported models affect content will depend enormously on what the site is about. For example a site which concentrates on computer hardware will, naturally, attract hard core computer geeks and computer do-it-yourselfers, which in turn becomes an attractive audience for advertisers trying to sell hardware to them. Everything's fine up to that point. But if you do product reviews and you're reviewing a product made and sold by one of your big advertisers, won't there be a small internal incentive to go just a bit easy on them if you find problems? It may not be overt pressure from the advertiser, but there's always the implicit threat: pan our gear, and we pull our advertising. I have noticed that some sites which are otherwise quite objective have a tendency to speak really quite highly of one or two product lines even when there's no obvious reason why they should. Of course, that doesn't necessarily cause a problem for long term readers, who will soon pick up on which products the site is not objective about and ignore their recommendations about those. And, of course, if the site doesn't actually review products such as are sold by its advertisers then there's much less of that kind of pressure.

Of all the models, the one where the source of money affects the material the most is any of the subscription models. If a publication or site doesn't give you what you want, you won't resubscribe. It is readers who are the most likely to use their money coercively. Of course, if you're peddling tittiepix, then you better figure out where to get some and you better add new ones regularly.

And the worst case will be if you're working for tips, because in that case you're going to be ultra-sensitive to what kind of material makes those coins fall into the guitar case. But to some extent all writers will be sensitive to that, even if there is no tipping mechanism, because readers are the ultimate currency. Writing without being read is a pointless waste of time -- you may as well keep a diary on paper. If you're putting your material online, then it means you want readers. And for that we all are sluts, at least a little. (discuss)

Stardate 20011204.1337 (On Screen via long range sensors): A good troll is a work of art. The very best are the ones you can read and spot immediately, which nonetheless get a huge number of people irate. posts one which is making the rounds today, and as I write this the site is very slow. But it's worth waiting for, not to mention reading the comments underneath it. (It describes ten signs to look for that indicate that your teenager is becoming a hacker -- and what to do about them.) It pulls all the right chains, and the response has been fantastic. For example:

Wake up, moron.

Us "hackers" "descend upon Adequacy in droves whenever an article like this appears" because we are sick of the misinformation you seek to spread.

If someone would write a well-researched article, there would be nothing to argue about. HOWEVER, as it stands, this article is so completely nonsensical, illogical and downright WRONG that I cannot help but post a rebuttal.


Hook, line aaand sinker! (discuss)

The author's first response to the thread is equally a work of art:

It hadn't occurred to me that real hackers might use this article as a source of hacking information. It was written to provide as much information as possible to concerned parents of computer hackers. Obviously, if I were thinking like a devious hacker, I would have known that they would try to turn something good into something evil, by reading this article for their own purposes.

Perhaps there should be a disclaimer at the top, stating that "by reading this article, you implicitly accept Jesus as your saviour". That would put a stop to any hacking, I'd say!

Stardate 20011204.1312 (On Screen): It's natural when someone dies for their relatives to want the body back; they need a sense of closure. If a loved one vanishes without a trace, then there will always be the nagging doubt that maybe they didn't die. So it's not surprising that the families of the people who died in the WTC towers are not happy to learn that some people will never be found. The workers trying to clear the rubble have been doing the best they can, and many bodies and body parts have already been found. But for many of the victims there won't be anything to find.

Marian Fontana, president of the Sept. 11 Widows and Victims' Families Association, said: "My fear is that financial incentives will cause the city to clean up the site quickly, rather than to treat it as a retrieval site and do things in a dignified way."

Her firefighter husband, Dave, is among the missing.

In particular, families are worried that remains will end up at the Staten Island landfill where trade center debris is taken and sorted.

"The remains shouldn't end up in the garbage heap," Maurer said.

There's over a million tons of wreckage there; she wants them to go through it with tweezers looking for pieces of bodies? How many decades does she want them to take? It has to be cleared rapidly not for financial reasons but because of public health: that debris is dangerous to everyone around it. The reason we bury or burn corpses is that they become a source of disease which can sicken or kill the living. There's also the fact that the kind of search she's asking for would imperil those doing the work. I sympathize with her for the loss of her husband, but I have to wonder if she's willing to risk making another woman a widow just to get back a few pieces of her dead husband. (discuss)

Stardate 20011204.1149 (On Screen via long range sensors): A few months ago the Taliban claimed that they had an army of 300,000 "battle hardened experienced soldiers". It was blatanly obvious that they didn't have, because if they'd had such a force they would have taken out the Northern Alliance long since. It was sheer bluster. This seems to be an occupational hazard for Arab nations; they seem to talk really big.

Iraq did that before the Gulf War. Remember "the mother of all battles"? Well, Iraq is doing it again. This time they claim to have an army of seven million men who are ready to invade Israel if the US attacks Iraq. Such a number is equally preposterous. First, if that many adults were taken out of the Iraqi economy and put into an armed force, the economy would be even more of a basket case than it is now. Second, even if they did have that many armed troops, they do not have the ability to move them to Israel or to supply them once there. The limiting factor is trucks, not men. Then there's the little problem that Iraq doesn't actually share a border with Israel; so they'd have to operate across some 350 kilometers of Jordan in open desert with no cover, within easy airstrike range of American bombers based in Turkey. (Does "highway of death" mean anything to you?) Even if this number was credible (and it isn't) simple numbers don't tell much anymore about the effectiveness of an army. (discuss)

Stardate 20011204.1107 (On Screen via long range sensors): Amnesty International seems to be having difficulty recognizing war crimes when it sees them. USS Clueless is ready to help, by pointing out a few real war crimes. (Unfortunately, they may not have been committed by the horrible evil capitalist hegemonic western nations which as we all know are the fount of all that is wicked on earth. Them's the breaks.) So let's begin with 10 wounded al Qaeda soldiers who went to a hospital near Kunduz, asked for treatment, insisted on being kept together, and said that they wanted to talk to a Northern Alliance general or to a foreign correspondent. Their behavior raised suspicions, and they were separated, seized and searched, and were discovered to be carrying bombs.

Deliberately attempting to attack medical facilities and to kill medical personnel and wounded being treated there is a direct violation of the Geneva Convention. Let's see some of that trademarked righteous indignation, OK? (discuss)

They're running this placard on their site: My response: Prevention, not justice.

Stardate 20011204.0953 (On Screen): The Marines are definitely not there just to protect an air field; they're actively patrolling the area and likely preparing for offensive operations. Seabees have been improving the airfield and facilities there and men and equipment are pouring in.

The Marines are now moving out with motorized patrols looking for things to kill. The Marines have a saying: Killing tanks is fun and easy. It's true, too, especially when the tanks are T-55's. Against modern weapons those are dead meat. The Marines do not need tanks of their own and in fact wouldn't want them right now because they're heavy and require too much supply to keep operating. Light armored cars and Hummvees are better. To take out Taliban tanks, they'll use antitank missiles.

Infantry antitank missiles have gone through four stages. The first was unguided rockets such as the American bazooka or the German panzerfaust. Depending on the warhead, if they struck they could be extremely deadly. But it took a great deal of skill to hit with one, because the gunner was really lobbing the rocket at the target; the rocket didn't travel a straight line. They were far from useless but they missed more often than they hit (despite what they show in the movies).

The next major development was wire-guided missiles. The missile reeled out a wire behind it after it was launched, and the operator had a small joystick that he could use to steer the missile while it flew. This required a great deal of skill by the operator, which did not come easily because there was no way to practice without using up missiles. The control electronics were relatively primitive, but they were state-of-the-art for the day.

The third stage had a much more intuitive control scheme. The operator had a sight and fixed it on the target he wished to hit. After the missile was launched, he kept his sight on the target and the missile would hit where he aimed. Not only was this much easier to use but operators could practice without firing missiles. This is the guidance system used by TOW. The biggest difficulty with this system is that the missile had a pretty long travel time (upwards of five seconds depending on the range), and if the target tank spotted the operator during that time and could train a machine gun on him, they could spoil his aim (and maybe even his whole day).

The ideal system is called "fire and forget"; the operator picks a target with an optical sight, launches the missile, and then no longer is involved. The missile picks up its target designation from the sight and then tracks and (hopefully) hits that target without further operator intervention. The operator probably continues to monitor the target just to determine if another shot will be needed, but if he's put under fire he can duck. That is what Javelin uses, and that's what the Marines are carrying in Afghanistan. (discuss)

Stardate 20011204.0454 (On Screen): Sometimes I feel like what used to be called a "Kremlin watcher". During the Cold War there were people who would try to figure out what was happening within the hierarchy of the USSR. They'd look for subtle clues, things like what exact words were used to discuss certain people or programs, or exactly where various VIPs stood in group photographs taken during the annual May Day parade in Moscow. If you watched closely, you could see power struggles happening and see factions gaining and losing influence.

That's how I felt when I read this news report.

Australian combat troops have joined U.S. Marines who seized this remote air base last week, while Marine reconnaissance units aggressively patrolled the surrounding desert, a military spokesman said Tuesday.

Capt. David Romley, a spokesman for the Marines' Task Force 58, said the numbers of Australian troops and their equipment or mission details could not be released. Earlier, the Marines acknowledged the presence of liaison officers from Britain, Germany and Australia at the base.

So why are the Australians being referred to as "combat troops" and the Europeans as "liaison officers"? Maybe I'm looking for deeper meaning than is there, but I think it's because the Australians are there to actually go fight, and are probably present in pretty good quantity with the expectation of more to come, while the Europeans are there in onesies and are there to watch. (Which makes you wonder why they're bothering; it's just more mouths to feed at a location where movement of supplies is far from easy.)

In a crisis you find out who your friends are, and Australia didn't act the same as a lot of our other allies. The government of Australia committed troops, and moved them into the Indian Ocean very early on, and told the US that they were there to fight. No-one else did that except the UK.

And why did Australia do that? Because of a mutual defense pact between Australia, New Zealand and the United States. An attack against one is to be considered an attack against all. The US was attacked, so Australia mobilized its military to fight back against those responsible. That's what allies do. (discuss)

Stardate 20011203.2233 (On Screen): This is a most amazing article published in the Saudi press. (All Saudi press is under the direct control of the government there; nothing gets printed without official approval.)

What has been little discussed in the media, either here or abroad, is the way Muslims in the United States benefited greatly from the support of non-Muslims because of the Sept. 11 attacks — and as a consequence are now more integrated and understood in that country than ever before.

Well, that's surely true "here" (i.e. in Saudi Arabia) where the coverage claimed a general persecution of Muslims in the US after 9/11. As we all know, that only happened to a small extent and largely has died down since. In fact, most Muslims and Arabs in the US feared a backlash and instead found themselves on the receiving end of massive support and kindness by their neighbors -- but the people in Saudi Arabia never heard about that.

Until now. And in fact, in the last couple of weeks the press in Saudi Arabia has noticeably changed its attitude towards the US, and instead of depicting us as horrible monsters has started a political rehabilitation. Another rather odd statement:

The fact that many Christians in the United States are Unitarians — a denomination that does not believe in the Trinity, and stresses individual freedom of belief, a united world community and liberal social action — creates “a great bond between them and the Muslims,” he continued.

There are indeed Unitarians here, but they represent a relatively small proportion of Church goers. (And while there was a time when the Unitarians were considered Christian, I don't think many think of them that way now.) What this really shows is that the government is trying to deemphasize the impression of the US as a "christian" nation, to remove the stigma of Christian-versus-Islam conflict.

Then there's this article about the situation in Israel, and it is surprisingly even handed. So I think we're beginning to get the answer on how Saudi Arabia is going to deal with the situation: it looks like they're going to be pragmatic and try to go with the flow. (discuss)

Of course, they also reprinted this by the omnipresent Robert Fisk.

Stardate 20011203.2154 (On Screen): And in a spectacularly-badly timed gesture, the UN General Assembly demonstrated yet again its total irrelevance by voting today, as it does every year about this time, to condemn Israel without in turn also condemning the Palestinians. Does the General Assembly actually perform any positive function? (discuss)

Stardate 20011203.1944 (On Screen via long range sensors): Israel has declared war "on terrorism", and we all know who that means. (Their initials are "The Palestinians".) This happened just after Prime Minister Sharon finished visiting Washington and having meetings with President Bush. While Sharon is independent and not under the control of the US, it's difficult to believe he'd do anything like this just after visiting Washington without having talked to Bush about it first.

This afternoon press secretary Fleischer delivered a pretty one-sided announcement about the situation in Israel and pretty much condemned Arafat, with little if any condemnation of Israel. In the past US pronouncements have tried to at least give a token appearance of condemning both sides and calling on both to work to solve the problem. All pretense of that was dropped today, and Fleischer put blame for the situation wholely on Arafat. So Israel is going to begin regular military operations in the occupied territories very soon and the US is supporting that.

Arafat is now totally fucked. His political power, and maybe even his life, is now to be measured in months at most.

This is also a major slap in the face for "moderate" Arabs who have been calling on the US for the last couple of weeks to apply pressure on Israel to force it to make serious concessions. We aren't going to. Those demands have now been publicly and totally repudiated, which means that Bush has written off Arab cooperation. This will instantly polarize most of them against us, and I don't think that Bush would let this happen if he still thought he needed support from most of the Arab nations.

Which makes me think something else: I think I was wrong about Iraq. I think that Iraq is definitely next on the list and I think Bush is pretty much planning on actual war there. That would have alienated the other Arab nations anyway, so if that was his plan then he loses little by letting Sharon go ahead. In fact, if that's the plan then doing it this way is savvy. It means that it will be Sharon who causes the Arabs to polarize against us, which means that afterwards "Antagonizing the Arabs" will no longer be a valid argument against armed intervention in Iraq.

The Arabs must be seething, but they must also be terribly frightened. This means, among other things, that the government of the US no longer gives a damn what they think. It means that they have absolutely no sway with Washington. It means that Bush is not afraid of them. It means that the world's most powerful military power is disdainful of them. It means that they are in big trouble.

It's going to take a while for them to figure out what to do, because this is really rather unexpected. This is the bind they're in: The US is clearly a winner, based on the progress in the war in Afghanistan. The US clearly has no intention, none whatever, of stopping the war after Afghanistan; it's blatantly clear now that Bush definitely intends to continue to prosecute military operations in other places. Arab attempts to limit the war only to Afghanistan and to convince the US to go back to the ineffectual path of diplomacy are a failure. So do they swallow their pride and continue to buddy-up with us? Or publicly condemn us and align with our very-likely-doomed enemies? Is it better to be on the winning side or to be ideologically pure? (And pure about what?) It will be very interesting to see how each one lines up on this.

(Hey, number one, did engineering ever fix the subspace crystal ball? No?) Let me go out on a limb and make some guesses. First, Oman and Qatar will stay silent and continue to support us. Egypt will equivocate. The US has bought Mubarek's soul and pays $3 billion per year for it, and he cannot survive without that money any more. So he'll issue a token condemnation, then keep his head down and try to survive, while trying to control unrest inside Egypt. Saudi Arabia is a loose cannon; it's almost impossible to predict what's going to happen there. Syria will forthrightly condem it, and offer aid to the Palestinians in the form of smuggled arms. Jordan will tepidly condemn it and then do its best to stay out of the struggle. I think Kuwait will stay silent.

Iraq will seize on this and push it for all the propaganda value they can wring out of it: "See, this proves it! It's really war against all the Arabs!" This line hasn't been working and probably still won't work, though it will have some success.

And Europe. Ah, our good friends in Europe. Expect condemnations all around from most of the press there (ahem). Major handwringing, condemnations, fears trumpeted to the skies, concerns about how this will break apart "the coalition", threats to not support -- and none of it will actually amount to anything or have any effect on events as they unfold. Bush has clearly decided to go it alone and has already written off "the coalition". (discuss)

We only really need one nation in a coalition against Iraq, and that's Turkey. Turkey is Muslim but not Arab, and despite the shared religion is no friend to the Arabs. Oddly enough, Turkey is quite friendly with Israel, in fact, and everything I've read says that Turkey is quite willing to help in a war against Iraq.

Update: Well, that didn't take very long. Israeli forces have moved into the West Bank and Gaza.

Update 20011204: Arafat's reaction is basically "Oh my God! Someone, anyone, save me!"

Stardate 20011203.1628 (On Screen): Arafat is the quintessential survivor. Playing the weakest possible political hand, he has been adept mainly at staying above water, a wood chip tossed by the waves of a storm. It's unfortunate, but Arafat's primary goal has always been the survival of Arafat; aiding the Palestinian cause has always come second. But not even a wood chip can stay afloat forever, and I think that Arafat's days as a player on the world political scene are numbered. He has always been caught in a situation where some want him to be harder on Israel and some want him to be harder on Palestinian militants, and he has managed for years to steer a course in the middle which didn't really satisfy anyone but also didn't outrage either enough to take action against him. Now he won't be able to do that anymore, and he doesn't have the ability to do anything else.

With the current United States war on terrorism and with the attacks on Israel a few days ago by Hamas, there is no longer any middle ground. I think there are only a few possiblities now and all of them spell doom for Arafat.

First, he can really genuinely try to crack down on Hamas and other groups like that, as the US is now demanding. In that case, either he'll be assassinated by other Palestinians, or the Palestinians will break into open civil war. Second, he can refuse the demands of the US and Israel to really do so -- and risk being killed by direct Israeli military action or covert assassination by Mossad, not to mention the fact that this would set off a real, full-scale war with Israel. Third, he can boogie; grab the largest stash of cash he can find and live out his days in rich exile, surrounded by bodyguards, in a velvet lined cage somewhere. (There's also the possibility that he might drop dead of natural causes. He is over 70, and no-one lives forever.)

What he doesn't have the ability to do, and has never really had, is to actually make and enforce a settlement with the Israelis that ends the violence on both sides. He is a leader of only part of the Palestinian cause, and increasingly the Palestinians in general are becoming disillusioned with him. He retains most of his prestige for no other reason than because there's no obvious replacement, no other high profile Palestinian with access to the world stage to speak on behalf of those people. But it's becoming increasingly obvious to everyone that a high profile spokesman who can't actually say anything is not an asset.

Without Arafat, the Palestinians will split into open anarchy, with no single group in charge. Instead of one enemy leader with which to deal and castigate and blame, the Israelis will find themselves facing ten or more each of which has a different agenda. And they may soon find themselves nostalgic for the good old days when there was only Arafat with which to deal. (discuss)

Update: The envelope please. And the answer is... open war with Israel.

Stardate 20011203.1552 (On Screen):

International trade group IFPI says worldwide sales of music fell 6.7% for the first six months of the year, most drastically in Germany (down 13%), Denmark (24%) and Brazil (37%). The industry blames home CD recording and Net music trading.

After all, it's not like there was an economic downturn or anything like that. No other businesses had their sales drop during that time; it was just the poor music industry which suffered. And it's all the fault of those bloody CD cloners. (discuss)

Stardate 20011203.1547 (On Screen): It seems that despite itself the Linux movement is finally growing up. The angry teenager is becoming a young adult who's becoming worried about paying the bills. They released two new packages. The first, Evolution, is an Outlook clone and it will be GPLed. The second piece is Connector and it is an add-on which makes it so that Evolution can talk to Microsoft Exchange servers -- and Connector is being sold proprietary, binary only, not under the GPL. The source is not being released.

But the bottom line came when I asked if [Connector] had to be proprietary because of the inclusion of proprietary Microsoft protocols or API. No, he said. "It is proprietary is because [Ximian] intends to make money from it." He added that "it is an opportunity for us to make money. This is business activity which will support us".

What a concept! Actually trying to get revenue to support operations and pay the bills and feed the employees who produced the code. Imagine that! (discuss)

The screams of outrage begin in that line off to your right.

Stardate 20011203.1520 (On Screen): Michael sends in this link to an article which describes how American military engineers are scrambling to come up with weapons which drastically improve on the GBU-28 "Bunker Buster". It's hardly surprising, given the lineage. The GBU-28 itself was ad-libbed during the Gulf War and though used during that conflict only became a standard part of the arsenal afterwards. The GBU-28 is quite crude, really, and they're looking at things like designing better casings which can penetrate further, different kinds of charges which might be more damaging, and must smarter fuses which will select the best possible time to detonate. (discuss)

Stardate 20011203.1154 (On Screen): I knew that Europe was different than we are, but I didn't know that they were different than we are. In the US, "treason" means things like joining a foreign army and fighting against the US, or spying for a foreign power. In Sweden, "treason" means to hit the King in the face with a cream pie. (discuss)

Oh, and the punishment here is life imprisonment or death. There it's a $400 fine.

Stardate 20011203.0829 (On Screen via long range sensors): The United States of America has just succeeded in bombing a country back out of the Stone Age. Man, I wish I could write that well! What a fantastic sentence! (discuss)

Stardate 20011203.0654 (On Screen): Among the eighty-some prisoners recaptured from the prison uprising in Mazar-e Sharif turns out to have been an American. He's been identified as John Walker, 20, originally from SF, and he's now in custody of US forces in Afghanistan. So, what should we do with him?

His mother still loves him. (Is there any man so despicable that his mother no longer cares about him?) She says he's a good boy; she claims that he must have fallen under the control of charismatic evil men and been brainwashed. I don't blame her for thinking that (she is his mother) but that doesn't mean the rest of us should automatically let him off just because he has a mother. (What criminal does not have a mother?)

So let's be clear: he is a traitor. He joined an army which fought against the US in a war, and was captured in combat. He is 20 and legally an adult, and must be held responsible for what he's done. So he'll have to be tried, and the charge will be treason. I don't know whether he deserves the death penalty; a jury would have to decide that. But he cannot be permitted to walk. There is no higher crime than treason, for treason imperils the nation itself and therefore everyone living within that nation. (discuss)

Stardate 20011203.0603 (On Screen): The so-called "shrinkwrap license" is now a familiar sight to anyone who buys software. A CD will be sealed in an envelope with a tag that says "If you open this you are agreeing to our license. If not, then return it to the store for a refund." (Not that any store will actually honor that and give you a refund.) It's never been clear whether such a contract was actually legally binding, but at least you do have a point where you've been informed of the contract and have a choice to accept it or refuse it.

But now we have the new variant of it: the click-through license. This one's interesting. The Los Angeles Times has the following on the bottom of each of its news articles, in very fine print:

Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times
By visiting this site, you are agreeing to our Terms of Service.

(Link theirs) Now the interesting thing about this is that by the time we're informed about that, it's too late. We've already visited the site and, apparently, are already bound by their contract. In fact, the Terms of Service page begins with the following:

Welcome to! is dedicated to providing visitors to this site with a highly interactive and positive experience, while at the same time protecting our rights and the rights of our users. We have developed these Terms of Service to govern your use of, and we, along with our affiliates, partners and advertisers, provide content and services to you subject to the following conditions. Your use of our site tells us you have read and agreed to these Terms of Service. Please read them carefully. This Terms of Service is a binding contract between you and Tribune Interactive, Inc., regarding your use of If you do not agree with any of these terms, please exit

I have great doubts whether it is actually a "binding contract" and I think that their lawyer is a bit too full of himself. Anyway, according to the original page I'm already bound by this contract even before I have a chance to read it. But perhaps it's not too draconian. Oh, no? Well, for one thing, Google is directly violating it:

You may not, for example, republish the Content on any Internet, Intranet or Extranet site or incorporate the Content in any database, compilation, archive or cache. You may not distribute any of the Content to others, whether or not for payment or other consideration, and you may not modify, copy, frame, reproduce, sell, publish, transmit, display or otherwise use any portion of the Content without the written consent of TI.

Given the ban on caches, it also means that AOL is in violation, as well as any other ISP who uses intermediate caching. For that matter, IE's cache here on this computer appears to be in violation. Guess I better get hold of Tribune Interactive and get one of those written permissions. But then, I'm in violation too:

If you operate a Web site and wish to link to, you may link only to the home page,, and not to any other page or subdomain of

I do not see how copyright law gives them the ability to forbid linking to pages on their site, but the way-of-the-lawyer is to claim ownership of everything within reach and hope no one challenges you on it.

By placing material on, or communicating with,, including for example communication during registration, communication on any bulletin board or message or chat area, posting any resume or photograph, entering any sweepstakes, etc., you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content that you provide, that the content is accurate, that it does not violate these Terms of Service, and that it will not cause injury to any person or entity. You grant TI, its affiliates and related entities, including, a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to use, copy, modify, display, archive, store, distribute, reproduce and create derivative works from all information you provide to us, in any form, media, software or technology of any kind now existing or developed in the future. Without limiting the generality of the previous sentence, you authorize TI to include the information you provide in a searchable format that may be accessed by users of and other TI Web sites. You also grant TI and its affiliates and related entities the right to use your name and any other information about you that you provide in connection with its use and with the reproduction or distribution of such material, and also grant TI the right to use any material, information, ideas, concepts, know-how or techniques contained in any communication you send to us for any purpose whatsoever, including but not limited to developing, manufacturing and marketing products using such information. All rights in this paragraph are granted without the need for additional compensation of any sort to you.

Now this is scary. The information you provide to them when you register for anything becomes (non-exclusively) theirs forever. They can take your registration information and use it for anything whatever that they feel like and you can do nothing whatever about it. Any privacy policy they may post is simply words in a row, and if they violate it you can't do squat about it because of this marvelous binding license to which you agreed simply by loadng any page from their site. In particular, they want to use it for marketing (i.e. "advertising", spam) purposes.

And it goes on, and on, and on, with progressively more grandiose claims of all the things you grant them, not to mention how you also cede to them any right to dispute any of it, and by the time they're done they own everything and you own nothing. They also claim that they can change the TOS any time and the changes will become binding on you next time you visit their site. (So you better review the TOS periodically to find out if you just primised them half your income for the privilege of reading their newspaper. As far as I can tell, inclusion of such a claim would be just as "binding" as the rest of the TOS.) It ends with a pretty standard section of boilerplate. It's all reminiscent of how French explorers in the New World found a big river (now known as the Mississippi), and upon stepping into its waters instantly laid claim to every bit of its drainage basin in the name of France -- much to the surprise of the people already living there.

Surprisingly, there's one major thing missing here. With all the claims they make, they don't claim that it's a violation of the TOS for you to use software which modifies their content during retrieval prior to display on your computer. In other words, they're not banning ad-blocking software. I would venture to guess it's because the lawyer who wrote this tripe didn't know about such things, or surely he'd have included it. So I can continue to use AdSubtract without fear of prosectution. Whew! (discuss)

Update: Their prohibition of deep linking is probably not enforceable.

Stardate 20011202.2212 (On Screen via long range sensors): "It", sometimes called "Ginger", is finally ready and boy is it stupid. It's an almost classic example of a well engineered product where the marketing was totally incompetent; it's a solution to a problem no-one has. It is an electrically-powered scooter running from rechargable storage batteries; it can carry you about three times walking speed for up to fifteen miles (about two hours) after which you have to recharge it for six hours. It's not completely clear exactly who'd buy this thing or what they'd use it for, or where. A quick trip to the neighborhood store? But where would you leave it while you're inside? It is claimed to have an "Intelligent key" -- but it looks light enough to carry. So the real issue here would be price: if it were cheap, it might well find a nitch. Unfortunately, between things like gyros, pressure sensors on the pad, lots of computing power and in particular several hundred watt-hours worth of NiMH batteries, the retail price comes in at a cool $3000. It occurred to me that I know what they'll be competing against: mopeds. So I "scooted" off to Honda's site and found a couple of representative models. Let's take a gander at them, shall we?

Range15 miles>50 miles100 miles
Recharge time6 hours5 minutes5 minutes
Recharge cost"10 cents"$2.00$6.00
Top speed12 mph>40 mph70 mph
Use at night? NoYesYes
Street legal?NoYesYes
Light enough
to carry (steal)?

Now why again did I want to buy one of these? (discuss)

This thing is absolutely crying for a fuel cell as its power source instead of batteries. You'd power it with methanol. That would probably quintuple its range and reduce the cost by $1000. Even so, it still doesn't make sense.

Stardate 20011202.2042 (On Screen): People see the world through different eyes. I look at the world through the eyes of an engineer: I see systems and mechanisms, feedback and loops, sources and sinks and flows. Someone with an art background will see the world much differently. I can only speculate, of course: perhaps they see shapes and conceptual relationships. A character in a book by Jack Chalker said, "A bureaucrat does not believe in Heaven or Hell, Church or Government. A bureaucrat only believes in paper." I was reminded of this when I saw the following:

Security concerns have intensified in the wake of the fort revolt, but the ICRC says it is vital to register detainees and assess the conditions they are being held in.

And ICRC spokesman in Geneva Kim Gordon-Bates says registering is a key issue.

"Once a person exists, they can't disappear," he said.

In other words, no-one exists until this bureaucrat writes their name down in a book. Once that's happened, they do exist and cannot be harmed. Let's hope that the book is never destroyed -- they'd all vanish instantly. (discuss)

Stardate 20011202.1607 (On Screen): I've just had my copyright violated by Free Republic. Does this mean I'm on the A-list now? (discuss)

Stardate 20011202.1411 (On Screen):Sometimes rhetoric can be a bit baffling:

The disappearance of those demonstrations over the last few weeks shows that the war against him in Afghanistan has not enhanced bin Laden's mystique - as many confidently claimed it would. On the contrary, it has diminished it.

As he cowers in his cave, bin Laden has become a figure of contempt rather than a symbol of awesome and terrifying power. For that change, the prompt and concerted action by the West is entirely responsible.

"The West"? You bet; those heavy Italian bombers and French carrier-based planes sure did make a difference. Who is this "West" of which you speak? How about "The United States (with a bit of help from the UK)"?

But actually, when you read the next paragraph his reason for using that term becomes clear:

The defeat of terrorism depends on the West having the courage and commitment to follow to its conclusion the war on the people who perpetrate terrorism, and on the states who support and shield them. Deterrence works. Nothing else does.

Every retreat, every inquiry, every vacillation which signals a weakening of our determination to respond effectively to the terrorist threat, increases the likelihood that al-Qaeda will re-group and strike again. That is the main lesson from the campaign in Afghanistan.

His reason for using the term is because he's addressing the war-wary in Europe to convince them that they should support it. If he refers to "The United States" then he makes it clear that their own governments and militaries weren't really involved. But he's trying to get them to think of themselves as already part of the effort, and to become more supportive in future. So he's trying to give them conceptual cover to avoid thinking about how wrong they were up to this point. "We" won the war in Afghanistan by military power and "we" need to keep doing so in future to win other places. (discuss)

Stardate 20011202.1341 (On Screen via long range sensors): Sometimes really big results are strongly affected by ridiculously small events. Everyone's heard "For the want of a nail..." but in the real world that kind of thing really does happen. Care to hear such a story? It's long. (Is anything here on USS Clueless ever short?)

World War II was the most savage war ever fought, and it was a "very close run thing" for quite a long time. It's generally accepted that there were three major battles which, collectively, represented the turning points. First was the Second Battle of El Alamein, when Montgomery broke a fixed German position and begin the final campaign across Northern Africa which eventually, when combined with a landing by American forces, kicked the Germans and Italians completely off the continent. That lead to the invasion of Sicily, of Italy itself, and ultimately to Normandy. Second was Stalingrad, where the Russians dug in and fought; a line was drawn in the sand. The result was to bog down the German advance, slow down the pace of battle, and let Zhukov form up reserves for an encircling counter attack leading to the Battle of Kursk which surrounded a large German force. After that, the trend of the war on the Eastern Front was generally back in the direction of Germany.

Both of those were won because the British and Russians respectively finally had the time to build up the logistics and forces necessary, and their attacks were made with serious force advantages. Thus the odds were in their favor. That's not the case for the third and in many ways most remarkable one: Midway.

Midway stopped the Japanese advance. Until that point, the Japanese had been ascendant in the Pacific, seemingly able to go whereever they wanted. After Midway their navy was crippled, and a few months later the Americans went onto the offensive. Most of the story of Midway is well known (the code break, Nimitz's guts in committing his three carriers against four Japanese ones, and so on) but there's one aspect of it which is not well known. Nagumo, the Japanese commander, didn't completely rely on the plan's assumption that the American carriers wold only move after the attack began, and he did order scout planes out to look for them. And one of them did find USS Yorktown. USS Enterprise and USS Hornet were operating separately and were never found by the Japanese, but Yorktown was located.

Large Japanese capital ships carried scout planes. These were launched with a catapault, landed with pontoons, and were recovered with a crane. The scouting was done by floatplanes launched from several of the cruisers which accompanied Nagumo's fleet. The first airstrike had just hit Midway itself, doing damage but not enough, and the flight leader had radioed back asking for a second strike. Nagumo was in process of preparing for one when one of the scoutplanes spotted Yorktown, and this obviously required a change of strategy. Midway itself was much less dangerous than Yorktown and Nagumo had to change targets.

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004