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Stardate 20011215.1207 (On Screen): Alex sends in a link to an intervew with a physicist named Carver Mead. It's very interesting to read. I respect Mead and believe that he knows much about what he's discussing, for the practical reason that he's managed to convert a great deal of theory into practice. (As they say, true expertise is demonstrated by the ability to win a wager, and Mead has won many.)

Mead says that Bohr and his followers were largely wrong about quantum mechanics. It's important, however, to understand what he is and what he isn't criticizing.

There are really two levels of science involved, best typified by Kepler and Newton. Kepler spent years analyzing data collected over years by Brahe. Brahe kept track of the movements of the planets as positions in the sky, and Kepler wanted to try to work out what their orbits were and how they moved in space. And he succeeded: he determined that the planets moved in ellipses, that the Sun was at one focus of the ellipse, and that they moved at higher speeds when closer to the Sun than when further away. He developed a series of mathematical models which permitted predictions of planetary motion, and they were right; it was a tremendous achievement, and Kepler is rightfully renowned as one of the gods of classical physics.

But notably absent from Kepler's work was any explanation of why the planets actually behaved the way they did. It was a very practical model. Newton, on the other hand, achieved a more fundamental understanding with his Universal Law of Gravitation.

By the same token, Quantum Mechanics has a lot of formulas which describe how certain fundamental particles will act in various situations; those formulas are true as best we can determine, and their use has lead to such amazing creations as semiconductors, lasers and polymer chemistry. But it's one thing to describe how something will act, and another thing to understand why it happens that way. Mead is not disputing the formulas or the predictions (he'd have to be a fool to do so, and he isn't). But Bohr and his followers went further and tried to create a mental model of physical reality and that is what Mead is complaining about.

This is and is not important. It's not important in the sense that it's not going to change those formulas; a hell of a lot of important work has been done with them absent any fundamental understanding of what they mean. As long as they keep providing the right answers, the polymer chemists and semiconductor physicists and a lot of other people are going to continue to use them to turn out new miracles. On the other hand, your mental model can affect how you think about the next advance. Quantum Mechanics is still not complete; it still needs to be unified with General Relativity, for one thing.

I'm also not sure I'd agree with Mead's characterization of the 20th century as a new dark age in Physics. That's a bit harsh (though I think he's saying that for shock value). I'd put it a different way: occasionally in Science there will be an advance which expands your horizons, breaks you out of your old domain, and forces you into a whole new level of mystification. In order to make sense of something, you have to be confused about it first. Such periods are times of great ferment, but they're not useless by any means. There was such an interval which commenced with the Michelson-Morley experiment, which shattered the "ether" theory of light, and ended with the development of Quantum mechanics. But in a sense that moved us into a new degree of confusion. (As one wag put it: we're still confused, but we're confused on a much higher level, about much more important things.) That's actually an exciting time. If we're lucky, we'll always be confused at ever increasing levels of complexity and significance. It would really be boring if we understood everything. (discuss)

Stardate 20011215.1128 (On Screen): Arafat's four minutes and thirty seconds just expired, and Anthony Zinni has been recalled from Israel. With the US's veto in the UN, that leaves no important "peace initiatives" active in Israel and the occupied territories. Israel seems to be deliberately trying to take Arafat himself out with bombing. Hamas has declared war on Israel. The powderkeg is about to go up.

Last year, the Israelis offered the Palestinians nearly everything they wanted. The only thing which was missing was the "right of return" but the rest of the offer was as sweet as could possibly be imagined. The "right of return" has always been unrealistic; the Israelis are not going to permit millions of Palestinians to return to Israel and lay claim to land lost fifty years ago. But everything else the Palestinians could have hoped for was present in that deal -- and they turned it down. The Palestinians must be the worst-lead people on earth. It's evident that Israel has now decided that they will be better off without the Palestinian Authority. I'm reluctantly coming to agree with them. Arafat has outlived his usefulness; it's time for him to die. Hamas may be utterly hostile to Israel, but at least they're honest about what they want, and I'd rather deal with an honestly hostile man than with a friendly liar. (discuss)

Stardate 20011215.0923 (On Screen): This article contains a great deal of speculation about the future of computer user interfaces, due to a general dissatisfaction with the desktop metaphor. Unfortunately, most of this speculation is misguided and some of it is factually wrong.

The most blatantly false statement is this one:

The diary metaphor has some clear advantages over the desktop metaphor. It is based on the notion that what we have created, modified or even looked at most recently is probably still most important to us. And, Scopeware's inventor maintains, our sense of time is a strong organizing principle that can help us locate a file simply because we remember when we used it last.

Actually, the opposite is true. Except for the recent past, humans have very poor memory for sequence or time. We remember things based on content; our memories are associative. We don't say "I want to work on the document I last changed July 7", we say "I want to update that description I wrote about a car I saw." As a baseball fan (and a fan of Sammy Sosa) I have a very vivid memory of a game between the Cardinals and the Cubs where Mark McGwire hit yet another home run, and Sosa ran in from right field to congratulate him. But I can't even tell you what year it happened.

Remember that favorite toy you got for your birthday as a kid? Remember how you loved it so much you wanted to take it to bed with you, only your parents wouldn't let you? Which birthday was it? Odds are that the only way you can figure that out is by reconstructing it: "Well, it was when we lived in the old house up in the north part of the city and I moved away from there when I was 8, so it must have been before that. And some of the kids at the birthday party were from school, so I must have been at least 6." We only remember time when it's actually part of the content of the event. (For example, you might remember saying to your parents "This is the BEST 7th birthday I've ever had!!!" and know it from that.) We don't index by time as such. Our memories are not organized linearly. We temporarily keep track of sequence over the course middle term memory, out to maybe two-four weeks; after that, our association of time with memories progressively weakens. There are memories where the time is indelibly fixed as part. I know for certain that the Colombus Day Storm was in 1962, for example. But most memories don't include a time. The more trivial an event, the less likely you are to be able to access it with a timestamp.

However, some researchers in the field of human-computer interaction think it's time to throw out thinking about "metaphor" altogether—after all, it hasn't gotten us too far since the 1970s—and to begin designing devices that have no metaphor, no real-world analogy. It's not the desktop metaphor that's holding us back, they say; it's the whole notion that we need to make computers act like something other than what they are.

Metaphors for the sake of metaphors owe more to marketing than to solid human engineering. It's easier to raise funding if you can say "We're going to make it the computer equivalent of a can opener" then to try to explain what it actually does. (Well, in the case of a can opener, maybe not.) But eschewing metaphors entirely is not wise; it's not so much that a metaphor is valuable as that the study of real world behaviors tells us what we are and are not good at. Humans have two main kinds of memory: associative and spacial. We are extremely good at remembering where we put something so that we can find it again, and that's the primary power of the desktop metaphor. It's not the fact that it's a desktop that made it successful, it's that it used spacial memory as an access mechanism. In that sense, the desktop metaphor is not ideal because it's relying on a psychological "where" rather than a physical "where". The directory I put a given file into won't change in its virtual position in the disk structure unless I move it, but where it appears on the screen will be modified routinely, both by me and by the system. Another difficulty is the relative sparsity of visual cues. When all the files of a certain type look the same, and when their positions dynamically move, then spacial memory is largely defeated and we have to fall back on other mechanisms.

The original memory that computer UI's relied on, and the one which still makes up the foundation of UIs, is associative memory. We remember things because they're relevant; we access based on content. You remembered that toy from childhood because I asked you about favorite toys. But if I'd asked you "What toys did you get on your 9th birthday?" you probably couldn't tell me. In computer UIs, the most common form of associative memory is the filename. We use it to attach a mnemonic term to a file, which we then recognize later. The name of the file will be related to its content in a way which makes sense to us and may not make sense to anyone else. But this is not a very good use.

So what's coming? What will be the new interface? That question is on the face of it faulty. The desktop metaphor is now essentially permanent. We're out of the revolution stage and into evolution. This happens sometimes; interfaces take on a life of their own. The QWERTY keyboard was designed in the 19th century, and though the physical form of it (switches instead of levers on a typewriter) have altered, and though things have been added (function keys, a 10-key pad) the core of the interface, the layout of the alphabetic keys, is the same as it was in the 1880's. By the same token, the core interface which we use to drive cars, comprising the steering wheel, shifter and turn signal, gas pedal and brake pedal, has been the same for a hundred years. Modern cars are drastically different and much better than the cars of 1901, but the interface is not that much different. That's because interfaces acquire momentum; for a new interface to be accepted it has to be so drastically superior to its predecessor to make people be willing to invest the time needed to learn the new one. The GUI was able to do that to the text-based interface, but nothing is going to replace the GUI. So the interface of the future will be an enhancement of the desktop metaphor, not a replacement for it. It may be a multi-mode interface, but new organizing principles are most likely going to be augmentation.

The advance which will succeed will be one which takes better advantage of associative memory the way that GUIs take advantage of spacial memory. No current interface does a very good job of that. But there is something out there which does: Google. The next major advancement will be google-in-your-computer, permitting you to find things with search terms. We have very primitive capability now of doing that; it's going to get better. But it's going to be a while before this is practical because it's going to require a vast increase in compute power beyond what we have now (say, tenfold).

One of the reasons Google works as well as it does is because it learns. When people make queries, Google keeps track of which choices they make and notes that these seemed to be more relevant. This approach to an individual computer used by one person isn't practical because the data needed for this evaluation won't pile up fast enough. On the other hand, where it's going to work a lot better is in a collaborative environment such as an engineering team. Then you're going to get enough queries happening so that redundant queries will happen routinely, so that a pattern of what was found from the query can start to appear.

On the other hand, the problem that Google is trying to solve for the web as a whole is less of one on an individual computer. When I make a given query there may be ten thousand items or more which fit; the difficulty is to determine which five or ten are actually the ones I'm most interested in. But on a local computer, the size of the datastore being searched is much smaller and if I do a good job of setting up my search terms there may only be five or ten hits. Still, it's a tough problem because the database being used has to be constructed and maintained on the fly so that searches are rapid.

There have been tentative steps in this direction. Microsoft incorporated one into Office; it's a program which sits in the background and occasionally tries to index your drive. It's also annoying as hell and nearly everyone deletes it, because it destroys performance. That's because the hardware compute power for this isn't there yet. But it will be.

In terms of new presentation modes as alternatives to the desktop, I think that the goal will be to try to create UIs which try to maximize our ability to remember where we put things physically (i.e. spacial memory). But that may not work well because where we seem to have unlimited ability to access knowledge associatively, we seem to have a fairly low limit on how well we remember places. Most people can only remember a few hundred objects at most. Increasing the number of objects beyond that point starts to make the whole memory system more hazy and lead to more errors. So I still think that the future is primarily going to be based on concepts. Paradoxically, this means a reemergence of the importance of text in interfaces; and a relative deemphasis on graphics. (discuss)

Stardate 20011214.1746 (On Screen): It seems likely that bin Laden is surrounded in Tora Bora. No-one can be sure, of course, but one reason to believe that is because the remaining al Qaeda are resisting more than they ever did before, as if they were protecting something very valuable. If he is indeed in there, there's little chance of escape. So the question is whether he'll be captured alive. I honestly think he won't be, simply because no-one on either side wants that to happen. He surely doesn't want to be taken away in chains to stand trial. Equally, it's not clear we really want him either. The best chance is that he'll die in the bombing, or that he'll commit suicide (or be killed by a friendly) but if he actually is approached by our forces or by the Pashtun, I suspect he's going to catch a stray. (discuss)

Stardate 20011214.1704 (On Screen): Satire is a fine art, and you will never see a better example of it than this. Andrew loads up his automatic keyboard with armor-piercing rounds and takes on about a gazillion deserving targets. (discuss)

Stardate 20011214.1638 (On Screen): If you've been having a hard time getting in over the last couple of days, it's because one of my posts attracted a great deal of attention. First, it was linked by Glenn Reynolds, and now it's on the message board at Motley Fool. Reynolds gave me something like a thousand refers over the course of two days. The Fool link just went up and I have no idea how much traffic that's going to cause. Just be patient and it will burn off. (discuss)

Stardate 20011214.1619 (On Screen): As a sop to the Greens, Germany has passed a law mandating that all nuclear power plants in Germany will be closed within 20 years. And, lest we forget, the Greens also want to limit the use of fossil fuels. So just where will Germany get its electrical power?

There are a number of possibilities here. First off (and in my opinion most likely): twenty years is a long time, and by then the Greens will have collapsed as people come to see the negative side of their programs, and this ban will be rescinded. (Or this ban will become a dead letter when Germany cedes most of its federal power to the EU.) Another possibility is that Germany will make up the shortfall with increased use of coal powered electrical generation. Or Germany will import a large part of its power from elsewhere, where it will also be generated with coal. (Which is to say that Germany is going to be exporting some of its pollution.) Yet another possibility is that German industry will go into decline as power costs skyrocket through scarcity, and as a result the German economy will tank. What won't happen is what the Greens expect: do more with less. Conservation is not going to make enough difference to make up for the shortfall, and "alternative renewable energy sources" won't, either. (discuss)

Stardate 20011214.0934 (On Screen): Well, we have ourselves a nice little cross-blog discussion going. Thomas responds generates the third message in that discussion (and provides links to the earlier ones). In his post, he says:

But the immediate reason we fought Nazi Germany was that Hitler (somewhat inexplicably) declared war on us, not the other way around. Even if Hitler hadn't declared war on us, he was already at war with a key ally, England, so we'd have had sensible grounds to intervene. So I concede that if Iraq declares war on us, or if it attacks England or some other ally, we should bust them up. But obviously, that's quite different from a pre-emptive attack or a declaration of war by the U.S. on Iraq.

It's true that in the days following the Pearl Harbor attack that Hitler declared war on the US (and Mussolini then followed suit). The reason for that is historically interesting: he was conned by the Japanese ambassador, who had implied that if Hitler decalred war on the US that Japan might in turn declare war on the USSR and attack in Siberia, thus taking heat off the Germans on the Russian front. Japan never did so, of course.

But that was simply a convenient excuse for Roosevelt; Hitler's declaration solved a problem by giving him a political excuse. However, months before that Roosevelt and Churchill had been meeting and talking by radio about what would happen if the US did finally enter the war, and it had already been decided to adopt a "Germany first" strategy. So even if Hitler had not declared war on the US, Roosevelt would have found some other excuse for doing so. (The fact that the US Navy had been involved in action against German U-boats for a year and a half and that two US destroyers had been sunk probably would have done as well as any other excuse.)

While England was a friend, it wasn't really an "ally" as such. There was no mutual defense pact, for instance, and on the contrary by US law the US had to maintain strict neutrality for the early stages of the war. (Roosevelt finally got that turned around.) It was more the case that Roosevelt and Churchill were friends than that there was any kind of alliance. So the fact that Germany was engaged in war with the UK wasn't a sufficient political excuse to justify a war. The reason for the US going to war against Germany would be only because Germany was dangerous to the US -- which it was, in spades.

And by the same token, if we end up at war with Iraq it will be because Iraq is perceived as being dangerous to US interests; no other reason will be needed. It will be necessary to establish the danger to avoid being seen as a bully, but there will be no need to establish linkage to the September attacks. (discuss)

Stardate 20011214.0607 (On Screen): Arafat still doesn't seem to understand his peril. The crackdown on Hamas that he announced is "on hold" as long as Israel makes air strikes. No, no, NO! (discuss)

Stardate 20011213.2154 (On Screen): I've been doing a lot of messing around with CityDesk and it looks as if it is not too difficult to make it display the site the way I want it to. See the link for a practice site I created using it, copying a few log entries just for experimentation purposes. It doesn't quite seem to display the main unspecified font the same way; it appears to be a different font size for some mysterious reason, and it was necessary to rearrange the fields on a log entry slightly. But it is more powerful than it looks on first blush.

For one thing, what they call "variables" can be treated as macros. The header and the sidebar are each single lines in the templates, fully defined in the variable section. And one variable can make a call to another, so they can be nested.

The big question I have right now has to do with what the practical difference is between a "home" license and a "professional" license (besides a higher price). The collaboration feature is not of interest to me; the other limit on the "home" version is "500 files". Problem is that I'm not just sure what they mean by a "file". The page I just posted is actually one single file on my desktop computer which contains everything in one big database. For example, the image behind the header is part of that database. On publishing, CityDesk explodes them all back into individual files on the server. So is "500 files" post-explode? I'm going to have to get onto Fog Creek Software's discussion system and ask, because It takes me about two months to generate 500 log entries at the rate I've been writing recently and if each of those counts as a "file" then I definitely have to go for the big license. I might do so anyway just on general principles, so that I don't run into any magic gotchas. (discuss)

I probably should have mentioned that the new layout is not the same. It wasn't possible to exactly duplicate the current format, for reasons which are too complicated to go into.

Stardate 20011213.1947 (On Screen): Dmitri Sklyarov will be freed without prosecution and will go home. That's good news. He should never have been arrested in the first place, but at least now he'll be able to see his wife and children again. Adobe is responsible for this fiasco. Because of Adobe, Sklyarov was kept from his home and his family for six months. So let's all make sure that Adobe's management never forgets what a huge blunder they made. (discuss)

Stardate 20011213.1906 (On Screen): Sometimes trying to hard for something makes it impossible to achieve. There's the famous Chinese Finger Puzzle; the harder you pull, the stronger it grips. Push your fingers together, and it will release you.

Or take traffic in a city. What's the fastest way to get where you want to go? Drive forward until you can't go forward any more without hitting anything; then when traffic moves you go forward again. Seems reasonable, right? If I'm trying to get from here to there then the closer I get to there then the closer to complete my trip will be. A ten mile drive starts with the first hundred feet of car movement. (Or something like that.) But if you gridlock intersections, and other people do too, then traffic slows to a crawl for everyone. If, on the other hand, you don't actually try to drive forward quite as aggressively, and leave the intersections open so that traffic can flow, then all of traffic moves faster and everyone benefits. Life is like that sometimes; you have to embrace paradox. (Maybe I'll write a book: "Zen and the art of not spoiling the commons".)

So here you are with chronically high unemployment and you'd like more people to have jobs, right? Obviously the thing to do is to make it nearly impossible to fire anyone. After all, the more people get terminated, then the more unemployment there is. Seems reasonable, doesn't it? Apparently it does to 80,000 Europeans who demonstrated at the EU meeting in Brussels, because they asked for efforts to decrease unemployment and also strengthen the influence of the Unions. It strikes me that those are contradictory goals.

The fundamental problem isn't so much to avoid destroying existing jobs as to encourage the creation of new ones. If a company cannot lay people off during an economic downturn then they'll be very cautious about putting people on during a boom. From their point of view it's better to have too few people and turn away business than to have too many and go broke. If they staff up too aggressively then they have a chance of going OOB on the next economic bust. So if these folks really want to increase employment, they should be campaigning for decreases in Union influence. Or so it seems to this American. (discuss)

Stardate 20011213.1818 (On Screen): Hollywood is a place of miracles. In just the last few years movie audiences all over the world have thrilled to the sight of people being chased and eaten by dinosaurs, of alien spacecraft attacking the US, of the surface of the earth being destroyed, and many other amazing things none of which actually happened.

So now the US has captured and produced a video tape which shows bin Laden discussing the attack in September, and clearly demonstrates that he knew all about it and was involved in planning it. "It's a fake!" comes the cry, from those who hate the US, both foreign and domestic. Folks, if we were going to fake it, we'd have done a much better job. (discuss)

For one thing, Bert would have been sitting next to him.

Stardate 20011213.1731 (On Screen): President Bush has formally announced that the US will withdraw from the ABM treaty. I think it's a mistake, but that's as may be. Legally the US can do this because the treaty itself contains a clause permitting either party to do so with 6 months notice, which is what Bush is invoking.

Though the US can do this, I'm not so sure that Bush can do so without approval of the Senate. I don't know enough about the law here, but given that the treaty was originally approved by the Senate, I bet that the Senate has to approve its termination. (discuss)

Stardate 20011213.1724 (On Screen): So Israel has completely cut off contact with Arafat and the Palestinian authority, and American envoy Anthony Zinni is saying that his mission is near to being a complete failure. Whether deliberate or not, the situation had become one of "Good cop, bad cop". Zinni is talking to Arafat and I think delivering a very stark message: "You can no longer dither. You can no longer make symbolic gestures and have them accepted. You can no longer delay. Only substantive action by you will get you out of this. I still want to try to find a peaceful solution here, but there is no longer any way to get that by trying to wring concessions out of the Israelis. If you don't finally get off your ass and really crack down on the militants in a manner which is clearly decisive and permanent, then I'm going to be forced to go home -- and then the Israelis are going to kill you and destroy the Palestinian nation and let loose bloodletting in the occupied territories which is going to make the last year look like a picnic. I'm expecting a call from Washington to come home any time now; I figure you've got about another four minutes and thirty seconds. My bosses in Washington are fed up with you, and I mean you personally, and are not going to restrain Israel anymore. America has spent twenty years trying to deal with you and has gotten jack results, and we've had enough. You may not have noticed but the US has now been the victim of a major terrorist attack, and the American voting public are no longer sympathetic with anyone who even looks like they're tolerating terrorism or using half measures against it, and that means people whose initials are Yasir Arafat. After me, the deluge. Now off your ass and do what you know you have to do, because that is the only way that you are going to survive, and by that I mean keep breathing."

I hope that's what he's saying, because nothing less will inspire Arafat to actually do something totally out of character: actually make a major commitment which will be difficult to carry out and then really try to stick to it. I really don't want to see that area go up in flames, but if Arafat doesn't really start to move then that's what is going to happen. All the moderate voices are now stilled. (discuss)

Predictably, the Arab nations are asking for an emergency meeting of the Security Council. I don't know why they're bothering; they know full well that te US will veto anything substantive.

Stardate 20011213.1225 (On Screen): This article states that the use of weak vaccines could have the effect of strengthening diseases and making them more virulent. I think that this argument is specious, because it assumes that we take our one shot and then never work on the problem again. They're presenting a false dilemma. Either, we do nothing at all and accept certain level of deaths from the disease, or we use the weak vaccine and accept a short term drop but a long term rise. They're ignoring the third case of developing a series of vaccines over time, which results in an overal lower level of deaths from the disease. Why can't we use a weak vaccine now while we work on a better one? (discuss)

Stardate 20011213.1211 (On Screen): If bloggers are consumed by the need to find something about which to write, that must surely be worse for the real pros, especially those on assignment. So sometimes they need to file something and have nothing about which to write -- so they write about that lack. That appears to be the case here. If you delve deep enough, what she's really saying is little more than this: Karzai arrived in Kabul today, but rather than spending all his time talking to foreign correspondents he decided it was more important to spend his time working on actually setting up a government for Afghanistan. Alas, that means there was no interview or press conference for me to report on. (discuss)

Stardate 20011213.1059 (On Screen via long range sensors): As the war in Afghanistan comes to a close, the statements of those who opposed the war and who predicted its failure are coming under a great deal of scrutiny. NRO is now trying to identify the Most Despicable Quote in the Wake of September 11th and identifies one Jean Baudrillard who made the statement that the West actually desired the 9/11 attack.

Hell; that's nothing. A German composer named Stockhausen retired that trophy in the first week. He described the attacks as "the greatest work of art one can imagine." Baudrillard isn't even in the ballpark. (discuss)

Stardate 20011212.2305 (On Screen): I just love the passive voice. It covers up a multitude of sins.

As U.S. warplanes continue to pound cave complexes containing al Qaeda fighters in eastern Afghanistan, the onslaught is raising questions about whether the ultimate American aim should be defeating the terrorist forces – or annihilating them.

Actions don't raise questions, people do. The proper way to phrase this would have been: The onslaught is causing XXXX to raise questions about... only then the reporter would have to identify just who XXXX is who is doing the raising -- and we might find that it's someone that we really don't care about, such as the reporter himself.

If the United States does in the last phase of the Afghan war wage a campaign of extermination against the network's leaders – for example, by refusing to accept surrenders so it can continue bombing the Tora Bora caves where some al Qaeda members are holed up – it may lose international support by appearing overly vengeful and, some legal experts say, could even find itself accused of war crimes.

Let's see if I can't express my view about international supporters as briefly as possible: Fuck 'em. International support is not an end but a means, and when it prevents us from doing what we need to do, then it is no longer an asset and will be dispensed with. The comment about refusing surrenders refers to this article which reports that the last remaining pocket of al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan tried to surrender on their own terms, terms which were not acceptable to the US.

Several Afghan leaders said today that Americans in the area had adamantly resisted terms of the deal, which would have allowed bin Laden's mainly Arab and other foreign fighters to hand themselves over to the United Nations and diplomatic representatives of their own countries.

"The Americans won't accept their surrender," Hazrat Ali, regional security chief for eastern Afghanistan, said after emerging from hours of negotiations with U.S. officials. "They want to kill them."

Well, it's true that we wouldn't mind at all if they all ended up dead, but the primary point is to make sure that they don't get away. They can surrender to us or they can die. "Going home" isn't one of the choices; there's too much chance that they'll get free and be able to start operating against us again. It's not that we refused surrender as that we refused an unreasonable surrender. They're the ones who are surrounded and getting bombed, so they don't get to set the terms of the surrender. And that is completely legal; it is not a war crime. International law has never granted surrounded soldiers the right of free passage to whereever they want to go. Their "surrender" offer wasn't really a surrender offer, and that means they are still resisting and still a legitimate military target.

One of the results we need out of this war is to make an example out of both the Taliban and al Qaeda. For both organizations, the result must be total annihilation, and death or imprisonment for substantially all of their leaders. That is necessary to support the next phase in the war, where we're going to try to use diplomacy instead of further warfare to eliminate terrorist threats from other places. If we go to Somalia next and say "We hear you've got some al Qaeda training bases, and if you don't get rid of them we'll do it for you and get rid of you, too" then they're going to listen and believe and really do something about it -- because they won't want to end up the way the Taliban did. And the next terrorist group somewhere else who is contemplating an attack on the US will see what happened to al Qaeda, and think three times about it. (discuss)

Stardate 20011212.1740 (Crew, this is the Captain): Maurice writes to me from the Netherlands as follows:

I have been thinking about why Americans consider Europeans to be anti-American. I know the population in most countries isn't. And then I thought about several international treaties. Kyoto, where the US stood alone against all others. A permanent international court of justice for war crimes against humanity which has been blocked by (I believe it was) Congress. The amendment went as far as justifying the use of force to liberate any American should he be tried before that court. I.e. congress approved the use of force against one of their European allies to liberate Americans accused of war crimes. So, while our countries think similarly on society, and the population here is in favour of the US, our governments clash. What do they class about? Human rights, care for the environment. Why? It is not that we care more about for instance environment than the US, I know France doesn't for instance, still they signed. Similar things can be said about human rights. The US could have joined there, should they want to. But they didn't want to. Is this because they lack the diplomatic skill to negotiate? No way. Just look at the war in Afghanistan. They didn't screw up their diplomatic missions there. So my conclusion would be that the US either don't want to participate or don't care. They don't want to be a teamplayer but at the same time complaint that the rest of the team is against them. I know that being from Europe, my view is biased. That is why I am so interested in your take on this issue. Why do you think that Americans think that we are against them? And as Europe is probably more different than the US, I would like to restrict this question to the countries from which I know that the population is positive about the US, i.e. the North-West European countries.

It's difficult to explain. There is a perception in the US that Europe takes the concept of "team player" to an extreme, where it becomes an end in itself instead of a means to an end.

But more to the point is that Europe has been using pressure on the US to be a "team player" as a way of subverting the Constitution. Most of the treaties and agreements that the Bush Administration has rejected (and been castigated for) could not have been enforced in the US without infringing our constitutional rights.

For example, the biological warfare convention required that inspectors be able to go anywhere and look at anything they wanted without warning. That's a violation of the Fourth Amendment; the government of the US does NOT have the right to make speculative searches. No way, no how. With that provision, the US could not sign that agreement.

The Court of Justice: the problem is that the Constitution describes our court system, and there is no provison in it for the Congress to grant foreign courts those powers in the US. The courts in the US do not work for Congress and are not chartered by Congress; they get their grant of power directly from the Constitution and Congress does not have the power to change that short of passing a constitutional amendment. There was another one last year; I am wracking my brain but I don't remember what it was, but the US was not capable of signing it because it would have violated the First Amendment. (And there is nothing we in the US prize more than that one sentence. Nothing at all.)

The President of the United States can not sign a treaty that would force the US to violate the Constitution without violating his oath of office, which itself is written in the Constitution. One of his paramount duties is to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." It's not that a piece of paper needs defending; he's supposed to protect the governmental structure it created and in particular the rights it grants to the people of the US.

Part of the difference in opinion, especially between the US and the UK, comes from the difference of having a real constitution, set out directly in words, which describes how the game is played. We've got that and it's served us damned well for more than 200 years. It's been amended many times (and it is a tribute to the wisdom of the Framers that they included an amendment process) but at its deepest level there was a great deal of wisdom in it. It's written on paper but it has power in this country as if it were etched in steel. We have things like our right of free expression not merely because the government sees fit to let us use it, but because it's written in that steel and the government cannot take it away even if it wants to try to do so.

In the UK, there is no constitution as such. No-one in the UK actually has any rights, in the sense that we in the US use the term. There's centuries of common practice and precedent, but Parliament can override that at any time. We have a hard right of free press; in the UK, Parliament can revoke that (and has, in fact, partially done so in the last fifteen years). We have a constitutional right to not be held in jail without being charged for a crime; in the UK the government has the ability to lock up anyone it wants any time it wants for as long as it wants without even saying why.

It doesn't do so; the government in the UK doesn't generally abuse this. But it could and would be completely legal doing so. We in the US are not willing to entrust something that important to the good will of our leaders; we want better guarantees than that.

I'm not familiar with the foundation of the government of the Netherlands, so I don't know where you land on that spectrum. Amending our constitution is really hard, and it's only been done a couple of dozen times in the course of our history. In some nations, the constitution can be changed by plebiscite or even by an act of the Parliament, which I think is much too easy.

Much of US skepticism about European policies and about solidarity comes from the fact that the Europeans don't seem to understand how Americans feel about the Bill of Rights, and the treaties they keep trying to get us to sign just sort of ignore the fact that they would contravene various portions of the Bill of Rights or other constitutional rights that we have and hold very dear. To us those are prized possessions; to the Europeans they're just obstacles to be surmounted. Or so it seems.

After centuries of war, cooperation in Europe has become essential because too many times any kind of nationalism has resulted in bloody war. Europe can't afford individualism because the price is too high; collective purpose is the only way to survive.

The US hasn't had to make that tradeoff, and we are fiercely independent. we're also proud of our accomplishments (and I think we're entitled to be). It's not just that we have the strongest economy on earth or the most powerful military; we also have done many glorious things. Who else could send a satellite to Jupiter and take pictures of its clouds? Who else could put men on the Moon? Who else can put a submersible at the very bottom of the ocean and discover that there's life down there? So we don't like being treated as young and stupid and in need of guidance. (Which is an ironic attitude in Europe because our government is older than any of the ones on the Continent.)

The United States doesn't go as far in the direction of cooperation over independence because independence has served us well. But it's not just national independence; it also happens inside the nation. We are a nation which believes in diversity; we have a fundamental believe that government should largely be hands-off. This manifests in many ways: our labor and business laws are far less restrictive, for instance. We believe that things work better when they are managed and controlled as little as possible. We believe that two tons of ants can do more than one two-ton elephant. So far we've been proved right.

This goes back a long way. Culturally, central control has been part of Europe for a thousand years. The general trend has been toward more and more concentration of power. While monarchy no longer rules Europe, the habit of obeying central authority remains in the culture, especially on the continent. During the age of monarchy nearly everything was run centrally. Now there are elected governments, but they still have powers comparable to what the monarchs had. Government in Europe is very paternalistic.

The United States was a victim of exactly that kind of central control and that is what set off the revolution. "Taxation without representation is tyranny" -- that was the rallying cry which began the fight. And after it was won, the people of the United States decided that they didn't want to just exchange one master for another. So they decided to try something completely new: a minimalist government. Of all the extremely surprising things about the Constitution, the one which is the most surprising is how much of it is dedicated to listing things that the government is not allowed to do. In fact, most of the non-procedural amendments to the constitution placed additional limitations on the government.

That may sound strange when the US government is the single largest institution on the planet, but it's really true. In terms of per-capita control, it's actually much smaller than most of the nations in Europe. Its budget per capita is much smaller than in most European nations. The only reason it is absolutely large is because it runs a huge nation with an extremely healthy economy. (The way to measure that is by looking at how much of the GDP of a nation is consumed by taxation.

Those treaties and attempts at coalition control are viewed here as back-channel attempts by Europe to make us more like them and to centralize more control, something which we have fought, off and on, for 200 years to prevent. (And many men have died to prevent it. Why should we give away now something for which we've paid such a high price, just to be a team player?)

It's not really so much that we think of Europeans as being anti-American (though some are), as much as that they seem to be anti-Constitution. The Constitution is not negotiable. (discuss)

Patrick writes in and says the following: "One thing I would add to your description between the U.S. and European constitutional systems is that the U.S. Constitution establishes that rights are inherent in the People and that it is they who delegate powers to the Government, whereas under European constitutions power vests in the various Governments and it is they who grant (and can thus revoke) rights to their Peoples."

Stardate 20011212.1416 (On Screen): So last week Arafat claimed that this time he was really, really, trying to do something about the extremists, and today there's another set of bombings and attacks. So Arafat has held an emergency meeting with his advisors and produced the following:

"The Palestinian Authority in an urgent meeting headed by Arafat has taken a decision that Palestinian security forces will immediately close down all Hamas and Islamic Jihad institutions, including education, health and political offices," an official statement said.

So if this is really important, then why wasn't it included in the maximum effort Arafat claimed he was making last week? And if it isn't, why is he bothering now? Finally, why is it that this attack was made by a group associated with Arafat's own Fatah movement?

Arafat says that he thinks Sharon is gunning for him personally. He may well be right, too, but if so I don't think it's because of any long-standing enmity. It's because it is becoming obvious that Arafat is not an asset in the search for a solution. Arafat has only one path: accept that there must be a Palestinian civil war, fight and win it, establish strong control over the Palestinian people afterwards, really negotiate in good faith, and then enforce the terms of any resulting agreement on his own people. (discuss)

Update: Arafat no longer has any maneuvering room at all. He's now going to have to do something uncharacteristic: he's actually going to have to make a hard decision and live with the consequences of doing so.

Stardate 20011212.1120 (On Screen): Thomas is concerned that widening the war could be used as a trojan horse to permanently "temporarily" deprive us of our civil liberties in the name of a perpetual emergency. It's certainly a danger (and one I myself have written about here). But that, by itself, isn't an argument for not continuing to pursue this war. I surely don't propose that we should think "Hot damn! We got a head of steam up here, so let's take this opportunity to kick the ass of everyone out there whose faces we don't like." On the other hand, once you've taken the very serious step of engaging in war, the worst thing you can do is to quit before the job is finished. In that case you get the worst of all worlds: you get the price and pain of a war without a resolution of the political problem which caused you to engage in it in the first place.

It is true that the goal of this war is somewhat vague. But that's because our enemies are indistinct. We don't have a convenient troika of Hitler-Mussolini-Tojo to fight against this time. It's also the case that this war must involve subterfuge, and by its nature we cannot give away who our enemies actually are because it will alert them that we're coming for them (if, indeed, we are). This war is anomalous in many ways, but we've never fought against anything like this before. We don't have a fixed nation opposing us; we're fighting against an international movement with no real home. Since our enemy is unique, our way of fighting it must be too (or we'll lose). A clean object to the war, so as to permit a clean recognition of when it is over, would certainly be nice; but circumstances are not cooperating. You can't always have what you want.

That said, we have to walk a fine line here between taking on too much and doing too little. There are traditional enemies we probably are not going to take on in this war: for instance I think it is virtually certain that we will not radically change our relations with North Korea. We won't ignore them, but they're not going to get the kind of ultimatum that I suspect Iraq will get. Nor will we seek out battle when lesser means will serve our purposes. The goal here is not to fight, as such, but to accomplish the political goal of minimizing the chances of future attacks against American citizens.

Steve Den Beste and others see a wide array of enemies, and, if I may summarize, seem to want to capitalize on our momentum and vanquish them as well. But I think that by adding countries like Iraq to our to-do list, instead of focusing on Al Qaeda havens in Somalia, Sudan and/or elsewhere, we would dilute our efforts and prolong the emergency we seek to end.

But ending the emergency is not the goal; removing the danger is the goal, and the emergency is a means towards that end. The emergency should continue as long as it is needed to accomplish that goal. We don't strive for peace as such. Peace is the absence of conflict; we'll get peace when we've eliminated all the relevant sources of conflict, but doing that probably will require at least some non-peaceful activities. Thus is the paradox of life.

Way, way back in late September (it really does seem a long time ago to me), Matt Welch wrote a good piece, "Keep Hope Alive", urging dispirited "lefties" -- but surely the rest of us as well -- to formulate war aims. I'm not sure any of us ever adequately followed up on that. I think it's high time we did; before we settle into a permanent state of war abroad and emergency at home, let's at least decide that's what we want, and why.

I think that there won't be a permanent state of war (more like a low level conflict which might last ten years). The initial state of war now looks to me like it will last perhaps 3 years. Of course, we citizens will get the opportunity for a reality check every two years; that's part of how our system works. (In 1968 voters made just such a reality check about Viet Nam.) I also think that the objectives of this war are actually pretty clearly understood, but I'm not sure our government has done a good job of communicating them. Let me take a swing at it. Here's a tentative list of objectives:

  • To force all nations of the world to take responsibility for what happens within their borders; and by so doing to remove safe havens from which international non-nation political groups can stage military operations.
  • To reduce as much as possible the assets and effectiveness of such non-national political groups as are currently engaged in active operations against the US (and against any other allied nation who wholeheartedly joins us in this endeavor)
  • To eliminate the infrastructure which such groups use to move money around and support themselves.

On that basis, it's a mistake to focus too closely on the 9/11 attacks and on those who launched them. By the same token, the fact that Iraq has not been shown to have been directly involved in this particular attack doesn't mean we have no right to pay attention to them now that we've made the transition to war. Even if Iraq was not actually involved, it surely sympathized -- and more importantly, it has a clear potential of being involved in future. Germany was not involved in the Pearl Harbor attack, but we fought against Germany nonetheless. By the same token, Iraq may well end up being part of this conflict because it is now too dangerous to ignore any longer. (That's a possibility, not a certainty.)

In our recent experience, the closest analogy is the Cold War. It lasted more than 40 years, and many of us who lived through it accepted that it would probably never end, or have an identifiable ending even if it did. We were wrong, and pleasantly surprised. And during the Cold War there were attacks on our civil liberties in the name of war; but we resisted them, without actually pulling out of the war itself. Attacks on civil liberties are an eternal part of our political system, and those who make them will seize on any excuse; when it wasn't "war", it was "crime" for example. We simply have to keep our eyes open and make sure it doesn't happen, while at the same time making sure that we accomplish the political goal of this war before we give up on it. (discuss)

Stardate 20011212.1032 (On Screen): Iain comments on my statement that maybe being a manly man is going to be "in" again. He cites an article written by one Paula Martinac, the author of The Queerest Places: A Guide to Gay and Lesbian Historic Sites. Maybe Ms. Martinac should be asking herself "Why do they hate us?" (Heh.) "If we gays were more open and understanding towards the manly men, maybe they would not lash out in hostility against us. Maybe they just think they're defending themselves and their lifestyles." (heh-heh-heh...) Besides which, Iain engages in active confrontation with me about this subject, the man's way of doing it, instead of girly "trying to get along." (I knew you were a real man, Iain!)

Hell. I don't think Iain and I really have any disagreement here; I surely don't think that testosterone excuses jackassery. But there's fair reason to believe that a high proportion of the remaining manly men are jackasses because the more cultured ones have been cowed into silence and are now closeted. (Heh.) (discuss)

But in all seriousness, I have actually been put into situations where I had to be apologetic about being openly heterosexual, and I hated it. It's wrong to closet gays, and it's just as wrong to closet straights.

Stardate 20011212.0842 (On Screen via long range sensors): I first started using the net before there really was a "net". This was about 1979, when Usenet was all there was. The majority of traffic moved from machine to machine via UUCP over dialup modems. To send mail to someone you had to source-route, by including a series of machine names between here and there. When someone would sign their email address in a news post, they'd give it as a multi-step link from some major backbone site such as ucbvax (a computer at Berkeley). It was a heady time; the world's largest bull session. (Then you all came along and ruined it.) I was an active newsposter all through the 1980's from various places I worked, such as Tektronix and BBN. I'm amazed to learn that Google has just put archives of news postings online dating all the way back to 1981; where in hell did they get those? I didn't think anyone had done routine archive until DejaNews went online.

This is pretty cool, and I just went back and searched for some of my own old postings, just to see. I located a few choice posts I thought you all might find interesting, and here they are:

  1. An early plea for moderation from the feminist movement
  2. In defense of pre-marital sex
  3. Struggling with the emerging concept of an FAQ
  4. Ah, the problems we had then.
  5. Steve the peace-maker.
  6. Death with Dignity: first and second.
  7. In defense of rational thought (and against medical quackery)
  8. I don't believe that I wrote this; ye Gods!

I guess the restless mind was voyaging even then. (discuss)

Stardate 20011212.0743 (On Screen): One of the problems with multiculturalist dogma is that sometimes we really are right and they are wrong, and if they persist in following their incorrect beliefs the result can be tragedy on a small or large scale. And no-where is this more true than in the treatment of disease. If we "tolerate and respect" other views of the world, the result can be plague or other horrors.

There has, for instance, been a horrifying rise of rapes of female babies in South Africa. Why? The best guess is because somehow or other people in Africa have gotten this notion that a man who has sex with a virgin will be cured of HIV. This is complete nonsense, of course.

They've got a different view of things than we do. That's a fact. It's also a fact that they are wrong and we are right and they need to change to our viewpoint. There's no room for different viewpoints here; having babies raped is too high a price to pay for tolerance. Word has got to be spread there that sex with a virgin does nothing besides risk giving HIV to the virgin.

Or take Ebola, one of the most terrifying diseases known. With a fatality rate above 90%, and being contagious through simple contact, it has the potential to kill hundreds or thousands -- or millions -- in weeks or less. Right now the only effective way we have to deal with it is hard quarantine, because by its nature it burns out rapidly. There isn't any legitimate dispute about this: any alternative view of Ebola is wrong, and that's all.

But there are parts of Africa where there is no such thing as a death by natural causes. Every time someone dies, no matter how, it's because someone else killed them. If no other means can be identified, then it's witchcraft. But you may be able to save yourself by fleeing from the witch when you get sick. Only problem is that if you've got Ebola, fleeing won't do you the least bit of good, but it may spread the disease to others.

There's got to be place for tolerance and openmindedness in the world, no doubt about it. But like all other things, it's a fault when taken to an extreme. Sometimes people who disagree with us really are wrong. (discuss)

Stardate 20011212.0704 (On Screen): Xbox is here, and apparently works. It's selling well, but it will be years before it's profitable for Microsoft. That's OK; Microsoft makes its plans long; it thinks it is better to win big in ten years than to win small in two (an attitude which other companies should learn to emulate). But with Xbox Microsoft is taking a big chance, for the hardware is being sold at a massive loss in expectation of making it back on royalties from games. At the core what you've got is a very decent PC being sold for $300, with an ethernet connection, a big disk, a lot of memory and a fast processor, all in a small convenient self-contained box. On a hardware basis it's actually much better than my Qube 3. There's no particular hardware reason that an Xbox couldn't make a superb little self-contained web server.

But if it were used that way, Microsoft wouldn't be able to sell games to that particular Xbox owner, and would take a loss on that unit. So Microsoft has a vested interest in making sure that the Xbox cannot be used that way. The nightmare scenario for Microsoft is a CD or DVD which is put into the drive which contains Linux and Apache and whatever and looks to Xbox like a game. Once the game "starts" it takes over the system and does much the same thing that my Qube 3 does. Or perhaps Apache alone could run on top of the Xbox OS, keeping its files as "saved game data" on the HD. Is there hope of this? I think so, and I'm actually tempted to go buy one on speculation just in case someone pulls it off. It's been out less than a month, and hacks have already torn them apart and are doing their best to break into Microsoft's security. Microsoft has been known to leave holes before which could be exploited to take over their systems, after all.

I paid about $1400 all told for my Qube 3 which hosts this site. If other people can do the same thing for $300 plus, say, $50 for a CD from someone else, then you may see a boom in adoption of home broadband, another project dear to Microsoft's cold calculating little heart. (Even when it loses, Microsoft seems to win.) (discuss)

Stardate 20011211.2304 (On Screen): USS Kittyhawk has returned to Japan. Kittyhawk was the carrier which unloaded most of its airwing and loaded up on helicopters. There's no mention of them, but what I suspect is that now that the Marines are in Afghanistan in force, the helicopters that Kittyhawk was carrying are now operating from land bases there and in southern Pakistan, and Kittyhawk was no longer needed. (discuss)

Stardate 20011211.2256 (On Screen): After months, the Foot and Mouth problem in the UK seems finally to be under control. But I think it's become obvious to nearly everyone that the approach used to deal with it was wrong. The one weapon which was available and never used was animal vaccines. Given a sufficient supply and will to use it, millions of animals could have been saved and the entire epidemic stopped in its tracks very early. That would have had long term effects on the meat industry, but also would have prevented dramatic damage to other industries such as tourism. On balance, the overall effect on the British economy would have been much lower.

The big problem is that vaccinated animals cannot be exported, and indeed a nation which uses vaccination cannot export anything. That makes no sense at all; the opposite should be true. Vaccinated animals are the ones most likely to be safe to export. (discuss)

Stardate 20011211.2045 (On Screen):

There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production– with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now. The regions destined to feel its impact are the great wheat-producing lands of Canada and the U.S.S.R. in the North, along with a number of marginally self-sufficient tropical areas – parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indochina and Indonesia – where the growing season is dependent upon the rains brought by the monsoon.

A survey completed last year by Dr. Murray Mitchell of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals a drop of half a degree in average ground temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere between 1945 and 1968. According to George Kukla of Columbia University, satellite photos indicated a sudden, large increase in Northern Hemisphere snow cover in the winter of 1971-72. And a study released last month by two NOAA scientists notes that the amount of sunshine reaching the ground in the continental U.S. diminished by 1.3% between 1964 and 1972.

To the layman, the relatively small changes in temperature and sunshine can be highly misleading. Reid Bryson of the University of Wisconsin points out that the Earth’s average temperature during the great Ice Ages was only about seven degrees lower than during its warmest eras – and that the present decline has taken the planet about a sixth of the way toward the Ice Age average. Others regard the cooling as a reversion to the “little ice age” conditions that brought bitter winters to much of Europe and northern America between 1600 and 1900 – years when the Thames used to freeze so solidly that Londoners roasted oxen on the ice and when iceboats sailed the Hudson River almost as far south as New York City.


Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve. But the scientists see few signs that government leaders anywhere are even prepared to take the simple measures of stockpiling food or of introducing the variables of climatic uncertainty into economic projections of future food supplies. The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality.

That's from Newsweek, April 28, 1975.(discuss)

Stardate 20011211.2020 (On Screen): So with the collapse of the Taliban, and the absence of street riots in the Muslim capitols of the world, and the likelihood that the US might take the war on the road to other Muslim nations, the big question was how the Saudi government would deal with the it: which way would they lean? Towards us or against us? They had been blowing hot-and-cold, being nice to the US but denouncing us internally, and that obviously wasn't going to play any longer.

The new attitude seems to be, "Those Americans are really pretty nice fellows; but the Jews, on the other hand..." The US is deep down good; a true friend of Saudi Arabia. The extent to which it has seemed otherwise in the past has been due to it having been mislead by those awful evil Israelis, who are the true source of everything foul in the world. And there's a definite attempt to downplay the way in which the United States has been killing Arabs.

For example, this story reports on the action to clean up the last remaining al Qaeda stronghold in Tora Bora. It talks about it as if it were an internicine struggle between the (Muslim) Afghans fighting against the (Muslim) Al Qaeda (including many Saudis), and hardly mentions the role of the US in the action. There's a token mention of US bombing, but most of the emphasis is on the attack by "Afghan fighters". The reality is a bit different: when the Afghan fighters (local Pashtun) have tried to advance on their own, they've generally been repulsed by the al Qaeda forces. It's only been when the US had obliterated a section of the al Qaeda defenses with airstrikes that the Afghans have been able to move in and chase away the few survivors. But since the goal of this report is to deemphasize the role of the US in this war as much as possible, that can't really be said. Nonetheless, the report is reasonable even and straight, with no obvious attempt to smear anyone.

By contrast, there is no attempt to avoid editorializing on this one:

Israel continued its policy of repression against Palestinians as its helicopters destroyed a base of President Yasser Arafat’s elite Force-17 guard in the Gaza Strip yesterday while troops in the West Bank shot dead two Palestinians at a checkpoint.

In article after article, they suck up to the US. There's a feel-good piece about American Muslims celebrating Ramadan (though it takes a few swipes at the Jewish Controlled Media™); a statement from the Saudi ambassador to the United States stating that relations between the two countries simply couldn't be better (despite the attempts of the Jewish Controlled Media™ to try to sour relations between them), and a full-scale assault on the JCM™ and how it misrepresents Saudi culture in the West. Are we sensing a theme here? Despite worries to the contrary, the Saudi government (and, apparently, most of the other Arab and Muslim government) are being very pragmatic about this. They've decided that they're not really interested in becoming martyrs for Islam. I believe that this means that there will be relatively little negative political fallout in the Muslim world if the United States does end up having to become militarily involved in Iraq or Somalia or other Arab nations. It's clear that Riyadh believes that it has no chance whatever of dissuading the US from any such action, but that any attempt at doing so would be very dangerous for Riyadh, or at least for the Saud dynasty. (discuss)

Stardate 20011211.1911 (On Screen): In "My Fair Lady", Henry Higgins laments "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" For the last thirty years, some people in the US (you know who you are) have lamented, "Why can't men be more like women?" And they decided to start with boys. In the preschools they tried to encourage the boys to play with dollies instead of always grabbing the toy trucks; let little Sarah play with the truck this time -- here's a nice Barbie doll for you, Davie! But much to their chagrin, the boys didn't want dolls and the girls usually didn't want trucks either. There was a disturbng tendency for kids of both sexes to act differently. The girls liked playing house and pretending to be mommies; and the boys kept insisting on being rambunctious. They not only played with trucks, they crashed them into each other. Of course, it was culture's fault; the boys had already been polluted by their environment. At age 4 they'd already been ruined. The pathology was too deep for such small measures. So the call went out: eradicate all traces of male culture. Too much violence on TV and in the movies (never mind the ratings; people don't know what's good for them). Stop selling toy guns! Sensitive New Age guys were in; Macho was out. And still it didn't work, even more was needed; and emasculation became a political movement, dedicated to stamping out all traces of testosterone in our culture. Men would become feminine voluntarily -- or by force. It was always wrong to be violent; there were no exceptions. Feminine relating skills could solve all problems, and masculine confrontation and intimidation was always a failure.

So who have been the heroes in the last three months? Policemen, firemen, and soldiers; the same role models I had as a boy in the 1950's. Did Sensitive New Age Guys win this war by relating to the Taliban and feeling their pain? Hell no; it was soldiers who went in and kicked ass. Is it too soon to hope that maybe, just maybe, men can stop being ashamed of their testosterone counts? Having men around can be pretty handy sometimes.

Why shouldn't a man be like a man? And a boy be like a boy? James is right: a boy can't have too many motors for his Lego set; you can't make a truck built out of Legos crash right without enough motors. (discuss)

Stardate 20011211.1827 (On Screen): In the days of my youth, when Bruce Lee was making an impact (ahem), if you wanted to describe a man as being physically formidable, you'd cap the description with "...and he has a black belt." That was sort of the cherry on the top. In the last three months a new meme has replaced that: "...and he's a rugby player." (discuss)

Stardate 20011211.1736 (On Screen): With the collapse of @Home after several independent DSL providers went under, there has been rhetoric in the press about whether broadband in the home is a failure. The problem isn't lack of demand, the problem has been lousy business plans. My provider, Road Runner, for instance seems to be doing fine. But its business model was always much different than that of @Home. @Home's plan was to install its own equipment at the sites of various cable companies; RR is more like a franchise. Time Warner Cable (my ISP) actually owns its own equipment and pays the people who run it. We have local connections to established backbones. If RR went away, it would hardly affect us at all; Time Warner Cable would just keep running it. However, the big difference was that @Home (and Northpoint, and all the other dead broadband companies) tried to make it as independent companies concentrating on this business exclusively. The broadband which is alive and well and thriving is that which is being operated by large companies who already own most of the required infrastructure. There's a lot of DSL out there, but it's being operated by the phone companies. RR works because it is owned by and operated by the cable companies themselves. The failure of a company with a flawed business model doesn't prove anything about the viability of the business. As in all business, the real trick is to figure out the correct way to sell it. (discuss)

Stardate 20011211.1728 (On Screen):

The al-Qaida hide-outs at Tora Bora are a vast complex of natural caves fortified by concrete and steel, making it tough for bombs to reach fighters hunkered deep within, an expert on Afghan caves said Tuesday.

While bombs could penetrate much of the solid rock, mostly granite and crystalline stones, they may not reach some inner bunkers, said Jack Shroder, a professor of geography and geology at the University of Nebraska, who led a project to map Afghanistan in the 1970s.

Bombs don't need to penetrate to the deepest caves. All they need to do is to seal up all the entrances so that those trapped inside can't tunnel their way out. And by definition at least some part of entrances will be near the surface and vulnerable to penetrating bombs.

Shroder said an effective way to drive out people hiding in the caves might be the use of gas to render occupants unconscious.

He's working too hard. First, most of the potential anesthetic agents which could be used are also explosive (things like cyclohexane). Second, they require high dosage to work, and wear off in minutes. Third, any troops invading to take advantage of it would have to work with air tanks; simple gas masks would not offer protection. Anesthetic gases are not an effective weapon for something like this. If we have the ability to inject compounds into the air supply, it would be far better be to use a stink bomb. Compounds have been created which are repulsive and which we can smell in extremely small quantities; putting a few hundred kilograms of such a compound into an air intake would make the whole compound uninhabitable for months. One choice would be butyl mercaptan (the active ingredient that a skunk shoots) but the problem with it is that it is higly flammable. I know that much work has gone into the development of putrid agents for use in non-lethal weapons for police action; I have no doubt at all that there are may such things which could be used which are relatively non-toxic and non-flammable but which are impossible to be around. If friendly forces have access to air intakes for a bunker, that bunker won't be occupied for long. (discuss)

Stardate 20011211.1035 (On Screen): Noah did a very fine job on Greymatter, it must be said. But it was never really intended for heavy duty sites like Kevin's or my own, and when the number of entries it is managing approaches 2000, it begins to suffer rather badly. Right now, for example, a site search here takes upwards of half a minute, and a "rebuild all" can take ten minutes -- and that's with only 6 months of material. What's it going to be like a year from now? It is a problem. Kevin is starting to look into Movable Type. Me, I downloaded the demo version of CityDesk yesterday and I'm starting to play with that. The biggest problem is getting it to make its output look something like what I have now. I fear I may have to learn how CSS works.

For me, one of the advantages of CityDesk is that it does the majority of its work on my desktop computer, which is vastly faster and more powerful than the one in the server (where Greymatter or Movable Type would run). After all, a 1.4 GHz Athlon Thunderbird is going to run rings around a 300 MHz K6-2. And CityDesk is running compiled code instead of dog-slow interpretive PERL. It also uses a database to maintain its entries instead of the huge swarm of individual files that Greymatter uses. Another advantage over Greymatter is that it is WYSIWYG. It's also commercial, but I don't have a problem with buying my tools. After all, I bought UBBS for $250. I also voluntarily gave money to Noah for Greymatter. So I don't have any problem with giving Joel cash for his hard work, if what he made is useful to me. I'm sure that it's possible to run a web log with CityDesk because Joel himself is doing so now. (discuss)

Stardate 20011210.2353 (On Screen):

One of the ironies of the war in Afghanistan is that the more that U.S. forces succeed there, the more that Pentagon officials warn about difficulties ahead.

After opposition groups surprised many by swiftly ousting the Taliban from northern cities, U.S. defense officials predicted that shaking the Taliban's hold in the south would likely be more bloody and problematic. Now that the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar has fallen without a bloodbath, the Pentagon's message -- repeated daily with mantra-like consistency -- is that the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Mohammad Omar and other elusive al Qaeda and Taliban leaders poses even tougher challenges.

There are good and legitimate reasons for that. The military is afraid of "victory disease". That's a term which was created by Japanese military analysts during and after WWII when they tried to figure out all the reasons that the war had gone so badly against them, and victory disease was identified as being one of the most important ones.

The Pearl Harbor attack was completely lopsided. For the loss of a couple of dozen planes, the heart had been cut out of the American Pacific Fleet. After that, there was a heady interval of about three months in which it seemed as if nothing could go wrong. No matter what they did, the result was success. They attacked a numerically superior force of British and Australians at Singapore, who also had more and better equipment -- and the British surrendered. Indochina fell; the war in China proceeded as they hoped it would; Java was taken; a naval battle against a mixed force of American, Australian, British and Dutch ships resulted in nearly all the allied ships being sunk with little damage to the Japanese. The Americans held out in the Philippines longer than expected, but the end was never really in doubt -- and everywhere, losses were light, light, almost noexistant in fact. The world seemed to be theirs for the plucking.

Competent military planning is never based solely on one's own capabilities and intentions; it's always necessary to take the enemy into account. That may seem obvious, but it began to slip past the Japanese. Strategy in war partakes on some level as a big game of rock-paper-scissors; success to some extent comes from outguessing your opponent. But the Japanese came to believe that their scissors could not only cut paper but also cut rock as well.

Unfortunately, the Americans rallied; more assets were brought into the Pacific (in particular, three more American carriers), the Americans were learning and changing tactics, and suddenly things began to go badly wrong for the Japanese. Within 13 months of Pearl Harbor, the war in the Pacific had been lost; it was only a matter of time after that. Initiative (sente) had passed to the Americans and they never again gave it up. For the remainder of the war, the Japanese reacted instead of acting.

The first hint of trouble was the Battle of Coral Sea in May of 1942. The Japanese made a move to capture Port Moresby on the south coast of New Guinea, and the Americans became aware of this through code breaking, and committed two carriers to prevent it. The result was the first naval battle in history where the two fleets never got close enough to see each other. All attacks were made by aircraft. The Americans sank the Japanese light carrier Shoho and badly damaged Shokaku and Zuikaku, but the Japanese sank Lexington and badly damaged Yorktown. While the Japanese did not actually take Port Moresby, they did seem to inflict more damage on the Americans than they had taken. But this then led to Midway in June, where four Japanese fleet carriers were lost at the expense of the already damaged Yorktown.

The problem was that the Japanese treated this not as the result of a fundamental change in the state of the war, to be adapted to, but simply as horrible bad luck, but nontheless simply as misfortune. The tactics which had been used to that point had succeeded so spectactularly that it was just viewed as an abberation, a temporary setback, and that once Japan recollected its power and got back on the offensive that things would start going its way again if it just kept doing what it had been doing all along. That was "victory disease", the feeling of invincibility and overconfidence which prevented them from honestly analyzing the catastrophe of Midway, and later a series of calamaties on the ground on Guadalcanal, to learn from them and modify strategy and tactics. The Americans had switched from paper to rock, and the Japanese scissors stopped working. Victory disease prevented them from noticing this until it was much too late.

There are many other reasons why this is, or can be, a bad thing. It's surprising to say this, but it's not necessarily good for things to go too well. The people of the US may come to expect that this war can be won with no American casualties at all. Allied casualties in the Gulf War were amazingly light, with only about 300 dead total -- and most of them as the result of a single Scud which hit a barracks. There were fewer than a hundred combat dead, a preposterously low number by historical standards. (Compare, for example, over 7000 American dead just at Iwo.) After the Gulf War, there was muttering among the military that they didn't envy the next commander of the next big war that the United States fought, because there would be the expectation of doing it again.

Well, now they have done it again, only even more so. We've largely won the Afghan war and only with about ten dead, with just four of those in combat. It isn't possible to sustain that. Nor can we be certain that the tactics which are serving us so well now will work as well elsewhere -- or even continue to work in Afghanistan. But if the public comes to expect a video-game war, with victory at no price in blood, then when things do inevitably start going worse, and Americans start coming home in bags, there's the danger that America will lose its will and morale will collapse. Paradoxically, it would probably have been better in the long run if the US had actually suffered a major defeat with heavy casualties before the Taliban collapsed; it would have gotten the American public more used to the idea that people really do get killed in wars: our people, not just their people.

No commander would do that deliberately, or even take the risk. A commander is bound by duty and honor to do the best he can both to achieve the political goal and to conserve his forces. Given that it was within our capability to win a virtually bloodless victory (measured in American blood) then General Franks was going to do so. But in the long run this could backfire. That is what the Pentagon is trying to prevent.

We all hope it won't happen, but it is far more likely than not that eventually Americans on the ground will get into a situation they can't handle and get butchered. They'll fight well, and it may turn out to be another Mogadishu, where 18 Americans sold their lives by killing 700 Somalis; but no matter, it's going to loom large in the minds of the folks back home and that's when doubt will begin. The soldiers in Somalia were not discouraged by this; if anything it angered them and they wanted to go back in and finish the fight. But the politicians lost their nerve and pulled American forces back out again, much to their disgust. The Pentagon doesn't want that to happen again. The more prepared Americans (and their leaders) are now for the idea that it isn't guaranteed to continue going this well, the less of a shock it will be when we finally face our Coral Sea and do get hurt for the first time. Hopefully we will be wise enough when it happens to recognize the situation, to remain strong but also to be versatile, and to win our Midway instead of losing it. And there is no more sure way for the US to lose this war than to lose heart and stop trying. (discuss)

Stardate 20011210.1739 (On Screen): San Francisco is the bastion of democracy, the nexus of clear thought -- and apparently cannot run a non-fraudulent election. At what point is an organization so useless and incompetent that it cannot be saved?

I've seen it done in private industry. I used to work at Tektronix, and the section of it responsible for assisting in the hiring of professionals was so inept that managers company wide routinely bypassed it and worked on their own. At one point I wanted to find another job, and my boss helped me out. There was a better position in another group, and my boss knew the manager who had the position to fill. So he told me I should apply through channels, but also call the guy on the phone. I did; we arranged an interview, and he hired me. I transferred over, and three weeks after starting my new job I received a form letter through interplant which told me that I was not being considered for my new position because I didn't satisfy the minimum job requirements. (It was listed as requiring a bachelor's degree; I never graduated from college.) My new boss and I both got a chuckle out of that. That kind of idiocy happened all the time, and it got so bad that the corporation literally terminated every single person in the department, every blessed soul, and started from scratch to create a new one.

San Francisco's elections have been so marred by voting irregularities that the people of the city have selected a seven-person commission to oversee the process. But how can seven people really monitor an election in a city with over a million inhabitants? Perhaps San Francisco should recognize that its current election department is beyond saving, fire the lot of them, and start from scratch? (Probably can't; they'd probably be tied up with lawsuits for years if they did. So if they can't do that, then how about some prosecutions?) (discuss)

Stardate 20011210.1653 (On Screen): With all the outpouring of compassion for the parents of John Walker, conspicuously absent in certain channels is any compassion for the widow of Mike Spann, the CIA agent who died in the prison riot in Mazar-e Sharif.

Where is the outpouring of grief in the newspaper editorial columns of San Francisco for this young woman? Where are the feature stories about her? What does it say about an editorial voice when it expresses more concern for the parents of a traitor and for the traitor himself than for the widow of a man who died in the service of his country? (discuss)

Imagine world peace. "Mike understood it's not enough simply to dream of a better, safer world. He understood it has to be built." Damned straight.

Update: Henry writes as follows: "Just watching CNBC... Andrea Mitchell said today was the first day she had revealed her identity and it was her choice. Spann's co-workers could not attend the ceremony because of their cover. Hopefully the media will write more about her now that she has allowed them to reveal her name..." Fair enough; let's see what happens.

Update: Kevin writes: "I think the part your reader left out is that Mrs. Spann is (was) also an undercover CIA officer. Obviously, now that she's a public figure she can no longer work undercover, although I'm sure she has the option of a desk job in langley."

On the other hand, Aaron writes: "Am I misinterpreting what Henry and/or Andrea Mitchell are trying to say? Shannon Spann's identity was known long before yesterday. In fact, the CIA itself identified her by name in a press release all the way back on November 28, and her name's been all over the news ever since."

Update: My God! There is intelligent life in San Francisco! (Thanks, Fredrick)

Stardate 20011210.1637 (On Screen): As war dies down and the Afghan resistance settles in in various parts of the nation, and as order and security are being reestablished, the flow of humanitarian aid, especially of food, is reaching flood proportions. The "Friendship" bridge from Uzbekistan has been reopened and trains are now moving over it carrying supplies. Truck convoys from all neighboring nations are moving vast quantities of aid, especially wheat. The pace of movement and distribution of aid has drastically increased in just the last week, and with the fall of Kandahar and re-establishment of order there and in Spin Boldak, it's looking like the only real trouble spot remaining is in the vicinity of Jalalabad. (The last remaining substantial al Qaeda force is holding out there at Tora Bora.) In many cases the distribution of aid is now above expectations, and it is now expected that widespread starvation can be avoided in most of the country. The threat of banditry to the supplies appears to be dissipating. The situation is by no means ideal and there are many places where the aid agencies still can't really go, but it is substantially better than it was just two weeks ago.

Guess who's paying for most of that? We are; the people of the United States. $195 million is being distributed by the US Agency for International Development to various aid agencies of all kinds, especially the World Food Program. It's come in many forms. For example, the famous (notorious) airdrop program during the war ended up costing nearly $50 million, and dropped more than two million daily rations into Afghanistan. Despite the condemnations by certain groups for that program, it's difficult to believe that many lives were not saved by two million people-days worth of food. But that was perhaps not as cost effective as things like USAID Food For Peace program which has given the WFP $38 million dollars to purchase and move 72,000 metric tons of food into Afghanistan. Other grants to other agencies have purchased tens of thousands more tons of food and paid for its transport. There has also been substantial purchase and movement of blankets, plastic sheeting (which is extremely important for creating shelters in refugee camps), and medical supplies, not to mention purchasing trucks. When all is said and done, the United States has provided more than 80% of the food aid for Afghanistan.

To listen to some people, the United States has been conducting a brutal and wrong-headed war against the Afghan people themselves which will result in millions of innocent deaths there. I must say we have a strange way of going about it. You find a lot of people out there who have recriminations for the US, but the evidence is that most of them don't live in Afghanistan. There have been a lot of winners in this war, but the biggest winners of all have been the Afghan people. (discuss)

Stardate 20011210.1106 (On Screen): Thomas responds to my comment earlier to day about Iraq, which talks about the overall purpose of this war. He writes:

I think that not only "plausible demonstration of future danger" is needed -- no argument, Iraq is definitely dangerous, and is likely getting more so. The additional requirement is how to distinguish Iraq, in this respect, from any number of other countries that are also plausibly dangerous in the future. Repeating my old list, these include Pakistan, North Korea, China, Iran, Libya, and no doubt other countries as well. Without a well-defined doctrine that defines exactly how Iraq is different from these countries, a war on Iraq for this reason would be an open-ended declaration of war on any similar country.

Exactly so; this is a "declaration of war" on other countries which are similar. This war started with al Qaeda, but it does not end with Iraq. The other places Thomas mentions must also be dealt with. The hope is that it won't be necessary to deal with them all violently, but all of them will be dealt with one way or another. I don't agree with his list exactly, however; I would not include China but I would include such nations as Syria, Somalia and Sudan. (This isn't about getting every nation which is hostile to us, as such.) Iraq is not special; Thomas is quite right about that. And we're not going to treat it specially; we'll get to them all eventually. (discuss)

Hey, man, call me "Steve". "Mr. Den Beste" makes me sound so old. (sob)

Stardate 20011210.0624 (On Screen): Momma Bear sends in this link to an article from the UK which gingerly approaches the idea that if Iraq can be shown to have been involved in the terrorist attacks of the 1990's (and 2001) that war there would become inevitable. It talks about what the political implications would be if evidence of Iraqi involvement was exposed.

In a sense this is promising; it represents movement by the British press away from a "Hell, no!" attitude about conflict in Iraq towards "Well, maybe." But by positing the idea that proof of Iraqi involvement would lead to war, it also perpetuates the flip-side argument that lack of such evidence would mean that no such war would take place -- and that misses the point. Iraq has to be dealt with because of its potential danger, and for that it isn't necessary to demonstrate that the danger has actually manifested. All that's needed is a plausible demonstration that there's a significant probability that it could in the future, and of that there is no doubt whatever. Like so many commentators on this war, they're still fixated on this war as being intended for revenge and retaliation for prior attacks, rather than to prevent future ones. (discuss)

Stardate 20011210.0610 (On Screen): Sun Tzu tells us that "Supreme excellence in war lies in defeating your enemy without a fight." This article describes a psyops group which has been involved in the war in Afghanistan. Psyops is interesting because it's the only effective form of non-lethal offensive weaponry we have. Dreams about bombing with anesthetics instead of shrapnel, or using paralysis beams instead of bullets, remain only illusions. Such non-lethal weapons as the military has deployed are intended primarily for control of civilian populations in occupied cities and are useless on the battlefield. But psyops can do that: its goal is to convince enemy soldiers to surrender, or to desert, or to not resist. Sometimes it is difficult to judge its effectiveness but it's almost never completely useless and sometimes it is very effective indeed. It's been with us for a long time, but modern psyops are to those of fifty years ago as modern bombers are to fifty-year-old bombers; similar in principle but much more efficient in practice.

Of course, psyops is at its most effective when delivering a true but devastating statement to the enemy, such as the image of Omar as a chained dog following bin Laden around in that one flyer. (Heh-heh-heh...) (discuss)

Of course, like anything else, psyops can be incompetent. For example, every account I've read says that "Tokyo Rose" was a dismal failure.

Stardate 20011210.0551 (On Screen): It seems as if Iraq is finally beginning to get the message that US patience is exhausted. Its response is predictable: it would like to "resume dialog" with the US on condition that the US cut way back on "threats and aggression". Sorry, that's not going to happen. (discuss)

Stardate 20011209.2218 (On Screen): Nell writes to me as follows:

Winter has begun in Afghanistan. Infighting, looting, robbery, and other security breakdowns in areas under the 'control' of non-Taliban warlords have made it very difficult to distribute food to people who depend on it. In some areas, aid agencies have had to pull staff out again, making distribution impossible. [This is based on news items of the last six to ten days from BBC, the Independent, Toronto Globe and Mail, Washington Post, and others.]

What is your proposal for bringing enough stability to the north and west of the country to allow aid to get where it's needed? You frown on international peacekeepers because they'd undermine Afghans' sense of ownership of the new government. You might be interested to know that Christian Aid, an organization whose statements usually arouse your suspicions, supported this position in a Nov 30 article on their website.

However, your argument for 'ownership' would be more convincing if you gave any sign you believed it yourself. After stating the case well:

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.... 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...

You go on in a nearby post to spell out clearly that the local forces *didn't do it themselves, and that they *are puppets:

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....

US bombs won this war. US dollars can win this peace.

What alternatives do you see for securing routes for food delivery, beyond particularly skillful combinations of threats and bribery on the part of U.S. officials?

I began to answer her by email and then decided it would make a good post. I don't think that my position is contradictory. The issue here is not the reality of the situation but rather how it is viewed by the Afghans. For example, as I mentioned part of why the new government has legitimacy is because of the view by the Afghans that "we did it ourselves" -- that it was Afghans, with a bit of help from the Americans, who won the war against the Taliban. In fact, it's the exact opposite. The Northern Alliance were cornered and weak and spent years on the defensive; then we showed up, started bombing and lending them other kinds of aid, and within a month the Taliban were on the run and within two months were defeated. It's obvious on the face of it that it was US air power which primarily won this war. Still, that's not how it's going to viewed in Afghanistan, and that's important.

Use of the warlords as a conduit for aid doesn't discredit them in the eyes of the people they rule. On the contrary, it would strengthen them as long as the political sway were used subtly; they would not be viewed as having sold their souls to the west, but rather as having gotten those supplies for their people from the west. They're interfaces, but it's important which direction they're viewed as looking (i.e. towards the west, on the side of Afghanistan, rather than towards Afghanistan, on the side of the West). It plays into the standard use of patronage by strongmen in Afghanistan to keep the loyalty of those underneath them.

For that to work, it does mean that we won't be making any public pronouncements. For example, as I predicted yesterday, General Dostum has announced that he will support the new government after all. No reason is given, and he wasn't publicly threatened in any way, but someone had a talk to him and let him know in no uncertain terms what the cost to him would be for his continued intransigence. If we had gone public with that, he would then have been honor-bound to throw it back in our faces and resist to the death -- but doing that kind of string-pulling in private will work fine as long as it doesn't look to those he rules as if he knuckled under. On the contrary; he can play it exactly the opposite way: "I gave in just a teeny bit and as a result the west poured all this neat treasure in here; ain't I just the coolest thing you ever saw?"

So what is important is to keep the reality of foreign control (partial control, since it's important that we not do too much of this) invisible, and retain the image in the eyes of Afghanistan that they are primarily responsible for their fates, and that their leaders really are leading. And that is exactly what the use of foreign peacekeepers cannot do. By their nature they are blatantly visible and also foreign and also propping up the government. I do not see how they can be used without at least damaging the credibility of the government, if not outright destroying it. Either they will be useless because they don't turn out to be needed, or else they will provide short term peace at the expense of long term chaos. It's not a good trade.

Shipments of humanitarian aid will be extremely vulnerable for the next few months and will have to be protected against bandits, and that's going to take armed guards, quite posssibly foreign ones. Guards on food shipments don't generate that problem, though; they have a specific and well-defined task and it doesn't have anything to do with the legitimacy of the government.

The real goal here is not short-term order but long-term stability. We've already accepted a great deal of chaos and violence to accomplish that; to suddenly get gutless and sacrifice that simply to stop any more bloodshed in the short term is wrong. Better to try to keep the peace with Afghan troops, accept that this will not be as effective in the short term as foreign troops would be, and recognize that using Afghans for this will lend legitimacy to the government and not destabilize it. While this may force us to accept a higher level of short term chaos and disorder, it inhances the long term prospects for order and stability. It's the right way to bet. The Afghans do need to rule themselves eventually anyway; now's a good time to start. (discuss)

Stardate 20011209.1834 (On Screen): Robert Fisk was beaten by a crowd in Pakistan, but he's gone public with his account of it (which Brian mailed to me) and uses it to make a political point. I still regret that he was beaten, but I need not let his politics pass just because he shed blood, and I won't. Andrew Sullivan points out that Fisk removes all moral culpability for the attack from those who attacked him; this is the height of chauvinism. They are morally blameless because they are not capable of making decisions; they were merely automatically responding to the stimulus of American bombing.

But there's something more interesting here: Fisk fought back, which almost certainly saved his life. Had he passively accepted the beating he probably would have ended up dead; but because he fought back he is now healthy enough already to be able to write a column about it; clearly he will be alright -- because when he was attacked he fought back. His pious words not withstanding, when the money was on the table he had no use for moral equivalence; it was his life on the line and he fought back.

And that is exactly what he condemns the United States for doing: it, too, was attacked, and it, too, is fighting back so as to prevent more attacks which could injure or kill more thousands of its citizens, and because it is fighting back those citizens also will not die. It is not concerning itself with moral equivalence because the lives of its citizens are on the line. (discuss)

Stardate 20011209.1737 (On Screen): Speaking as an atheist, there are very few things that I would use the word "holy" to refer to and mean something comparable to what a non-atheist would mean. The Medal of Honor is on that very short list. In war most men do their duty and often surprise others and themselves by going well beyond simple duty. We give decorations to them to reward them and to recognize them when they perform well. There is a rising hierarchy of medals for progressively greater valor. But once in a while a man (or woman) will transcend the normal, perform at a level which defies belief. Extraordinary valor requires extraordinary recognition, and to such people the United States bestows the Medal of Honor.

Now many, even most, of the men who are given the Medal of Honor are combatants, who actively attack and kill the enemy. Here is a typical example:

THOMAS, WILLIAM H.: Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, 149th Infantry, 38th Infantry Division. Place and date: Zambales Mountains Luzon, Philippine Islands, 22 April 1945. Entered service at: Ypsilanti, Mich. Birth. Wynne, Ark. G.O. No.: 81, 24 September 1945. Citation: He was a member of the leading squad of Company B, which was attacking along a narrow, wooded ridge. The enemy strongly entrenched in camouflaged emplacements on the hill beyond directed heavy fire and hurled explosive charges on the attacking riflemen. Pfc. Thomas, an automatic rifleman, was struck by 1 of these charges, which blew off both his legs below the knees. He refused medical aid and evacuation, and continued to fire at the enemy until his weapon was put out of action by an enemy bullet. Still refusing aid, he threw his last 2 grenades. He destroyed 3 of the enemy after suffering the wounds from which he died later that day. The effective fire of Pfc. Thomas prevented the repulse of his platoon and assured the capture of the hostile position. His magnificent courage and heroic devotion to duty provided a lasting inspiration for his comrades.

Of course, to one who hates the US, this can be dismissed as the act of a butcher so dedicated to hatred and killing as to become blind to anything else. To a pacifist, the mere idea of rewarding anyone for attempting to kill another, even an enemy in war, would be repugnant. So they may be unpleasantly surprised to learn that many Medal of Honor winners were medics, often Conscientious Objectors who went into battle unarmed, refused to fight, but risked death -- and sometimes died -- solely to try to save the lives of their fellow Americans who had been wounded. Some were pacifists who went to war anyway. I defy anyone to read the following stories and not be moved:

WILSON, ALFRED L.: Rank and organization: Technician Fifth Grade, U.S. Army, Medical Detachment, 328th Infantry, 26th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Bezange la Petite, France, 8 November 1944. Entered service at: Fairchance, Pa. Birth: Fairchance, Pa. G.O. No.: 47, 18 June 1945. Citation: He volunteered to assist as an aid man a company other than his own, which was suffering casualties from constant artillery fire. He administered to the wounded and returned to his own company when a shellburst injured a number of its men. While treating his comrades he was seriously wounded, but refused to be evacuated by litter bearers sent to relieve him. In spite of great pain and loss of blood, he continued to administer first aid until he was too weak to stand. Crawling from 1 patient to another, he continued his work until excessive loss of blood prevented him from moving. He then verbally directed unskilled enlisted men in continuing the first aid for the wounded. Still refusing assistance himself, he remained to instruct others in dressing the wounds of his comrades until he was unable to speak above a whisper and finally lapsed into unconsciousness. The effects of his injury later caused his death. By steadfastly remaining at the scene without regard for his own safety, Cpl. Wilson through distinguished devotion to duty and personal sacrifice helped to save the lives of at least 10 wounded men.

WILLIS, JOHN HARLAN: Rank and organization: Pharmacist's Mate First Class, U.S. Navy. Born: 10 June 1921, Columbia, Tenn. Accredited to: Tennessee. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Platoon Corpsman serving with the 3d Battalion, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division, during operations against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 28 February 1945. Constantly imperiled by artillery and mortar fire from strong and mutually supporting pillboxes and caves studding Hill 362 in the enemy's cross-island defenses, Willis resolutely administered first aid to the many marines wounded during the furious close-in fighting until he himself was struck by shrapnel and was ordered back to the battle-aid station. Without waiting for official medical release, he quickly returned to his company and, during a savage hand-to-hand enemy counterattack, daringly advanced to the extreme frontlines under mortar and sniper fire to aid a marine Iying wounded in a shellhole. Completely unmindful of his own danger as the Japanese intensified their attack, Willis calmly continued to administer blood plasma to his patient, promptly returning the first hostile grenade which landed in the shell-hole while he was working and hurling back 7 more in quick succession before the ninth 1 exploded in his hand and instantly killed him. By his great personal valor in saving others at the sacrifice of his own life, he inspired his companions, although terrifically outnumbered, to launch a fiercely determined attack and repulse the enemy force. His exceptional fortitude and courage in the performance of duty reflect the highest credit upon Willis and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

KELLY, THOMAS J.: Rank and organization: Corporal, U.S. Army, Medical Detachment, 48th Armored Infantry Battalion, 7th Armored Division. Place and date: Alemert, Germany, 5 April 1945. Entered service at: Brooklyn, N.Y. Birth: Brooklyn, N.Y. G.O. No.: 97, 1 November 1945. Citation: He was an aid man with the 1st Platoon of Company C during an attack on the town of Alemert, Germany. The platoon, committed in a flanking maneuver, had advanced down a small, open valley overlooked by wooded slopes hiding enemy machineguns and tanks, when the attack was stopped by murderous fire that inflicted heavy casualties in the American ranks. Ordered to withdraw, Cpl. Kelly reached safety with uninjured remnants of the unit, but, on realizing the extent of casualties suffered by the platoon, voluntarily retraced his steps and began evacuating his comrades under direct machinegun fire. He was forced to crawl, dragging the injured behind him for most of the 300 yards separating the exposed area from a place of comparative safety. Two other volunteers who attempted to negotiate the hazardous route with him were mortally wounded, but he kept on with his herculean task after dressing their wounds and carrying them to friendly hands. In all, he made 10 separate trips through the brutal fire, each time bringing out a man from the death trap. Seven more casualties who were able to crawl by themselves he guided and encouraged in escaping from the hail of fire. After he had completed his heroic, self-imposed task and was near collapse from fatigue, he refused to leave his platoon until the attack had been resumed and the objective taken. Cpl. Kelly's gallantry and intrepidity in the face of seemingly certain death saved the lives of many of his fellow soldiers and was an example of bravery under fire.

What you've been reading is the text of the bills which were passed by Congress when it decided to reward each of these men. By their acts, these men challenge us; they lay an obligation on us to not let their sacrifice be in vain. We owe them not merely a piece of metal hanging from their chests, or placed on their coffins as they were buried, but to live as they did, to care as much as they did, and to not let our nation be destroyed. They were ordinary men, but ordinary men can become extraordinary. The Medal of Honor is a poor reward, but it is all we have to give them.

To me this makes the Medal of Honor holy, sacred in a secular sense. To demean it is to demean the acts of the men it has been granted to. To trivialize it for the sake of shallow political rhetoric is an act of sacrilege, bringing dishonor on the ones doing so and discrediting them in the eyes of any who understand the value, and price, of honor. Anyone doing that is beneath contempt. (discuss)

As you can see, I found the words I needed.

Stardate 20011209.1523 (On Screen): Israel has received an offer of a cease fire ostensibly from Palestinian militants. I don't think they will accept and I don't think they should, for a number of reasons. The biggest is simply that this offer is not credible; there's no reason to believe that whoever sent it actually has the ability or willingness to stop the attacks on Israel. Also, Israel has nothing to gain from a limited term cease fire; what it needs is a binding and enforcable peace agreement. Last of all, the mere fact of this offer if it is genuine means that Israel is finally beginning to undermine the confidence of the opposition leadership. It's no time to hold back; that's when you push. (discuss)

And besides which, the Palestinians withdrew the offer.

Stardate 20011209.1346 (On Screen): Shiloh has found a group here in the US (attention Weisberg!) who are proposing that John Walker should be given the Medal of Honor. This is despicable. I'm having a very difficult time coming up with words to express the contempt, the revulsion, the rage that this raises in me. (discuss)

Stardate 20011209.1332 (On Screen): The southern warlords in Afghanistan have been much more willing to outright fight each other for local power than have the warlords from the Northern Alliance. I think a lot of the reason is that the Northern Alliance existed for years. Those warlords may not like each other but they're used to working together. Those in the south, on the other hand, came out of nowhere just a few weeks ago, and have little experience dealing with each other. Still, with word that the dispute over Kandahar is settled, it's good to know that maybe they won't collapse into full-scale intertribal war there. (discuss)

Stardate 20011209.1104 (On Screen):

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004