Monday, April 19, 2004

Everyone else is linking to this article, too

Well, I'm back from New York with lots of pictures of my adorable nephew and niece. It also seems that my major research paper has a second reader, which hopefully means I can defend it soon and move on to the dissertation. Good. This dumb paper has been a thorn in my side for the last two years almost. I need to put in a few hours working on it tonight, so here's a quick link and then I need to go.

Soundfury points to a very scary look at the continually developing UN Oil-for-food program corruption scandal. Here's what it says:

Especially with the U.N.'s own investigation into Oil-for-Food now taking shape, and more congressional hearings in the works, it is high time to focus on the likelihood that Saddam may have fiddled Oil-for-Food contracts not only to pad his own pockets, buy pals, and acquire clandestine arms ? but also to fund terrorist groups, quite possibly including al Qaeda.

There are at least two links documented already. Both involve oil buyers picked by Saddam and approved by the U.N. One was a firm with close ties to a Liechtenstein trust that has since been designated by the U.N. itself as "belonging to or affiliated with Al Qaeda." The other was a Swiss-registered subsidiary of a Saudi oil firm that had close dealings with the Taliban during Osama bin Laden's 1990's heyday in Afghanistan.

Okay, so who got some of the money Saddam got thanks to crooks at the UN?

1. UN bureaucrats who kept the gravy train rolling.

2. Wealthy, well-connected scumbags in France, Russia, and elsewhere who made sure that Saddam got "No War" in exchange "For Oil."

3. Palace and monument-builders in Iraq, as well as miscellaneous cronies and relatives.

4. Reporters, especially in the Arab world, who acted as propagandists and apologists for the Baath dictatorship.

5. Peace creeps, including politicians like George Galloway.

And now we know one more bunch of bad guys who got bling-bling from Baghdad:

6. Terrorists, who did Saddam a favor by attacking his No. 1 enemy, the USA.

And it's all thanks to Kofi and our pals at the UN! Thanks for looking out for world peace and all that good stuff, guys! Way to go!

I wonder if folks in Iraq are as glad as I am that they have the United States and not the United Nations as their occupier. Holy freaking crap. Good thing John Kerry isn't president.


Saturday, April 17, 2004

New York City?!

Sorry to disappoint my imaginary readers by not posting for the last few days. I am down in New York visiting my sister and her family. My parents have also come up to visit, and so I have been able to spend some time with them as well, which is wonderful.

Being cut off from broadband, it's been hard to keep up with the news down here. But I saw a headline on one of the papers down here talking about terrible retention rates of US soldiers. It's in all the papers and all over the web. I just wrote about the terrific retention rates of US soldiers, though. And that story is also all over the place. Huh.

Let's get to the bottom of this. The numbers don't seem to directly contradict each other, so it must be that the two stories are choosing to emphasize different numbers from the same reports. The Big News about Terrible Retention seems to be that the US Army is on track to get 96% of their retention goal this fiscal year, in contrast to last year when they hit 106% of their goal. Wow. So, halfway through the year, one of the four service branches looks like it might be a thousand soldiers short. If you only look at retention.

Of course, retention is only half the picture. The other half is recruitment, which as it turns out, is ahead of goal.:

The Army is at 100.1 percent of its "active duty mission," said spokesman Douglas Smith, reviewing numbers current as of March 29. Smith said 34,593 soldiers had been enlisted for the active Army and 8,331 for the Reserves. The Army has been ahead of its goal every year since 2000 and every month this year, Smith said.

So, if the next six months play out like the last six months, then the US Army might retain 4% fewer soldiers than they would like. But they will more than make up for that loss with new recruits. Okay, how would you spin this story? "Despite war, US military has no trouble finding soldiers," or "Disastrous quagmire may cause tiny shortfall in US Army's retention goals."

The second headline is intellectually dishonest, and anyone who takes ten minutes to do some outside reading is going to find that out. But most people don't do that. They just trust that the reporters are honestly trying to report the news. It is a long-standing American tradition to be suspicious of government, wary of propaganda. That's good. That's healthy for democracy. Traditionally, though, Americans have been much less skeptical about the media. Maybe it's time to reevaluate. Certainly there are plenty of mainstream media sources that have lost my trust.

"Says here this news was made in... New York City!"

"New York City??"

"Get a rope..."


Wednesday, April 14, 2004


Today I start putting up links to other blogs, beginning with those which have linked to me. In addition to those already mentioned, this includes Just One Minute and Being Swift. Thanks, people!

More to come later.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Welcome, Ace of Spades readers!

My heartiest thanks to the wickedly funny and unapologetically conservative blog Ace of Spades for adding this site to their New Blogger Showcase. (This reminds me that I still have not put up links to other bloggers on my site. A terrible oversight that will soon be rectified.)

What can I say? It's an honor, and not just because Victor Davis Hanson is one of the other featurees. Thanks again, Ace and for the record, let me just say that your blog has the Best. Front page quote. Ever.

"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats."
-- H.L. Mencken


Dogs of War

The recent fighting in Iraq has again brought the world's attention to the problems and opportunities which arise from the use of mercenaries. On March 31, four security contractors working for the Coalition were killed in an ambush in Fallujah, after which their bodies were mutilated and hung up from a nearby bridge. There was an immediate public outcry against the barbarous act, followed by a prominent left-leaning commentator making disparaging remarks about the "mercenary" contractors not deserving sympathy.

This, of course, provoked an overwhelming reaction from the blogosphere, especially from those either in the military or employed as private contractors by the military. Actions speak louder than words, though-- the mercenaries were vindicated a few days later when an attack on US government headquarters in the Iraqi city of Najaf was repulsed by one American soldier and eight security consultants from Blackwater, the same company which employed the four contractors killed in Fallujah.

So what's wrong with mercenaries? They kill for money, but so do all soldiers. The founders of this country were distrustful of professional armies and preferred citizen militias. After two world wars and the cold war, the American public seems to have got past this feeling. (Indeed, there are those who argue that Americans have too much faith in our soldiers.) We do not worry about paying soldiers, except to wonder if we are paying them enough.

Evidently, though, we are, since the military is hitting its recruitment and re-enlistment goals. (Retention in the National Guard seems to be a problem, though.) Another indicator that the US military is doing something right: the large numbers of foreigners who join up.

It is especially interesting to see this influx of foreigners considering that the American public's reputed sensitivity to the deaths of our GIs. Maybe the US should just start its own foreign legion.

Back to work. More later.


Monday, April 12, 2004

Welcome Just One Minute readers!

Thanks to Just One Minute for linking to my post on the Dodd-Byrd controversy. Good to have you stopping in. Ya'all come back now, y'hear?


Sunday, April 11, 2004

The last word on the 9/11 hearings

With the release of the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing, which some had claimed was proof of Bush's forewarning of the September 11 attacks, I think we can say that there is no smoking gun. I struggle to understand how any reasonable person could read this document and believe that it implicates Bush as negligent (or worse). The brief is little more than a page long and says little more than any decent magazine article on Al Qaeda from that time would have said. There's nothing new, nothing we didn't already know.

I could say more, but it's already been said better by others. So, I direct you to read two brilliant posts. First, read Gregg Easterbrook's alternate history of the Bush presidency. After reading it, ask yourself if alternate-universe Bush could have saved his presidency by pointing to the August 6 PDB. Answer: No.

The second thing for you to read is Did Bush Do Enough? from Grim's Hall. The answer: Not enough to stop the attack, but as much as any president could have been expected to do. I agree. Think of any of the presidents in this country's 200+ year history. You can even think of Al Gore, if you like. Imagine what they would have done, or could have done, in Bush's position. Would it have stopped the September 11 attacks without getting us to the Easterbrook scenario? (If any of your imagined presidents lead you to a 'Yes,' I would be happy to hear about it.)

Okay, then. You're done. You don't have to pay any more attention to the hearings. There's nothing else for anyone to say, other than, "Clinton rulez, Bush droolz."


Saturday, April 10, 2004

Brunching Shuttlecocks should have done this

Okay, this is just too cool. It's a computer program that tries to guess whether you are a Dictator or Sitcom Character. Now that's cool. (Thanks to Ace of Spades and Florida Cracker.) The program nailed me when I was Zoidberg, but missed me as Bokassa.

Great little web toy. But what ever happened to the minds who brought us Perfume or Marvel Supervillain and Porn Star or My Little Pony? Alas.


Friday, April 09, 2004

Continued fighting in Iraq

Good summary of the continued fighting in Iraq from Grim's Hall:

This kind of fight is exactly what our forces are trained to do. This is the kind of fight we should be glad to have. There is nothing more we can ask of Iraq than that the enemies of stability should be out in the field, engaged in battle with us. They are now a clear military problem, one for which the officers in the field have studied and the men in the field have trained. They are engaged in a stand-up fight with us. They can't hope to prevail, and in fact are breaking: witness today's shift on the part of al-Sadr's forces to hostage taking. Having gotten them into the field, we shall clear the field. Iraq will enter its successor government with a whole lot fewer insurgents, and witnessed memories of the abject failure of insurgency against US forces.

To those who report without understanding, however, this looks like bad news. It's scary, like the Tet Offensive was scary; there are fires and angry men with guns who hate us. The news crawl startles them--US forces engaged in fourteen cities across Iraq! What they forget, or rather never knew, is that the US forces were designed for simultaneous engagement on up to three continents. The instability won't last. The wave will break, the Coalition will bind these insurgents in fourteen rings of steel, like the one cast already around Fallujah. In a few days those who have not been captured or killed will be hiding in fear. We will be flush with victory, and in possession of a great deal of new intelligence information on who is backing these groups--whether it is official government aid from regional powers, or factional aid from folks like al-Sadr's cousin, the leader of Hezbollah. Then we can tailor the next phase of action, to take the fight to those who hoped to bring the fight to us.

Our enemies have revealed themselves, and thus doomed themselves to destruction at the hands of the world's finest military. Americans do not desire bloodshed, as is attested by the time, effort, and money we have invested to rebuild the country that we conquered one year ago today.

American servicemen and women in Iraq, our hopes and our prayers are with you always. May God bless you and keep you safe in your selfless mission, and grant you victory over our enemies. And may His Holy Spirit touch the people of this country, and the people of Iraq, that they may feel not despair, but hope.


Thursday, April 08, 2004

Not-so-dumb Dodd

This blog is supposed to be about international politics; I hope my imaginary readers will forgive this brief detour into US politics. Dan Drezner is hosting an interesting discussion about Chris Dodd's recent praise of fellow senator Robert Byrd. Specifically, Dodd said:

It has often been said that the man and the moment come together. I do not think it is an exaggeration at all to say to my friend from West Virginia that he would have been a great Senator at any moment. Some were right for the time. ROBERT C. BYRD, in my view, would have been right at any time. He would have been right at the founding of this country. He would have been in the leadership crafting this Constitution. He would have been right during the great conflict of civil war in this Nation. He would have been right at the great moments of international threat we faced in the 20th century. I cannot think of a single moment in this Nation's 220-plus year history where he would not have been a valuable asset to this country."

Many bloggers have a problem with saying that Byrd would have been "right" during the Civil War, since he belonged to the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s and later opposed civil rights legislation like the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Dodd's comment seems to them similar to Sen. Trent Lott's 2002 praise of Sen. Strom Thurmond:

"I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

Facing pressure from all sides, Lott resigned from his leadership post in the Senate. To many Republicans, it seems only fair that Dodd should likewise be censured for making similar remarks.

I disagree.

For the record:
* I am not a supporter of either Chris Dodd or Robert Byrd. For that matter, I am not a supporter of Trent Lott or Strom Thurmond.
* I am a conservative Republican who has donated to Bush's 2004 campaign. I am a critic of the media, which I believe in general has a liberal bias.
* I oppose racism and I think Republicans should do more to let minorities know that both we and our party are their friends and not their adversaries.
* I was in favor of Trent Lott stepping down because of his remarks and wrote the White House to encourage them to publicly repudiate him.

Obviously there are similarities between Dodd's remarks and Lott's. Both men were "just trying to say something nice to old men with despicable pasts." But as we can read in the quotes from the two senators, Dodd only said something nice about the old man, and Lott said something nice about the man's despicable past. That's a huge difference.

Lott said America would have been better off if Strom had won the presidency in 1948. I think that's wrong. Some would say, as was said about the Confederacy, that Strom's run was all about state's rights and other constitutional matters, but I think reading through the States Rights Democratic Party platform makes it pretty obvious that the point of the party was to preserve segregation in particular and Southern institutional racism in general. If the platform doesn't convince you, then listen to what Strom Thurmond said in his speech accepting the party's nomination.

Following what one of my professors called the philosopher's rule of charity, let us try to think of the best way to read Lott's statement. Perhaps he approved of Thurmond's stand for states rights and strict constitutionalism and etc., and was not talking about the racism inherent in Thurmond's segregationist ideas. That's the most charitable reading I can come up with and I still think it deserves condemnation. To say that America would have been better if the Dixiecrats won, except for the whole segregation thing is like saying that it would have been better if the Communists won except for the whole no-private-ownership-of-property thing. The racism was the point, not a footnote. Frankly I am puzzled by those who claim to be unable to see what is offensive about praising the Dixiecrats without even considering, you know, the whole "keep the black folks down" angle. Trent Lott was one of those, and it was right to show him the door.

Okay, so let's look at what Dodd said, again following the philosopher's rule of charity. Dodd said Byrd would have been a good man to have around during any period of American history. Why would Byrd be a good man to have around? The least charitable way to read Dodd's answer is: Because Byrd is a racist. The most charitable way to read Dodd's answer is: Because Byrd is an EX-racist. Perhaps Dodd approves NOT of Byrd's past racism, but of Byrd's abandonment of the KKK specifically and racism more generally. So maybe he means that Byrd would be a good man in any time period because it's always good to have someone around who's not afraid to question their own beliefs and repudiate those beliefs after concluding that they are morally wrong.

Dodd said, "I cannot think of a single moment in this Nation's 220-plus year history where he [Byrd] would not have been a valuable asset to this country." He did not say, "I cannot think of a single moment in this Senator's 87-year history where he was not a valuable asset to this country." Dodd's speech commends the man, not his deplorable past behavior.

Imagine the apostle Peter giving a similar speech about Paul, who persecuted Christians before he converted and became a Christian himself. Peter might say, "I cannot think of a single moment in Christianity's history where Paul would not have been a valuable asset to this religious community." Of course Peter wept for all the Christians who suffered and died because of Paul's persecution, but he also recognized what a great man Paul was after he saw the error of his ways.

Would Klansman Byrd from 1946 have been the right man during the Civil War? Absolutely not. Would Senator Byrd from 2004 have been the right man during the Civil War? Chris Dodd would say yes.

(As a brief historical aside, it is interesting to note that Robert Byrd's home state of West Virginia won statehood for renouncing the Confederacy during the Civil War. The time-traveling Senator Byrd of Dodd's speech could have been one of those who made the choice to turn their back on the South and embracing the Union. "Come with me if you want statehood.")

Me, I don't have such a high opinion of Byrd, but the comment is clearly typical of the kind of congratulatory flattery that senators say to each other all the time. This is not a scandal.

Drezner, Lott, Dodd

I've been commenting in response to a post over at Drezner earlier today. I'll edit my thoughts and put in some links and stuff later. Right now I have to get back to work.


Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Aspiring martyrs

Sadr has left the Tomb of Ali in Kufa where he and his thug militia had been hiding out. Defiant rhetoric (see previous entry) supported the notion that Sadr was hoping to provoke a violent coalition response in order to rally other Shiites, who would be incensed at such an incursion of infidels into this holy site.

Apparently, though, Sadr decided that this was the wrong moment for him to become the latest Shiite to become a martyr in Kufa. (Thanks to the Belmont Club for calling attention to the article in Der Spiegel.) He still says he will "win martyrdom" if authorities try to arrest him. But I'm skeptical. Islamist leaders all preach the glories of martyrdom, but when the chance comes, they usually choose life for themselves and their loved ones.

The good news, though, is that Sadr's goon squad still seems happy to throw themselves onto American bayonets. Fine by me. They are glad to be out of this world, and the rest of the world is glad to be rid of them. Everyone's a winner.

Over our dead bodies

More on the fighting in Iraq from the NYT this morning:

"The only way the Americans will enter this city is entering over our bodies," said Sheik Abu Mahdi al-Rubayee, a commander in Mr. Sadr's private army, estimated to number in the tens of thousands.

All-righty, then!


Monday, April 05, 2004

Bad guys, good news?

Things are heating up in Iraq, but I think this is not such bad news. Polipundit points out that "the US military is far more capable than [journalists] realize. Just remember that the media has vastly exaggerated the difficulty of every US military operation since Vietnam. Think back to their egregious coverage about a year ago. And Afghanistan before that."

Self-described coalition "mercenary" Grimbeorn reads the uprising by the Shiites in Baghdad's slums as a desperate attempt by Muqtader al-Sadr to distract his constituency from his own crimes. (And by crimes, he means the kind of things that Iraqi Shiites would be upset about, like the assassination of other Shiite clerics carried out inside the Tomb of Ali, a sacred site.)

And Instapundit passes along a thoughtful reader email:

We invaded and occupied Iraq with a loss of American life roughly equivalent to the city of Chicago's annual murder count. That is far too low considering the accomplishment. It has been so low precisely because we deferred some of the major combat. We are now having to engage in that combat, and that is unfortunate, but it is far better that we do so now than allow it to happen later.

So it's good, because it allows the US military to kill bad guys, which is what the US military is best at and happiest doing. And the bad guys have to get killed in order for Iraq to prosper.

Victor Davis Hanson has pointed out many times the surprising downside of swift American victories in Afghanistan and Iraq: too few bad guys were killed:

MOST OF the Baathists among our current enemies in Iraq chose to flee rather than stand and fight. The homes of Saddam's henchmen were not all bombed. Their friends were not killed. Their pride was only temporarily lost?to be regained, evidently, upon their discovery that it is easier and safer to murder an American who is building a school and operating under strict rules of engagement than to take on Abrams tanks barreling into Baghdad under a sky of F-16's.

Such are a few of the ironies entailed in our stunning military success, even if overlooked in analyses of the recent turmoil. And there are still more. Hard as it may be to accept, a rocky peace may well be the result of a spectacularly rapid victory. Imagine our war instead as a year-and-a-half continuum of active combat, stretching from the late-March 2003 invasion until the scheduled assumption of power of the Iraqi provisional government this coming July. Now suppose that over the course of this time frame, about 5,000 of Saddam's hardcore killers had either to be killed, captured, or routed from the country if there were ever to be any chance for real peace to emerge. Somehow, under conditions of full-scale combat, one suspects the job would have been much easier.

Of course, we must not wish the war would have lasted that long in order to allow us freely to destroy Saddam's remnants, but we must at least appreciate that short wars by their very nature often require messy clean-ups. After the shooting stops, the aid workers arrive; the hard-core, hypercritical journalists remain; and soldiers must build rather than shoot.

. . .

Many Americans have come to believe that war is the worst thing that can happen to humans. It would probably not have been easy in 1991 to convince them of the need to prolong our "highway of death" in southern Iraq, even if doing so would have prevented Baathist troops from escaping to Basra and killing innocents; or of the need to bomb Serbians in Sbrenica in order to prevent them from killing women and children; or of the need to annihilate fleeing Taliban fighters to prevent them from drifting back into Kabul months later to shoot young Frenchwomen trying to feed the poor and hungry.

So bad guys are doing bad things right now, but in doing so they have become targets. And, hopefully, they will be destroyed, so that they cannot destroy the new Iraq.


Saturday, April 03, 2004

Alien Tort Claims Act

An interesting story a couple of days ago in the Washington Post about a Paraguayan woman who won $10 million in an American court suing the man who tortured her brother to death. The crime occurred in Paraguay, but she was able to sue here in the US under the Alien Tort Claims Act.

The act, enacted in 1789, allows noncitizens to bring civil lawsuits for human rights abuses committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.

The court opinion became the basis for nearly 20 other successful cases in behalf of people from El Salvador, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Ethiopia and the Philippines and involving torture, summary executions, disappearances, rape and slavery.

She won her suit twenty years ago; the only reason she's in the news today is that the Supreme Court is reviewing the constitutionality of the law under which she won her suit. Again from the Post:

The human rights community is worried that if the Supreme Court rules against the act, victims of gross human rights abuses will no longer be able to bring claims in U.S. courts against perpetrators who come here or have substantial contacts or a base of operations here.

But the Bush administration is concerned that the law could compromise the fight against terrorism and the assistance some allies might offer.

I recently spoke with a friend in the D.C. area who told me about suits that he is bringing against various countries for infringing on human rights. (If memory serves, one of the suits involved child slavery in the chocolate industry.) The whole idea caught me off guard. Foreign parties, including governments, having standing to sue and/or be sued in US courts? I had never known that such a thing was possible.

After a little thought, though, a few examples of this kind of legal action came to min. For instance, various non-Libyan domestic courts played an important role in bringing Moammar Gaddafi to heel. And Spanish courts punished Pinochet for crimes committed when he was dictator. But in both of these examples, the courts were seeking redress for actions committed against fellow citizens. Under the Alien Tort Claims Act, neither the offender nor the offended need be American.

So I'm still not sure what I think about this. In the right hands, it seems a powerful tool to do good. But I wonder what such an instrument might do in the wrong hands.


Thursday, April 01, 2004

Kerry Kyoto update

Lileks noticed Kerry's duplicity on Kyoto, too.


Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Before he voted against it

Hugh Hewitt reports that Senator Kerry, in an appearance on MTV, condemned President Bush for renouncing the Kyoto treaty:

"He turned his back on global warming, walked away from a treaty that a hundred and sixty nations worked ten years on."

Kerry, in contrast, is proud to have backed Kyoto. He even has a page on his campaign website with quotes from friends of the earth who boast of Kerry's love of the environment and his support for Kyoto.

Huh. Funny thing about that. Steven Den Beste, in a very lengthy but very insightful essay, says that the Senate rejected Kyoto unanimously:

Once Bush became President, one of his first acts was to publicly repudiate the Kyoto treaty and, more or less, "unsign" it. For that Bush has been excoriated internationally, as somehow being the one � and the only one � responsible for America not joining the Kyoto accord. Notably absent from that castigation was any mention of Byrd-Hagel, which killed Kyoto dead long before Bush became President. That's because Byrd-Hagel passed unanimously. Republican senators and Democratic senators both saw through the rhetoric and fully understood that the Kyoto accord really had nothing to do with "global warming". Its true purpose was to cripple the US economy through artificial imposition of energy shortages, and they had no intention of letting that happen.

Clinton knew full well that there was no chance of the Senate ever ratifying the Kyoto accord. So did Bush. The only real difference between them was that Bush was willing to say so publicly. Kyoto was not a Republican-versus-Democrat issue, it was an America-versus-Europe issue, and every member of the Senate voted in favor of Byrd-Hagel in order to say that they favored America.
(Emphasis added.)

Every member of the Senate voted against Kyoto. John Kerry was a member of the Senate then. Did he vote against Kyoto? Yes. Yes, he did.

No April foolin'.

My big fat American country

Finally, the truth about health. From Wicked Thoughts.

For those of you who watch what you eat, here's the final word on
nutrition and health.

It's a relief to know the truth after all those conflicting medical

1. Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the
British or Americans.

2. Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the
British or Americans.

3. Africans drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks
than the British or Americans.

4. Italians drink large amounts of red wine and suffer fewer heart
attacks than the British or Americans.

CONCLUSION: Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

Worrying about what we eat is the American national pastime. And all that obsessing about nutrition isn't making us any thinner. Or taller, either.

Well, time for me to go eat Mexican food. And I think I'd better order in Spanish.

O, sea: Bueno, ya me voy para comer comida Mexicana. Y tal vez ser�a mejor ordenar en Castellano. (Uds. gringotes tambi�n.)


Monday, March 29, 2004

Book of the Month

The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks.

I'm a huge nerd. And one of the things that makes me a big nerd is that I love all things post-apocalyptic. Planet of the Apes. Logan's Run. Mad Max. Omega Man. Yes, even Waterworld. And these are just movies that I think most people have heard of.

The Zombie Survival Guide does not exactly fit into this genre, but a work of true genius often defies categorization. Is it humor? Is it horror? Is it a survival manual? Quite simply, it is The Zombie Survival Guide-- everything you would expect from the title. It's a book about how to survive in a world where the dead rise and want to eat you. It contains every scrap of information that could benefit you in such a situation. If every book so completely and perfectly delivered what is promised by the title, this world would be a better place.

Allow me to share a favorite passage from the fifth chapter, "On the Attack," from the section entitled, "General Rules."

14. Incendiary control: When using fire, make sure you keep in mind the larger implications. Can you control the blaze? If not, the fire will endanger your whole group. Is the zombie threat serious enough to warrant destroying large amounts of personal property? The answer may seem obvious, but why burn down half a town to kill three zombies that could be destroyed by rifle fire?

And this from the fourth chaper, "On the Run," from the section entitled, "Vehicles."

B. The bicycle. ... The common bicycle is fast, quiet, muscle-powered, and easy to maintain. Add to this the additional advantage that it is the only vehicle you can pick up and carry if the terrain gets too rough. People using bicycles to escape from infested areas have almost always fared better than those on foot. For optimum performance, use a mountain bike, as opposed to the racing or recreational model. Don't let your speed and mobility go to your head, however. Wear standard safety gear and choose caution over speed. The last thing you want is to end up in a ditch, legs broken, bike trashed, with the shuffling of undead feet growing louder with each step.

There is so much more I want to share. I would copy this whole thing down verbatim, right here on the blog. But perhaps it's just better for me to say this is the best book I have read in at least a year. Go buy it.

Gas, oil, and conspiracies

This morning on the news I saw a story on "record high gas prices. Poked around a bit, and it seems to be all over the web. But I was immediately reminded of a couple of articles I had seen links to (on Volokh and LGF) and so I thought I would jot down a couple of quick thoughts.

The first important thing to note is that although the cost of gasoline today is higher for Americans than it has ever been in absolute terms, it is actually pretty cheap in the longer, historical view. (This graph is illustrative.)

One reason for this is

In real (inflation adjusted dollars) gas is actually still cheaper than it was back in 1980!

Even though a gallon of unleaded in the US has shot up 21 cents per gallon recently...

And Gasoline is fast approaching the peak prices seen during both Gulf Wars...

Though many in the press are claiming that gas prices are at an all time high...

When adjusted for inflation, it is clear that gasoline prices are far below the 1981 inflation-adjusted peak of $2.94.

A second reason that gas prices should be considered historically cheap is purchasing power:

Another comparison: The average price of gasoline during the 1950s was about $1.80 in today's money--meaning that during the period enshrined in our collective political nostalgia as Energy Heaven, gasoline cost slightly more in real dollars than the amount now being theatrically bemoaned as a "record" price. But wait; in the 1950s, per-capita real income was less than half what it is today. That means that for the typical American in the 1950s, gasoline cost twice as much, in terms of buying power, as today's gasoline. Adjusted for inflation and for buying power, the purported "record"-priced gasoline at your pumps now is substantially cheaper than the gasoline your parents bought.

Today's gasoline is also substantially higher in quality, containing engine detergents and having had most of its pollutant content removed at the refinery--"reformulation" of gasoline to remove pollutants, begun on a national basis in 1991, being a leading reason that air pollution is declining. But even if you don't care that gasoline today is substantially better in chemical quality than gasoline of the 1950s, it's still much cheaper.

These facts cannot have escaped the press, since complaints about high gas prices have come up before. In fact, in 2000, this was a major campaign issue. (You may recall that George W. Bush vowed to bring down the price of gasoline by drilling for oil in the Artic Wildlife Preserve.) In 2000, when Bill Clinton was president, there were many stories in the mainstream press explaining that the 'record high' gas prices were really record lows after controlling for inflation. With the return of this issue during Bush's presidency, I have seen no comparable big media stories. Interesting.

It's also interesting that we are seeing 'record high' oil and gas prices after fighting a war which was said by its critics to have been motivated solely by a desire to gain access to cheap Iraqi oil. Now that I think of it, the same claim was made about Afghanistan-- that the American invasion was a pretext for building a pipeline from the Caspian Sea. I wonder how many of the people who said "No blood for oil!" are now saying "Gas prices are too high!"?

(As an aside, here's a fun game to play with the "it's all about the oil" crowd. Find a left-leaning conspiracy theorist and ask why we invaded Iraq as part of the 'war on terror'. Answer? Duh, Iraq has lots of oil. Ask the same person why the US continues to support Saudi Arabia, despite its much closer ties to Al Qaeda. Answer? Duh, Saudi Arabia has lots of oil. Okay. Oil = invasion; oil = no invasion. That's some good thinking there, hippies.)

But, clearly, gas prices have been rising lately. Why? Who is to blame? Senator Chuck Schumer points to at Saudi-dominated OPEC:

This move by the Saudis is profit taking plain and simple � it has no other purpose other than to maximize OPEC's profits by making us pay through the nose to fill up our cars and heat our homes.

I'm not so sure that there is "no other purpose." Ed Lasky argues compellingly that Saudi Arabia is cutting oil production in order to punish George Bush and prevent his re-election. This because Bush has seriously disrupted the status quo in the middle east, threatening entrenched Saudi elites:

President Bush has provoked this response by proclaiming his intention to encourage democracy and liberalism in the Middle East, liberate the Arab masses from despotic rule, bring peace and prosperity to the region, and halt the spread of militant Islamic terror groups. Unlike past Presidents who, in varying degrees, paid lip service to these ideals, President Bush has acted decisively on them. His politically perilous actions, such as his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, his conditioning support for a Palestinian state on the cessation of terror, corruption, and dictatorship, and his active promotion and support for liberal groups in the Arab world, have aroused Saudi fears and provoked a quiet counterattack.

George W. Bush seriously disrupted the previous cozy relationship that Saudi Arabia historically enjoyed with the Bush family -- and with Washington power brokers, in general. The Saudis feel that their family�s absolute rule over the kingdom may be endangered, and that their efforts to spread their virulent brand of Islam, Wahabbism, may be curtailed by the current Administration. The Saudi royals may well feel abandoned, and in their disillusionment have resolved to prevent a second term for George W. Bush.

Read the entire article. It's fascinating.

One last thought and then I must get back to work. The one good thing that I see coming out of higher gas prices is a renewed interest in reducing America's dependence on foreign oil. The less we depend on middle eastern oil production, the less we will need to be involved in this volatile region and the less leverage repressive regimes like Iran and Saudi Arabia will have on US foreign policy. So here's hoping that gas prices which aren't so cheap will help reignite public interest in alternative sources of energy.


Friday, March 26, 2004

No comment

Just added comments; trying to see if they work. Not that anyone has read my blog, much less felt the need to comment.

9/11 revisited revisited

More thoughts on the preventability of 9/11. Darren Kaplan points out that "the main 9-11 perpetrators were all already in the United States by January 10, 2001, ten days before Bush was even inaugurated." So, how could the president could have stopped the operation from going forward?

What if he were to have found and killed Osama Bin Laden using predator drones? Would killing their spiritual leader have deterred the Al Qaeda operatives already in striking distance, or would it have given them even greater determination to avenge his death?

Immediately after September 11th, there came a chorus of voices warning about the inevitable backlash which American retaliation would provoke. (Bin Laden himself is supposed to have said, "Even if this Osama is killed, a thousand other Osamas will arise.") Recently, the Israeli assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin has led to a storm of familiar condemnations: taking out the leaders of terrorist organizations only provokes a violent response.

So what was Bush to have done? Clearly, the best thing would have been to have prevented Al Qaeda's operatives from entering the country in the first place. But they were all granted visas, even though they should have been denied. But Saudis at that time got special treatment on visa applications. Bin Laden knew of this security weakness and he exploited it. A dozen other little security weaknesses made it easier for the terrorists to carry out their mass murder.

I know we tend to blame presidents for whatever happened on their watch, but I can not think any one person should be blamed. Governments are enormous, complicated, clunky machines. No one person can fathom all the parts, much less control them all. The Cuban Missile Crisis came about in large part because American missiles were in Turkey, although Kennedy had more than once ordered their removal. And Kennedy had it easy-- at least he knew from Day 1 what his first priority had to be: fighting communism.

As I said in a previous post, presidents are faced with thousands of problems which they are told threaten American lives or interests. Hundreds and hundreds of bureaucrats in Washington spend their days trying unsuccessfully to convince their superiors that such-and-such poses a grave danger and must be dealt with immediately. Fortunately, most of them are wrong, most of the time.

Dick Clarke is not a wizard or a prophet. Many of the dooms he has foreseen have not come to pass. He was right about Al Qaeda. But even when he had successfully convinced his superiors, including the president, of the gravity of this threat, he was unable to steer the ship of state toward a course that would wipe out the threat. No surprise, really. Like trying to hit a fly with a Buick. Impossible. Damn thing steers like a boat.


Thursday, March 25, 2004

Haglunds uber alles

Defended my cousin Kristine today. Made me feel like a big man.


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Another chapter in my continuing feud with robots

Just discovered a blog. The author doesn't like me much. But you should see what he says about Wonder Woman and the pope.

9/11 revisited

I am watching the 9/11 congressional hearings this morning and I have to say I am not impressed. Then again, as my roommate Brian says, the whole idea seems flawed.

What could have prevented the September 11th attacks? Brian suggested to me either more secure cockpit doors or even a rule to always keep the doors locked could have prevented the hijackers from gaining control of the planes. But in a normal hijacking, it is likely that no one on the plane will be hurt if the hijackers' demands are met. So if a terrorist says to open the door or he will kill someone, you open the door. Making cockpit doors secure would only be a policy option in cases where the hijackers intend to kill everyone on the plane, no matter what happens (as was the case on September 11th).

Is it reasonable to expect that
- someone would have imagined this new kind of hijacking?
- a contingency plan could have been agreed on to deal with it?
- the pilots of those four planes would have correctly discerned that morning that they were victims of this new kind of terror?
- they would have been so confident of their judgement that they would allow terrorists to kill hostages rather than open the door?

Even militaries, whose job it is to anticipate and defend, generally learn of and respond to new threats only when tragedy reveals the danger. There are so many threats that never materialize. Only in hindsight do we know which we should have paid more attention to.


Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Catch and release

Sunday night I was dining with friends, when one of them, Tim W., raised a novel theory. (I do not know Tim's political affiliation. He's a native Bostonian, raised Catholic, who works at Harvard Business School. I might lay odds two to one that he is a Democrat, but I cannot think that he is very far from the mainstream.)

Tim says that the US announces the capture of senior Al Qaeda figures with a regularity too great to be coincidental. Here's his timetable, as far as I can remember. (Thanks to for their handy calculator.)

September 11, 2001 - Al Qaeda attacks targets in New York and Washington, DC, killing thousands.

March 28, 2002 (198 days later) - Pakistan captures Al Qaeda recruiter Abu Zubaydeh, linked to the millennium plot.

September 14, 2002 (170 days later) - US authorities announce that Ramzi bin al Shibh, allegedly one of the planners of the September 11 attacks, has been arrested after a gun battle in Karachi.

March 1, 2003 (168 days later) - Kahlid Shaikh Mohammed, supposed Al Qaeda operational mastermind is captured in Pakistan.

August 13, 2003 (165 days later) - Al Qaeda affiliate Hambali, mastermind of the Bali nightclub bombing is captured in Thailand.

March 2004 - Rumors abound of Ayman al-Zwahiri's imminent capture by Pakistani forces.

Tim thinks that the terrorists are apprehended long before their captures are revealed, and that the Bush administration is releasing them periodically, one at a time, to maximize their P.R. impact. And of course, if the theory is correct, then the administration will reveal the capture of another top Al Qaeda official around September of this year, right before the election. Who might it be? Tim said he didn't know, but Madeline Albright does.

I think this is nonsense, for two reasons. First, once you come up with an idea like this, it's not too hard to shoehorn the facts into the schema. But schemas bias you against information that doesn't fit. Tim's timetable, for instance, ignores many other Al Qaeda operatives just as important as the ones listed above.

For instance, Mohammed Atef, Al Qaeda's military commander was killed in Afghanistan in November 2001. Abu Ali, involved in the USS Cole bombing, was killed in Yemen by a Predator drone in November 2002. Hasan Guhl, an operational planner, was captured in January 2004 in Iraq. And so on.

Second, periodic terrorist captures don't prove a conspiracy of the type Tim implies. For the sake of argument, let's agree that criticism periodically builds up to the point that the president needs to point to a victory in the war on terror. Tim's theory says that at this point Dubya goes down to the super-secret government prison and picks out a member of Al Qaeda's top leadership whose capture will now be staged. An alternate theory is that the president instead pulls out the list of recent captures and tells his press secretary to try to make the last guy captured sound like he's one of Al Qaeda's top leadership. The alternate theory gives you a timetable that looks like the one produced by Tim's theory, but it operates by a much more mundane logic.

It seems to me that there's some support for this alternate theory. For example, after Tom Daschle and other Democrats criticized the president for lack of progress in the war on terror, John Ashcroft announced the capture of Jose Padilla as if this he were Osama's son-in-law. Turns out Padilla was a pretty small fish, but the administration needed him to be a big fish, or at least look like a big fish for the moment.

This may also have been the case with Al Qaeda's Persian Gulf operations chief, Abd Al-Rahim al-Nashiri. He was captured in October 2002, but this was not announced until November 15, the day after Tom Daschle criticized the president for not having "made any real progress" in dismantling Al Qaeda.

And of course, Ayman al-Zawahiri hasn't been captured yet, so we seem to be off schedule. Fnord.