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Ethel the Blog
Observations (and occasional brash opining) on science, computers, books, music and other shiny things that catch my mind's eye. There's a home page with ostensibly more permanent stuff. This is intended to be more functional than decorative. I neither intend nor want to surf on the bleeding edge, keep it real, redefine journalism or attract nyphomaniacal groupies (well, maybe a wee bit of the latter). The occasional cheap laugh, raised eyebrow or provocation of interest are all I'll plead guilty to in the matter of intent. Bene qui latuit bene vixit.

The usual copyright stuff applies, but I probably won't get enraged until I find a clone site with absolutely no attribution (which, by the way, has happened twice with some of my other stuff). Finally, if anyone's offended by anything on this site then please do notify me immediately. I like to keep track of those times when I get something right.


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"When they say, 'Gee it's an information explosion!', no, it's not an explosion, it's a disgorgement of the bowels is what it is. Every idiotic thing that anybody could possibly write or say or think can get into the body politic now, where before things would have to have some merit to go through the publishing routine, now, ANYTHING." - Harlan Ellison

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Thursday, November 22, 2001

Jason Lubyk compares and contrasts (is anyone else getting a flashback to 8th grade English?) the belief in the de-evolution of the state - to be replaced by decentralized, networked society - shared by unlikely spiritual compadres Subcomandante Marcos and the techno-libertarian crowd that started "Wired" magazine.
But post-modern, memetically-spliced, political Frankenideologies don?t necessarily fit neatly on a line graph. While it is doubtful that Subcomandante Marcos and Wired-magazine founder Louis Rosetto could put aside their ideological differences long enough to go out and hit the strip clubs together, there are curious similarities between the two. Central to both their visions is a belief in the necessity of the de-evolution of the state, in favor of a decentralized, networked society. More peculiarly, both ideologies use biological referents (actually, not so much used by the Zapatistas themselves as by their American supporters) to justify the state's dismantling. And as any Madison Avenue colonized supermarket shopper knows, natural equals good, right?
Biological techno-libertarian rhetoric also provided a hip justification for the shrinking of the welfare state and the deregulation of global corporations. Newt Gingrich, appearing on the cover of Wired and writing the introduction to Alvin and Heidi Toffler's book on third-wave governance, Creating a New Civilization: The Politics of the Third Wave, used some of the glossy sheen of the new information age to buff and blind part of the population to some of the grittier details of his "Contract With America," such as increases in defense spending and decreases in environmental regulations. On the Gingrichian "free-market" con, Manuel De Landa states: And so today (1996,) in the United States, there is a very strong political movement, mostly by the right-wing, and Newt Gingrich is perhaps the well known politician in this regards, who are trying, as they say, shrink the size of the government, let the market forces have more room to operate. But of course... what they want to do is let anti-market [De Landa is using economist Ferdinand Braudel's term for top down, hierarchical economic organizations] run wild. They don't really want small producers and small manufacturers and printers and bakers and mom-and-pop shops to have more room to manoeuver and make money. They want national and international corporations to have more room to manoeuver. They want to shrink government so that there is less regulations to keep international and national corporations from doing what they want.

In this reality, "Big Government" is not only against nature, it's not cool. Techno-liberation is hip. Liberation of not only corporate anti-markets but of you from the oppression of "Big Government" evils such as the social safety net, labor rights, affirmative action and consumer protection.

Non-hierarchical networked societies are a grand ideal. I'm no fan of nosey and anal governments poking their fingers into every act, regulating away all vitality. But a total de-evolution of the state at this time would be M.A.D. Over-optimistic fantasies aside, the techno-libertarian reality is a grim Social Darwinist one. We've already seen how this oligarchy functions, with its networked corporate drone-hives, their virtual trillions circulating the globe out of the grasp of the Job-like-masses, who've been permanently downsized and temped (pimped) out, suffering for their faith in the market. And far-left/anarchist fantasies about the potential perfection of wo-man (alleged to have lived in harmonious hunter-gatherer, agrarian or even Neolithic golden ages), after the corrupting state is removed, demonstrate an even more unsophisticated form of wishful thinking. Anarchist devolutionists don't only ignore most of the historical and evolutionary evidence, they fail to explain how we could get there from this far away, without killing off the several hundred million people who really want to go shopping at the mall. Really now, any major devolution of the state today is probably going to look either like Mississippi before the sixties, or the Balkans.

posted by Steven Baum 11/22/2001 08:21:44 AM | link

While it's easy to blame the Bush Regime for creating a repressive police state via the Constitution Burning Act - hell, I do so three or four times a day - they're just accelerating down a trail blazed several decades ago. An
excerpt from Jim Redden's Snitch Culture: How Citizens Are Turned Into the Eyes and Ears of the State provides the details.
Not too long ago, a tip to the police might have produced a knock on the door and a visit from the beat officer assigned to your neighborhood. He would tell you what he heard and rely on his instincts and training to tell if you lie to him. But such days are over. Today, a tip from a snitch is more likely to trigger a military-style assault by a Special Weapons and Tactics team armed with automatic machine pistols and dressed in full body armor, helmets and face shields.

The militarization of domestic law enforcement is rooted in the urban riots which shook Americas inner cities from 1965 to 1968. Patrol officers armed with six-shooters were unable to stop the looters, arsons and mob beatings. Congress was appalled by the sight, and President Johnson responded by creating the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, primarily to provide military-style weaponry, communications equipment and special training to police forces across the country, as Christian Parenti noted in his 1999 book, Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis. Thus Johnson laid the initial groundwork for the tremendous combination of police power, surveillance and incarceration that today so dominates domestic policy.

The amount of military-style equipment available to state and local police increased dramatically when President Nixon announced his War on Crime. The federal assistance allowed the Los Angeles Police Department to create the nations first SWAT team. Other cities quickly followed suit, financed by an almost unlimited pool of federal dollars and warehouses full of refurbished military equipment.

The federal government has used the so-called War on Drugs to erase the line between the military and civilian law enforcement. In 1981, Congress passed the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Officials Act, authorizing the Pentagon to assist state and local police departments in enforcing drug laws. Eight years later, in 1989, President George Bush created six regional Joint Task Forces within the Department of Defense to coordinate the military's involvement with domestic anti-drug operations. Both of these agreements violate the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which prohibits the military from engaging in domestic law enforcement operations. The public was repeatedly told throughout the 1980s that police needed more and bigger weapons to battle black drug gangs. Crack dealers wielding fully-automatic Uzis, AK-47s, and other military assault weapons became a standard feature of the evening news and entertainment programs. Hollywood and the TV networks always presented drive-by shootings as involving cars full of young black males with blazing machine guns. In fact, although drug dealers frequently carry semi-automatic pistols, machine guns are tightly regulated and hard to come by. Police rarely run across anyone with a fully automatic assault weapon, regardless of skin color.

Nevertheless, by the early 1990s, police agencies across the country were being supplied with machine guns, sniper rifles, helicopters, and armored personnel carriers. Even patrol officers began carrying 18-shot Glock semi-automatic pistols, combat shotguns and semi-automatic versions of the U.S. Army's AR-15 assault weapons. As Newhouse News Service reporter Jim Nisbitt put it, the new weaponry was intended to "close a perceived firepower gap with heavily armed drug dealers." The public's fear of crime came into play, creating an atmosphere for the approval of tougher tactics." It might be assumed that President Bill Clinton, lambasted as a "liberal" by conservative Republicans, would stop the domestic arms race. But shortly after Clinton took office, Janet Reno, his new U.S. Attorney General, signalled the administration's plans to increase the military's involvement in day-to-day police efforts. Speaking to representatives of the military-industrial complex in November 1993, Reno compared the War on Crime to the former Cold War. "So let me welcome you to the kind of war our police fight every day. And let me challenge you to turn your skills that served us so well in the Cold War to helping us with the war were now fighting daily in the streets of our towns and cities across the nation," she said.

Even the Cato Institute, not exactly a traditional enemy of the military-industrial complex, doesn't like what it sees.
A September 1999 study by the Cato Institute documented the federally-funded militarization of state and local police forces. Titled Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments, the study found, "Over the past 20 years Congress has encouraged the U.S. military to supply intelligence, equipment and training to civilian police. That encouragement has spawned a culture of paramilitarism in American law enforcement." According to the study, between 1995 and 1997 alone, the Department of Defense gave over one million pieces of military equipment to police forces across the country. The newest items included grenade launchers, armored personnel carriers, M-16 rifles, automatic weapons with laser sights, laser surveillance equipment, wireless electric stun projectiles, pyrotechnic devices such as flash-bang and smoke grenades, and kevlar body armor. The study cited a 1997 survey by Peter Kraska and Victor Kappeler at Eastern Kentucky University which found that nearly 90 percent of police departments in towns with populations over 50,000 maintain SWAT teams. And 70 percent of departments in towns under 50,000 do too. "It's the militarization of Mayberry," says Kraska. "This is unprecedented in American policing, and you have to ask yourself, what are the unintended consequences?"

posted by Steven Baum 11/22/2001 08:10:31 AM | link

Phil Leggiere (via another article by him mentioned at wood s lot) reviews Michael Klare's Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, which I obtained a couple of weeks ago. A good review of an equally good book.
Nineteenth Century historian Brooks Adams is the most blatant philosopher of global adventurism in US history. Adams was obsessed with the concepts of energy and entropy, and their role in the rise and fall of empires. He believed that nations must either expand outward, using up new sources of energy in the process, or dissipate spiritually and morally-their "vigor" depleted. Soon-to-be President Theodore Roosevelt was among the strongest believers. In brutal conquests of the Philippines, Cuba, Hawaii and elsewhere, Roosevelt and his generation of romantic imperialists translated Adams' bookish ruminations into practice, establishing the U.S. as a global super-power.

For Adams, Roosevelt and company, energy was more of a literary symbol of the Anglo-Saxon "martial spirit" than a material resource-though ransack resources they surely did. In his ambitious, informative new book Resource Wars, Hampshire College Professor of International Relations Michael Klare shows how the Adams' cult's obsession with energy has proven more literally prophetic than they'd intended. As Klare argues, it's precisely the domination of rapidly dwindling energy resources that is now the lynchpin of the foreign policy being continued by their decidedly less literary heirs; Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, and Bush.

In exhaustive detail, based on close scrutiny of publicly available but seldom publicized Departments of Defense, State and Energy documents, Klare provides a superb primer of the landscape of potential global conflict over the next few decades, and America's likely role in it. Mainstream media pundits present current U.S. foreign policy - in piecemeal fashion - as a series of scattered, seemingly ad hoc responses to individual, isolated "hot spots." Klare argues that there is a thematic thread running through U.S. strategy, whether in the Caspian Sea, China or Columbia. It is focused on guaranteeing U.S.-based multinational corporations steady, uninterrupted access to the dwindling supply of non-renewable resources. With the end of the cold war and the growth of worldwide energy-intensive consumer markets, the ideological blocs and conflicts (between U.S. capitalism and Soviet communism) that defined, and gave a certain perverse stability to foreign policy from the 1940s through the early 90s, have given way to new "geo-econocentric" struggles.

posted by Steven Baum 11/22/2001 07:59:02 AM | link

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Brining is trendy this year and, since it's a hell of a lot cheaper than last year's big trend of turkey frying, me and the unindicted co-conspirator (UCC) are brining a couple of turkeys and a pork loin. We experimented on a couple of chickens a few weeks back and the results were most delectable. The UCC insists on doing all the side dishes this year so I can concentrate on smoking the meats, i.e. throwing coals in the firebox every so often and boozing it up when I ain't in stoking mode. I've also got a new toy to play with - the Marantz CDR-631 Professional CD Recorder, wherein the "P"-word refers to being able to record onto any blank CD and not just those deemed worthy the the RIAA and their pack of ravenous lawyers. It'll also ignore copy protection on CDs. There'll probably be more on the smoking and the burning as the weekend progresses.
posted by Steven Baum 11/21/2001 02:34:14 PM |

A canuck of long acquaintance just sent me his latest update on Canadian politics. My laughter at the inane, silly politics of those polar bear molesters up north would be a lot heartier if the same damned thing weren't happening in most U.S. states, led by Florida and Texas, the two states for which the latest jackals of the Bush Dynasty are most responsible.
In Canada the conservative agenda is working out just the way they wanted it to (even if part of it is being carried out by a party misnamed the Liberal party of British Columbia).

The Ontario tories passed a 30% tax cut in 1995, to be slowly phased in. While this required some immediate service cuts, protests were muted by the rising economy, which raised tax revenues and hence allowed for a higher level of service than otherwise would have been possible.

Only a few of us communists pointed out that this was sustainable only in an economic boom.

But now it is 2001, the economy is contracting, revenues are contracting, and the last bit of the tax cut is coming due. The government is forecasting a $5 billion deficit. This of course is a horror not to be allowed - never mind the fact that in the biggest boom years in a generation they ran a surplus only once or twice. Could we handle this by postponing the tax cuts? Never! That would be a TAX INCREASE!

So they're going to let the tax cut go through, and at the same time say they "must" cut services to reduce the deficit. The deficit they created with their tax cuts. Cute, no?

And this is happening even though the federal government, whose tax cuts did not come until after the budget was balanced (damn commies!), substantially raised the amount of money it transfers to the provinces last year.

Meantime the fundamentalist bizlamic government of British Columbiastan, having just been elected, cut taxes 25%, immediately and fully, last summer. Now they announce that, surprise!, they will have a big deficit unless they cut spending. Note that there was already a big deficit before the tax cut and recession, so this cannot possibly have been a surprise. Reaction? Why they are going to cut the civil service by a full third over three years. British Talibanstan ALREADY has the second leanest civil service per capita in the country. Soon it will be a skeleton.

All of this was so obvious and predictable. I used to think the voters had two brain cells to rub together. How Mencken would be laughing at me now.

On the bright side, the Canadian federal government has backed off, to some degree, on the terrorism bill. The definition of "terrorism" has been narrowed, and some of the worst provisions of the bill have been given a sunset clause. It's still an unjustified restriction on freedom, but less bad than before. Nowadays we must be grateful for small mercies. Or as most people would say

"Nowaday's We must be graitful for small mercie's as we wait with baited breth".

Common folk, you know, MORONS!

posted by Steven Baum 11/21/2001 02:05:20 PM |

PR Watch reports that both Saudi Arabia and the Carlyle Group are hiring PR spin doctors to bring the rabble around to their sides. Expect a rash of homey Wilford Brimley commercials over the next several months.
posted by Steven Baum 11/21/2001 11:35:24 AM | link

An article at
Rense tells of a new book about getting the war on and all that. It should be noted that the ultimatum delivered in early August coincides with the beginning of Shrub's month-long vacation at his Texas ranch, so very far away from the White House. Is anybody aware of any other president who's taken a month-long vacation half a year into his first year? Of course nothing said in the book mentioned in the following has been confirmed by the Pentagon, so it can all be safely discounted.
Fact: The WTC was bombed right after Bush-Taliban oil pipeline talks soured.

The talks soured right after Bush/Big Oil threatened Taliban to take their offer or receive a "carpet of bombs."

Bush-Cheney/Big Oil and Afghanistan's Taliban negotiated for months over running a Caspian Sea oil pipeline through Afghanistan. Talks began in February and continued right on until only one month before New York City's World Trade Center towers were demolished.

During the course of these negotiations, the two parties were unable to agree upon a deal, mainly because Bush/Big Oil agents constantly upped the ante on the rather naive Taliban representatives: playing intimidation, bait & switch, and "shell" games relentlessly. The Taliban negotiators, understandably, became distrustful of the entire process, and less and less confident they were being dealt with in good faith.

In the beginning of August, the Bush administration and its Big Oil cohorts delivered what amounted to an ultimatum to the Taliban.

The Taliban representatives were reportedly told by Bush/Big Oil: Accept our offer of "a carpet of gold or you'll get a carpet of bombs."

That's a direct quote, according to French authors Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, who've just written a thoroughly-researched and heavily-documented book about the entire extraordinary business titled Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth.

Also revealed in the book is the fact that Bush himself directly ordered the FBI and other U.S. law enforcement groups to back off on terrorist-related investigations while the oil pipeline negotiations were underway!

In fact, the FBI's Deputy Director John O'Neill resigned in July in protest over this outrageous and intolerable obstruction.

posted by Steven Baum 11/21/2001 11:16:51 AM | link

Asian governments are jumping on the Holy War on Terrorism bandwagon and
following the lead of the U.S., at least when it comes to suppressing domestic dissent. Those silly human rights and civil liberties activists are just congenitally incapable of understanding the mandates of the new geopolitical realities.
An increasing number of Asian governments are using the U.S.-led campaign against global terrorism to justify repression of separatism and other political dissent even when it is nonviolent, human rights activists charge.

The crackdown is being led by the region's largest and most populous nations - China, India and Indonesia - all of which are trying to quell ethnic and religious groups that want to break away.

Asian countries say that, in acting against separatists, they are following the example of the United States, Britain and other Western states that are curbing civil liberties to protect their people from terrorist attack.

When the United Nations human rights commissioner, Mary Robinson, visited China this month and expressed concern about the mistreatment of people in Xinjiang and Tibet - whom Beijing has branded as separatists - she was rebuffed by Chinese officials, including President Jiang Zemin.

China's moves to prevent Xinjiang and Tibet from breaking away to form independent states were part of the global anti-terror battle and "no double standards should be pursued here," said the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhu Bangzao.
Critics charge that, despite paying lip service to the notion that the battle against terrorism must not be an excuse to persecute minorities, the United States is muting its previously outspoken protection of human rights in countries like China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia, which are regarded by Washington as important allies in the global fight against terror.

"Just as the U.S. has grown silent over Russian abuses in Chechnya, Chinese abuses in Tibet and Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, so it will play down problems in Indonesia," said Geoff Mulherin, an associate at the Research Institute for Asia and the Pacific at the University of Sydney. "In the post-Sept. 11 world, national self-interest is triumphing over the embrace of human rights."

But Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad of Malaysia said that the United States has been learning from his country how to combat terrorism and that the West, which once accused him of trampling on human rights, now is following him.

"It's no good taking action after the crime," Mr. Mahathir said. "We have to act in anticipation, and not in the usual manner, because having to find proof of a crime which has not yet been committed is difficult."

posted by Steven Baum 11/21/2001 10:49:23 AM | link

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

C-SPAN offers some excerpts from the Nixon White House tapes in RealAudio format. These and many more are going to be featured on C-SPAN Radio's American Political Archives Program over the next year.
posted by Steven Baum 11/20/2001 04:48:58 PM | link

George Galloway reports of a close call on an Iraqi jetliner, another in a series of incidents calculated to provoke an invasion-worthy response from Iraq. I hear April Glaspie is packing her bags for a trip in the near future.
Last Wednesday, an Iraqi Airways Boeing 727 civilian airliner was climbing out from Basra, Iraq's southern port, when the ether crackled at 121.5 megahertz with an unmistakable American voice: "This is the United Nations [sic] no-fly zone enforcement patrol calling Iraqi airliner travelling at 21,000 feet proceeding at 400mph north-west from Basra. I warn you that you are subject to being fired upon - you continue to fly at your own risk."

Thus in the middle of a war against terrorism, falsely claiming a UN mandate - the "no-fly zones" are in fact imposed unilaterally by Britain and the US - an allied pilot was threatening 180 civilian passengers with airborne death. That would have created quite a desert storm.

I might not have believed this story if an Iraqi official had told me. But as chance would have it for the US pilot, I was on that flight, sitting in the cockpit with Captain Akram, who disdainfully ignored the warning. Also on the aircraft were Lord Naseer Ahmed, Britain's first Muslim peer, and the solidly Blairite MP Kerry Pollard.

Together with Sunday's incident in the Gulf, when a tanker carrying Iraqi oil sank after being boarded by US servicemen - with the loss of up to six people, including two Americans - the signs are that US policy towards Iraq is poised on a bayonet point. Bombing, argue the hawks roosting on the Potomac, has achieved two regime changes in a row, in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, without the loss of a single American in action. Time to go for the hat-trick in Iraq, they say, closing the unfinished business left by Bush the father in 1991.

posted by Steven Baum 11/20/2001 04:37:58 PM | link

Some excerpts from Zbigniew Brzezinski's The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and It's Geostrategic Imperatives (1997, Basic Books). These are provided via
Global Research.
In that context, how America 'manages' Eurasia is critical. Eurasia is the globe's largest continent and is geopolitically axial. A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world's three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over Eurasia would almost automatically entail Africa's subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania geopolitically peripheral to the world's central continent. About 75 per cent of the world's people live in Eurasia, and most of the world's physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. Eurasia accounts for 60 per cent of the world's GNP and about three-fourths of the world's known energy resources.
Two basic steps are thus required: first, to identify the geostrategically dynamic Eurasian states that have the power to cause a potentially important shift in the international distribution of power and to decipher the central external goals of their respective political elites and the likely consequences of their seeking to attain them; second, to formulate specific U.S. policies to offset, co-opt, and/or control the above?
To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.

posted by Steven Baum 11/20/2001 03:10:23 PM | link


Jerk City

posted by Steven Baum 11/20/2001 02:54:06 PM | link

An interesting agitpop piece about Al-Jazeera by
Fouad Ajami undercuts its own conclusions by the facts it offers. It also excels in reality inversion, a technique in which something commonplace in the U.S. is spun as being sinister when exactly the same thing is done elsewhere. The first paragraph contains a textbook case of the technique:
Al Jazeera loves grisly footage and is never shy about presenting graphic imagery.
Replace Al Jazeera with Fox or UPN or WB or CNN or CBS etc. and then ask yourself how sinister this sounds. Additional examples are plentiful, with the next one even making an obvious comparison to Fox, albeit unfavorably, apparently assuming the readership to be so numbed by the propaganda of CNNPentagon et al. as to be incapable of connecting two dots. As for making Fox blush, I can't see Roger Ailes having done so since maybe the age of three.
On Al Jazeera (which means "the Peninsula"), the Hollywoodization of news is indulged with an abandon that would make the Fox News Channel blush. The channel's promos are particularly shameless.
Next we hear of the horrors of Al Jazeera's coverage of the most recent intifada.
The channel's policy was firm: Palestinians who fell to Israeli gunfire were martyrs; Israelis killed by Palestinians were Israelis killed by Palestinians. Al Jazeera's reporters exalted the "children of the stones," giving them the same amount of coverage that MSNBC gave to Monica Lewinsky. The station played and replayed the heart-rending footage of 12-year-old Muhammed al-Durra, who was shot in Gaza and died in his father's arms. The images' ceaseless repetition signaled the arrival of a new, sensational breed of Arab journalism.
Contrast this to typical U.S. TV and print coverage that inevitably calls Palestinian violence "attacks" while referring to Israeli violence as "retaliations." Or to the endless "up close and personal" coverage of the 9/11 victims and their families, intended to squeeze out strong emotions in the audience to the last drop. Yes, endlessly repeating such things is sensationalism but, no, it's not particularly sinister than an Arab media outlet is doing what the American media has been doing since 1776. The comparison of the intifada coverage to the Monica Lewinsky hysteria is both incorrect and obscene, though. It obscenely attempts to trivialize the coverage of the tragic deaths of Palestinians by comparing it to the comparatively extremely trivial obsessive U.S. media coverage of who fucked who. Ajami could have made the appropriate comparison of the similar coverage of the Intifada and 9/11 victims by, respectively, Al Jazeera and the U.S. media, but that would have made his game obvious even to the most boneheaded of readers.

Ajami then goes on to condemn Al Jazeera for, of all things for chrissake, call-in shows wherein the audience expresses nasty, vicious opinions.

Since Sept. 11, I discovered, Al Jazeera has become only more incendiary. The channel's seething dispatches from the "streets of Kabul" or the "streets of Baghdad" emphasize anti-American feeling. The channel's numerous call-in shows welcome viewers to express opinions that in the United States would be considered hate speech.
It's a good thing all the U.S. call-in shows have been models of decorum since 9/11. It would have been all too easy for those bastions of moderation to whip up a frenzy of anti-Arab hatred rather than to follow the road of rational discourse they've all traveled.

Ajami continues to tell us of the next sinister, crafty Al Jazeera plot he's uncovered.

What's more, Al Jazeera is a crafty operation. In covering the intifada, its broadcasters perfected a sly game -- namely, mimicking Western norms of journalistic fairness while pandering to pan-Arab sentiments. In a seemingly open-minded act, Al Jazeera broke with a widespread taboo of the Arab news media and interviewed Israeli journalists and officials, including Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres. Yet at the same time, it pressed on with unrelenting anti-Zionist reportage that contributed to further alienation between Israelis and Palestinians.
My lack of God! Those evil, crafty bastards are engaging in the age-old trick of giving air time to opposing viewpoints! I for one am very happy that CNNPentagon, FoxPentagon and the other U.S. networks aren't engaging in such obvious trickery. Next Ajami attempts to equate Al Jazeera and the Taliban:
In its rough outlines, the message of Al Jazeera is similar to that of the Taliban: there is a huge technological imbalance between the antagonists, but the foreign power will nonetheless come to grief.
That is, in "rough outlines," both the Taliban and Al Jazeera have IQs above 10 and are capable of recognizing technological superiority when they see it, and are also familiar with the last 1000 years of history in the region. Gee, if sharing a couple of obvious views of reality with a terrorist group isn't the moral equivalence of terrorism, then what is? Hell, even I recognize the technology gap and the unsuccessful history of those who would attempt to occupy Afghanistan. Uh oh, another insidious "link". I'd better turn myself in to Ubergruppenfuhter Ridge.

A few paragraphs along he tells us of an insidious "people in the street" piece run by Al Jazeera, with the really insidious part being that:

But by television standards, the Al Jazeera video was notably extended -- close to a minute long.
In other words, Al Jazeera is insidious both when they mimic U.S. television practices, e.g. sensationalism, and when they contravene them, e.g. by running pieces longer than 5 seconds. Even an arbitrary military tribunal is too good for these bastards!

Even the western commercials run by Al Jazeera are given an insidious, invidious spin, the same sort of spin that Ajami would undoubtedly attempt if Al Jazeera weren't showing any commercials, e.g. "the lack of commercials proves how insidiously they're attempting to deny their viewers any knowledge of western culture."

The show paused for a commercial break. One ad offered a striking counterpoint to the furious anti-Westernism of the call-in program. It was for Hugo Boss "Deep Red" perfume. A willowy Western woman in leather pants strode toward a half-naked young man sprawled on a bed. "Your fragrance, your rules, Hugo Deep Red," the Arabic voiceover intoned. I imagined the young men in Arab-Muslim cities watching this. In the culture where the commercial was made, it was nothing unusual. But on those other shores, this ad threw into the air insinuations about the liberties of the West -- the kind of liberties that can never be had by the thwarted youths of the Islamic world.
Towards the end of this hack piece, just a few paragraphs apart, we find an interesting juxtaposition. First, in a paragraph claming that Al Jazeera's "status is inflated," we are told of other, obviously superior networks:
MBC has five news broadcasts of its own. MBC's news programs come across as blandly professional. Compared to Al Jazeera, its reporters are staid, careful not to incur the wrath of Arab rulers or to challenge the established order. There is also the hugely popular Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International. LBCI is loaded with entertainment programming, but it also regularly presents news. The news on LBCI, a privately owned station, also has a tepid feel. Syria dominates the Lebanese world, and its news broadcasts avoid broadcasting anything that would offend.
And then two paragraphs down we get:
Al Jazeera's defenders tend to applaud its independence from the censors who control state-sponsored outlets in the Arab world. For the Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, there is the pleasure of channel-hopping at 2 in the morning and hearing a television station breaking with the widespread censorship and silence of the Arab news media. "It provides the one window through which we breathe," Soueif recently wrote of Al Jazeera.

In one sense, Soueif is right: the Arab world needed to be challenged. This was a region where the official media, in August 1990, withheld news of Iraq's conquest of Kuwait for three days. The pompous, sycophantic press in Arab countries -- whose main function has been to report the comings and goings and utterances of the ruler of the land -- has been dealt a major blow. For the first time, Arabs with a satellite dish now have access to uncensored news.

That is, first Ajami approvingly tells us of the other Arab networks that are "hugely popular" and run by reporters who are "staid, careful no to incur the wrath of Arab rulers or to challenge the established order." Then he tells us about the supposedly insidious Al Jazeera's "independence from the censors who control state-sponsored outlets in the Arab world" as well as the "pompous, sycophantic" non-Al Jazeera press in Arab countries, "whose main function has been to report the comings and goings and utterances of the rulers of the land."

While most of us are really confused at this point, Ajami calms all our fears and clears up all our confusion by coming to the only possible conclusion the evidence he's supplied permits:

That said, Al Jazeera's virulent anti-American bias undercuts all of its virtues. It is, in the final analysis, a dangerous force. And it should treated as such by Washington.
Al Jazeera is anti-American, therefore it is a dangerous force that should be treated like all other dangerous forces by Washington, e.g. the bombing of the Al Jazeera station in Kabul. Although he doesn't mention that bombing incident, the implications are, unlike most of his article, crystal clear.

This piece is horrible hackwork even by the usual low standards of the NYTimes magazine. Ajami employs just about every known logical fallacy in his crass attempt to "prove" the insidious nature of Al Jazeera, a station that even he admits is independent of the censors who control every other network in the Middle East (not to mention the networks in the U.S.). He will of course be praised by the usual pack of useful idiots as having put together a "thoughtful and provocative piece."
posted by Steven Baum 11/20/2001 09:43:59 AM | link

100 BEST
request from Medley way reminded me of a couple of very fine lists published as books. They are David Pringle's 100 Best Science Fiction Novels and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, the spiritual ancestor for both of which is Anthony Burgess's 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939. Pringle's fantasy list is more interesting to me than his sciffy list, containing more of those books I consider lost classics, i.e. books and/or authors that've/who've lapsed into undeserved obscurity.

The books on that list that cause me to envy the sumbitch what's reading them for the first time include:

posted by Steven Baum 11/20/2001 12:37:58 AM | link

Monday, November 19, 2001

Tom the Dancing Bug gets its war on.
posted by Steven Baum 11/19/2001 01:23:30 PM | link

Despite official claims to the contrary, there were two squadrons of combat-ready fighter jets at Andrews Air Force Base whose job was to protect the skies over D.C. on 9/11. Even with an advance warning of over an hour, not one fighter scrambled to protect D.C. The first squadron is the 121st Fighter Squadron (FS-121) of the 113th Fighter Wing (FW-113), who are equippred with F-16 fighter jets. On their official web page, which has been removed since 9/11 but is still
available via web.archive.org, it states:
Training for air combat and operational airlift for national defense is the 113 this primary mission. However, as part of its dual mission, the 113th provides capable and ready response forces for the District of Columbia in the event of natural disaster or civil emergency. Members also assist local and federal law enforcement agencies in combating drug trafficking in the District of Columbia.
The second squadron is the 321st Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA-321) of the 49th Marine Air Group, Detachment A (MAG-49 Det-A), who are equipped with F/A-18 fighters.

Despite having two squadrons of fighter aircraft within 10 miles of D.C. and having over an hour of advance warning, the official Pentagon line is that the $300 billion per year military was unable to get a single fighter off the ground until after the Pentagon was hit. More details can be found at The Emperor's New Clothes.
posted by Steven Baum 11/19/2001 10:44:09 AM | link

Politech reveals the deep, dark secret behind those partially burned papers supposedly containing plans for nuclear weapons, as originally reported in the London Times. The Daily Rotten looked at those secret nuclear plans and came up with an adjective other than "chilling":
Newspaper Reporter Anthony Loyd of The Times newspaper in London and BBC Correspondent John Simpson are brave and hearty souls, wandering in the aftermath of the fall of Kabul and the withdrawing of the Taliban to points south. In a special report to the BBC and the Times, they walk among the ruins and find a building that contains a wasteland the Taliban soldiers have left behind: forgotten manuals, live hand grenades, and hats with the new al-Qaeda logo on them.

After displaying images of this weaponry, and papers littering the floor, Simpson shows us his two most horrifying finds: A piece of paper with the word "ricin" on it, and plans for a thermonuclear device!

So as not to allow terrorists around the world to gain the plans to this bomb, the camera scrolls down the instructions quickly, and focus on just a few words:

[see the pictures at the given URL]

Scary words indeed; the keys to nuclear destruction, just laying out here on this forgotten desk! How could these well-guarded secrets have leaked to the Taliban?

Well, this is where it gets a little funny. You see, those words appear on a semi-famous document that has made the rounds on the Internet since the late 1980's. It's a reprint of a scientific parody called "How to Build an Atom Bomb" from a humor newsletter called The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR). At the time this document was originally written (1979!), the newsletter was called the "Journal of Irreproducible Results". (In scientific circles, a finding must be reproducible to be considered valid. Hence... well, it's geek humor. You understand.)

In Mr. Loyd's Times article, he describes with baited breath the terrible secrets on the page:

"The vernacular quickly spun out of my comprehension but there were phrases through the mass of chemical symbols and physics jargon that anyone could understand, including notes on how the detonation of TNT compresses plutonium into a critical mass producing a nuclear chain reaction and eventually a thermo-nuclear reaction...."

Here, then, is a paragraph from the parody document:

"The device basically works when the detonated TNT compresses the Plutonium into a critical mass. The critical mass then produces a nuclear chain recation similar to the domino chain reaction (discussed in this column, "Dominos on the March", March, 1968). The chain reaction then promptly produces a big thermonuclear reaction. And there you have it, a 10 megaton explosion!"

To find these joke atomic bomb plans, do a web search for "The device basically works" and look for mentions of "Let's Build an Atomic Bomb!". It gives us pause and joy to know the Taliban are wasting their time downloading what amounts to joke mail and spending time trying to discern the facts therein.

Next time, Misters Loyd and Simpson should glance further down the terrorist papers they find, where they might have read these words: "PREVIOUS MONTHS' COLUMNS... Let's Make an Anti-Gravity Machine!"

I guess I can cancel that order for a fallout shelter. Tune in next week to hear how the Taliban have established an alliance with the space aliens who live in a secret base beneath Antarctica. There may be an anal probe in your future.
posted by Steven Baum 11/19/2001 10:01:39 AM | link





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