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December 2001


Hopeful New Year!
Let's welcome 2002 with good cheer, faith and hope. It's going to be a better new year. -- 12/31

Tribal truths
As a series of impressions, C.J. Chivers' "Two worlds paired by war'' has great moments. But the frame for the NY Times' story is unthinking relativism:

They were dual worlds, Manhattan and Afghanistan, full of contrasts and common themes. They doled out two lessons, over and again: that your truth depends upon your tribe, and the power of luck is almost absolute.

What happened? Depends upon who was asked, and there were more tribes with a stake in what was going on than could quickly be counted: politicians, cops, Pashtuns, refugees, clerics and Green Berets; firefighters, Uzbeks, widows, orphans, amputees and marines. Each one had a different version, even when talking about the same thing.

Certainly, different people may see events differently. Most in the U.S. "tribe" blame Osama bin Laden's Muslim terrorists for the 9-11 attack; some Muslims believe Jews did it. A primitive tribe of Outer Lefties believe George W. Bush is responsible. Is there no truth to be sought and found? Just tribal lore? Surely, the New York Times does not believe that.

For that matter, while luck determined, in large measure, who lived or died on 9-11 in Manhattan and the Pentagon, does it really decide who lives or dies in Afghanistan? It seems to me that good timing -- knowing when to change sides -- and location -- if you live next to the munition dump, move -- has a lot to do with it.

It's a shame there's a bogus frame because much of the piece is quite good. I especially like the ending, which celebrates a universal truth. Chivers is trekking through the Hindu Kush toward Kabul. A ragged porter asks where he's from. "New York,'' Chivers says.

He stopped me by my elbow, making sure his eyes had mine. When he spoke again it was in the slow diction of a man on an excursion into an unfamiliar language, but who wanted to be heard. He nodded, deep enough to be a bow, before raising both hands to eye level and letting them flutter to his waist.

The meaning was obvious, even high in mountains in a distant corner of the earth. Towers falling down.

"New York," the Afghan porter said. "Very sorry us." -- 12/31

Evil on file
A computer taken from a bombed-out Al Qaeda office in Kabul contains letters, memos and a video file celebrating the carnage at the World Trade Center. The Wall Street Journal paid a looter $1,100 for the computer.

One memo referred to a ``legal study'' of the killing of civilians, in which the writer said he had found ways to keep ``the enemy'' from using the killing of ``civilians, specifically women and children,'' to undermine the militants' cause, the Journal said. . . .

A video file made after Sept. 11 uses television footage of people fleeing the World Trade Center, combined with a sound track of mocking chants and prayers in Arabic, the Journal said.

Text files include an outline of an al-Qaida project to develop chemical and biological weapons, code-named al-Zabadi, Arabic for curdled milk, the newspaper said. -- 12/31

Airport security is like airplane food
In "Dumb and dumber,'' Mark Steyn -- this guy is so good! -- gets in a few kicks at the French, for letting Mr. Hotfoot on the plane, and at Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, for his militant opposition to common sense. Mineta still insists that the 70-year-old grandma from Indiana should get the same scrutiny as the 22-year-old Muslim male with no luggage who paid cash for a one-way ticket.

Steyn mistakenly credits Jeff Jarvis' Naked Air to Ken Layne. Steyn's alternative is Insecure Air.

Insecure Air--We Check Nothing! Turn up five minutes beforehand, no ID, packing anything from a Kalashnikov to an eyebrow pencil, and we'll let you on, no questions asked. And guess what? You'll be in no more danger than if you flew United or American and spent two hours having the sniffer dogs go through your thong.

By the way, I don't think it matters whether airport security workers have a high school diploma. The real question is whether they can pass tests that cover the actual skills they need -- with frequent spot checks done after they've been working for hours. And, even then, the system won't be fool-proof. Too many fools out there. -- 12/31

Geneva doesn't shield terrorists
The Geneva Convention doesn't require terrorists to be treated like enemy soldiers, writes Ruth Wedgwood, an international law prof at Yale and Johns Hopkins, writing in the New York Times. So Bush's military tribunals are kosher. There are four prerequisitives for POW status:

First is being part of a fighting force that adheres to an organized structure of command, so someone can be held responsible. Second is wearing a distinctive military uniform or insignia -- so that the other side can spare civilians without fearing counterattack by disguised fighters. Third is carrying arms openly. And fourth is reciprocal respect for the laws of war. To claim the protection of the law, a side must generally conduct its own military operations in accordance with the laws of war.

Al Qaeda has violated these laws at every turn, and certainly in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Both the U.S. and Afghanistan refused to sign a 1977 pro-guerrilla protocol that proposed including combatants disguised as civilians. -- 12/31

Left behind
Christopher Hitchens
(via Jason Soon) strikes again at lefties' excuses for Taliban terror in the December Atlantic. The moral mushies will do anything to avoid siding with their own country, writes Hitchens.

Members of the left, along with the far larger number of squishy "progressives," have grossly failed to live up to their responsibility to think; rather, they are merely reacting, substituting tired slogans for thought. The majority of those "progressives" who take comfort from Stone and Chomsky are not committed, militant anti-imperialists or anti-capitalists. Nothing so muscular. They are of the sort who, discovering a viper in the bed of their child, would place the first call to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. -- 12/30

LA learns to read
Reading scores are soaring in Los Angeles Unified, which educates -- or doesn't educate -- one out of eight California children. What's going on? In "Herding cats,'' New Times reporter Jill Stewart credits Superintendent Roy Romer and Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Ronni Ephraim, who've stressed training teachers to use Open Court, a step-by-step reading curriculum based on "rigorous phonics, frequent repetition and (horrors!) memorization, blended with fun activities and great storybooks."

Money to train the trainers has come from David W. Packard's foundation. And, thanks to Ron Unz, most students are now taught to read in English.

Another factor seen in successful districts -- intelligent use of testing -- is also helping LA Unified improve instruction.

Ephraim is a strong believer today in testing children, including a mini-assessment after just six weeks of school -- but not so that teachers will "teach to the test," as critics charge.

"The real important reason we do this is to provide the teachers data about themselves. If all the kids did poorly in spelling, that teacher needs to read the data and reflect on, hmmm, am I really using all the sound/spelling cards in Opencourt? And if the data show a colleague teaching the same grade has done really well, maybe a coach should take over their class so they can go watch their colleague in the classroom." -- 12/30


Hollywood salutes Hollywood
I was going to see "A Beautiful Mind'' last night, but it was sold out. A movie about a mentally ill mathematician is a sell-out? At any rate, we saw "Kate & Leopold'' instead, a pleasant romantic comedy which provides an answer to the eternal question: What do women want?

Hugh Jackman. Please.

The movie was preceded by that "Spirit of America'' trailer, which is supposed to whip up patriotism. It's a three-minute medley of snippets from 110 classic Hollywood movies, which means there's not much of any one thing. Various American values are featured; the best parts celebrated American exuberance. And I liked the inclusion of the nutty general from Dr. Strangelove.

But the whole thing was pointless. We don't need a half-second of John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart to feel good about our country. We can see the American spirit in action in the real world. -- 12/29

Nation demolition is our specialty
If reporters are going to analyze the news, they should get it right. Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times:

President Bush said today that he expected American troops to remain in Afghanistan for "quite a long period of time" to flush out remaining Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters and to interrogate, fingerprint and process more than 6,000 prisoners of war.

The United States mission will not be complete, Mr. Bush added, until Afghanistan is a stable country.

Bumiller goes on to say the president's comments

were strikingly at odds with the scornful view that Mr. Bush expressed as a presidential candidate toward the "nation building" that he said distracted the Clinton administration.

Really? Bush specified military action against Taliban and Al Qaeda hold-outs and processing prisoners of war, not Clinton's brand of "nation building." Or anyone else's. Perhaps Bumiller thinks Afghanistan won't be stable till it has good roads, schools, hospitals, housing, etc., but clearly Bush is talking about military stability. In fact, the administration has been quite careful to avoid a commitment to long-term reconstruction of Afghanistan. As Don Rumsfeld frames it, the U.S. interest is in preventing Afghanistan from again becoming a base for terrorism.

Besides, we'll be busy blowing up Al Qaeda bases in Somalia or the Philippines or Kashmir. Or deconstructing Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. -- 12/29

Have shoes will travel
For a jobless ex-con, Shoe-Boy Richard Reid sure got around: He visited the Netherlands, Belgium, Israel and Egypt before paying cash for his Paris-to-Paradise ticket.

El Al profiled Reid as a menace, according to this AP story.

Shoe-bombing suspect Richard C. Reid underwent a rigorous body check and had to remove his shoes for special screening before boarding an El Al plane this past summer, Israel's national carrier said Friday.

Even after no explosives were found, the airline considered Reid a top security risk and seated him next to an armed sky marshal in the second to last row, far from the cockpit, said an Israeli source.

I fit an El Al profile too: The single woman who might be tricked by an Arab Lothario into carrying a package for him. I was questioned intensively and my suitcase was thoroughly searched. I also had to remove my shoes when I crossed from Jordan (Aqaba) to Israel (Eilat) but only because the metal on my hiking boots was setting off the detector.

The AP story finishes with a quote from the El Al pilot who foiled an attempted 1970 highjacking by diving the plane, knocking the highjackers off their feet.

(Uri) Bar-Lev said he believed the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington have prompted a change in attitude, and led passengers to rely more on their own wits. ``In order to prevent a hijacking or air terror, the main weapon is a state of mind that says `we are not going to be hijacked and we have to take the initiative,'' said Bar-Lev.

``Once you have this attitude, and this (Reid's) case just proved it, you can stop it.'' -- 12/28

Geraldo Lie!
"We walked over what I consider hallowed ground today. We walked over the spot where the friendly fire took so many of our, our men, and the mujahedeen [anti-Taliban fighters] yesterday," Geraldo Rivera said on Dec. 6, the day after three U.S. soldiers were killed near Kandahar. "It was just - the whole place, just fried, really - and bits of uniforms and tattered clothing everywhere. I said the Lord's Prayer and really choked up."

Caught in a lie by the Baltimore Sun -- Rivera had been 300 miles away from the "hallowed ground'' -- Rivera claimed he'd walked the "hallowed ground'' of a second friendly fire incident in Tora Bora that killed several Afghans. Due to the "fog of war,'' he'd thought that Americans had died there. The Sun got him again.

But a timeline offered by the Defense Department appears to contradict that explanation. Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday that the deaths in Tora Bora took place sometime after Sunday morning, or at least three days after Rivera's report was broadcast.

And while Rivera said it took him 72 hours to find out the Americans had died near Kandahar, MSNBC and CNN said their reporters in Afghanistan were told "within hours" where the deaths had occurred.

Questioned by Howard Kurtz, Rivera blustered, threatening the reporter that uncovered his false report.

Rivera denounces the Baltimore Sun television writer who reported the mistake, saying: "The whole basic premise that I lied or was dishonest is absurd on its face, and were it any other reporter, would not even pass the laugh test. This is the most false, hideously absurd allegation I've ever had leveled against me."

Sun writer David Folkenflik "has slandered a journalist who is an honest person and has contributed arguably much more to American society than he has," Rivera says. "This cannot stand. He has impugned my honor. It is as if he slapped me in the face and challenged me to a duel. He is going to regret this story for the rest of his career."

"The time has come to stop the Geraldo-bashing," Rivera told Kurtz.

I count three lies: Hallowed Ground 1, Hallowed Ground 2 and Absurd on Its Face. But Fox New says it was an honest mistake: "Based on Geraldo Rivera's 30-year track record, Fox News has full confidence in his explanation and journalistic integrity."

In hiring Rivera, Fox News made a huge, not-so-honest mistake. As a journalist Rivera is . . . Well, he's not a journalist. He's Chatty Cathy in a bush hat. He's tried to turn Fox's war coverage into The Geraldo Rivera Show, starring Geraldo! as Brave War Reporter and featuring Geraldo! as Mr. Patriot, with a guest apearance by Geraldo! as Sensitive Prayer Guy. And now, we've got Geraldo! the Victim.

Ironically, Fox has sold its credibility for nothing: Geraldo Rivera is a bore. A few weeks ago, I tuned to Fox as Rivera launched into a question for some Afghan, pictured in a little box in the corner. It went on and on and on, so I switched to a another news show. It was on commercial, so I went back to Fox. Rivera was still talking. I surfed over to CNN for about 30 seconds. The story was old, so I tried Fox again. Geraldo was still talking. It seemed to be the same question. The little man in the corner looked confused, and increasingly desperate. I changed the channel.

It reminded me of my junior high days. A motormouth friend called and started talking and talking. I put down the phone, went to the kitchen, toasted a slice of bread, buttered it and returned to the phone. The motormouth was still talking, oblivious to the absence of a listener.

The poor Afghan guy in the corner didn't even have a piece of toast. -- 12/27

American vs. European culture
Mark Steyn's provocative Spectator column (via Little Green Footballs) argues that U.S. support of Israel and European disdain reflects our love of liberal democracy and their love of paternalism. He starts with the English:

Where Jews are modern, urban and scientific, Arabs are feudal, rural and romantic. Jews wear homburgs; Arabs wear flowing robes and head-dresses. Jews are famously ‘in trade’; Arabs are just as famously hopeless at economic creativity: they have oil, but require foreigners to extract it and refine it. A backward culture that loves dressing up and places no value on professional activity will always appeal to a segment of the English elite.

Like the "cosmopolitan'' Jews, the U.S. is a transnational merchant culture, a global polluter of more refined peoples. It makes us, as the French ambassador to Britain might say, a "shitty big country.''

So each half of the West looks in the Middle East for what it values most in itself: for the Americans, liberty; for Europe, paternalism, benign or otherwise. The result is a mirror image: just as Israel is the odd man out in the Middle East, so increasingly America is in the West, wedded as it is to such bizarre concepts as capital punishment, gun rights, free speech, etc. -- 12/27

Culture clash
We can understand the violent, woman-oppressing Pashtun culture without honoring it, writes the consistently correct Moira Breen.

And the civilization that looks in disgust on its destructive and impoverishing honor codes, its harsh and restrictive treatment of women, has "hawk's claws" vastly more formidable than these vaunted tough-guys could even dream of possessing. A researcher might ponder that maybe, just maybe, refusing to develop a stable and productive political system, and obsessing about your sister bein' a ho', are not the most intelligent responses to the challenges of survival. -- 12/27

Gullible war syndrome
Writing in Reason, Michael Fumento explains why the recent study doesn't prove Gulf War service leads to Lou Gehrig's Disease.

A Boston Globe editorial touting the study said, "At a time when US soldiers are again in harm’s way, the military must be alert to all possible hazards." Right. That includes the hazard of telling soldiers going into harm’s way that while they may survive the war unscathed, they could actually become exposed to some undetectable sort of magical pixie dust that will make them sicken and die years or even decades later. There’s never a good time for nonsense like this, but during a war is the worst time of all.

A host of well-conducted scientific studies shows that Gulf War vets are as healthy as vets who served elsewhere, Fumento writes. -- 12/26

Bad facts
Since Sept. 11, Americans distrust of Arab "allies," such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, has soared, according to a Zogby International poll. While 10 percent support the Palestinian Authority, 72 percent are unsympathetic; Israel is at 59 percent positive, 28 percent negative.

The Arab lobby in Washington is blaming the "anti-Arab propaganda campaign" that has been waged since the September 11 attacks for the shift in attitude.

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and brother of the editor of the survey, John Zogby . . . blamed a "steady diet of anti-Arab information" for the swing in public opinion, saying that "those who are seeking to disrupt and discredit the relationship are working overtime."

Actually, the propaganda campaign has been relentlessly pro-Islam: It's a religion of peace, all Muslims aren't terrorists, etc. But those nasty facts -- Saudi and Egyptian suicide bombers, Saudis funding kill-the-infidel Wahabbi mosques and schools, the "Arab street" celebrating the murder of Americans, the Arab Taliban, etc. -- are hard to ignore. Those who want to discredit Arab nations -- those You Know Who Jews, I assume -- hardly need to work at all, much less work overtime. -- 12/26

Stolen snowmen
My brother and sister-in-law were just settling down for a long winter's nap when they heard a clatter on the lawn, and a raucous adolescent cry, "We just stole your snowmen!'' When they looked out the window, they saw their wooden snowmen had been napped; their neighbor's Christmas decorations also were gone.

They called the police, who insisted on coming by to take a report. (There's not much crime in their town.) They were asked to describe the victims: Hat? Scarf? Number of circles in body?

The snowmen did not re-appear on a neighbor's lawn, or at the nearby high school. They appear to be gone for good. And the next night, when their toddler's dolly went missing briefly, she cried, "They stole Baby! Call the police!''

Crime hurts. -- 12/26

Mistakes were made but who are we to judge
Writing about the media campaign to "humanize'' Tali-boy, John Leo perfectly parodies variations of the exculpatory TV interview.

Q. John, some people just don't know you. They think of you as some sort of traitor, or a rat. What are your feelings?

A. It saddens me, Barbara, that some people have to put me down in order to feel good about themselves. Name-calling like this says more about them than it does about me. Anger comes from within. It isn't caused by other people's actions, certainly not by my actions. We have to ask: Why are they attacking my lifestyle instead of dealing with their own negativity? -- 12/26

Wounded egoes
Courtesy of Rand Simberg (via Instapundit), here's a report from a field hospital treating media casualties of the war against terrorism.

I stop by one of the therapy centers to observe.

"Now Sunera, let's try this again. All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore...?"

Sunera frowns, and sweat appears on her forehead. Hesitantly, she ventures, "Therefore...Socrates is the basis of male-centered western patriarchal violence that continues to brutalize women and grind them under its bootheels...?"

"No, Sunera," the therapist explains patiently. "We're practicing logic here. Lo-gic. Remember what I told you about logic?"

I close the door quietly. It will indeed be a long and hard road. -- 12/26

Merry Christmas
And a happy New Year. At least, a happier one. --12/25

Who's laughing now?
Osama bin Laden is portrayed as a fake and a fool, in a comedy show in Amman, Jordan, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Mullah Omar is a flasher. -- 12/25

What if they had a peace rally and nobody came
For all those who think northern California is a hotbed of flag-burning peaceniks, check out this San Francisco Examiner story on the fizzling anti-war movement. Even a Quaker -- an ex-priest who now runs the American Friends Service Committee -- is for "tailored military activities" against Al Qaeda terrorists. -- 12/25

Third coming of Salter
In response to the Salter as Jesus column, Paul Schmidt wrote:

A good friend of mine is a Lutheran minister. His response to people who say, "God told me..." is: "God spoke to me, too. He said you're wrong."

Christopher Johnson runs a religious and a political blog, and he objected to Salter/Jesus on both grounds.

Her reading of the Scriptures is easily refuted.  The commands of my Lord are binding upon me.  If Joanne Jacobs strikes me upon my left cheek, I am to turn to Joanne Jacobs my other cheek also.  But if Joanne Jacobs strikes Stephanie Salter upon her left cheek and I reach over and turn to Joanne Jacobs Stephanie Salter's other cheek also, I am not obeying the will of my Lord and Savior.  I am an accomplice in an evil act.     
This is precisely what Stephanie Salter advises George Bush to do.  Turn a great many other cheeks, none of which are his own.  As far as I know, George Bush did not lose any family or close friends on September 11th.  Even if he did and he reacted as Ms. Salter would like him to, he would, as president, be in a great deal of trouble.  As Paul put it:
"For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.

"For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer(Romans 13:3-4)."

And you remember what happened to Saul when he disobeyed his Creator for "religious" reasons(1 Samuel 15:21,26).

Thus the theology.  Politically, Ms. Salter's column seems an extremely odd thing for a liberal to write.  Coming from an ideology that abhors any public manifestation of Christianity at all, it seems strange to me to read Ms. Salter advocating that the President  respond to the crisis in a "Christian" way.  There are, as Ms. Salter seems to have forgotten, non-Christians in America.  Were Mr. Bush to publicly announce that the country's response to September 11 would be in line with what his Lord and Savior would wish, this seems to me to be as close as it is possible to come to an establishment of religion.

Steven DenBeste writes that there's a reason Salter won't be burned at the stake for heresy: Millions of Americans killed millions of people to establish and defend the right to a free press and freedom of religion.

Glenn Reynolds -- citing Lileks but not me -- gets to the point:

The real problem with Stephanie Salter, and a whole long list of columnists like her, isn't that they're antiwar. It's that they're so absolutely, unrelievedly, stone-cold dumb. -- 12/24

Innovation where it counts
Here's a link (courtesy of Virginia Postrel) to a great New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell on the ever-improving technology of disposable diapers. -- 12/24

Second coming of Salter
James Lileks didn't like Stephanie Salter's Jesus column either.

There’s a plane in Logan Airport that is on the ground in one piece, and a couple hundred people still drawing breath, because a few people had the sense and the courage to use deliberate and systematic violence - i.e., beat, subdue, hogtie and shoot up a man who was trying to light the fuses in his shoes. . . . If we buy the whole “cycle of violence” idea, then those passengers participated in an escalation of violence which will lead to more surly men with C4 in their Nikes. (Conversely, if the plane had been destroyed because no one did anything, and the cycle of violence had been broken, would terrorists have called it a day?) -- 12/24

Naked and nice
Ken Layne takes up
Jeff Jarvis' "Fly Naked'' idea, and explains the added benefits: The burqa boys would be grounded; obese Americans would be motivated to slim down.

While you're reading Jarvis, scroll down to his report on Tony Blair's 10 top 10 lists. In addition to Blair's "10 things that have changed in Afghanistan thanks to our war'' -- for example, women can go to school, kids can fly kites -- Jarvis adds: "People are not being starved to death, stoned, hanged, imprisoned, and shot on the whim of a one-eyed lunatic despot and his psychotic sugar daddy."

Also scroll down to Moira Breen's mini-essay on Americans' "vice of niceness.'' It's not that we're arrogant, she argues. Our problem is that we don't have the "gift of contempt.''

No hunger deaths are projected this year in central Afghanistan, notes Charles Johnson, who fantasizes about Noam Chomsky apologizing for accusing the U.S. of "silent genocide.'' Last winter, under Taliban rule, about 1,000 people starved to death in central Afghanistan.

Finally, libertarian bloggers operating out of Samizdata report a successful snatch-and lunch mission to liberate Muslimpundit from a slave-driving boss. --12/23

Speaking for Jesus
Stephanie Salter, a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, speaks for Jesus, telling President Bush that What Jesus Would Do in response to terrorism is . . . Well, Salter/Jesus speaks to W in mysterious ways.

You want not only to keep them from hurting you again, you and your nation's people want to hurt them back. And you are willing to rationalize all manner of destruction, waste and -- if necessary -- killing toward those ends.
Dear brother, you are right to want to stop evil. The tricky part for humans has always been, what is the best way to stop it? My four-letter answer is written, over and over, in the Bible, but it has been ignored by potentates, peons and sometimes popes for 2,000 years.

Why? Because it contradicts the human instinct for vengeance.

I'm good with crossword puzzles, but I had a hard time with the four-letter answer. "Peace" is too long. So is "cheek," as in "turn the other." "Pray" would work. But I think she means "love.'' (Hey, I'm Jewish. "Love'' doesn't appear all that often in our Bible; "smite'' gets more play, though it's five letters.)

Following me means forsaking the desire to hurt back, to rob your enemies of their humanness, even when their inhuman acts aim to rob you of yours. It means refusing to buy the Great Lie of evil -- that true peace and justice can be achieved through deliberate and systematic violence.

Actually, the notion that violence never works is a Great Lie, or, at least, a Big, Fat Mistake. Deliberate, systematic violence has defeated the violent, unjust Taliban regime, and weakened Al Qaeda's ability to launch new attacks on innocent infidels. Afghans now hope for a lot more peace and justice than they had under the mad mullahs.

If "trying to stop evil'' is OK, then what's the problem? We're fighting in self-defense against fanatical murderers who've attacked our country, and who threaten to keep attacking until we all convert to their fascist brand of Islam. Turn the other cheek and more Americans will get the peace of the grave.

Naturally, many of us undeified Americans would welcome vengeance on the man we saw chortling about the death of thousands of Americans (and his own dupes). But Bush hasn't called for vengeance -- unless Salter/Jesus think it's vengeful to pursue Osama bin Laden. What Would Jesus Do: Let him go free to plot more terrorist attacks?

Here's another possibility: Stephanie Salter wants Bush to give billions of dollars to alleviate poverty (i.e, enrich Third World dictators). Maybe she wants him to end sanctions against Iraq so Saddam can have even more money for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons development. She may be right, though I doubt it. But she does not actually speak for Jesus Christ. If Bush doesn't follow her agenda, he is not ignoring God. He is ignoring Stephanie Salter.

Despite my years as a newspaper columnist, I don't know what Jesus would do if he were president of the United States. But I bet he would be less arrogant than his would-be mouthpiece. -- 12/23

Flight 63 Militia
Not all the French are "cheese-eating surrender monkeys,'' despite what you read in the blogs. Two men from Paris were among those who subdued the shoe bomber,
Richard Reid.

Thierry Dugeon said the first he knew anything was wrong on American Airlines Flight 63 was when he heard a flight attendant 10 rows in front of him cry out, "I need some help!"

"I was there in five seconds, and there were already two or three guys on him," Dugeon said Saturday after the Paris-to-Miami-bound jet landed safely at Boston. "It was like everybody knew what they needed to do. It's pure instinct because it goes so fast. You're not going to think twice."

Eric Debry was traveling with his wife and children. He was sitting directly behind Reid.

Debry said he reached over the seat, grabbed Reid by the shoulders and pulled his arms back. "I jumped on his shoulder. Two other guys came and took his legs," he said.

After five or six male passengers overpowered Reid, 20 passengers donated belts to tie him up and doctors on the flight gave him a sedative, the passengers settled back to watch "Legally Blonde'' before landing in Boston. -- 12/23

Monogram monomania
Everyone really likes Laura Bush, writes Norah Vincent. OK, so far. But then Vincent goes after Hillary Rodham Clinton
, who she says nobody likes. This sentence stands out like a thumb in the eye: "She planted her man-eating maiden name like a black flag in her famous monogram, and Capitol Hill shuddered."

Calm down, Ms. Vincent. Is a maiden name in a monogram really so terrifying to D.C. denizens? If they're unmanned that easily, they've got worse problems than HRC. -- 12/23

Wrong-way doves
I recommend Henry Porter's thoughtful analysis of how and why Britain's doves got just about everything wrong -- and can't bring themselves to admit it.

It may have been that the doves had the world's best interests at heart, but there was an anti-American agenda in the peace party which was abhorrent if only because these people would never talk about any other nation in the way they did about the US. The US is, after all, a democracy and its citizens were, after all, the victims of a bewilderingly violent attack. . . .

ance and pessimism prevailed - among hawks too - and the entire debate was underlaid by a suspicion that we were spiritually inferior to Islam and the West had it coming.

To my mind the most serious mistake of the peace party was its failure to stand up for the democratic achievements of the last 100 years and for the reign of liberal values in which we thrive and indeed possess the freedom to debate the enormous issues that now face the world. That is still something worth fighting for and I am unembarrassed by saying it.

Also check out
Frederik Norman's analysis of the philosophical roots of terrorism:

From the national socialists (nazis) and their holocaust, via the international socialists (communists) and their gulags, to the Islamist fundamentalists (Al Quaeda) and their suicidal attacks of today, the common idea they all held was the idea that it is right to sacrifice some for others, or that it is right to sacrifice some for a "cause." -- 12/23

Shoes of death
Will airline passengers be required to fly barefoot? A passenger on a Paris to Miami flight tried to ignite his shoe, which was packed with powerful C-4 explosive. A stewardess smelled the match and intervened; passengers helped her subdue the man and sedate him with drugs in the plane's first aid kit. The man, described as Middle Eastern in appearance, was traveling with a British passport -- now considered dubious -- under the name of Richard Reid. The American Airlines flight landed safely in Boston.

Ken Layne and Glenn Reynolds point out once again passengers have shown they'll rise in an instant to deal with a threat to the plane; security checkpoints are not what has made the nervous skies safe.

Which reminds me that I've been meaning to write about the ban on non-citizens in airport security jobs. In San Francisco, 80 percent of people who man the security posts are non-citizens; most are Filipino. The numbers are similar in San Jose. I find it hard to believe that firing 80 percent of the staff and replacing them with new hires will improve security, or that citizenship is the sine qua non of reliability. Better screening would weed out the losers -- citizens or not.

And, as we know, alert flight attendants and aggressive passengers are the real security force. -- 12/22

No exit
Under the new education bill, students in failing schools will have the right to transfer to better public schools in the district. A New York Times story explains why that's meaningless. The good schools are full.

In New York City, which accounts for most of the state's 100 or so chronically failing schools, the parental grapevine assures that better schools are highly coveted and, invariably, full.

Many of the bad schools are at or over capacity too, for that matter. -- 12/22

The double-counted dead
Flit has the best refutation I've seen so far to the Women's Studies professor who claims U.S. bombing has killed more civilians in Afghanistan than Al Qaeda terrorism killed here on Sept. 11.

. . . if you add up all the casualty numbers in all the press reports you can find, without checking for accuracy, reliability, double counting, propaganda, bias, or military casualties getting mixed in, that you end up with 3,767 dead Afghan civilians. -- 12/21

ABCs of reading
The Council for Basic Education has several good articles on how to teach reading. The bottom line: Most kids don't learn to read "naturally.'' They need to be taught, systematically and directly, to identify individual sounds and link them to letters: mmm- aaa-ttt is m-a-t, which is mat. Then give them lots of practice reading so they develop their vocabulary and build comprehension. -- 12/21

Tanks a lot
Glenn Reynolds, defender of gun shows, links to a Forbes article on Jacques Littlefield, who owns more than 150 tanks and armored vehicles. Not purchased at gun shows. Jacques is an old friend of mine. I remember when he used to make model tanks, and when he bought his first real one from Army surplus.

The article says Jacques is fastidious about restoration. It doesn't mention his annual Fourth of July party, which features Jacques crushing a couple of junker cars -- usually foreign -- with his Sherman tank. You might think it would be a guy thing, but everyone loves it. There's just something about destruction. -- 12/21

Oedipus, call your office
Perhaps Tali-boy Johnny Walker, an alum of Osama's Terrorism Camp in Afghanistan, wasn't just rejecting his country; he was rejecting his gay father. P.J. Corkery in the SF Examiner says Frank Lindh, whose last name Tali-boy declines to use, moved in with a gay male partner at about the same time his son turned to Islam for answers.

It would take a specialist in family issues to map the constellations of feelings and problems that would describe John Walker's path toward Islam in 1997, but sources close to the family say the father's turn of life from married man to modern gay man startled and flustered the 16-year-old.

Johnny Walker eventually joined the Taliban, which executed homosexuals by crushing under a stone wall or throwing them off a high building.

Some National Review type will have a sneer at Tali-boy's gay dad. I wonder what Andrew Sullivan will make of it.

Glenn Sacks, who wrote the much-criticized column defending Tali-boy for his courage, e-mailed his critics with a defense of himself. It's the best available: When Walker joined the Taliban it wasn't at war with the U.S., Sacks points out. And maybe, when the war started, he couldn't get out. Sacks equates Tali-boy with a young German joining the Wehrmacht (not the SS) out of patriotism (not love of the Nazi cause).

However, Tali-boy says he trained as an Al Qaeda terrorist, not the simple "foot soldier'' Sacks envisioned. And when Tali-boy met up with American interrogaters before the prison revolt he didn't reveal his identity or say he wanted to leave his Taliban buddies.

CNN released a tape of an interview with a wounded, morphine-laden Walker, who says jihad was just what he expected and the cause "definitely'' was right. In other words, he joined the SS equivalent out of love for the Islamofascist cause. On the tape, Walker speaks English with a foreign accent, yet another re-creation of his pathetic self.

Update: Tim Blair prints the Sacks e-mail, with Blair's parenthetical comments. -- 12/20

Dare to say it: Mass murder is bad
Michael Kelly intelligently analyzes the Newsweek column by a Yalie struggling with the idea that maybe it's morally wrong to commit mass murder. (It's archived for subscribers only.) Alison Hornstein's classmates are unwilling or unable to judge terrorists. She's trying.

At some point soon after Sept. 11, listening to Yale students and professors offer rationalizations for the mass murders (poverty in the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy, etc.) Hornstein had an epiphany. Some things were just wrong. "Just as we should pass absolute moral judgment in the case of rape, we should recognize that some actions are objectively bad, despite differences in cultural standards and values. To me, hijacking planes and killing thousands of civilians falls into this category."

Hurrah! A breakthrough! A moral judgment! Yes, Ms. Hornstein, murdering thousands of people in fact is bad. But wait. A lifetime of instruction is not sloughed off quite so easily as all that; Hornstein's bold moral judgment is not quite so bold as all that. Look at her conclusion again: "To me," it begins. To me. Hijacking planes and killing thousands is not objectively bad after all. It is objectively bad only in Hornstein's opinion. Indeed, she rushes to reassure on this point: "Others may disagree." Others may disagree. And she adds: "It is less important to me where people choose to draw the line than it is that they are willing to draw it at all." Oh, dear.

It is astonishing, really. Here you have an obviously smart, obviously moral person trying nobly and painfully to think her way out of the intellectual and moral cul-de-sac in which the addled miseducation of her life has placed her -- and she cannot, in the end, bear to do it. She cannot judge.

Ms. Hornstein, push on. Go the last mile. Go out on the limb of judgment. Mass murder is indeed objectively bad -- and not just in your opinion. Others may disagree -- but they are wrong. Indeed, they are (shut the door for this part, lest the hall monitors catch us) morally wrong.

My daughter's given up on trying to persuade her college friends -- Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Davis, Harvard, Princeton -- that terrorism is wrong. "That's just your opinion,'' they say. "You just feel that way because you're an American.'' Or they've been taught that no authority such as the government or the press can be trusted (except for Noam Chomsky) so they doubt all sources of information and have nothing left on which a decision can be made.

I raised my Allison to believe that it's good to be judgmental -- if the judgments are sound. That's why God gave us brains; we're supposed to use them. -- 12/19

All covered with soot
Curbing carbon dioxide emissions is the hot solution for global warming, but a Stanford scientist says reducing soot would do the job a lot faster and provide huge health benefits. Mark Z. Jacobson, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, presented his findings Dec. 11 to the American Geophysical Union.

Diesel fuel -- much more common in Europe than in the U.S. -- is one of the big soot producers.

Many people mistakenly believe that diesel vehicles are better for the environment because they travel 30 percent more miles per gallon than do gasoline-powered vehicles. But diesel vehicles emit about 18 percent more carbon per gallon than do gasoline vehicles. More important, soot is a much more efficient warming agent per unit mass than is the worst greenhouse gas. That translates into greater global warming with diesel than with gasoline over the next 100 to 150 years, Jacobson says. -- 12/19

The Saxon war
Jay Mathews analyzes a county's fight over Saxon math textbooks, which offend progressives but seem to work well for low-income students.

Young women judge prospective mates by how they treat their mothers. Supporters of creativity and choice in American schools judge educational administrators by how they treat Saxon and other maverick publishers who can show positive results.

Sadly, most textbook review committees and their school boards are not up to the challenge. -- 12/18

Hard-thinking Irish
Compared to students in 32 industrialized countries, Irish students are great at reading and science, and slightly above average in math, according to a survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). There's also bad news, reports the Irish Times (via the unlinkable Dec. 24 Weekly Standard).

But the OECD sounded a disapproving note, pointing out that education spending in the Republic is significantly lower than in many other developed states. It suggests that students here are forced to work harder to achieve their grades because of lack of investment. --12/18

Poison plant
The San Francisco Chronicle hyped an "investigative'' story that was really a plant by Gov. Davis' re-election campaign, writes Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee.

Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle published a lengthy, front-page article describing how Richard Riordan, then the mayor of Los Angeles, telephoned "a harried Gov. Gray Davis" last Jan. 10 and threatened to cut off power supplies from the city's electric utility -- thereby making severe power blackouts a near-certainty -- unless it was paid in advance.

The governor's top campaign adviser promptly cited the Chronicle story, headlined "With L.A. rich in energy, Riordan dealt no mercy during state crisis,'' to attack Riordan, the leading Republican challenger.

Riordan's insistence on Los Angeles' getting power money up front was not news in Southern California. He had said so publicly on the very day -- Jan. 10 -- that he allegedly made his phone call to Davis. But it was news in Northern California and it appeared to represent disdain by a Los Angeles mayor for consumers in Northern California, where the threat of blackouts last winter was highest.

The surefire evidence that the Chronicle story was a Davis plant was its use of the governor's personal telephone logs. There is simply no way the Chronicle could have obtained those logs without the cooperation of the Governor's Office. Davis won't even release his schedule of fund-raising events, much less his telephone logs. --12/18

Angry, and proud of it
Richard Cohen is mad as hell at Osama and his crew, and he's not going to fake it anymore.

In a complicated, on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand world, in an era when science and common sense have robbed us of the absolutes of religious dogma, it is downright invigorating to feel an anger so pure and so justified that time itself has diluted it not one bit. I hate bin Laden so much that when some people said they hated him even more after seeing him on the latest videotape, I wondered how they could. My anger is pressed to the floor already. . . .

(The anger) comes not from our insecurities or failings but from what is best in all of us -- sorrow for the dead, sympathy for the grieving, concern for the future and love of our country. I feel no shame -- but I would if, after what happened, I felt no anger at all.

The anti-war minority claims a moral superiority to us revenge-crazed cowboys and cowgirls. Yet to be cool, detached and "oh-so-judicious'' in response to the mass murder of one's countrymen is nothing to brag about. -- 12/18

Poor kids, good test scores
Often, high-poverty, high-minority schools are low in achievement. But thousands of such schools are succeeding,reports Education Trust. The non-profit identified more than 4,500 schools nationwide that serve predominantly poor or black and Hispanic students, and also perform in the top third of schools in their state.

In a profile of a Baltimore school that went from horrible to high-performing, the New York Times finds some common factors in effective schools: "They often devote extra time to reading and math, find inventive ways to motivate children and emphasize orderly behavior." Not exactly rocket science. -- 12/18

Rall cutter
Cartoonist Ted Rall's war commentary is so weirdly wrong that I figured it wasn't worth the bile needed to destroy it. But James Lileks proves me wrong. He writes that Rall is

the Mikey of bad punditry: he hates everyone. He hates the right, he hates the left, he hates the Afghans themselves. Everything sucks and the people who don’t realize that everything sucks suck worst of all.

Rall refers to "Vietnam, our first Afghanistan.'' Lileks responds:

Vietnam = Afghanistan. Yep. No question. 50,000 dead vs. 5 dead. Ten years vs. ten weeks. Constant guerilla warfare using US troops vs. a proxy army assisted by remarkably effective air support. Draft army vs. an all-volunteer force. The parallels are truly stunning. Someone get Mai Ling on the phone and start designing the memorial; it’ll go right next to the sad black gash on the Mall. And it will be one inch high. -- 12/17

Peace protest leads to violence
When Jorge Torres of challenged the views of a woman protesting the sale of "war toys,'' she whacked him with her sign. Frederik Norman has a link to the video. -- 12/17

When flying, the bus is cheaper
I live roughly midway between San Francisco and San Jose airports, so I checked both when I was looking for a January flight to JFK. The cheapest non-stop from San Francisco to JFK was $1,130. The cheapest non-stop from San Jose was $162.50. And it's the exact same flight, preceded by a bus ride from San Jose to SFO. I called United to confirm this. A very nice young man told me that the online info was correct. And that United doesn't care if the passenger actually rides the bus from San Jose or gets to SFO by other means.

Surely, this kind of price differential is crazy. No wonder the airlines are in trouble -- 12/17

Leak for democracy
The Bush administration's loyalty, "cool professionalism and collegiality may not be best for democracy,'' according to "some politicians and academics'' unearthed by Richard Berke of the New York Times. How can there be a public debate if Bush aides won't leak self-serving snippets to the press?

Andrew Hofer performs the take-down on the leak-for-democracy thesis:

. . . As most organization people know, loyalty and unanimity outside the meeting ALLOWS debate within it. Leaders are more comfortable having a wide ranging debate if they know that when a consensus or decision has been reached they will all agree to follow it.

Berke quotes a Bush aide and a Clinton aide making this argument, but says we won't know how much internal debate there's been until after the Bush administration is over. Hofer points out a story -- same section, same day -- on the debate within the administration on how to integrate Russia into NATO.

An administration that speaks with one voice tends to be more persuasive, but it doesn't stifle other voices. Those who disagree with Bush's policy can raise other options. They do. What the "politicians and academics'' are really saying is that Bush isn't playing fair. It's like the U.S. Air Force bombing from way up high where the enemy doesn't have a chance to shoot down our planes. Bush is using his strength -- an ability to create a loyal, cohesive team of advisers -- to further his policies. It's not sporting. -- 12/16

America, please bomb my homeland
At a tree-trimming party yesterday, an Iranian-American woman was telling me what it was like when the ayatollahs took over and shoved Iran, the most modern, "European" country in the region, into the past. Women lost all their rights. Those who protested were sent to prison. She and her husband feared their child would reveal their modern ways to the day-care teacher, a true believer, and they'd be arrested. They made it to America, where "freedom is for granted.''

After Sept. 11, young Iranians -- who'd grown up under the ayatollahs' rule -- held a candelight vigil to express sympathy for America. They've never known a modern Iran, but they want the future. They want freedom.

Her dream -- she knows it's unlikely -- is that the U.S. will do for Iran what it's done for Afghanistan, using our military might to overthrow the religious tyrants and liberate the people. -- 12/16

From Israel to Osama
The U.S. is using "intelligent' Israeli missiles to blow up Al Qaeda's Tora Bora caves.

The AGM 142 "Hav Nap" missiles are so advanced that they can be flown directly into the mouths of the caves sheltering the terrorists.

They were developed by the Israeli arms manufacturer, Rafael, in the 1980s. While the Americans possessed them during the Gulf war, it was decided not to use them against the Iraqis in operation Desert Storm because they were sensitive about killing Arabs with Israeli-made bombs.

The US air force chiefs in Afghanistan, however, are no longer worried about such niceties, or that the man who wants to bring about the destruction of the United States and Israel may be destroyed by Israeli bombs being dropped by American planes. A Pentagon spokesman said: "I hope the irony of this is not lost on bin Laden."

Irony is not bin Laden's strong suit. But the rest of us can appreciate both the irony and the fact that the U.S. no longer cares about Arabs' delicate sensibilities. -- 12/16

London bomb
A bomb-maker's notebook found in Kandahar details an attack on London, according to the Observer.

In step-by-step instructions it describes how to construct a huge remote-controlled van bomb - identical to those used by al-Qaeda against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania with lethal effect in 1998.

A scribbled note on top of one page suggests the intended target was Moorgate in the centre of London's financial district. . . .

Written in note form - apparently as an aide-mémoire by the man who would construct the bomb - the language used suggests that the author was a British fundamentalist who prepared the document while training in the Sheragha Jama district of Kandahar, an area riddled with the former homes and compounds of al-Qaeda fighters.

There's no way to tell whether Al Qaeda has a "sleeper cell'' in place ready to carry out the Moorgate bombing. -- 12/16

Upside: It will cripple the school district
To prevent a state takeover of Philadelphia schools -- and a handover to Edison Schools, Inc. -- Mayor John Street "commissioned a strategic plan to undermine the state's position, with options that included taking the school district into bankruptcy and shifting key educators to the city payroll to 'cripple' school operations." The secret report was leaked to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"The potential upside to this strategy is that it could cripple the school district's ability to function and accelerate Edison's anticipated failure," the report said. The "downside" was that "it could be perceived by the public as hurting the children in the public school system."

In other words, failure is a good thing if it can be blamed on Edison, a for-profit school-management company; it's a bad thing if people blame the mayor. Perception is all. Education counts for nada. -- 12/16

Let there be lights
Catholic? Jewish? Colored lights? White lights? Michael Kelly has a funny holiday column (via Virginia Postrel). I especially liked his description of his son's Unitarian Christmas pageant. It starts with the lighting of the menorah . . .

followed by the traditional singing of the great Christian hymn "Oh, Mitten Tree" (during which the faithful paraded around a tree that was decked, in fact, with mittens). A Unitarian pageant turns out to be different from a Roman Catholic one. In Tom's pageant, Jesus Christ is celebrated as "a very special person" and "a great rabbi" and an all-around asset to the community. The Son-of-God debate, which has proved so regrettably contentious over the years, is not mentioned. -- 12/16

Art restoration in Kabul
In addition to banning music, the Taliban destroyed all artworks that depicted the human form. But a heroic doctor saved 122 paintings in Kabul's National Gallery of Art by painting over forbidden images, reports Patrick Cockburn.

Mohammed Yusef Asefi uses a big yellow sponge to rub vigorously at a painting of a mountain ravine in Kabul's National Gallery of Art, and an extraordinary change takes place. As the sponge passes over the surface, an old man herding three donkeys along a mountain path begins to appear. . . .

Working in secret, he painted out the people and animals and replaced them, usually with plants. When Taliban inspectors arrived they were faced with bland landscapes to which they could not object on religious grounds.

Asefi risked prison, torture and death to save the paintings from destruction. Another 400 art works stored elsewhere were slashed by the mullahs. -- 12/15

Dumb and dumber massacre claims
When defenseless civilians are killed, the word in English is "massacre.'' When combatants die in battle, the word is . . . Well, according to the Independent, it's "massacre.'' As in, "America 'covered up massacre of 280 Taliban'."

The Americans and their Afghan allies appear to be trying to cover up the slaughter of more than 280 foreign Taliban fighters believed to be loyal to Osama bin Laden in Kandahar airport.

Mystery has surrounded the fate of the foreign fighters since the airport was captured last week, after intensive bombing by the Americans. Afghan anti-Taliban forces acknowledged that more than 280 fighters had been holding out in the airport, but claimed that only about 20 were killed. The rest, they claimed, escaped alive.

But one of the Afghan soldiers who took part in the fighting said yesterday that he was ordered to return to the airport a day after it was captured, where he says he helped bury the bodies of about 280 mostly Arab fighters. The soldier, who used the pseudonym Ahmad Gul to protect his identity, said the majority were killed by American bombs.

Gul, the only source, never says the dead fighters were killed after the surrendering. He does say he handed over two Arab prisoners to the CIA, and hasn't seen them since. But why would he? Reporter Justin Huggler (great name!) goes on to say:

Mr Gul's version of events would strengthen the argument of those who say the Americans prefer to kill the foreign fighters rather than take them alive.

It comes after the massacre at Mazar-i-Sharif, where American and British forces fighting alongside the Northern Alliance killed more than 150 foreign Taliban prisoners-of-war, when they quelled a prison rebellion using air strikes.

In Tora Bora, the Americans continued bombing despite an offer from al-Qa'ida fighters to surrender to the United Nations or diplomats from their own countries. The US would only accept an unconditional surrender which was not forthcoming.

In other words, the U.S. will try to kill enemy fighters who are still fighting, and will not let them dictate the terms of their surrender. -- 12/14

But what do you really think, Moira?
Over at Inappropriate, Moira Breen is debating whether tearing apart idiot Brits is unsporting. They're such easy targets. But she's so good at it. Here's the conclusion of her analysis of a Natasha Walters column in the Independent. Walters claims to hope that George W. Bush will not abandon refugees to starvation.

Oh horseshit, Natasha. Horseshit horseshit horseshit. You have no fonder hope, you cretinous, ignorant, sanctimonious bipedal manifestation of pond-scum, than to see George Bush drinking blood out of a baby's skull.

Of Jonathan Steele of the Guardian, she concludes:


Update: Moira says "swamp thing'' is a Natalie Solent epithet. Solent has now issued an apology:

In an earlier post I foolishly compared the noted cultural commentator Edward Said to a "swamp thing of moral relativism." I now learn that the Swamp Thing was actually a noble creature treated harshly due to its alien appearance. Said may think that describes him, but it doesn't. Mr Thing, I apologise.. --12/14

Winona, victim
The "root causes'' of Winona Ryder's shoplifting 'n drugs arrest are analyzed on More than Zero. Among them are:

1) the growing gap between the haves and have-nots in our sad society
2) A lack of understanding of the diseases of shopping and consumerization -- 12/14

I'm a victim!
Yesterday, a deranged woman punched me while I was window-shopping. After she hit me, she put up her fists like an old-time pugilist and said, "Self defense,'' in a smug way. I was too surprised to say a word. I hadn't seen her before she hit my arm; it took a few seconds for me to understand what had happened. Call it a random act of unkindness. By then, she was walking away -- she had on pink socks but no shoes -- to join a group of transients lounging down the street.

No doubt she was protesting the growing gap between haves and have-nots, and taking revenge for my apparent consumerism. Or else she's nuts.

I told the police -- the next person she hits could be too frail to take a punch -- but said I didn't want to press charges unless that's the only way to get her into treatment. And shoes.

Ann odd thought came to me: I don't think I've ever been punched deliberately, in my life, until now. It hurts. And now I feel unsafe in my own town, next to my favorite Persian cafe and the Tibetan shop, across from the Post Office and the bank.

If I were a deranged woman, would I hit me? No. But I'm not as deranged as Robert Fisk. - -12/14

Why do sharks bite us?
September 11 was a call to moral seriousness, writes Mark Steyn. Read the column, if only for his shark/Islam bits. -- 12/13

Osama bin done it
"Marines Find Tapes Proving BIN LADEN KILLED DIANA,'' according to a headline I saw while standing in the Walgreen's check-out line.

Wow! He really is evil. -- 12/13

Lord of the racists?
Courtesy of Australian blogger Tim Blair, here's a batty column in the Sydney Morning Herald arguing that "Lord of the Rings'' and "Harry Potter'' are racist.

The appeal of the Lord of the Rings is fundamentally racist. Middle Earth is inhabited by races of creature deeply marked off from one another by language, physical appearance, and behaviour. It is almost a parody of a Hitlerian vision: orcs are ugly, disgusting, brutal, violent - without exception; elves are a beautiful, lordly, cultured elite; in between are hobbits, short, hairy, ordinary, a bit limited, but lovable and loyal and brave when they have to be.

Individuals within races don't vary from the pattern. To know one is to know all. The races are either dangerous or they are benign. An orc - any orc - is without question an enemy. A hobbit would never side with an orc.

As for Harry Potter:

Harry and his friends are members of an elite. They are not a race, but their powers are handed down the generations from parents to children. The skills must be inherited before they are developed with teaching at Hogwarts. The reader quickly identifies with this genetic elite, the wizards such as Harry, and despises the talentless, boorish muggles.

How we laugh when the Dursleys get into difficulties! They deserve it. They are, after all, just muggles - hapless, fat, brutal and stupid. They're all like that. Go on, Harry, hit them again and watch them cry

Chris Henning, the opiner, has two problems: First, he's been trained to oppose the home team in all circumstances, even if the other side is made up of vicious Orcs or vicious Dursleys. Second, he doesn't know the texts.

Last night, I finished rereading "Lord of the Rings.'' The underestimated Hobbits and their allies among the "free peoples'' (men, elves, dwarves and Ents) come together in brotherhood to defeat the evil Sauron and his minions (orcs, corrupted men). Tolkien denied the saga, much of it written during World War II, was an allegory of the rise and fall of Hitler. But it sure reads like it. Only Hitler is Sauron, not Frodo Baggins (England) and his multi-ethnic friends (the allies).

Everyone conveniently speaks the Common Language, though they also have local languages with complex linguistics worked out by Tolkien, a scholar of language. The "free peoples'' share many values across species lines, though there are differences as well. There's no such thing as a good orc or a bad elf, but individuals within races do vary: A wizard may be corrupted, an elf may befriend a dwarf, an Ent may grow tree-ish, a hobbit may be a hero, a gollum or Lotho the Pimple. (For awhile I started to wonder if Frodo and Sam had a homoerotic master-slave thing going, but Sam does go on to marry and father 13 children.) Humans vary most of all, though Henning misses Tolkien's emphasis on inherited kingliness. (It helps to have a touch of elf in the family.) Above all, individuals are tested by great challenges and must find the courage to do what is right.

The Harry Potter books also are devoted to the battle of good versus evil. The bad characters like Draco Malfoy sneer at Muggles; the good characters do not. Wizardry is not inherited: Muggle-born children may become wizards, like Harry's mother and his friend Hermione. The Dursleys are not despicable because they're Muggles; they're despicable because they abuse the orphaned Harry, who does not hit them and make them cry, even when he learns how to use magic.

In The Pooh Perplex, a brilliant parody of litcrit, Frederick C. Crews showed it's possible to interpret a work of fiction in an infinite number of (stupid) ways. He's got a new book, Postmodern Pooh, that I'm going to order. But you have to know the text. -- 12/13

Why they hate academics
In a FoxNews column, Glenn Reynolds has some cogent explanations for the unpopularity of professors, including

1. Cleverness isn’t everything: In the academic world, originality is prized, and cleverness is almost as good as originality. But cleverness is overrated. To argue (as Cornell historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg and women’s health advocate Jacquelyn Jackson did in the Boston Globe) that women who wear bikinis to be fashionable are somehow just as "trapped" by "cultural confines" as Afghan women who are forced to wear burqas on pain of lethal beatings may be clever, but it’s also wrong — absurdly wrong. Academics may appreciate the cleverness, but non-academics tend to focus on the "absurdly wrong" part. Not surprisingly, they also tend to lose respect for the people, institutions, and disciplines that appear incapable of making straightforward comparative judgements. Clever explanations for hypocrisy (on P.C versus free speech, for example) don’t help, either.

2. Being contrary isn’t the same as being insightful: As I said, academics want to look original. Actually being original, however, is hard work. The second-raters, therefore, tend to look for ways of seeming original without doing the heavy lifting required to actually come up with something new. One way of doing this is to set yourself against whatever the popular view is in the hopes that others will mistake this for incisiveness. (This frequently works, since other people are often not willing to put in the necessary effort to tell the difference). But knee-jerk contrariness isn’t original — it’s just conformity in the opposite direction. After a while, this becomes obvious even to casual observers. -- 12/12

An angry mourner
I'm still recovering from yesterday's memorial service for Luci Williams Houston, a woman who was so full of life, so full of joy. Luci, a Mercury News photographer, was murdered; her estranged husband has been arrested.

The service was in a Unitarian church, with a branch where the cross might otherwise be. It was opened by a minister of Religious Science, who said it didn't matter whether we spoke of God, Allah or Buddha, or just the Life Force. Then Luci's sister got up and said that she didn't mean to offend but God's name is "Jesus Christ." I liked that.

Luci had joined a prayer class on Sept. 11; that was a comfort to her family. But I can't make myself believe that Luci has taken the next step of her spiritual path, that she was ready for Heaven. Luci was 43 years old. She deserved many more years of life. Her friends -- which include just about anyone she ever met -- deserved to have her around for another 40 or 50 or 60 years. (I think she had it in her to be a great, little old lady.)

The service was a celebration of Luci's life, a chance for her friends and family to talk about what a wonderful person she was. Many people there felt better afterwards. I didn't. I felt angry.

I guess I'm not ready to move on. Neither was Luci. -- 12/12

"Buy This Book -- or the Terrorists Will Have Won"
The above is my favorite book title, so far, in the Name My Book contest. It comes from Mathew Drachenberg.

Jim Miller proposed "unCommon Sense,'' which was one of the titles I came up with myself but rejected for being already in use. (But not with an appropriate subtitle.)

Alan Carroll suggests: "Brain Thrust: Joanne Jacobs' Full Throttle Essays" with a jacket blurb reading,"Keep a copy at home and at work for when your mind needs the kick of a richly textured thought food. Give copies to your friends so they can keep up when Joanne's burning rubber writing turbo-charges your neural nets."

It sounds like some thing the FDA would regulate. Or possibly the Vice Squad. -- 12/11

Holy losers
Pakistani holy warriors marched off to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. The survivors are creeping back home, dejected and discredited, says this Mercury News story. Pakistanis also are mad at the madrass fanatics who exhorted their followers to be martyrs.

PISHIN, Pakistan -- The roughly 200 Taliban fighters who have come home to the apple-growing oasis of Pishin on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan are not getting the hero's welcome they might have expected when they set off across the border to fight the holy war.

``People blame them for the destruction of Afghanistan,'' said shopkeeper Mohammed Akhram.

The U.S. bombing campaign against the Taliban, which was harboring terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, detonated massive and often violent anti-American protests across the Muslim world. But as the Taliban militia collapsed with stunning swiftness, it has become plain that people in Pishin have little patience with losers.

That is a remarkable reversal, especially for a hamlet that looked on with pride long ago as some of its youths, filled with Muslim zeal, went off to join the Taliban.

Now police are keeping an eye on Taliban members who returned in defeat. Villagers no longer listen to their views on religious issues. Only their madrasahs, the Islamic seminaries long accused of turning out zealots, welcome them. And even they are under new pressure.

Sales of bin Laden posters trailed off, and anti-American demonstrations around Pakistan have dwindled to small crowds of die-hards usually outnumbered by police.

If Pishin is anything to judge by, defeat has so discredited the Taliban fighters among their hometown neighbors that they will find it difficult to continue promoting their politics or their puritanical brand of Islam.

A similar story on "Jihad's lost battalions" ran yesterday in the New York Times. John Burns' writing hints at his point of view:

Like their kind down the ages, the militant leaders mostly stayed home, or crossed the frontier only long enough to declare themselves holy warriors before hastening back.

Many of those firebrands are in detention now, prisoners of a Pakistani government that has taken the debacle of the jihadis as an opportunity to tighten its crackdown on the militant groups so as to sever their hold on millions of the country's poor and illiterate.

In any event, those leaders — elderly men grown rich and pampered from their preachings, men who saw to it that their own sons and grandsons stayed out of the war — have powerful reasons now to disguise the extent of the miseries they caused.

While their deputies storm up and down the valley, calling meetings after Friday Prayers to heap venom on America, many tribe members blame the disaster on the militant leaders, saying they sent the valley's sons to their deaths, then did nothing to help the families left behind.

Those who made it back also report they were abandoned by their Afghan Taliban compatriots, who ran away or switched sides, with no warning to their Pakistani brothers.

All those who predicted that U.S. bombing would make angry Muslims even angrier should notice where their anger is directed. -- 12/11

Hanukkah in Kabul
Two Jews survive in Afghanistan, according to this sad and funny Fox story. The two men lit their menorahs Sunday night in the empty synagogue of Kabul. But not together. They hate each other. -- 12/11

Name my book
In addition to "Start-Up High,'' my charter school book, I'm working on a collection of columns, mostly from the Mercury News. But I need a title that says: "A book of short, sensible, sometimes funny essays on various topics written for intelligent readers who will want to buy many copies for all their friends and relations."

So far, I've been called it "The Naked Pundit: Best of Joanne Jacobs,'' though no nudity will be involved. I'm also toying with something like "Nostradamus, Sex, Weight Loss, Angels, Taliban: Key Words of Joanne Jacobs.'' Or perhaps a one-word title, such as "Unabashed,'' which has a ring to it.

Suggestions are welcome. -- 12/10

Happy Webday
Ten years ago today, SLAC physicist Paul Kunz posted the first Web page, reports CNet, via Frederik Norman. Who is a 19-year-old Norwegian blogger. -- 12/10

Tali-boy talks
Johnny Walker is talking to interrogaters about his high times in the Taliban militia. That could help with the dupe defense.

Meanwhile, James Lileks blasts the Glenn Sacks column. I especially liked Lileks' response to the plaint that, “Some see our consumer society as empty and devoid of meaning. They seek meaning in a cause.”

The hoariest of 60s cliches, warmed over so many times it’s blackened, cracked, crusty and bereft of all nutrition. “Consumer society” means a society in which - brace yourself - there are lots of things to buy, and lots of people who want to buy things. And this is just so horrible. We shouldn’t want DVD players - no, we should all pack into overheated theaters and watch scratchy prints of the movie the theater owners want us to see, at a time of the theater owners’ choosing. We shouldn’t want computers, or extra sweaters, or peppermint-chamomile hand lotion, or cellphones, or leather briefcases, or that nice lamp that would go perfect with the chair in the living room, or a food processor that saves a few minutes of chopping onions by hand, or an Elmo doll for the baby, or a camcorder that lets us record the days of our lives for our descendants, or ANYTHING besides flat bread, a Koran, a change of socks and underwear, a gun to kill Jews and Monsanto executives, and maybe some new batteries so we can listen to Mullah Omar’s cassette-tape lectures on the need to beat women for wearing toenail polish.


Over at Reason, Nick Gillespie defends the "trivial" '90s by pointing out that peace and prosperity -- though boring to write about -- are nothing to sneer at. -- 12/10

A fight against freedom
Newsweek has details on the "long, strange journey'' of Tali-boy, including a report from his first madrass principal.

Most teenagers, when they rebel, say they want more freedom. John Walker Lindh rebelled against freedom. He did not demand to express himself in different ways. Quite the opposite. He wanted to be told precisely how to dress, to eat, to think, to pray. He wanted a value system of absolutes, and he was willing to go to extreme lengths to find it.

According to Newsweek, "Sources say that Walker has proudly informed his interrogators that he was not merely Taliban but Al Qaeda." That's probably untrue, but it sure doesn't help the dupe defense. Still, it might help Daddy's lawyers prove Tali-boy is mentally incompetent. Like Ezra Pound, only without the poetry.

Richard Starr lists the teen-age Walker's newsgroup postings -- which start with hiphop commentary (at one point, he poses as black) and end with Walker selling his CDs and music equipment and pontificating on Islamic law and Zionist Jews. Tali-boy's nom de net, by the way, was "doodoo.''

Oh, and here's another stupid column run in the San Francisco Chronicle. Glenn Sacks says Tali-boy deserves respect because he sacrificed for his beliefs. Matt Welch notes that Walker was fighting for "religious fascism.'' He wanted to make everyone else live under the Taliban's version of Islamic law, regardless of their own personal beliefs. -- 12/9

Afghan thieves stoned Independent reporter Robert Fisk, and nearly killed him. But it's not their fault, writes Fisk. They are lesser breeds without the law. And he's a white Westerner, and therefore guilty of absolutely everything.

Still, what's this about Fisk defending himself against the stone-throwing mob? If that's not OK for Israelis or Americans, why is it OK for Fisk? He felt horribly guilty about fighting back against the men who were trying to kill him. Yet Fisk fought back. Tsk.

Andrew Sullivan dissects Fisk's racism. For more visceral hits (i.e., using "sanctimonious asshole") read Ken Layne and Tim Blair. They include links to Fisk's biased and off-base stories. -- 12/9

'Inappropriate' torture
Amnesty International think that the two CIA agents' threats to leave Tali-boy to "rot in prison" if he didn't talk might be torture, which is "inappropriate.'' Moira Breen inflicts some pain.

Here is a man supposedly deeply disturbed by an alleged atrocity. Does he call the agents' (alleged) actions "barbaric", or "atrocious", or even a milder "unconscionable"? No. The so-called "torture" is "inappropriate". Torture is "inappropriate"? Wearing sneaks with a ball-gown is "inappropriate". This is the vocabulary not of heartfelt indignation and thirst for justice but of benumbed and self-serving bureaucracy. If they are truly on a disinterested search for truth and justice, why have they been enthusiastically smearing the reputation of a dead man, with hearsay and speculation, before any inquiry has been undertaken? -- 12/9

Tali-boy by the Bay
Gee, I take a few hours off for cousin Zev's bar mitzvah and I miss the Great Blogger Pile-on.

Tali-boy Johnny Walker is a spiritual traveling, critical thinking, culture-appreciating kid who deserves a plane ticket home to Mommy and Daddy, argued Louis Freedberg. The SF Chronicle column, "A product of Bay Area culture,'' has been slashed, stomped and spitted by Matt Welch, Steven Den Beste, Andrew Sullivan, Moira Breen and Charles Johnson (Little Green Footballs). But it's just too fat a target to pass up.

Freedberg asks us to "consider how the 20-year-old Walker found himself in his bizarre predicament.''

Well, let's see. First he converted to Islam, then to the fascistic Wahabbi cult. He went to Yemen and then Pakistan to memorize the Koran. He volunteered to fight with the Taliban -- first against Hindus in Kashmir, then against his own country and its allies in Afghanistan. He was captured. He was questioned by American agents. If Walker had been an innocent trapped in the Taliban militia, he could have said so, offering information to show he wasn't willingly fighting his own country. Instead, he said nothing. Then his fellow prisoners -- and possibly Tali-boy -- beat one of the American agents to death, seized the fort, killed dozens of people . . . Quite a predicament.

Freedberg goes on to insist that Tali-boy is typical:

Until his latest detour, his journey for self-discovery had not been that different from those of many other young people in the Bay Area.

This is a place which arguably encourages more religious exploration and innovation than any other region in the United States . . .

Beyond just religious tolerance, young people here are taught from an early age to accept other cultures and peoples. Young people are also encouraged to travel abroad, often through official school programs. . . .

The Bay Area is also a place that encourages critical thinking about the U.S. role in the world. That may have played a part in his vulnerability to the Taliban's extreme propaganda.

Let Walker get "his life back on track,'' concludes Freedberg. "We'd want nothing less for our own children, who could easily have found themselves in a similar mess."

My daughter grew up in the Bay Area; she's exactly the same age as the Tali-boy. Indeed, she's also planning a foreign study trip -- to Oxford, where she plans to study social behavior and history.

Yet her interest in religion and culture hasn't led her to join a murderous cult. Her critical thinking skills are the kind that enable her to resist propaganda. She could not have "found'' herself -- easily or otherwise -- in a "similar mess'' because she is not a crackpot. And there are a lot more Bay Area 20-year-olds like her than there are goofballs like Tali-boy. Most of them know they'll be held accountable for their actions; the rest learn that eventually, and usually painfully.

As James Lileks puts it:

Imagine if he’d popped up in Idaho in a compound with a shaved head gripping a shotgun on behalf of a pure Christian state. I don’t think we’d be spending a lot of time wondering about his spiritual journey, since it would be quite clear: troubled boy fell in with God-bothering brutes who presented him with a simple worldview, one that explained everything from the roots of evil to why he didn’t get a bike on his eleventh birthday.

Trying Tali-boy for treason seems like more trouble than he's worth. Ken Layne's castration solution is not nice. Sending him home for a hug isn't right either. I'd go for a nice, long spell in a POW camp, but I don't know how long the foreign Talibs will be held before they're sent home.

In "The Man Without a Country,'' written in 1863, a Navy lieutenant court-martialed for treason cries out, "Damn the United States! May I never hear her name again!'' He's sentenced to his wish: He's held on one Navy ship after another, forbidden to set foot in the U.S. or hear any mention of his homeland. If Tali-boy could be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in Afghanistan, maybe that would do it. But it wouldn't be a long life once the Afghans found out he was a foreigner who'd come to their country to make war.

I'll close with a story told by a man at the post-bar mitzvah lunch: He got into a cab at Dulles airport on the day the Alliance took Kabul. The driver was talking excitedly on his cell phone but finally hung up. "That was my brother calling from Kabul,'' the cabbie said. "They're free!'' -- 12/8

Impatient Brits
"Mullah Omar is captured,'' claims the Times of London. Fortunately for us, the Taliban chief didn't pretend to reject terrorism, so the amnesty deal is off. Here's a curious sentence in the story:

Mullah Omar’s captivity will, however, boost Western morale at a time when many thought that the goals of the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan were not being met.

Goals not being met? Let's see: The Taliban have surrendered Kandahar. (Even in their "spiritual heartland,'' the Taliban's departure was met with "joyous celebration.'') The Afghans have agreed on an interim government led by a young, educated Pashtun leader with a talent for diplomacy. Osama is running from cave to cave with a massive headache. How could it be going any better? Well, Osama could be dead. OK. Can't the Times wait a few days before declaring a morale crisis? -- 12/7

Remember Pearl Harbor accurately
Today is the day to make false comparisons between voluntary questioning of Arab immigrants and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

In the current case, the FBI wants to ask recent arrivals from terrorist-harboring countries if they know anything that might be useful in the investigation of Al Qaeda. They can refuse to answer. Only those accused of violating U.S. law -- usually immigration law -- are being detained.

During World War II, law-abiding Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast -- many of them U.S. citizens -- were interned for no reason other than their ancestry. None were convicted of espionage or other disloyal acts. One of those shipped off to a desert camp was a Cub Scout named Norm Mineta who grew up to be mayor of San Jose, a congressman and now Transportation secretary.

In "Highjacking history" in the Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Rabinowitz explains why profiling Arab immigrants is not like interning Japanese-Americans.-- 12/7

Pakistani press control
One of my little thrills has been reading Rajiv Chandrasekaran's byline on Afghanistan stories in the Washington Post. I knew him when he was editor of the Stanford Daily; I was a board member. (And the only person able to both spell and pronounce his name.) Now, I see in Editor & Publisher that Pakistan wants to deport Rajiv.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a foreign correspondent for The Washington Post, is the latest victim of a Pakistani policy designed to prevent journalists born in India -- or those of Indian descent -- from reporting within Pakistan.

According to the story, the Pakistani government has no beef with anything Rajiv's written so far. They just object to his ancestry. Makes you glad to be -- like Rajiv -- an American. -- 12/6

Weisberg II
Andrew Sullivan takes another cut at Jacob Weisberg's essay bashing the bashers of idiotic anti-war commentary.

Those of us who hammered the nihilists, post-modernists and feeble-minded after September 11 might seem to be going overboard in one respect. In retrospect, with regard to this war, these people turned out to be pretty irrelevant. But there was no way we could have predicted that at the time . . . But more generally, the reason for our vehemence was that we decided to take the opportunity of the war to expose and discredit the far-left more broadly. . . . By showing how people like Sontag, Pollitt, Chomsky, Moore, et al were incapable even of responding to mass murder, we were able to show how deeply corrupt their thinking was and is.

Ron Radosh joins the debate in FrontPage.

And Matt Welch smart-bombs Weisberg:

The end of Weisberg’s column is a particularly offensive attempt to get inside the secret motivations of those of us with the bad manners to gang up on the goofy anti-war Left (“Their reasons vary,” he says, professorially). Here’s an alternative theory, Jacob: People dislike bullshit, regardless of the source, regardless of anybody’s politics. When the country gets bombed by madmen who want to kill all of us, that dislike of bullshit gets magnified several times over, and a whole bunch of silly people who are safely ignored most of the time suddenly feel the glare of 280 million very angry, very smart, very focused Americans. And one thing these newly attentive Americans are particularly weary of is the tired 1990s tactic of assigning malevolent hidden motivations to your demonized political opponents -- 12/6

Boy Talk: "Shut up"
Free speech, open inquiry, the scientific method . . . Not at a government-spnsored conference on Boy Talk, an anti-drug program modeled on Girl Power, writes Stanley Kurtz in National Review. Professor Christina Hoff Sommers' scheduled speech was cut off by a Health and Human Services official when Sommers mentioned there's no evidence Girl Power works.

Minutes later, as Sommers was forced by a hostile crowd to defend her claim that scientific studies ought to be used to help evaluate the effectiveness of government drug-prevention programs, Professor Jay Wade, of Fordham University's Department of Psychology — an expert on "listening skills" — ordered Sommers to "shut the f*ck up, bitch," to the laughter of the others in attendance.

According to Kurtz, Girl Power encourages girls to be less feminine, while Boy Talk will encourage boys to be less masculine. It's not surprising there's no evidence this prevents drug abuse. -- 12/6

Little Dove
There's a "Giving Tree'' at my Y. You take a card with a needy child's first name, age, sex and Christmas wish, buy the gift and return it to the tree. I spotted a card for Little Dove, a 10-year-old boy.
Perhaps it's the Boy Named Sue Effect, or simply the natural perversity of the young, but what Little Dove wants for Christmas is a Stealth bomber model.

Would-be elves in the San Jose area can help sort presents for Family Giving Tree. It's a huge, exhausting but fun job that starts this weekend. Make sure Little Dove gets his bomber. -- 12/6

What anti-war movement?
Jacob Weisberg claims that 'there is no anti-war movement, intellectual or popular, in the United States,'' and therefore no reason for hawks to blast the cranks (Noam Chomsky), muddle-head novelists (Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Walker) or nonentities (Ted Rall) who blame America first, last and always. "
Those policing the debate are dropping the rhetorical equivalent of daisy cutters on a few malnourished left-wing stragglers,'' writes Weisberg in Slate. "Of course those opposed to the United States defending itself against terrorism are wrong. They also happen to be totally irrelevant."

Bloggers are fighting back.

Spin, writes Andrew Sullivan: "I think many leftists were shocked by the vehemence of the reaction to their nihilism and stupidity. Our intellectual daisy-cutters, like the real thing, had an effect."

Rational Liberals have a duty to criticize Stupid Liberals, writes Ken Layne: "These cranks -- Alice Walker, Oliver Stone, Michael Moore, Ted Rall, Barbara Kingsolver, etc. -- have not just been jabbering from some 50-watt Pacifica station in Berkeley. The cranks have been given prime media real estate. I've seen their junk in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the LA Times, Vanity Fair, on the national talk shows and cable-news jabberfests, on public and commercial radio. . . . as long as these Fringe Left windbags are given the 'liberal' slot on the op-ed pages and talk shows, I expect Hitchens, Kelly and the Warbloggers to hammer away."

Weisberg's only right if liberal is redefined to mean "left-wing people who don't oppose the war,'' argues Steven Den Beste.

Matt Welch, noting anti-war doomsayers' perfect record of getting it wrong, says this: "There are many anti-war folks who now have serious credibility problems, and have effectively removed themselves from the grown-ups' table."

Personally, I know many liberals who found themselves -- to their own surprise -- very eager to blast the hell out of the terrorists. "I want to go to Afghanistan and kill people,'' one said to me.

But even if 95 percent of Americans reject the blame-America line, it's getting published and broadcast as legitimate opinion, as Layne says. Therefore debate cops are doing a public service by challenging dishonest and dumb arguments.

Meanwhile, Dropscan dropkicks Robert Scheer's latest argument: The Soviet Union was really evil so why fuss over Osama?

For if Al-Qaeda is no more evil than the Soviet Union, and only a fool like Reagan would think the Worker's Paradise an "evil empire," then really we have nothing to fear from radical Islamic militants. . . .

But Scheer is quite wrong to think Osama bin Laden no worse than the Soviet Union. The Soviets did not respect the lives of millions of people, the record on this is quite plain, but they did respect their own lives very much. It is this Russian rationality which made the system of mutually assured destruction work. It will not work, however, against people who want to be sent to the sloe-eyed virgins ASAP.

The rest of Scheer's column is a lecture on the complexity of evil, where we are instructed that evil cannot be killed with a stick. He also seems to suggest, strangely, that we should take a more Christian attitude towards the Muslim fanatics who wish to destroy us. Terrorists can be redeemed, it seems. Scheer points to Yasser Arafat and Gerry Adams, among others, who he informs us were "once associated with 'terrorism'." Hmm. Is that right? Good thing they've completely renounced it, else the peace process in the Middle East and Northern Ireland wouldn't be going so smashingly well.

Why bash cranks and idiots? If nothing else, because it's so much fun to read. -- 12/6

Saudi switch
All of a sudden, the government-controlled Saudi press is saying nice things about the U.S., says Steven Den Beste on USS Clueless. Instead of writing about persecuted American Muslims, one Saudi story praises U.S. understanding of Islam; another observes (inaccurately) that many Americans are Unitarians and therefore not Christians. So we're not so bad.

Everybody likes a winner. -- 12/5

Osama Arafat
"The Intifada is over'' writes Tom Friedman in the New York Times.

It ended with last weekend's spasm of suicide bombings against Israeli kids — a signal that the Palestinian national movement was being taken over by bin Ladenism, which is the nihilistic pursuit of murderous violence against civilians, without any political program and outside of any political context.

"Two weeks ago, a Gallup poll showed nearly 60 percent of Israelis favoring a Palestinian state,'' Friedman notes. President Bush was on board. There was a chance for a serious peace deal -- if the Palestinians were willing to compromise.

But instead, Palestinians offered a suicide package. It leads to only one conclusion: that the priority of the Palestinians is not achieving an independent state. Their priority, apparently, is to kill Jews and get revenge for Israel's assassination of a Hamas leader whose only claim to fame was organizing previous suicide bombings — a regular Thomas Jefferson.

The mindless murder of Israeli civilians will kill Palestinian hopes, argues Friedman. -- 12/5

Macho Dan
"Gunga Dan" Rather is anchoring from Kabul, writes Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post. And giving out macho quotes. Asked if it's smart to go to Afghanistan after eight journalists have been killed, Rather replied, "On some days, in some ways, danger is my business." Over to you, Roland Burton Hedley. -- 12/4

More dead
I haven't written about the terror attacks against Israeli civilians because it's just too damn depressing. I can't envision any hopeful scenario. Pundits say Arafat is finished, but so what? The alternatives aren't any better.

Ken Layne echoes my thoughts in this post, till his last hopeful paragraph.

I haven't written much about the horrible attacks in Israel this weekend, but that doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about it all. These attacks seem to be a desperate provocation by the Islamic Terrorists, a bunch of chaos intended to destroy Powell's coalition. The war against bin Laden's little bitches in Afghanistan has been an astonishing success. The House of Saud is cowering, the Colonialist Arabs in Afghanistan are mostly dead (enjoying those virgins, losers?), anti-Moslem violence in the United States was limited to a few dumb morons two months ago, and Bush has said it's time for a proper Palestinian state.

It's Jew-Killin' Time!

Fools. They never wanted a Palestinian state. They wanted martyrdom, nothing more. They didn't give a damn about all the Arabs and Jews who work together. They didn't want their kids to grow up smart, to have decent lives. Once you're blown apart, you don't have to worry about your kids or your wife.

I can't pretend to know what will happen next, but my guess is that Hamas and its ilk are gone. And those Zionist nuts from Brooklyn building houses in the "settlements"? Gone. The whole world is finally paying attention, and this bullshit just won't stand. Israel will no longer be able to coddle the fringe nuts, and the PLO is about to get a serious cleansing. Powell's nice and all, but Rumsfeld runs the military, and he's not afraid to use it. -- 12/4

Fight beyond death
Time has a great story on the fight at the unspellable fort in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Even in the heat of battle, warriors can be rational; few fight to the death. But the Taliban at Qala-i-Jangi truly did, and beyond it. Spann's body, recovered by a special-operations squad, had been booby-trapped; a grenade had been hidden under the corpse of a Taliban fighter that lay on top of the American. -- 12/3

Color-blind blacks
A Reason article, "Blacks against racial preferences,'' cites poll results that surprised me. Did these polls get much coverage?

A joint Washington Post/Harvard University/Kaiser Family Foundation national poll this summer found that 86 percent of blacks do not believe that race or ethnicity should "be a factor when deciding who is hired, promoted or admitted to college." These results parallel a Zogby survey of university students last year. About 77 percent of all students disagreed that "schools should give minority students preference in the admissions process." Whites opposed this by 79.5 percent, blacks by 51.9 percent, Hispanics by 71.4 percent, and Asians by 78.1 percent. Nor did these responses vary much with the wording of the question. "Students disagree with current trends in college," Zogby concluded. -- 12/3

Mac is back
I've always used a Mac at home, but now I feel ahead of the curve instead of behind the times. Andrew Sullivan has become a Machead, driven away from the Seattle Empire by the frustration of trying to use Windows XP.

At, Allison Alvarez, an actual computer type, has bought an ibook; she claims it's just a purchase, not cult membership. -- 12/2

Suicide killers
Taliban fighters plotted to blow up a Taloquan hospital that was treating the wounded from both sides, according to a chilling Washington Post story. Ten Uzbeks were admitted to the hospital. Their most serious wounds were treated; nobody had the time to search them.

The potential disaster was averted the day after they were admitted. A Northern Alliance commander became suspicious of the 10 foreigners who would talk rapidly with one another, then fall suddenly silent and pensive. One by one, the patients were called out of their room, seized, stripped and taken prisoner.

When the search was over, 15 small bombs and hand grenades were found strapped to the men's bodies and hidden in their packs, along with an assortment of knives and spiked fighting knuckles -- all ready for use when the men decided the time was right.

"During that day, they told us they wanted to speak only to a big commander or a general," said Sayed Azimullah, an anesthesiologist. "They had a plan to kill foreign journalists or top commanders. We were very afraid of these people."

Note to Amnesty International: It's hard to treat people humanely when they keep trying to kill you.

Courtesy of Little Green Footballs, here's "Death in the Dust,'' a Time photo essay on the battle to retake the unspellable fort in Mazar-e-Sharif. -- 12/2

Prisoners at war
Amazingly, 86 Taliban fighters survived the prison revolt in Mazar-e-Sharif, including an American convert to Islam, who told Newsweek how it happened.

Hamid said he had been fighting with the Taliban during the two-week siege of the city of Kunduz, about 100 miles to the east of Mazar e Sharif. Finally, under a negotiated deal, the foreign Taliban forces surrendered to the Northern Alliance forces of General Rashid Dostum. But almost as soon as Hamid and about 500 others were taken to the fortress. “Two of the [Taliban] threw grenades they had hidden in their clothes, and killed a couple of people,” Hamid says.

       “After that they put us in the basement and left us over night. Early in the morning, they began taking us out, slowly, one-by-one, into the compound. Our hands were tied, and they were beating and kicking some of us. Some of the Mujahedin [Taliban] were scared, crying. They thought we were all going to be killed.

        “I saw two Americans there. They were taking pictures with a digital camera and a video camera. They were there for interrogating us. As soon as the last of us was taken out of the basement, someone either pulled a knife, or threw a grenade at the guards, and got their guns, and started shooting. I don’t really know how it happened. As soon as I heard the shooting and the screaming, I jumped up and ran about one or two meters, and was shot in the leg. It’s not as bad as you would think, but after that I was down in the basement.”

        The Americans were CIA agents Mike Spann and another called Dave. Spann was badly beaten, possibly to death, and then shot by the prisoners. Dave and local Red Cross doctors were able to escape with the help of a team of U.S. Special forces. Then, said Hamid, “they hit us with everything they had. The Americans were bombing us. It was horrible. Nearly everyone in the basement was wounded.”

Alliance troops poured fuel oil in the basement and set it on fire. But when they sent men down to take out the bodies, Taliban survivors shot them. The Alliance exploded artillery rockets. Finally, the Alliance flooded the basement. Many of the wounded drowned; after a night standing in cold water, the survivors surrendered.

This account answers some of the questions raised by Amnesty International, as reported in a bias-heavy Guardian story that mentions a "horrific atrocity'' but never describes one

As Washington tried to wash its hands of the episode, saying that the alliance was responsible for the prisoners, human rights lawyers warned that the Geneva convention may have been breached on two counts: the degrading treatment of the Taliban, when they were tied up, and the huge firepower directed at them by US warplanes.

On the first count, article 13 of the convention says: "Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated." On the second count, the convention permits the use of force against prisoners. But it says that this must be proportionate.

Amnesty asks:

Was the response of the detaining powers proportionate? Was only minimum force used, as required by the Geneva convention? Could this situation have been contained without such use of force?

Answer: The force used was barely enough. Mickey Kaus wonders: "How many chances to surrender peacefully were the Taliban supposed to get? Was this a sporting match in which the sides were supposed to equalize their weaponry to assure an excitingly close contest? (And isn't a three-day battle close enough?)"

Were those who were killed still bound?

Answer: Their hands were tied after the suicide grenade attack to keep them from attacking the guards; when some prisoners were untied so they could wash and eat, they attacked again. The Alliance guards retreated under fire. They did not stop to untie the rest of the Taliban soldiers, many of whom were killed in the exchange of gunfire.

Did summary executions take place?

Answer: Not according to Hamid, or this New York Times story, which notes none of the dead suffered a single shot to the head.

Are those who desecrated bodies to be held responsible?

Answer: You mean the guy who took a gold filling from a corpse? Or the soldiers who took boots from the dead? No.

Are summary executions still taking place in Afghanistan?

Answer: Yes. The Taliban is still executing people in Kandahar.

Are there serious shortcomings in the holding of prisoners in Afghanistan?

Answer: Yes. -- 12/1

More QuickReads . . .