December 24, 2001



Lileks and Jacobs have already done a number on our unfortunate San Francisco Chronicle columnist, who is clearly deep in dementia. Suffice it to say if she'd tried that with Mohammed's God, I'd be urging all my friends to evacuate San Francisco. Quickly. Why our culture should be any less tolerant when it's the Christian God she's claiming to be channelling escapes me right now.

The greater sin of blasphemy eclipses the lesser sin of her having an idiotic thesis: the old canard that violence doesn't solve anything. I'll just let one of Heinlein's greater literary creations, Prof. Dubois of Starship Troopers, answer that one:

One girl told him bluntly: "My mother says that violence never settles anything."
"So? Mr. Dubois looked at her bleakly. "I'm sure the city fathers of Carthage would be glad to know that. Why doesn't your mother tell them so? Or why don't you?..
She said shrilly, "You're making fun of me! Everybody knows that Carthage was destroyed!"
"You seemed to be unaware of it," he said grimly. "Since you do know it, wouldn't you say that violence had settled their destinies rather thoroughly?".. Anyone who clings to the historically untrue -- and thoroughly immoral -- doctrine that 'violence never settles anything' I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms.

Posted by BruceR at 11:27 PM



Oh, I've got all kinds of quibbles about the screenplay, art direction, etc.: we'll get into those shortly. But my overall conclusion? Best. Screen treatment. Ever.

Why? Because millions of non-Tolkienists want to know how it will end now. My date, who has not read the books, turned to me afterwards and said, "you mean I have to wait for two years until I find out what happens?" To which I replied, "well, you can always read the books." Her being an English lit major and all, I have no doubt she will. Bang! New audience.

Even if you completely disagree with many of the choices Peter Jackson and his team made (I'd say you're quibbling, too, but that's just me), even if to you Tolkien is akin to Holy Writ, even if the movie version of the book could have been so much better if you'd been involved, it's undeniable that in terms of attracting new readers to an old classic there has NEVER been a movie with this kind of potential. Most movies are over in 2 hours, and leave you not only completely unwilling to pick up the book, but happy that you "waited until the movie came out." Not this time. Even a beautiful and true-to the-text miniseries like Pride and Prejudice is over in a matter of nights, or at best weeks... this time you have to wait two years for the payoff... or go read the book yourself. And that means a whole lot of new people are exposed to the original, with all its strengths and flaws, and can judge it on its merits... maybe even fall in love with it, the way I once did. For all those new readers, even if Jackson's flaws were legion, it won't matter... they'll have read the Tolkien. Whether the movie is true or not, its success in no way takes away from the Tolkien vision... it promotes it.

It was a monumental gamble to release the movie this way, no doubt, from a producers' point of view. But, from their point of view, it's also the greatest homage ever paid a serious author by Hollywood. Because it brings new readers to the original in vast numbers, and not only doesn't shy away from comparisons like some movies, but by its very method of release, encourages them. Anyone who loves Tolkien, or who wants to ensure his place in the pantheon of authors with another generation or two, even if they don't like movies, even if they don't like Peter Jackson, or New Zealand, or computerized special effects, must see this movie... repeatedly. Because financial success now (and so far, it's doing quite well on its own) means cultural penetration of Tolkien himself , not just the Hollywood product, to a degree unprecedented by any other novel made into a movie. I saw it the first time for enjoyment. I'll be seeing it the second time out of clear-eyed devotion to the Great Man himself... and bringing along a few other non-readers when I do so.

Posted by BruceR at 03:33 PM



In case anyone's wondering (and no one, so far as I can tell, actually is), this site took its new name from my computer game-playing avatar. "Bruce" never really worked as a character name in Baldur's Gate type settings, and I could never take myself seriously if I called my hero "Aragorn" or "Fafhrd" or "Roland." (and even less seriously if I made up a corny name that wasn't in literature). For bad guys, I was happy stealing something catchy out of the Vedics, mind, but heroes in fantasy games (Everquest, what have you) start off so puny that even if the game did allow you to call yourself "Gandalf" you wouldn't be able to stifle a giggle when the paraplegic deer fawn killed him for the eleventy-seventh time... at least I found I couldn't.

Fortunately, I had a fallback: the Harvard Lampoon Bored of the Rings which I knew nearly as well as I knew the Tolkien original (and that's saying something). No, I didn't call myself "Arrowroot" or "Tim Benzedrino" (that would also be too derivative) but there was one passage (that I smiled at once again, rereading post-movie yesterday night) which in addition to accurately skewering the demihuman races of Tolkien quite nicely, includes the line that launched a thousand game heroes...

As with most mythical creatures who live in enchanted forests with no visible means of support, the elves ate rather frugally, and Frito was a little disappointed to find heaped on his plate a small mound of ground nuts, bark, and dirt. Nevertheless, like all boggies, he was capable of eating anything he could Indian-wrestle down his throat and rather preferred dishes that didn't struggle too much, since even a half-cooked mouse can usually beat a boggie two falls out of three. No sooner had he finished eating than the dwarf sitting to his right turned to him and proffered an extremely scaly hand in greeting. It's at the end of his arm, thought Frito, nervously shaking it, it's got to be a hand.
"Gimlet, son of Groin, your obedient servant," said the dwarf, bowing to reveal a hunchback. "May you always buy cheap and sell dear."
"Frito, son of Dildo, yours," said Frito in some confusion, racking his brains for the correct reply. "May your hemorrhoids shrink without surgery."
The dwarf looked puzzled but not displeased. "Then you are the boogie of whom Goodgulf spoke, the Ringer?"
Frito nodded.
"Do you have it with you?"
"Would you like to see it?" asked Frito politely.
"Oh, no thanks," said Gimlet, "I have an uncle who had a magic tieclip and one time he sneezed and his nose fell off."
Frito nervously touched a nostril.
"Excuse the interruption," said the elf on his left, spitting accurately into the dwarf's left eye, "but I couldn't help overhearing your conversation with Gabby Hayes. Are you in fact the boggie with the bijou?"
"I am," said Frito and sneezed violently.
"Allow me," said the elf, proffering Gimlet's beard to Frito, who was by now sneezing uncontrollably. "I am Legolam, of the Elves of Northern Weldwood."
"Elf-dog," hissed Gimlet, retrieving his beard.
"Pig of a dwarf," suggested Legolam.

The current incarnation of Flit Hand-and-a-Half, the elf with a hang-up about his height, is currently somewhere in Durlag's Tower fighting mustard jellies. Badly.

What's that? Lord of the Rings, the movie? You must see it. It's precious. More on that, once the shards of my teenage internal monologue reassemble themselves. But don't miss it if you love the same things I do.

Posted by BruceR at 02:39 PM

December 22, 2001



(Part 1 -- Part 2). A couple other reports: the generally more skeptical Guardian's got the Matt Kelley AP story in full. In this one the "this is not a fuel-air explosive" comes through perfectly: and in one of the main "opposition" news sources, too. Good old Matt:

The United States had a similar kind of weapon, called a fuel-air explosive, during the Vietnam War. That weapon detonated a mist of liquid fuel, rather than the cloud of solid explosives used in the new version.

That sentence makes no sense, of course. What is a "cloud of solid explosives", exactly? It's true the current generation is likely using something other than actual gasoline as their vapor element (probably an aluminum compound of some kind), but that doesn't matter: as any grain silo owner can tell you, you can get a vapor (ie, a thermobaric) explosion from wheat dust, if the conditions are right (Just like whatever's being used in the new bombs could also be adapted to be rocket fuel, if the conditions were right.) Whether that vapor can also be liquefied and used to run your car makes no difference to the nature of the explosion. But the sentence is right on-message for the air force. "These are NOT fuel-air explosives. We don't use fuel-air explosives, because those are inhumane. We use thermobaric munitions."

Even better for the air force: The New York Post version, which injects yet another term to add to the confusion:

Capt. Joe Della Vedova, a spokesman for the Air Force at the Pentagon, told The Post the bomb - a new explosive that belongs to a class of "fuel-rich compositions" - is especially effective against caves.

Now you know how "collateral damage" and "military intelligence" got started...

PS: Don't overlook this info was released on the Friday before a holiday week, either. It's classic dead air. The Air Force would have known it would be very difficult for reporters to find either fuel-air explosive experts or opponents possibly for days after the initial release. But the reduced-staff at newspapers and wire services also have a lot of dead air to fill at the same time. It's the perfect time of year to get your organization's potentially controversial revelation a couple days of unchallenged airtime.

Posted by BruceR at 11:54 PM



(See the first part of this story, below). The real story here, the one that armed forces are doing the best to hide, is the reintroduction of air-dropped fuel-air explosives to the American arsenal, reversing the 1990s decision to remove them because of the operational pressures in Afghanistan. Part of this justification for that decision no doubt had been the fact that the Gulf War versions of these weapons were dumb bombs, inaccurate and not wildly effective: in that war they were mostly used for minefield clearance. (There can be little doubt that the new-model "thermobaric" bomb has incorporated three decades of advances in explosive power and accuracy over those earlier weapons, perhaps mirroring or borrowing from the continued Russian research into them over the last 20 years.) But part of the reason was also lobbying pressure by peace groups, which have successfully characterized fuel-air explosives in many people's minds as inhumane.

Reversing a ban, even a self-imposed one, on a weapon whose use some consider unconscionable can never be easy. This is exactly the scenario that has prevented U.S. cooperation with the landmine treaty, or restrictions on DU munitions... sometimes, there is no other effective way to win the war you're in, but you're taking a big PR hit if you go back on your word, sooner or later (the current "thermobaric" bait-and-switch is likely only meant to confuse people long enough to stretch the negative hit out over a couple weeks).

The armed forces's plan has to be to defuse the inevitable Congressional hearings and United Nations inquiries into these bombs, which could result in them being effectively taken off the shelves again before they kill a single Afghan, by aggressively countering the negatives... "rebranding" them, in other words, as a model of problem-solving ingenuity that Americans can be proud of, rather than a bomb that suffocates you by collapsing your lungs. Armed forces PR's fondest hope tonight is that a major columnist or TV news program somewhere is going to coin this a "T-Bomb" in the next couple days, and give it the same kind of cachet the "daisy cutters" have had recently -- maybe marvelling at the lives it will save, or making favourable comparisons with the tactical nukes we would have been considering using if we'd been facing a Bin Laden situation 30 years ago.

For an example of what they're hoping for, recapping many of the arguments that are just as likely to be repeated in this context, read Scott Shuger's piece on bringing back flamethrowers in Slate. Shuger's clincher works for T-bombs, too:

The test of whether a weapon should be used (at all or in a given circumstance) isn’t its horribleness—they’re all horrible—it’s how well it can help attain a military objective while not producing political or human-rights problems.

With weapons bans, it's all in the spin. Bans on chemical weapons and exploding bullets in warfare are more the result of successful lobbying than any battlefield reality. In the 70s, the air force didn't mind giving up napalm, actually: it was a flashy, largely psychological weapon, that like the daisy cutter, could only be used against an opponent with no anti-aircraft capability whatsoever because of the way it had to be dropped. But all the signs around its reintroduction indicates they're getting ready to fight a lot harder for the T-Bomb.

UPDATE: CNN's military analyst, former Air Force general Don Sheppard is batting for the home team already. Tonight according to CNN, "Shepperd, a CNN military analyst, said the new weapon is not a fuel-air explosive but works on a similar principle." That's an intentional distinction: he's repeated what PR lingo calls the "key message" on this story, but in the apparently non-biased guise of a "retired expert." It's very good product placement.* John Pike and, however, can't afford to dissemble the same way with their more savvy clientele. In a new webpage just posted in the last couple hours, they tell the insider audience that it's really "a new class of solid fuel-air explosive thermobarics."

*In case you're wondering how I can presume to say what's really going on, I've spent the last six years doing PR, with experience in crisis communications, for both Canada's largest university and its army reserve. And this, so far, is a textbook case of good, subtle "rebranding" PR. Don't take your eyes off it.

Posted by BruceR at 08:17 PM



Is anyone else seeing some surprising good sense in the words of the Goldfinger/Drax character when they inevitably say, "No, I want him taken alive?" (The picayune demand made of his underlings, which, in the movies, inevitably allows the Bond character such an easy entrance to the secret HQ?) We'd like some closure, please. Time to start DNA-sampling Tora Bora?

Posted by BruceR at 07:00 PM



Napster: it was fun and all. But I'm outta here. Ta.

Posted by BruceR at 06:56 PM



Fuel-air explosives have gotten a rough ride recently. Many people consider them inhumane weapons of war. At least one UN commission and the International Red Cross have lumped them in with cluster bombs, napalm, and depleted uranium weapons as needing to be banned by international treaty. The Americans withdrew their entire FAE inventory from service after the Gulf War, as they did with napalm after Vietnam, in part due to peace group lobbying. On the other hand, there's no doubt they're extremely effective against dug-in troops: military experts consider the Russians' cakewalk in Grozny in 2000 almost entirely due to their liberal use of FAE rockets, most fired by their new direct-fire support vehicle, the apparently Japanese-anime inspired Buratino.

Accordingly, when the American air force started dropping their own BLU-82 "daisy cutters" in Afghanistan, they were at pains to distinguish these "good" munitions from those "bad" fuel-air bombs. Most people (including CNN and Time) were calling them fuel-air bombs anyway. But as John Pike and others rightly pointed out at the time, that's not true. The daisy cutter is more akin to a really really big conventional bomb. Fuel-air explosives, on the other hand, detonate in stages, first spreading a flammable vapor through the air, then igniting it, producing a massive blast effect. Because the vapor can invade anywhere where there's air in the microseconds before the second detonation, traditional trenches and the like are not useful against it. (Why this is obviously more inhumane than regular high explosive has always been a mystery to me, I'm afraid, but maybe I'm just dense.) But no, the reporters were mistaken, the Americans certainly were not using fuel-air explosives in this war... oh, no. Only the Russians use those anymore.

So it was amusing to read the USAF admission today that they have brought a new weapon into action in Afghanistan. Associated Press' Matt Kelley reported (I read it in the Star, which has crappy, non-persistent linkage, so it's mirrored here) that the new, super-hitech BLU-118b "thermobaric bomb" has been "rushed" from the labs just in time for the war:

Military researchers rushed the new "thermobaric" bomb to completion after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which killed at least 3,000 people... Thermobaric weapons work on the same principle that causes blasts in grain elevators and other dusty places — clouds of fine particles are highly explosive... Such explosions produce shock waves that can be directed and amplified in enclosed spaces such as buildings, caves or tunnels... That could prove to be a big advantage in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda...

The old BLU-118 was a 500 lb napalm canister, but that's not napalm that's in it now, obviously... so what is? Well, since all fuel-air explosives operate because of what scientists call the "thermobaric principle", what do YOU think? What's really happened here is they've put laser or satellite guidance on an FAE bomb for use as a cave-buster. But to avoid an outcry they can't call it an FAE bomb. So it's now the fashionable, cool-new-thing "thermobaric" bomb. Remember, class, cause this is important now: fuel-air bomb BAD. Thermobaric bomb GOOD. And read that AP article again: it's about as fine an example of military PR putting one past the reporters (assisted, once again, by's John Pike) as you ever did see.

UPDATE: Unlike AP, Agence France Presse (AFP) didn't fall for the bait-and-switch. Protein Wisdom has a link to their news story (found on Yahoo Singapore, of all places), which saw through the spin.

Posted by BruceR at 03:54 PM

December 21, 2001



As you may have guessed, I used to write an awful lot about computer games. That, itself, was only a rationalization mechanism, to allow self-forgiveness for the endless hours I actually played computer games.

That all stopped, pretty suddenly, in fact, on Sept. 11. Ever since I've been shifting around in an almost stochastic way, as curious as anyone else as to where the pieces of my life were going to fall, and what I'll be doing from now on with my "spare time." Or my work time (which was always tangentially game-related, as well).

I had thrown out Everquest, and World War 2 Online right off. I still played other games, of course, but it's all seemed even more hollow than usual. I haven't really loved a game session I've had in months, even those I had craved going in. Before, I gave up TV almost totally for the computer. Now I found myself drawn back to the evening news, and even to TV comedies.

The parts are still falling into place. 2002 promises to be a very intense and interesting year, both personally and career-wise. I'm looking forward to it. But my pre-Sept. 11 groove (the rhythms of life I'd had for two years running up to that point) certainly hasn't come back. As far as pastimes are concerned, I'm still drifting toward a still-unknown shore... not that that's been entirely an unpleasant experience.

I haven't been able to articulate the reason for this heretofore, why I suddenly found myself with a void in my life I didn't know was there. But Andrew Leonard's piece on Salon today is a wonderful explanation of the void he'd found, and the doubts he had about how he would fill it. His game-related emptiness is a little different than mine, for a number of reasons (given how much I rely on the Internet for a living, I've never feared that all technology was vapid the way he did): but his explanation of the kind of time-wasting activity he wanted to evolve to spoke to me, nonetheless:

It's time spent engaging with the world, rather than spent escaping from it. Time spent growing as a person, rather than fiddling with a mouse. Time spent loving the technology less for its own sake and more for what it can do.

I'm coming to a stage where I'm likely going to be jolted out of the rest of my funk, too. I always found solace in electronic tinkering, and with some stuff I'm bringing in I finally have the money for, I'll be doing a lot of that over the next two weeks. I've always found breaking down my tools and putting them back together again helps to orient me to them properly. But it's nice to have a couple other viewpoints to bounce around in my head while I'm doing it. It's the best thing about the web, really. Thanks to it, and Leonard, and Salon, maybe I can see better today what I still have. And what I've left behind.

Posted by BruceR at 05:10 PM



(See entries below for more.) Robert Fisk, in a column for the Independent today, cites the Herold report as evidence that the U.S. actions in Afghanistan are evil:

We could forget that US air strikes, according to statistics compiled by a Chicago University professor (sic), have now killed more innocent Afghans than the hijackers killed westerners and others in the World Trade Centre...
Even before the war ended, around 3,700 of them – not counting Mullah Omar's and bin Laden's gunmen – had been ripped to pieces in our War for Civilisation. A few scattered signs of discontent – the crowd that assaulted me two weeks ago, for example, outraged at the killing of their families – can be quickly erased from the record.

Those numbers, by University of New Hampshire professor Marc Herold, were announced yesterday. They established that 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. As reported below, 108 of those reported deaths are from one unsourced, unconfirmed, second-hand, not-even-in-the-country paragraph recounting refugee interviews in an article by... Robert Fisk!

Fisk also seems to be still suffering the effects of that aforementioned hit on the head. In addition to the typo above, he writes 4,000 American fatalities instead of 3,000, at one point, and he uses "Mr. Evil" instead of "Dr. Evil" at another... is there no one left at the Independent who dares edit this man?

Posted by BruceR at 03:12 PM



The results of the vote for the world's funniest joke was announced the other day. Second-place finisher Al Gore has demanded a recount.

Posted by BruceR at 02:12 PM



Following yesterday's comments on the USA Today piece (When Mainstream Journalism Redeems Itself, vol. 1), I got into an interesting email exchange with a nice fella named Andy, which, if not prompting a retraction, certainly deserves a reconsideration. Andy argued that the elevator engineers did not have to be government employees per se, but could be private sector, like the New York hospital ambulance companies are. (In total, six of the emergency personnel who died at the WTC were private-sector paramedicals; I don't know if they were actually aiding in extraction, or might have just been parked too close with their ambulances when the buildings fell).

To clarify, I think instead of blaming a bunch of servicemen after the fact for not committing heroic suicide -- which returning to the Trade Center that day certainly would have been for them -- we should look at professionalizing (either publicly, or privately along the lines of existing privatized fire and emergency units) their trade. The alternative is training existing emergency staff (most of whom are now, admittedly public, for a variety of reasons) to take these tasks on in life-and-death situations, that is if we actually consider those skills vital in urban emergencies. As I said in my last post to Andy, with which he mostly agreed, if you're going to expect them to sacrifice their lives to save others, then give them training, equipment, a uniform, a medal, a pension, and a parade with a marching band now and then... or have the 3rd New York National Guard Airmobile Elevator Extraction Platoon with a UH-1 on 10-minute standby at LaGuardia. As a former high rise dweller, I'd be happy with either. But thanks to Andy for keeping me precise.

Thanks also for the best wishes from two new web logs: and Protein Vision.

Posted by BruceR at 02:01 PM



Saw this on Ken Layne tonight. (Sorry, I don't watch network TV; sure it's old hat down south.) How incredibly disappointing, that even when the U.S. is on the side of unquestionable right, with a clear justification for their military actions in their hands, they still can't stop weaving and dodging like PR consultants looking to overbill. The Bin Laden transcript .. yadda yadda yadda (EDIT: web prose edited to remove late night babbling... The real story's much more interesting than my unenlightening first thoughts, anyway. -B.)

THE ABOVE-MENTIONED REAL STORY: The Globe and the Post both have their versions of this one. Curiouser and curiouser. Here's what we know for sure so far:

1) The Pentagon rushed their translation team into a initial incomplete transcript, but the team finally provided their own, fuller transcript Wednesday to the government;
2) In the meantime, Ali al-Ahmed, the Wash. think tank guy, came up with his own version of the full transcript, which he sold to ABC News, after comparing it with the government's first public transcript in Arabic (which came out the day after the English one);
3) The al-Ahmed transcript implicates either Saudi (ABC, Globe) or Iranian (Post) religious police in smuggling the paraplegic sheikh into Kandahar;
4) Al-Ahmed and ABC were playing the story as a hiding of inconvenient information about the Saudis, in the absence of convincing government comment to the contrary, clearly implying that some of the information listed as "inaudible" before may just have been damaging. But the Globe and Post today both point out that some of the no-longer-inaudibles in both the new transcripts actually reinforce the U.S. case against Bin Laden, and don't embarrass anyone. Their take is that the new transcripts both help and hurt the U.S. interest.
5) Al-Ahmed's "group," the Saudi Institute, has the world's worst website (although it does have a transcript of Al-Ahmed's "interview in Beligum" (sic)). The website has not been updated in the last month. In the Post (but not the Globe) today, Al-Ahmed was backpedalling furiously, saying he now thought it might have been an honest mistake after all.

Overall, it's the reportage of John Miller and ABC News that's looking bad this morning. They went to air with a piece that had no government comment, that clearly implies malfeasance by the U.S. in defense of Saudi interests, on what appears in the light of day to be very shaky evidence. Al-Ahmed's grasp at 15 minutes of fame and a paycheque didn't help, either. Here in microcosm, really, we have everything that's right with newspapers, and wrong with TV journalism. I promise I'll never take Peter Jennings at his word again (until today, I assumed I never had).

Posted by BruceR at 01:37 AM

December 20, 2001



Here's another randomly chosen example of the kind of "data" that impresses the Guardian. Of Prof. Herold's 3,767 confirmed, "multiple source" fatalities, a significant number -- 108, or 3 per cent -- are footnoted as being drawn from this single, unsourced, unconfirmed paragraph by the Independent's Robert Fisk -- reporting, as he did throughout the war until his recent beating, from a refugee camp in Pakistan -- with no other corroboration, and no apparent effort to rule out multiple counting with other reports. Herold marks them all down in the "Dec. 2" column (Why? Who knows why?):

From all over the countryside, there come stories of villages crushed by American bombs; an entire hamlet destroyed by B-52s at Kili Sarnad, 50 dead near Tora Bora, eight civilians killed in cars bombed by US jets on the road to Kandahar, another 46 in Lashkargah, 12 more in Bibi Mahru...

Oh, yeah. Now that's research.

Posted by BruceR at 09:14 PM



New Hampshire prof Marc Herold's report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, which claims total Afghan deaths are now higher than the American Sept. 11 casualties, is the talk of the peacenik sites today. On the surface, it looks substantial, although obviously biased, with a complete database of all civilian deaths (in HTML, Word, and Excel!), graphs, etc. to illustrate and back up its statistical claims. However, it's all sizzle, no steak. Once again, a social science prof shames academia by showing no capability for statistical research whatsoever. (As is becoming usual, see Penny for another look at this same story.)

It would take a long time for me to work through the whole of the raw data, but I'll give just one example of Herold's method for now. Taking one day's fatality figure as an example of the entire data set, the report claims 39-42 civilian fatalities in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, the first night of bombing. This is deduced by adding up the results of 5 apparently separate instances, mentioned in 6 separate news reports. I've tried to trace back those reports, and here's what I can say with authority about that total. Two of the news agencies quoted (ITAR-TASS and the Pakistan Observer) do not have online archives going back that far, so I can neither confirm nor deny. Of the remaining 4 sources, two have good archives, but reports could not be found in them on the dates Herold states they were written (The Peshawar Frontier Post and PNS. This could be bad footnoting, or just bad archiving by the sites. If anyone else finds them there, let me know.) That leaves two traceable footnotes an independent observer can evaluate. One, is from the Asheville (Herold spells it Ashville) Global Report News, itself a second-hand compendium. Their actual report is itself unsourced, but is likely drawn from some major news service. The quote is:

Shortly after the US air strikes began on Oct. 7, their home was destroyed in the blast from a bombed arms depot and his two brothers were killed. “We haven’t had war like this before,” said the bare-foot 12 year-old, one of around 2,600 Afghans living in Killi Faizo... Pakistan.

Although there is no definite date information here, and the only info is a single 12 year-old refugee, and there's no idea who the reporter is or a second source of any kind, Herold counts this as two confirmed fatalities in Kandahar on Oct. 7... despite the fact this is probably going to produce double-counting with this and the other, larger, Kandahar death totals he gives on other days.

The other confirmable source for Day 1 is the BBC. Herold attributes them with a claim of 22-25 fatalities in Kabul on Oct. 7. Because his footnote is undated, the exact report he claims supports that number is untraceable, but the BBC does have good archives overall online, and it's fairly easy to find what they DID say about the Oct. 7 bombings at the time:

The Taleban said there were civilian casualties, with about 20 people killed including women, children and elderly people. The Taleban ambassador to Pakistan told Reuters the "horrendous terrorist attacks" had killed at least 20 people across the country. There was no independent confirmation of that figure... Earlier the Taleban said there were about 20 casualties in Kabul, including women, children and elderly people... [Kabul] residents said bombs fell near residential areas, destroying two houses...

That quote, or something close to it, translates in Herold's work into 22-25 confirmed deaths in Kabul that night. Note the conflation of casualties with fatalities, and Kabul with the rest of the country.

Based even on this limited sample, there's no doubt Herold's work is hardly reliable. Of his 39-42 "confirmed" fatalities on Oct. 7, it proved impossible to trace even one to a specific location: certainly the true number was lower, by a factor of 2 or more. A random sampling of footnotes for the other days indicates these shortcomings are shared by the entire dataset. While there was no doubt many civilian casualties in Afghanistan, attempting to replicate just Herold's first-day results seems to indicate the total is only a fraction of what Herold claims... and nowhere close to the WTC fatality list, as if that ever mattered.

However, there is validity in an exercise like this, if it was to be done right. The news agencies that put together such thorough recountings as the WTC story below are behind the 8-ball on coming up with a more reliable civilian casualty figure, which would be informative to everybody. It's in the gap that this leaves that charlatans like Prof. Herold step, giving themselves a 15 minutes in the spotlight their work clearly does not deserve on its merits.

Posted by BruceR at 06:12 PM



A must-read summary of much of the knowable details of the World Trade Center disaster. If you live or work in a high-rise, you want to know the information that's in here, if only to better understand what your best odds are. Elsewhere online, some may have asked about those elevator workers who beetled with everybody else rather than help extract people to the very end, citing the 1993 helicopter-drops of elevator mechanics on the WTC as evidence of more noble elevator-engineer behaviour. My personal take would be that was a ludicrous expectation to be placed on non-uniformed, private sector personnel, of any kind, in 1993 or now. It would surely make far more sense to train special police, fire or even army reserve units as elevator extraction teams, if your city has a lot of high-rise real estate to protect. As the New York emergency personnel demonstrated so manfully in September, only our government should ever be called to regularly put employee lives on the line for the greater good: the best and most responsible thing for most private citizens, regardless of their skills, to do is just minimize the amount of saving that's required for them personally by getting quickly to safety and staying there.

Posted by BruceR at 03:32 PM



Dawson... Dawson... Dawson... you see sex organs everywhere, don't you? You know, sometimes a medieval astrological observatory is just a medieval astrological observatory. It's not like we're Anarchy Online... now there's a subliminal sex logo.

Posted by BruceR at 02:19 PM

December 19, 2001



"We want to give him a big hug and then a little kick in the butt for not telling us what he was up to." -- American Taliban John Walker's father on "Good Morning, America."

Posted by BruceR at 10:40 PM



I don't share Andrew Sullivan's confidence that the latest David Horowitz stab at Noam Chomsky is irrefutable. Actually I found it to be one of Horowitz's weaker efforts, certainly worse than his anti-reparations arguments, for instance. As has happened before when he tackles this particular subject, Horowitz may start out strong, but then gets lost and stumbles.

Horowitz's first big mistake was fighting on Chomsky's chosen ground, by accepting his opponent's summary of the 5 "big questions" stemming from Sept. 11 as the proper framework for debate. But he acquits himself well in savaging the first (and most recent addition to the Chomsky oeuvre): the accusation that Afghanistan is an intentional "silent genocide." His recent Afghanistan work is weak by Chomsky's standards, and it's not hard to trip the old man up here. Still, score one point for Horowitz.

But Horowitz then skips over question 2, barely pausing to take a swipe (too bad, because Chomsky's assertion that Sept. 11 is unparalleled even by Pearl Harbour is certainly debatable) -- call it a tie: 1-0-1. He then tries to argue question 3 (Chomsky's attempt to equate American activities in Latin America with terrorism), and does a really horrible job of it. Frankly, it's a hard one: the American record in South and Latin America is pathetic, at times even horrific, and Chomsky's accusations here have generally been grounded in fact. But Horowitz also overreaches: the average reader cannot be taken for granted as automatically seeing why Pinochet was a better man than Allende. Horowitz's implicit assumption that such beliefs should be a given (and others like it) only impeaches his stronger arguments. Elsewhere, he quotes Chomsky's perfectly intelligible comparison of Haiti, Guatemala and Nicaragua's relative wealth, and then states he finds it hard to follow. Since he provides the quote, and it is, in fact, comprehensible English, Horowitz just ends up looking stupid. 1-1-1.

Point 4: Horowitz overreaches again, questioning, for instance, the veracity of Chomsky's quotation of Brzezinski (who has been so outspoken on this subject it's hardly necessary to cite a particular source) about his provision of non-military aid to the Mujaheddin long before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. That the Carter Administration did this is both widely known and admitted, but as in the previous question, Horowitz positions himself as the reality-doubter, conceding to Chomsky the catbird seat of fact, at least among those who've done their reading. It's the equivalent of saying, "So, Mr. Chomsky... if that is your real name..." And once again, he claims here to be baffled and outraged by one of Chomsky's perfectly understandable points: this time the logical separation in moral responsibility between the agents of terrorism and their pool of support. Does anyone NOT believe in this distinction? Why does Horowitz attack this at all? And so badly, comparing it to trying to absolve Communism while vilifying Stalin? No, David, the real comparison is vilifying Stalin while absolving Russians of most (not all) guilt for Stalin's rise... or forgiving Afghans while hunting the Taliban. Horowitz goes below .500: 1-2-1.

Horowitz closes by, again, not even trying to debate Chomsky's final "What is to be done?"-type assertion. Again, this was an opportunity to really score some points against a weak spot in the Chomsky armour, but Horowitz wiffles. Final best-of-five box score: 1-2-2. After a strong first innings, Horowitz consistently confined himself to taking on Chomsky where he was strong, and letting him off with a pass where he was weak. And after accepting a fight on Chomsky's chosen five questions, he wasted space and time defending Pinochet and the mining of Nicaraguan harbours, rather than playing offense and taking on Chomsky on points such as his lack of constructive solutions, or what the professor's prescription would be for both defending the American rights that allow Chomsky and others the liberty to deconstruct American policy freely, and yet not offending Chomsky's rarefied concepts of superpower morality in the process. All in all, a shallow effort from Horowitz, and certainly not worth Andrew Sullivan's praise.

Posted by BruceR at 08:45 PM



The keynote speaker at the Toronto chapter of Science for Peace's Dec. 9 teach-in on Afghanistan, philosophy prof John McMurtry, becomes the first member of Canadian academia, to this writer's knowledge, to publicly state his belief that the Sept. 11 attack was a "big lie" of American intelligence. In his speech he compares it to the Reichstag fire. Yes folks, if you send your kids to Guelph, they too can get quality classroom insights from the tenured faculty such as this:

The evidence confirming U.S. and allied security awareness of and possible complicity in the 9/11 attack is considerable, but I have found no evidence disconfirming it. The principal reason against is the assumption that it is impossible that the U.S. national security apparatus would ever permit such a mass killing of Americans on U.S. soil, but this assumption itself is shaky given that Pearl Harbour itself was likely known about in advance, and non-defensive wars since have sacrificed tens of thousands of U.S. citizens (not to say millions of others) for so-called “foreign policy and national security objectives”...

To begin with, the forensic principle of “who most benefits from the crime?” clearly points in the direction of the Bush administration...

Also of note are some of the other speakers present, who, presumably, did not walk out:

Aileen Carroll, MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Senator Lois Wilson
Prof. Emeritus Ursula Franklin, University of Toronto
Prof. Martha Shaffer, University of Toronto
Prof. Michael Mandel, York University
Prof. Jutta Brunnee, University of British Columbia
Prof. Atif Kubursi, McMaster University
Ali Mallah, Canadian Arab Federation
Kelly Gotlieb, Canadian Friends of Peace Now
Dr. Tommy Alulujainen, Doctors Without Borders

Once again, a shout out to Damian Penny for seeing it first.

Posted by BruceR at 07:55 PM

December 18, 2001



An incredibly important and timely piece in the new issue of Parameters by Ralph Peters. Soldiers (and everybody else for that matter), if they read one professional development piece this year, should read this one. Best line: "Why are yesterday's borders more important than today's lives?"

Posted by BruceR at 10:04 PM



In an ironic twist, I cannot get that annoying song "Can't Get You Out of My Head" out of my head. I may have to take an icepick to my brain just to make it stop. Thanks, Ozzies. Next time can you just release anthrax?

Posted by BruceR at 03:58 PM



Here's my take on the Tom Walkom Bin Laden tape denial piece in the Star today (read Penny for another view). Walkom starts by claiming the anthrax attacks, because they were Ames strain baccili, could conceivably have come from the Canadian Forces' DRE Suffield, based on a widely circulated news report.

I'm old-fashioned. I think it is interesting that someone with access to a U.S. or British — or maybe even a Canadian — military lab is trying to conduct germ warfare against the North American populace. I am puzzled that so few others do.

Maybe, Tom, it's because the rest of us have read Wendy Orent's pretty thorough refutation of that same report in the New Republic this week. Pity you didn't.

Then Walkom claims in a carefully hedged paragraph that the Bin Laden tape was faked, citing prior U.S. bad acts as his evidence:

Would a government that once contemplated blowing up Fidel Castro with an exploding cigar balk at faking a video? Would a government that, during the Vietnam War, concocted a fake attack on one of its naval vessels in order to justify an escalated military campaign, be squeamish about doing a little digital wizardry?

Okay, maybe I'm dense here, but I would have thought the Americans' decades of failed (and often pathetic) attempts to assassinate Castro would have been evidence against the thesis that they could now brilliantly fake a videotape. The second part of the paragraph refers to the Tonkin Gulf Incident of 1964. For the record: the Americans' sin in 1964 was not that they "concocted a fake attack" by the North Vietnamese on Aug. 2, but that their covert naval support for South Vietnamese raiding operations into the North had goaded the North Vietnamese into attacking the nearby USS Maddox with torpedo boats. THERE REALLY WAS AN ATTACK. There were lots of dead Vietnamese and at least one sunk torpedo boat to show for it. Somewhat like Pearl Harbour, historians still debate whether the American actions were part of a secret plan to escalate the war, or just some huge miscalculation (with, admittedly, more evidence for the former in this case), but the resulting attack was certainly real. So Walkom's statement is specious.

In conclusion, he burbles:

That doesn't mean the video was falsified. It may well be real. I suspect it is (although I'm not sure what it would prove in a proper court of law).

First off, there's no evidence whatsoever that the video was faked. But Walkom apparently believes the presumption of innocence doesn't apply to American actions. Here they're presumed guilty until they somehow prove they're not... a logical impossibility, but never mind. Second, not even Walkom believes Bin Laden didn't do Sept. 11 -- or if he did he's never said it. So he apparently believes the Americans are faking a tape to help convict a guilty man. Obviously this isn't as much of a sin, is it? But even though they did a masterly enough job of it to pass Walkom's superb photogrammetric analysis, they didn't make it good enough to prove anything "in a proper court of law." It's another example of Walkom's (and others') Americans-as-really-stupid-Supermen thesis.

Finally, Walkom says, if Mullah Omar's only sin (!) is refusing to hand over a war criminal, aren't the Americans equally guilty?

In 1945, the U.S. government refused to hand over to justice those in charge of Japan's notorious Unit 731, a biological weapons research facility that tried out lethal experiments on human beings, conducted germ warfare against entire populations and was responsible for anywhere from 3,000 to 200,000 deaths. In fact, the U.S. government gave the Unit 731 commanders amnesty in return for a peek at their research... Would the Chinese and Russians, both of whom wanted to try these Japanese commanders for crimes against humanity, have been justified if they had attacked Washington in retaliation?

This is, predictably, historical misrepresentation. The U.S. kept the Japanese biological war establishment under their surveillance instead of handing them over to Russia or China because they were freaking bioweapons experts. Handing them over to the oh-so-fair communist court systems of those countries would have guaranteed a kickstart to Stalin's and Mao's own bioweapon programs, as the experts traded what they knew for their own lives. Outside of the X-Files, no one has ever claimed any American bioweapons advance came from studying the Japanese tests, so that "peek at the research" was useless to the U.S., but it could certainly have been useful to others in the great wide world. It's the price of non-proliferation, Tom: sometimes keeping people with the brains to create weapons of mass destruction right where you can see them has to trump lesser concerns like extradition requests from Communist dictatorships. (Arguably, they should have been tried in an American court, but that's not Walkom's argument here.) There is no analogy to the Omar case... unless you honestly believe Mullah Omar was refusing to hand over Bin Laden solely cause he believed the Americans might someday use his box-cutter innovations to crash an airliner into downtown Kabul. If anyone would notice the difference for the rubble.

Posted by BruceR at 11:46 AM



It pains me more than you know to say this, but Andrew Sullivan did no one any great service by citing a 1920 piece of xenophobic claptrap from the Atlantic as the latest evidence he'd uncovered for Muslim perfidy yesterday. Leaving aside the bit about Egyptian selling of sisters Sullivan mentioned, here's a few other quotes from that same piece he didn't use. Are all these stereotypes equally true, 'Drew?

[The Palestinian Christian is...] an accomplished liar, an abject coward, and a noxious parasite, pimp, and pander.

[The German is...] a braggart or a servile knave... [As for the Australian,] his exterior is rough and his heart is that of a little child.

[But even Muslims are still better than some...] the unlearned Turk is infinitely preferable to the Levantine, be he Jew or Gentile, Zionist or Greek... never a Greek or Jew came near me but to sell me, at three times its value, something I did not want; or he might have been a pimp, or a vendor of damnable liquor, adulterated from dregs to label... Greek Christians... were the reverse of clean.

Jesus wept, Sullivan. It's pieces like that that convince people Edward Said had a point.

P.S.: The writer's comments about a lack of Muslims in the Indian Army are completely divorced from historical reality. In fact, as writers like Byron Farwell have recorded, Punjabi Muslims were consistently one of the three largest ethnic contingents in British military service in India throughout the Raj, along with Sikhs and Gurkhas. It was actually the Hindu population that was consistently underrepresented among the soldiery, partly because the British never forgave them for the Mutiny.

Posted by BruceR at 12:33 AM

December 17, 2001

I'M FAMOUS, AGAIN Unfortunately, my


Unfortunately, my name is now Bryan, apparently... But cheers anyway to Damian Penny for enjoying Eric Margolis's piece (filed from somewhere deep within the Land of Denial) in the Toronto Sun as much as I did, today.

Posted by BruceR at 01:15 PM



Taking apart another part of the now-infamous Ralls piece (see below), his comparison of the current Afghan quagmire (!) with Vietnam, Lileks came up with this gem to describe what the Americans should have been doing, since according to Ralls they've obviously already been defeated:

Vietnam = Afghanistan. Yep. No question. 50,000 dead vs. 5 dead... 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.


Posted by BruceR at 10:31 AM



The Village Voice's Cartoonist in Quetta came up with this little literary disaster. The thesis, if there is one, appears to be that "whatever the West does, like everything the West has ever done, is doomed to failure." Not much point arguing with that. But the first paragraph is something of a historical atrocity:

"In 1842, the First Afghan War ended with an infamous retreat across the Hindu Kush that cost between 10,000 and 15,000 Brits and their camp followers their lives. One guy, a Dr. Brydon, survived the Afghans to tell the tale upon his return to a remote outpost of the raj's Northwest Frontier province. Eventually a retaliatory expedition returned to slaughter the instigators of their humiliation, but this later victory accomplished nothing. Losing this desolate international leftover inspired testy sepoys to rise up against their supposed betters, sparking a chain of events that ultimately led to Indian independence, decimated the empire, and reduced England to a European backwater offering neither steady employment nor edible food to its pasty citizenry...

"Now a Third Afghan War is wrapping up its final act around Kandahar..."

Okay, to start with, Dr. Brydon didn't return to a "raj" fort, because the Raj only began in 1857. (Before that India was an East India Company trade colony: it was Company troops that fought and died in the First Afghan War.) And it wasn't 10-15,000 British: total losses in the Retreat to Kabul were 400 British infantry (the 44th Foot, which was wiped out) and 300 other Europeans (cavalry, artillery and civilians). Over 3,500 Indian soldiers ("sepoys") and over 12,000 Indian civilians (Rall's "camp followers") also died. And the First war didn't "end" with the massacre outside Kabul, since as Rall himself states the Company came back the same year, retook Kabul, and killed a lot of Afghans. That's when it ended. And it wasn't a remote fort in the Northwest Frontier province Brydon stumbled into, it was the Company-held city of Jalalabad (in Afghanistan). The Northwest Frontier (now part of Pakistan) was actually annexed by the British from the Afghans a few years after their victory in the Second Afghan War (1879-1880). And there is already a Third Afghan War in the history books, fought in 1919, which saw the Afghans capitulate once again to a British army, just as they had in the Second. Funny Rall doesn't mention either of those, isn't it?

But nitpicking aside, the entire paragraph is nonsensical. Rall not only believes in a direct causal relationship between the Retreat from Kabul and the Indian Mutiny of 1857, 15 years later, but then goes on to say the Mutiny itself led directly to the end of the British Empire in the late 1940s, over a century later. Suffice it to say no serious historian has ever drawn either connection. But if you believe Rall, if the British hadn't lost Kabul for a few months in 1842, the sun would still not be setting on their Empire... well, today, I suppose, as that was the only mistake they EVER made.

If nothing else, it's a slap in the face to all the other countries that have inflicted crushing defeats on the British. The Turks at Kut in 1917 come to mind... the British really lost around 15,000 soldiers in that disaster. They lost 10 times as many at Singapore in 1942 to the Japanese. Sudanese dervishes, Sikhs, and Zulus and many others have also all managed to massacre large numbers of British-paid soldiers... why don't they deserve any credit for the fall of the Empire? What makes the Afghans special? Are they magic people?

The massacre on the Jalalabad-Kabul Road was a disaster, of course (what's missing from Rall's account is that the British had their guard down because they'd been promised safe passage for their civilians by the saintly Afghans). But the Company's troops then retook Kabul, and killed or captured everyone they could find who seemed responsible for the atrocities before going home. The British did the same in 1879-1880, and much the same in 1919. After each war, they had 40 years of relative peace on their Afghan frontier (During which the Afghans fought with the Russians, instead.) If this current American intervention gives us 40 years of peace today, would that really be so bad? Hey, but if Rall is right, and the British example of a century of unchallenged empire before that Afghan magic voodoo curse kicks in holds this time, well, we've set an end-date on America's hegemony for... the year 2107, or thereabouts. Too bad Rall won't be around to say he told us so, I guess.

Posted by BruceR at 01:05 AM

December 16, 2001

Since someone asked, that's the

Since someone asked, that's the Delhi jantar mantar, top right. (Part of an ancient astrological observatory).

Posted by BruceR at 12:10 PM



May your end-of-fast feast be a blessed one. While it's no doubt petty to spoil the festivities with media criticism, I couldn't help noticing the oh-so-correct Toronto Star could not be bothered to mention the biggest Muslim feast day of the year in the paper today. For these guys, that's like forgetting Easter. A stunning omission. I mean, come on, even the tabloid Toronto Sun had an Eid piece. Only the white-bread lefties at the Star would be so busy documenting the various sins the West has delivered unto Islam that they forgot their most important holiday completely. Okay, back to eating...

Posted by BruceR at 11:10 AM



On or about Dec. 8 is St. Barbara's Day. Gunners across Canada celebrate the feast day of the patron saint of artillery with drinking and eating to excess, and generally also singing part or all of "Screw Guns," the Rudyard Kipling poem dedicated to the Indian mountain artillery, and sung to the tune of the "Eton Boating Song."

At the two St. Barb's festivities I was lucky enough to attend this year, people around me couldn't help but comment on the aptness of the final stanza. Of course, if you know anything about the Mountain gunners, you know they spent an awful lot of time on the North-West frontier -- there's another line about "giving the Afreedeeman fits" (the Afridi were a Pushtun tribe on the now-Pakistani side of the Afghan border the Indian army often had to fight), so this shouldn't surprise, of course. But here's that stanza, commemorating that earlier, now mostly-forgotten attempt to bring superior Western technology to bear in the Afghan mountains:

For you all love the screw-guns -- the screw-guns they all love you!
So when we take tea with a few guns,
o' course you will know what to do -- hoo! hoo!
Jest send in your Chief an' surrender --
it's worse if you fights or you runs:
You may hide in the caves, they'll be only your graves,
but you can't get away from the guns!

The first Screw Guns, properly the 2.5 in Rifled Muzzle-Loading pack gun, were mule-carried artillery, so-called because the barrel could be unscrewed into two 200 lb packages, with each mule carrying one, and two others carrying the wheels and carriage. They were first used in the most successful British invasion of Afghanistan (successful because the British left immediately after crushing their enemies, and this time didn't stick around for the worm to turn again) in 1879-80. As Kipling documented, the screw guns, considered at the time the best superlight artillery piece ever invented, were famous for being the first cannons that could go anywhere in the mountains the infantry they were supporting could go, giving a huge firepower advantage to the mountain-fighters that had them. Smoking the Afghan ghazis (what they called the mujahideen at the time) out of caves, a la Bin Laden, was no doubt a big part of their job.

Why is this important? Leaving aside what it may say about the role of towed artillery on the modern battlefield for another day, it is yet another remarkable example of how the West has been here before. The American army thinktank in Leavenworth has been boning up on their 19th century history obviously... for the pattern for this Afghan war -- with large numbers of local troops backed by only a few Western soldiers possessing huge technological advantages -- wasn't invented by Gen. Franks. Britain's Lord Roberts (who relieved Kandahar in 1880) would be entirely familiar with the template, it being the way almost all Britain's successful colonial wars were fought. A few British gunners with screw guns have been replaced by a few Green Berets with JDAMS: are there any other differences that are due to more than just the passage of time? More on this another day...

Posted by BruceR at 12:07 AM

December 14, 2001



Check out Eric Umansky on the U.S. Navy's approach to procurement post A-12 in Washington Monthly. It's a must-read.

Posted by BruceR at 09:57 PM



I will confess right up front to having almost no idea what "reporter-researcher" Asher Price is trying to say in TNR today about the State Department's recent marketing efforts: I can't decide if it reads like a wild surmise that someone tried to spin up into a piece, or a rambling diatribe the editors tightened up to try and make at least some sense. But it seems he's arguing that the release of the Bin Laden tape was solely a marketing ploy aimed at the Arab "street", and one that is so transparently a marketing ploy it just won't work, a "loose play" in other (Asher's own), self-consciously lingoesque words:

But convincing young Muslims that they shouldn't kill Americans isn't like convincing them to buy Pepsi. This approach "is arrogant in the extreme," says Fouad Ajami, director of Middle East Studies at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. iIt's not like that world is a blank slate where we can write our hopes and dreams. It has its own truth.'

Hey, I'll be the first to admit marketing can't solve EVERYTHING. But what's Asher's alternative, given the starting point of a damning tape in the Americans' possession, exactly? Not release the tape at all? He never says. The entire piece is non-constructive criticism.

If anything, the problem with the tape release was it was clearly done WITHOUT thinking of maximizing the impact on the Arab world. As a very smart Beirut- based commentator (whose name I missed) on PBS' NewsHour pointed out tonight, releasing the tape in an English translation only, and only getting around to releasing the Arabic transcript today, only encouraged Arab listeners to discount it... with the audio so poor, and the words unreadable, anyone would have. As the fellow said on TV, would it really have hurt the Americans to wait one more day until they could release tapes with Arabic subtitles? That is, if they were thinking of their foreign audience at all at the time, so one can safely presume they were not. If the tape was meant to shore up support at home of course, it still has some value, but its handling in the Arab world was botched. Of course, if you believe dear Asher, it wouldn't have worked anyway, as Arabs are genetically immune to PR, or something.

Posted by BruceR at 09:11 PM



Okay, Lord knows Pakistani customs ain't what it's cracked up to be, and the CIA has nothing to brag about recently, but how exactly did our anonymous paraplegic sheikh from Saudi Arabia manage to both make it into Kandahar and out again IN THE MIDDLE OF AN AIR WAR?

"The tape is... documenting a courtesy visit by Bin Laden and his lieutenants to an unidentified Shaykh, who appears crippled from the waist down."

Californian hippies, Australian chicken-boners, Geraldo, now Saudis with disabilities... is there anyone at all who tried who did NOT make it into Afghanistan this fall?

Posted by BruceR at 02:56 PM

Nothing to see here, folks,

Nothing to see here, folks, move along, move along. Just a new place to keep my stuff, as Carlin would say.

Posted by BruceR at 02:11 PM