Saturday, November 17, 2001

Matt Welch linked to this ridiculous little screed at Indymedia and I couldn't resist. Last night around midnight and no doubt through the haze of chemically altered consciousness, Pentagon Watcher asked:
Amongst those presumed dead are many soldiers, sailors, marines, engineers, arms contractors, computer specialists, and other employees of the Pentagon. Can independent reporters do some investigating on these people? For example, regarding those who worked for the US army, navy, and marines: would it be possible to get an estimate of how many people they might have killed during military operations they might have performed?

Oh boy! The old moral equivalence mindbender. This dingbat is really implying that the Pentagon dead deserved it. But wait! I see now...Killing is bad. It's all bad. All people who kill are bad. People shouldn't kill. Man, I never saw it so clearly.

It amuses me to no end the mental gymnastics these "principled' types put themselves through to justify their own cowardice. It used to be the old morale relativism with it's shades of grey. No conflict or issue was immune from the meticulous deconstruction that eventually argued that the only allowable action was no action. The above is a case of cutting to the chase. Going right past all the root causes crap and pointing out that killing is bad, period, and we will never be truly enlightened (like Pentagon Watcher) until we accept that.

Crimeny! Where to begin. Indymedia helpfully provides a list of the Pentagon dead and adds these observations and loaded questions:
The list contains US army, navy and marine personnel, enlisted men and officers, retired and those currently at work for the armed services. Also amongst those presumed dead are many engineers, arms contractors, computer specialists, and other employees of the Pentagon. Can independent reporters do some investigating on these people? For example, regarding those who worked for the US army, navy, and marines: would it be possible to get an estimate of how many people they might have killed during military operations they might have performed? How many Koreans, Vietnamese, Central Americans, or other Third World People’s {sic} have these US military personnel killed or helped other to kill? And how many people have died as a result of the use of the arms systems which these weapons contractors have helped to design or build? Could the number who have suffered death as a result of the efforts of these soldiers and arms makers be greater than or equal to six thousand?

I guess it would be ok if the numbers matched up. It's the old eye for an eye argument, only it is ok to use it to excuse the killing of mean old soldiers, and evil defense contractors. Somehow, I doubt that Indymedia and Pentagon Watcher are pro death penalty, but they seem to be making that point here. Aren't they, with their leading questions, espousing the same body count mentality that was part of our failure in Viet Nam? More corpse calculus:

Another one of those who died on Sept. 11 was Capt. Lawrence Daniel Getzfred.

His bio says he served in both Vietnam and the Gulf War.

Did he kill any Vietnamese, and if so, how many? Would it be accurate to say that Capt. Getzfred was involved in military actions which resulted in the deaths of Arabs? Without specific data, we cannot know. It is not available on the web. It would be useful to know just how many people he helped to kill in the Gulf War.

Those who are interested may want to go down the list, and check out some of the other names, and find out how many served in Vietnam, Iraq, Lebanon, and other areas where US troops killed Asians and Arabs. The study is worthwhile, and may help to put the current so-called “war on terrorism” into perspective.

I can hardly type as I envision this nimrod lecturing us on perspective. Here's some perspective. What about all the Germans and Japanese we killed in WWII? Do we still owe for that? What does Indymedia propose we do in the face of an intractable foe who wishes to destroy us? Not kill him and hope he returns the favor?

How many people are alive because of American warfighters and engineers and farmers and doctors? Regarding the US's purported third world hijinks, look at Korea, the DMZ established and maintained by American men at arms is the thin red, white and blue line between prosperity in the south and tree bark eating poverty to the north. Remember, North and South Korea started the same.

Job one for government should be to protect its citizens. One could make the argument that if the US had not done this or that the terrorists wouldn't hate us, but that's bullshit (I'll rant on that another time) and besides, they DO hate us and want to kill us, so it is time to act.

"Killing is bad" and "People who kill are bad" are no basis for a philosophy. They are intellectually bankrupt concepts that fail to account for the fact that there are bad people in the world who would do us harm and no amount of hugs is going to change them. At least the state that protects us uses killing as a last resort. It's own free citizens choose to risk their necks so that the likes of Pentagon Watcher and Indymedia can air their puerile mewlings.

Friday, November 16, 2001

Uh oh Moira, we got mentioned and linked, thankyouverymuch, by Matt Welch. Looks like its time up the content here now that people might actually look. Sorry, not much today as last night was Le Festival du Vin Nouveau for this year's Beaujolais. We don't need much excuse for a party here in NOLA. Anyway, between the hangover note due on all that red wine and this AM's work load, I was hard pressed write, much less think, about much. Credit where due goes to Professor Reynolds, Matt Welch, Ken Layne and all the other pre-911 mezines for inspiration. As I told Moira, I started this to unburden their in boxes as much as anything else.
Rand Simberg on hard left's loathing of technology:
In fact, I think that this is why some of them are still unable to bring themselves to support the war. In their hearts, though they don't necessarily agree with the specifics of bin Laden's goals, they feel a sympathy for his methods of lashing out at the otherwise impregnable Kapitalist Amerikan Tekno-Empire, and perhaps even admire and envy his ability to carry them out, in a way that they never competently could, though they'd never admit it. Bill Ayers was a piker compared to Osama. The enemy of their enemy is their friend.

And now that the Soviet Union has collapsed, and socialism has been shown to be the fraud that it is, they are infiltrating instead the environmental movement. In so doing, they are further infusing anti-technology attitudes there, depriving true environmentalists (as opposed to the green-on-the-outside, red-on-the-inside "watermelon" socialist environmentalists) of many of the technology solutions that could actually solve their problems, including space technology. But that's a subject for another day.

Watermelons! I love it. It really is amazing how right Rand and Orwell were about the left. It gets me that writing I once thought hyperbolic is now actually prescient.
The battle is between those who would control us through the tyranny of political/ecological correctness and those who help set us free to pursue happiness with the aid of technology. First it was the Church, then the workers, then the Reich and so on. Now it's Allah in the east and Gaia in the west. The only difference between the islamofascists and other neoluddites is one of branding. They are Rand's wreckers and looters, gaining control through demagoguery of the ignorant. Once in control they stifle all threats to that control, thus damning their societies to hardscrabble, hand to mouth lives bereft of free thought or enterprise. Look how close we got. For a while, the government spent more trying to take down Gates than Osama!
Mark Steyn on airlines and airport security:
Now the Senate and the House of Representatives are split over whom to entrust with airport security: the House favours private firms (as at Heathrow and Tel Aviv), the Senate wants them federalised, so that instead of being minimum-wage incompetents who quit after four months, they’ll be highly-paid incompetents you can never sack.
It’s true that air travel is now safer than it was before 11 September, but that’s not due to Senator Hutchinson or Secretary Mineta so much as the splendid example of the passengers on Flight 93, who charged their hijackers and crashed the plane in a Pennsylvania field. These days, if you’re sitting next to a burly guy or a woman with severe PMS or even an 87-year-old arthritic granny, you can feel that they’re itching for someone to start something, just so they can rush the punk and beat him to a pulp. An aroused citizenry is more use than all Mineta’s bans on plastic knives and long fingernails.
Read the whole thing. It is right on.

Thursday, November 15, 2001

CDR Stumph echoes my suspicions about 587 from a professional pilot's perspective:
In light of the preliminary evidence to date, there are many perplexing questions regarding both aviation and law-enforcement considerations. With apparently no damage to the bolts that held it in place, why did the tail come off the airplane? With both engines found relatively intact, why did they both separate from the aircraft when it appears there was no massive engine failure? Why would an aircraft with a solid safety record over many years come apart so catastrophically, especially at such a low speed where airflow forces and wake turbulence are not especially hazardous

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

This article should be called "How Airport Security Equipment Works" rather than "How Airport Security Works," because airport security does not work. How to make it work is the question being debated in Congress as I write this. While the Dems push for federalization, largely at the behest of the unions, and the Pubbies push for privatization, at the urging of private security firm lobbyists, some basic facts are being lost in all the partisan noise.

We are really talking about some combination of three, not two entities; the government, business, and the military. The government and the military are not the same. I won't get into specifics (because I am lazy and also don't want to piss off any GS types) but here is the totally generalized 10000 foot gist of it.
When something comes across a government type's desk, he asks two questions:

1. What is the risk to me and my department?

2. What is the benefit to me and my department?

When something comes across an officer's desk he asks:

1. Is it an order?

2. Does it contribute to my mission?

An executive asks:

1. Can we do this?

2. What is the bottom line?

So, unchecked, business strives to increase the bottom line, possibly at the expense of service and the military strives to complete the mission with no regard to cost. Meanwhile the government sees to its own security and well being. It is no accident that government retirement and benefit packages far exceed those of their military and corporate counterparts. So who should do airport security?

Right now we have private companies who are being overseen by the airports who are in turn overseen by the government. We all know that is an abject failure and that is why there is legislation pending. Entrusting a government agency with the task will cost a lot and make more government jobs but won't likely improve security. Why not? Because government workers are notoriously hard to fire. Instead, malcontents and incompetents are shifted from department to department as entries are made into their records until some manager has the stones to sit through the innumerable review boards and committees required to divest the organization of the gem. Actually the normal tactic is to try to get them to quit by giving them the most unpleasant job possible. That means the guy scanning bags for the redeye or checking cargo out on the cold (or hot) tarmac will likely be a poor performer who his boss is trying to get to quit.

One thing the Government does pretty well is fight wars, albeit through the mechanism of the armed forces, an entity distinct from the rest of the federal structure whose members are differently led and motivated. Actions have consequences and performance matters in the military. While court-martials and discharges are the result of grave offenses, fear of simply letting one's squadmate or shipmate down is usually sufficient to keep people vigilant (it is not all altruism, those who fail are punished and shamed in various official and unofficial ways). Okay, so here is my plan:

Start a new armed force or extend the charter of an existing one (Coast Guard or National Guard come to mind) to cover airport security. A steady stream of recruits could be established with the same inducements used today (GI bill, VA loan, education etc.). This military organization would have the responsibility for the security of the Nation's airports and commercial flights. Government personnel and contractors would be used in support roles as determined by military commanders who would be granted authority and responsibility for execution of their mission to protect our commercial skyways. Both the Coast Guard and National Guard are already doing a lot of this mission right now.
Jack Dunphy has good stuff on the whole National ID imbroglio:

Though I am an agent of the government, albeit a lowly one, I share with the more vocal civil libertarians a certain level of distrust in it. The Founders themselves, after all, enshrined this distrust into the Constitution. But my opposition to national ID cards doesn't spring from some big-government paranoia, but rather from a more practical standpoint: That dog won't hunt. This beast should be shot in the head with a silver bullet and have a stake driven through its heart. The corpse should be burned and the ashes scattered to the four winds.

How do you really feel about it Jack? Read the whole thing to find out why he is so vehemant.

The fact that Larry Ellison over at Oracle was going to give the government the software for the scheme makes it even more suspect. Oracle, like most big software vendors these days, is great at giving the gift that keeps on taking in the form of maintenance and consulting fees. The industry calls it the Crack Cocaine model for sales, the stuff is free until you are hooked....

Moira Breen caught me recycling a letter I sent to Matt Welch in the post below, so she gets a link. Check out her Inappropriate Response.

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

This Washington Post article touches on the issue of who might man the newly federalized airport security and other homeland defense jobs. It is pretty seductive and was even linked to NRO. The thing is that the piece takes as given that the WWII draft was good in that it "helped unify the country." It could be argued that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the threat of Nazism may have caused that effect.

The authors also cavalierly dismiss the military's opposition to the draft to the assertion that "it resists all change." Speaking from thirteen years of enlisted and commissioned experience, I can tell you that official armed services' resistance to the draft (pun intended) is because of the success of the all volunteer force and the problems associated with conscripts. Many of today's "Nintendo Babies" (as the grizzled CPO who kept my silly JO neck out of trouble referred to them) act like they were Shanghaied when they get to boot camp. Imagine if they really were drafted. When I enlisted back in '87, there were plenty of senior noncoms around who remembered the bad old days of the draft and let me know categorically that the all volunteer force was, in all ways, superior.

Finally, something I think Heinlein wrote (either in "Starship Troopers" or "Glory Road") keeps sticking in my mind. I paraphrase: In a free state, if a war must be fought by conscripts then the war is not just or the state is not worthy of defense.

On Islam as a religion of peace- Some disturbing stuff from DANIEL PIPES at the Post regarding the true nature of Islam.

The Muslim population is not like any other, for it harbors a substantial body - one many times larger than the agents of Osama bin Laden - who have worrisome aspirations for the United States.

Although not responsible for the atrocities in September, these people share important goals with the suicide hijackers: Both despise the United States and ultimately wish to transform it into a Muslim country.

However bizarre this goal, the killing of 5,000 Americans requires that it be noted and seriously worried about.

The ambition to take over the United States is hardly a new one. The first Islamic missionaries from abroad arrived in the 1920s and unblushingly declared, "Our plan is, we are going to conquer America." Such hopes have become commonplace in recent years.

Modern Islam, unlike Christianity and Judaism in the US, has yet to, and may never inculcate the idea of a secular state ensuring its citizens the freedom to pursue their own happiness, be it spiritual, material, or whatever. In every instance where an Islamic government has succeeded a secular one, individual rights perish and women are subjugated. Professor Reynolds of instapundit pointed out that maybe it was time for Muslim reformation. Otherwise, we may be in for worse than the troubles the UK faced during the whole Rushdie dust up. Farrukh Dhondy, born a Zoroastrian and not a Muslim, describes them chillingly here. He does not hold back.

If you prostrate yourself to an all-powerful and unfathomable being five times a day, if you are constantly told that you live in the world of Satan, if those around you are ignorant of and impervious to literature, art, historical debate, and all that nurtures the values of Western civilization, your mind becomes susceptible to fanaticism. Your mind rots.
Read the whole thing. It is enlightening.

Once more into the breach on airport security. Over at The Dynamist Ginny sez (sorry couldn't resist, saw Cowboy Mouth last WE):
At the moment, today's American Airlines crash looks like the result of mechanical failure, not terrorism. But it points up two facts about the post-9/11 world (both of which were true before as well). First, no matter how many tweezers and penknives they confiscate at security checkpoints, no matter how many one-way ticketholders they scrutinize, you can still check a bomb onto an airplane and not have it x-rayed. All the attention to carry-on luggage is ignoring the true security risk. I doubt that this airplane was felled by a bomb, but its crash called attention to that danger.

I still think it was a bomb or sabotage. Planes just don't break apart in midair without help. But regardless of what I think or who is right on the cause of the mishap, the time has come to clamp down on screening everything that gets on passenger planes. That needs to include checked bags, mail, food, beverages, everything. I'll talk about the how in a later post.
FBI released a profile of the anthrax letter mailer. Most of it was blah and no duh, but the following exerpts seem to indicate a foreign born and educated instigator rather than a homegrown nutjob:

While the text in these letters is limited, there are certain distinctive characteristics evident within the writing style of the author. They may have been used in other letters, greeting cards, or envelopes written by him. Perhaps someone has received a correspondence from this person and will recognize some of these characteristics.

For example:

--The author uses dashes ("-") in the writing of the date "09-11-01." Many people use the slash ("/") to separate the day/month/year.

--In writing the number one, the author chooses to use a formalized, more detailed version. He writes it as "1" instead of the simple vertical line.

--The author uses the words "can not" when many people prefer to spell it as one word, "cannot."

--The author writes in all upper case block-style letters. However, the first letter of the first word of each sentence is written in slightly larger upper case lettering, as is the first letter of all the proper nouns. This is apparently his way of indicating capitalization in upper case lettering. For whatever reason, he may not be comfortable or practiced in writing in lower case lettering.

All caps might indicate a non-native writer who has only "street sign" literacy. The funny 1 has a foriegn accent to me as well. I went to school for a short time in Colombia SA and remember one of the big deals was differentiating 1s (rather than the spare vertical l I learned at Lake Ship Elementary) from 7s. There they solved it with a little hash mark across the diagonal of the 7. I write my 7s like that today, just to be completely safe (I also cross my Zs and 0s too, just to be sure no one mistakes them for 2s or Os. I am sure that is indicitive of something...)

Fredrik Norman voices the same fears that I expect Powell's State Department had with respect to the Northern Alliance: Are we replacing one tyrannical islamofascist regime with what will become another? To which I respond: Perhaps, but not without rooting out OBL and his followers. They are the ones who were able to take the usual third world resentment of the US and leverage it into an international organization that trains and supplies killers. Ridding the world of that ilk , or at least Afghanistan, where they were able to operate unfettered, is a victory. We can worry about the NA down the line. What is more important to contemplate is how and where to further carry the battle to the enemies of the US.

Monday, November 12, 2001

Fox News and others are reporting how the market seemed to turn on news that the AA 587 crash was due to mechanical failure.This could explain the reluctance of Government officials and others to mention the possibility of terrorism. I repeat that it is not unreasonable to suspect sabotage in today's crash. The key words everyone keeps using are mechanical failure. I remember the same term being used in initial press releases when the Japanese navy accidently shot down a USN A-6 towing a target during a training exercise in the Pacific. The fact was that it was a human mistake and the gun (their version of the Close in Weapon System, an automatic radar guided Gatling gun) was turned on before the tow plane was safely past the ship. When there are aircraft parts strewn all over the place, it is clear that there was some kind of mechanical failure. The relevant question is: What precipitated the mechanical failure?
Another point that officials are trotting out to support the mechanical failure theory is that 587 dumped fuel into the water, supposedly as a standard initial response to the mechanical casualty. The thinking is that the pilot was presumably too busy responding to the emergency to report his action or anything else. My question is: How do they know the fuel was dumped intentionally rather inadvertently when the aircraft broke apart? The one thing that struck me when we picked up the A-6 pieces after the shoot down was how much fuel was in the water. If the fuel dump theory is based on fuel in the water, then it is dubious. I have yet to see or read of a witness who actually saw the plane dumping fuel.
I did hear, on CNN, a witness who described hearing an explosion and then seeing "paper and debris fluttering down" from the plane before it started to break up and crash to the ground. That sure points toward an explosion coming from within the aircraft, like maybe the baggage compartment, where things that flutter as they fall like paper (mail) and clothing can be found.
Here is an interesting point: If it wasn't a bomb then American Airlines is likely toast. If it was a bomb, then the whole industry is in for more trouble at what used to be its most lucrative season. The Government would certainly have egg on its face for failing to avert this. I wonder how those scenarios color government and airline spin on the cause. Talking heads are now using the term "catastrophic failure" and reviewing past Airbus accidents. Still, since the last four US commercial air disasters were terrorist related, I don't think it is unreasonable to think they had a hand in this one in Queens.
Dale Amon at Samizdata pretty much makes the opposite arguement on the likeliness of either sabotage or accident. Whoever ends up correct, one thing is certain. The realtime news (and rumor) analysis that happens on the web is a good thing. Contrary to what the broadcast and print media tend to say, the web trains people to look critically and skeptically at news stories and not just accept the government or corporate spin.
I dunno, I think itwas a bomb.
1. Occam's Razor- Which is the more likely answer: That a safe and reliable American Carrier would have a catastrophic failure and break apart in mid air due to mechanical defect or maintenance failure OR that a flight from the same carrier, American, (already targeted on 911 by terrorists with a demonstrated affinity for the symbolic) would be bombed (or missiled) by an enemy that has threatened to do just that and
against whom we are waging war?

2. Even the effa bee eye is reporting there was an explosion. Your car, if it is gasoline powered, is more likely to explode spontaneously than an airplane. Jet fuel, contrary to what many think, is closer to diesel
than gasoline in volatility. I have personal experience with jet engines and have observed mechanics putting matches out in puddles of JP-5 jet fuel.

3. Checked baggage was and continues to be a huge security issue. Even while my pocket knife, your toenail clippers and Granny's knitting needles are being taken by minimum wage airport security flunkies, checked bags are only being given a cursory check. The act of matching checked bags to passengers on board is of little use since OBL's minions have demonstrated their eagerness for Paradise and would likely fly with their deadly checked bags to their deaths. What about the bag handlers, mechanics and caterers?
Even if this crash was not due to a bomb, it is past time to make real, effective, rather than feel-good changes to flight security.