Tuesday, December 27, 2005


On Wiretapping

I've seen lots of commentary about the NSA wiretapping saga. Lileks is pretty funny; Michelle Malkin rounds things up pretty well. But Gloria Salt was the one that got my attention:
Yet in a collective frenzy of malignant ignorance, Senators (and, inevitably, media pundits) are falling all over themselves to exhibit their refusal to look at precedent. It is better, apparently, to sound righteous than to be right. And these are not cafe pundits shooting their mouths off; these are lawmakers. Oscar Wilde would have enjoyed this spectacle: it is the ultimate instance of style trumping substance. Better to work yourself into a media-friendly lather over the civil rights of those who wish to take away all our civil rights than to do the practical work of ensuring that those rights stay protected.
(emphasis mine)

Is that beautiful, or what?

It gets better:
This is why it can be so comforting to be an Israeli. For all her faults, Israel generally recognizes a threat for what it is, and does what’s necessary – almost always entirely within the law, I might add, and when the law is exceeded, there are commissions and tribunals and consequences. Believe it or not, no one is better at criticizing Israel’s behavior than Israel herself (c.f. Haaretz, the Israeli paper of record, on any day of the week). It is Israel, who takes risks to defend them on the battlefield and in the courtroom, who is truly concerned with safeguarding fundamental civil rights, not American Senators who ignore the law, undermine the authority of the executive during wartime and exert themselves to protect the right of their country’s enemies to destroy it.

Israelis don’t have to fear that the government itself will become so benighted as to leave its own population exposed to an existential threat. As comforting as this is to Israel’s citizens, so too does it explain why Israel is universally disliked: she doesn’t have the luxury of the feel-good option.
I agree up to a point -- Israel can, and does, sometimes protect her enemies at the expense of her citizens, and I hate that. On the other hand, Gloria is quite correct in pointing out that Israelis don't have a fetish about wiretapping and privacy issues the way Americans do.

Personally, I don't think we've quite gotten over Watergate yet, nor Nixon's secret White House transcripts. The thought of being observed or eavesdropped seems to give some Americans the willies. Israelis, on the other hand, are long used to low-level surveillance, and to the notion that journalists during wartime must submit their work to military censors. After all, many Israelis have a friend or a cousin who did their service in military intelligence; people have a general idea of what goes on.

Many Americans, by contrast, seem to think that there's a right to privacy enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. (There isn't.) Nor is there a promise that wartime censors will never be needed. (We saw this in Israel, for example, in 1991, when Saddam was throwing Scud missiles at us... and the Israeli Army Spokesman made it clear to foreign journalists that Scud-landing locations were classified. Many foreign journalists did not understand this -- how can a city-block-sized hole in the ground be classified??? -- and some of them ignored the restriction, announcing "here we are, broadcasting live from the scene of the latest Scud attack, at the corner of Dizengoff and Ben-Yehuda streets in Tel Aviv"... and promptly got cut off by the Israeli military censors. "Thanks", the censors would say icily, just before ejecting those journalists from the country, "Saddam didn't know where his Scuds landed until you told him. Do you enjoy being an unpaid, volunteer spotter for Saddam's Iraqi Army?")

The lesson to be learned, such as it is, is that intelligence often doesn't make sense from the outside. Sometimes the needs of intelligence only make sense to the people who actually work with it -- and sometimes they can't share their reasons with the rest of us, because to do so would compromise the very information they're protecting.

That's why, when someone says that they can't imagine why on Earth President Bush would have needed to authorize warrantless wiretaps, I answer that they're not using their imagination. A commenter named Tantor at Citizen Smash's place had more to say about this:
My take on this "wiretapping" issue is that we are only seeing one leg of the elephant. The sense that I'm getting from reading around is that the NSA has come up with some new technology that does not lend itself to getting a warrant for each hit in its search of the communications net.

I'm just speculating here, but maybe when the NSA gets a list of phone numbers from some terrorist's cell phone or laptop, they are able to plug them into a recursive search that then can search the list of numbers called from each phone. The result would be a map of communications traffic in a terror cell. Maybe they can produce this in a few seconds or minutes, if they act fast.

I'm no cell phone expert, but it seems likely that the NSA can locate the position of a cell call based on the signals received at multiple towers. Perhaps the NSA can also draw a map of the locations of terror cell members based on their search. Perhaps in a few minutes or less.

That would be perishable information that would need to be gathered quickly and acted on quickly. Once the terrorists learned that somebody associated from their cell had been captured, the first thing they should do is turn off their cell phones, dump them in the garbage, and go to a new, virgin cell phone after a few weeks of lying low.

That's a lot of speculation. My general sense is that the NSA is harvesting a lot of data quickly from these phone searches.
Indeed. I would not be at all surprised if this, or something somewhat like this, were the reason for the wiretap authorization in the first place. (It would also explain the relatively small numbers of wiretaps reported by the New York Times; they're going after the known operators.)

Can you imagine the NSA grabbing a live cell-phone conversation, from a known al-Qaeda operative to someone who until then had only been a suspected al-Qaeda sympathizer? Can you imagine what a coup it would be, for American homeland security, to be able to hear terrorist orders given, and then trace outgoing calls to see who receives those orders? -- Now, can you imagine having to ask for warrants before pursuing those conversations, which are probably over and done in seconds?

Certainly, I wouldn't want sweeping wiretap authority to remain in place for the long-term. But in the short-term, if this will prevent terrorist attacks and save lives, I'm all for it.

UPDATE: Courtesy of Michelle Malkin, this gem from the NY Post:
Has The New York Times declared itself to be on the front line in the war against the War on Terror?

The self-styled paper of record seems to be trying to reclaim the loyalty of those radical lefties who ludicrously accused it of uncritically reporting on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Yet the paper has done more than merely try to embarrass the Bush administration these last few months.

It has published classified information — and thereby knowingly blown the covers of secret programs and agencies engaged in combating the terrorist threat.


Does The New York Times consider it self a law unto itself — free to subversively undercut basic efforts by any government to protect and defend its citizens?

The Times, it appears, is less concerned with promoting its dubious views on civil liberties than with undercutting the Bush administration. The end result of the paper's flagrant irresponsibility: Lives have been put in danger on the international, national and local levels.

The ability of the nation to perform the most fundamental mission of any government — protection of its citizens — has been pointlessly compromised.

The Jayson Blair and Judith Miller fias coes were high-profile embarrass ments for The Times, but at the end of the day mostly damaged the newspaper alone.

The NSA, CIA and NYPD stories are of a different order of magnitude — they place in unnecessary danger the lives of U.S. citizens.

The New York Times — a once-great and still-powerful institution — is badly in need of adult supervision.

By all means, read the whole thing. The title -- "The Gray Lady Toys With Treason" -- is no exaggeration.

Ms. Malkin herself, by the way, condemns the NYTimes herself in no uncertain terms. As she puts it:
For its reckless endangerment of national security, unapologetic distortions of our troops' commitment to the mission in Iraq, trashing of 9/11 families who refused to capitulate to political correctness at Ground Zero, routine insipidity and unaccountability, laughable hypocrisy, protectionism for Democrats and liberal pet projects, dishonest Bush-bashing, anti-war pandering, cluelessness by the barrel, narcissism, and skyscraping editorial arrogance and snobbery...
She doesn't pull her punches, does she?

UPDATE II: Courtesy of Powerline, it seems that suspected terrorist groups are now snapping up disposable cell phones, in the hope that they'll be more difficult to trace.

I have no idea if that is true or not. (Either half of it, actually -- that disposable cell-phones are being bought in bulk by actual terrorists, or that disposables are harder to trace.) But it's certainly plausible... and if it is true, then, as John Hinderaker says, "the Times will have a lot to answer for".

(Later -- there's apparently more here than meets the eye. Powerline is on it.)

UPDATE III: Funny, the New York Times didn't mind warrantless wiretapping when President Clinton ordered it... and he apparently didn't limit it the way Bush has! The American Thinker has details, culminating in this classic conclusion:
The Times has historically been referred to as “the Grey Lady.” That grey is beginning to look just plain grimy, and many of us can no longer consider her a lady.



Downtime Warning

Sorry for the downtime, folks! I've had several other things on my plate recently, and as a result I've had less bandwidth for meaningful writing.

My posting may be sparse for a while yet; I apologize, in advance, to both of you.

In the meantime, I got a nice hat tip and a link from a blog I hadn't heard of before -- Camp Katrina, a (mostly) conservative blog about the good work American troops are doing, at home and abroad. (As they say: "Proving that the United States military does much more than just kill people and break things".) Check 'em out; they have some good stuff. For example:
So let me get this straight: it's perfectly alright for the music recording industry to peek inside a computer without a warrant to look for downloaded songs, but it's a federal crime for President Bush to monitor phone calls to try to save American lives?

Maybe the RIAA can protect us from the terrorists, too.
There's also a mini-profile of one of the new breed of Iraqi officers, and much more.

Besides, the guy running the show over there is a hunk. Ladies, beware!

(Update: be that as it may, I'm not sure about the guy's eyesight; he links to this blog... under Fembloggers. Well, that's a first for me.)


Friday, December 16, 2005


Todd Manzi Says We Should Cut And Run

In an opinion piece at TownHall.com, Todd Manzi says that it's time to acknowledge defeat, because The War just isn't working:
It is time to admit the war on poverty is a quagmire and the federal government should withdraw. The Constitution never authorized us to enter this war in the first place. Let’s send a strong message to the individual states: we are going to cut and run from the war on poverty. There is no need to point fingers about who lied us into this war. We don’t have to highlight the numerous mistakes that were made. Nor do we have to identify who benefited themselves by getting elected to office under the cover of fighting poverty. All we need to do is assess the situation and act accordingly.

Does anyone want to defend the progress or accomplishments we have made with our efforts fighting the war on poverty? Anyone?
He makes a great point -- why do Democrats insist that the Iraqis can handle themselves, with no support from the U.S. Government, less than three years after their brutal dictator was deposed... while the same Democrats insist that welfare recipients should receive benefits from the same U.S. Government forever?

Make up your minds, folks. Should struggling people, trying to stand on their own two feet, be cut off at the first opportunity ("tough love"), as the Democrats are advocating in Iraq? Or should they be supported indefinitely, as in American welfare?

Or, as Mr. Manzi puts it: is fighting terrorism somehow easier than finding a job?

Read the whole thing; it's a crackerjack.

In a similar vein, it looks like I've been neglecting Scrappleface lately; Scott's on a roll over there. For example:
(2005-12-14) — President George Bush today, confirmed a recent Newsweek magazine cover story, admitting that he’s “living in a bubble” — isolated and aloof.

“I confess that I don’t wake up each day on the same planet as Newsweek’s editors,” said Mr. Bush. “So, I guess I’m isolated from the world where the U.S. is always wrong, terrorists have legitimate rights, Cindy Sheehan formulates sound foreign policy, record employment figures and falling gas prices signal imminent economic doom, civil rights are endangerd by preserving heterosexual marriage, abortion is the most valued freedom for women and the federal government fulfills the role of the father, the mother, the church and the local government.”
Yup, sounds like a different planet all right...

On the subject of the recent New York Times leakage of government-authorized wiretaps -- which Michelle Malkin and Powerline are justifiably outraged about -- Scott is deadly serious, and deadly accurate:
(2005-12-16) — President George Bush today apologized to the American people for signing an order in 2002 that allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) to secretly listen in on international phone calls in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The New York Times today broke the story that after 9/11 the NSA tapped phonelines of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Americans without court orders in an effort to trace communication networks discovered on computers and cellphones confiscated from terror suspects.

“I want to apologize for allowing the NSA to do these wiretaps after 9/11,” the president said. “I’m sorry that I violated the privacy of some of these folks after terrorists launched attacks from our soil that killed 3,000 people, destroyed two skyscrapers and four jumbo jets, and punched a gaping hole in our military headquarters.”

“My biggest regret,” the president added, “is that the NSA didn’t secretly tap these lines before 9/11. I hope my fellow Americans can forgive me.”


There comes a time, while fighting a desperate enemy, when sacrifices are made, in the theory that endangering specific civil liberties in the long-term is preferable to losing a war -- and endangering countless lives -- in the short-term.

Sometimes this is mild, as in the much-maligned Patriot Act, which essentially gave the FBI the same tools to use pursuing terrorists as they'd long had for pursuing common criminals. Sometimes it's more serious, as in President Lincoln's temporary suspension of habeas corpus during the War Between the States.

Lincoln was much criticized for that decision, even within his own Cabinet; did you know that? And in response, he told one of his legendary anecdotes, about a leaky ship in stormy seas. The captain of the ship tried to keep the ship afloat, but the leak poured water in faster than his sailors could bail it out. In desperation, the Captain prayed to his plaster statue of the Virgin Mary, pleading for her intervention to save him and his crew. But he got no response... so, in fury, he threw the plaster statue overboard. Suddenly, the leak stopped! The ship was saved! When the ship pulled in to port, they found that statue of the Virgin Mary, plugging up the leak from the outside, headfirst.

Lincoln then explained his story, saying "I don't precisely intend to throw the Virgin Mary overboard, and by that I mean the Constitution... but I will stick it in the hole if I can." In other words, he used the extraordinary powers of a wartime President to use the Constitution in unusual ways, aimed at saving the Republic.

(Lincoln did not violate the Constitution with this act, as he is sometimes depicted as doing. Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution says: "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." The War Between the States was nothing if not a rebellion, and it was treated as such. Lincoln simply took the unusual -- and controversial -- step of asserting a Presidential prerogative that nobody expected of him, partly because it had never been done before.)

Similarly, we now find that the White House authorized limited wiretapping, on some land-line and cell-phone conversations between the United States and points overseas, back in 2002. Michelle Malkin makes a good case for saying that this action prevented at least one major terrorist attack on American soil after 9/11.

Call me banal, but I much prefer thwarted terrorist attacks, even if it means that some of my overseas phone calls may have been monitored. Even if I found that outrageous -- which I don't, actually, under the circumstances -- I'm still alive to be outraged, am I not?

Michelle also points out the perfidy of the New York Times, by the way --
The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.
That's awfully nice of them, isn't it?

This isn't the first time national security, and American lives, have been compromised by the New York Times -- for the dubious benefit of making the President look bad. What on Earth are they thinking? Have they forgotten that, as recently as WWII, exposing such wartime strategies (and tipping our hand to the enemy) might well have been considered high treason, and treated as such?

Somebody's living in a bubble, all right; Newsweek is correct on that point. The New York Times is similarly correct that, in this wartime era, someone is playing dangerously fast and loose with private information.

Perhaps they should both consult a mirror.


Thursday, December 15, 2005


Iraqi Election Day

Iraqis went to the polls today to elect a new government. As I write this, the polls are just closing.

I feel very strongly about this, and in my own small way, I want to show my solidarity. For me it's a simple gesture -- a moment with a purple ink-pad and a digital camera -- certainly not in the same league with the millions of brave Iraqis who are putting themselves at risk today to build a better future for themselves and their children. But it's a way to show my support.

Once again, we see pictures from all over of Iraqis proudly sporting their own purple fingers:

although I'm also impressed by the pictures of Iraqis standing calmly in line and carefully checking registrations:

Looks about like any American polling station on election day, doesn't it?

There's some great commentary out there. In the mainstream media, the Chicago Tribune has a dynamite editorial:
Over the last couple of days, Iraqi expatriates made the pilgrimage to a makeshift polling place on Niles Center Road in Skokie. They came to vote for Iraq's future. They drove or flew from Nebraska, South Dakota, all over the Midwest. And of course many came from Chicago.

They lined up early and eagerly to cast ballots for some of the 7,000 candidates vying for 275 seats in the new Iraqi parliament--the first government forged under the country's recently ratified constitution.

They know what's at stake: everything.
The BBC, much to my surprise, has a relatively upbeat collection of opinions from around the Arab world. The Omani newspaper OMAN, for example, said: "It is not an exaggeration to say that today is a historic day for the brotherly Iraqi people... We sincerely hope that all Iraqis will take part with enthusiasm and without hesitation in today's elections for the sake of a better Iraq, and more importantly to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq and the unity of its people and society."

In the blogosphere there's plenty more. Michelle Malkin has a roundup. Jeff Harrell claims to be speechless; actually, he's quite eloquent, and his words richly deserve to be read. SMASH has his own take, including this wonderful photo:

What a beautiful sight! These are voters in Barwana, once a stronghold of Zarqawi and his thugs. They're waiting patiently in line to vote. They know perfectly well that they're targets, should a fratricidal terrorist get past American and Iraqi security. They're targets... but they're there anyway.

Steven Den Beste weighs in on Iraq's future; as always, it's well worth reading.

And, of course, Iraq the Model's coverage is unbeatable. Omar reports on the pride of Iraqis, enthusiastically explaining who they voted for and why; their breathless excitement is wonderful to see.

He has photos, of course; lots of them. But this is the one that caught my eye:

As Omar says: "Muhaisin Bidairy Abdullah who was born in 1900 and I think he is the oldest amongst the voters came leaning on his grandsons and could hardly breathe with tears visible in his eyes…maybe because he won’t be able to attend the next elections."

Wow. I swear, I'll never take a popular election for granted again.

UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit, we see this newly-embedded journalist in Iraq, who is aghast to discover that things are not as she expected:
I’m a journalist. I read the news everyday, from several sources. I have the luxury of reading stuff newspapers don’t always have room to print. I read every tidbit I could on Iraq and the war before coming.

Everything I thought I knew was wrong.
She goes on:
But I have a slight hesitation; I need to keep balanced. I can’t be a cheerleader, even if I have a soft spot for the hometown troops, especially after the welcome they’ve shown me. I still need to be truthful and walk the centerline and report the good or bad.

But then I realize it’s not a conflict of interest. If I am truly unbiased, then I need to get used to this one simple fact; that the untold story, might in fact, be a positive one.
Indeed it might.

I have a feeling that an awakening is about to occur. Let's check back and see what happens!

UPDATE II: Citizen Smash (although these days, calling him res. Lt. Cmdr. Smash seems more appropriate) points out that, had this happened in 1945, the headlines would read VICTORY!

And they'd be right. This election was al-Qaeda's last major chance to be relevant in Iraq; they knew it, and we knew it. Had they disrupted the elections in a major way, they'd have been a force to be reckoned with in Iraq for some time to come. But Iraq will now have a popularly elected parliament and government -- and if they pay attention to al-Qaeda at all, it will be as a nuisance, not an existential threat.

That headlines today do not read "Victory" says more about the news media than about the subject they're covering.

Oh, and for the Democrats in the house -- let's remember that, with successful parliamentary elections behind us, an independent, democratic Iraq is picking up speed in a serious way. Soon they'll be running their own country, as they should, with America helping and occasionally offering advice, not setting policy. (They have quite a distance still to go; as the political scientists say, the proper measure of a democracy is not the first change-of-power due to an election, but the second. And as Prof. Glenn likes to say, democracy is a process, not an event, so in some ways Iraqi democracy will always be evolving.)

They took a giant step yesterday... and because of it, a fundamental change in American involvement is in sight. It won't be long before American troops are needed in far smaller numbers in Iraq -- due to this successful Iraqi election, and the confidence it builds among Iraqis -- and we'll be able to start bringing some troops home.

That's what you wanted, right? Right?


Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Rep. Murtha vs. Rep. Kline

John Hinderaker of PowerLine invites us to compare and contrast Rep. John Murtha, who loves to talk about his military background (he retired in 1990 from the reserves, not having been on active duty since 1974), vis-a-vis Rep. John Kline (who doesn't talk much about his military background).

Both Congressmen John retired from the military as highly-decorated colonels in the US Marine Corps. But there the similarity ends. Rep. Murtha clearly relishes his role as a career politician; he emphasizes repeatedly on his website how rare it is for a Congressman to have served as long as he has. Rep. Murtha was a captain of Marines in Vietnam, and, as near as I can tell, received his promotions to major and colonel as a reservist. Rep. Kline, by contrast, served 25 years on active duty in the Marines, earning such roles as pilot of Marine One (the Presidential helicopter), bearer of the 'nuclear football' for Presidents Carter and Reagan, commander of all Marine aviation forces in Somalia, and a great deal more.

When I first wrote about Rep. Murtha, I tried to find a photo of him in uniform -- giving credit where credit is due, and so forth. I was bemused to find nothing -- not on his Website (where he boasts openly about his service), not elsewhere on the Internet, nothing. By contrast, a photo of a uniformed Kline -- shaking the hand of President Reagan, no less -- is easily found, on Kline's Website, among other places.

Kline's pride in his military service is evident, in other words... whereas Murtha is comfortable reframing his service in his own words, but doesn't let the facts speak for themselves. (Could that be, perhaps, because any photo of him in uniform would have to be more than 30 years old? That didn't stop Sen. Kerry, did it?)

Finally, the two Johns have very different attitudes toward America's ongoing presence in Iraq. I've written elsewhere that Murtha's arguments are heavy on rhetoric and very sparing on hard facts. Kline, by contrast, just got back from a trip to Iraq (his third), and told Mr. Hinderaker about what he found there.

Please go read it. Rep. Kline is unsparing in his criticism of things that could have been done differently; but like a Marine, he focuses less on mistakes of the past and more on constructive approaches for going forward. His overall assessment is quite upbeat, and he does not hesitate to explain why.



Ahmadinejad Loses All Touch With Reality

...or perhaps he's hoping that we have... which might somehow make his rhetoric sound more sensible:
AP: Update 5: Iran Leader Escalates Holocaust Rhetoric

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad escalated his anti-Israeli rhetoric Wednesday, calling the Holocaust a "myth" used by Europeans to create a Jewish state in the heart of the Islamic world...

His remarks drew swift condemnation from Israel, Germany and the European Commission. Germany said the remarks would affect upcoming negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad last week questioned whether the Nazi destruction of 6 million European Jews during World War II occurred and said Israel should be moved to Europe. He also provoked an international outcry in October when he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." But Wednesday was the first time he publicly denied the Holocaust.
Gee, now that makes sense. Ahmadinejad apparently believes that Hitler never murdered millions of Jews in cold blood... so he openly calls for doing it himself.

I hope your life insurance is paid up, buddy. That's a mighty big saber you're rattling there.

Just for perspective, let's read further on down in the same article. Calling for the utter destruction of a sovereign state doesn't seem to bother him; what does bother him?
Iran has suffered a series of plane accidents - most recently on Dec. 6, when an aging U.S.-made military transport plane crashed into a tall building in Tehran, killing 115 people. Iranian officials have blamed Washington for the crashes, saying they are partly caused by the difficulty in obtaining spare parts.

"No country is authorized to impose spare-part sanctions against another country. Nothing can justify this," Ahmadinejad said Wednesday.
Ah, now I see. It's okay to desecrate the memory of the millions who were murdered, and contemptuously ignore the many thousands still alive who remember the Holocaust personally. It's okay to advocate 'wiping a country off the map'. But deny him spare plane parts, and he gets angry.

This guy is certainly doing his best to justify his country's status in the Axis of Evil, isn't he?

I have to wonder what his internal game is. Sure, Iran is widely reputed to be developing nuclear weapons and the long-range missiles to deliver them; and I'm certain that Iran is counting on the West to avoid taking decisive action until those weapons are ready.

That part is easy enough to understand. But why is he taking such lengths to annoy everybody in the meantime? Even the Europeans are getting tired of his rhetoric:
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the remarks "shocking and unacceptable." He said the German government had summoned the Iranian charge d'affaires to make "unmistakably clear" its displeasure.

"I cannot hide the fact that this weighs on bilateral relations and on the chances for the negotiation process, the so-called nuclear dossier," Steinmeier said, referring to European talks with Iran on its nuclear program.
In Brussels, Belgium, European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin said the president's comments were "completely unacceptable."

"We feel very strongly that Iran is damaging its own interests with these kind of remarks," she said.
(Later: according to the Jerusalem Post, Sweden has had enough; they're cutting off all ties with Iran because of these remarks. Hat tip: Meryl Yourish.)

And somehow I don't think that the Bush Administration, having named Iran as part of the "Axis of Evil" more than three years ago, is much encouraged by the public chants of "Death to America"... or by Ahmadinejad's own calls for a world without America.

What's next? Frankly, I was expecting some sort of military action against Iran before last year's Presidential elections; the fears of a nuclear Iran reached a fever pitch then. Certainly the Bush Administration knows to take these threats seriously; and the invasion of Iraq, as necessary as it was, was made under a lesser threat than we face now from Iran.

(There can be no doubt of Israel's state of mind these days. Israel knows, all too well, to take these statements seriously. When Saddam announced his intention, in 1990, to "incinerate half of Israel", he meant it; the Scuds, launched with no provocation whatsoever against Israeli population centers, made that crystal-clear. Israel knows a threat to her very existence when she sees one; we can be sure that many contigency plans are being fine-tuned. And no, I'm not going to speculate as to what they are.)

We have the fortune, or misfortune, to live in interesting times. We have rid the global community of a highly dangerous loose-cannon, in the person of Saddam Hussein, and helped to neutralize several lesser threats (Muammar Qadaffi, Bashir Assad); but the threat from North Korea has not gone away, and Iran looms bigger than ever -- in Iranian eyes most of all.

9/11 had the effect of waking a sleeping giant. Saddam, faced with a wounded and angry giant, chose to tweak that giant's nose, and has paid the price. Now Ahmadinejad is cheerfully waving guns in the giant's face.

We will see what happens next. Watch and wait.

UPDATE: So far, Germany has threatened to lose patience with Iran. That's not what I'd call a particularly effective response to nuclear belligerence. Still, for them it's a big step -- and they're condemning Iran for her stance on Israel as well.

Now. Will anyone take action, now that baby is reaching for the knife drawer? Anyone? Bueller?


Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Lileks and Steyn: Delightful Snarkiness

These have been linked all over, I know. But I want to get my own licks in as well.

First, if you haven't yet read James Lileks' wrap-up of 2005, please do. He loses sight of things toward the end, unfortunately, and descends into wit for the sake of wit (which is rarely insightful or funny). Along the way, though, you encounter gems like this:
Iraqis voted in record numbers in January. Actually, any number would've been a record; apart from Israel's perennial political tussles, this is the first real election in the Middle East since the Pharaoh's stone masons voted to unionize. (All were slaughtered.) Coupled with a popular headcount in Afghanistan and rumblings all through the Levant and Central Asia, it seems for a moment that democracy is on the march. This global advance will soon screech to a halt, however, when the world learns that prisoners in Gitmo are kept awake with loud Madonna music. This grave atrocity will keep some politicians busy for months, for instance in comparing American troops to Nazis. You know, the ones who blasted Lotte Lenya tunes in the gas chambers.
Pope John Paul II dies. To the horror of many, his successor turns out to be Catholic.
Darfur victims petition Janet Jackson to show up and partially disrobe, if only to get the world's attention. Alas, this works no better than their previous request to have Terry Schiavo moved to the Sudan, in the hopes of catching a reporter's ear after he's finished his hourly update on the saline levels in her intravenous bag.
Iran announces it will no longer allow inspectors into the Khomeini Memorial Peaceful Nuclear Research Facility for Hastening the Destruction of Israel. European diplomats threaten to take the matter to the U.N. Subcommittee of the Task Force for Occasionally Threatening to Issue a Strongly-Worded Report. But the group's next meeting isn't until 2007, and it must first take up the horror of Israel's security fence. Iran promises to allow inspections in exchange for 500 million Euros, payable in coins of enriched uranium. The E.U. agrees, with the condition that the interest rate on the loan will be adjusted upward if Iran makes nuclear bombs. If they actually detonate a bomb there would be an immediate balloon payment, make no mistake about it.
You see what I mean? When the guy's good, he's good.

Mark Steyn, on the other hand, is on a roll. As my colleague Daniel T. just pointed out to me, you can read some of his recent columns at www.steynonline.com, but in many ways it's easier to go to www.suntimes.com/index/steyn.html and just keep scrolling.

In his December 4th opinion piece, for example, you can find this:
It must be awful lonely being Joe Lieberman in the Democratic Party these days. Every time he switches on the news there's John Kerry sonorously droning out his latest pretzel of a position: Insofar as I understand it, he's not calling for a firm 100 percent fixed date of withdrawal -- like, say, Feb. 4, 2 p.m.; meet at Baghdad bus station with two pieces of carry-on. Don't worry, it's not like flying coach on TWA, you'd be able to change the date without paying a surcharge. But Kerry drones that we need to "set benchmarks" for the "transfer of authority." Actually, the administration's been doing that for two years -- setting dates for the return of sovereignty, for electing a national assembly, for approving a constitution, etc, and meeting all of them. And all during those same two years Kerry and his fellow Democrats have huffed that these dates are far too premature, the Iraqis aren't in a position to take over, hold an election, whatever. The Defeaticrats were against the benchmarks before they were for them.
He can snark with the best of 'em, that's for sure. But he can be deadly serious as well:
Toppling Saddam was worth doing in and of itself. Toppling Saddam and trying to "midwife" (in Ibrahim's word) a free society would be worth doing even if it failed. But, as it happens, I don't believe it will fail, not just because of Bush but because enough Iraqis -- Shia, Kurds and even significant numbers of Sunnis -- are determined not to let it fail.

And here's where the scale of the Bush gamble becomes clear. Islam and "the West" have a long history. And, without rehashing the last millennium and a half, the Muslim conquest of Europe and then the Crusades and the fall of Andalusia, if you take out a map of the world and look at the rise of the European empires you notice a curious thing: in conquering the world the imperial powers for the most part simply bypassed the Islamic world. They made Africa and South Asia and Latin America and everywhere else seats of European power, but they left the Middle East alone. And, even when they eventually got their hands on the region, after the First World War, they made no serious attempt to reform the neighborhood. We live with the consequences of that today.

So Bush has chosen to embark on a project every other great power of the last half-millennium has shrunk from: the transformation of the Middle East. You can argue the merits of that, but once it's underway it's preposterous to suggest we need to have it all wrapped up by Jan. 24. The Defeaticrats' loss of proportion is unworthy of a serious political party in the world's only superpower. In next week's election, the Iraqi people will shame them yet again.
(emphasis mine)

Contrast that to the antiwar rhetorical standard-bearers, such as Susan "I want to know what Iraq has done to us" Sarandon. The utter short-sightedness is breathtaking.

His December 11th piece, if anything, is even better. Go have a look.


Sunday, December 11, 2005


'A Moment of Silence For Terrorists'

Somehow I missed this:
The United Nations held a "Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People" last week. A large map of “Palestine,” with Israel literally wiped off the map, featured prominently in the festivities.

At the start of the ceremony, the dignitaries present asked attendees to observe a moment of silence. "I invite everyone present to rise and observe a minute of silence in memory of all those who have given their lives for the cause of the Palestinian people," the master of ceremonies said, "and the return of peace between Israel and Palestine."

Anne Bayefsky, who reported on the event for the Eye on the UN organization, said that the ceremony's wording was aimed at giving honor to the worst of Palestinian terrorists. "It was a moment ... crafted to include the commemoration of suicide-bombers,” she wrote.
Take a closer look at the map. Even if you can't read the Arabic title "Palestine" at the top (I can't, actually), the PLO flag is unmistakable... as is the placement of the map between the UN flag and a similarly-sized PLO flag, at the UN General Assembly.

It's hard to imagine an analogous event, much less one getting as little attention as this has. If the UN had chosen to side with Syria against Lebanon, displaying a map that showed all of Lebanon as part of Syria -- in spite of the protestations of Lebanon, which is (and long has been) a UN member -- would that have been acceptable? Or, to put the shoe squarely on the other foot, suppose the UN had displayed a map of Israel that showed the Golan Heights and the West Bank as being part of Israel? (Legally they are. The Golan Heights were formally annexed by Israel in 1981. And Israel may unilaterally give up portions of the West Bank to the Palestinians eventually, but she hasn't done so yet; so the West Bank still constitutes territory from which a war was launched against Israel in 1967, which Israel captured in that war and therefore has every right to keep.)

For the UN to deny the existence of a member-state, in the name of a group that is not a member, is not merely vile and reprehensible. It also makes a mockery of everything the UN claims to stand for.

Oh, and by the way, take a closer look at the 'moment of silence' photo as well. Kofi Annan was there (front row, third from the right), and he stood along with everyone else... to 'commemorate' the murderers of women and children, Arab and Jew alike.

Is this the UN's way of displaying 'moral equivalence', given Israel's increasing stature at the UN these days?

If my Photoshop skills were up to it, I'd love to produce a photo of southeastern New York... with the UN building removed, and a Starbucks in its place.

(Hat tip: The Broadsword, which linked to Israel National News, which in turn pointed to Eye on the UN.) Anne Bayefsky has written about this -- and is a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, among other places, on UN-related topics.)

UPDATE: Eye On The UN has a larger (hi-res) photo of the map here. Zoom in on it, and you'll see that the map (in Arabic numerals) is dated 1948... the last year in which a territory called "Palestine" existed (and before the state of Israel came into being):

I'm surprised; this is more honesty than I expected. (We have certainly seen more modern maps of the Middle East, with Israel erased and Palestine substituted.) Perhaps the UN insisted on using a map from UN archives... in which case, this was the most recent map of "Palestine" that could be found.

In other words, by showing a factual (albeit 57-year-old) map, the UN was simply misleading, and not actually lying through their teeth. I have to give 'em credit for that, I suppose...

UPDATE II: My wife points out that one of the maps linked above comes from www.palestine-net.com, where one can also find this lovely paragraph:
Land and Borders:
Palestine, currently under occupation, is located on the East coast of
the Miditerannean Sea, West of Jordan and to the south of Lebanon. The
territory of Palestine covers around 10,435 square miles (almost same
size as the state of Vermont in the USA - that is, pretty small.) [1]
Out of this territory, there are 10,163 square miles of land area. The
rest is water: half of the area of the Dead Sea (al-BaHr al-Mayyit),
Huleh Lake (BuHayrat al-Huuleh) which was dried by the occupation and
Tiberias Lake (BuHayrat Tabariyyah) which is also known as the Sea of
Galilee (BaHr al-jaliil).
Isn't that nice? "Currently under occupation", as though this status was but a minor aberration in the historical record, with the occupiers not worth naming or otherwise mentioning.

Please note, also, that "Palestine" is not defined as the West Bank and Gaza Strip territories, which is what the Palestinians publicly claim to want. No, "Palestine" here is defined as everything west of the Jordan River -- all of Israel, in other words.

It's bad enough when the Palestinians claim land as theirs that was never theirs to begin with, and are unwilling to do anything to bolster their claims other than to kill people. But why must the UN swallow these fantasies wholesale?

One more thought. This "Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People" is apparently an annual event... held every year on November 29th. Why on that date? Is that the date that the Palestinian people had their land taken from them, or something?

No. That's the date -- November 29, 1947, to be exact -- when the area now known as Israel was partitioned into a Jewish state and an Arab state, by the UN General Assembly! (At the time, they were called "a Jewish Palestinian state" and "an Arab Palestinian state". The local Arabs were not called Palestinians to distinguish them from Jews until much later; nor did they then call themselves that.)

In other words, if the UN is observing the date of November 29th as the date that an injustice was perpetrated, it was an injustice perpetrated by the UN itself. Could the irony be any stronger?

UPDATE III: Yes, it could. According to John Hinderaker at Power Line, and the incomparable Anne Bayefsky at Eye On The UN, it wasn't an historical map at all:
The United Nations, which houses the map in its Division for Palestinian Rights, has not made the map available for confirmation of its Arabic text. However, some of the words have now been deciphered and to the best of our knowledge include the following: "Palestine's Political Map, The Palestine Liberation Organization, the Center for Research, Beirut".

[So] it turns out that the map was not historical at all. It was "Palestine's Political Map." And it wasn't a mere early map the UN found in a history book. It was a map which must have been produced post-1964, since the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was created June 2, 1964.
I think it's not quite as bad as all that -- see my comments, above, in re the date printed on the map. So perhaps this PLO-printed map was itself a reprinting of a 1948-era map, complete with the date.

This doesn't make the UN look any better, though. On one hand, they have Israel, a member-state of the UN since 1948, and a country that has been under the tightest scrutiny -- by the UN, among others! -- for most of that time. On the other hand, they have the Palestinians, who are not a member-state of the UN at all, and who are known for playing fast and loose with the facts... in addition to being dedicated to the utter destruction of a particular UN member-state.

Given that choice, whose maps would you use? If you're the UN, the choice is obvious, isn't it? And if fairness and integrity are at all important to you, the choice is just as obvious -- do the opposite of whatever the UN does.


Saturday, December 10, 2005


e-mail of the day

I just got a promotional e-mail from Hammacher Schlemmer. (I'm not sure how I got on their mailing lists, but I've never bothered to get myself removed. They have such lovely gadgets for sale; not that I'd ever buy them, but they're fun to look at!)

This one gave me pause, though --

The Egg Poaching Toaster

I don't know about you, but when I think about an egg-poaching toaster, I think about something more like this --

The Egg Poaching Toaster

There. Doesn't that make more sense?

Happy holiday shopping!


Friday, December 09, 2005


A Thousand Apologies...

...to both of my regular readers, for not having had anything to say lately. (Actually, I've had quite a bit to say; I've just been too busy to say it, or to take the time to say it well.)

I just got back home from a four-day business conference in the Dulles, VA area; boring, but utterly necessary. It's good to be home, even as I stare out my office window at a sky full of snowflakes and the occasional lightning strike. (If we have less than a foot of snow by the end of the day, I'll be very much surprised.)

If I get inspired (and have some spare time), I'll write more later. But I doubt I could do better than Jeff; I envy his skills at drive-by blogging.

Stay tuned; I'll be back.


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