Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Ready Reserve and the Return of the Draft?

The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. military is calling up 5,600 veterans from its Ready Reserve. These are veteran soldiers who are contractually obligated to be called back to service at the military's option.

(It is not clear whether this contractual option was originally made at the request of the veterans. My understanding is that some U.S. soldiers, such as current soldiers who have had their tours of duty extended, as well as some medical personell in the reserves, have effectively been drafted through the backdoor.)

All of this brings up the issue of a real draft in the future. Neither Party will mention this prior to the election in November, but reports are that the U.S. selective service has quietly begun preparing in case it is needed.

A study (link) by the U.S. military's own think tank, the RAND Corporation, estimates:

"The [December 2003 current] Iraq troop level is on par with such failed U.S. efforts as Somalia and Haiti. Using the Bosnia and Kosovo ratios, between 450,000 and 500,000 total forces would be necessary in Iraq."


This RAND Corporation figure has been previously cited in these pages, as well as by journals such as Atlantic Monthly and elsewhere; the opinion was originally published in Newsday. The prestigious British thinktank, the IISS has quoted similar figures.

This is about three times the current level of troops in Iraq. No significant numbers of further trained troops are available. (Recall we insulted the only two allies with any major reserves of qualified troops to spare.)

In the past some people in the Pentagon may have thought they could use "virtual boots" i.e., high technology, to increase soldier efficiency so that more could be done with fewer soldiers. This is Rumsfeld's "Revolution in Military Affairs" for which he has been much criticized. Rumsfeld is right that high technology can improve combat efficiency in some areas. However, real boots are usually better than "virtual" boots, especially during an occupation.

Our current solution has been to use Iraq police and various Iraq troop units. However, these have not performed well, and their loyalty has sometimes been suspect. (One think tank calls the Iraqi police a "one on a scale of one to ten, with ten best.")

The bottom line is that it will be years before Iraqi troops will be sufficiently well-trained and loyal to take over these functions. In the report cited above, RAND estimates this will take at least five years.

Due to amount of time it takes to train a soldier, the Draft is not a good short-term solution. (Using 5,600 from the Ready Reserve is a good solution -- it is first stab at the 200-300K needed.) But, in a campaign of five years or more as RAND estimates, the draft becomes a real option in the hands of whoever is inaugurated next January.

Politicans of both parties are going to be reluctant to discuss the Draft. It's an important strategic option for the United States in a crisis; implying a reluctance to use this option might signal weakness to our enemies and thereby endanger our troops in the field. Opening discussing its possible use, however, would be political suicide for a Presidential candidate. It's the elephant under the table that members of both Parties are reluctant to discuss.

My fellow Americans might want to ask themselves a question before going to the polls in November, especially if they or their loved ones are of draft age: Does one of the candidates have a demonstrated history of military adventurism that might make a draft more likely?

Bill Gates considering his own blog; Will S. Korea censor it?

The Seattle Times is reporting that billionaire Microsoft CEO Bill Gates is considering his own blog. Reportedly, it won't be 100% about his business.

Thanks, Bill. Question for you: Will S. Korea and China try to censor your blog, too, or do you expect they will make an exception for blogs by the famous billionaires? ;-)

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Blogger and Media censorship (death threats, &c -- the usual)

I'm coming to believe that the global Internet and media censorship story are, in fact, a potentially much bigger long-term stories than the recent beheading violence. They certainly hit much closer to home.

For example, Chris Short of the Our Life blog claims he has received death threats from readers unhappy with his blog's coverage of the beheading story. Like DFW, his blog is being censored by the South Korean government because of either his coverage of that story or the related social unrest in that country.

Reports of death threats against popular bloggers is a story that really hits home.

Netpolitik has a copy of a moving letter from a South Korean blogger on Internet censorship of blogs in his country, and the political motivations behind it.

Earlier I went through my bulk mail email folder, where several weeks of spam emails had been quietly accumulating.

Much to my horror, I had several spam emails from an "independent" citizens group urging me to complain call, email, complain to and otherwise harass and intimidate movie theater owners that dared to shown a then-forthcoming Fahrenheit 9/11.

Many of my American readers must have received similar spam emails from this or another "independent" citizens group opposed to Moore's film. I have to say all of these attempts at censorship and intimidation are starting to seem somewhat surreal.

The email bragged about how their intimidation campaign was supposedly working: originally over a 1000 theaters were supposed to open the film, but thanks to the efforts of their group (they bragged) that number had been reduced to only 400, and they dreamed (unsuccessfully) of reducing it still further before opening day. (Since then, the movie has unquestionably become one of the biggest block-busters of all time. Despite the lack of theaters due to intimidation campaign, it was the highest-grossing film over the weekend.) If I (or millions of other Americans) needed any further reasons to convince me to go see this film, these emails were it. (As Moore himself has pointed out, these campaigns have helped the film. And, no, this group is a bona-fide conservative citizen's group that existed long before anyone had ever heard of Fahrenheit 9/11.)

This "independent" citizens group claimed Moore's film insulted American soldiers ("attacked America's military") and was therefore un-American.

Prior to seeing the film myself, I spoke with both conservatives and liberals who had seen the film. Even conservatives, who were suspicious of aspects of the film, agreed that he was suspicious of the mission and its results, his tone towards the troops was genuinely respectful.

(His second major reason for pressuring theater owners to boycott the film was that it dared criticize our beloved President George W. Bush. "Michael Moore ... desires to defeat President Bush [sic]." My goodness! That's criminal!)

Unfortunately, the emails and related website were highly manipulative and laden with factual errors. (Exactly the accusation they've repeatedly tried unsuccessfully to make against Moore's latest film.)

For example, the email implies Moore makes the following quote in his film: "Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not 'insurgents,' or 'terrorists' or 'The Enemy.' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow and they will win."

Unfortunately for the group that put out this email (and the associated anti-Moore website), Moore doesn't actually say these lines anywhere in the film. I know. I watched for it. So did others I've talked to. It simply isn't there.

Moore does end his film by quoting two lines from George Orwell's anti-authoritarian classic 1984, however. I can imagine Moore's next speech speech at an awards ceremony (the way this film is selling, it'll probably be the Academy Awards):

"I would like to that all those who helped make those two lines of petty grandstanding by a filmmaker suddenly seem incredibly real.

"I'd like to thank all the fruitcakes that that made death threats [against both Moore and various bloggers, apparently] for helping to enhance my film's cinematic experience.

"I'd like to thank the South Korean government for attempting to black out all unfavorable blog of coverage of its society for further helping American's enjoy my film.

"I'd like to thank the Republicans that are tried to get the Federal Election Commission to ban advertisements of the film, and the executives at my film studio's parent company for creating a media sensation by refusing to carry a highly-profitable film for purely political reasons.

"Finally, I'd like to thank the fanatical right-wing contributors who helped fund the multi-million dollar campaign of intimidation against theater owners or anyone else associated with this film for spamming millions of email inboxes, thus simultaneously both advertising the film and adding additional special effects.

Actually, he's already said as much.

Too bad that while he makes a fortunate off his film the rest of us are stuck with the impact of the attempts at censoring what is the lifeblood of democracy - freedom of debate and freedom of the press.

Earlier Stories:
This blog banned in South Korea
Fahrenheit 911, Moore, the Pentagon Spy, the Saudis, and a dead NYC artist
Michael Moore is receiving death threats


2004/07/02 Update:

Since writting this piece it seems big money (and a few friends in big journalism) have really come out and attacked this film (and some big name journalists have also come out in support). Alternet is reporting that the 'grass roots organization' that has spammed me on this and other issues, and even set up an anti-Moore website, is a front for a certain Republican Public Relations (PR) firm.

A great deal of attention has been given to whether the Saudi flights left on the 13th or 14th of September. (Moore actually says they left "after September 13th" -- the documents show they received permission on the 13th). I happen to remember September 14th clearly, as some colleagues of mine were unable to attend a meeting because most commercial flights remained be canceled. Commercial air traffic was opened up late on September 13th on a "case-by-case basis" with most airports still closed and quite a few horror stories Americans still stranded in hot plane fuselages somewhere in Novia Scotia, Canada. As Moore points out in the movie, even celebrities headed for their Latin Grammy awards had trouble getting into a plane on the 13th (or 14th). Yet they got special permission (according to the documents) already on the 13th. Airspace was still close on September 14th to private, non-commercial flights (which these were) were still closed on the 14th. They clearly got special permission from high heaven. (The pilot of the flight has even written about it.) And the Saudi Ambassador, Bandar "Bush", admitted as much on Larry King Live in the segment show in the film.

This isn't Moore's most compelling point. He may not be right about everything or even about most things. There are a lot of people in the world, however, that believe many of the same things he does. (For example, in my earlier report, I even describe how the science of social network analysis conclusively shows a strong link between Bush and the Saudi elites (and, by further degrees to terrorists), even if these are too be expected and normal in the oil business. The link evidence was so compelling they even caught the attention of the FBI right after 9/11, as reported in the 2002 Wall Street Journal article and PBS Newshour stories cited in my earlier post. Given that there is at some credible evidence for much of what he says, one could argue that Moore could reasonably believe the interpretation he presents in his film, which is not a minority view in some parts of the world (namely, Europe). I do not think you can convincingly brand him a "liar" or even someone badly misinformed; the best one can do is claim he is self-deluded or a propagandist spinning facts.

As my above post makes clear, whether Moore is right or wrong, the attacks against him are extremely well-financed and contain just as many if not more factual errors, lying and manipulation as

Where there is smoke, there is fire as the saying goes. The strongest case that Moore might be on to something (however imperfectly) is that amount of money and effort that has gone into discrediting him. Given how far he is supposedly off in his fact, it's amazing just how hard of a task setting the record straight seems to be. (His critics seem to have gotten bogged down in the Saudi flight time tables.)

As Alterman points out, if Moore's well-financed critics would devote as much effort to finding factual inaccuracies in the daily stream of spin coming out of the White House, America would be in much better shape today.

Other blogs covering Moore:
Hot Abercrombie Chick
In Search of Utopia: If Moore is such a nut case....

Saturday, June 26, 2004

This blog banned in South Korea

Well, first our humble, moderate blog was banned in China.

Now it's clear South Korea has banned us as well. Other blogs are reporting that South Korean has ordered its Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block all South Korean traffic to blogs covering the beheadings.

We also noticed a huge drop in traffic from South Korea recently. Despite the tremendous interest in this story in that country, we are no longer getting any traffic from ".kr" domains.

Apparently, the beheadings caused social unrest in South Korea, with reports of Muslims being attacked in South Korea, and Mosques behind torched. This is, of course, exactly what Al Queda hoped to achieve with its propaganda video: creation of a wedge between Islam and the rest of the world, so that even moderate Muslims would feel persecuted and feel compelled to join Al Queda's ranks.

Unlike other blogs we did not post any video or photos of the beheadings. In fact, in the comments section I even urged readers NOT to view the propaganda beheading videos, because their aim was to create divisions between Islam and the rest of the world. We're probably better known for our coverage of Madonna's religious conversion to Taliban Islam in our spoof.

It seems our only crime was to provide alternate coverage of the story. While we sympathize with (and even early predicted and warned against) the social unrest the videos might cause, we cannot condone censorship.

On the other hand, it is very flattering to think that the South Korean government felt compelled to take action to officially censor our website in their country. Two weeks ago hardly anyone knew our name.

In other news, our postings on this tragic story continue to remain popular and draw considerable Internet traffic. While I love comments, I've been dismayed by some of the more "shoot from the hip comments" posted by drive-by readers on some of these pages (e.g., we need to drop more 21-kiloton bombs on Muslims). In an effort to make the site more useful, I've let Amazon recommend some books related to DFW topics on some of these pages in the hopes that people will educate themselves about the culture and ways of our enemy (Al Queda, NOT Islam in general). We in the West (especially we Americans) continue to remain surprisingly ignorant on these important topics. Know your enemy, as they say. I've already noticed some of their suggestions are very good (I've actually read some of these books). I highly recommend following their suggestions. If you can't afford Amazon.com, try obtaining them at your local library.


DFW: Breaking News (2004/06/26): Next Video? Three Turkman Captured and threatened with beheading
DFW: Original Kim Su-il beheading coverage, with links

Other blogs covering the censorship story:
Hot Abercrombie Chick: South Korea Blocking Sites Containing Pictures and Video of the Kim Sun-il Beheading
Short Family Online: Kim Sun-il Beheaded

Turk Beheading Next Video?

New visitors to this site: Extensive links to other blogs discussing the Turk beheading story are below.

Additional links to related articles on this and other blogs can be found both in the article below as well as in the Trackback section (click on the "Trackback" link below), and elsewhere on this site. (Related articles on this site often also have extensive links to external blog coverage. Also try the site search tool above at top right to find related articles on this site).

Please visit DFW Home for updates on all the latest top stores.

Most recent update: 2004/07/17: Record Internet Traffic Due to Gory Video Resurfacing.

Most recent related story: 2004/07/15 (and later updates): Bulgarian captive beheading video released to Al Jazeera.

Original June 26 Post:

Well, Reuters is reporting that the Al Queda-linked Al-Zarqawi group in Iraq responsible for the earlier South Korean beheading has kidnapped three Turkmen.

Their unreasonable demand, that Turkey stop working with US troops by Tuesday, is logistically and politically impossible to meet (caving into demands like this would demonstrate weakness and only cause more violence), so it looks like the Al Queda propaganda beheading video will feature Turkish citizens.

Other blogs covering this story:
DFW: Earlier DFW Posts (with comprehensive links to earlier blogosphere coverage on related stories)
Our Life: Terrorists Kidnap Three Turkish Workers; Beheadings Imminent
Blogs of War:
al-Zarqawi Group Threatens 3 Turkish Hostages with Beheading
.
The Command Post: Zarqawi Group Kidnaps Three Turks
Dean's World:
Heads Will Roll... (Joe Gandelman)

Whizbang: More Kidnappings (Kevin Aylward)
James Joyner: Al Qaeda Threatens to Behead Three Turkish Hostages
Obsidian Wings: al-Qaeda poised to commit another act of necromancy
Arguing with Signposts: The al Qaeda strategy
Ramblings' Journal: Here we go again; AQ kidnaps 3 Turks, threaten beheading in 72 hours
Drink this: Threatening the Turkish hostages with this.."

Music Reviews: (Not quite) totally unknown U.K. pop singer Katie Melua debuts in U.S.

It's time once again to take a break from this week's dreary world events with something different. This week it is a review of Katie Melua's new Album, Call Off the Search.

We’ve occasionally written about the intersection of pop culture and politics in these pages. We had a hit spoof of Madonna’s recent religious conversion (to Taliban Islam in our spoof). We recently compared the choices facing U.S. anti-terrorism policy as the choice between a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid approach or a Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb approach. We covered the friction between the conservative U.S. military and Arab views and the often more liberal view of Middle East policy in the pop culture world, as personified by Sheryl Crow. We talked about how the work of an obscure, deceased NYC artist relates to Michael Moore’s sell-out new anti-Bush film.

Elsewhere, we’ve discussed the Stepford Wives in the context of the rich cinematic history of using robots in film as a metaphor for authoritarian government. And we’ve written about the impact of technology on the musical world.

Today we start a new feature in DFW where we write reviews of artists hardly anyone in the United States has ever heard of before, but who are on the brink of breaking through in the United States with a smash hit.

Katie Melua’s story might be much like that of this blog. One week ago, hardly anyone had ever heard of DFW. People whom we covered critically no doubt said to themselves (if they even heard about our stories), "Who are these guys and why should we care about anything they have to say?" Then late last week the world learned about DFW and the site finally caught on fire. Ever since then, we’ve had a flood of visitors that would have to be respected by many a blog and even some print magazines.

In other words, this week DFW had a hit story, with a unique and exclusive perspective a tragic story impacted America and its coverage throughout the blogosphere. There will be more great hit stories on DFW

Katie Melua is a very good, young bluesy pop singer (age 19), said to be in the style of Norah Jones. She’s almost completely unknown in the United States, but she’s already sold 1.2 million CDs of her debut album Call Off The Search in the UK. Like DFW she has a bit of an international flavor. Born in Soviet Georgia ("Georgia is succeedin’ from the Union" is where the similarity ends) she grew up in Northern Ireland before her father (a heart surgeon) took a position in England. She ultimately would attend a prestigious British performing arts school. And she's about to debut in the United States. All of which makes her a good choice for this column.

First a confession. I don’t much like blues or bluesy music. Nevertheless, I can easily imagine second song, "Crawling Up a Hill," in Katie Melua’s album Call Off The Search as a future radio hit in the United States. She and the orchestra do almost everything correctly. There are places where (in a real radio hit) I would expect the sound engineer to manipulate the relative levels of the volume of the singer’s voice with respect to that of the other instruments to help emphasize (and de-emphasize) different parts of the song. But that’s just sound engineering. There’s nothing wrong with her singing here, and no reason why this (or a subtle re-release) might not fill this genre’s radio bandwidth someday soon.

I was disappointed with the title track, "Call Off The Search." My initial impression was, "terrible." It was the first track I heard, and it is the title track. That didn’t bode well for the rest of the album. But then I listened to the rest of the album, and was relieved that it was everything I had been told it was. I listened to the title track several times, and didn’t change my opinion much. There are some things wrong with. I think Katie Melua's voice is frequently flat (a half step too low) in this piece, and while this may be deliberate artistry in other parts of the album, I don’t think it sounds right in this one. I also don’t like her interpretation of the rhythm of the first piece. Katie Melua plays with very little accompaniment to guide her, but I’m certain a more "normal" pop interpretation of the tricky rhythm would re-interpret some of the fast notes as grace notes (a very rapid transition to the next note, played with considerable interpretation) rather than straight as she does.

The combination of frequent flat tones and an uninspired interpretation make the title track my least favorite piece in the entire collection. The first track is completely eclipsed by the second track, "Crawling Up a Hill," and compares unfavorable with the rest of the album, including "Closest Thing to Crazy," "My Aphrodisiac is You," "Blame It On the Moon/Rain," "I Think It’s Going to Rain Today," "Mockingbird Song," and "Tiger in the Night" (most of these are covers of songs by other artists). Since, for marketing purposes, the strongest song is normally chosen as the title song in an album, this might indicate that I have unusual tastes. In reality, however, it shows that the UK success of Call off the Search came as a total surprise to the music studios, or they would have done better market research before selecting a title track.

I can easily imagine the third track in the album, "The Closest Thing to Crazy" as part of a movie soundtrack, perhaps to accompany otherwise slow-moving opening or closing credits or some dialogue-free montage in need of greater excitement. (In fact, after writing these words, I’m informed Terry Wogan of BBC Radio Two, who apparently has a track record for picking winners, picked up "Closest Thing To Crazy," which did indeed become a number one radio hit in the UK. Were they to release the album over again, "Closest Thing To Crazy" would likely be the title song. "Closest Thing to Crazy" went on to becoming a best selling single in the UK as well.)

But then I listened closer to "The Closest Thing to Crazy." Something was wrong with the musical accompaniment. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at first. Then it was obvious -- a Hollywood film would use a much larger orchestra (real or synthesized) to contrast her voice. The sound engineer would also probably manipulate the volume of her voice (as compared with that of the accompaniment) to help further add that emotion punch. But her voice has the palette of textures that eventually will make everything else possible.

Nevertheless, "The Closest Thing to Crazy" proves Katie Melua’s voice can best any current movie or TV soundtrack blues singer that I’ve heard. Hollywood only uses the best talent in its feature film soundtrack. So you know she’s good. It’s that variety of vocal textures that immediately grabs listeners attention and focuses it on her lyrics rather than whatever else is happening around them.

I think in some of the other pieces Katie Melua occasionally hits flat notes (i.e., a half-step or so too low) as well, but not as often. Blues is filled with diminished chords, so what I regard as slightly flat (being used to less bluesy pop and classical music) might be deliberate artistry. In some places it is artistry, but in other places the more Saccharine ears of this Yank are convinced it’s probably not. No, matter -- these days they got dem singing rodents (link). (Or re-record.)

Her album, Call Off The Search, was released June 8, 2004, in the United States by Dramatico/Universal and is available from Amazon.com. You can also sample music and video off Universal’s site, Katie Melua’s own website, and off the Amazon.com site.

It’s safe to say we can expect more hits from Katie Melua in the future. And from Dear Free World (DFW) as well.








Friday, June 25, 2004

New Mystery Internet virus widely spread and affecting traffic

According to CNET (link) Internet engineers recently defanged a new Internet virus that has become widely spread. The virus was discovered yesterday by Microsoft and exploits holes in Microsoft products (including Internet Explorer) to infect PCs using the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser when the user clicks on an infected website (which included some trusted names). Once infected, the virus monitors a users' keystrokes for passwords and credit card numbers, which are then sent to a website in Russia. (Note my earlier article (link), citing widely published concerns by the Pentagon that Al Queda may be behind some Internet attacks.)

Earlier today, engineers disabled the Russian website, preventing further infection. (However, there is no patch for the hole in Internet Explorer, so modifications of the worm are likely to appear. The article describes precautions users should take, such as updating anti-viral and fire software, and using a browser other than IE until the patch appears). However, infected websites continue to try to infect (unsuccessfully) PC user's websites and other web servers, slowing the Internet.

I disagree with statements that claimed there had been little noticeable disruption on the Web. I noticed a number of websites behaving very strangely this morning (some, such as sitemeter and other traffic monitoring sites, that continue to misbehave). I suspected a new worm or denial of service attack, but the discovery of the worm was only announced later by Microsoft and authorities.

Other blogs covering problems with the Internet:
whizbang: Internet Attack
mypetjawa: Server Down

HSBC, Contrary to Fed, sees U.S. housing bubble

Reuters is reporting (link) that the world's largest bank, HSBC, disagrees with the US Federal Reserve ("fed"). The fed recently published a reported that concluded that there was no significant evidence of a housing bubble in the United States. In a 47-page report, HSBC concluded that the US was in the midst of a severe housing bubble. Prices were 10 to 20% too high. "We think the party stops by mid-2005." A gradually fall over a number of years was likely, with some overshoot on the way down before prices began rising again. The impact of a collapse in housing prices was likely to be felt much more strongly than the recent bursting of the stock market, HSBC feared, due to the greater "wealth effect" associated with housing prices. HSBC thus fears a hard landing in the economy.

I can only cite my own experiences out here in Southern California as evidence that a housing bubble is real. Some condominiums (aka "condos" or town houses) can be valuated like stocks. The same complex may have identical units that are both for sale and for rent.

One can think of the sale price of a condo unit as the price of a stock. The annual rental gross rental income for the same unit, minus costs (maintenance fees to the homeowner's association, insurance, property and income taxes, &c) can thought of like a stock's earnings.

Classic Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) theory relates the fundamental price of a stock (or condo unit) to its future earnings and the current interest rate. If condos (or stocks) were a risk free investment, the expected multiple of price over earnings (P/E) is simply the reciprocal of the risk-free interest rate, normally around 15x. (Interest rates are low right now, so the optimal P/E is a little higher, but not much higher. This is one of the reason stocks tend to fall to lower valuations when the Fed raises interest rates.) If a stock or condo trades at higher P/Es, then it is essentially a "growth stock" or "growth condo", meaning the buyers expect the stock or condo's annual earnings to rise with time. During the Internet bubble, CAPM predicted that some Internet stocks would need to earn more than the entire US GDP within a few years to justify their valuations, so CAPM valuation can be a powerful tool to detect bubble pricing. (We are ignoring risk in the CAPM model. With due-diligence on tenants, a properly insured, leased condo's risk is only somewhat greater than that of a risk free bond. Increased risk implies condos should have a lower P/E than a government bond with comparable earnings, since the condo must earn greater income to compensate for higher uncertainty.) CAPM theory predicts how much a stock or condo's earnings must rise to meet the expectations implicit in the P/E.

The article states that Washington DC is thought to be the most overvalued region, with California the second. I'm aware of some 2-bedroom condos here being rented for about $22K, and sold for around $430K (rents in some parts of California are among the highest in the world.) Depending on how much one allows for maintenance, taxes, and insurance, this is a P/E of between 25 and 35, comparable more to a pricey tech growth stock during the stock bubble than real estate valuations. Now, real estate prices in coastal states have historically risen faster than the rest of the nation (there's only so much ocean to go around, you know, while there's plenty of undeveloped land in the interior), but these multiples seem high even for California. In less overpriced areas, one sees P/Es closer to the usual risk-free 15 multiplier determined by interest rates.

There is other evidence. Real estate agents, like stock brokers during the bubble, tell their clients that prices can only continue to go up. (Real estate prices in California dropped by 30% about 15 years ago during the last housing correction, but everyone seems to have forgotten this.) This is in spite of high vacancies and other signs of slack demand in the rental market (a sign of overcapacity), despite a rush to buy.

Real estate agents out here urgent clients to take on the maximum house they can afford, arguing they will make a killing as housing prices continue to rise 10, 20, 30% each year as they have in the last few years. They suggest "interest-only mortgages", where the seller only pays the interest payments on the mortgage, as a way of affording an even larger house. The theory of an "interest-only mortgage", like the buying of stocks on margin that ruined many a stock trader, is that the value of the home will continue to inflate, allowing the mortgage to be paid off at considerable profit when the home is ultimately sold.


HSBC has some company out here in California in its belief that a housing bubble may exist.
However, these ideas are not popular with real estate agents out here (who, like their stock broker predecessors of a few years ago, argue passionately that prices will just continue to go up.).

As I've argued in these pages in the past, the Fed will be reluctant to raise interest rates prior to the election in November. (Raising interest rates a little now would help cool off the overheated housing market in the hopes of a economic soft landing.) This is because former President Bush reported blamed the Fed and Alan Greenspan's rate hike prior to the election in 1992 for Bush's loss to Clinton, and the Fed reportedly hasn't forgotten. Readers may recall how the Fed resorted to an emergency rate hike right after the 2000 election, in the midst of the political instability caused the Florida vote recount crisis.

However, the Fed has made it clear an interest rate hike is coming "soon" due to rising inflation in the economy. (The inflation is probably caused by high oil prices and the continued U.S. currency devaluation triggered by the yawning U.S. trade deficit. Inflation is bad because it causes managers to try to get out of pricing agreements with their customers, slowing economy growth.) Let's hope the fed's rate hike doesn't come too late to produce the "soft landing."

Fahrenheit 911, Moore, the Pentagon Spy, the Saudis, and a dead NYC artist

Michael Moore's critically acclaimed anti-Bush saga Fahrenheit 911 opens nationwide in the United States on Friday. (Click here for your local showtimes.) Alleged attempts by conservative groups to censor the award-winning film (most notably the controversial surrounding Disney's refusal to allow its release under the Miramar label) have been a frequent topic on these pages ("Michael Moore receiving death threats").

True to form, conservative groups again made the news today, this time claiming that, since Moore's film is about Bush, Moore would violate federal election laws by advertising the film after July 31, 2004, which is within 30 days of the Republican convention. So they are requested the FEC ban effectively TV advertisement of the film after that date. (The FEC is considering granting their request.) Apparently Moore expected something like this would happen, which is most likely why he was in such a hurry to get the film released before July. (And why his posters and other static ads don't show Bush.) Conservative groups say they don't like this film very much, and are willing to put a lot of money where their mouth is. These same groups are reportedly surprised by all the talk of censorship in the media these days. But this is an old story to DFW readers by now.

There is a connection between Michael Moore film, and some of my classic posts in these pages, including The Pentagon Spy and Me as well as my very first posts in these pages on my theory of democratic government. Moore isn't aware of this connection, so it doesn't show up in the film. Since Moore's film is about to open, it's time for me to state it here.

Moore's film reportedly shows rare archival footage of President Bush and the bin Ladens (including, I believe, a young Osama) dining together. He also talks about how Bush had the bin Ladens whisked out the US following 911, something that has stirred considerable debate in these pages (with the bin Laden debate thread ending most recently here).

The link involves social network analysis and a late NYC artist by the name of Mark Lombardi.

Lombardi would go through newspaper articles, writing down on index cards the names of famous people that appeared casually together in articles. He'd then go through the index cards until he'd memorized them, and he'd visualize the connections in the windmills of his mind until he had an artwork.

The story is made more interesting by the fact that Lombardi died under mysterious circumstances in 2000. If memory serves, Lombardi had been diagnosed with clinical depression, and the official explanation, accepted by the family, is that he committed suicide. (The alternate theory, discredited but still popular in some circles, is, of course, that he was knocked off by one of the subjects mentioned in his art work.)

Lombardi links:
Lombardi's website, which eerily survives him posthumously
More pictures of his works Curtosy of House minority leader Nancy Pierogi's website (D-CA)
A search of the net shows that the Lombardi/FBI story was also described in the May 1, 2002 Wall Street Journal on page D7 (link available to some WSJ subscribers but not free).



Lombardi's inspired other artists to depict social network analysis in artwork. The July 5, 2002 New York Times (free registration req'd) wrote about a group show organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art's Independent Study Program, which took Mark Lombardi's work as a starting point and did similar social analysis networks in a variety of different media, including web sites.

For example, Josh On's website, can be used to show casual social links amongst America's elite in Macromedia Flash (you can add your own maps with your data and get web users to vote) looked pretty cool until I realized the very first map (selected at random) named people I'd met and sort of knew. (Then again, so did today's news). I suppose you probably place DFW somewhere on one of those maps. Hmmm, I guess that means DFW is probably in on whichever massive global conspiracy On is trying to document, so we won't fan the flames of conspiracy theorists by giving it further mention here. ;-) Remember, you didn't hear about it here. (Incidentally, the latest website traffic data suggests that DFW not only rules, it rocks as well. In fact, the server is probably on fire.)

Lombardi even got a mention on the U.S. PBS Newshour TV program. Newshour regular Clarence Page describes the FBI interest in Lombardi's work when it discovered he had drawn links between the Bush family, the Saudis, the bin Ladens, and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI scandal related to the massive savings and loan scandal under President Reagan.)

Clarence Page dismisses Lombardi's as conspiratorial (transcript). He points out that there are trivial links between Bush and Kerry as well. Kerry and Bush are members of some of the same exclusive social clubs. I just noticed Kerry even wrote the final BCCI report that I linked above. As Page points out, these links don't mean anything (Presidential candidates are usually well-connected, and are sought out by all sorts of people, crooks included; rising, prominent Senators opposing party would be good choices to write a final report on a major scandal), but these meager facts might be enough for the paranoid to construct conspiracy theories in wild flights of imagination.

The problem with Page's story is that social network analysis is a real science. A casual mention of two famous people in one or more newspaper articles doesn't really mean anything, of course. But at some point these seeming coincident become statistical significant. If two or more famous people are often mentioned together in newspaper or other media articles, it will usually indicate a friendship or business relationship. This technology has already been allegedly abused by criminal gangs -- to ferret out informants from illegal acquired telephone records, for example.

That's where my "friend" The Pentagon Spy comes in. Recall from the article that he wanted to use social network analysis on behalf of the Pentagon to help identify terrorist leaders all around the world. That's great, of course. The problem is that this well-paid government contractor was also was interested in using the same technology to map out key leaders among America's elite (say big Democratic fundraisers, or people involved in the anti-war or other liberal movements that might be detrimental to the contractors' career). This would be sort of like what artist Josh On is doing with his website, except the Pentagon would presumably have access to much better data. And the other problem was that my "friend" was seemed much, much more interested in this part of the task (the test on Americans) than the other part - rooting out the terrorists. (If only he were more interested in testing the system by mapping the links between Bush and the bin Ladens, I might have been made more comfortable.)

So, the connections Michael Moore is making cinematically in Fahrenheit 9/11 between Bush and the bin Ladens -- not surprising given the two families wealth, influence, and common business interests -- nevertheless have also been documented in the artworks of Michael Lombardi and other artists, and essentially scientifically documented through social network analysis. They may not be sinister, but there is a great deal of evidence that they are real.

Which brings us back to the highly controversial issue regarding strict controls on the government's (read the DoD's Total Information Awareness') use of data mining technology (My thoughts on the U.S. Transportation Security Agency and datamining). Americans have been willing to tolerate such intrusions on their privacy, of course, ever since.

As I've repeatedly argued in these pages, democracy is a system for integrating the information contained in diverse points of view to make decisions on social matters too complicated for any single individual to understand. As I argue in Pentagon Spy and Me, some of the government contractors mining our data to construct these social networks (good for finding both terrorists and key players in the Democratic party) were apparently very well paid -- there would be great temptation to misuse their access to this technology in some private political mischief in the interests of job security; this is why privacy protections are needed. (Related article: Senators want more Pentagon Spy types) As long as the memory of three airplanes releasing the souls of 3000 men and women remains vivid, there will continue to be a lively debate on where to draw the line between the privacy and security protections both essential to good government.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Iraqi PM and Saudi crown prince form "possie"

In my last post I reported that the US Airforce had apparently bombed a parking lot in Iraqi in relation for the beheadings. The usual red-neck commentators on other websites have unfortunately suggested bombing the Arabian pennisula with nuclear weapons, and some on this board wrote a comment in response to this post suggested more 21-kiloton bombs should be dropped to intimidate "Mohammed." Although it should be obvious, this would not be a good idea.

Earlier, other blog commentators and I pointed out (here) that one of the purposes of the Al Queda propaganda beheading videos was to get Americans irrational and angry so that we start making mistakes. Bombing a parking lot would probably be one of the possible mistakes.

I suggested that we should think about the beheaders more like the Jessie James gang, hiding out in some outlaw territory where locals were sympathetic to their cause, and thus more a police matter than a matter for the armed forces. To use an Old West metaphor President Bush has used himself (and thus would understand) I suggested a "possie" with a sheriff was a much better approach than bombing parking lots. It was really a matter for the local sheriffs and leading citizens, who spoke the language, understood the culture, and knew some of the characters living in the outlaw territory -- we just had to make sure they the resources they needed to go after the Jessie James gang. Their task, in turn, like an Old West possie, would be to ride into the outlaw territory and get the locals there on the side (with carrots and sticks), so that we'd learn where Jessie James and his gang of cutthroats was hiding. In Iraq, the obvious "sheriff" was the new Prime Minister, whom the militants had said they would kill.

Would the sheriff and the "possie" want to bring down a kiloton device to try to terrify the people living in the badlands? Probably not. They'd try to come up with some innovative local solutions to getting their own people to cooperate.

Well, later yesterday, it magically looked as though world leaders (or at least their public relations people) were thinking along the same lines:

Reuters today reported the ruler of Saudi Arabia has offered a one-month amnesty to militants as a carrot (with the threat of a heavy stick to follow) to help him locate the Jessie James gang.

Reuters also reported that the Iraqi PM has vowed to go after the militants who threatened to assassinate him.

These approaches might not work. However, they have a much better chance of dealing successfully with the militants that do approaches involving the dropping of bombs on parking lots. The latter approaches have zero chance of dealing effectively with the militants.

At least these made much better public relations (PR) response to the beheadings than the bombing of the parking lot. PR, unfortunately, is said to drive much decision-making these days.

Personally, I think the possie that went after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a much better cinematic metaphor for how best to deal with the militants than is the cowboy actor Slim Pickens riding down a nuclear bomb to impact in Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Other blogs covering the Kim Sun-il beheading story:
Earlier DFW Post with Additional Links   Later DFW story on airforce's bombing of the parking lot
In Search of Utopia: Well the Video Made it to the Net [Before you ask about how to find out where the video is. The South Korean government knows this is Al Queda propaganda designed to drive a wedge between the Islamic and Western worlds, and apparently tried unsuccessfully to prevent it from reaching the net in South Korea.]
My Pet Jawa: Kim Sun-il Beheading Video Released
Our Life: Kim Sun-il Beheaded
Sworn Enemy: Has al-Jazeera Found Their Conscience?
Whizbang: Seoul Blocks Beheading Video [More on unsuccessful attemps by Seoul to prevent the beheading video from being seen, along with updates on attempts by South Korean hackers to 'hack back' at Al Queda.]

U.S. Bombs Parking Lot In Retaliation for Beheadings

Reuters reported earlier that the U.S. Air Force bombed a parking lot in Iraq in retaliation for the beheadings.

I don't know if they missed their target, or if the parking lot was the target. Presumably, the target was someone supposed to be connected the militants responsible for the beheadings --- did the militants leave their cars parked in the parking lot?

Some commenters on this and other blogs (such as in response to this post) suggested dropping bigger bombs in Iraq (21K moabs, which are conventional weapons equivalent to a small kiloton nuke) would be the solution. I vigorously contested this in response to the commenter, as well as in my last post on the beheading of the South Korean.

Perhaps we were also under pressure from the South Korean government and populace to "do something." So we bombed a parking lot. The Pentagon has been criticized in the past for excessive reliance on air power, and it sounds like our forces lived up to the stereotype today. I don't know how bombing parking lots (even with bigger bombs, as some readers here have suggested) is going to work.

The Al Queda-linked Iraqi militant responsible for the latest beheading is basically just a criminal gang which is receiving some sympathy from the local population that is shielding them. It's police work, and using a carrot and stick approach to form alliances with local leaders in the outlaw regions and enlist their assistance in nailing these guys.

Now the leader of this Al Queda gang has vowed to assassinate the new prime minister of Iraq; you can bet the new Iraqi government is going to be a very good ally on this. Their suggestion was to reform the previously disbanded Iraqi Army, and use them to search for the militants --- probably a very good idea, because the Iraqis, unlike most American soldiers, actually speak Arabic and know the local customs. So they can tell the difference between what is normal Iraqi behavior (e.g., gunfire from a wedding or standard Iraqi Islamic practices) as opposed to militant behavior (gunfire not from weddings, or fanatical Islamic practices) when most American soldiers can't. In short, they know their country in a way that the American soldiers don't. And they'll probably get much better cooperation from the locals as well.

How would (did) we go after the Jessie James gang? We probably won't call in the Air Force to bomb a parking lot. We'd form a possie. You had a similar situation in the old West where there were outlaw regions that would shield these gangs. Getting the locals on your side was something the possie would have to do deal with. One reason possies, rather than federal troops or the air force, were the preferred ways of dealing with these gangs --- they knew the people and the knew the area much better. The federal troops couldn't tell friend from foe among a population of Americans (or Iraqis) -- the possie could.

(For my non-American readers, a possie in the old West is a group of local citizens enlisted ("deputized") by the sheriff to ride out after an outlaw as an emergency measure. When asked about multilaterialism, Bush quipped that he understood multilaterialism, because, as a Texan, he knew about possies.)

That's what we need to do in Iraq. We need to entice some relatively prominent citizens in the areas shielding these outlaws to band together, and get them to form a possie. They'd be effectively "deputizied" and have sufficient authority to either use the local Iraq police or, failing that, go after the militants themselves.

Whatever the drawbacks, it sounds more much practical than having the US Air Force use smart bombs costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a piece to destroy -- a parking lot? -- in a country we already own anyway.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Next beheading video? South Korean Kim Sun-il taken hostage.

New visitors to this site: Extensive links to other blogs discussing the Kim Sun-il beheading story are below.

Additional links to related articles on this and other blogs can be found both in the article below as well as in the Trackback section (click on the "Trackback" link below), and elsewhere on this site. (Related articles on this site often also have extensive links to external blog coverage. Also try the site search tool above at top right to find related articles on this site).

Please visit DFW Home for updates on all the latest top stores.

Most recent update: 2004/07/17: Record Internet Traffic Due to Gory Video Resurfacing.

Most recent related story: 2004/07/15 (and later updates): Bulgarian captive beheading video released to Al Jazeera.


EARLIER UPDATE: 2004/06/26 14:27 PDT (GMT-7) Breaking News: Next Video? Al Queda in Iraq threatens to behead three captured Turks


Earlier Updates 2004/06/26:
U.S. Bombs Parking Lot In Retaliation for Beheadings
Iraqi PM and Saudi crown prince form "possie" (with additional links)
DFW Homepage for the latest


Earlier Update: Breaking News 2004/06/22 10:30 AM PDT (GMT-7). A videotape showing the beheading of South Korean hostage Kim Sun-il has been released by Iraqi militants, and his body has been recovered by Iraqi police, Reuters reported seven minutes ago.

So they did it.

Original June 21 Post:

The top news at the moment in the meanstream media is that Al Queda is threatening to kill the South Korean hostage Kim Sun-il (Reuters) and presumably make a gruesome propaganda video out of him the same they did of Paul Johnson.

As I've written about in comments to an earlier post, Al Queda's purpose in producing these beheading video tapes is, once again, to fog our reason by making us angry. Angry American do irrational, destructive things (story with photo here).

Short of caving in to the terrorists (and thus inciting more violence by demonstrating weakness), there is no short-term solution to this problem. Without a major break in the Saudi investigation, Kim Sun-il is effectively already a victim.

There are longer term solutions. We Americans must carefully study our enemy so that may deal intelligently and shrewdly with it. (Simply using larger bombs, as one commenter on this site suggested, is not a solution. If it were, we would have tried this long ago.) We must also effectively address the root causes of terrorism.

Fortunately, we have a long tradition of American diplomacy to draw upon, starting with perhaps our nation's shrewdest founding father, Benjamin Franklin. Dr. Franklins' diplomatic victories in France astounded the British and likely had more to do with the founding of this nation than Washington's military successes ever did.

Al Queda wants to make us angry because, once again, angry American do foolish, destructive things (story with photo here). Let's not fall into that trap. Let's deal with our enemies, as Al Queda itself has advised its own followers in Koranic language, with wisdom rather than with force whenever possible.


Dear Free World related humor:
Madonna to wear burka in concert; changes name to "Mohammed" (HUMOR)
"Babe Photo Wars" move into politics (humor)
bin Laden threatens 'beheading video' pirates with beheading (HUMOR)
WANTED: Gay Muslim Fundamentalist Extremist for blog Interview/Debate(HUMOR)
al Qaeda chief backs Bush/Cheney in statement (humor)

DFW Recent popular posts on politics:
Blog and TiVo convention coverage

DFW Popular posts on terrorism:
Global terrorism and the need for Carl Sagan's Cosmos in Arabic
The pen is mightier than the minature pocket knife, even aboard airplanes [Thread about TSA]
Latest beheading video especially graphic [Paul Johnson beheading]
Islamic Militants Execute Bulgarian captive
Next beheading video? South Korean Kim Sun-il taken hostage.
Iraqi militants behead U.S. Marine [bogus beheading story]
Turk beheading next video?

DFW Recent popular posts on pop culture:
Jessica Simpson reportedly has Genius IQ
Martha Stewart considering dropping her appeal
LA crime beat: Priceless Beatles songs suitcase reappears under suspicious circumstances
Donald Trump wants to fire Bush

Other blog coverage of Kim Sun-il beheading story:
DFW: Original hit post "Latest Beheading Video Especially Graphic" on blog coverage of Paul Johnson beheading, with comphrensive links to other blogs
Hot Ambercrombie Chick: Next Beheading Victim? - South Korean Kim Sun-il Video   Video of South Korean Kim Sun-il Beheading Released
Whizbang: South Korean Beheaded in Iraq
Drink This: Untranslate this...
The Galvin Opinion: The Blue Fog
Interested Participant: South Korean Hostage Beheaded
In Search of Utopia: Korean Man Held by Terrorist in Iraq   Oliver Makes a Great Point...

VOA reporting Riyadh, Saudi Arabia as city of fear

An American reporter with the Voice of America (US government media) reports here that the capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is a city that appears to be under a security lockdown as Saudi security searches for the terrorists involved in the beheading of Paul Johnson.

He reports that there is great fear of Al Queda in the city. Residents and taxi drivers are even afraid to be seen near Americans.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Pentagon believes Internet is good for democracy (response to dponce80)

Thanks dponce80 for your post "The devil's advocate" (and contributing to the diversity of viewpoints on here!)

Not surprisingly, I don't entirely agree on your analysis that the Internet has hampered the war on terror.

Interestingly, my "friends" in the Pentagon probably wouldn't agree with you about the Internet.

There is certainly a great deal of concern in the Pentagon about Al Queda's use of the Internet. The US TV Network PBS Science series Nova did an article about the Pentagon's considerable interest in cyberwarfare. Recall the major criticism of US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is that he is too interested in high technology. They've been monitoring hack attacks on the US for decades are convinced Al Queda is trying to gain, or already has, a capability for US cyber attacks. They believe Al Queda would be tempted in this direction, because bringing down the US cyber infrastructure would be a "weapon of mass disruption" that would do economic damage without bringing much retaliation. (The Pentagon's view on this differs from the view by the Guardian's US intelligence source, the respected IISS think tank, and others that the war on terror has actually been dramatically helped Al Queda swell its ranks).

There is also concern about the use of the Internet by Al Queda to communicate and order attacks.

Of course, most US economists believe the Internet has been a huge economic boon to the United States because it greatly increased worker productivity (information is just a few clicks away via Google), allowing goods to be cheaper than ever before. (Currently, there has been a debate about foreign offshoring of US jobs via the use of the Internet, but economists believe that a more efficient, productive US economy will eventually create new jobs. History is on their side, but it is true there have been growing pains with the Internet, as with any new technology. The automobile put blacksmiths out of business. Sound movies put many musicians out of business. But the economy eventually absorbed these losses and boomed....)

The Pentagon has the most sophisticated understanding of cyberwarfare and "information warfare" of anyone in world. They've been doing it the longest, and a have a keen interest in using the Internet for propaganda. (My personal experiences).

That aside, they do believe that communication technologies like the Internet, cell and satellite phones, and satellite dishes help promote democracy.

They've done studies that show that the control of authoritarian governments diminishes with the density of cell phones and uncensored Internet within a population. Consequently, the Pentagon has been one of the greatest advocates of this technology.

In this case, I don't think it is Pentagon disinformation. I think the Internet has helped democratize the world. (Recall satellite phones were illegal in Iraq under Saddam. Zugabe, the President of the Zimbabwe made news by complaining during a UN conference on the Internet that small countries, such as Zimbabwe, needed to control the content on Internet.

Most observers saw this as a vindication of their believe that the Internet was good for democracy. Here links via the aforementioned Pentagon-connected "friend" supporting this view, sent to me at the time: email from a South African on Internet censorship there   Business.com story on Mugabe at the UN Internet conference   news.com.au on Chinese Internet censorship   Blogrunner archive of Blog coverage of Mugabe story.

The Internet has helped the US economy enormously by dramatically boosting US worker productivity. There is also a great deal of evidence showing the Internet is good for democracy and bad for authoritarian regimes.

It has just hurt the Bush Administration's ability to put its own spin on things --- which is probably a good thing.

The devil's advocate...

In the spirit of diversity and perspective, I've been graciously invited by E.E.A Eaton to post on this blog and make my views known to the world. Now that he's hit the big time (with over 500 hits daily!) it seems this forum would give me a louder voice than my own paltry little blog.

As a disclaimer, I feel it necessary to point out a few things. First, I am Canadian, and technically Christian. I was raised with (mostly) all the same values the American people have and it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I even properly met a (barely)Muslim person (that we have shared the same bed since then should, hopefully, not impact my objectivity). This, coupled with some traveling, has allowed me to broaden my perspective on the world and made me able to argue points of view that are usually very unpopular here in America. My only desire in entertaining these views is to stimulate debate and hopefully creative some objective conclusions (as opposed to our mass-media incubated opinions...)

So to get right down to it, I'd like to give my own spin on (what else?) the Paul Johnson story. Most people have been calling these acts of beheading barbarous, inhuman and plenty other epithets whose uniting thread is the implication that these terrorists are nothing more than a sub-human band of rabid dogs, whose only possible use on this planet would be as soil fertilizer. Most people seem to dismiss their tactics as nothing more than simple murder and their combined efforts wholly unworthy of even the name "war". In other words, according to these people, America is fighting a just "war" on terror, whereas the terrorists are simply responding by hitting below the belt. They contend their actions should not be considered self defense, simply because their methods are untraditional, and what's more... inhuman.

While I agree that acts of violence such as the one committed on Paul Johnson ARE disgusting, they are not more so than any act of war. War is never pretty. Only now, as opposed to just about every other war, with the internet, its vile beauty is easily accessible to the planet at the click of a mouse. This simple fact has very far-reaching implications I'll discuss shortly.

Many people (especially over at Hot Abercrombie Chick's website, on this post) contend that the terrorists actions are NOT war because their efforts are aimed at civilians, non-combatants. That this alone should disqualify their actions from even being called a resistance, let alone a war. I disagree. Back in 1945, the U.S. dropped two bombs on Japan, killing over 100 000 civilians (100 000!! 15 times more than Pearl Harbor and the WTC deaths combined...). These deaths were calculated, and not the result of "collateral damage". The desired effect, the message the U.S. wanted to send to Japan back then was: "Hey, I just killed 100 000 of your people. And I can do it again and again, until you come crawling to me on your hands and knees." Which of course is what Japan did. It was a psychological game of poker, and civilians were the currency. That bombing was, and always has been, called an "act of war", and I see no reason why the terrorists tactics should be considered any differently? Why? Because their methods are untraditional? Because they're decentralized and answer to no one in particular, making their surrender virtually impossible? I don't think so. That's not their problem. It's America's problem, and it just might be their undoing. America is now "fighting a war on terror", except they're doing it on the terrorists terms, and there isn't much the U.S. can do about it.

You see, what the terrorists are doing to America, is what America did to Japan 60 years ago. They're putting the game on its head, just like the US did back then. I'm sure Japan said, after the first bomb dropped and 50 000 of it's civilians were vaporized: "Crap!! What's the U.S. doing??! They can't do that! It's not fair, it's not right!" Just like we all are now. Because, you see, back then, no one had A-bombs. The bomb was America's ace in the hole, and it's what won it its war. Well, ladies and gents, I contend that these beheadings are the terrorists "ace in the hole".

The advent of the internet has made it possible for anyone (in this case, the terrorists) to reach us, to show us what's happening. Before, the only way we could get information was through the media. And of course, editors made sure we got to see only what they wanted. Now, it's a different game. This opens the door for a game of psychological blackmail that just might lose us (by "us", I mean America...) another war. It took decades for the general public to catch on that things weren't going right in Vietnam. Decades. Now, with the internet, it's taken less than a year.

The irony is that the one thing that America pioneered (the internet) is the one tool that might actually be successfully used in its own undoing. That may be a bit of an hyperbole, but you get the picture. I hope.


Guardian claims Al-Queda planning strike to "keep [Bush] in office"

The British Guardian is citing ("Bush told he is playing into Bin Laden's hands") an anonymous U.S. senior intelligence official that claims al Queda is planning a strike on the US prior to the November election, not to elect Kerry, but to keep Bush in office. The anonymous U.S. spy is coming out with a book next month, Imperial Hubris: Why We are Losing the War on Terror.

Although there has been unprecedented criticism of Bush Administration foreign policy from former senior U.S. military and intelligence officials (Senior Officials Say Bush Must Go") the anonymous spy is trying to sell a book. It's always a good idea to be a bit skeptical of authors hawking their latest books, especially anonymous ones.

However, I myself share these fears. Others and I have done spoofs (here) of Al Queda endorsements of Bush-Cheney only to learn that there had indeed been such endorsements.

For example, Australian ABC News and other media sources have reported (story here) that Al Queda in Spain has told its followers it would like to see Bush re-elected because his Administration's ill-advised policies have been very good to Al Queda. Australian ABC News goes on to quote Al Queda in Spain, bizarrely, saying "Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilisation."

The Guardian article, in my view, is more of the same. The best defense against allowing Al Queda to use terror to influence the US elections (either to influence the public in favor of Bush or in favor of Kerry) is to make our national actions unpredictable to Al Queda.

In our public dialogue we should make it clear that we are aware that al Queda may attempt to influence our elections with a terrorist attack, but not allow them to know whether this will make us angry at Al Queda (thus favoring Bush) or angry at the Bush Administration (thus favoring Kerry).

If Al Queda cannot predict how a terrorist attack might impact an election (e.g., it might help place "the wrong President" from their point of view into office --- currently Kerry), the odds of such an attack become much less likely.

As always, I welcome exchanging public comments with readers. (Click "comments" below to post a comment in two easy clicks --- you can be anonymous.)

Other blogs covering this story: Deborama   Outside the Beltway   Oliver Wills   Bird on the Moon   Daily Pundit


Saturday, June 19, 2004

Breaking News: Al Queda confirms its leader in Saudi dead.

According to this Reuters article datelined minutes ago, Al Queda in Saudi Arabia has posted a message to its website confirming that Saudi forces killed ("ambushed") its leader in Saudi Arabia and three other militants.

Al Queda in Saudi Arabia of course vowed to continue their "jihad" nevertheless.

Related Earlier stories on this blog:
Record website traffic related to Paul Johnson beheading (some humor)
Updates to Paul Johnson beheading story
"Latest beheading especially graphic" with links to other blog coverage
"Terror group beheads US hostage; Al Queda endorses Bush (Not Humor)"

News: U.S. Senate de-facto threatens Ashcroft with subpoena (exclusive)

US Senator Feinstein recently wrote me an email, quoted below, in response to my concern about Ashcroft's behavior before the Senate. It contains news about the US Senate's intention to subpoena Attorney General Ashcroft, which would normally have made the mainstream US media, but has been lost in the stream of news coming out of the Middle East.

Recall my earlier post "Ashcroft de facto in contempt of Congress" (here) in which I pointed out that Ashcroft's demeanor towards the Senate on June 8th was highly unusual.

I urged my American readers to contact their congressional representatives and express support for Congress' constitutionally mandated authority to investigate the Administration and subpoena people and documents. In this time of war, it is especially important to let your representatives know (including your Republican representatives) that you continue to support their efforts to carry out their Constitutional duty to oversee the Administration's activities.

Here is the body of Senator Feinstein's email to me in its entirety (no doubt similar to emails received by other California voters that wrote to her on this issue):


Thank you for your letter on Attorney General John
Ashcroft's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on
June 8, 2004. I welcome the opportunity to respond.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has an important oversight
role for the Department of Justice. Under the Constitution, the
Attorney General cannot refuse to provide information the
Congress requests unless he claims executive privilege. I am
disappointed that Attorney General Ashcroft was not forthcoming
with the memos we requested and we intend to pursue this matter
by subpoena if necessary. Otherwise we cannot carry out our
mandated oversight responsibility.

Again, thank you for writing. I hope you will continue to
keep me informed on issues of importance to you. If you have any
further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact my
Washington, D.C. staff at (###) ###-####.

Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator


By "we intend to pursue this matter by subpoena if necessary" she most likely also includes the Republican members of the Senate. The request for the document, after all, was made by the Republican chair of the Senate committee.

It sounds like the Senate has basically given Ashcroft an ultimatum: turn over the documents within a reasonable time frame, claim executive privilege (which he so far has expressly refused to claim), or face a subpoena.

This is one of the many stories that normally would have received great coverage in the mainstream US media, but that has fallen through the cracks with all the (mostly bad) news coming out of the Middle East. In normal times, arrogantly defying a request for a document from the US Senate would be big news and usually political suicide for a senior Administration official. It is very unusual for the Senate to resort to the threat of a subpoena. (Administration officials are usually very deferential to Senate committee chairs, at least publically, as they know the Senate will usually get its way in the end anyway).

Earlier story: "Ashcroft de facto in contempt of Congress" (here)

Record Website Traffic and how to make your very own PVC shoe rack at the home depot

What do I have to do to get people to comment on this site? (it's one click, thanks to haloscan.)

I used to get 2 hits in a day, and some guy or two would write 100 comments each on the site, and we'd have a nice debate.

Today I'm getting, we expect, 4K+ hits and 2K+ unique visitors in the next 24 hours (we've been getting approximately 100 visitors an hour for the last 16 hours), and so far I've been lucky to get one or two comments or trackbacks.

I think the problem is that the 100/hr visitors I'm getting right now are all Republicans (see my earlier story (here) with the statistics that most American blog readers are actually well-to-do and Republican) and they hate the site, whereas the 1 or 2 guys I had before were all Democrats. Or maybe everyone is just too grief stricken following the beheading to post comments.

It doesn't matter. I'm going to get rich selling elephant plush toys or inflatable elephants. I'm working to modify the site right now to add a pop window, hey, may 10 pop-windows, selling inflatable elephants with the Bush-Cheney logo on it. All proceeds go to the Democratic Party (or at least the Kerry campaign --- I don't always vote Democratic but I have serious reservations about the current administration's competence. Some former Republican senior foreign policy experts share my concerns (article here) and have urged people to please, please vote for Kerry in a highly unusual move --- I am not making this up.

With all this Republican website traffic I am going to get rich selling these Republican inflatable elephants. (For my non-American readers, the elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party.)

I have another idea. Some rich friends of my family (or maybe they are actually superrich friends of mine --- don't ask how I know all these rich folks; I wasn't exactly born with a silver spoon in my mouth) have one of their many homes in a gated community in Florida. These are the sort of people Bush once quipped "some people call you the rich; I call you my base." I'm sure they read blogs --- they're probably reading this right now (everyone else is) --- so I'm going to say 'hi.'

The wife spends most of her time shopping (much to the chagrin of her husband) and much of that shopping time is spent buying shoes. At one point she was in serious competition with Imelda Marcos (BBC news story here). I am not making this up. (Well, Imelda always did have a lot more shoes, but you get the idea.)

Anyway --- the husband finally decided he had to put a stop to all of this shoe buying. So he made her a shoe rack out of some PVC plastic pipe he bought at the home depot and two small bookends. Whenever she runs out of space on the PVC shoe rack (which is frequently), she has to start giving away shoes. She has cultivated a rich circle of friendships with women who have the same size feet. I am not making this up.

Anyway, I'm going to be next male Martha Stewart. It turns out you can make a very nice shoe rack with just some PVC pipe and bookends from home depot. I'm going to put the instructions up here someday. I'm also going to put up a bunch of pop-up ads so people can buy a pre-made PVC shoe rack, complete with Bush-Cheney logo on it. Again, all proceeds go to the Democratic Party, or Kerry campaign, or maybe just my bank account. I'm going to get rich selling these Bush-Cheney PVC shoe racks on this site. Yeah.

Comments? I love comments. It's quick and easy --- it just takes two mouse clicks to post your comment, and you can be anonymous. Just click the 'comment' link immediately below.

Related blog stories: Despite living in gated communities and spending too much time at mall, my friends are much too complicated and too real to be described as a Stepford family. Yet one can see how this movie might be interpreted as political metaphor. I wrote two well-received, linked reviews of The Stepford Wives for blogcritics.org ("The Stepfordization of America", here) in which I focused on the rich cinematic history of using robot replicas of humans as metaphors for authoritarian governments.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Updates to beheading story. (Beheaders killed; US lawmakers criticize Saudis; Johnson family defends Saudis)

This is an update to the heavily-followed earlier story posted here on the behading in Saudi Arabia. Since that was posted a little over two hours ago, there has been considerable movement in the story.

UPDATE: It is being widely reported (including the American ABC Network) and BBC News that Saudi officials are reporting that they have killed the leader and second-in-command of the terrorism group responsible for the beheading as they were trying to dispose of the body.
(Other blog converage on the update: Intergalactic Capitalist, the StarBanker Blog, Wizbang!).

UPDATE2: CNN is reporting that some U.S. lawmakers on the hill have responded to today's events by denouncing Saudi Arabia as a kingdom that has allowed terror to thrive.


UPDATE3: Reuters is reporting that the Johnson family has issued a statement (perhaps in response to comments on the Hill) saying the killers do not represent Saudis.

Clearly, this story continues to break.

Latest beheading video especially graphic

New visitors to this site: Extensive links to other blogs discussing the Paul Johnson beheading story are below.

Additional links to related articles on this and other blogs can be found both in the article below as well as in the Trackback section (click on the "Trackback" link below), and elsewhere on this site. (Related articles on this site often also have extensive links to external blog coverage. Also try the site search tool above at top right to find related articles on this site).

Please visit DFW Home for updates on all the latest top stores.

Most recent update: 2004/07/17: Record Internet Traffic Due to Gory Video Resurfacing.

Most recent related story: 2004/07/15 (and later updates): Bulgarian captive beheading video released to Al Jazeera.

EARLIER UPDATE: 2004/06/26 14:27 PDT (GMT-7) Breaking News: Next Video? Al Queda in Iraq threatens to behead three captured Turks

Original June 18th Post:

It seems the latest beheading video (of contractor Paul Johnson) is especially graphic.

I hope this means I won't be seeing more right-wing vandalism (photo) in response to this beheading as there was the last time.

Some of these groups have indicated one of their aims is to see Bush relected (post), and that may be one of their aims with these beheadings and videos. UPDATE 2004/06/20: There is a heavily tracked story today (here) about an article in the British Guardian citing a senior US intelligence official who also believed that Al Queda may be attempting to influence the US election.

EARLIER UPDATE 2004/06/22 10:30 AM: Terrorists have released a videotape of the beheading of South Korean hostage Kim Sun-il.


Earlier Updates 2004/05/06:
U.S. Bombs Parking Lot In Retaliation for Beheadings
Iraqi PM and Saudi crown prince form "possie" (with additional links)
DFW Homepage

Earlier updated coverage: "Breaking News: Al Queda confirms its leader in Saudi dead" (and links to other updates)

Other blog coverage of the Paul Johnson beheading story:
Amanda Doerty.
Wizbang: American Hostage Paul Johnson Beheaded
Rooftop Report: Another Beheading by the religious crusaders
My Pet Jawa: Oh...My...God....Yes, Anger is the Appropriate Emo
Rooftop Report: Nick Berg Beheading Video
annika's journal: Is It Becoming Clearer Now?
The Galvin Opinion: THESE PEOPLE HAVE NO MERCY
Backcountry Conservative: Another Beheading Video?
Ramblings' Journal: AQ beheads hostage Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia
Drink This: Too much naivete on this...
Inoperable Terran: Religion of Peace My Ass™
Judicious Asininity: Another American Beheaded by Terrorists
Slant Point: Paul Johnson Beheading
Right Moment: Misdirected Anger and Saudi Indifference
Being American in T.O.: Paul Johnson, Jr., RIP
Dizzy Girl: Why Don't We Get Drunk And...
Angelweave: Paul Johnson
Interested-Participant: Paul Johnson Beheaded
The Denrael Project: Paul Johnson
Watcher of Weasels: The Paul Johnson Beheading: Another Zionist...
In Search of Utopia: Not Since 9/11, Has there Been as Much Anger...
Rantingprofs: Graphic Images
Deanesmay: More On Saudi Killing of Al Qaeda Militants (Joe Gandelman)
Catholic Light: Religion of peace claims another victim (w/XML markup)
Grouchy's Liberaltopia!: Saudi Police helped kidnap Paul Johnson
Pandagon.net: Not Killing With Kindness

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"Babe Photo Wars" move into politics (humor)
bin Laden threatens 'beheading video' pirates with beheading (HUMOR)
WANTED: Gay Muslim Fundamentalist Extremist for blog Interview/Debate(HUMOR)
al Qaeda chief backs Bush/Cheney in statement (humor)

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Next beheading video? South Korean Kim Sun-il taken hostage.
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