Showing posts from August, 2005

Natural Disaster and Societal Turmoil

There is supposedly a Chinese tradition that floods and disasters are the test of an emperor. Even god kings aren't expected to prevent natural disasters, but they are expected to respond agressively and appropriately. I not a big David Brooks fan, but he has this nice column in a related vein tomorrow. Floods wash away the surface of society, the settled way things have been done. They expose the underlying power structures, the injustices, the patterns of corruption and the unacknowledged inequalities. When you look back over the meteorological turbulence in this nation's history, it's striking how often political turbulence followed. He presents concise descriptions of some historical examples, and concludes with this: Civic arrangements work or they fail. Leaders are found worthy or wanting. What's happening in New Orleans and Mississippi today is a human tragedy. But take a close look at the people you see wandering, devastated, around New Orleans: they are pre

Out of Slack

Our Presidential playboy was vacationing in Texas when the final 9/11 warning came in on the presidential briefing. He missed it of course, because "nobody could have imagined" the scenario, even if it was there in black and white. There can't be any excuse for failing to pay attention to Hurricane Katrina. The disaster was predicted far in advance, and the approach of the Hurrican was seen many days out. Why weren't the obvious preparations made? Why were not evacuations carried out, troops and trucks sent to aid the population, shelters prepared and staffed? Criminal negligence! Criminal negligence! Criminal negligence!

Causal Sets

Fay Dowker has a nice descriptive introduction to the Causal Sets approach to Quantum Gravity: gr-qc/0508109 No equations, but very lucid explanations of the ideas and accomplishments. Every approach to quantum gravity in this broad conception must embody answers to two fundamental questions: “What is quantum mechanics?” and “What is the deep structure of spacetime?” This article will touch on the former question and focus on the latter and the answer to it provided by the approach known as causal set theory which marries the two concepts of discreteness (or atomicity) and causality. The view that causality is a more fundamental organising principle, even than space and time, is an ancient tradition of thought... She brings in a supporting quote from big Al: “But you have correctly grasped the drawback that the continuum brings. If the molecular view of matter is the correct (appropriate) one, i.e., if a part of the universe is to be represented by a finite number of moving points, th


Right now, people in New Orleans and on the Gulf coast urgently need all kinds of help, but when the crisis is past, the nation needs to take a good hard look at how this was allowed to happen. Cuba, a poor and technologically primitive country took a huge hit from a Category 5 hurricane earlier this year, but loss of life was minimal. It now looks like hundreds or perhaps thousands have died in Mississipi and Louisiana, in the richest and most technologically advanced country in the world, despite the fact that almost exactly the disaster that occurred has been long predicted. What could have been done? For a start, mandatory evacuations should have been mandatory, with the troops and trucks to get everybody out. Getting everybody out not only protects those who leave, but prevents looting, the threat that causes many to stay. The levees should all have been concrete, not dirt. Pumps should have had generators and been located well above Lake Ponchetrain. Well equipped and prepa


No, I'm not talking about the bullshit articles on the "scientific controversy" over Intelligent Design published a week or so ago. Here the initials stand for Intelligent Design BitchSlapped in New York Times, (by Op-Ed contributor Daniel Dennett.) Dennett is one of many guys writing intelligently about Darwin ( Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life ), and he elegantly exposes the ID scam in this essay . Intelligent design is a hoax, he says, and it exploits common human fraillties just like every other scam. The fundamental scientific idea of evolution by natural selection is not just mind-boggling; natural selection, by executing God's traditional task of designing and creating all creatures great and small, also seems to deny one of the best reasons we have for believing in God. So there is plenty of motivation for resisting the assurances of the biologists. ...Some of the methods used to exploit these urges are easy to analyze; others


Lubos Motl has a new post up on a proposed linear collder to follow the LHC. He talks about the late lamented SSC, its invention by the greatest Scientific Mind of our age, Ronald Reagan, the support it had from Bush & Bush, and its tragic demise at the hands of evil Democrats in the Senate. Lubos hopes that private money might build a new linear collider, but what, I say, could be a fitter monument to the scientific genius of our dear leaders than a taxpayer (or bond buyer) financed Ronald Reagan and (George Bush)^2 Memorial Linear Collider. A suitable site could extend from the Bush Presidential Libraries in Texas to the Reagan Presidential Library in California, with the interaction region somewhere near John McCain's home in Arizona. The whole thing would cost less than the International Space Station, and produce far better science, even if it never discovers the LSP.


Katrina is starting to look like a very scary Hurricane, and the projected bullseye is very close to New Orleans.

Transverse Vibrations

Whereas I find Prof. Motl's Bloq interesting, well written, though often outrageous. And whereas furthermore, I find writing comments to said blog often raises the Author's ire and subsequently, my blood pressure, resulting in an occassional tantrum. I hereby resolve to avoid writing comments to said blog. And attempt to confine my wrath to politicians, other scoundrels, and the more worthless elements of our press. Let's hope this resolution lasts longer than my last.

Deconstructing Iraq

I wasn't that optimistic about the Iraqi Constitution yesterday, and delaying the vote for a third time today was not exactly a good omen. But now it might be time for despair. David Brooks has written this column explaining just what a jim dandy this constitution is. What David Brooks really likes is that it breaks up Iraq into three countries, thus expressing the citizens most fundamental aspirations. In the last election each group expressed its authentic identity, the Kurds by voting for autonomy-minded leaders, the Shiites for clerical parties and the Sunnis by not voting. This constitution gives each group what it wants. It will create a very loose federation in which only things like fiscal and foreign policy are controlled in the center (even tax policy is decentralized). Oil revenues are supposed to be distributed on a per capita basis, and no group will feel inordinately oppressed by the others. Yeah right. One nation, with three or five or ten armies. If you liked t

Intel D Inside

It looks like science has lost the battle of Intelligent Design. Bush, McCain, and Frist all support teaching it, as do all but 12% of Americans. Darwin is more unpopular than compulsory gay marriage or unilateral surrender to Osama bin Laden. More Americans supported the Libertarian party candidate in the last presidential election than support banning ID from the classroom. I recently attended a meeting on atmospheric microscale models where, when one scientist noted that his models had developed through evolution, another sniffed that his, by contrast, had arisen through Intelligent Design.

Bad Vibrations

I would like to thank Lubos Motl for yet another lesson in the futility of attempting to hold a civil discussion with a fanatic - even if the fanatic happens to be witty, clever, and have a genius level IQ. Mainly to remind myself, here are some signs that you may be dealing with a fanatic. (1) Intellectual rigidity. Inability to civily discuss possible points of disagreement. (2) Hypersensitivity. Treating every challenge as a personal and deadly affront. (3) Absurd Conflations: "arguing against string theory is like arguing against the evolution" attributed to some string theorist who is not LM but partially endorsed by LM. (4) Irrationality: CIP - I have yet to have any string theorist tell me of any confirmed prediction of string theory LM - your demand is logically inconsistent. If you ask string theory to have "confirmed predictions", then the word "confirmed" means that the validity of the prediction is already known, and therefore the p

$5000 Op-Ad

I'm not sure how much the New York Times usually charges for advertisements on its Op-Ed page, or even if it usually accepts them, but it sure looks like Matthew Simmons paid $5000 to advertise his new book in this column today. John Tierney's column today is about a bet he made with Simmons on the future price of oil, not coincidentally the subject of Simmons's book. There is a very strange oddity in the bet: Tierney offered to bet him that the price of oil would not go up more than average worker's salaries between now and 2010, but Simmons insisted on a much riskier bet that the price of oil would exceed $200/barrel in 2005 dollars. Simmons is the president of an investment bank, so it's pretty plausible that he's a rational economic actor. Why would a rational actor seek out an obviously less favorable bet? My guess: publicity for his book, and publicity for the idea he's selling - that a huge rise in oil prices in likely and soon. I think oil is

New Books?

Apparently John Schwarz and the Becker sisters are writing a new Superstring textbook. Anybody hear any buzz about it? Hope they don't take as long as Polchinski did! Also in the "missing but predicted" category: Blandford and Thorne on applications of classical physics, Thomas Thiemann on quantum gravity, and di Francesco et. al. on Superconformal Field Theory. I would be interested in sightings or rumors

Bush Agonistes?

Newsweek can generally be counted on to produce a Howard Fineman puff piece on Bush every year or so, but the August 22 story by Holly Bailey and Evan Thomas is something a bit different. They tell of meetings of grieving families with the President that paint a more complex picture than Cindy Sheehan's. Their Bush has learned the dead soldiers names and how to empathize, often crying with the families. The quote: I will never feel the same level of pain and loss that you do. I didn't lose anyone close to me, a member of my family or someone I love. But I want you to know that I didn't go into this lightly. This was a decision I struggle with every day. Sounds good, sounds human - maybe too good, at least to those of us who believe that he did go into the war lightly and recklessly, and that he has, through folly or callous indifference, catastrophically mismanaged it. I think I would prefer to think that he does struggle with the consequences of his actions. At le

La Migra: A Comedy

The Border Patrol is one of our longest running and least funny jokes. A recent survey showed that about 40% of Mexicans would prefer to come to the US. No doubt similar statistics hold for enough countries to run our population up to a billion or so if we just opened the gates. Most Americans find this worrisome enough that Congress and the Executive find it necessaary to pretend to try to prevent illegal immigration. In order to do that they deploy an completely inadequate number of border patrol officers, with insufficient equipment, to patrol a long border. This doesn't work, of course, and millions cross illegally into the US. It doesn't work, because it isn't intended to work, it's just pretend. The joke is on the hundreds who die trying to cross every year, the hundreds of thousands exploited by coyotes (the smugglers), the border patrol officers doing a thankless and hopeless job, and of course on the American people, who pay for it. The real joke is that

Stupid Design

I see from Josh Marshall that Senator Frist has come out in favor of teaching "Intelligent Design" along with Darwinism. I want equal time for the "Stupid Design" theory. Only a truly stupid or malicious designer could have come up with the human appendix, humanity's incredibly difficult childbirth, sickle cell anemia, inside out retinas, the fragile human spinal column, and numerous other bad designs. Kids can't really appreciate the world without SD as I shall call it. I'm thinking about getting one of those little pay pal thingies so that I can accept contributions for funding the SD institute. Maybe I should write to the Kansas School Board.

Steal that Vote!

Paul Krugman on Republican vote stealing, now and in the future. It's actually not as inflamatory as my title hints, and suggests that the temptation in 2006 and 2008 will be for Republicans to do much more of what they did in Florida (2000) and Ohio (2004) - without control of the whole government, their whole house of scandals and criminal enterprises could come tumbling down.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Some of the planets seem to be lining up to indicate a possible American withdrawal from Iraq. Via Kevin Drum and Reuters Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, the conservative but outspoken Vietnam vet weighs in: "We are seen as occupiers, we are targets. We have got to get out. I don't think we can sustain our current policy, nor do I think we should," he said at one stop. And also: The expectations that the president and his administration presented to the American people 2 1/2 years ago is not what the reality is today. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, in this press release. U.S. Senator Russ Feingold today, at a local Listening Session in Marquette, Wisconsin, proposed a target timeframe for the completion of the military mission in Iraq and suggested December 31, 2006 as the target date for the completion of the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Also in his press release is The former chief of Australia's armed forces, General Peter Cosgrove, recently argued

Heart New York

Health Mystery in New York: Heart Disease is the NYT Headline today. Death rates from heart disease in New York City and its suburbs are among the highest recorded in the country, and no one quite knows why. My theory: NY taxi drivers.

Will Recreate

I'm developing a real soft spot for Maureen Dowd. I always knew she was a good writer, but she's just so darn much more likeable when bashing a Bush. She's in good form in this Wednesday NYT OpEd column . The Bush family takes it's recreation seriously, and they really hate it when annoying reporters try to interrupt the recreation to talk about the wars they have started. W's proclivity for months long vacation was acquired honestly - after the old man started his Iraq war he took off for a well deserved vacation. "I just don't like taking questions on serious matters on my vacation," the usually good-natured Bush senior barked at reporters on the golf course. "So I hope you'll understand if I, when I'm recreating, will recreate." His hot-tempered oldest son, who was golfing with his father that day, was even more irritated. "Hey! Hey!" W. snapped at reporters asking questions on the first tee. "Can't you wait


It's hard not feel sympathy for people forced from their long-time homes, but the combination of wall-to-wall coverage and settler histrionics is testing mine. After all, these displaced persons are being compensated and being treated with kid gloves. What right do they have to make life miserable for the soldiers there to enforce the law? They certainly wouldn't get that kind of publicity or sympathy if they were being moved to make room for a mall or a freeway. And there is the fact the land they were on was taken from the rightful owners in the first place, from Palestinians who got no coverage, no compensation, and no sympathy when they were summarily expelled. We don't hear much about the Palestinians removed to make room for walls, forts, and settlements nowdays either. I guess what really annoys me is the subtext of religious fanaticism. It's that fundamentalist religious doctrine of greater Israel that animates the resisters and is one of the biggest impedi

You all right, Jack?

The Abramoff scandal keeps spreading, sending its tentacles into seemingly every aspect of the right wing establishment and Republican party. Much of the right wing and Bush/Delay government seems to have been part of a network of shakedown rackets. Josh Marshall has the up-to-date details .

Twit's Twaddle?

Christopher Hitchens, well known war propagandist and right wing hack, slimes his way on to the pages of Slate with this eccentrically titled attack: Cindy Sheehan's Sinister Piffle. Three things seem to be bothering him, starting with Maureen Dowd's: The moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute. No doubt that Mo was exaggerating slightly, but if interpreted as "moral authority to ask for a justification of the war." it seems pretty clear cut to me. Especially since neither GW nor any of his minions has ever come up with one that wasn't subsequently proven false. Hitchens is perhaps being artfully obtuse when he finds this hard to reconcile with Sheehan's (perhaps overwrought) statement: Am I emotional? Yes, my first born was murdered. Am I angry? Yes, he was killed for lies and for a PNAC Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the army to protect America, not Israel. Am I stupid? No, I know full well that my son, m

Our Best Mercenaries

Dan Bergner has a New York Times Magazine story called The Other Army this Sunday. It's about the twenty-five thousand or so Private Security Company employees performing armed security duties now in Iraq, and I highly recommend it. They are almost unregulated, and some have a habit of shooting first and asking questions later. Bergner doesn't mention it, but the use of mercenaries is specifically prohibited by article 47 of the Geneva Convention, which may be one reason the mercenary companies prefer the term "private security company." Their use in Iraq is another consequence of Rumsfeld and Bush's decision to try to occupy Iraq with way too few Soldiers. History suggests that mercenary armies tend to really become a nuisance if and when peace breaks out.

Reality, Biting

Kevin Drum find evidence that the Bush administration is being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the reality based community, here.

Game Over?

Frank Rich, writing in tommorow's New York Times thinks it's already game over in Iraq. LIKE the Japanese soldier marooned on an island for years after V-J Day, President Bush may be the last person in the country to learn that for Americans, if not Iraqis, the war in Iraq is over. As if. His point seems to be that support for the war is collapsing, but like Mr. Cheney's "last throes" of the insurrgency, this war can go on a lot longer. There is a lot of wishful thinking in going from the unpopularity of the war to ending it. A Bush loyalist, Senator George Allen of Virginia, instructed the president to meet with Cindy Sheehan, the mother camping out in Crawford, as "a matter of courtesy and decency." Or, to translate his Washingtonese, as a matter of politics. Only someone as adrift from reality as Mr. Bush would need to be told that a vacationing president can't win a standoff with a grief-stricken parent commandeering TV cameras and the blogos

Bleak View

Dexter Filkins has a bleak assessment of the state of Iraq, three years into the occupation, here in Saturday's New York Times. While the constitutional convention debates large issues and small: Out on the streets, meanwhile, a new bit of Arabic slang has slipped into the chatter of ordinary Iraqis: "allas," a word that denotes an Iraqi who leads a group of killers to their victim, usually for a price. The allas typically points out the Shiites living in predominantly Sunni neighborhoods for the gunmen who are hunting them. He usually wears a mask. Iraq seems to have already shattered into a maze of feudal microstates. But in this third summer of war, the American project in Iraq has never seemed so wilted and sapped of life. It's not just the guerrillas, who are churning away at their relentless pace, attacking American forces about 65 times a day. It is most everything else, too. Baghdad seems a city transported from the Middle Ages: a scattering of high-walled

ID's big Lie

Kevin Drum and the stories he links to in this post give us some insight into why it's so hard to debate Intelligent Design proponents. The main problem is that scientists are trained in the search for truth, but IDer's are trying to promote a big lie. ID is a big lie because even its proponents don't believe in it as science. The so-called Discovery Institute effectively admits as much in its internal "wedge" document. Their aim is to strengthen religious belief by using gimmicks like ID to sow doubt and confusion among the gullible. The Bible says "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." The Discovery Institute's program is more along the lines of "we shall feed you some lies, and the lies will make you...our slaves."

Say it ain't so KD!

Kevin Drum, usually the most acute of political bloggers, set my teeth on edge with this post. Why is it that blue states are so much richer and more culturally vibrant than red states? His answer, more or less, is that it's because blue states are inhabited by diversity loving liberals while people who live in, say, Kansas, are evolution hating hicks. This drew a lot of comments from liberals patting themselves on the back for living in States that voted for the losing side in recent elections, but I hated it. There is a scintilla of truth in this but it's hidden in a mountain of folly. First, it reeks of the smug, self-congratulatory distain of the urbane elite for the rest of America. Liberals are never going to be anything but a chattering nuisance until they stop sneering and talk to America. It's also nonsense. Los Angeles and San Francisco are in California instead of Kansas for lots of reasons, almost all purely geographic. Stanford, Caltech, and Berkeley aren

Not to Complain

But blankety-blank blogger just trashed my no doubt most brilliant and eloquent post ever - and I'll never find the recipe again.

What says the Brush?

Maureen Dowd has this Op Ed on Bush vs Cindy Sheehan, the "angry mother of a dead American soldier," camped outside Bush's ranch in protest. Dowd nicely captures Bush's isolation, moral obtuseness, and cowardice in refusing to meet Sheehan. It's amazing that the White House does not have the elementary shrewdness to have Mr. Bush simply walk down the driveway and hear the woman out, or invite her in for a cup of tea. But W., who has spent nearly 20 percent of his presidency at his ranch, is burrowed into his five-week vacation and two-hour daily workouts. He may be in great shape, but Iraq sure isn't. It's hard to think of another president who lived in such meta-insulation. His rigidly controlled environment allows no chance encounters with anyone who disagrees. He never has to defend himself to anyone, and that is cognitively injurious. He's a populist who never meets people - an ordinary guy who clears brush, and brush is the only thing he talks

Why didn't Pentagon tell us about Atta?

Phillib Shenon and Douglas Jehl have this story about what the Pentagon knew a year before 9/11 . Members of the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terror attacks called on Congress to determine whether the Pentagon withheld intelligence information showing that a secret American military unit had identified Mohammed Atta and three other hijackers as potential threats more than a year before the attacks.

Time to Wake Up?

E J Dionne has this analysis of Bush's current malaise in today's Post. Americans, says Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, don't want to "relitigate" the war, but "feel he got into this without a real plan for success." Garin adds: "They're very frustrated that the president has gotten us into a situation where there are no good choices." Yes, though many of us are a lot angrier about all the bad choices already made. Two other factors are hurting Bush. In misreading his reelection as a "mandate" for his proposals to create private Social Security accounts, the president set off on a mission that few voters felt they had assigned him. And months of gloomy talk about an impending Social Security "crisis" reinforced doubts about the state of an economy that Bush has only recently begun to talk up. I continue to be amazed at American's tolerance for his systematic mendacity though. Underestimating Bush is always a mis

Why I Hate the Media

Jack Shafer has a bone to pick with the reading public, or, more likely, the mainly non-reading public. Over the last two decades, the Pew people have plotted a steady decline in the credibility of newspapers among its survey respondents. In 1985, 84 percent said they could believe most of what they read in their daily newspaper, but by 2004 that number was down to 54 percent. These findings are enough to sicken the heart of any journalist—until he reads the rest of the survey. Over nearly the same interval, survey respondents gave consistently favorable marks to their own daily newspaper! In 1984, 88 percent of those familiar enough with a daily newspaper to give it a rating gave it a favorable grade. In 2005, 80 percent still did. Jack claims that the press is actually better than ever. I'm going to guess that a lot of the press haters don't read the press they hate. I would divide the press haters into two classes, and in order to avoid emotionally loaded terms just refe

Juan Cole

From: Juan Cole . "They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq. Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years and we're not using it anymore."

Pyramid Scheme

Brad Delong has this link up to Maciej Ceglowski's trenchant analysis of the ongoing disasters that constitute the space shuttle and international space station programs. Among other things, it gave me some insight into how ancient Egypt could have wound up spending a major fraction of its GDP piling up rocks in the middle of the desert. How did the space shuttle get to be such an engineering disaster? Taken on its own merits, the Shuttle gives the impression of a vehicle designed to be launched repeatedly to near-Earth orbit, tended by five to seven passengers with little concern for their personal safety, and requiring extravagant care and preparation before each flight, with an almost fetishistic emphasis on reuse. Clearly this primitive space plane must have been a sacred artifact, used in religious rituals to deliver sacrifice to a sky god. As tempting as it is to picture a blood-spattered Canadarm flinging goat carcasses into the void, we know that the Shuttle is the frui

Presidential Cover Up

Josh Marshall has this link to a story about who Judy went down for. Her problem, says Murray Waas in this article was a conversation with Scooter Libby. She's doing time because Scooter won't give her a personal waiver on her promise of confidentiality, says Waas. And the president of the United States -- at whose pleasure Libby serves and who has vowed to do everything possible to get to the truth of the matter -- does not appear to be likely to direct Libby to grant such a waiver any time soon. Pretty clearly, the President is not cooperating with the investigation, and hence, if Waas is correct, is an enabler of the cover-up. There are a lot of ways this could play out - a successful coverup, indictment of key Presidential aides and possibly Novak, or even indictment plus unindicted co-conspirators. Be interesting to see how the Republican Congress would handle the last possiblity. Or, come to think of it - no, it wouldn't.

Heart Strings

There is a famous Sidney Harris cartoon where a character has covered a blackboard with equations, in the midst of which he has written "and then a miracle happens" while a second character says "I think you need to be more explicit here in step two." It's a very funny cartoon, but the annoying pedant in me hates it when he encounters the equivalent in a textbook. One of my infamous examples occurs where a famous meteorologist was trying to derive a thermodynamic equation in his book on Dynamic Meteorology but the sign of a key factor turned out wrong. This happened because he didn't keep track of which state variables were held constant, but he apparently didn't realize it, so he invented some total BS reason to arbitrarily change the sign. All this is prolog to declaring that my infatuation with Barton Zwiebach's A First Course in String Theory has hit a major snag. I really loved the first 11.5 chapters of this book. It's full of interes

Subverting Science

Paul Krugman has this great column in Friday's NYT looking at how the right wing got business and others to fund organized efforts to undermine science. ...Irving Kristol, the neoconservative former editor of The Public the father of the political strategy that lies behind the intelligent design movement - a strategy that has been used with great success by the economic right and has now been adopted by the religious right. Back in 1978 Mr. Kristol urged corporations to make "philanthropic contributions to scholars and institutions who are likely to advocate preservation of a strong private sector." That was delicately worded, but the clear implication was that corporations that didn't like the results of academic research, however valid, should support people willing to say something more to their liking. The principle of operation is simple: Corporations followed his lead, pouring a steady stream of money into think tanks that created a sort of paral

Trusting Bush

Kevin Drum links to a new AP-Ipsos poll showing that a majority of Americans no longer believe Bush is truthful. Results here. and some graphs here . Oddly enough, substantial majorities still find him likeable, strong, and (you've really got to be kidding) intelligent. Sigh. Mumble. Muttered imprecations.

Envy Green

How does Brad Delong write so much good stuff? I'm pretty sure he has a family and a day job.

The Man who Made al Quaeda

Juan Cole on the origins of modern Islamic terrorism. Once upon a time, a dangerous radical gained control of the ... Here and in other ellipses, you can't follow the story without reading Cole. One fifth of the money ... went to Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, a violent extremist who as a youth used to throw acid on the faces of unveiled girls in Afghanistan. Another excerpt: Fahd not only put Saudi government money into the Afghan Mujahideen networks, which trained them in bomb making and guerrilla tactics, but he also instructed the Minister of Intelligence, Turki al-Faisal, to try to raise money from private sources. Turki al-Faisal checked around and discovered that a young member of the fabulously wealthy Bin Laden construction dynasty, Usama, was committed to Islamic causes. Turki thus gave Usama the task of raising money from Gulf millionaires for the Afghan struggle. This whole effort was undertaken, remember, on Reagan Administration instructions. Oops, I guess I gave away the punc

Declaring Victory

The stars seem to be aligning in favor of a major pullback/pullout in Iraq next year. Even though I strongly favor this, I worry about the upshot. The most serious fears and my WAG at the probabilities: 1) Civil war followed by regional war. A worst case scenario, but not altogether improbable. (5%) 2) Civil war and chaos. A castrophe for Iraqis, but maybe the damage can be localized. (25%) 3) A Shia theocracy aligned with Iran. Iran becomes the power of the Middle East. (30%) 4) More of the same. A semi-democratic state limps along, bedevilled by a robust insurgency and helped by a contining US presence. (25%) And the hope: 5) A stable, independent, and partially democratic state. (15%) I hope I'm not being optimistic. CapitalistImperialistPig