Saturday, May 25, 2002

BBC: Bringing you the best (and worst) in online journalism. All at once!

Check out this nifty Flash presentation entitled "US Missile Defence: How it could work" over at BBC News.

It strikes me that the BBC has presented us with something really good, and really shoddy at the same time.

The good part is the quality of the polished animation. Despite now having been at it for years, Big Media still doesn't quite get the fact that they can use their web presence to actually present information in new and different forms that aren't possible in print, pure audio or video. This graphic is a good example of just such a use: it isn't earthshattering, but it is a good use of a common web technology (Flash) to present information in a clear, interesting and dynamic manner.

The bad part, though, is that the information which it does present --- the hypothetical technical operation of a missile defense shield --- is floating in an absolute context-free void. (If you want to see where it is on the BBC's site, check here, it's on the right about halfway down). Given how controversial missile defense has been on practically every level --- political implications, economic cost, technical feasability --- you'd think the Beeb might have provided some of that information with the graphic.

But for some unfathomable reason, none of that is there --- it's just a cool slideshow with some missiles getting zapped.

For the record, I'd class myself as a skeptical agnostic on missile defence --- I haven't studied the issues closely enough to have formed a hard judgement, but what I have heard about the technology makes it sound pretty squirrelly, and the political implications are complicated, to say the least. On the other hand, with every rogue state on the map popping up longer and longer range missiles each year, it certainly would make a West-coaster like me sleep better to know that even when Pyonyang gets that super-duper-long-range-missile working, we have some line of defence to ensure I don't end up glowing in the dark.

But anyway, I don't think you have to be a full-blown disbeliever to agree that providing a teesy bit of context (any context ! ) might have made this a more helpful piece.

Update: Aha. I knew the BBC couldn't be that silly. Turns out there is a story with context --- but to reach it, you have to select the non-Flash version of the presentation and go through 'till the very end. Still demerits for the Beeb, but we'll raise their grade a bit...

Update II (Sunday 8am): The link is now no longer on the main news front page, although it is similarly placed on the Americas front page (not sure if it was there before).

PS - Full disclosure: I never have completely forgiven the BBC for cancelling Dr. Who, so maybe I'm biased...

PS II - Light blogging this weekend; like everyone else in the blogsphere, I'm enjoying family time...

Okay, as promised,I read the transcript of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the National Commission on Terrorism in June 2000 . It isn't that interesting.

But what is interesting is that I managed to find the Commission's full report online.

I'm reading it full through now, but at first blush, I'd say that it did indeed make many of the recommendations that we're seeing discussed now back in 2000. I'll have a more detailed analysis up later this weekend, but until now, you can check out the report itself (it is quite readable, with a nice executive summary and clearly bullet-pointed recommendations. Makes sense; it was written to be understood by Congresscritters, after all. )

Update: I found another, presumably 'official' copy of the report here on a .gov server. This version is broken up with a table of contents that routes to PDF files, so I'm leaving the other link up too as it is in more straightforward HTML. I have not attempted any serious verification to check if they are word-for-word identical.

Also: My more detailed followup ain't going to be ready this weekend; it is turning into a more involved piece. Sorry, but hopefully the end result will be worth the wait.

Launch of Atlantis for STS-66, November 1994, from NASA

That damned picture of the Pakistani missile test is popping up all over the place this morning, so I figured we needed something to counter it.

So there.

Friday, May 24, 2002

Bloggers: The Musical

For no apparent reason, I hearby open nominations for the Bloggers: The Musical. Pick a blogger, find that perfect theme song that just sums 'em all up, and send it my way. Yet another running list. Here's a few to start:

Glenn "InstaMan" Reynolds - I Have The Touch (Peter Gabriel)

Asparagirl - I'm Just a Girl ( No Doubt )

Amish Tech Support - I'm Going Slightly Mad (Queen)

Richard Bennett - Mr. Roboto (Styx)

The Corner - Bloody Well Right ( Supertramp ) Runner Up: Everybody Wants to Rule the World
(Tears for Fears)

Tapped - Left of Center (Suzanne Vega)

Kausfiles (independent)- Mickey (Toni Basil)
Kausfiles (Slate absorbed) - Welcome to the Machine (Pink Floyd) Runner up: Take the Money and Run (Steve Miller Band)

Ken Layne - Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Pink Floyd)

Andrew Sullivan - I'm Too Sexy (Right Said Fred)

Okay, despite the risk of furthering the linkin' love fest between myself and the infamous Amish Tech Support today, you really should go read his "Red Herrings, A Play in No Acts", because it is really damned funny...
Tossed off line of the day from Andrew Sullivan's Non-Permalinkable-But-He'll-Have-His-People-Fix-That-Real-Soon May 24th Entry:

THE RAINES DOCTRINE: "We respect our readers' right to express their opinion." - Howell Raines, New York Times. Just not his writers'.

Intriguing, Captain, as the guy with the pointy ears was fond of saying. After a week or so of relative quiet in the Sullivan - Raines grudgematch, Sullivan just happens ( randomly, you see, just had to fill the mandatory space for the column (whoops I mean blog) for the day) --- to toss in an offhand reference.

I still think he's running a little new media experiment on Mr. Raines, personally.

But then again, I'm also becoming more open to the idea that maybe he really is just out to make Raines look like a jackass.

From the print edition of The Week (typed in with my own hands, because those Luddites don't have their content on the web):

Pierced teens take more risks

Body piercing is more than a superficial fad. Research conducted at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in upstate New York, found that girls who are pierced are more than twice as likely as nonpierced girls to smoke, have sex, and skip school. They are more than three times as likely to be involved in shoplifting and scrawling graffiti, and to have friends who use drugs and alcohol. "Piercing is one way that teenagers paint a picture of how they choose to present themselves to the world," says pediatrician Timothy Roberts. He recommends that doctors use this information to spend more time talking with pierced patients about smoking and sexual behavior.

TTLB recommends that high school boys use this information in determining who to ask out tonight.

With regard to my blatant plea for continued linkage, Amish Tech Support castigates me (rightly) for

"...insipid, narcissistic whining and an abject disregard for the fundamental principles of Bloggerly decency. N.Z. Bear (what the hell is up with that name, anyway?) is demonstrating clearly his status as a bottom-feeding ingrate whose overwrought prose would cause Daniel Steele to choke, and whose pathetic flash-in-the-plan weblog will soon suffer the inevitable decline which it so richly deserves. 'TTLB', as 'The Bear' so cloyingly refers to his site, will soon be remembered as one in a piece with Kozmo, Webvan, and that dog food store with the sock puppet as Internet ventures doomed to failure by their inherent mediocrity, without which the world is an infinitely better place. Phooey on him!"

I paraphrase, a bit. Actually, he didn't say that. But he probably should have. And I'll bet he was thinking it.

Check out what he really said here.

PS - What's this "singles stretched to doubles and triples" shit? Whadaya trying to say there Larry? You want a piece of me???

I am now in posession of both Vanilla Sky and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on DVD.

And I haven't even watched my tape of the Buffy finale yet.

I am a very happy geek.

PS - Anyone caught e-mailing me Buffy spoilers will be strapped to a chair with eyes propped open Clockwork Orange style and forced to watch all 100 episodes of 7th Heaven straight through with breaks allowed only for bathroom trips, during which time Celine Dion's A New Day Has Come will be played at full, chirpy volume as you conduct your required business. (I've got potentially infinite copies of Celine, now, remember...)
Getting no linkin' love today. I definitely got a little punchdrunk on the combined hits of Instapower and Kauspower over the past week. But now, alas, traffic has dropped down to more sane levels. But I note many folks dropping by with no referrals --- does that mean, heavens to Betsy, that people are actually coming back after having been here once?

Geez, you'd think you would learn.

So what does a guy have to do around here to get some linkage, man? We've got it all here at TTLB. We've got a serious project to improve the security of our nation. We've got pretentious, pseudo-literary musings on the BBS society of the '80s. We've got concise, to the point referrals to pretty pictures, and historical comparisons between World War II and the War On Terror.

Heck, now I'm even throwing in the obligatory snarky comments about Richard Bennett and Andrew Sullivan, and I can't even get them to throw a "this guy's an asshole" link my way.

My fiancée suggested some pictures of her in various stages of undress might do the trick (and they would), but I'm not sure that's the course I want to chart for our little family program here. What's a man to do?

--- N.Z. Bear
Whoring For Links Since 2002

The Truth Laid Bear: Violating Federal Law for Fun and ... well, for Fun.

This article from Newsforge (found via Metafilter) points out a little fact that everybody should have noticed earlier (including me): that anyone who ran the story about how to defeat Sony's CD copy protection may be in violation of the dreaded Digital Millennium Copyright Act (cue ominous organ music).

But wait! Looks like TTLB may get off the hook, 'cause Newsforge is kind enough to include the following text of the bill:

"Any person who violates section 1201 or 1202 willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain ... shall be fined not more than $500,000 or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, for the first offense ..."

Aha! I can safely say that their ain't no "commercial advantage" or "financial gain" going down here at TTLB. I'm still waiting for Mickey to give me a ride on the Boeing, let alone raking in any of the mega-shekels Andy might be seeing.

But I'll keep you posted --- I may just have to throw up one of those Amazon donation widgets for my legal defense fund...

A few days back, The Connection, a public radio program out of WBUR in Boston, had a good discussion on preventing terrorism and the many actual and potential investigations going on post-9/11. It's available in streaming RealAudio from their website.

There was the obligatory idiot or two calling in to explain calmly that everything would be Just Fine if Americans would stop being such nasty hegemonic bastards, enlightening us with such gems as "typical American behavior is rabidly anti-anybody who's not American." But if you can tune out those interludes host Dick Gordon and guests Elaine Shannon (Washington correspondent for Time Magazine) and Juliette Kayyem (Executive Director of the Executive Session on Domestic Preparedness at Harvard JFK School of Government) provide some interesting background and info on the Congressional investigations going on into 9/11 and the overall problem of preventing future attacks.

Kayyem, who served on the National Commission on Terrorism in 2000, in particular had a few interesting things to say, notably regarding the reaction that commmission's report (also known as the Bremer report) met with when it was released in June 2000:

It was worse than being ignored, what happened to us. We recommended in that commission --- bypartisan, independent, ten member --- we recommended a lot of the structural fixes you're hearing about now. We recommended more focus by the CIA on human intelligence, more analysis by the FBI, other things.

To say we got reamed in the press would be an understatement. We were villified in that summer when the report came out as being paranoid... all these cold warriors (which a lot of the guys on the commission were) trying to get money from the cold war focused, now, to the Defense Department for terrorism. So I think that there was just a basic unwillingness to accept the reality that most people within counterterrorism knew... which was the terrorists were getting smarter, better, and bigger. And I think we all are to blame for that in some way --- the media, the government, everything."

Is Kayyem exaggerating the reaction to the commission's report? My (brief) research turned up one example that suggests not: This piece by Salon's Bruce Shapiro, circa June 2000, which has the wince-inducing subhead of "Why a new report on the threat of international terrorist attacks on U.S. soil is a con job."

Was the Bremer commission prophetic? Don't know yet, as I haven't been able to find a copy of the report (if it is publicly available). But I can point you to this transcript of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on the matter from June 15, 2000. (I was annoyingly unable to find this on an official .gov site; so strangely, it's from "". Hopefully it's accurate).

More to come on this later, after I actually slog through the transcript...

Incidentally, The Connection is generally a good spot to get general roundups on the issues of the day, if you are, like me, addicted to streaming audio programs over the 'net. (I find I can't clean the house without them anymore, particularly now that I've got my little wireless speaker that I can bring all around with me). Other favorites of mine are Forum, from KQED in San Francisco, To The Point, from KCRW in Southern California, and of course national programs like Talk of the Nation. (And yes, Fresh Air with Terry Gross can be fascinating as well, depending on the guest & topic).

All of these programs have RealAudio streaming setup via the web, which works beautifully if you've got DSL / Cable, and even was listenable for me back when I was at 56K. Give them a whirl.

Did you know that the use of mercenaries is prohibited by a U.N. convention? I didn't.

And apparently a group of wizened old folks (meeting in Geneva, natch) is recommending further restrictions. Although I must admit, the UN release provides next to zero information about what they're actually recommending.

But the more I look into this, the more confused I get. Does the UN think mercenaries are good or bad? Are they "legal" or "illegal" under international law? And if they are "illegal', how come Sandline and Executive Outcomes have such spiffy web sites? (You can even make the clock on EO's site count in military time. Cool!)

Little help, anyone?

Update: I take back the "spiffy" comment about EO's website; lots of it don't seem to work.
Should I be worried about this ?

Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I'm getting flashbacks to 1945. Isn't it a little odd that the conference is being "convened jointly by Tahmasb Mazaheri, Economy and Finance Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown"? Given that the reconstruction of Afghanistan is the objective, wouldn't one expect to see an Afghan official at the head table?

Mussharif: Mohammad, my good friend, I insist that you take Farah.

Khatami: No, no, Pervez, your generosity with regards to Herat is more than sufficient. We would, however, be interested in discussing Ghowr...

Thursday, May 23, 2002

I had no intention of jumping on the Sullibashing bandwagon, but I just reread his page and one entry struck me as just too damned stupid not to comment on.

From his May 23rd entry:.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS: In today's climate in France that the burning down of the Israeli embassy was the result of an accident? About as likely as president Chirac's suggestion that there are no anti-Semites in France.

Maybe somebody burned down the embassy on purpose. Maybe it was an accident. I don't know. And neither does Sullivan. So with no facts at all (unless he's got some and didn't choose to share them with his readers), Sullivan flings out wild speculation and calls it punditry.

Yeah, I know, that's redundant.

This is not helpful.

There are anti-Semites in France. If Chirac doesn't think so, he's an idiot. But for Sullivan to leap to judgment on something like this --- for reasons that look suspiciously like the urge to toss off a snarky, catchy remark for the blog --- just lends credence to the fools who want to call those who oppose genuine anti-Semitism conspiracy nuts.

And so next time there is a real incident that isn't quite clear, that is in that grey area where the facts are coming to light but not yet crystalized... that next time, all the rational voices that try to convince the world that yes, there is a problem here will have just a tiny little bit less credibility.

But it made a stylin' blog entry. Thanks Andrew.

Feeling like you're not pulling your weight? Want to give something back? Well head on over to the ECHELON@HOME project!

ECHELON@home is a distributed intelligence gathering system that harnesses the power of hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected computers in the search for terrorists, hackers, drug czars, foreign military operations, and general ne'er-do-wells.. You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes international and domestic emails, internet traffic, phone calls, cell phone calls, satellite communications, and more. There's a small but captivating possibility that your computer will detect a crime and allow the NSA to report it.

(it would be a bit cooler if they at least managed to get, but if you try there, you'll find something equally strange.)

Richard Bennett jumps ugly on Virginia Postrel for elitist tendencies:

She's always struck me as a snob, mainly because of her practice of separating links to "pro" journalists from "merely amateur" bloggers. In the Blogosphere, nobody knows you're a celebrity, Virginia, we only care about the content of your content.

If Bennett finds Postrel’s linkage habits such sacrilege against the Holy Mother Church of Blogger Equality, I guess I don't understand why he has Andrew Sullivan in near-splendid isolation (along with Fox News Views and Punditwatch) under "News Corps" on his right navbar. I also note The Corner, Jerry Pournelle, Hoover's Cop Log and Best of the Web under "Journo-blogs", though I must admit I don't quite grok exactly what "journo-blogs" signifies, other than yet another twirl in the linguistic death spiral that is the Internet.
Go read this. And hope that he's wrong. About some of it... about any of it.

If you figure out a way to convince me that he's wrong, please, by all that is not holy, explain it to me.

(his archive isn't working, so I'm referring to the "scary thought for the day". Found via Instapundit, so not sure why I'm bothering. )

In defense of Ing

Mike Gannis writes:

I must forcefully disagree with your reader Mark Goble for criticizing the inclusion of Dean Ing on your Dream Team list. Ing has actually written a pretty good novel about how to deal with terrorists in the U.S. -- "Soft Targets," which also appeared as a novella in Jim Baen's bookazine "New Destinies" in 1980 or thereabouts. IIRC, he was quite prescient and had a couple of good solutions to the problem of domestic terrorism. It's been reissued, and seems to be still in print as a paperback -- see [this link] for more info.

As I've indicated, I'm agnostic on Ing, having not read the fellow, but always glad to hear differing opinions...

More from the Dream Team

Gregory Benford (whose web site you can find here) responded to my e-mail regarding the Dream Team with the following note:

Good idea. Not really my area of expertise, but the most relevant story that applies is my "A Calculus of Desperation", published about a decade ago, about a sophisticated form of bio warfare. It was reprinted by a Washington think tank and used in a conference on bio threats etc...

When did The Onion stop being funny?

I headed over there in search of something amusing (the page is taking itself a bit too seriously today) and made it through their whole front with nary a chuckle. I think my mouth twitched once or twice in a near-smile, but that was about it.

I haven't checked them out in a while, so I must have missed the steep decline. Come on, people, isn't there somebody out there who's in charge of telling me these things?
Okay, this is funny:

The London yoga center Triyoga came under strenuous neighborhood protest in March over the increasing noise level at its relaxation institute, according to a Reuters report; mellow music played at high volume, clients' chanting, and group-breathing exercises (guttural sounds) were named as the major nuisances.

(From's News of The Weird).

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

A Nation at War?

The New York Times - March 17, 1942

M'Arthur in Australia as Allied Commander; Move Hailed as Foreshadowing Turn of Tide
Washington, March 17 -- General Douglas MacArthur today became Supreme Commander of the United Nations forces in the Southwestern Pacific. This dramatic shift of command and promotion for the dashing officer who has held the Japanese at bay on the Island of Luzon for three months and ten days was announced by the War Department simultaneously with his arrival in Australia. Traveling by plane, he arrived with his staff and his wife and child.

Third National Army Draft Begins in Capital:
3,485 First Number: All Night is Required for Drawing That Affects 9,000,000 Men: Use in Navy is Urged: Hershey Also Suggests Assigning Some Labor for War Projects

President Warns Against Rushing Anti-Strikes Law:
No Problem Exists at Present and Things Are Going Along Pretty Well, He Cautions: He Explains 40-Hour Act: But Bill to Ban is Is Pushed to Hearings in House- Senate Also Swept by Debate

Gen. Homma Suicide Confirmed by Chilean

50% Airplane Rise Reported by Nelson:
He Warns Three-Month Gain Is Not Enough- K. T. Keller Asked to Head Output

Nazis Close Ports of North Norway:
Reported Adding to Forces- British Say Tirpitz Eluded Torpedo-Plane Attack

Uruguayan Vessel, Two Others Sunk:
Nation Seizes German Ship in Retaliation- Fourth Craft Feared Lost in Bahamas

Bill for Women's Auxiliary Corps of 150,000 Passed by the House

The New York Times - May 22, 2002

Daschle is seeking a Special Inquiry on Sept. 11 Attack
Headed for a confrontation with the White House, the Senate majority leader called for an independent panel to investigate government action before Sept. 11.

Leaving for Europe, Bush Draws on Hard Lessons of Diplomacy
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said early missteps provided the president with lessons that made possible the arms pact with Russia

Bono on the Road: Old Tune, New Duo

Security Tightened in New York After Vague Threats of Terrorism
Federal and local law-enforcement officials issued a warning of vague and uncorroborated threats against the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

$100 Million Fine for Meryl Lynch
Merrill Lynch reached a settlement with New York over charges that its analysts issued misleading research on companies with which it did banking business.

Lots of Seats, but Sorry, This Car's Taken
It sounds like the dream of an Amtrak rider the night after a really bad trip home...

In New Focus on Quality of Life, City Goes After Petty Criminals

In Guatemala, a Rhode Island-Size Jade Lode
For half a century, scholars have searched in vain for the source of the jade that the early civilizations of the Americas prized above all else and fashioned into precious objects of worship, trade and adornment...

- - - - - - - - - -

Notes on Methodology

Headlines from 1942 come from the "On This Day" section of the New York Times Learning Network. Headlines from 2002 come from the New York Times website. Where possible, I have included the sub-heads or the first sentence or so of each story.

I had hoped to be able to compare today with the same date in 1942, in order to perform a more random comparison, but was only able to locate select archives on the New York Times' historic site. I picked March 17th, 1942 as the least-momentous date I could find in the available options during WWII which the Times had available (a subjective call, of course).


I post these without comment --- for now --- as for some reason, I am struck by an urge to let them speak for themselves... and to let everyone assess their import (or lack thereof) personally. I welcome your comments and thoughts, so please send them my way if you'd like to chime in. And as always, please specify clearly for me if your e-mail is for publication on the site, and if you wish to be attributed by name or quoted anonymously. (I of course reserve the right not to publish anything I don't see as appropriate...)
This just in from the Arab News: voting in a democratic election is terrorism.

(found via NRO's The Corner)

Update: Who the hell writes a headline with the word "It's" in it, anyway?
Okay, for you HTML/Blogger knowitalls out there: how do I modify my template so that I can have the "link color" be different in my header above than it is in the rest of the page? I like the dark blue on everything except the quotes in the header...

Update: And while you're at it, enlighten me as to why the first line of anything I post is always indented slightly.

Cheap, unlikely-to-ever-pay-off motivation: A free TTLB novelty item of your choice, should such items ever come into existence. (Yes, I have InstaEnvy).
I've now updated the site layout so that the latest Dream Team list appears in the left margin. I knew I'd find a use for all that space under my fat old graphic...
The Dream Team Responds

I have been wondering just what reaction the authors who have been named on our list would have to the proposal. So, I took the wacky approach of, well, asking them.

I've corresponded with a few members of our theoretical dream team, at this point, and reprint here their comments (with their permission). The good news is, I'm hearing a fairly consistent response that --- at some levels, at least --- the idea of bringing 'creative types' into the planning process seems to have some traction. The bad news is, it sounds like it has a ways to go.

David Brin, who has a relevant web site here, replied with the following:

Actually, it might surprise you how many bright people are thinking along similar lines... and inviting we sci fi types to express thoughts about threats. At the middle and upper-middle level, there are brilliant people in the military and government, deeply concerned and working their butts off. I attended a conference in Washington (as dinner speaker) where several geniuses spun terrifying scenarios.

Alas, (1) it is a complex world and we make a big/complex target (2) our leadership is not very smart.

Your concern is the same one that motivated my nonfiction book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy? Only in a mostly open society will commonfolk stand a chance of holding the mighty - or the dangerous - accountable.

Good luck!

You can find The Transparent Society at Amazon, of course. I've been aware of it for a long time, and I am now consumed with guilt for having not yet read it. The shame!

Greg Bear responded with the following note:

Cool name! And thanks for posting the nomination. Truth is, I was in Washington a few weeks ago attending a conference on bioterrorism, so there are some folks listening.

The rest of the list is terrific. There are some sad spots, however--Harry Stine died a couple of years ago.

Yup, Mr. Stine's passing has been noted. And I of course tip my hat to Mr. Bear for the compliment on my nom de plume.

I'm still waiting on a whole bunch of other inquiries I've sent, and I'll of course post appropriate replies here as I receive them. Also: I have not attempted to contact every name on our list; mainly those whose work I am familiar with personally. If you'd like to attempt to contact someone yourself, please go right ahead, but drop me a line first to ensure that I haven't already sent them a message. Mailbombing our dream team is impolite.

Clark Goble writes in regarding the creative dream team effort and has a few points o' constructive criticism. I include his note in its entirety below, along with my comments / responses interspersed:

Regarding your list of authors for your think tank. I'd take a couple of exceptions with it. First the claim that some of them are good authors. While they may have interesting plots and ideas many are *horrible* authors. Take Dean Ing. He may be a creative, smart guy, but a good novelist? Come on. His prose is so stilted that it makes High School fiction look like Shakespeare. Of course you didn't pick these fellows for their prose, but it does make me wonder if a few "James Bond" like scenarios that seem cool is behind your list.

Can't vouch for Ing myself, so I won't try --- and recall that I'm not putting any filters on the process here, just collecting the list of suggestions from the masses. I would agree that literary merit isn't a precondition for being a good candidate for our list here --- but having a creative mind is.

I mean if you are going to do this sort of thing, at least pick a novelist who has some experience in the field. Take, for instance Dick Marcinko who actually formed one of the top Navy Seal teams, has experience in hands on counter-terrorism, and has lots of books with very creative terrorist attacks on the US. Plus he has a helper-writer so his prose, while expletive-ridden, is at least entertaining and not at all stilted. About the only downside with him is that he screwed up the hostage rescue of the Iranian hostages back under Carter. But I'm not sure you can necessarily blame him for that.

Don't know Marcinko, but he sounds ok --- sort of. The military background is good, but frankly, the government has access to plenty of people with Navy Seal experience. If they want to know what a Navy-trained counterterrism expert thinks is going to happen, I'm sure they've got plenty of them. What I'm trying to do here is get the folks who have different perspectives that you won't find in traditional military or government circles and get their minds applied to the problem.

Jerry Pournelle I'll actually go along with. Ing, I'm more leery about as I think he is too much into the "techno-thriller" sort without the pragmatism that Pournelle has. A lot of the other science fiction authors I'm dubious about for similar reasons. I think you should have perhaps one or two, but beyond that and you're biasing you panel too much. Get some "keep it simple" low tech guys in there. Novelists are fine and dandy, but probably I'd throw in a few criminals. They know how to think in non-standard ways but also are aware of a lot of low-tech "holes" that even novelists don't know about.

I'm all for criminals. For the team, I mean. Clark's point is a classic one and is well taken --- to catch a thief, and all that.

For that matter, if you want someone good, throw in the guy who runs Slash-dot. ( His "blog" is the most popular among techies. He moderates all the comments, and believe me there is nothing like geeks with too much time on their hands to hash things down to their core and find the holes. Plus he reads and edits all these sorts of stories that points out weaknesses in computer *and* dumbassed weaknesses in policy.

So for my ideal panel you have one sci-fi author, Pournell. Marchinko who has the experience, thinks nasty, and already has experience launching attacks on US soil. (He broke into air force one and placed smoke bombs in it) "Cowboy Neal" from slash-dot to represent the "too much intelligence and not enough challenges" anarchistic hacker community. Then some criminal used to breaking security. (Although Marcinko may have plenty of experience there) Perhaps one other person - preferably a mideast expert with experience in Islam. Keep it small. Any bigger and it'll become unweldly.

I like the Slashdot suggestion. Despite being a self-described geek, I am not actually a Slashdot junkie (head hangs in shame). But I'll send a note their way and see what they think of the idea.

Thanks for the comments Clark, and keep them coming all...

New York Newsday has a web site up with proposed designs for rebuilding the World Trade Center area. I was going to include my own commentary, but I'm not going to bother, because VodkaPundit nails it, so just go read his. I thought he was just being his usual grumpy self, but then I looked at the designs, and he's actually being way too generous.

I do, however, like the Liberty Square proposal (which isn't on the Newsday site), also pointed to (approvingly) by our favorite martini-quaffing blogger, via a column in Reason Online by Ronald Bailey.
I'm adding Spider Robinson as one of my personal nominees for our creative dream team to brainstorm future terrorist scenarios & prevention.

I originally had Spider in my mental category of writers whose work I enjoy greatly, but who weren't necessarily well suited for the task at hand. But the more I think about it, the more I think he'd have much to offer. His novel Night of Power is a rather original take on a takeover of New York City (the whole thing!), and his Mindkiller shows he knows how to explore the dark side of new technologies. (Not to mention that his excellent short story "Melanacholy Elephants" has some interesting insights for anyone paying attention to current debates on the how long copyrights should extend --- no, really). My only complaint with Spider is that I wish he'd write more stuff outside of his Callahan's short stories universe. Some of these, especially the earlier ones, are absolutely brilliant and touching works of SF, but I must admit I've tired of the crew over the years. But a man must pay the bills, so I'm not going to quibble with Mr. Robinson too much.

Anyway, check him out & send feedback my way if you have comments, as always...

To recap, our full list now is as follows:

Tom Clancy
John Barnes (see Mother of Storms).
Kim Stanley Robinson
Christopher Hitchens
Iain M. Banks
Ken MacLeod
Larry Niven
Jerry Pournelle
Al Franken
P.J. O'Rourke
George Carlin
Greg Bear
Gregory Benford
David Brin
Greg Egan
S.M. Stirling
Stephen Baxter
Stanislaw Lem
Dean Ing
Harry Stine*
Thomas Harris
Vince Flynn
Peter O'Donnell
Robert L. Forward
Vernor Vinge
Charles Sheffield
L. Ron Hubbard*

*Indicates deceased and not expected likely they will serve if called. (Hubbard I knew; it was pointed out to me in correspondance that Harry Stine has also passed on.)
Translation Update

I just noticed in my tracking stats that I've got some users dropping by, so I figured I should apologize:

The translation engine does not currently support translating from American to English.

Sorry, chaps!
Next stop: Total Global Dominiation

Experimenting with a new feature on the site: automatic translation to other languages. With an hour or so of playing around, I seem to have gotten auto-translation working via

The service is limited to Spanish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, and Portuguese for the moment. I'm bummed about the lack of Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Arabic, and Farsi, and the translation process is a bit slow, but oh well. It's free, I can't (or at least, shouldn't) complain too much.

For now, I've just got the setup working for the front page... I don't think it works from the archives. I'll check that out later.

So has anyone else played around with tools like this? Something is telling me I just re-invented the wheel, but I'm not sure I've seen translation tools on other blogs. I'll have to look more closely in my rounds today. Anyway, if you have any suggestions or comments, or information on other tools, please send them my way.

I must admit I find the potential here staggering. The community o' the blogsphere is a wonderful thing, but to imagine if it were possible to have bloggers planetwide, blogging merrily away in their native languages, and have everyone else be able to read them... damn, makes me want to go re-read my archive issues of Wired from 1993 or something.

Anyway, by all means, if you're a non-English speaker reading the site, drop me a line, and let me know if the translation is working properly. If your language is one of those I have translation for, you can even do so in your native tongue and I'll try to auto-translate your email -- but in this case, please use as simple language as possible, so we don't confuse the poor machines at FreeTranslation. I speak American High School Spanish, and am very slowly learning Persian (Farsi), so I'll have to mostly trust the translation engine, I'm afraid.

Come to think of it, I don't really have a way of verifying whether the translation of my own tortured prose is truly working. For all I know, when I say:

Let's establish a dream team of creative types to brainstorm future possible terrorist scenarios.

My Norwegian users might now be getting:

Please help urgently my hovercraft is full of eels.

Ah well, we'll see, I guess...

I corresponded with Bill Patterson, editor of The Heinlein Journal, who provided some additional detail on science fiction writers' contribution during WWII. But first, he begins with a correction to my earlier anecdote regarding Heinlein's story "Solution Unsatisfactory":

The story about government agents checking out a writer's sources for atomic information does not relate to Heinlein or to "Solution Unsatisfactory" -- that was, after all, before the war and before any security restrictions; it happened to Cleve Cartmill who found FBI agents waiting for him in John Campbell's office during the war. The name of the story that appeared in ASF escapes me at the moment.

Patterson continues with the following additional detail on the war effort:

Second, you have assumed that Heinlein, de Camp and Asimov wound up working at NAES because of some attempt to get sf writers, and this is not quite correct. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, RAH took off for New York to use John Campbell's place as a base from which to seek some kind of military post. He was ultimately unsuccessful in this -- the reason given was that he was an "old lunger" (TB patient) and the Navy didn't want old lungers in contact with active duty personnel, or at least that was doctrine at the time. He felt it was rather that he had offended the head of the Department of the Navy in an incident in his political career. He and Campbell and several others talked about what they would do in the war effort. Heinlein put out feelers and was pulled in by his friend Albert Scoles who was then running the Materials Center at the Naval Air Experimental Station at Mustin Field in Philadelphia, to act as a Civilian Engineer until his reactivation could come through. At that time L. Sprague de Camp, who was also trained as an engineer, was going to Naval Officer school. Heinlein suggested that Scoles tap him as well. And Asimov, a graduate chemist, was also at loose ends, so Heinlein suggested that Scoles recruit him as well. During Heinlein's time at NAES, he is widely credited with acting as a personnel recruiter, and these two were simply the ones we know about, and they were recruited because they had useful engineering skills. It happened that Heinlein's social life had mutated into hanging out with his writer colleagues, so that's how it all came about.

Now, I don't have all the details about the Kamikaze task force, but there were several SF writers in it, and it does seem to be true that they were recruited for their writerly imagination. It appears that the group RAH headed was outside of regular channels and they hoped for fast results from unorthodox thinkers. But the war was over before anything useful could be produced and implemented. However, there were more and other people at these group meetings than the sf writers we're familiar with (including Sturgeon and Hubbard and at least occasionally Campbell).

So far as I know the imagination of sf writers was Heinlein's idea, and it may never have entered into anything official. The most likely scenario is that somebody thought that the official group in Naval Intelligence would never produce anything (or at least not timely) and King or someone on his staff authorized another operation on the Q-T that became the Kamikaze group. It's not entirely impossible that King contacted RAH directly, but it's not likely either. King had been RAH's captain in the Navy from 1930-1932. He was advanced to head the Naval War by Roosevelt, apparently over the objections of his advisors, but that is a matter of public record so I won't go into it here.

Thanks to Bill for the clarification and additional information!

Can't sleep. Guess it's time to blog.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

A few days back I alluded to a mysterious "reader" who pointed me to a Boston Globe article on Vatican legal scholar Rev. Gianfranco Ghirlanda. He remained mysterious as I couldn't get the provided link to his site to work; but that now having been corrected, he is mysterious no more: check him out at The Daily Babble.
Kausfiles can't stop linking to TTLB !

The Mickster has now linked to my humble page no less than three separate times in the past 36 hours. It appears to be some kind of strange addiction.

But Mr. Kaus's pain is my gain, so welcome, Kausfans and Slate-junkies, to the humble page of a humble bear!

By the way: Do I need to point out less subtly the inherent amusement of the web site for Internet Addiction? Nah, didn't think so.
Are the real spooks monitoring The Truth Laid Bear? Or is the 'creative dream team' just an idea whose time has come?

You be the judge.

Read the whole article down 'til the end to get to the real relevant part. And if you find WSJ registration odious, check out Mickey's summary.

Celine Dion's A New Day Has Come: $12.98

Black felt tip marker: $1.35

Making opponents of openly reviewing security systems look like idiots: Priceless

Creative Dream Team Update

Okay, the nominations have been pouring in, so time for an update. My methodology is simple: I'm listing every suggestion I received, along with my own comments (where I have any) about the nominees.

My original list, as you'll recall, was:

Tom Clancy
John Barnes (see Mother of Storms).
Kim Stanley Robinson
Christopher Hitchens
Iain M. Banks
Ken MacLeod

New nominees are:

Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
By far the most commonly submitted nominees, and foolish of me to have ommitted them in the first place.

Al Franken, P.J. O'Rourke, and George Carlin
Laurence Simon over at File13 sent these in, and advises: "Toss in a few wise-asses because they always see the faults in the system". The man has wisdom.

The "Killer B's": Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, and David Brin
Also extremely popular nominees (and also fine choices).

Instapundit adds the following suggestions:

Greg Egan: ("The best up-and-coming hard science fiction writer, and our
world is looking more like his all the time." - Instapundit)

S.M. Stirling ("mostly doing alt-history these days, but a supple mind
and he's done harder stuff." - Instapundit)

Stephen Baxter (no commentary from Glenn here, but I'll second the nomination -- particularly since Baxter often seems to have great difficulty ever finishing a novel without destroying the Earth first.)

One reader suggests Stanislaw Lem, "particularly for his outstandingly prophetic Imaginary Magnitudes, which completely anticipated the 'Net via Vestrand's Extelopedia."

And another proposes Dean Ing, indicating "He's been in US think tanks re future weapons. Also he's written several good novels and novelettes on terrorism and gotterdammerung in general.", and Harry Stine (whose work I'm afraid I'm not familiar with, but who the reader indicates also writes under the name Lee Correy, and wrote "Shuttle Down which involved a Space Shuttle aborting to Easter Island. The book was good enough to be used as a NASA manual...")

Thomas Harris, of Hannibal Lecter fame, is nominated by a reader for his earlier work, Black Sunday, "about a psycho blimp pilot who loads his craft with flechettes (anti-personnel darts) and flies it over the stadium in which the Super Bowl is being played."

(By the way, if you check the Amazon entry for Black Sunday, you'll see the following comment from a reader/reviewer, circa September 2000: "Finally, this book is sort of outdated. You can't fault Harris for this, but it's worth noting. Though it doesn't really show up in the book (thankfully), the general plot (Middle Eastern terrorists trying to blow something up) sort of prays on the fears of the zenophobic middle American. It's a simple formula which I've seen many times, and has been done many times." And I'm afraid you'll see it again, friend.)

Another nomination: Vince Flynn, whose Transfer of Power "tells how a campaign contributor turns a White House visit into the kidnapping of a president.". Sounds like the kind of twisted thinking we're looking for.

And more: British author Peter O'Donnell, Robert L. Forward, and Vernor Vinge make another reader's list. (Yet again an omission on my part: no idea why I didn't put Vinge on my original list... except maybe a subconcious wish that he'd publish a little more frequently!) And another reader seconds many of the previous nominations, and adds Charles Sheffield to the mix.

Last but not least, my favorite nomination was from a reader who suggested L. Ron Hubbard, who actually did write science fiction before founding his own religion, let's remember. But I did feel obligated to reply to the reader that while we might well nominate him, it's unlikely that he'll show up for work, given that he's dead.

That's it for now. Keep them coming --- I don't think we've drained this particular swamp yet. And by the way: if you see your nominations here without your name, it is because I did not publish anyone's name where I was uncertain if they wished to be publicly attributed. If you would like to claim your public credit, as it were, drop me a line and say so and I'm glad to cite you appropriately.

In researching Heinlein and other science fiction authors' work during WWII, I corresponded with James Gifford, author of Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader's Companion (a 2001 Hugo award nominee). In addition to providing me some further detail on Heinlein's history and excellent pointers to other sources, he provided the following thoughts on defending against suicide attacks and the road that lies ahead:

A general exposition from my own viewpoint is that there is no way to stop a suicide attack. As the cutline for the graphic novel _Ronin_ put it, "If you intend to die, you can do anything." All crimes are prevented by one of two things: the fear of death, and the possibility of being detected, caught and punished. If the first is missing, the second is of no consequence... and you have no possible prevention short of mindreading and on-the-spot execution.

The only possible way to prevent a majority of suicide attacks is the road we're currently on - a severe and (IMHO) highly dangerous intrusion into civil liberties...

If there is a solution, it is to find a combination of technology and intelligence (both kinds) that will protect us while not overly impinging on our personal freedoms and our justly prized liberty. As the gent with the specs put it: those who would give up a little liberty to obtain a little security deserve neither. Our liberty and freedom have a price, and for the next decades, the price will have to be paid. One price or the other, that is, and since there is no way to eliminate the threat, paying in the coin of liberty in an attempt to do so is a foolish idea. It is, unfortunately, the road we have apparently chosen.

So, if you seek to put together a coalition of inventive brains to solve the problem, they need a focus beyond technological miracles. I can't imagine any techno-magic of any kind whatsoever that would solve the problem without creating a bigger one. The solution, if there is one, is to eliminate the strife, the conflict, the disagreements that lead to suicide attacks.

Definitely. But the key is that our strategy must simultaneously include steps to protect us from those that wish us harm in the here-and-now, and also strive to create a future world where the threats we face today are reduced --- if not outright elminated.

Despite my usual warnings about lumping people into large categories, I think there are only really two groups that are terribly helpful to think about when considering our adversaries in this struggle. There are people who detest us and will oppose us until death (Al Qaeda). And there are people who don't like us much, who might be convinced to support those opposing us, or might otherwise be swayed to leave us the hell alone (much of the rest of the Muslim world).

The solution for the first group is, obviously, to destroy them. And it is important to note that this is not vengeance: it is prevention. When we kill an Al-Qaeda operative, there is no need to invoke the obscenity of September 11 and concepts of retribution, revenge, or even justice. We take that grave action -- to end another human life -- not for what Al-Queda has done to us in the past, but for what they have sworn to do to us in the future. It is not capital punishment; the proper analogy is not to a convicted prisoner walking death row, but to a rapist who is shot dead by his intended victim before he can commit his crime.

For the second group, the options are more varied and complex. I am a firm believer in the idea that while stable democracies may actually go to war with one another from time to time, they don't have a habit of spawning suicide bombers. (Note: before someone points it out, England is a stable democracy --- Northern Ireland is not). So, duh: the trick is how to transition the essentially medieval societies of theocratic Islamic or pseudo-Islamic states (my by-no-means-complete list begins with Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and of course, the portion of Arabia currently ruled by the House of Saud) into stable democracies. Easier said than done.

But we shouldn't get hung up on the idea that we must turn every state and people on the globe into our ally. That would be great, but it is not necessary. They can positively detest us. They can think we're callow, insipid, jingoistic cowboys with brains programmed by Disney and bodies atrophied by the Internet. All that matters is that they don't quite hate us enough to be willing to die to kill us.

And that, I think, has to be an achievable goal. Because let's face it: it's not like we're trying to convince the world to like Nazis. We happen to have the advantage here of being one of the most legitimately decent societies to ever stride the face of the planet. Surely we can do a better job of convincing folks of that than we have to date (as a story, it has the advantage of being true.)

Finally, to return to one James' points: I agree that technogadgetry is unlikely to provide any direct solution to the problem of preventing suicide attacks. But for now, I'd rest easier knowing that we at least had confidence that we've given our own defenses a thorough shake-down, and analyzed our own weaknesses unflinchingly. We'd at least, then, have accomplished the first step of preventing an enemy attack: knowing where it might come from.

Monday, May 20, 2002

The Results Are In!

Well, I said I'd keep y'all posted on the relative merits of InstaPower (tm) vs. KausPower (tm), and I think we can now reach some conclusions --- the graph to the right (subtly annotated) shows my traffic stats for the last few days.

In my objective, dispassionate view, I don't think there's any other way to put it but:

Soulless media conglomerate: 1
Noble academic toiling in obscurity: 0

'Course, Mickey has mentioned that the new Borg implants they've insisted on over in Redmond chafe a bit, but I guess everything has its downside.

Memo to Glenn: Now could be the time to hit up AOL for that deal, chief. They're in desperate need of some kind of turnaround strategy --- and I say you were aiming way too low when you thought about "selling out to them". I'm thinking major New Media company, here:


PS - All kidding aside, sincere thanks to both Mickey and Glenn for their links (not to mention the genuine enjoyment and insight I've received from reading their work). It is truly a demonstration of the spirit o' the blogosphere that someone as new to this game as I could get this kind of attention this quickly.

Rod Dreher over at NRO's The Corner has read John Derbyshire's latest in which he predicts that the U.S. won't go to war with Iraq and sees an opportunity for the Democrats to outflank the Republicans if the Bush adminstration does, indeed, go wobbly:

Say the Democrats found a candidate willing to flank Bush on the right regarding the conduct of the war. Say this candidate was able to speak prophetically about the true threat the West faces from militant Islam, whence his tough-minded views on the need for the U.S. to get more aggressive with the Arab world, both militarily and diplomatically. Let's say he favored slamming the door shut on immigrants from Islamic countries for the time being, and sending Islamic students studying here on visas home -- and was able to face down both the media squishes and the left within his own party over this. And let's say he was able to persuade voters (with the help of, say, another massive 9/11-style attack from terrorists) that the danger of Islamofascism to American interests made conflicts over domestic issues like tax policy, abortion, gay marriage, etc. -- on which he could be fairly liberal -- not so important. Anyway, if the Dems were able to come up with that kind of Scoop Jackson-like candidate -- an American Pim Fortuyn, in other words -- do you not think he would be formidable? Do you not think he would stand to win over swing voters, and in so doing move domestic policy to the left? Is there anyone like this on the Democratic horizon -- or for that matter, on the Republican horizon (Bush could be challenged in the GOP primary, after all)?

Is it just me, or did Rod just describe John McCain (or at least, an idealized version of what John McCain could be...)? That whole McCain-Should-Run-As-A-Democrat thing was all the rage a few weeks back, but Dreher's scenario is the first thing I've seen that puts in place a realistic set of conditions that might make it feasible...

(be sure to read Derbyshire's article --- it's excellent, if, as Dreher says, depressing...)

Alex Frantz at Public Nuisance writes in with additional detail on the WWII precedent for a creative task force, indicating that in WWII, exactly such a team was assembled to brainstorm possible methods for preventing suicide attacks by Japanese kamakazi pilots.

The team was headed by (you guessed it): Robert A. Heinlein.

Now, it's unclear to me (and Alex, apparently), whether this is the same group I mention at the Naval Yards or not --- to me, it sounds different. Anyone with additional info, please let me know, and check out Alex's site for a bit more detail...

Several readers have pointed out that the government creation of a "threat team" of science-fiction writers was discussed by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in their classic Earth-gets-invaded-by-aliens novel Footfall.

I get major geek demerits for not remembering that. Ouch.

Pournelle also has a blog (which he calls his daybook) here.
Sean Roche sends this commentary on the dream team concept:

Why do you need to "staff a government dream team" to tap into the creative intelligence of the country. The Office of Homeland Security should put up a web site with an e-mail link: Send us your terrorist plots. Give a $1000 bounty to anyone who submits a new one, $250 to anyone who suggests a new twist on an old one.

If we weren't worried about giving the bad guys the wrong idea, it would be a great 'blog. Call it "The Red Team" after the intelligence groups supposed to imagine scenarios for the blue team to counter. Solicit ideas from anyone.

A big 'yup' there. I agree with Sean that a blog --- while it would make a mighty interesting read --- isn't such a great idea, but I'm not sure I see any downside from a submit-only website. (And let us not forget the less geeky among us -- a nice old analog phone number would be helpful as well). I do think, though, that this idea is complimentary to the dream team concept, not a replacement -- I think creative types in collaboration can end up with a "greater whole than the sum of its parts", in some cases.

A common theme seems to be emerging here --- why isn't the government of the most creative, cantankerous, and skilled nation on the planet actually leveraging the skills and talents of its people? (For another spin on this theme, Instapundit points us to David Rothkopf's piece in Foreign Policy, which makes the case for leveraging the talents of America's business community to fight terrorism).

You can also check out Sean's blog here.

The Washington Times' Inside The Ring column on the Pentagon reports that Iran is in possession of several bright and shiny new Chinese missile patrol boats. (Found via Rumination ).
Wondering what's up with the trial of Slobodan Milosevic and his gang of thugs? Don't wait for Big Media, see for yourself at the tribunal's rather extensive web site. Has the full indictments for Milosevic and others, as well as transcripts of court proceedings.
Update - I made a snarky comment about Tom Clancy in my original list for the creative dream team, which I've now removed. It was off the cuff and has been bugging me as being unwarranted. To be clear for the record: I haven't closely examined Mr. Clancy's politics lately, so I won't endorse or reject them. I have enjoyed many (but not all) of his novels; thought Hunt for Red October was an excellent film (but was disappointed with the Harrison Ford versions), and hear that Sum of All Fears with Affleck is supposed to be good. So if Mr. Clancy does happen to stumble upon my humble page: my apologies.

Congratulations to the people of the newly independent nation of East Timor.
Just to be extremely clear, particularly for those following Kausfiles' link this way: I wasn't the first to bring up the idea of roping in creative types to scenario plan for terrorist attacks. Instapundit reader Harry Helms was (whose site I'd be happy to link to, if he has one, and I knew the link).
Today on WebLog SmackDown (tm): InstaPower vs. KausPower!

Well, I was blessed with a Instapundit link last week, and this morning I awake to find Kausfiles has sent a reefer my way (the, uh, Internet kind, I mean).

Does mild-mannered law professor Glenn Reynolds have the mojo to go up against Redmond's new media giant? Or has the absorption into the collective hive mind of Slate drained Kausfiles of its cache?

I shall monitor the traffic stats with great anticipation --- watch this space for updates!

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Do you know who Stitch is? If you don't, check him out. I know, schilling for Disney is like haulin' ice to Newcastle... or, well, something like that... but this upcoming flick looks like it has the chance to redeem Disney's recently-dismal animated track record. (Screw Yoda, this is the little guy I've been waiting for this season). I highly recommend watching the trailers (the "Inter-Stitch-als") when you're in need of a good chuckle. The film opens June 21.

Little Green Footballs passes on a link to a letter-to-the-editor to the Berkeley Daily Planet, in which reader Rachel Schorr details the reasons why Berkeley should divest from Saudi Arabia.

I'm not convinced divestiture from Saudi Arabia is the right course here. (Actually, I'd prefer that Arabia divest itself of the House of Saud.) But I'm all in favor of any reminders that keep us from forgetting exactly who these people are.

Rand Simberg teases us with an e-mail he received containing a way to make money without having to work, but deletes the e-mail address necessary to sign up. Clearly doesn't want the rest of us muscling in on his scheme --- selfish bastard!

Update: I forgot to put Ken MacLeod on my list of creative types below. Any man who comes up with the concept of nuclear retaliation insurance for small states is definitely someone we need on our creative Dream Team.
Instapundit reader Harry Helms pointed out a few days back that the failure of imagination which is central to the government's inability to prevent September 11th means we should look to creative types such as writers to "help visualize new terrorist scenarios and plots".

Yup. Harry doesn't call them out by name, but I think my particular favorite genre has quite a bit to offer in this regard --- science fiction writers. Some of the best SF comes from the classic formulation of taking a possible (but not yet actual) premise and exploring it to its logical conclusion --- precisely the kind of thinking I would assume is useful in terrorist planning scenarios.

My hands-down favorite example in this area is Solution Unsatisfactory, a short story by SF master Robert A. Heinlein (which can be found in his collection Expanded Universe, out of print but possible to find used). The central idea in Heinlein's tale is the development of atomic weapons --- in this case, radioactive "dust" bombs that, when spread over a city, render it completely uninhabitable.

The story was published in 1940, five years before Hiroshima, and legend has it that it earned him a visit from the U.S. feds to find out where, exactly, Mr. Heinlein had gotten his information.

For about fifty years, Heinlein looked really smart, but not quite totally prescient, given that his dust weapons didn't exactly match the actual atomic bombs that were created. But now it seems Heinlein wasn't predicting the future six years in advance -- he was predicting it sixty years in advance --- as we now are living in a world where "dirty bombs" which spread radioactive waste are, quite possibly, the most likely nuclear weapons that may (fate forbid) see use against civilian populations.

There are numerous other examples of well-reasoned, intelligent and (incidentally) extremely readable explorations of "what-if" scenarios out there. Kim Stanley Robinson wrote perhaps the definitive work on human colonization of a new world with his Mars Trilogy --- which actually addresses yet another Instapundit topic du jour, what the environmental issues will be when humans begin colonizing Mars. Robinson's novel (which I'll admit up front is one of my absolute favorite works of fiction, period) addresses not only the nuts-and-bolts technical issues of rendering a planet habitable for fragile humans, but also creates a complete political and social world, wrestling with the rather staggering question of "If you could create an entirely new society and government on a new planet --- what should it look like?"

Other samples: it's reasonably well known that author Arthur C. Clarke developed the concept of satellite communications in 1945, but less well-known that Robert A. Heinlein came up with the idea for the waterbed. William Gibson is widely credited with the idea of cyberspace, but frankly, Vernor Vinge described the coming 'Net better with A Fire Upon the Deep, and earlier with True Names.

And there is even some precedent for the formal inclusion of creative types --- in this case, science fiction writers --- being called upon in time of war. During WWII, Issac Asimov, L. Sprague De Camp, and yes, Heinlein, were recruited to work at the Materials Laboratory of the Naval Air Material Center at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. (I've tried to find some more detailed history on the web of this effort, but the best I can do is this acceptance speech by De Camp, which mentions the project about halfway down).

So why not again, and why not now? Limiting the pool to science fiction writers would be foolish --- I'm just focusing on what I know here --- but they certainly aren't a bad place to start. Tom Ridge doesn't seem to be doing terribly much else --- why not put him to work getting a crowd of creative types together for a serious what-iffing session? Put the right twenty people in a conference room for a day, supply sufficient quantities of caffeine and alcohol, and I guarantee you'll walk out of there with ideas that haven't yet occurred to the CIA or FBI.

Nominations, anyone? Here's a quick list to start with:

Tom Clancy (has a proven track record of coming up with nasty scenarios --- see above)
John Barnes (frighteningly good at coming up with nasty worst-case scenarios, see Mother of Storms).
Kim Stanley Robinson (natch)
Christopher Hitchens (guaranteed to have an opinion on anything)
Iain M. Banks (he's a Brit, but they're on the right side)

Got your own nominations? Send them to me, and I'll start a running list....

Update: By the way, I hope nobody will bother suggesting Oliver Stone, because he's a complete nutcase.

Laurence Simon at File13 tells us that we should be watching East Timor closely:

"There's a lot to learn from this series of events, because nation-building by the ham-fisted anti-Semitic UN is going to happen in West Bank and Gaza, too, whether the people deserve it or not."

He's almost certainly right, although I'll quibble --- back to my precise language rant again --- that many of the Palestinian people do deserve a normal life (although there are at least a few -- i.e., those who kill children to make political statements -- who deserve no life at all).

(Laurence also throws in a really bad Happy Meal joke, but he got the lede right, so we'll let that slide for today.)

The other reason we (and here I'm talking about Americans in particular) should be paying attention to East Timor is that we bear more than a little responsibility for getting them into this mess in the first place. As a newly declassified State Department telegram shows, the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975 --- in which at least 50,000 civilians were killed by the Indonesian government's own count --- was executed with prior knowledge of then President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and utilized U.S.-supplied arms. This is one of the prime reasons why journalist Christopher Hitchens (whose article on the subject in my main source) and many others believe there is a case to be made for criminal prosecution of Kissinger --- both for international war crimes, and for simple violation of U.S. law.

More on my thoughts on Kissinger later --- because that's a topic in itself...
A reader pointed out to me that the Boston Globe has also picked up on the story of Vatican legal scholar Rev. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, who believes church leaders "are neither morally nor judicially responsible for the acts committed by one of their clergy.". They add this tidbit to the Times' story, where Ghirlanda indicates that he doesn't think accused priests should be subjected to any kind of psychological examination:

"To our thinking, it's not admissible that the incriminated cleric be forced to undergo a psychological investigation to determine if his personality is inclined to commit the crimes in question" (as quoted in the Globe).

Given that Ghirlanda does agree that priests who are likely to abuse again should not be placed in parishes ("If the bishop fears the priest could again commit a crime, then he must not entrust to the priest a parish, but must act in a different way." --- the one note of sense in this) we are left to speculate exactly how this determination should be made. Since (according to the Times, at least), Ghirlanda has already said he doesn't think Church leaders should turn over allegations of abuse to civil authorities, I guess we're back to putting our faith in the good judgment of the Princes of the Church.

Correction: In my previous note on this subject, I implied that Rev. Ghirlanda wrote the words "Roman Catholic bishops should not turn over allegations or records of sexual abuse by priests to the civil authorities" in his article. Although the Times indicates that this was the substance of his argument, the quote was from the Times' phrasing, not Ghirlanda's. Apologies for the confusion.