September 27, 2002



Our old friend Justin R. and have set their sights (pun intentional) on a not-particularly-remarkable-or-unique war toy being sold at J.C. Penney. It's so behind the times, it's scary... the bar of scary marketing of violence to kids was lifted several levels by titles like Kingpin and Soldier of Fortune 2 (source of the attached extremely realistic screenshot, of a woman being raked stem to sternum with 5.56mm SAW fire at point blank range... in the name of taste I avoided the much more gruesome decapitations, etc.)... vivid computer games evidently not within the realm of's experience. Get out more, guys! Watch a South Park episode or two at least! Sheesh... Or check the average age of the Counter-Strike player in your local cybercafe, to start with. Reading complaints about this silly toy was like reading some Christian fundamentalist blaming some problem of the day on Mortal Kombat or Doom, or Dungeons & Dragons... got to keep up on the latest depravities, or you just shoot all your credibility like this every time... You can defend them or condemn them, but you at least have to be aware of them...

Here's a somewhat more constructive criticism. Call it Flit's Rule: young male aggression in a society is a fixed quantity, in linear proportion to the number of young males. That (to me) incontrovertible fact is the biggest opportunity, and greatest problem, in any human society, ever. If managed, you can build skyscrapers (or pyramids) with it. If not managed, it'll blow your society apart. In every society, young males have a primal urge to compete with and outdo each other, in as vivid, reckless and creative a way as that society can invent. That's what wars were all about, in stone age days... an outlet, that if it did little good, did less harm than not having wars and having those same young males kill each other in less ritualized and predictable ways. Corollary #1 of Flit's rule: if you don't provide young boys with plasticized war toys from Mattel, they'll make their own, out of sticks, or potatoes... their imaginations, their very genetic inheritance, is already there. This particular toy in question doesn't look any better or worse than any of the others on the shelf, so even if I'd never buy it for my own kid (I have a feeling kids growing up in my house would wear uniforms of some kind soon enough anyway), I certainly don't see it as a... what was it.... "hate crime"? 'Tis to laugh...

Here's another thing we can be certain of... Justin and friends still haven't heard of America's Army, the free, and exceptionally realistic, computer game developed and now being distributed to kids by the U.S. armed forces... I can't wait. It's possible Justin's head may actually explode...

Posted by BruceR at 10:58 PM



Looking back on the Fort Pitt smallpox episode, one wonders whether it's not better described as an attempt at bioweapon assassination, of the two Delaware chiefs who came to ask for the fort's surrender: Turtle's Heart and Mamaltee. Otherwise, why give only two blankets and a handkerchief? The safe assumption is any gifts given would be kept by the parley party or their families, indicating disabling the Indians' leadership (as opposed to reducing their fighting strength) might have been the primary motivation.

Was it effective? To be so, one would have to establish that the debilitation among the Indians' ranks affected the battle of Bushy Run, which turned into a British victory. Given the statement that, 10 months later, around 80 local Indians had so far died of a smallpox epidemic that was still raging, and assuming (to be charitable) that the disease followed a linear progression, it seems safe to conclude that at most a dozen Indians would have died between the most likely date of transmission (June 24, 1763) and Aug. 5 (Bushy Run). Only about a quarter of those would be men of fighting age. On the other hand, rates of debilitating disease for variola major could be 3 to 4 times that, so it's fair to say that by Bushy Run, the plague blankets could at most have taken 10-12 Indian warriors out of the war, and probably somewhat less. (Again, it's also possible the smallpox could have been transmitted previously to the blanket incident by an entirely different vector.)

How many fought at Bushy Run? The British had 460 soldiers, consisting of a couple dozen frontier scouts and drovers, and the rest British regulars, mostly from the 42nd (Royal Highlander or Black Watch) and 77th (Montgomerie's Highlanders) Regiments of Foot. There were also a detachment from the commander, Bouquet's, own regiment, the 60th (Royal Americans). The Indians, from the Mingo, Delaware and Shawnee tribes, were definitely outnumbered, with estimates on their strength ranging from 90 (the Indians') to 400 (Bouquet's). Even if it was at the low end, would 10 more Indian warriors have made a difference? It seems unlikely, but more research is definitely required to be definitive.

OTHER RANDOM TIDBITS: Both the junior "British" officers involved, Capt. Ecuyer and Col. Bouquet, were actually Swiss-born soldiers-of-fortune; their unit, the Royal Americans, was a polyglot assemblage, kind of the French Foreign Legion of its day, enlisted by the British in Europe for colonial service... Also present at the "blanket parley" along with Ecuyer was one Capt. Alexander McKee of the British Indian Department, an Irishman by birth, an Indian by choice, later to become a Loyalist colleague of Simon "White Savage" Girty and a nemesis of Daniel Boone... Bouquet, meanwhile, is seen now as something of a military innovator and tactical genius, first bringing to the British army many of the aspects of their "rifles" tradition, ie, the idea of separate uniforms for fighting and for ceremony ("battle dress")... If there isn't a good screenplay in how Pittsburgh was saved from the Delawares and Shawnee in 1763, with this francophone precursor to Sharpe driving his claymore-brandishing Scottish highlanders through the woods to reach his Swiss friend and their Irish renegade colleague in the nick of time, I don't know where it would be...

Posted by BruceR at 02:38 PM



Once you sift away the well-known but irrelevant facts, and ludicrous lies, the truth of Rall's magnum opus hangs on one single piece of information, from one source: that according to the Peshawar Frontier Post, in an Oct. 11, 2001 article, that "U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain met with Pakistanís oil minister to discuss reviving the old Unocal deal." Since Rall doesn't cite it, for the record here's the relevant paragraph, from deep in the much longer story, that he is twisting:

[On Oct. 11 Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources] Usman Aminduddin also briefed the [U.S.] Ambassador on the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan -Pakistan gas pipeline project and said that this project opens up new avenues of multi-dimensional regional cooperation particularly in view of the recent geo-political developments in the region.

That's it: Rall's smoking gun. The reasonable interpretation would be that Pakistan, which has long been the most ardent state advocate for an Afghan natural gas pipeline, was pushing the U.S. to consider returning to the discarded pipeline idea, now that the bombing had started and "regime change" was imminent. To Rall however, that one paragraph is the most convincing proof that the United States was plotting to invade Afghanistan before Sept. 11, and everything you know about Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the Sept. 11 attacks is wrong. That's quite some paragraph.

NOTE: Rall also accuses Hamid Karzai of being a "former Talib." He bases this on Karzai's own admission, that when he was deputy foreign minister in the Rabbani government (1992-4), one of the coterie that would eventually become the Northern Alliance, he had some sympathy for the Taliban movement then on the rise among the Pashtuns he claimed to represent, way back when it first emerged in 1993. Within a year, Karzai says, he concluded the movement was actually controlled by foreigners ("Pakistanis and Arabs"), and has not had a good word to say about them since leaving the Afghan government in late 1994. It was only after that, of course, that the Taliban became an actual force in Afghan politics. Around the same time they forced Karzai and his father (now their rivals for Pashtun supremacy) into exile in Pakistan, and later assassinated the elder Karzai.

Posted by BruceR at 12:00 PM



So far the most thorough and intelligent conspiracy theory ďdebunkerĒ has been The American Prospectís Ken Silverstein. Silverstein and other Bush Administration defenders argue that Operation Enduring Freedom is unrelated to oil and gas pipelines:

First, they assert, President Bush is a well-intentioned, intensely caring man determined to free the enslaved women of Afghanistan from Taliban oppression and hell-bent on justice for the victims of September 11...

All but his last contention fall apart upon immediate examination.

--Ted Rall, "My Government Went to Afghanistan And All I Got Was This Stupid Pipeline"

OK Ted, where exactly did I say such a thing in the American Prospect piece that you cite (or anywhere else for that matter)? Itís beyond distortion or caricature, itís simply a creation of your imagination.

--Ted Silverstein's response

I'm sorry if Silverstein doesn't understand the simple sentence construction I used in my summary of the apologists' argument. His lack of reading comprehension, however, is no excuse for calling me a liar.

--Rall's response to the response.

You simply cannot read that paragraph at the top and not conclude that Silverstein is absolutely right, and Rall lied about what Silverstein said. You can't. The "simple sentence construction" clearly says that Silverstein believes the statement Rall's attributed to him ("all but his last contention" phrase doesn't make any sense otherwise). Silverstein himself challenges for proof. Rall of course can't provide it, meaning he must have lied. Cornered and caught, Rall therefore attacks Silverstein for his "lack of reading comprehension..." a sin, in this case, only Rall is proving himself guilty of.

Posted by BruceR at 11:41 AM