October 27, 2002



Before this weekend, if you'd asked me to name the things it would be impossible to say a positive word about, "nerve gas" would have been pretty much on the top of the list, right under "Islamofascism." The irony of the successful Russian use of an as-yet unidentified nerve agent (there's no WAY that was a traditional incapacitating agent like BZ, as ABC suggests) in the fight AGAINST terror is rather remarkable... even if it did not wholly succeed.

NB: You can sympathize with the Russian doctors. Basically they knew it was one of two things... a nerve agent they'd never seen before, or an incapacitant something like BZ (although even they likely could have figured out it wasn't actual BZ or CS, which have easily identifiable symptoms). The trouble is if you give atropine to someone with a nerve agent in them, it generally helps... but if you give it to someone with a hallucinogen like BZ in their system, it makes things WORSE (atropine and BZ actually have very similar physical effects). There's no fancy "antidotes" like in the spy movies... this would have been a straight either/or call that no doubt could have delayed treatment unless medical staff were fully briefed beforehand, which given the need for total surprise and over 700 cases to treat, would have been all-but-impossible.

How do I know ABC's wrong and it wasn't BZ (also known when the Iraqis make it as "Agent 15")? Well, because BZ incapacitates you by producing vivid hallucinations (a la the movie Jacob's Ladder, which suggested a scenario of American troops in Vietnam being gassed by it and shooting each other). In a room full of weapons and bombs, blowing people's minds is about the last thing you're going to want to do... no, if I had to guess, I'd put my money on a plain old G-series nerve agent, and probably, because of the reports of an odd smell, Soman (GD) in particular (the Russian army also has Sarin (GB), but that should by rights be odorless).

UPDATE: The Star suggests the drug was the anaesthetic from the fentanyl family, which is also believable (the U.S. Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate has considered its use as an incapacitant, as well). Predictably, the Star misspells fentanyl. American law enforcement agencies have considered the use of dart-delivered alfentanyl, which would have a high enough lethality (the lethal dose is only 4 times the average safe dose), but the 20-second onset time seems too long. If the Russians have a more potent aerosolized fentanyl (or perhaps a medetomidine, which has similar effects), I agree that would be a more likely candidate than a nerve agent, based on the reports of symptoms so far.

FURTHER UPDATE: The Globe is reporting the gas was either a) Valium (um, no); b) a new gas never heard of before, "Kolokol-1", or c) an "opiate." Fentanyl, along with other anaesthetics, is actually technically an "opioid;" "opiate" is a term referring to the natural derivatives of opium, which this was certainly not. Otherwise, both b) and c) would be consistent with the idea of a new Russian "super-fentanyl."

Meanwhile, the New Scientist suggests a BZ-like substance again, based on the report physostigmine is being prescribed (another counteracting treatment for BZ). They neglect the fact that physostigmine is also indicated in cases of anaesthetic overexposure, which brings us back to the fentanyls yet again. If true, however, it does conclusively rule out traditional nerve agents, as physostigmine would worsen their effects, just like atropine would worsen BZ's. Physostigmine would also be a really bad idea if the Russians were using some kind of valium-type drug, but that doesn't stop ABC from determinedly trying to be wrong on the same story a second time in one day.

Posted by BruceR at 11:06 PM



I can't say I've had the opportunity to visit plasticbag.org before today, so if I've completely misconstrued his latest post, I apologize right off the bat. But if I read it right, the writer is asking people Steven Den Beste links to at USS Clueless, with whom he has been feuding of late, to publicly disavow him:

Let's move in a different direction for a moment. Must we as liberal individuals believe in a world that gives each and every opinion equal weight. Are all views equally "valid", "worthwhile", "right"? And where does this leave us when we vehemently disagree with the tactics that people promoting these views start to use? And where do we end up when the views we must consider "valid" are precisely those views which don't believe other views to be "valid", "worthwhile", "right" and are prepared to say so, and/or do something about it...

At the moment one very specific site is in my mind. This site, which I will not link to, links to a considerable number of intelligent and interesting people. Many of whom don't share the politics or attitude of the man in question. Each one of these people is in a situation to act in such a way that would demonstrate their profound disagreement with those views simply by dint of their link being on his page. What I'm suggesting is that there is a power that comes with being linked to - and it's a power that one should not only be aware of, but should feel the responsibility to employ - whether by sending a simple e-mail askind the link to be removed ("I do not wish to be associated with the bile-ridden drivel on your site"), or more proactively and campaigningly by using an .htaccess file or something similar to serve up a page which declares that you refuse to be associated with the views of the person whose site you've just left.

It's not a lot, I know, but it's the first thing that I can think of that actually represents some kind of weblogging 'direct action' - some kind of (almost negligible at the individual scale) gravitational influence that can be exerted by a site to act in such a way that it makes itself known as protesting without driving additional traffic to the thing they're protesting about... And the best thing about it is that it's entirely non-violent, non-flaming, non-confrontational. It's a kind of passive politics - refusal to participate - refusal to allow yourself to be referenced - a bizarre kind of work-to-rule... The power of the inbound link should not be ignored...

Being one of those honoured at the moment with a link from the Clueless, let me just say publicly that I'll pass. I have nitpicked Mr. Den Beste to death over the last 11 months, so much so I wonder if Flit is any more than the "Anti-Clueless" some weeks. I think it's clear he and I disagree on some things, and when I can bring the weight of facts to bear to force him to reconsider or qualify his often hastily-made remarks, I have done so. Den Beste is a rational actor, and he does change his mind, given strong factual evidence to the contrary. If he was not, I wouldn't read him at all, or care who he linked to.

But it's more than that. The author of plasticbag is campaigning to get the blogosphere to collectively self-regulate in his favour, to smack down the right-wing, pro-American views he has previously called "shameful, horrific and a stain on us all." He has found, much to his regret, he cannot argue them out of existence, but they still rankle. So now he's trying to enlist me, and others, to exert moral suasion on his behalf, if I read him correctly.

I will not do so.

My rules for Den Beste are the same as any other webspace I frequent, regardless of its politics. If you have nothing interesting to say, I will ignore you. If you've opened my eyes a little I may, just may, if I'm in a good mood, link to you approvingly. If you link back to me, well, whatever, that's nice. And if your argument relies on factual errors that call out for refutation, I will refute you as mercilessly as the Internet allows. (And I will undertake to always provide some kind of moderated comment space so when I'm the one who's full of it, any given reader can do likewise.) Den Beste has been a game player in those rules, and has in the past given back in like measure. That's the kind of civilized interaction of equals that the Internet has blessedly given my generation, and is infinitely superior to the infantile grade-school hall-monitor crap that plasticbag's proprietor is now suggesting we replace it with.

I will not join in the "shaming" of Steven Den Beste. I did not ask to be permalinked to by him, and I am at best marginally flattered by his having done so. But even if I disagreed with everything he had ever said, I would still not put up the kind of mechanical barriers to increased information-sharing and understanding that plasticbag proposes. The owner of plasticbag wants walls put up between the Internet he approves of and the Internet he does not. It'd be wrong when an oppressive government (like China) does it, and it'd be wrong when I did it too. The Internet is a commons... this site is not lessened in any way by the quality of the readers who have followed the link at Den Beste to come visit us here. If just one of them leaves with the other side of the debate in their mind, I have improved Den Beste's site, and the Internet as a whole. That suffices, for now.

UPDATE: Plasticbag has stated (with a respectable level of graciousness, to my mind) that the site in question was not, in fact USS Clueless, but refuses to identify which "warblog" it was. I can only find record of him being angry with Den Beste and Little Green Footballs (which I have also, at times, expressed my own qualms about), so in the absence of further clarification, I feel comfortable assuming it was one or the other. Even if it turns out to be LGF, a correction on my part would likely consist merely of replacing the relevant proper nouns, above.

Posted by BruceR at 10:44 AM



I agree with Damian, CBC Newsworld is quite possibly the worst allegedly "all-news channel" in the known universe. CNN, hey, they're generally showing the wrong thing in times of world crisis (some car chase on a Nevada freeway instead of a Third World revolution), but at least they're showing something. Newsworld steadfastly refuses to pre-empt its fluff syndicated series, many of which have little to do with news, and could be found on a dozen other channels, regardless of what's going on in the world. Other than the fact they have a few more news talk shows, and less sports and arts coverage, there's no difference of significance between that channel and the regular CBC, which of course begs the question why they consider themselves "Newsworld" at all...

The question is of course... why? Because foreign bureaus cost money, and Canada is too small a country to have multiple foreign news services. If you took the money thrown in to the useless privately owned Newsnet (which just runs the CTV 11 o clock news over and over and over until the next 11 o clock news), and the equally useless publicly owned Newsworld, mentioned above, you might have enough funding to actually get something resembling world wide spot coverage, or at least to afford the BBC world service's licensing fees and let them do it for you, so your journalists could concentrate on Canadian stories. But of course, that's never going to happen. So instead, Newsnet just runs its 15-minute loop, and Newsworld finds the cheapest syndicated air filler it can find (Fashion File?) and plays it over and over. And Canadians who want to be knowledgeable turn to the Internet in increasing numbers. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Posted by BruceR at 09:50 AM