July 30, 2003

WORTH A LOOK

My nominee for most informative Iraqi affairs blog today: Juan Cole's.
Most informative Afghan affairs blog: Michael Ubaldi's.

In case you were looking for something else to read.

Posted by BruceR at 11:39 AM

ASK THE EXPERTS

With all this talk of forecasting terrorist attack through derivative markets, one might want to consider finding the guys who are already apparently doing it. They might have something useful to add.

Posted by BruceR at 11:17 AM

July 29, 2003

THE USUAL SUSPECT

"Here come the anti-U.S. protesters again. Everything in place?
"Riot control gas?" "Check."
"Shields and batons?" "Check."
"Security barriers?" "Check."
"Jaggi Singh arrested?" Check."

Posted by BruceR at 01:17 PM

OF PATRIOTS AND PASSIONS

Concerns that the new Mel Gibson movie The Passion is going to be anti-Semitic rather miss the point, to my mind. Any religion's founding myth either implicitly or explicitly makes all the other competing myths look bad. Central to the foundations of Christianity is that the new faith was not embraced by either Jews or Romans: but all the sane branches of the Christian tree long ago forgave both.

The real problem is this is yet another example of the relentless "historicity" marketing trope that precedes every Gibson production now. Braveheart was supposedly the Wallace revolt as it really happened; The Patriot was the American Revolution as it really happened; now we have the Crucifixion as it really happened. You don't need to be a history buff to know all the myriad ways, in tone and content that the last two Gibson efforts wholly belied this lie of a claim, and recent criticisms of The Passion's screenplay and trailer should be enough to prove that once again, Gibson, due to some misguided cryto-Rankeian facet of his soul, is doing exactly the same thing to history, and to the historians who misguidedly give him any assistance at all.

If Mad Mel were doing a Road Warrior sequel, he'd no doubt say this one was the Post-Apocalypse as it really will happen, too.

PS: Yes, I know, lots of historically themed movies have historicity problems: particularly two on my all-time favourite list, Glory and Memphis Belle. I think there's other distinctions in intent and accomplishment worth making, but the key difference is other movie makers rarely if ever make the "real history" claim that falls so easily from the contemptible Gibson's lips.

PPS: The Simpsons did a great episode on this topic, with Gibson's active collaboration. Gibson knows the charge. He just apparently doesn't care.

Posted by BruceR at 12:10 PM

July 24, 2003

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT'S DUE

Reading Lileks today just reminded me of one thing I left out of my Monday post on what's wrong with Wi-Fi today. Largely because I always forget to send a nice note to the company I just want to say for the record that I'm entirely pleased with the hi-speed service provided in the Toronto area by Rogers Cable.

Look, I'm a guy that loves to patronize the littlest available businessman. Brewery/microbrewery? Micro, no exceptions. FutureShop/College Street? Get down where the geeks roam, I say. AMD/Intel? ATI/NVidia? Don't even start with me. If someone in T.O. was offering hi-speed service out of the back of their van, I'd probably sign up out of pure principle.

And I hate being put on hold.

Which is why I surprise myself more than anyone to say Rogers Hi-Speed service is damn good. In however many years it's been, outside of moving, I've made two service calls, both at really odd hours. Both times, including the one this last weekend, the night desk or whatever they have solved the problem instantly. No fuss, no waiting. Now admittedly, I'm probably one of the easier people they have to help. But for the record, their service is really, really, really, really good. There. I've said it.

Posted by BruceR at 03:29 PM

AUSTRALIA, WE LOVE YA, PART 3 AND A HALF

This is an international peacekeeping development that's pretty much flown under the radar. I blame Tim Blair.

In other completely unrelated news, this is the funniest post I've read all week. And alarmingly, it has already managed to secure itself the "I feel lucky" spot any time you search for "I vomit remains at Christian filth" on Google. Since I happen to do that a lot, I blame Tim Blair.

Posted by BruceR at 12:25 AM

July 23, 2003

WILL YA MAKE 'ME' TEA? PUT 'ON' THE 'TELLY'?

This time, I have to agree with LGF... the BBC website seems to have lost any grasp it might have had of when scare quotes (or should I say, "scare quotes") are appropriate in a headline and when they're not. It's not just the Iraq stories, either. The current front page has:

Tests 'show Saddam's sons died'
BBC 'taped Kelly's WMD concerns'
AIDS 'threatens economic collapse'
Indian actress 'slapped'

Oh, come on. Either she was or she wasn't. If it was just the stories that tick off Andrew Sullivan I'd agree it was moral relativism rampant, but it seems more like a complete unwillingness to exercise any kind of news judgment whatsoever.

Posted by BruceR at 10:47 AM

July 22, 2003

HMM...

From Slate:

In the short run, though, the [Billboard download] numbers are so modest that a well-coordinated effort by a band with a devoted fan base and at least one song for sale on iTunes, Liquid Audio, Rhapsody, or one of the other services included in SoundScan's numbers could theoretically push that song to No. 1. (The chart doesn't track file-sharing services like Grokster.) For that matter, a moderately influential Weblogger could probably pick a song at random from the current inventory, harangue his or her audience to buy it during a particular time period, and put in the Top 10.

Well, I don't think I'm influential enough for that, but I would say that if the electronic download chart numbers ever convinced, say, Curse Mackey to revive the *cough* Grim Faeries again, *cough* that would almost make shutting Napster down worth it to me.

Posted by BruceR at 01:43 AM

ON TWA 800

I meant to comment on this earlier, but I got distracted. Rand's site raised questions last week about TWA 800, and whether, as twa800.com and other conspiracy sites believe, the destruction of that jet could have been precursive terrorism. I don't think that case is easily made.

Of course, if you want to believe in government cover-ups, no evidence is sufficient to disprove the shadow government's responsibility for anything. But as a former member of an air defence unit, I thought I'd look at the purely technical facts that both "sides" in this debate stipulate to, and see if there's an air defence weapons system that could have brought down that plane under those conditions back in 1996. In other words, assume for the purpose of argument that we KNEW this was a terrorist missile attack... how could it have to have been carried out?

This much is pretty much universally agreed upon. TWA 800 was blown out of the sky by a massive explosion, sufficient to cut the power to both black boxes simultaneously, at 20:31 pm on July 17, 1996, while flying east out of New York, over water south of Long Island. The plane had been flying for 12 minutes, and at the time of the explosion was at 4,200m altitude and still climbing, with a forward airspeed of 685km/h. There was a Navy P-3 Orion in the close vicinity, along with other forms of surveillance, and so considerable evidence suggests the nearest surface vessel contacts were at least 5.0 km away from the point of detonation (the land was considerably farther), and were well to either side, making the plane a crossing target to our hypothetical missile unit.

The minimum slant range (6.5 km) by itself easily rules out any shoulder-launched or short range SAM solution, either heat-seeking or optical, even the Stinger. No, to get that kind of range you need a medium-range missile solution, which implies a fairly large and stable firing platform... we're not talking a rowboat here. Probably a large motor yacht or trawler, in fact.

To narrow it down further, you'd need to make a couple more assumptions. First off, the fact the missile was shot when it was still quite bright outside (contributing to the large number of witness accounts) would tend to rule out any solely radar-guided systems... given the easily visible signature of the firing unit, and the safe to assume idea that the terrorists wanted to escape, a radar-guided unit could have afforded to wait two more hours and get the cover of night to help with evasion. (It's also fair to say that any unusual radar emissions would likely have been detected by the P-3.) Also, any missile that caused a 747 to entirely cease functioning and then rapidly disintegrate would have to have significant explosive power... at least as much as one of the Standard SAMs that disintegrated an Iranian A300 airliner in 1988.

So what would the guidance mechanism be? Well, larger heat-seekers would seem to be ruled out... Chaparral could make the slant range, but its Sidewinder-sized warhead could never do that kind of damage. That leaves command and optically guided systems, including radar-guided systems that had an optical guidance backup system. Given those assumptions, only two missile systems in the world at the time really qualify. The American Hawk/I-Hawk, and its Russian counterpart, the SA-6/SA-11 system (in Russian naval service, the SA-N-7). No other missiles in the world at the time combined the deadliness, the fire-without-radar capability, and the performance envelope... Rapier doesn't have the range, Crotale and Roland and the SA-8 don't have a large enough warhead, SPADA is radar-only, etc.

Procuring a Hawk/SA-11 is not theoretically hard... they're ubiquitous, pretty much. The key would be fitting a large enough surface boat to house and fire at least one... fairly obvious modifications that would be detectable from a distance. These things are huge. You then have to postulate that this modified trawler was able to make its way to the States, fire its missile in broad daylight, and then escape without detection. You also have to accept that the missile itself was somehow previously rendered untraceable, as any part turning up in the wreckage would have otherwise clearly identified the initial purchaser, and provide a trail back to the group. You also have to accept that the terrorists were somehow able to surmount the training delta... firing an I-Hawk on backup optics and scoring a hit on a crossing target at the edge of visual range, even a 747, on the first try, would be Lee Oswald-lucky. You also have to accept that, having pulled this massively complex attack on the American homeland, that the terrorist organization responsible chose not to claim any responsibility or victory for it, and never attempted to repeat it again.

Too many assumptions for me, at this point. Of course you could always buy into the deep government conspiracy stuff, which if nothing else is non-falsifiable, and postulate that further evidence of the terrorist trawlers is being suppressed by a cast of hundreds to reassure the airgoing public or what have you (or alternatively, if you believe that sort of thing, that a USN ship or plane made a terrible mistake). But the burden of proof for any kind of "innocent" missile explanation, i.e., that this was just a SAM hit that has been mistaken for something else by the experts, is just too high to spend too much time thinking about.

(POSTSCRIPT: The twa800 site, before its founder's death, seemed to be leaning toward another explanation, involving an Iranian AIM-54 Phoenix refitted for passive radiation homing, on a civilian airliner's radio frequencies, as their "missile on the trawler." Suffice it to say that no such guidance system has ever been known to have been deployed on either a SAM or air-to-air missile, that converting an air-to-air Phoenix instead of a Hawk doesn't add anything to the equation other than dead certainty of the terrorists' state sponsor when the debris shows up. Only Iran ever bought the Phoenix.)

Posted by BruceR at 01:06 AM

July 21, 2003

SY SIDESWIPE

Interesting aside in the current New Yorker's Sy Hersh piece on how Syria's been falling over itself trying to ingratiate itself with the Americans since Sept. 11 and D.C. has more or less responded to all the diplomatic overtures with insults and random border skirmishes.

Syria also provided the United States with intelligence about future Al Qaeda plans... The Syrians also helped the United States avert a suspected plot against an American target in Ottawa.

What can that refer to, I wonder? Surely not the Maher Arar case, of which we've written before. Is American intelligence still counting that as a victory for the good guys? If not that, then what?

Posted by BruceR at 10:43 PM

THE KELLY AFFAIR

Jeff Jarvis, et al, can spin all they want, but there's no way the recent death of Dr. David Kelly ends up making the BBC look bad. There's really only two logical scenarios for the known facts.

Scenario 1:
Assume Kelly met with the BBC reporter Gilligan, and said that the government's Iraq WMD evidence was questionable at the time of their public statements;
Kelly then went before Parliament, and told them the exact opposite, that the WMD evidence was NOT questionable to his mind, then or now;
Kelly then killed himself, either out of his own guilt because his testimony was false, or because someone pressured him into lying. Either way, the government looks bad.

Scenario 2:
Assume Kelly met with the reporter, and said that the government's evidence was unquestionable;
He then went before the Parliament, and said the same thing again, is congratulated by the MPs for his honesty, etc., etc.
He then kills himself... well, why, exactly? Because he was guilty over the damage he'd done to public broadcasting? Because he feared some unspecified BBC retaliation? Even if there was a tape of the original interview, it could logically only back his claim to honesty... so presumably the BBC had no power over him (other than the usual ways the press has to make your life hell, but Kelly would have to be extraordinarily fragile to see that alone as enough to make life unlivable).

So basically, those are your two scenarios: either Kelly was pressured into lying (or pressured himself out of loyalty), and found he couldn't live with that after; or he was an inherently unbalanced (albeit honest) individual in a position of high government responsibility, and a promoter of the war, who fell apart at the slightest push.

(Note that Gilligan's own credibility, which is all but shot, is irrelevant to these scenarios. Calling Kelly a "senior intelligence official", as opposed to a mere scientist, was a straight-out lie, for which he will certainly be sanctioned, but it can hardly have had any impact on Kelly's own thinking. What Kelly couldn't live with, apparently, was the fallout from his own Parliamentary testimony... why?)

UPDATE: Notice Jarvis' real agenda, with his little aside that a public broadcaster is "insane journalistically." Why, because it criticizes the government too much? C doesn't follow from A...

UPDATE 2: The comparison I haven't seen made yet, which is surprising since Kelly's death was almost 10 years to the day (July 20, 1993) later, is to the death of Vincent Foster. Presumably the BBC is just as responsible for Kelly as the Wall Street Journal was for Foster's. Without believing any of the conspiracist lunacies surrounding it, it's also fair to say that situation saw the effects of conflicting loyalties between honesty and team loyalty could have on an unstable man.

Posted by BruceR at 01:22 PM

MONDAY, MONDAY

Spent Friday and the weekend, like Instapundit, away from the computer, so I'm catching up on three days news, too. Actually, "away" from a computer for me is relative... I'm on deadline on a couple freelance pieces, and at least part of the weekend was spent switching the house over to a wireless setup.

Wireless computing is remarkably cheap and painless now, actually, if you're hesitating on the brink. The one thing that surprised me in the otherwise painless process was that the PC commercial world doesn't have a widely available wireless repeater product (as opposed to a signal booster), to reliably extend coverage in the home environment.

The trouble with a booster, like the one Linksys sells, is it adds bulk in the place where you may not want to add bulk... ie, where the cable modem and router already are, next to the coax point in the wall which connects you to the big wide world. Presumably that puts it in the proximity of either your home entertainment unit or a desktop computer as well, so adding another box to the clutter is not exactly optimal. (Nor are home users likely to be too enthralled with longer antenna units on the router or the computers, for the same reason.)

The aesthetically elegant solution would be to put a repeater, which just receives the wireless signals and rebroadcasts them again, up in the attic somewhere, to ensure cross-house coverage. Apple has this capability, with its AirPort Extreme setup (not cheap, mind you), but the PC world is lagging. D-Link sells a repeater, although it's supposedly not compatible with other companies' hardware, and D-Link doesn't have the distribution network of a Linksys or Microsoft or Netgear, at least in Canada. A lot of stores are giving away low-end wireless routers with every laptop they sell now, so there's a lot of non-standard equipment out there, too, that would be part of the installed base for any cross-compatible solution. It shouldn't be a serious technological challenge... to create a repeater you're more or less stripping technology out of the wireless access point products those other companies already make (no routing, no Ethernet hookups, no DHCP). It's really surprising none of those other companies is selling them yet.

It's hard to imagine, if a dedicated PC repeater product showed up in the big store chains that was advertised as widely cross-compatible, under $100 US, and stable (or at least easily remotely rebootable, so you could put it up in the rafters and forget about it) that every laptop-possessing home owner wouldn't consider picking one up the next time they go by. Marketing-wise, it's got to be close to a sure thing (the only trick is deciding whether the old WiFi-B or the new WiFi-G standard would sell you more boxes): everyone can always use more signal, or at least isn't averse to the idea. If you heard of a company coming out with something like it in the next year, I'd recommend buying stock.

Posted by BruceR at 10:35 AM

July 17, 2003

GAGGING JUDGE MERRITT?

Instapundit mentor Gilbert Merritt is in the news a bit these days. Currently, he's criticizing the gag order he says was imposed on him by Paul Bremer when he was in Iraq as part of a judicial reform commission.

Of course, the minute Merritt landed back state-side and out of Bremer's hands, he published a piece in the local paper about an Iraqi newspaper clipping he found while overseas that finally appeared to tangibly link Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. The implied criciticism of U.S. intelligence efforts was obvious. Several bloggers, including Instapundit, have commented favourably, and criticized the media for not talking to Merritt more.

Merritt's piece wasn't new, though. The same clipping had previously been noted by the Weekly Standard. The problem with it was that it clearly wasn't a centrally approved government document, judging by the preface: "This is a list of the henchmen of the regime. Our hands will reach them sooner or later. Woe unto them."

How a "soon to be put against a wall and shot" list by the Iraqi opposition appeared in a government-censored Baghdad newspaper is still an open question, but it obviously says little new of value on the Saddam-Osama issue by itself. The fact that Merritt made a big deal of it, however, and notably without mentioning the uncomfortable preface, does seem to put Bremer's gag order on the 67-year old judge in a more positive light. Assuming we can fully believe him on that score, of course.

Posted by BruceR at 01:52 PM

FOREIGN TROOP CONTRIBUTIONS UPDATE

How's the U.S. doing so far on collecting soldiers from other countries to allow it and Britain to draw down on its Iraqi contingents? Well, four countries have committed to battalion-strength or larger units so far: Italy (3,000) Poland (2,300), Ukraine (1,640), and Spain (1,100). This could fill out, with smaller countries committing a company or platoon each, to as many as 10,000 soldiers... nothing to sneeze at, but still short of the 2-3 divisions the U.S. announced it was prepared to accept, and unlikely to have any huge effect on American redeployment schedules. The Americans had hoped, originally, for a division from India, a half-division continuing on from Britain, and a division-and-a-half from everybody else. Britain's still solid, but India's pulled out and the smaller countries are still undersubscribed. The biggest and most easily deployable fill-in force would have been Turkish, but that's not going to work for all kinds of reasons... which is why, after all is said and done, it looks like the U.S. may have to go back to the UN after all.

UPDATE: And call up the National Guard, while they're at it.

Posted by BruceR at 10:35 AM

July 16, 2003

IF NOT NIGER, WHERE?

The "Bush didn't lie" story keeps changing, interview to interview. The current iteration is that the State of the Union address was truthful enough, because the British government still believes that there were attempts by Iraq to import uranium ore from countries in Niger other than Africa (For the record, there's only four African countries with a uranium export business... Gabon, Namibia, and South Africa are the other three.) Instapundit approvingly cites one such arguer today.

Unfortunately, that's NOT what the British are saying.

PM Tony Blair is himself conceding the September 2002 British intelligence report only referred to Niger, and is arguing that it's technically correct, too (After all, all IT said was "there is intelligence" that Iraq had "sought" uranium ore in Niger, not that they definitely were, or had actually gotten any... the British line, not to put too fine a public point on it, is that the Americans overstated the British case. What other evidence Blair has in his pocket, other than the pre-existing Iraq-Niger export relationship, is still unclear. But there's almost certainly no evidence relating to any other country, and the British at least, are not pretending there is.

Posted by BruceR at 10:55 AM