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September 08, 2011


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Reading the Wire story made me wonder: according to what I've read about Afghanistan, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) account for 2/3 of coalition casualties to date, are the number one cause of death, and their use has increased 400 percent since 2007.

I wanted to see how these were being triggered, because such a device, detonated by radio or cellphone by a spotter, at a critical moment, is potentially far more damaging than something tripped by a pressure plate, and far more difficult to detect or disable since a spotter can set it off to kill bomb squads rather than allow it to be disabled.

From what I can tell, these are not typically set off by spotters using remote control triggers, but by the pressure of a vehicle driving over, which brings a pressure plate into contact with another part and so closes a circuit. The Taliban has even taken to replacing metal parts with graphite where possible, to make detection (via magnetic field) more difficult. Reportedly, the U.S. Army favors sniffer dogs as detectors.

What I don't understand -- and would like to see an answer to here if anyone knows -- is why the U.S. army doesn't make more use of clearing devices, in the form of heavy vehicles designed to explode such munitions.

These would be sent ahead of convoys on roads. They could easily be automated. They could be built as cheaply as possible, designed not to resist a blast but to trigger one. They don't need to be (and shouldn't be) high-tech. All they need to be is sufficiently heavy (rocks could be loaded in), not armored or fast.

These could also be sent across fields when offroad movements are planned, with soldiers following the track in convoy or on foot as the path is cleared (or afterwards, if they need to move quickly). If necessary a "clothesline" formation of such vehicles could be sent out.

Wouldn't this be cheap and effective? Does the army use this sort of technique now, and how extensively? If not, why?


The bigger question is: If an IED exploded in Afghanistan or Iraq and all US troops were in the United States at the time of the blast, would the blast make a noise.

P.S. I suppose that such a scheme, even if workable, might drive the enemy to using remote control detonations of IEDs; but given the level of casualties now being caused by these devices (fatalities and maimings) wouldn't it be better to consider counter-measures for that contingency and cross that bridge if and when it materializes?

Spotters using remote control triggers can easily cause more damage than pressure plate devices triggered by the first truck to cross (since the rest of the convoy automatically halts or scatters): have a number of IEDs planted in the road but spaced out, wait for a sufficiently juicy convoy to travel across it, then when it is about midway through, trigger all of the devices.

Theoretically, this could be done without remote control spotters, by means of timers, so a pressure plate triggers, not an immediate explosion, but a countdown timer. But the problem would be to insure that a large convoy was caught, not a single truck setting off the timers of a series of IEDs in turn, which would be an enormous waste of munitions.

The easiest solution would be a secondary pressure plate which must be depressed (by the weight of a passing vehicle) when the timer reaches zero, but on second thought the technical challenges of such an approach would probably require fairly sophisticated series circuitry to set and reset the timers, and so forth, not to mention various logistical problems which are probably insurmountable -- so perhaps we're back to spotters and remote control detonation after all.

Then, the question remains, why not more use of cheap, unmanned clearance devices in the meantime?

Also, does anyone know if the Taliban initially used spotters but abandoned them in the face of counter-intelligence methods?


Well of course, there was no basis for a ground war to begin with, much less for continuing one. I've got about two minutes left online, but I've commented on this before. (Maybe later this evening.)

When I first heard the news of 9/11 I was in my office. I didn't even bother to look up as co-workers came in and blurted out the news that a plane flew into a building I hated. Good. Then came the news that another plane flew into the second tower and I understood the world had shifted on its axis.

At the time, I knew two things: one that this was a one-time event, that it only happened because it hadn't happened before. Two, that it would be exploited by the military-industrial complex. The void once filled by the Soviet Union would finally find a new occupant, which would midwife an organizing principle for the empire and also provide an all-encompassing explanation for our otherwise boring lives. Irony was dead. Long live certitude.

In the following weeks, I watched in despair as people relentlessly banged the drums of patriotism, togetherness, and swift vengeance. Then the larger horror began to unfold: the dark case for invading Iraq, a country with no logical or apparent ties to al Qaeda. For Americans, this didn't matter. If you were even remotely related to Arabs, you deserved to die, as Bashir Singh's all-too human stain revealed in a hail of freedom bullets.

We know several things about ourselves. We are chumps for war, at least in the beginning. War is fun and exciting when we're imagining glory for ourselves and death for others. Also, we don't want the thrills to be litigated with caution or doubt. The purity of it must be preserved even if it means joining a mob or scapegoating an entire religion. George Bush's approval rating kicked down the door of effete modernism. Take that, you America-hating multiculturalists!

It was odd to see stern patriots explaining to America the necessity of a never-ending war while also advancing the argument that the rich have suffered from too heavy a tax burden. Also, the rest of us should go shopping. And that freedom meant embedding reporters in military units, in effect making them cheerleaders for the war. Freedom was vertiginous with its own potential to be something else entirely. Say, the redemption of America's humiliation in Vietnam.

I'm waiting for a myth to emerge that will explain away the horror of the last 10 years. Maybe some soldier will insist he was spat on by a liberal in a tie-dyed T shirt. Maybe Jane Fonda will be seen near a mosque. Or maybe Nancy Grace will employ an enhanced interrogation technique to get Casey Anthony to admit the truth. The phantasmagoria of Americanism has never suffered from a lack of imagination. We know there are enemies out there. Kill them before they kill us.

No need for redemption of America's humiliation in Vietnam.

We won the war. So I was informed by a handfull of Viet war vets a few days ago.

My response was, "But didn't I see the communist forces roll into the country and take over it's government?

"Nope, that was the liberal media twisting the story," they said.

Needless to say, I was speechless at that point. You don't argue with that level of dilusion.

This is it guys. I just don’t have the time or intellectual mental skills to belong to this BLOG.
The following note to a writer friend explains a bit of where I am at.
Chuck I been trying to figure out why I keep myself holed up in this shit hole called phoenix? Probably my 75 year old Hispanic girlfriend, a great lady. Finally, after two wives and a shit load of women looking for assistance, in thinking, a woman that doesn’t need help. Currently I am working a “suicide” maybe a homicide, for the family of the dead guy that of course believes their kid couldn’t kill himself. I am waiting on coroner’s report and the rest of the investigation from the cops before making too many gut calls.
I keep telling the legal guys don’t call me I am retarded and retired. But there is still a few I can’t walk away from out of loyalty. I keep telling myself it’s not fair to the client given my lack diminished abilities. So fuck it I just don’t charge them.
Come January I gotta pull the motor home to a place where I can see a 100 miles in four directions instead of living in a world of low flying police and hospital helicopters, sirens and a whole lot of really bad air that make my lungs ache and my nose and eyes run. If you have time I really recommend “Born to Run” good a science read and a lot of stuff about the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico and a crazy gringo they call Caballo Blanco. Mas tarde

So Emil Pulisfer unlike Mark how does it feel to be Robbie the robot. I figured out a long time ago you were a response built puter. Ole Isaac Asimov and Robbie would be proud, as would be my pal Hal. I am sure Bryson is a good human being but I swam the shit hole waters of lake Ahquabi and that’s about as interesting as Roosevelt and polio. (Toss that into your research bank.) I know Emil that you can read a book in ten minutes (or as Sean Connery said “it’s never taken me that long”) so try Zuni Enigma and get back to me with what the DNA results might suggest to your collider speed thought process. I will not apologize for your being offended. Interesting given all the crap downloaded into a response computer along with the three robotic laws they also programmed you to be sensitive and almost religious sounding (I did not find Bryson’s language offensive but actually, tame).

Electric dog I appreciate your thoughts and I’ll buy the Americanos. Even though my IQ on a good day is a 100 the Emails of the world don’t offend me. They remind me that in the desert, Sun Tzu and I have the advantage as we know the language of the dune sand worms and always have a still suit at ready. Cabrone cal from Sahuaroville.

Soleri, Excellent piece. If you have not written a book please do!

Well cal, cain't says I blame you.

I consider this blog to be the last thread (no pun intended) I can hold on to in a crazy, crazy world.

I hold on because I enjoy the comments about old times and I love the suggested readings by everyone.

I'm guessing I'm about 18 to 24 months from also cutting the string, moving permanently away from this place and never looking back.

Happy trails, my friend.

Cal and Reb, it will make me sad if you go away.

"We know there are enemies out there. Kill them before they kill us." - soleri

My first thought on reading this was Walt Kelly's Pogo . . .

“We have seen the enemy and he is us”.

I just read the lurid account in the New Times of the Susan Brock sex abuse scandal. I recommend it if only to remind yourselves that people are first and foremost animals, that we routinely do bad things for the wrong reasons, and that the human heart will find a throne in the closest gutter if a toilet bowl is out of reach. A teenage boy gets showered with expensive gifts and hand jobs from a middle-aged woman. That woman is now going to spend most of her remaining life in jail.

We go to war, inadvertently kill uncountable numbers of innocent human beings, flout international law and basic morality, set ourselves on a path to national bankruptcy, and lionize the liars who told us to do this. Why? Because we're animals who think that noble intentions can redeem the misery of our worm-eaten hearts. We played dress up with our imaginary reasons only to discover that all we really wanted was to win. Because that's what winners do in lieu of admitting that we'll eventually die alone. And it's that sadness that underwrites every human scandal, from petty lust to epic failure.

I hope no one leaves this forum for the wrong reason. The sadness that we endlessly negotiate is made easier by your company and quirks. We all smell of our evasions and cons. Smart as we pretend to be, we all want what you want: acceptance of our human curse.

Susan Brock is in jail for years. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Lloyd Blankfein, Alan Greenspan, Angelo Mozilo, Kerry Killinger, et al aren't.

Justice served?

"Justice served?" - Rogue

Excellent question. An accurate, but far too short list.

Watch Michael Sandel's Harvard Justice series. If you can suffer through the ponderous hours, there are a few bright moments. I don't know if the few, thoughtful, engaged students amongst the sleepy drones in Harvard's Matrix hive tower of a lecture hall are enough to give us hope for any future (r)evolution of justice.

For my tastes, and for his thoughts, I'll take Slavoj Zizek over Sandel any day of the week. At least Zizek's frenetic mind-body connection keeps us steadily engaged!

"people are first and foremost animals" - soleri

Perhaps, but what animal are you? What animal am I?


Meow. Prrrrrrr.

Woof, woof.



I echo cal's praise. Your thoughts prompted me to unearth and update the 9/11 memorial post at my place with my writings on that terrible day.

(Excerpted) That morning:

"Pacifist that I normally am... I say it's time to demand that the Taliban turn over Usama Bin Laden RIGHT NOW or we invade and give the Taliban leadership a taste of "collateral damage"...

"It matters not whether Bin Laden is responsible..."

9 days later:

"Cooler heads... and I, with great melancholy, observe this dirge-march towards realpolitik...

"...I am concerned that the knee-jerk macho patriotism that is all the rage at the moment... will inevitably begin a polarization between the "Love It Or Leave It" crowd and thoughtful critics ("intellectual elitists"). I know which camp I belong in..."

(Also, FWIW - I would like cal to rethink the baby/bathwater thing. I, too, enjoy his writing!)

"Smart as we pretend to be, we all want what you want: acceptance of our human curse." - soleri the brilliant

Far worse to pretend that one is not smart. We can only hope that - if one of them is elected - this is a pretense practiced by the entire dizzy agglomeration of Republican candidates for the Presidency.

(Off to peruse Jon's links, for which I thank you...)

I must amend...

There are plenty of "feral" smarts in that bunch. Zeus knows we need a little more of that to balance our bookish hearts.

"In my course I have known and, according to my measure, have cooperated with great men; and I have never yet seen any plan which has not been mended by the observations of those who were much inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business."

- Edmund Burke

@Rate Crimes:

Oh, that modern conservatives would bother to read and understand "the philosophical founder of modern conservatism."

(Wouldn't kill some liberals, either.)

I fear that if the revived Rt. Hon. Burke were to visit Texas today then a few there would "treat him pretty ugly".

"cal Lash" wrote:

"I figured out a long time ago you were a response built puter. Ole Isaac Asimov and Robbie would be proud, as would be my pal Hal."

That does not compute.

"I know Emil that you can read a book in ten minutes (or as Sean Connery said “it’s never taken me that long”) so try Zuni Enigma and get back to me with what the DNA results might suggest to your collider speed thought process."

Like you, I don't need to actually read a book to have an opinion of it. In publisher blurbs and thumbnail bios, I saw that she was described as a missionary, and that she's chosen to live in Alaska which is cold all the time and has a Republican governor. Using my supercooled cybernetic brain to adapt your patented analytic heuristics to algorithmic form, I decided that's enough for me to assume that she's a boring person and probably a weirdo and that her book is worthless.

"This is it guys."

Don't let the pod bay doors hit your ass on the way out.

I'm not finished reading these essays, but I'd like to throw up a perhaps rhetorical question.

Why do these laments over the Iraqi adventure fail to call attention to its real "failure": The fact that our monstrous new Middle-East military base, successfully planted there, is simply too damned expensive to maintain?

(To momentarily ignore the immorality of it, that is.)

We were already on the road to Empire's bankruptcy with our 750-1,000 presences around the world, but that one really has to be the one that would be a tipping point...

Whoops. "she" = the author of Zuni Enigma. (Sorry -- I must have busted a tube or something.)

Emil, I hope it was an "or something" because I don't think even Radio Shack carries replacement vacuum tubes anymore.

Remember when you could find the defective tube, buy a replacement and fix the TV yourself??

That ain't going to happen these days.

"too damned expensive to maintain" - Petro

When something becomes too expensive to maintain, and once the precedent is established it also becomes too expensive to NOT maintain, all that remains is an inextricable conundrum. Perhaps, a dependable puppet tyrant would have been less costly? We've become a blunt nation with scant finesse.

This blog needs both Emil and Cal, and everyone else.

"Remember when you could find the defective tube, buy a replacement and fix the TV yourself??"

Today's version of the entrepreneurial neighborhood TV repair man: Geeks in VW bugs removing spyware from home computers.

Just finished reading quite a bit of middle east history. Bottom line, while Britain's empire was shrinking, they proceeded to "break" everything they touched on the way out. Exactly where did it become incumbent on the US of A to go in and try to fix their mess???

Are we that gullible??

Or are there unseen powers which made $$$ from the whole damn mess?


When I visited Bombay in the late '80's, I drank with some British commercial pilots who admonished the US (through me) for not properly taking up the mantle of "necessary" Empire.

That anecdotal encapsulates an attitude shared by the white "cousins" from each side of the pond...

Petro and Cal, thanks for your kind words.

BTW, there's no "book" in me. What you see here is pretty much what I am: limited, impatient, and too easily bored with details. Commenting on blogs is the best I can do. Fortunately, I do a lot of it.

Cal, don't leave. Your voice is the counterpoint that makes this music what it is.

Rate Crimes, I like the idea that Zeus understood our "feral" complexity. If our gods are out of balance, it's because we're not really earthy enough to see the stars. Intellectualism is one hazard. Another is the debasement of physical reality. Our minds are weak because alienaton from nature has impoverished our senses.

azrebel wrote:

"Emil, I hope it was an "or something" because I don't think even Radio Shack carries replacement vacuum tubes anymore."

I am unconcerned. All will be well once Norman coordinates.

BTW, once cal Lash is gone, I plan to construct an android version of him that I can wind up to a fevered pitch harangue against Bill Bryson, just so I can have the satisfaction of ordering him to shut up.


"Geeks in VW bugs removing spyware from home computers" -

Without sufficient understanding, how does one KNOW that they are REMOVING spyware, and not simply leaving it, modifying it, exchanging it, or installing it on a clean system. Economics would suggest that the geeks are are source of the infection. Bugs, indeed.

"Our minds are weak because alienaton from nature has impoverished our senses." - soleri

I'm sorry, did you say something? I was distracted by ESPN on one screen, CNN on another, pop music on the public address system, a cartful of beer, and a pair of hot legs that just walked by. With all this noise against which to practice our focus, why aren't our minds strengthening?

When the mind is hunting, focus is required. Our minds are weak because we are lazy and unwitting to the slow flood of the unnatural. (Your thought, but from another direction. Thx)

@Rate Crimes:

Tongue-in-cheek, maybe?

Nah, spy/adware is ubiquitous enough from normal surfing (I peel nearly 200 a day from my computer, and I stay away from "sketchy" sites with their free games & porn), and I've cleaned more than a few of some of my less tech-savvy friends' frozen-up computers myself.

It would be so easy to bust them for any such shenanigans, anyway. They'd be exposed - with relish - all over the tech-publication sites (which I frequent, as an somewhat nostalgic ex-programmer,) if not the mainstream news itself.

Though, if it makes you feel any better - my tinfoil hat suspects that the antivirus companies that charge for their services give a wink and a nod, if not some sort of material support, to authors of viruses...

But as I like to point out, my tinfoil hat is often wrong. :)

Karl Popper just mentioned that Heraclitus said, "Nature loves to hide". Heraclitus should have said that Nature loves to hide from Mankind's anthropomorphisms. Though, the meaning of his words is well taken.


Yes, T-I-C, based on what they've done for my parents, the Geeks aren't all the clever. Your theory of the (anti-)virus companies is likely correct.

Nature loves to hide from Mankind's anthropomorphisms.
That. Is. Awesome.

One last riposte. "cal Lash" wrote:

"Interesting given all the crap downloaded into a response computer along with the three robotic laws they also programmed you to be sensitive and almost religious sounding (I did not find Bryson’s language offensive but actually, tame)."

I don't know what constitutes salty language on planet "cal" but in my book dropping the F-bomb three times in as many sentences constitutes vulgarity. Because it was shouted by a frustrated movie-theater manager in a lobby full of children, it struck me as unrealistic for any period (doing so would be as much as his job was worth) but especially for 1950s era Des Moines. That's why I regard this (and several similar instances) as a gratuitous inclusion for "modern sensibilities" (certainly not mine -- bad taste is bad form).

I don't know what "cal" says when relaxing in his kimono watching Swedish porno -- and I don't want to know: that's between him and his life-partner and/or nacho-of-the-week. But if "fuck!" is tantamount to "egad!" in cal's book, I admit to being genuinely fascinated by the question: what are the new outer limits, and how does one get there? Even little miss Linda Blair (in the role of Old Scratch) didn't get past variations on George Carlin's seven dirty words. How does one give satisfaction?

Emil, I did go out and pay $9.80 at a small local bookstore for an almost new edition of Bryson’s Superman book. If you like I will let you have it. As to Zuni Enigma, I generally agree with your causal assessment and I read the book. The material is tedious and somewhat scientifically stretched but I found it interesting that possibly some Japanese explorers about 1700 years ago got lost and ended up in a canyon in New Mexico. As for the question it was to compare to a similar thought poised by someone you might be related to. To compare Bryson to Mark Twain is like comparing you to me. A human/robot symbiotic word merchant genius to a semi literate senile old man.
Publication notice: A new book, “Between the Mountains from Between the Ears” by Blanco Soleri was released today. The Soleri philosophical wisdom enjoyed throughout the Galaxy for the last 100 years is summed up in this latest 900 page tome by the 140 year old Soleri. Without a doubt Soleri will be as remembered as Mark Twain and Socrates. From your reviewer the 150 year old Cabrone Cal on rouge hideout in a galaxy far away from the empire.

PS, Nowdays they expel kids from school for saying fuck. Given that I would have been tossed out of 1st grade every day.. Few words offend me, but I will give you an example, "organized religion".

George Carlin was a REAL superman.
Unfortunately for the the world
that the government invented airways kryptonite

Other Offensive words
"god bless"

Actually, Bryson and Twain have a lot in common (especially Twain in his travel books). Both are left-leaning, iconoclastic, sarcastic, and tend to leaven their humorous personal observations and experiences with a great deal of politico-historical detail pulled from other people's research -- no less informative or relevant for that, and I'm grateful that Bryson's best books aren't a mere collection of personal anecdotes (amusing as those often are).

"Emil, I did go out and pay $9.80 at a small local bookstore for an almost new edition of Bryson’s Superman book."

But apparently not before commenting on it. (Or if so, the problem is deeper than mere shooting from the hip.)

Mr. Talton wants us to play nice, so I guess this is my final comment on the matter unless cal continues it.

Alrighty then, back to the subject at hand.

Today is September the 9th and I am already overwhelmed by the piles of manure that are being shoveled at us via all the cable channels.

I am disturbed by all the "celebrations" that are taking place. Ten year celebrations? Celebrations? Not a word I would have chosen.

Thanks to everyone for the excellent posts! in the next couple days, I will put a pillow over my head to avoid all the inevitable GBA - God bless America - inane crap on the media!

And, God bless Jon's fan club. . . heh, heh.

Important note: this is NOT a continuation of the "feud". That, dear friends, is a thing of the past.

Still, I remain genuinely at a loss to account for the acute hostility shown by "cal Lash" toward Bill Bryson's charming memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. The apparent logical inconsistency of his criticisms have set up a feedback loop in my positronic brain which is making disproportional use of system resources. In order to purge my system of this inefficient and resource intensive subroutine, I must resolve the conundrum.

To that end, I parsed his critical remarks (in two threads) line by line. If this seems to be "overkill" you'll have to forgive me: this is the way cybernetic intelligences like mine attempt to understand the baffling and seemingly capricious temperament of human beings. Having done this, I've created a list (what else?) of possible explanations for his attitude:

(1) Lash bitterly rails against Bryson for having had a "mediocre" childhood. A curiously elitist objection. This fairly common circumstance (childhood mediocrity) seems insufficient reason to pan a humorist's commentary on American society posing as a childhood memoir.

(2) Bryson lived in Iowa. (So did Lash.) Bryson moved away from Iowa. (So did Lash.) Presumably, neither circumstance constitutes an unrecoverable error, despite Lash's criticism that Bryson moved away from Iowa to "the dankness of England". (Git a rope!) Is any of this really a reason to pan his book? Explain.

(3) Bryson's father, a reporter for the Des Moines Register, made more money than did Lash's father; and Bryson enjoyed a better material standard of living in his childhood than did Lash. Is this really a reason to pan Bryson's book? Explain.

(4) Bryson and Lash both swam in polluted lakes in Iowa, and agree that the lakes were polluted; Bryson's brief mention being part of a series of observations illustrating 1950s era attitudes and naivete toward environmental hazards, smoking, and radioactivity; seemingly perfectly reasonable asides in a humorous memoir about growing up in the 1950s. Is this really a reason to pan the book? Explain.

(5) Bryson briefly mentioned the scourge of polio and societal responses to it, as well as Iowa's higher than average incidence of the disease, in the course of a memoir about growing up in Iowa in the 1950s. (Bryson describes some notable photos from his town's newspaper archive -- later destroyed "for space" after Gannett bought out the paper -- that show parents of polio victims standing on ladders outside their houses, visiting with their children through their second-story windows.) Lash asserts that polio epidemics, like environmental pollution, aren't interesting. Is this really a reason to pan Bryson's book? Explain.

(6) Lash describes himself as "the arch-enemy of the Thunderbolt Kid" (Bryson's imaginary childhood alter-ego whose "thundervision" smote many a teacher, babysitter, or other recalcitrant figure to ashes). Is this acute hostility to a fictitious childhood alter-ego (involved briefly and from time to time as a narrative device) reasonable, or peculiarly disproportionate? (Cybernetic beings have a difficult time making head or tail of human affect, as you can see.)

(7) Lash referred to Bryson's memoir as his "superman" book (though no such connection is made by Bryson). My positronic brain, using the databased information available to it, has noted a (possibly significant) coincidence: "cal Lash" may be abbreviated "cal L", and this (or a variant "Kal El") is the original name of the alien personage later known to Earthlings as Superman. Could "cal Lash" have developed a different childhood alter-ego, conceiving himself as "Superman" and thus perceiving Bryson's Thunderbolt Kid as a dangerous rival, resulting in feelings of jealousy? Or is Lash's antipathy toward Superman indicative of identification with Superman's Bizarro World nemesis? (I leave it to human readers to determine the psychological plausibility of these hypotheses.)

I knew your cybernetic intelligence wouldn't let it go. I was not going to respond after you had the LAST word but just as I thought, you came back like a dust devil in the Sonoran desert. I never considered a feud.It was a feed back loop trap and I gottcha Hal. U clearly have identified yourself as a robot of with 22nd century positronic brain. Out of respect for superior intelligence I bought the book one day after it's recommendation on this blog. Most of your above logic is accurate. But my 99 plus IQ on a good day and my personal tastes in books finds the state of Iowa and the book boring.
But got them thar vacuum tubes working in overdrive. I apologize to AZREBEL for this intrusion into the day to day greatness of this blog. Cal and his dog Spot somewhere in the great Sonoran desert. What's left of it.
NO MAS por favor

Big Laughs at:


...and definitely NO MAS about Bryson, the most beloved and read author I've never heard of (until a few days ago).

Paul Krugman - New York Times Blog
September 11, 2011, 8:41 am
The Years of Shame

Is it just me, or are the 9/11 commemorations oddly subdued?

Actually, I don’t think it’s me, and it’s not really that odd.

What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

I’m not going to allow comments on this post, for obvious reasons.

Tomgram: Engelhardt, Tear Down the Freedom Tower
Let’s Cancel 9/11
Bury the War State's Blank Check at Sea
By Tom Engelhardt

"Let’s bag it.

I’m talking about the tenth anniversary ceremonies for 9/11, and everything that goes with them: the solemn reading of the names of the dead, the tolling of bells, the honoring of first responders, the gathering of presidents, the dedication of the new memorial, the moments of silence. The works.

... Isn’t it finally time to go cold turkey? To let go of the dead? Why keep repeating our 9/11 mantra as if it were some kind of old-time religion, when we’ve proven that we, as a nation, can’t handle it -- and worse yet, that we don’t deserve it?

We would have been better off consigning our memories of 9/11 to oblivion, forgetting it all if only we could. We can’t, of course. But we could stop the anniversary remembrances. We could stop invoking 9/11 in every imaginable way so many years later. We could stop using it to make ourselves feel like a far better country than we are. We could, in short, leave the dead in peace and take a good, hard look at ourselves, the living, in the nearest mirror."


What do our masters want? I think this piece by Steve Clemons pulls back the curtain just enough to see. It's the war machine preserved, lubricated, protected and enhanced regardless of the cost to society as a whole. 9/11's memorialization is part of that strategy. It intends to shut down debate preemptively and crowd out any competing concerns.

You don't live in a democracy. You are ruled by thugs.

In a recent interview with the Arizona Republic's Dennis Wagner, U.S. Attorney Paul Charleton recounts the shift in intelligence resources and tactics, including placing "terrorism suspects" under constant surveillance in the hope of catching them "spitting on the sidewalk" so that they could either be imprisoned or deported. "Only providence knows if we stopped any attacks, but it's been a decade without a major terrorism event in America."


There are questions as to how finely tuned such tactics are and whether innocent individuals are being targeted on the basis of anonymous tips (good way to get even with a personal enemy or competitor), hearsay, or statements made under duress.

Of course, I am VERY glad that the United States has gone a decade "without a major terrorist event" (evidently, acts of right-wing domestic terrorism such as Andrew Joseph Stack III flying a private plane into the IRS building in Austin just last year don't count).

That said, the very absence of such attacks, by well organized, well funded, highly militant Islamic fanatics with big-time access to all kinds of military-grade weaponry and explosives (from battlefields in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere), many of whom are willing to die in the course of carrying out an attack, strikes me as a bit odd, especially given how much they are said to hate America. Almost, indeed, inexplicable.

Another article today, about the reported plot by Al Qaida to send three terrorists to the U.S. to conduct a 9/11 attack, mentions that "Intelligence analysts have looked at travel patterns and behaviors of people who recently entered the country" and that "counterterrorism officials were looking for certain names associated with the threat, but it was unclear whether the names were real or fake".

Excluding Alaska, the United States has a 4,000 mile long land and maritime boundary with Canada, large portions of which are notoriously underpatrolled, many of which present ideal conditions for persons crossing individually (separately, to meet later) or together, without having to present passports, visas, or any identification. Of course, they still have to get into Canada (unless they are recruited there).

The 2,000 mile border with Mexico is under considerably greater surveillance, but remains porous enough to allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to enter the country each year. Several recent news articles have noted that an unknown number of immigrants have begun entering California by sea, blending into the small-boat fishing community and arriving on unfrequented beaches at night by raft, rowboat, or motor launch, without running lights; a practice which authorities admit is very difficult to detect. (Even less so when small craft contain, say, three individuals instead of an overpacked boatload of Mexicans.) It's quite easy to get into Mexico by sea or even by land from Central America (many countries of which are also fairly soft targets for human smuggling); and thence from Mexico into the U.S. by one means or another.

Note that a base of operations in the United States is not a requirement for a terrorist attack, provided the terrorists are not assembling a car bomb and/or cooking up explosives from scratch. One individual wearing a vest packed with plastic explosives and studded with thousands of small ball-bearings (assembled outside the country), walking into a crowded Starbucks on a busy Monday morning, or several wearing business suits and carrying briefcases containing machine pistols and grenades, could do a lot of damage. Conducting one such operation a month would have a devastating effect on American morale. There are other venues which could potentially provide larger casualties with very little increased security risk.

I'm not giving away any information or ideas which wouldn't have already occurred to a distributed terrorist group like Al Qaida, some of whose members reportedly make an avocation out of sitting around cooking up plots against the United States.

What I'm getting at is that there have been no such attacks in the last ten years, according to U.S. Attorney Charleton. Isn't there something just a wee bit peculiar about that?

BTW, I hope they keep an eye on things tomorrow. Few civilians will be working in the offices Sunday, especially on 9/11, and security is very high. A terrorist group might well decide to wait until the streets are packed and everyone's guard has been relaxed following an anticlimactic decennial memorial day.

P.S. I know that a number of Islamic terrorist plots have been prevented from being carried out. Others were carried out and, through an odd incompetence (considering the availability of jihadists with considerable, practical battlefield experience with improvised munitions, as either tutors or agents) involved bombs that smoked and burned but failed to explode. Many (though not all) of the attacks that were plotted but not carried out, involved individuals virtually recruited by the FBI in undercover sting operations. (No complaints there: nobody twisted these guys arms to carry out an attack, and it's good to get them off the streets even if we're the ones dangling the bait; but on the other hand, it doesn't say quite the same thing about either the threat level or the competence of counter-terrorist operations.)

Want to know what I'm feeling today, 9/11?



Well, for one thing I'm a contrarian, like most of you, thus it is a lonely existence.

I'm also reading Ed Abbey's book, Desert Solitude per Cal's recommendation. Ed stikes me as a version of some of us here on the blog. We just don't fit in with the multitudes of people surrounding us.

Do any of you ever answer the various online polls like the ones on AZRepub and others? Whenever I respond, I am almost always in the minority. I'm surrounded by so many people who don't think like me. Actually, they don't think. They are robots who accept the "party line" on everything in life.

I've given up trying to change their minds. I feel like a small piece of driftwood being carried along by a river of stupidity. I can tell there's a big waterfall ahead and there is nothing I can do.

I made it a point to stay away from TV other than football today, however, just for a brief second I channel surfed through the channels and came across a panel consisting of two generals, Cheney and Rumsfeld stating that the defense budget should never be cut, but should be increased. These guys should be on trial for war crimes, yet there they are in all their glory.

It's a sad day, but not for the same reasons as the other 95% of Americans think.

Like Mr. Abbey says, sometimes being alone is OK and sometimes it's not.

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