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Friday, February 07, 2003

Was I Too Kind to Fisk?

Tony Adragna
Responding with approbation in general, Bill takes me to task on a specific
Tony, Tony, Tony. You shouldn't have taken the bait on that point. Both lines are completely wrong. Here are the references to the word "decades" in Powell's speech:...
The "bait" I took was granting that Fisk "may be correct" in objection to a specific line in Powell's speech:"This understanding builds on decades long experience with respect to ties between Iraq and Al Qaida." At face value that line suggests "ties" that have existed for "decades", a suggestion that is contradicted by Powell in the very next line. Notwithstanding that Fisk's argument is wrong on why this line is faulty — the point I felt was most worthy of disputation since it is Fisk's most patently false assertion — he's correct that it is in some way faulty.

Bill isn't having any of that — he offers an explanation from the context that there's an apostrophe missing: decade's is how it should read. I'm not buying that unless Bill wants to throw in the missing "a" for free: a decade's long experience... Maybe Bill is correct, but that's an awfully awkward phraseology — wouldn't it be more natural to say "a decade's worth of experience"? Last I checked Sec. Powell still used the same idiomatic expressions as the rest of us.

Bill is correct about "context", though, and he starts heading to the correct explanation, but he inexplicably stops short of the answer. What Powell's unfortunatre choice of verbiage was meant to get at is this: We have decades[plural] experience [knowledge] with Saddam, we have decades[or, a decade & a half anyway] of the same on al Qaeda, and we've enough on the two to support a conclusion that ties exist.

Now, this is the reason why I tend to agree with Dr. Franklin on his dislike of disputation. What just happened is that Fisk made too much ado of of a plain language meaning that Sec. Powell didn't intend. Bill made too much ado of me letting Fisk slide on an arguable point when I have a stronger showing of a provable factual error. Fisk wants controversy over the statement he misapprehends, I'll let Bill handle that — better spit out that bait, Bill...

Update: If it was the possessive 's intended instead of the plural s, then State needs to fix their text of Remarks to the United Nations Security Council. State did make a change — they hyphenated "decades-long", meaning something with a length of decades. Powell obviously can't be talking 'bout experience of decades of ties, so the only reading that makes sense is that which I suggested above.

"I speak as someone who was born and raised to be anti-American..."

Tony Adragna
Yet, she — Julie Burchill — is making the case for "Why we should go to war" against Iraq. I especially join in her responses to five arguments exemplifying the "babyishness of the pro-Saddam apologists:"
1) "It's all about oil!" Like hyperactive brats who get hold of one phrase and repeat it endlessly, this naive and prissy mantra is enough to drive to the point of madness any person who actually attempts to think beyond the clichés. Like "Whatever!" it is one of the few ways in which the dull-minded think they can have the last word in any argument. So what if it is about oil, in part? Are you prepared to give up your car and central heating and go back to the Dark Ages? If not, don't be such a hypocrite. The fact is that this war is about freedom, justice - and oil. It's called multitasking. Get used to it!

2) "But we sold him the weapons!" An incredible excuse for not fighting, this one - almost surreal in its logic. If the west sold him the weapons that helped make him the monstrous power that he is, responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of Iranians, Kurds, Kuwaitis and Iraqis, then surely it is our responsibility to redress our greed and ignorance by doing the lion's share in getting rid of him.

3) "America's always interfering in other countries!" And when it's not, it is derided as selfish and isolationist. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

4) "Saddam Hussein may have killed hundreds of thousands of his own people - but he hasn't done anything to us! We shouldn't invade any country unless it attacks us!" I love this one, it's so mind-bogglingly selfish - and it's always wheeled out by people who call themselves "internationalists", too. These were the people who thought that a population living in terror under the Taliban was preferable to a bit of liberating foreign fire power, even fighting side by side with an Afghani resistance. On this principle, if we'd known about Hitler gassing the Jews all through the 1930s, we still shouldn't have invaded Germany; the Jews were, after all, German citizens and not our business. If you really think it's better for more people to die over decades under a tyrannical regime than for fewer people to die during a brief attack by an outside power, you're really weird and nationalistic and not any sort of socialist that I recognise. And that's where you link up with all those nasty rightwing columnists who are so opposed to fighting Iraq; they, too, believe that the lives of a thousand coloured chappies aren't worth the death of one British soldier. Military inaction, unless in the defence of one's own country, is the most extreme form of narcissism and nationalism; people who preach it are the exact opposite of the International Brigade, and that's so not a good look.

5) "Ooo, your friends smell!" Well, so do yours. We may be saddled with Bush and Blair, but you've got Prince Charles (a big friend of the Islamic world, probably because of its large number of feudal kingdoms and hardline attitude to uppity women), the Catholic church (taking a brief break from buggering babies to condemn any western attack as "morally unacceptable") and posturing pansies such as Sean Penn, Sheryl Crow and Damon Albarn.
I think Julie covered all the bases there. And, as I'm not immune to tempation toward a bit of "babyishness", I couldn't have signed off better than
So, all in all, and at the risk of being extremely babyish myself, I'd go so far as to say that my argument's bigger than yours. Of course, you think the same about your side. And we won't change our minds. Ever. So let's do each other a favour and agree not to rattle each other's cages (playpens?) until the whole thing's over. Free speech and diversity - let's enjoy it! Even though our brothers and sisters, the suffering, tortured slaves of Saddam, can't. Yet. Still, soon.

Fact Checking Fisk

Tony Adragna
Fisk says, "You wanted to believe him – but it was like something out of Beckett"... more on Beckett later...

Fisk, unsurprisingly, is still unconvinced. Why?
It was when we went back to Halabja and human rights abuses and all Saddam's old sins, as recorded by the discredited Unscom team, that we started eating the old soup again.
When was UNSCOM "discredited"? Oh, he must mean the quite compelling presentation by the tag team of Scott Ritter & Saddam Hussein.
[...] when we were forced to listen to Iraq's officer corps communicating by phone – "yeah", "yeah", "yeah?", "yeah..." – it was impossible not to ask oneself if Colin Powell had really considered the effect this would have on the outside world.
Well, we thought that since "the outside world" — i.e Fisk et al — wouldn't take our word, we'd let 'em get it from the horse's mouth. Apparently even that isn't enough of a factual basis to satisfy Fisk.
And when General Powell started blathering on about "decades'' of contact between Saddam and al-Qa'ida, things went wrong for the Secretary of State. Al-Qa'ida only came into existence five years ago, since Bin Laden – "decades" ago – was working against the Russians for the CIA, whose present day director was sitting grave-faced behind General Powell.
Fisk may be correct on the "'decades' of contact between Saddam and al-Qa'ida". But the next line is completely wrong. Bin Laden established al Qaeda in 1988 — that's fifteen years ago, not five. And bin Laden asserts that rather than "working [...] for the CIA", he was there as representative of the Saudis "to show our solidarity with our Islamist brothers". There's the horse's mouth again.
The worst moment came when General Powell started talking about anthrax and the 2001 anthrax attacks in Washington and New York, pathetically holding up a teaspoon of the imaginary spores and – while not precisely saying so – fraudulently suggesting a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 2001 anthrax scare.
There's a reason Sec. Powell didn't "precisely" make the suggestion — he was suggesting no such thing. If he had, though, would it be "fraudulent"? Well, if we knew that anthrax definitely didn't come from Iraq, then the suggestion would be fraudulent. Truth is that we still don't know where it came from — it's a stretch at this point to suggest it came from Iraq, but not a fraud. Does Fisk have something dispositive for us?
When the Secretary of State held up Iraq's support for the Palestinian Hamas organisation, which has an office in Baghdad, as proof of Saddam's support for "terror'' – there was, of course, no mention of America's support for Israel and its occupation of Palestinian land – the whole theatre began to collapse. There are Hamas offices in Beirut, Damascus and Iran. Is the 82nd Airborne supposed to grind on to Lebanon, Syria and Iran?
Kinda neat how Fisk makes no mention of America's support for a two state solution with a Palestinian state alongside Israel — Fisk musta been too busy breezing past Iraq's "support for 'terror'" in his mad dash to equate "Israel['s] [...] occupation of Palestinian land" with terrorism while faulting Sec. Powell for "no mention of America's support" for the same.

It's quite funny that Fisk mentions Samuel Beckett. Fisk wants to come off looking like Didi, but he's got the mental acuity of Gogo[update: I forgot the obvious unparallel — at least when Gogo got beaten up by some thugs he didn't defend the thugs]. He's playing a twisted version of Waiting for Godot — in this version Godot shows up, but Fisk simply refuses to believe that it happened.

More akin to Sec. Powell is the other Beckett — the King's trusted counsel who upon appointment to the See of Canterbury begins a struggle with the monarch. Only in the modern version the two reconcile without either having to compromise principle...

Thursday, February 06, 2003

It's All Starting to Look Alike

Tony Adragna
Today's WaPo opinion page is full of pieces on yesterday's case making, and it's all praise for Powell's presentation, even from Mary McGrory! — you think maybe somebody cloned her and this McGrory isn't the one we're familiar with?

The only item on WaPo's opinion page that doesn't deal with the case against Iraq comes from our favourite Chicago Sun-Times columnist — it's about legalized cloning in New Jersey[we hafta get it from the Sun-Times site 'cause WaPo only carries it in the paper copy].

When the cloning bill passed the state Senate (evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans) late last year, not a single GOP senator voted no. A committee of the Democratic-controlled state Assembly unanimously approved the bill Monday, Republicans abstaining. With the GOP offering no opposition, the full Assembly is expected to pass the bill as early as next Monday and send it to Democratic Gov. James McGreevey. When he signs it, New Jersey would become the only state where human cloning is expressly legal.
¡Muy interesante!... Novak continues
''If New Jersey passes this legislation,'' said Marie Tasy of the state's Right to Life organization, which has led the opposition, ''the Raelians should feel comfortable calling New Jersey home and setting up cloning labs in the Garden State.''

The bizarre is familiar in Trenton, where conflict of interest is common among state legislators, and Republicans are divided and leaderless. GOP legislators protest that the issue is too complicated to understand. They are clear, however, in not wanting to get on the wrong side of the bill's most visible advocate, paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve.
There's a couple of constituencies I hadn't thought about — the Raelian vote and the Christopher Reeve vote... And I always knew that there are in fact "liberal" Republicans
Beyond the distinctive mores of Trenton, pro-choice sentiments pervade the money-raisers and contributors of the Republican Party. Kyrillos is a close associate of the militantly pro-choice Lewis Eisenberg of Rumson, N.J., who last week was re-elected national finance chairman of the Republican Party. Kyrillos and Eisenberg both serve on the Republican Leadership Council, which pursues the election of socially liberal Republicans.
'Course, Novak being the party pooper can't just let us proponents of cloning imagine for a minute that the camel's nose will bring down the opposition tent
New Jersey's prospective status as a haven for human cloning may be short-lived. Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, principal sponsor of legislation to ban human cloning nationally, received assurances Tuesday from Majority Leader Bill Frist that the measure will be considered once it comes over from the House (something that did not happen in the Democratic-controlled Senate the last two years). That may well happen by early autumn--not enough time for New Jersey to become the breeding center for a brave new world.
Is this another case where Federalism argues for Congress to butt out? — let's ask Glenn

Does al Qaeda Support Saddam?

Tony Adragna
Steve Verdon draws attention to a bit of Reuters reportage on the Iraq - al Qaeda linkage. The report cites a BBC story quoting a "A Defence Intelligence Staff note..."
[...] "while there have been contacts between al Qaeda and the regime in the past, it is assessed that any fledgling relationship foundered due to mistrust and incompatible ideology."

The BBC said the intelligence document, written last month, judged that training of al Qaeda members may have continued in Iraq, but it stressed that the Islamist al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden regarded Saddam's government as an "apostate regime."
What does this mean?

All it means is that bin Laden doesn't support Saddam. It doesn't answer the question, "does Saddam support al Qaeda?" Two things we know: Saddam has been willing in the past support Islamists for his own reasons, and bin Laden was willing to let Americans support his "Islamist brothers" during the fight against Russia
"To counter these atheist Russians, the Saudis chose me as their representative in Afghanistan... I did not fight against the communist threat while forgetting the peril from the West."

"For us, the idea was not to get involved more than necessary in the fight against the Russians, which was the business of the Americans, but rather to show our solidarity with our Islamist brothers. I discovered that it was not enough to fight in Afghanistan, but that we had to fight on all fronts against communist or Western oppression. The urgent thing was communism, but the next target was America... This is an open war up to the end, until victory."
America is no longer "the next target" — we're current! There's an urgency to bin Laden's attack against the West [and countries supporting the West] that argues for his dealing against "apostate" Saddam at some later time [if he desires to deal against Saddam].

Saddam may be a future al Qaeda "next target", but right now bin Laden is not spurning Iraqi support, and there's plenty of evidence pointing to such support from Saddam...

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

No "Transterrestial Musings" here

Just a buncha "Teamsters In Space!"

Sec. Powell to the Security Council: 'Nuff Said!

Tony Adragna
The United States just presented a very cogent case to the UN Security Council. Anybody calling for a presentation akin to that made during the Cuban missile crisis just got what they wanted — smoking audio & visual included.

I'm most impressed with the case made for linking Iraq & al Qaeda. As well as thinking that linkage not essential to the case against Saddam, I've also been ever skeptical of such linkages. I've pointed to the divergence of "Saddam Hussein's secular tyranny and Al Qaida's religious tyranny" and argued "do not mix."

But, I've also ever been open to convincing on a strong showing that these folks are in fact mixing notwithstanding that secular tyrants & religious tyrants have lots of reason to not want dealings with each other. I'm convinced!

Let's see how the Council responds...

Erratum: I don't know howq it happened, but the original link to Powell's speech got mixed up qwith linkage for another project I was working on. It's fix-ed now.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Launching a rebuttal of Easterbrook

Tony Adragna
In the spring of 1980 — my second semester as a high school freshman — my Navy Junior ROTC class took a trip to NAS Moffett for a visit with the patrol squadron stationed there. I remember looking at those turboprop P3 Orions, then looking past them at the old dirigible hanger, and continuing on across the tarmac to NASA Ames. We knew what NASA was working on then, and us "Space: 1999" junkies couldn't wait for what was coming.

We visited Ames that day, too, and Gregg Easterbrook's April 1980 reference to those "tiles" takes me back to that day — that's when I got to see one up close. That was like, way cool when you're 14 years old. And that's still about the depth of my technical knowledge re space flight.

So, how do I rebut Easterbrook, the same he who repeats in print the soothsayer's warning cry, "The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped", and again on the NewsHour?

Well, I could repeat the point made already by others that 40 years with only three accidents isn't a bad record. Indeed, it's a great record. Some might counter that what we should be looking at is the shuttle's failure rate — two catastrophres in a fleet of five — as evidence of a risk that outweighs any benefits. I've got to disagree with these latter folks.

Attack the problem this way: Think of the shuttle as to space flight what biplanes were to mail delivery. That's what I did when I started googling for some info on how the shuttle fleet's safety record compares to other systems that are still in developmental infancy. I mean, the STS has been operational for twentysomething years, but it's still an envelope-pushing early version vehicle.

So, its record ought really be compared with relatively comparable systems [in terms of level of develpment at time of operation] performing relatively comparable missions [in terms of risk — what I do know of aviation history informs me that those early airmail pilots put their lives at great risk flying in conditions so far outside the envelope of what other pilots considered safe for man & machine]

I stopped looking for data when I came across this quote
The explosion of the Challenger, after twenty-four consecutive successful shuttle flights, grounded all manned space missions by the U.S. for more than two years. The delay barely evoked comment ... But contrast the early history of aviation, when 31 of the first 40 pilots hired by the Post Office died in crashes within six years, with no suspension of service.
I'll rest on C. Owen Paepke's rebuttal...

Monday, February 03, 2003

I'll take "Five Letter Last Names That Start With 'V'" for $1000, Alex!

Tony Adragna
Who is this "Will Veers" whose reportage got itself cited in Best of the Web Today?

Nope! "He's [not] some right wing hack [who] [p]robably flies a Confederate flag."

We know who the Punditwatcher is!

If it's a choice between having my name mispelled, or not getting mentioned at all, feel free to mispell my name all you want [hell, I couldn't spell it 'till I was ten]

Good on ya, Will!

Teamsters In Space!

Tony Adragna
I've not read much about the commercialization of space, but what I have read argues for a vehicle different than the current Space Transportation System. My question is: Why not multiple vehicle types?

My question might seem uninformed — don't we already have more than one type of launch vehicle? Well, yes, and more are on the way. Most of what I seen, though, are projects looking at cheaper, faster, more efficient means of lifting cargo into space. Maybe that's the best way to go, but I'm thinking of more variety in manned space vehicles.

Why not have a manned "space truck" that does between earth and space — and between points in space — what eighteen wheelers do between points on the ground? How 'bout dedicated satellite repair vehicles that could do for the Hubble what the plumber's van does for your leaky faucets? Or vehicles designed for construction in space? Can't we ferry crew & supplies to the International Space Station in a vehicle designed specifically for that purpose?

Maybe most fantastic of all, I can't wait for that "space greyhound" to let me off at some out of the way lunar libation station where I can belly up to the bar with moon miners and BS 'bout the policies of President Chelsea Clinton!

OK, so I've been watching too much Cowboy Bebop...

Sunday, February 02, 2003
Punditwatch has been posted--a very different version than the one I thought I'd be writing before 9:15 AM yesterday morning.

A National Challenge: Let's Make Space Flight Routine!

Tony Adragna
A while back the blogosphere's aerospace engineer made a comparison
Forty-five years after the Wright brothers flew their first flight, thousands of aircraft had been built and hundreds of thousands of people had flown on routine commercial flights.

Forty-five years after Sputnik, space remains an elite destination--fewer than a few hundred people have visited it.
Would yesterday's tragedy give any rise to thoughts of setting back the program of manned space flight if this activity were as routine as taking a transcontinental airplane trip?

We can expect more accidents in the future, and the grieving over loss of life will be no less. That's also true of routine air travel, where the risks aren't as great as in space flight but still present, and people routinely accept those risks.

It's worth noting that most of what I've heard in commentary augurs for continuing manned space flight, and even increased funding. Hopefully that also bodes well for support of something other than the current vehicle...