11. 12. 01
When I’m awakened ahead of schedule to take the second shift for Gnat, I hope there’ll be a five in the time. If it’s the penultimate number, great. If it’s the last number, as in 6:55, hoorah.

This morning the five was the first number. I nearly wept. Of course I had been up late, finishing off Tivobligations. Wanted to see if I would stay with “24,” that Hot New Show that takes place in real time. Obviously, it doesn’t, and that conceit seems a little forced right now. The gimmick didn’t hold me; the visual style - split screens galore - did, and it had a certain narrative brio, so I watched the entire thing. Since it takes place in a CIA terrorism strike force, and since this is TV, that means several things:

1. Lots of dramatic typing. This is a computer-intensive show - plenty of typing and frowning. No one ever uses the mouse, which is all the more amusing when you consider that every computer is a Mac. Sure. Uh-huh. The CIA buys MACs by the truckload for a cadre of hackers. Right. Look, I love my Macs, but this is ridiculous. At least it proves one thing: when you want computers that look cool, Apple is your winner.

You just wish that the people who wrote these things kept one foot in the realm of facts. In the world of CIA TV, though, one guy at a Mac can crack PGP encryption in four minutes, have a bank’s propietary interface up on the screen; when Keifer Sutherland says “send that to my screen,” it’s not only instantly transferred, BUT contains a dialogue box that will send the information to another CIA boss. BUT not just any CIA guy - no, the dialogue box will send it to the Boss Man who’s the superior officer of the guy Keifer Sutherland is about to accuse of money skimming, as soon as this guy wakes up from a tranquilizer dart. (Another day at the office!) Not only is the computer configured to do this as a matter of course, but since Keifer has his hand over the keyboard, threatening to send the incriminating evidence, the computer is set up so “transfer incriminating evidence to superior officer of the guy in my office” is the default option.

My favorite line: Keifer is talking to the requisite hacker-on-staff (they come in two varieties in these shows - sarcastic good-looking white guy with good fashion sense and a goatee, or street-smart ethnic female; I’m not saying these people don’t exist, but you rarely find wobbly-gut guys with scraggy beards, Cheetos-colored fingers and System of a Down T-shirts) and he asks her: “If I give you a phone number, can you get the passwords?” She needs no further explanation; of course she can. So she gets someone’s AOL password - without making that phone ring, of course. All it takes is some frowny typing.

2. Evil CIA. This show has picked the wrong time to recycle the old Rogue Agency-within-an-agency story. This isn’t exactly the time to hint at Shadowy Forces that would kill a presidential candidate because he might “gut” the Agency. Presumably, the boys over at NSA have their own hit squads working on the same problem; too bad the usual rivalries keep them from combining forces.

But it wasn’t that bad. I’ll watch another. Crime Story will be over soon, and I have to have something to keep me amused.

Noisy weekend. Lots of fun, but noisy. No: noisy, but lots of fun. My sister & bro-in-law came to visit, and brought their two young kids. Very well-behaved and sweet, but when you have three small children in a room plus TV plus plates and silverware on a granite table plus adult conversation plus dog, it’s bedlam.

Which made Sunday supper all the more special. Had a rare moment of peace: baby napping, wife at the movies with her sister, dog snoozing on the hearth. I read the New Yorker cartoon issue with my meal, and laughed once at a cartoon - and that was the sort of silent theoretical laugh when your brian recognizes something as amusing but doesn’t feel it necessary to inform your face. There was a highly irritating piece of fiction, which confirmed why I avoid most New Yorker fiction. I’m of the old F. John O’Henry school: if you’re going to write short, deliver big. Have an actual POINT. A twist would be nice. A story would be better. This had nothing, just a ramble over a few events with no conclusion. Reading it was the equivalent of slowly sucking one strand of spaghetti.

What saved the issue was an account of New Yorker cartoons in WW2 - it was too short, and lacked sufficient examples, but it had all the Towering Figures of the era - Arno, Price, and a great cover by one of the least remembered figures of the era, Wm. Steig. He specialized in what I’ll call Mulberry Street people - indeterminate ethnicity, but certainly not spindly WASPs or gesticulating Levantines. Mostly thick people with broad necks and beer-barrel bodies. The men (usually wearing tank-top T-shirts)had two expressions: a surge of anger and irritation, usually towards a kid who’d said something impertinent, or a proud indulgent smile, usually towards a kid who’d done something good. The little boys likewise has these two extremes, but the artist managed with simple deft lines to give them a dozen emotions inbetween. In his wartime cartoons, little boys dreamed of gettin’ the drop on Hitler; in one cover, reproduced full size and in color in this week’s New Yorker, a small boy drifted off to sleep imagining himself in a fighter plane, knocking Jerries from the stormy blue sky.

Not many people remember this guy’s work today (Whitney Darrow Jr. took over the little-kid market, I think) but he went on to draw a few children’s books. I was astonished to read he’s still alive, at age 98. And when I read another detail about his career, I felt a little silly that I hadn’t known this before. There was actually a movie made this year based on his work - a cartoonist from the Golden Era of the New Yorker who’s still alive. I think it sunk without a trace, unfortunately.

As long as I’m on the subject: Friday I found a new installment of the Acme Novelty Library by Chris Ware, which continues to be the most bleakly amusing account of emotional cruelty you’ll find. I can’t get enough. Jimmy Corrigan, a work collected in hard cover this year, was the best illustrated novel, ever, period, goodbye; this installment doesn’t try to meet that book’s ambitions, but collects some random strips with other miserable, pathetic, soul-stunted losers. Best of all, it has his latest invention: Rusty Brown, a 30ish virginal toy collector whose inner and outer life is perhaps the most squallid thing Ware has ever done. His talent for wringing bitter humor out of miserable lonely men is matchless, and his Rusty Brown segments make Jimmy Corrigan look like storyboards for a Busby Berkley musical. There is no one working in the medium who has Ware’s range, his intellect, his talent for heartbreaking banality, his ability to communicate squirmy discomfort with a few deft lines.

Think of the Comic Book Guy without the humor. Think of CBG ten years down the road, unmoored from normal human interaction. Can’t wait for more!


It’s not only raining , it’s thundering. Let’s just say this is unusual for November. Let’s just say no one is complaining. This is the meteorlogical equivalent of a tax rebate. No one expected it; we could make do without it; having gotten it, we’re not sending it back.

Every fifteen minutes my computer dials the Internet. I have no idea why. I just can’t stay away. I know the feeling; maybe it, too, is hungry for war news. In the past three hours I’ve had to readjust my Newhouse column three times, as events overtake my blather.

Since this is a work night, and I’m loathe to type when I could be outside watching the rain, a short dull Bleat. I’d meant to spend today on a long paen to my nifty new peripheral, the iPod; a short mash note will have to suffice. I’m looking at it right now, with a sense of almost parental love. It’s attached to a firewire cable, suckling on the G4, drinking a rich nutritious stream of early 40s swing. . . I know, I know - it’s just an MP3 player. But what a machine. It’s the size of a pack of smokes, it holds about 1000 songs, and it has one of those blind-man interfaces: walking along the creek last night I was able to change tracks and adjust the volume just by feeling the buttons. It is perhaps the most sensible piece of consumer electronics I’ve bought in years, and it looks cool too.

And it broke the first day I got it. Or at least I thought it broke. Somehow it went into permanent sleep, and was as responsive as a bus driver asked to make change. I drove back to the Mall of America's Apple Store to fix i, and the fellow at the Genius Bar showed me how to give it the Prince’s Kiss that woke it from its slumber. I noted that this was the sort of thing they ought to put in the manual, eh? He agreed, and then we exchanged the look of Resigned Apple Partisans who will put up with this krep until our dying day.

I’m not a Manichean in computer matters; I have a PC, and use it for games. I do not demonize the enemy. I am, however, willing to cut Apple some slack and grit my teeth over the occasional annoyance, simply because the overall experience is just so much better than PCs. I'm sorry. It's so. I spend hours on each platform every day; it's not even close. If you're a wirehead who wants to spend all day in the guts of your machine, I'm sure PCs provide more entertainment, but I want to DO things. I want to go somewhere with my car, not spend the day adjusting the timing belt. Whatever that is. Making movies on a Mac: easier. Burning DVDs with custom interfaces: easier. New OS, compared to XP: well, it doesn’t assume the level of idiocy XP seems to assume. The iPod is a perfect example of the Apple Idea, really - build the best and charge like hell for it. I’ve never seen a cleaner, more useful MP3 player than iTunes 2, or a better MP3 player. Period.

Bottom line: I’m done. I finally have the digital hub I’ve been building for a year and a half, and it’s all hidden, too. My desk has all these hidden holes and ports, and a cabinet for the main computer, so all you see is the keyboard, the flat screen, and the wireless base station whose wires disappear into a small hole in the desk. Seamless integrated computing with an overriding aesthetic: ahhhhhhh.

I look back to the days when I spent a lot of time on computers, and didn’t have the internet, Photoshop, MP3s, movies, DVD burning, and I wonder: what the hell did I DO back then?

Oh, right: I just wrote.


I was behind a yellow VW bug today, and noted the license plate: BUMLBEE. I got the joke, but I wondered why they hadn’t thought this out a little more clearly. The pronunciation, after all, was bummelbee. BMBLBEE was what they meant. Maybe BUMLBEE was how they said Beau Brummel’s name in roll call. Yes, that’s it.

Cue the angry! letters! sarcastically suggesting that maybe BMBLBEE was taken? Perhaps. But the car had North Dakota plates, and there aren’t that many cars in North Dakota. A few years ago they started a system of plate nomenclature - three letters, three numbers. It took years to get to D, and since Fargo was the fastest growing city in the state - hell, the only growing city, really - it ate up most of the new plates, and there were about 999 cars in town that had DUH as part of their license. I’m sure there was a DUH 666 somewhere, and I only hope the driver was an Ozzy fan.

The day was conducted in a hazy fog - Gnat’s cold meant a few intervals of peeps, bleats, snorts and waaahs in the night, and no one got much sleep. She pants like she’s trying to pass a honeydew melon, poor thing. Still remarkably cheerful. Amused herself this morning reading a book while the TV blared news of the Northern Alliance rumbling into Kabul. Everyone talks about the NA as though they have uniforms that say “Northern Alliance” and a building that has “Northern Alliance HQ” over the door. It’s not their name; it’s just what they ARE. And now that they’re heading south, they’ll have to change the name - Loose Agglomeration of Guys Who Are Not Yet Consumed by Internicene Killing, perhaps.

Flipping around the TV and radio today, listening to news while Gnat babbled and blew nose-bubbles so big I expected to find her bouncing gently along the ceiling, I realized that the dominant mood in the mainstream media seemed to be dismay and worry. Victory will do that to some people - lesser souls will find good news in the Taliban’s defeat, but the Voices of Caution will always find a dark lining to extract and drape over any development. Nevermind that nearly every dire prediction made thus far hasn’t come to pass; what counts is the Next New Catastrophe, which will be seen as more evidence of the unwiseness of this war. In this view, all bad things are part of a seamless continuum. War leads to starvation: bad. So food is dropped, but this leads to confusion over whether the food is trusted, or is a cluster bomb, or strikes the locals as food; result: bad. So the bombing is intensified, resulting in an airfield freed up to assist humanitarian efforts: this empowers the NA, which contains some unsavory guys; result: bad. The NA enters Kabul, frees people from religious fascism, but this results in reprisals; result: bad. It’s all bad. It would be better if we just heard occasional news that made us shake our heads, and sign petitions asking them not to blow up Buddahs.

Hey: dead Taliban troops in the ditch is a good thing. It is not an affront to civilized values; it is a reassertion of civilized values, odd as that seems to some people.The sooner the Taliban is crushed, the better, and the sooner there’s a chance someone gives up OBL. I don’t expect that, but it would be a nice bonus. Bring him to DC in chains. Put him in the House of Representatives; hold a joint session, and let everyone laugh at him for about ten minutes. Then they play “Do the Hustle” and everyone dances, complete with Soul Train dancers in the balcony.

Then drop him off at a fire station. Any one would do.

I am not, as you may have guessed, in a charitable mood. The Taliban is an army of god-besotted McVeighs, an army of abortion-clinic bombers, just another rotten motley herd of Jew-hating fascists. Send ‘em to hell, as a leathery thespian once said.

Damned Apple computers! Pieces of junk! Doorstops! Shiny overpriced aggro slabs!

Well, no. Last night’s hymn to Apple (which, incidentally, taught me a good lesson: if ever I want to cut down on my daily mail, write about Apples) will not be repeated tonight, since I am in the middle of an unusual dilemma: I cannot upgrade to 9.2; the installer detects a problem with the hard disk, gives me the option of ignoring it, then crashes while upgrading. I cannot reinstall 9.1, since the computer refuses to boot from a CD - and oh, isn’t that a heartening development - and refuses to run the installer. “This program cannot run on this machine,” it says, which is a little like a Bishop saying he cannot say Mass in Notre Dame. I see no option but the Dreaded Reinitialization, and to this effect I have to back up everything. In a way, it’s welcome; discs get cranky, and stuffed with errant bits. I still cannot figure out why the machine dials the Internet every 15 minutes; I’ve checked every program that hankers to be online, and they all insist they’re guiltless. So. The next few days will consist of a laborious reconstruction of the machinery, but the end result will be swift and clean.

All because I wanted the nice desktop patterns in 9.2.



At 9:23 PM it was still 60 degrees. I went outside with the iPod and dialed up a song at random, stood on the cliff and beheld the great sloping hill of Jasperwood disappearing in the fog. The music, by chance, was Noble and Olympian, very Casper David Friederick, and I recognized it instantly as one of the several dozen John Barry tunes. Ah, but which?

Journey to Blofeld’s Hideout.

Since this was the Bond soundtrack for the Lazenby iteration, that would make me Telly Savalas, then. I thought back to ‘94, sitting by the pool in LA next to Telly at his cabana. He was in a robe, playing cards. He waved me over. Right there, I knew this would be one of the finest moments of my life. He wanted to see my Powerbook. I gave him a brief tutorial; he seemed interested in the trackball. Of course! Why not? Who else has a computer interface componant shaped like their famous head? He thanked me, and I went back to sunning myself.

Now he’s dead and I’m standing on the cliff in Minnesota, listening to Bond music, thinking of him and other things. Like: how the days of SPECTRE seem so innocent. Back then, we thought in these terms: disinterested terrorists who wanted only a millllllion dollars, or ruthless godless Commie shops like SMERSH who could be vanquished with technology, human operatives, and fornicating Scotsmen. A nuke-armed rabble in caves? Nah. (And if they ever did appear, they’d be on our side, as in “The Living Daylights.”)

Ah, for the good old days of Number Seven being liquidated because his Extortion Committee went over budget.

I’ve figured out where the computer industry makes its money. Certainly not in the machines themselves. It’s the cables. They all get a kickback from the cable-makers. We went to CompUSA today for a Firewire 6-6 cable, so I can use the iPod to shuttle data back and forth between main Mac and the iBook. For a six-foot cable: thirty bucks. For a three foot cable: $25. So . . . it cost five dollars for three feet of wire, eh? I didn’t buy it! I refuse! J’accuse! Mostly because they were out of them, alas. But also because I was certain I could find one on the web for twenty. (With five dollars shipping and handling.) I’d use the one that came with my iPod, but I strung it in the dark woody depths of the desk.

I am not a fan of so-bad-it’s-good stuff, because it’s usually, well, so bad. There’s a limited entertainment value in schlock. Bad movies need MST3king, or there’s no point in watching them; to paraphrase Cole Porter, I get no kitsch out of Starsky and Hutch. But I have a weakness for something called Song Poems. I first discovered them through a MeFi link many months ago, and was agog: this was the most deeply peculiar music I’d ever heard, and as someone who spends a lot of time poking around the kreptacular banquet that is MP3.com, that says something. Briefly put: “Song Poems” is a term for vanity-press records put out by some hack factories in the 60s and 70s. They’d put tiny ads in magazines asking people to send in their poems - for a small, ahem, fee, they’d set the poem to music and mail you a record. You could be the next Elvis! Anyone who believed such a thing was by definition clueless and delusional, and the lyrical contributions are matchlessly banal. The music rises to the challenge, too - the performers are all B and C list musicians, punching the clock, going through what little motions they know. The Song Poem mills turned out several songs a day; not much thought was put into anything, and every genre was ruthlessly slaughtered with the same half-arsed carelessness. Hangovers loom over half the tracks. You suspect that they knew this stuff was stupid and lazy, but they didn’t know quite how bad it was - and this gives it all an Ed Wood charm that I just find hilarious.

One Song-Poem company bought up backing tracks and used them over and over again - you’d have professionally performed music meant perhaps for a commercial or TV show standing alone and naked, with a Walter-Brennan-on-mescaline singer hollering out the lyrics: I LOST MY GAL . . . TO AN ARRRGENTINE COWBOY!

Usually this krep wears out its welcome after one listen, but I - cannot - get - enough. Go have fun. It’s fascinatingly bad.


Another Friday screed in the offing, I fear. Another blurt of my trademark unedited bloviation, another platoon of straw men assembled so I can walk around waving a Zippo. You’ve been warned. I’ll warn you when I think I’m veering into it.

Today in the parking lot I saw this bumpersticker on a big black pickup: I THINK . . . THEREFORE I’M DANGEROUS.

The need to proclaim this via bumpersticker assured me that 85% of what this person believes is pure BS.

Finished backing up the Mac, in preparation for tomorrow’s Extinction Level Event of the hard drive. Offloaded a few MP3s on the iPod, which I saw as the spaceship in “When Worlds Collide,” desperately hoovering up bits as the apocalypse looms. . . . hmm. Haven’t thought of that movie in a while. Saw it as youngun, and it made a deep deep impression on me; it was SO COOL on so many levels, and hideously unnerving on others. I mean, everybody died except for two dozen people, and they ended up in front of a matte painting - when in all likelihood they would have died gasping for breath on a barren rock, with the idiot screeches of the livestock in the bay below making their last moments uniquely hellish.

Lovely day, another installment of Permanent Autumn - it’s supposed to come to an end this weekend, and we’ll be shoved into the freezer where ice monkeys will rip our flesh, etc., but for now it’s just heaven. We’d take forties in November. To be given a string of sixties is unthinkable. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten used to it. We forget that winter is war; there are advances and setbacks, and campaigns always take unexpected turns. But right now people are just plain happy. And it’s partly due to war news; you can feel a lift in people’s spirits, an abatement of the gritty clammy fear that ruled October. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think it could get bad, fast, tomorrow - but the last few days it’s seemed as if people are no longer obsessively fingering worry beads. If it had been windy, we’d have brought out the kites here too.

Watched some footage from Kabul today. I cannot imagine what it’s like to experience ordinary pleasures without fearing that the Death Patrol was going to screech around the corner; I can’t imagine what it’s like to hear a female voice introducing a song on the radio, and regard both as a stunning upending of daily routines. I can't imagine what it's like to play soccer in the big stadium and be happy that today the game won't have executions at halftime. I can’t imagine what it feels like to bring out a kite I’d hidden, or dig up my TV. My favorite story, I think, is the guy who dug up his TV and VCR and watched “Titanic.” He’s living in a world where the pleasures of 1912 seem impossibly remote. I’m sure someone, somewhere, is rolling their eyes that this man chose something from the Western Cultural Hegemony Factory instead of an eight-hour Soviet miniseries called “Cement.” After all, I found an entry in a weblog where someone castigated the US for not caring about the Taliban before 9/11. Given that much of the site was devoted to attacking the war, one wonders what this fellow would have said if the US had invaded Afghanistan without the causus belli of the Twin Towers attack.

One needn’t wonder much. You can guess.

Okay, here I go, it seems; those disinclined for another leaden lecture are advised to hit the silk.

During an online debate about the war today I had a small epiphany. I understand the reasons people are opposed to the war - I think they’re mostly wrong, but I see the arguments. But for the most part, the people who opposed my positions did not see my arguments at all. They viewed them as lies. Lies in service to a Vast Conspiracy (and it’s always amusing to run up against folks who see the US response to the Twin Towers attack as the conspiracy, but regard the conspirators who planned the attack as autonomous robots summoned up by History Itself. Faced with an actual conspiracy standing naked and bloody in the light of noon, they have to insist that there’s a REAL conspiracy to be found in the shadows.) Or, lies in the service of US ineptitude. The latter usually comes from people who are absolutely clueless about the nature of war. I am no expert: far from it. But I think that if one approaches history from the position of economics alone, you’re missing the human element, the factors of chaos and expediency, the roles of culture and nationalism and all the other human factors that supercede mere economics. War is a thing unto itself, in the end, and you have to study it on its terms, its logic, its values. Otherwise you’re like someone in Paris speaking English with a Pepe LePew accent. I remember a MetaFilter conversation about a particular gunship’s capability, and one tender soul sniffed that this enthusiasm about military hardware was just childish. Ignorance is good enough for some, as long as they can observe the carnage from a box seat on the moral high ground.

Another constant: Often I get a sneering remark about race, suggesting that America is always itching to go kill brown people. (That's all we've done in Afghanistan, after all: kill 'em. Hey: dead men fly no kites.) Sometimes it happens in the first letter; sometimes the third. But it pops up in the end most of the time. It’s like Jesse Ventura: he’s obsessed with money and ego, and hence ascribes any opposition to his critic’s financial interests or wounded pride. There are simply no other explanations for why someone would oppose him. His self-delusion is so complete he regards this as a principle, instead of a symptom of his own narcissism. Likewise, some people see race not as a factor in Life’s Rich Tapestry, but the prime determining factor in everyone’s actions. It is impossible for them to believe that their opponents are not motivated by racism, because if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be opponents. On their side, the Shining Path of Pan-Cultural Hand-Holding; on your side, Lockstep Love of Authority, and the Klan. This is the point where I lose interest in the argument. You are the bleakest dink; goodbye.

Now, let’s torch another hay-boy. Today’s prime quote:

"The world could be set on fire by a spark coming from the West, and it is in need of saving itself from falling into a bottomless abyss to which it is being pushed by policies that have their roots in conceitedness, arrogance, injustice and aggression.”

Who said it? Chomsky? Mullah Omar? Nay: It’s Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri. And he mirrors much of the moaning laments that have accompanied recent war successes. The handwringing in the press is so severe you can hear the bird-bones of these dessicated scribes cracking as they conjur up the next Horrible Scenario. These people would have been standing in Times Square on V-E day shaking their head in disbelief - did we not understand the challenges ahead in reconstructing Europe? What of the Nazis in the general population? What of the reprisals? What of the Soviets? What of the fearsome social dislocation when all the soldiers come home, find their women working, and beat them back into the kitchen? What of? What of? What of?

Of course, I’m not making a point that hasn’t been made elsewhere. Speculation why the Media Elite (it’s one word to me now: Meedyalete) have plunged themselves into a state of constant despair is also common around the web. Andrew Sullivan thinks it’s because the Meedyalete believed they were the ones who set agendas, steered opinion and hence the course of the world, and now they see they’re just a chorus of toothless mouths flapping in the wings while the real actors take the stage. He’s right, but that’s not all of it. To many safe cosseted souls in the Meedyalete this is a repudiation of the paper world they believed in - - a world in which treaties, covenants and other legal fictions would replace aircraft carriers and rumbling bombers, where everyone would be bound by a dense web of mutlilateral obligations, where learned courts in Brussels would decide the composition of Italian cheese (no milk from cows fed genetically modified corn), the state of US C02 credits (your B-52 fleet emitted sufficient C02 to require a .06 reduction in US industrial production; see to it that this is done by FY ‘09) the punishment for bin Laden (life in Swiss jail, since one cannot deport him to America, at least until they drop the death penalty. Now, let us take up the issue of bin Laden's Internet priviledges. Blocking his email to certain domains: cruel and unusual punishment, or a reasonable precaution? The court will now hear arguments.)

This is all fine if you’re the FARGIN’ FEDERATION, but we’re not at that point yet. Until we can manipulate matter to end want and drop a replicator cornucopia in every village, it’s going to be a dangerous world, one where the Great Powers are constantly rubbing up against one another and the lesser powers maneuver in and out of various spheres. You can’t force the future on a world when every new day carries with it the past, plus yesterday, plus what today will soon become.

To say nothing of the fact that once you’ve settled all of Earth’s disputes, hey presto! Meet the Borg! And I can see the magazine covers for that happy event: Why Do They Want to Assimilate Us? Commentators would remark that, well, the very fact of our uniqueness insults their notion of agglomerated perfection; perhaps if we just adopted the same last name and didn’t use so much inflection in our speech and didn’t dress so wildly divergently we wouldn’t appear so arrogant and conceited.


I know, I know: duh. I am not passing this off as insight. But it is, to some, heresy. Force is always inferior to treaties, right? Paper covers rock, right? Well, two examples.

1. Does anyone think that Al Qaeda’s pursuit of biological weapons could have been stopped by a treaty? No, but a treaty would have reduced the likelihood they could get it on the black market. Well, we had a big famous treaty on this stuff, and the Soviets violated it the day the ink dried, and God knows where that stuff went. Treaties give bad actors cover. Saddam is not sitting in one of his palaces chafing because he signed a treaty not to make VX. My hands are tied! Right.

2. Bush and Putin announced a huge cut in nuclear arms today. It was quite a press conference, and once again I’m sure it horrified the easily horrified: all those fresh-faced Texas children! Christian Killbots! The cuts were made, of course, because neither side needs that many nukes anymore, not because Vlad and George were overcome with fellow-feeling. (Side note: the relationship between these two guys is fascinating - as someone who’s been watching US-Russian press conferences all his life, this was astonishing. I’m not suggesting that Russia has decided to throw its lot in with the West because we’re True and Brave and Right and Good and other gushy feelings - it’s a rational calculation, and frankly any leader of a struggling basket-case nation who looked at this vast sea of well-fed kids, this casual display of ease and power, would be crazy to think he’d go it alone, or throw in with the Chinese. If the end result of all this is the inclusion of Russia in the West for good, it is one hell of a turn of events. Thanks, OBL! Nice work.)

Anyway - the cuts were made because the old reasons for having X number of missiles are no longer valid. It’s symptomatic of a new reality; it’s not an attempt to bring about a new reality by reaching an artificial agreement that ignores the reasons for having the nukes in the first place. In my 20s, my vie de gauche, I worshipped arms control agreements; they were a slender thread of hope. Hey, at least they’re talking! Now we only have 2000 ICBMs pointing at one another instead of 2654.

It all comes back to 9.11: no treaty would have stopped it. No amount of multilateralism on the US’s part would have turned aside the heart of Atta et al, and in the end nothing short of guns and bombs would have snapped the Taliban’s spine and let kites fly over Kabul. Ah, but what of the problems we face NOW? We’ll face them, I presume, and imperfections will follow, since imperfect beings are all we can field. Sometimes all available options suck. What counts is doing as much of the right thing as you possibly can, and not accepting some Olympian standard of omniscient perfection as the rod against which all human efforts are compared. (Note to the thick: this is not a justification for accepting atrocites, and it says something about you petulant contrarians that you think it is.)

Saw a press conference yesterday - a journalist asked Stuffles about reports that the Taliban was going into the mountains to mount a guerrilla war. “Are we prepared for such a war?” he asked. What a stupid question. It’s a knee-jerk reiteration of the Meedyalete’s favorite trope: we got spanked in Vietnam, and hence would get spanked again whenever we tiptoe “in country.” Nicholas Von Hoffman’s stupendously wrong column this week had the same idea: We are, he said, “increasingly fogged-out and disoriented by the unconventional struggle of people who don’t fight by the rules taught at the Army War College.” Yes, I’m sure the last 30 years at the Army War College have been spent ignoring the lessons of Vietnam, because they’re all stupid, and they want troops to die.

The real question would be “how are we prepared for such a war,” which leads to a discussion of the balance of forces, the Taliban’s supply-line problems, the fact that our troops will be better fed, warm in the winter, eagle-eyed in the night, connected to a highly responsive logistical network, and on the offense instead of the defense.

But that’s not what the reporter asked. Perhaps later he wondered why he asked such a stupid question. Perhaps his colleagues did as well. And perhaps this helps explain why the Meedyalete are also in a state of despair: having spent all their lives snickering at the concept of “military intelligence” as an oxymoron, some now have a sneaking suspicion that the men and women who assemble an army halfway across the world might actually be as smart as the people who put together newspapers halfway across town.

If such a thing is true, then there is no God.

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