I’ve updated my disclaimer a bit:
Security and terrorism are vital subjects, and I realize that some people may find my tone inappropriately snarky at times. Humor is an important part of how I understand the world, and it’s difficult for me to be coherent without occasionally trying for a laugh. I mean no disrespect.
This is a personal journal. My employers do not endorse or necessarily agree with my opinions. At best they think I'm occasionally funny.
For now, all content on this site is © 2004 by Phil Libin. I’ll look into alternate copyright structures in the near future and may change the scheme. Suggestions welcome.
Now that I’ve set high expectations for humor, allow me to live down to it.
So you run and you run
to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking / racing around to come up behind you again.
Pink Floyd must have been singing about the inefficiencies of foot racing, because when you take off westward in the afternoon from Heathrow on a 777, you can give the sun a pretty solid run. Sure, it gets an unfair head start because you’re only #17 for take off, and by the time you get up over the permanent cloud cover the sun is already forming large orange bands on the horizon, but you give chase for a good five hours. The horizon gets slowly squeezed in the middle of your window until concentrated reds and purples pop out and run up and down the frame. On top they separate and congeal into tiny white stars, on the bottom they blob into barely discernable landscapes. You know that you're flying over nothing but ocean, so those must be clouds. It can run, but it can't fool you.
The sun finally shakes you somewhere behind the coast of Newfoundland, but on balance it probably worked harder than you in the race. Have another drink. On the ground, a sunset is finished in five minutes. At 38,000 feet you can stretch it to feature length. Unlike Saturday Night Live movies, the material emerges quite intact from extra scrutiny demanded by the expanded format.
Of course, if you were on a Concorde, you could actually beat the sun by a whole hour and half. It wouldn’t catch up with you until you were already on the ground, filling out your missing luggage report. Who’s “shorter of breath” now?
[Note to investors: my in-seat power plug wasn’t working, hence the uncharacteristic lazing about.]
Blog related program activities 3
“Vastly Important Notes” has reached a milestone of sorts. There are now more comments than posts – even discounting Au Pair spam. This feels vaguely satisfying in some irrational way. Next stop, Journalistic Power Level 3!
My brother, Mark Ayzenshtat, has come forward as the author of the notorious Vastly Important Nuts parody. The savage reign of terror that I’ve imposed at the office in a (apparently mistaken) attempt to smoke out the perpetrators will now be rescinded. My apologies to the wrongly accused.
Everything on this site has now been moved over to www.vastlyimportant.com. If you’re still using the old URL (whose name shall not be spoken lest Google indexes it again), please update your Bookmarks… or Favorites…or “My Places on the Internet”. Some of you have noticed that you can’t get here if you leave the “www” off of the URL. I’ve got trouble tickets open with my registrar and my blog host, but both claim that it’s an unsolvable problem. I asked my IT guy but he just mumbled something about “flying monkeys.” Not giving up yet.
Charlie Wilson’s Book
The Afghanistan war against the Soviets was, by far, the largest operation ever carried out by the CIA. The whole thing was basically made from scratch by a boozing, womanizing public official and, um, another boozing, womanizing public official. Why wasn't I informed about this earlier?
George Crile’s Charlie Wilson’s War is a solid narrative of how U.S. support for Afghan mujahideen in the 1980’s brought about the fall of one great, existential enemy and the rise of another. The book is filled with convincing details about the backroom operations of Congress and the CIA, as well as assorted tidbits on weapons systems, Pakistani palace intrigue, Texas socialites and contrasting cultural expectations regarding the proper uses of Tennessee mules. The book jacket has a blurb that says, “Tom Clancy’s fiction pales in comparison…” I can’t judge that claim personally, but the writing is certainly punchier than, say, Chaim Potok's.
Charlie Wilson’s War is well written, by turns funny and serious and, qualifying it to be mentioned on this site, important. It’s still reasonably popular so you might find a copy in an airport bookstore. It’s the perfect book for a twelve hour flight, and the person sitting next to you won’t be able to immediately guess your political leanings. That’s pretty unique for non-fiction these days.
[Thanks to my friend Lee Wright for the recommendation.]
I'm a friggin' squirrel
I wouldn’t have thought that enough people read this site to have to worry about becoming the victim of squirrelly mockery, but here we are. The really hurtful part is that it’s so much funnier than my original source material. I’ll redouble my efforts.
Decline of Western Civilization
If you have any doubts about the superiority of Japanese culture, just look at what they call Phillips and normal screwdrivers: “Plus” and “Minus”. I feel like I’ve led a completely unoptimized life not knowing about this sooner! How much do we have to spend on “No Child Left Behind” to get the U.S. to such a pinnacle of technical clarity?
Make it so.
Maybe I was wrong
It may not be the sustained reaction, but it might have been the initial one. The opposition party won the election in Spain in a last minute surge widely credited to the recent bombings. I know very little about Spanish politics and will not presume to judge the outcome. I would have no pangs of principle if Aznar’s party has lost because of their unpopular support for the Iraq war or because they were perceived as manipulating information about the attacks (that’s the way democracy works). I just hope they didn’t lose because of - in effect - successful terrorist extortion. That would be a bad security precedent for all of us.
[Update: Looks like Calpundit says the same thing better, and first.]
Not a compelling security argument
As discussion spreads that the bombings in Madrid may have been carried out by al Qaeda sympathizers, conventional wisdom says that Spaniards will blame their government for bringing the rage of Islamic extremists home by supporting the U.S. war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I do not believe that this will be the common, sustained reaction.
Al Qaeda’s core beliefs – the brutal suppression of women, destruction of culture and science, indiscriminate and grotesque use of violence and fervent anti-democracy – are anathematical to the values of modern Europe. When persons you morally deplore are furious with your decisions, it is a pretty good indicator that you are doing the right thing. Reasonable people will disagree on the appropriate response to terror, but few would seriously suggest that it’s best to cower and hope that it passes us unnoticed.
There is an unpleasant but effective personal security strategy for living in a rough neighborhood: make your house less attractive to criminals, and they’ll target your neighbors’ house. National security should not work like this. Shaping your national security policy to avoid further aggravating your self-declared enemies is a strategy likely to only delay and magnify the problem. The well known WWII quote by Martin Niemöller, rendered almost maudlin through much overuse, is not out of place here:
In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me -
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
There were persuasive security arguments on both sides of the issue on going to war in Iraq. Not wanting to make mad terrorists even madder should not be counted among them.
The headline about the South Korean impeachment story in China View reads, “Impeachment sparks rallies in S.Korea, but most people live as usual.” Sounds like a petulantly disappointed Bond villain.
The good news is that someone is reading my blog; the bad news is that it’s an automated spam bot. I’d left the blog unsupervised while tending to real life business for the past few days and came back to find a heaping pile of spam in my comments section. I suppose it’s inevitable that every spot on the Internet which could contain a misspelled ad for hair replacement serum will contain a misspelled ad for hair replacement serum. Or 10,000 such ads. Has this formulation become a named law yet? It seems to be the bastard offspring of Mr. Murphy and Mr. Moore?
I’ve manually deleted most of the spam, but that could quickly become an unmanageable process. If anyone has ideas about how do deal with comment spam, please let me know. Perhaps the spam bot can suggest a nice Au Pair service or herbal Viagra pill instead.