July 20, 1969

Apollo 11 Crew

On July 20, 1969, I woke up in the middle of the night in the Las Vegas hotel where my family was staying.

On the painfully small TV set, I sat, enraptured, and watched the grainy, blurred, almost incomprehensible images that came back from the moon as Neil Armstrong stepped down and off the ladder and onto the lunar soil.

The poor quality of the images didn’t matter; my imagination filled them in more than satisfactorily.

I can’t describe the feeling it gave me; I had no personal association with the space program through my family or friends, but somehow I felt part of it nonetheless, and felt that somehow Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (yes, and Michael Collins) represented all of us…all humanity.

We’re a species capable of great and terrible things. Let’s choose great ones.

On The Problem of Law Enforcement

Tell me again why this is such a good idea.

Germany’s top court blocked the extradition of a suspected al Qaeda financier to Spain, ruling on Monday that a key instrument in the European Union’s fight against terrorism breached the constitution.

The Federal Constitutional Court ordered the release of Mamoun Darkazanli, a German-Syrian fighting his handover under an EU arrest warrant, a new instrument the court said Germany had not implemented correctly.

In doing so, the court upheld an article of the post-war constitution preventing the state from extraditing its citizens, with only limited exceptions.

Plame / Wilson Bleg

Ok folks, I need some help.

I’ve stayed out of the swamp that is the Rove/Wilson/Plame game for the same reason I stay out of it when TG gets one of her speeding tickets, and is outraged, yes outraged that she has to go to court.

Yes, I know everyone does it, but that’s not going to do you much good in front of the judge when you’re explaining why the officer wrote you for 58 in a 40.

So yes, I know everyone talks to the press, and typically violates all kinds of policies up to and including secrecy, but there’s no way it doesn’t – at minimum – look bad when you’re the one caught doing it.

But that’s not my issue.This isn’t about the Rove / Novak talkfest. It’s about what lies underneath it.

Take a look at Intel Dump today, and the post by Jon Holdaway over there. First of all, it’s eminently unhysterical in tone.

But he summarizes the chronology about as well as I’ve seen it.

The story goes that Ambassador Joseph Wilson is assigned by the CIA, based on the recommendation of his wife, who works as a WMD analyst for the Agency, to go to Niger, where he had previous diplomatic contacts, and ascertain whether Saddam Hussein was looking for nuclear materials (specifically, Niger yellowcake).

Wilson comes back, briefs the CIA that Iraq had attempted to make commercial contacts with Niger officials, that Niger officials considered the contacts were for the subrosa purpose of purchasing yellowcake, and that they broke off contact due to the UN sanctions.

Pres. Bush, in his Jan 2003 State of the Union message states that Iraq is looking to purchase nuclear materials in Africa.

Next, we go to war in Iraq, with one of the reasons being that Iraq either was or had the intent of starting up a nuclear weapons program. Wilson writes an op-ed in the NY Times and states that the President lied because there was no evidence that Iraq was looking to buy nuclear materials in Niger. Robert Novak soon after quotes unnamed Administration sources who state that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA and is the one who put him up to the trip. Wilson complains that his wife is a covert operator who’s been outed in violation of the law, and the CIA asks the Justice Department to appoint a special investigator to look into whether someone broke the law and put one of their covert operators into danger.

Now here’s my dumb question.

I’ve read the damn Senate Report, and read the citation of Wilson in which – as stated above, he says that he was told that Iraqis were in Niger, and that the person he talked to thought they were trying to buy uranium.

From Page 43:

The intelligence report indicated that former Nigerian President Ibrahaim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was Prime Minister (1997 – 1999) or Foreign Minister (1996 – 1997). Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it. Mayaki said, however, that in June 1999, [redacted] businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted “expanding commercial relations” to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. The intelligence report also said that “although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq.”

So here’s my problem.

Bush was chastised for saying:

“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Wilson claimed, both in his debrief (in the Senate Intelligence report it is stated that he said “there is nothing to the story” that Iraq was buying uranium from Niger).

So here’s where I get stuck, and could genuinely use some help.

It looks to me like Iraq did make an attempt – at least a desultory one – to buy uranium.

That’s what they were accused of.

Wilson, in his original oped, slams the Administration because

In September 2002, however, Niger re-emerged. The British government published a ”white paper” asserting that Saddam Hussein and his unconventional arms posed an immediate danger. As evidence, the report cited Iraq’s attempts to purchase uranium from an African country.

Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.

The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them.

So I’m puzzled…it seems that the facts as he knew them supported the claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium.

So help me understand this gap. Too many smart people don’t see it as a gap for me to just assume there is one.

Help a blogger out…

Movie Plans

You know, I wasn’t all that excited about seeing ‘War of the Worlds’ anyway…and that was before the screenwriter explained that the invading Martians in the film were really a metaphor for invading U.S. troops (no, really…).

(hat tip to Kate)

Supermoto Madness – Meet Thalia

I’m a helpless victim of it.

I’ve just taken possession of a new (to me) supermotard motorcycle (a MuZ Baghira, pictured below the fold). After a week of commuting on it, one simple question presents itself to me:

Why the heck does anyone ride any other kind of bike?
Much of my riding is commuting; TG and I have only one car between us (the Mighty Odyssey minivan) and find that we can preserve our sanity in Los Angeles traffic best by commuting on motorcycles. But I also sportride (ride somewhat quickly on the interesting windy roads in the Los Angeles and Central California hills) and tour.

I’ve typically owned sportbikes (motorcycles that are also used for roadracing, like a Suzuki GSXR-600) or sport-touring motorcycles (motorcycles that start as racing motorcycles but are redesigned for more comfort and with a focus on covering log distances, like my old Triumph Sprint ST).

They are aerodynamically designed – the sportbikes typically have top speeds in excess of 150 mph, and the sport-tourers typically will run about 130. This means the rider has to crouch down over the motorcycle; the most extreme production racing motorcycles…like the Ducati 998 or Yamaha R6…are affectionately known as “racks” for their uncomfortable riding positions.

In reality, even the most “squidly” (unsafe, irresponsible, unskilled) riders don’t use the high-speed capabilities of their motorcycles to any meaningful extent. There is some benefit to the aerodynamics at fast highway speeds, but for riding in the city or on local roads – even the curve-ridden fun ones – the benefit is pretty limited.

Enter the motard.

There is a large class of motorcycles designed for riding in the dirt; the rider has to sit erect to be able to balance the bike in a constantly-changing traction environment and be able to control the bike in a wide range of attitudes.

They have long-travel suspensions to get the bike over obstacles, and engines optimized for low-speed torque rather than high-speed horsepower.

But they have skinny wheels with knobby tires designed for dirt and mud, instead of smaller wheels with wider street tires. Some genius came up with the idea of putting street wheels on a dir bike, and the motard was born.

Back in the 1980’s, the ABC television show “Wide World of Sports” came up with the idea of a race that would pit motorcycle road racers against flat track riders against motocross riders, and called it “The Superbikers”. They rode the precursors to supermotards on a course that was flat and bumpy dirt and asphalt. The sport took off in Europe, and is just in the last four or five years reaching the United States.

And so people started converting their dirt bikes to motards, and motorcycle manufacturers started following them.

I’d read about motards, and when my sore neck suggested that a more upright position would be useful, picked one up.

And now that I’ve been riding it for a week, I’m kicking myself for not getting one sooner.

Riding in traffic is far easier and safer then on a sportbike; I can see and be seen far easier because of the height and vertical posture. The wide handlebars, quick steering, and strong acceleration from a stop make threading through traffic far easier as well.

I’ve only done a little riding in the twisties with it, but have a feeling that I’ll have far more fun on my 50hp motard – and possibly go as fast or faster – as on my 100hp sport-tourer. I think a day ride to San Francisco would be more tiring, but horses for courses, as they say.

It’s getting almost 47 mpg, parks anywhere, uses less road, and gets me to work with a grin on my face.

If you ride, you ought to think about getting one…so meet Thalia, the MuZ of comedy and playfulness:


Armed In The UK

My day job is sending me to the UK the week after this. I’ll be in Guildford and Derby, primarily, and only have limited free time.

But I’d love tips on things to do or see there, and it’d be a treat to connect with any UK bloggers.

Drop a comment or an email.


Tigerhawk has been looking at events in Pakistan with some interest, and suggests that recent events mean a lot:

In the last three days, though, there is new evidence that Pakistan is less concerned about al Qaeda today than it has been. On Friday, Pakistan acknowledged for the first time that it had allowed American troops on its soil in hot pursuit of Taliban fleeing across the border. This acknowledgement resulted in the usual uproar, but the fact of the acknowledgement suggests that Musharraf is no longer worried about the Islamist backlash. That development in and of itself is huge.

One can only hope…

Cole and Smith (Winston Smith)

I was going to just walk on by Professor Cole’s latest attack on his own credibility and then I read this:

US troops in the neighborhood attracted the interest of children. At first the soldiers tried to wave them away, but then gave in and handed out candy. Presumably Baath or fundamentalist intelligence already had the US convoy under surveillance, and they saw this moment as an ideal time to act. A bomb-laden SUV slammed into the scene, killing over 30 persons, mostly children, and at least one US soldier. It also left over 25 wounded. The dead were immediately taken to the Shiite holy city of Najaf for burial.

I heard a report on National Public Radio on Wednesday quoting one of the bereaved mothers as blaming the Americans for the childrens’ deaths (insofar as they were the occasion for the bombing).

(emphasis added)

So no matter how heinous the act of the terrorists, it is, of course, the American’s fault.

OK, that’s annoying. So let me take a minute and make sure you’ve caught up on The Professor’s latest. It’s not like I haven’t taken my own swings at Professor Cole, but this is just embarrassing (that is, embarrassing for him). It appears that he:

1. Made a gross error (link is to a grab of his site by Martin Kramer) in his post – a la Pape – blaming Islamic terrorism on Western occupation (he suggested that 9/11 was a reaction to the massacre at Jenin…which not only never happened, but didn’t happen in 2002, well after 9/11/2001);

2. When Martin Kramer gutted him on his mistakes, Cole “Winston Smithed” his mistake (changed it without note or comment) and then posted a lame apologia when he was caught out. I like the term “Winston Smithed” – or just “Winstoned” and encourage people to use it often when appropriate;

3. When Kramer busted him for doing that, he posted this request to the Kossaks:

Please do up an oppo research diary on Martin Kramer. Who is he? Where did he come from? When he was head of the Dayan Center in Tel Aviv, to whom did he report in the Israeli intelligence community? Who funded his work on Hizbullah? Was he fired from heading the Dayan Center? How does he suddenly show back up in the US after a 20-year absence with a book that blames unpreparedness for 9/11 on US professors of Middle East Studies instead of on the Israeli Mossad and the US CIA/FBI? What was his role in getting up the Iraq War and in advising the US on the wrong-headed policies that have gotten so many Americans killed? Who pays his salary, now, exactly? What are his links with AIPAC, and with the shadowy world of far-right Zionist think tanks and dummy organizations?

Basically, he asked the mob to go burn Kramer down. Note that I’m aware of Kramer’s interest in compiling a dossier of writings by Cole and others; I think there’s a big difference in compiling a catalog of someone’s work – for which they are responsible, as I’m responsible for my words here – and digging into the career of an opponent with the clear intent of unearthing damaging information.

When called on that bad behavior, he simply edited it out of existence.

Kramer, on the other hand, did a hysterical job of creating a ‘research diary‘ on himself, while skewering the pretentious professor.

Look, I think I’ve learned my own lesson on tone from my meeting with Adam Bellow (and note that I’ve got a draft post tying him to Valentino Rossi, so watch out). I read Cole every day, and I’m sure that I’ve learned a few things in the time I’ve been reading him.

Sadly, one of those is that he’s not really a very nice guy.

Another is that he deserves to be mocked – primarily because of his claim to authority in his arguments. Look, there are people in the blogs who are real experts in things (Daniel Drezner, Larry Solum), and what’s interesting is how seldom (if ever) they wave the flag of their academic authority, and how often Professor Cole waves his.

As another voice in the gentle babble of the blogosphere, Cole’s as entitled to his positions and arguments as the rest of us. Let’s just leave it at that.

But it would be nice if he played by the rules the rest of us play by – and cut out the attacks on people rather than arguments, and most of all realized that when he Winstons, the thing that gets erased first is his own credibility.

A Joke (but who’s laughing?)

Ok, so:

…the former head of the Los Angeles Urban League, sheriff’s deputies from San Francisco and Orange Counties, a lawyer for a large home-building company and a leader of a textile workers union

walk into a bar.

What do they all have in common?

Two obvious things, as far as I can tell.

First, they are all, in one way or another highly dependent on government policy for their financial well-bring (note that the same could be said of a defense contractor, an insurance company executive or a host of others).

Second, they are the ones who set the compensation of the California legislators and constitutional officials. In the face of an ongoing state fiscal crisis, they just gave the legislators a 12% raise.


I notice the potential for some seriously distorting feedback here. What do you think??

Verlac and Professor Pape

As I noted in a comment below, I happened to look up as I was reading the Pape interview and see my copy of Conrad’s ‘The Secret Agent‘ on the dining room bookshelf (between Larry Brown’s ‘Facing the Music‘ and Gordon Dickson’s ‘Tactics of Mistake,’ in case you care…).

And I dredged out of my memory the notion that we may just have been here before; grieving over the torn bodies of the victims of terrorists.

Part of the reason I’ve argued for so long (in the face of some heated opposition) that there are some common intellectual and historical roots between the New Left (which is really the mainstream left today) and Islamism is because – in part – the New Left has it’s roots in the decades of terror in the late 1800’s and in the philosophies that shaped them.

From Malaesta’s “Propaganda by deed” in 1876 to the Wall Street Bombing in 1920 (arguably the first car bomb), anarchist & socialist ‘true believers’ – and those who fell into their wake – killed czars and kings as well as industrialists and those unlucky enough to be standing close by.

The response within Europe was brutal, ruthless, and doubtless – by our standards – impossibly unjust.

But the movement had put down roots, and as it grew … through Fanon and Guevara, who became the icons of the praxis-oriented members of the New Left in Columbia, Port Huron, and Paris.

The levels of violence in Europe in the 1890’s were far lower than those we’re seeing in the Middle East today, and the intensity was lower as well. But we live in a faster-moving, more connected world, and the tools for big explosions don’t just come from Nobel’s factories any more.

I think it’s worth exploring this history a little bit, and seeing what it was that brought on – and most important, what brought down – the levels of public violence. I’d encourage folks to add what they know, and will post on it again in the near future.