So why did I get the 8 GB Nano rather than the 30 GB iPod with video that was about the same cost? Well, to be honest, there are a couple of reasons. First, I'm not gonna be watching videos on that little screen. I wear bifocals, for chrissakes. I wanted a small music player with large capacity and good battery life. The new version of the Nano says it has a battery life of about 24 hours (your mileage may vary), which is twice as long as the older version. It's about the size of a small candy bar, only a quarter-inch thick, and weighs 1.41 ounces, and it has an anodized aluminum casing, which should be much more scratch-resistant than the older version of the Nano. Finally, the main reason I went with the Nano is that it stores the songs in Flash memory, rather than on a hard drive like the 30 GB video version. That means it has no moving parts and isn't going to give me any trouble if it gets bumped or jarred like a hard drive version might. Flash memory is more expensive than a hard drive, but again, the new Nano has about double the capacity of the old one for the price.
Back to ripping...
The hard fact is that he had numerous opportunities to take out bin Laden and didn't do so. His administration wasn't serious about Islamic terrorism, any more than the preceding administrations going back to Jimmy Carter were. Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton: All were guilty of fecklessness to a greater or lesser degree. However, the political will was not there to deal with Islamic terrorism; the American people wouldn't have supported a major war to stamp it out, prior to 9/11. Indeed, even after 3000 people were murdered on 9/11, there still is a significant portion of the American people who won't support the war on terrorism, because their enemy isn't foreign terrorists but rather the current Republican administration. And that, truly, is a problem. Those who feel more in common with Hugo Chavez than George W. Bush should probably take a good, hard look at themselves, not that it would likely do them any good.
Carter and Reagan, and to a lesser extent Bush 41, at least had the excuse that Islamic terrorism was a secondary priority because the top priority was dealing with the Soviet Union. From 1946-1991, that was the number one foreign policy issue: Containing the Russians. Clinton didn't have that excuse. Instead, he was holding down the no-fly zones in Iraq and conducting a bombing campaign in the Balkans, while trying to deal with the domestic scandals brought on by his personal peccadillos. He was standing on the beach, facing the wrong way as the tsunami approached, and he didn't even see it coming. But the rest of us didn't see it either. Our "holiday from history" mentality wouldn't let us take seriously the "declaration of war" on us by terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.
And so the Towers fell.
Like a lot of people, I don't really care about pointing fingers of blame about what happened prior to 9/11. EVERYBODY dropped the ball, and nobody is blameless. What I care about is where we've gone since 9/11, and what we are doing to make sure that it doesn't happen again. Clinton's self-aggrandizing defensiveness doesn't help.
Today, in our first installment of this series, we have Samuel Adams Traditional Ginger Honey Ale.
"Hey, wait a minute!" you say. "I've never seen this in the beer section of my local grocery store." And you probably haven't. It's part of a boxed set of four bottles of traditional colonial recipes, the Samuel Adams Brewer Patriot Collection. The bottles even are numbered 1-4, so that's the order in which I will try them. The other three, in order, are George Washington Porter, James Madison Dark Wheat Ale, and 1790 Root Beer Brew.
Bottle-neck blurb: "True to its colonial heritage, this effervescent golden brew remains unfiltered. The bright flavors of fresh ginger and lemon zest are balanced by a subtle maltiness and the floral sweetness of wildflower honey."
Taste test: Mmmm, not bad. It has a nice amber color and a good head. The ginger taste isn't something I'm used to in beer, but this is pretty good.
I think that the little girl who sent it either was confused about the calendar or else just wanted to get a jump on the competition by making sure that her order was first in line to be filled by the elves. I just hope she realizes that she still has another three months of being good still to go.
Man rejects first penis transplant
Chinese surgeons have performed the world's first penis transplant on a man whose organ was damaged beyond repair in an accident this year. The incident left the man with a 1cm-long stump with which he was unable to urinate or have sexual intercourse. "His quality of life was affected severely," said Dr Weilie Hu, a surgeon at Guangzhou General Hospital. [Ed. - No shit, doc!]
Doctors spent 15 hours attaching a 10cm penis to the 44-year-old patient after the parents of a brain-dead man half his age agreed to donate their son's organ.
...Although the operation was a surgical success, surgeons said they had to remove the penis two weeks later. "Because of a severe psychological problem of the recipient and his wife, the transplanted penis regretfully had to be cut off," Dr Hu said. An examination of the organ showed no signs of it being rejected by the body.
Hmmm... I'm guessing the wife was creeped out by the thought of having sex with a dead guy's penis, even if it was attached to her husband. She probably said something to the effect of "I married you, I didn't marry Mr. Wang."
Disturbing story all the way around.
Drone photo said to show Taliban
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The U.S. military said it is looking into the unauthorized release of a photo purportedly taken by an American drone aircraft showing scores of Taliban militants at a funeral in Afghanistan.
NBC-TV claimed U.S. Army officers wanted to attack the ceremony with missiles carried by the Predator drone, but were prevented under rules of battlefield engagement that bar attacks on cemeteries.
The grainy black and white photo shows what NBC says are some 190 Taliban militants standing in several rows near a vehicle in an open area of land. Gunsight-like brackets were positioned over the group in the photo.
NBC quoted one Army officer who was involved with the spy mission as saying "we were so excited" that the group had been spotted and was in the sights of a U.S. drone.
But the network quoted the officer, who was not identified, as saying that frustration soon set in after the officers realized they couldn't bomb the funeral under the military's rules of engagement.
What the fuck?!?! 190 fucking terrorists all lined up in neat rows and we can't fucking bomb them? Are we at war or what? The misguided humanitarianism of these moronic rules of engagement meant that those 190 Al Qaeda terrorists live to fight and murder another day. How many people will be victims of terrorism in the future, who might not have been if we had had the balls to kill those terrorists when we had the chance? Is the next Mohammed Atta in that grainy picture, planning the next 9/11?
If it had been me, I would have killed those terrorists in a heartbeat, rules of engagement be damned, and if someone wanted to court-martial me, I would have had no problems defending my actions. I attended the 7th Army NCO Academy back in the 1980s, in Bad Toelz, Germany, which was General George S. Patton's final duty assignment. Indeed, the prize for the class distinguished honor graduate was a Patton-style swagger stick. I took Patton's principles to heart while I was there. Patton said "War is a killing business. You must spill the enemy's blood or they will spill yours." In this case, we didn't have the spine to kill the enemy, and we will ultimately reap the fruits of that spinelessness.
This last question was the one that President Bush faced as the dust settled on Manhattan, as the fires burned at the Pentagon and in that Pennsylvania field. There are a billion Muslims in the world, give or take. If only 10% of them are "extremists" who aspire to jihad, that would be 100 million of them, which is more than the number of Germans or Japanese that we faced in World War II.
We, as Americans, hold the power to destroy a large chunk of the world's population, in silos in the Great Plains and in submarines prowling the oceans and in heavy bombers that can bring the explosive energy of the sun to any spot on the earth's surface. This would only happen in extremis, of course, or in retaliation for a nuclear explosion in one of our cities. And that, of course, is the true nightmare scenario. Should a mushroom cloud blossom over an American city, political correctness would immediately be dead in this country, and there would be a demand from the American people for immediate vengeance for the hundreds of thousands or millions of American dead. Anyone standing in the way of it would stand a good chance of being lynched from the nearest lamp post. And the end result would be that many, many people across the Islamic world would die.
We do not want a genocide on our conscience, however. We have no desire to annihilate the Muslim world if it can be avoided. The alternative is to change their societies so that killing infidels is no longer acceptable. That is what the war in Iraq was really about: Trying to create a country in the Middle East with liberal (small L) democratic (small D) values, that would become an economic success and not be a threat to its neighbors, and that would no longer champion Muslim terrorism. And of course, we are in a race with time, trying to make the Muslims into reasonable, secular people we can live with, before some of them commit an act so heinous that we have to destroy them. (And don't think that we wouldn't do it, given sufficent provocation; the Jacksonian streak runs deep in the American psyche.)
The results have been mixed. Unlike Germany and Japan after World War II, we did not decisively defeat the Iraqis. We destroyed their military and got rid of Saddam Hussein, but we did not make the average Iraqi feel "defeated" in the way that the average German or Japanese felt defeated in 1945, when his home and his workplace and his life was in ruins. Operation Iraqi Freedom, in contrast, was fought in such a surgical way that after it was over, the average Iraqi didn't feel the need to change his way of life.
Our worst mistake was in not immediately disarming the religious militias. We should have immediately issued a warning that anyone who wasn't in the U.S. or Coalition forces or designated Iraqi military/police forces, and was spotted on the streets with a weapon, would be shot on sight. And then we should have made a few examples. Instead, the Sunni and Shiite militias became the political power brokers in the non-Kurdish parts of Iraq. Rather than creating a secular society in which religion would have been relegated to a secondary role, the militias moved into the power vacuum created with the destruction of the Baathists. Rather than creating a country where murdering infidels was unacceptable, the would-be jihadis are running the show. Iraq has not turned into the showcase of Arab liberal democracy that we needed it to become, because we fought the war in too soft a fashion.
The clock is ticking. And even those on the other side of the aisle should be hoping that President Bush's gambit in Iraq eventually succeeds, because the cost of failure may be more agonizingly high than they can even imagine. If another date someday supplants 9/11 as the red-letter date of tragedy in America, the deaths will not be only on American soil.
The first thing we heard from many smirking leftist foreigners after the attacks was "Ask yourself why they hate you." The smug leftists figured that the Muslims hated us for the same reasons that they hated us: Because we didn't buy into their socialist, collectivist political views. They were wrong, of course. The Muslims hated us for a completely different set of reasons.
We Americans are unusual in the world, because while we allow freedom of religion to our citizens, we do not have an official state religion. This goes back to the colonial days before the American Revolution, when many people of other denominations objected to having to pay taxes to support the Church of England. The end result was that when we threw off the British yoke, the Framers put it in our Constitution that there would be no established religion. All would be free to worship as they pleased and to support whichever church they might choose. The government would not play favorites, nor tax anyone to support any religion.
This resulted in the rise of numerous different religions across the country. Most were offshoots of various Christian denominations. There arose a tacit agreement among Americans: "I won't criticize your religion, and you won't criticize mine." This led to the key article of faith in the multicultural canon: "All religions are equally good, all philosophies are equally good, all cultures are equally good." Fallacious thinking, obviously, but it was necessary in order to maintain domestic tranquility. Only when a religion seriously violated cultural taboos, such as the Mormons with their polygamy, would the "no criticism" agreement be put aside.
Ultimately, America became a secular nation. This is not to say that Americans are irreligious, because they are not. But for them, religion was not the focal point of their lives. Instead, Americans concentrated on improving their lot in this life, rather than worrying about the hereafter. And for about the past forty years, Americans have been (mostly) hedonists, and American culture has reflected this. Americans are always looking for the next fun, exciting, pleasurable thing to do. They like to eat, they like to drink, they like to have a good time. And they really, really like sex. From skimpy bikinis to raunchy rap music to trashy movies to porn, sex is ubiquitous in our culture. And our culture is just as powerful as our military, the most influential in the world.
Now, there are some people who are not focused on this world, but the next. They believe that they were not put on this earth to seek pleasure or wealth, but to live according to the stern dictates of their god. They believe that those who tempt them with worldly delights, in order to lead them astray from their religious obligations, are evil people. These people worship a variety of gods. Some are fundamentalist Christians. Some are Orthodox Jews. And many, many of them are Muslims of one type or another. All of these people believe that America's culture is a pernicious influence. The difference between them is that the Christians and Jews do not believe that killing Americans will change their culture or at least end the Americans' cultural imperialism. The Muslims, however, seek to do just that, because they do not understand us.
That was why they hated us: Because our secular culture is incompatible with Islam, or more accurately, because Islam is incompatible with modernity. Give a Muslim a chance to come to America and drink beer and go to strip clubs, like the 9/11 hijackers did, and they will do so, and then they will first loathe themselves for their weakness and then turn that loathing outward on the culture that seduced them. And when our culture starts making its way to the Middle East, and the young Muslims start listening to pop music, wearing blue jeans, and getting Western ideas in their heads like free speech, political freedom or choosing their own mates... That's revolutionary. The 9/11 hijackers, Al Qaeda, all of the anti-Western terrorists, they're all striking back at us because their culture cannot compete with ours. Given a choice, their people will choose what we have to offer, rather than a stifling religion. The Muslim leaders don't want their people to have that choice. They want to drive us from the Middle East so that their people can no longer be influenced by us. The world is too small for that now, though.
It is rare when we can mark the exact dates that a historical era begins and ends, but we can do so for the "Holiday From History" decade that began with the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, and ended when the first plane hit the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001. That decade seems like a golden age in retrospect, as if encased in amber. We were the world's only remaining superpower and we had reached The End of History, and we had won. The opposing ideology, communism, was discredited and tossed unceremoniously on the ash heap of history. Representative democracy was the wave of the future, and since we no longer had enemies, we could cut our defense budgets and instead use our time and effort to enrich ourselves.
There were some troubling things happening around the margins however, like something on the edge of our peripheral vision. American and coalition military troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia after forcing Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait, and the effect of having "infidels" on "holy" Saudi Arabian soil was to radicalize even further the Wahhabi Muslims who already hated and wanted to kill everyone who didn't follow their particular dark vision of Islam. These hate-filled Muslims began blowing things up, including embassies in Africa and the U.S.S. Cole which was stationed in the waters off Yemen.
This was happening in benighted parts of the world, however, and most Americans just shook their heads and said, "Well, that's just the way those folks over there are," and went on about their business. We didn't like seeing Americans get blown up but it seemed as if people who went into places full of crazy religious fanatics were making their own choice to tempt the fates. We just hoped they were being well-paid to take that risk.
The news media's primary concern was scandal, and fortunately for them, we had a presidential administration which was adept at providing it for them. When the President wasn't in trouble for his freewheeling sexuality, the press managed to find others who were. Even when President Clinton left office and President Bush took over, the media still had all the gravity of a helium balloon, focusing on missing women and sharks biting people. Was there an enemy lurking in the shadows, preparing to strike? They didn't know and if they did, they would have given us something more controversial to get better ratings.
The signs were there, for those who could read them. But dealing with the incipient problem in any way other than lobbing a couple of cruise missiles could have led to dead Americans, which Clinton wanted to avoid at all costs. Bad for his legacy and all that. There were opportunities to take out Osama Bin Laden, and Clinton failed to take advantage of his opportunities during his eight years in power. Bush, in contrast, had less than eight months in power before 9/11, and most of his political appointments had not yet been approved, hobbling the early months of his administration. Bush was not blameless for not getting Bin Laden in his first eight months, but a lot more blame accrues to Clinton, who had much more time and several known opportunities to take him out.
It comes down to this, though: Would getting rid of Bin Laden prior to 9/11 have prevented the attacks? The answer is "probably not," because while he was the main guy in charge of Al Qaeda, he was not their only leader. Just as assassinating Adolf Hitler wouldn't have ended World War II, because there were a lot of other adherents to his evil ideology. We only won World War II after we (and the Soviets and our other Allies) killed a whole lot of Germans, and the ones who survived decided that they didn't want to be Nazis any more because it had led to the destruction of their nation. We didn't try to "change hearts and minds," we just killed them and kept killing them until they all gave up.
Continuing today's chocolate theme, I spotted a couple of new types of hot cocoa mix at the store this morning and decided to try them out. The new brand is Cacao Reserve by Hershey's. How new is the brand? The web site currently only has the title page (although it does link to other Hershey's sites).
Anyway, they had two varieties to choose from: Mayan Blend Classic Chocolate and Aztec Blend Mildly Spiced Chocolate. Each box had five 'sachets' (not 'packets', if you please!) which would make a 6 ounce cup of hot cocoa.
My curiosity aroused, I decided to get one box of each. I just had one cup of each variety, and thought they both were pretty good. The Mayan Blend has a robust chocolate flavor that is somewhere between milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate. Think of the flavor of a cup of chocolate fudge pudding and you'll get a close approximation. The Aztec Blend is something else indeed. The package doesn't say what the spices are, but they don't seem to be cinnamon or any of the other usual suspects. Perhaps cardamom? I liked it, but the taste of the spices was fairly bold for being "mildly spiced." Not in an unpleasant way, however.
My guess is that you'd either say, "Mmmm, this is really good," and finish the cup, or else you would say, "Interesting," set down that cup and pick up the other one with the Mayan Blend. The boxes were a bit over two bucks apiece, which is a little more expensive than the garden variety hot chocolate mix, but not so much more as to make you think you were buying a Ferrari or something.
This morning, after looking at the results, all I can say is "Don't blame me, I voted for McBride." Unfortunately, Katherine Harris's three opponents split the anti-theocracy Republican vote, and Harris got a bare 50% to win the nomination to run against incumbent Democrat Senator Bill Nelson in November. Even Harris's gaffe the other day wasn't enough for one of the other candidates to pass her. Too bad.
I have a really unpleasant choice to make in November, because I don't much care for her style, but I'm not going to vote for a liberal Democrat as long as there are crazy Muslims who want to kill us all. I guess I'll have to hold my nose and vote for Ms. Harris. Lesser of two evils and all that.
I finished Isaac's Storm yesterday morning. It's unusual for me to rip through a book in three or four days like that, but it was an engrossing tale and I had some free time to read.
Perhaps the most striking thing to someone in the early 21st Century is how certain those end-of-the-19th Century weather forecasters were of what they knew and of how much information they thought they had. They were making their forecasts based on barometers to measure changes in air pressure, thermometers to measure changes in temperature, anemometers to measure wind speed and direction, and rain gauges to measure rainfall. They had a general idea of the way that weather moved from one place to another, generally from west to east.
Their forecasts, however, were often woefully inaccurate. The prediction for New York City on March 12, 1888, for example, was "colder, fresh to brisk westerly winds, fair weather." That was the day of the Blizzard of '88, when New York got 21 inches of snow, Albany got nearly four feet of snow, and about four hundred people died in the northeast from the storm.
You'd think this would have made them more humble, but it just made them more secretive and competitive, considering weather information to be secret information that shouldn't be given out to laymen or competitors like the Cubans. And of course, they weren't going to listen to a bunch of superstitious primitives who were always overreacting to tropical storms and declaring them "hurricanes." No, there would be none of that. Only the head of the Weather Bureau was authorized to do so. And so Galveston had no warning of the storm bearing down upon it, and the city was wrecked.
Today, we have much more information available to us. We have a whole cable channel devoted to nothing but the weather. From my computer, I can look at satellite images of storms hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic, and can track their paths as they meander westward. But in the end, we often don't know much more about what their eventual courses will be than those weather pioneers with their antique instruments did. And even when we do know, sometimes people refuse to listen. Hurricane Katrina last year was a classic example. The people of New Orleans knew that one bad mother of a storm was coming their way, that they lived in a bowl below sea level, and yet many of them still stayed, even though many of them did have cars and could have evacuated. They could see the satellite loop on the Weather Channel, watching it spiraling ever closer. And still they stayed put.
The citizens of Galveston at least had the excuse of not knowing what those mysteriously rising waters flowing through their streets portended. They had no idea that there was a Category 4 or 5 hurricane bearing down on them, bringing winds estimated at 150 miles per hour and pushing a storm surge of fifteen or twenty feet directly at a city whose highest point was only eight feet above sea level. Nobody knew at the time that storm surge is the deadliest part of a hurricane, not the high winds. And so there was the absurdity of the men of Galveston trying to carry on as if there was nothing unusual happening.
And then the tidal wave came. Think of the destruction from the tsunami of December 2004, with the waves rolling through towns like a battering ram, knocking one building into the next into the next and pulverizing them all into a high wall of rubble. That is what Galveston looked like the morning after the hurricane. The suffering of the survivors can hardly be overstated. The city stank of death, from the thousands of decomposing bodies. They were unable to bury all of them, so at first they tried to bury the corpses at sea, but they just returned to Galveston on a ghoulish tide. Then, they were forced to burn the bodies on massive funeral pyres.
Galveston today is a small city compared to the nearby metropolis of Houston, but in 1900, they were about the same size and in strong competition for the role of chief port in south Texas. In 1900, before the hurricane, Galveston was the nation's fourth busiest port and was a major shipping port for American cotton, as well as a glitzy, glamorous vacation destination for the wealthy. Some called it "the New York of the South". Galveston had boomed, with a 30% increase since the 1890 census pushing the population to about 40,000. Somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 people died in the hurricane in Galveston, and in 1910, the city had only just regained the size it had in 1900. The Houstonians dredged Buffalo Bayou, opening their city up to seagoing traffic. And then, four months after the hurricane, a gusher of oil was found at Spindletop, and Houston's future was secured. Galveston was doomed to stay in Houston's shadow, a beach playground community for its larger neighbor.
I guess, in the end, he probably would have wanted to go like that, although not so soon. Thrillseekers seldom die at home in bed of old age. When it's your time to go, it's your time to go. Rest in peace, Steve.
Mom then recommended a book to me about the Galveston hurricane of 1900, Isaac's Storm. She seemed a bit surprised that I hadn't read it, although I had read some articles on the web about that hurricane a few years back. I told her I'd check the library on the way to lunch to see if they had a copy.
Well, they had two, one in hardback and one in paperback. I checked out the hardback, and I'm about halfway through it. It has a lot of interesting information about the physics of hurricanes, as well as the human drama of what happens when a catastrophic hurricane strikes a vulnerable city.
I was especially fascinated by the fact that the story's protagonist, Isaac Cline, who ran the Weather Bureau office in Galveston, had previously been stationed in west Texas and had gone through Abilene (my hometown) in 1885. The description of the town at that time, on page 59, was quite evocative. I also lived for a while in La Marque, Texas, which is not far at all from Galveston. Indeed, we used to go to the beach at Galveston when I was a little boy and walk along the huge seawall which now protects the city from disastrous storm surges like the one that killed so many people in 1900.
I haven't finished the book yet, but I'd recommend it for anyone who lives in a hurricane-prone area, and even for those who don't live along the coast but who still like a good non-fiction yarn.