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Current Topic: War on Terrorism

New Arbitrary TSA requirement: all electronics out of your bag (cables, too) - Boing Boing
Topic: War on Terrorism 2:20 pm EST, Feb  4, 2008

Wow, flying out of SFO just became much worse. While traveling this morning I surprised to find out that TSA is now requiring that you remove all electronic devices from your carry-on bags, including cables etc. and place them in a separate bin to be scanned at the security checkpoints. Along with slowing down the line to a crawl, this will undoubtedly lead to people losing expensive equipment, not to mention the possiblity for your stuff to be accidentally taken by someone else or even stolen.

Of course none of this information is mentioned on either the TSA or SFO websites.

Does anyone know if TSA is requiring this at any other airports?

Huh. Well, fuck that. This would take about 5 minutes for me. I don't keep, e.g. the charger for my DS, camera, etc. at the top... it's usually buried in my bag. I typically travel with laptop, cell phone, camera, ipod and nintendo ds, plus cables for each of those devices. Say what you will about my gadget oriented lifestyle, but whatever. I'll fly less before I'll give up the things that make the experience even marginally tolerable as is, or deal with even worse headaches in the ATL security lines.

This country needs so much help.

New Arbitrary TSA requirement: all electronics out of your bag (cables, too) - Boing Boing

RE: France: Europe's Counterterrorist Powerhouse
Topic: War on Terrorism 3:13 pm EST, Nov  6, 2007

As a practical matter, there will always be a trade-off of sorts between citizen liberties and the powers a state needs to fight certain threats. Yet it is the paramount duty of any liberal democracy not only to protect the rights associated with a decent political order, but also to protect the lives of its citizens.

A fairly interesting article, I thought, with a clear purpose. There's no doubt that the French legal system is extremely different from our own, and counter-terrorism is another area in which it's not surprising to see a powerful, centralized system in place there. Some valid points are made about the fact that France is a highly functional, modern Democratic State, despite (or perhaps because of) it's highly centralized power structure. I'm not at all sure one can conclude that any of France's techniques or mechanisms can be imported, in general. I think a detailed study of each minute part would be required. Nonetheless, there's nothing wrong with being up on what everyone else is doing, especially, as the authors say, if it's working.

Beyond that, though, I want to briefly address the quote above, because I think it too swiftly passes over a crucial issue in this debate. The authors say "it is the paramount duty" -- singular -- "not only to protect the rights associated with a decent political order, but also to protect the lives of its citizens," -- plural!

This, I think, is the very crux of the matter. I don't deny that death ultimately deprives a person of his rights... that's obvious. But the issue really comes down to which of those TWO duties mentioned is, in fact, PARAMOUNT. Only one can be *most* important. It's disingenuous to conflate or gloss over them in the way the final conclusion of this article does.

Is it, in fact, more important to protect citizen rights, which affect everyone, at all times, or to absolutely minimize the chances of death, which affect specific people at a specific place in time (though I admit that we are all connected in certain meaningful ways). To the extent that we must choose one over the other, we must decide which comes out on top.

My phrasing above clearly indicates my own bias on the issue, of course, but I think it's important to point out that we should be clear in addressing which of these two concerns is in fact most important to us. To do otherwise almost completely misses the point.

RE: France: Europe's Counterterrorist Powerhouse

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Topic: War on Terrorism 5:14 pm EDT, Oct 10, 2007

Ashley Gilbertson photographs the war in Iraq for the New York Times. He talks about the invasion of Iraq, the battle for Falluja, the Marines he worked with, post-traumatic stress disorder, Iraqi civilians, and the future of photojournalism. His work is available in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer's Chronicle of the Iraq War published by the University of Chicago Press.

Praise for the book:

“This is the kind of reporting we so desperately need: free of false bravura, free of agenda, free of inflated urgency. Gilbertson … shows us personally and incontrovertibly what it has been like for him coming of age in Iraq during the last five years.

“For this reason, the book belongs less with other histories of the war than on the same shelf with Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. This is not trumped-up news coming live from Iraq but the straight story with harrowing snapshots of the American soul. When future generations look back and wonder where we went wrong, where we failed ourselves and them, it will not be hours of television and radio broadcasts that they pore over. It will be a select few texts, and Gilbertson’s book deserves to be one of them.”

I have this book... it's astonishing.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

The Iraq war | Why they should stay |
Topic: War on Terrorism 3:01 pm EDT, Sep 13, 2007

If the case for staying depended on extrapolating from the modest gains the general claims for his surge, it would be a weak one. The strong case is that if America leaves, things will get even worse. This can only be a guess, but it is more plausible than the alternative guess that America's going will nudge Iraq in the right direction.

I shall expect everyone who claimed that a positive Petreus report would serve as proof we should stay to shut the fuck up and realize that they really believed the second case -- that we should stay regardless -- all along.

I don't at all believe that leaving will "nudge Iraq in the right direction" or even that things will continue to remain simply Hellish. I suspect our departure will make things worse. I simply also suspect that our staying will make things worse, in a lot of ways, not least of which is the effect on the US.

So where are we? Exactly where I fucking predicted we would be.

The Petreus report is, by most accounts I trust (the Economist among them), a spin laden crock of shit, and his testimony characterized less by honest examination than predictable political posturing by every single one of his questioners (to their extreme fucking shame, if they had any).

So here we are. Nothing's been proved. Nothing's changed. You either think we can make a difference in Iraq, or you think we should keep going, as penance, regardless of whether we can make a difference, or you think it's all cocked up beyond repair and staying is only prolonging the inevitable.

I remain in the latter camp, by a small margin. I simply don't see the point of prolonging this.

The Iraq war | Why they should stay |

Rep. Baird Gets Blasted for Iraq war views
Topic: War on Terrorism 2:23 pm EDT, Aug 28, 2007

Decius wrote

You can follow links through to Baird's editorial if you wish. The bottom line is that this sort of thinking simply isn't allowed in the Democratic party. "I have committed even before setting pen to paper the essential crime that contains all others unto itself."

For those who don't want to click 3 links to read it, it's here.

It's a perfectly articulate op-ed which makes all the usual assertions, with no new information :

a) things are now changing for the better,
b) the soldiers want to finish the job; not letting them would be doing a disservice to their sacrifice,
c) we destroyed Iraq, so it's up to us to fix it,
d) leaving will, at least, embolden terrorists and at worst permit a complete fundamentalist takeover of the entire middle east,
e) we're substantially leaving anyway... all we're talking about is leaving some people there to help out.

Suffice it to say that (a) is presented as a fact without support besides personal anecdote, which I find unconvincing. Nonetheless, (a) is the one element I have genuinely conceded MIGHT make a difference. I certainly don't intend to base my feelings on Petreus's report, since I don't find him sufficiently objective, but I'm willing to be convinced that this is true.

As for the rest, (b) is offensive, (c) is facile, (d) is speculative and unproven and (e) is almost certainly understating the reality.

I personally believe that *staying* is as likely to cause assertion (d) as leaving is, and quite certain to cause (as, in fact, it already has caused) different, equally dangerous results.

I agree that a 100% pullout represents a massive humanitarian clusterfuck. I'm just not at all convinced that staying with anything like our current troop levels prevents it.

As for "Democrats" at large, I definitely think there's a tendency to reject anything associated with Bush out of hand, and this is, in fact, not a bad policy, as I've argued, given history.

For this case in particular, the concern I have is that the whole business has been planned from the beginning, including the apparently poorly planned invasion. I know there are elements in our culture that have wanted for many years to have us engaged in a massive, region-conquering war that pacifies and Americanizes the entire middle east. It's galling to think that one is playing into such a plan, especially if you feel like doing so is the "right" choice at the moment. The fear of being manipulated into effectively supporting this culture war mentality is one I think a lot of Dems feel, if only at a subconscious level.

Rep. Baird Gets Blasted for Iraq war views

Our War on Terror
Topic: War on Terrorism 10:45 am EDT, Aug  1, 2007

Wrapping up on a down beat:

The American public, with little faith in the credibility of the government’s claims, may deny even cleareyed leaders the resources they need to meet the complex demands of neutralizing modern threats.

[ Which I begin to think was the entire point. In 6 years our faith in Government, not just *this* government, but the whole institution, has been shaken to it's core. Before long, it might well be capable of being drowned in a bathtub, as a certain movement would have. It's frightening. -k]

Our War on Terror

Boing Boing: War-on-Terror-themed photo spread in Vogue Italia
Topic: War on Terrorism 9:32 am EDT, Sep 12, 2006

State of Emergency, a most disturbing fashion pictorial shot by Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia, September 2006. Models: Hilary Rhoda & Iselin Steiro.

Police State Style... Everyone is going to be watching you while the cops are beating you down at the airport this fall. Better make sure you're decked out in the latest Italian fashions.

These pictures are kind of disturbing, but they are also iconic.

[ Agreed. I find it fascinating, and the reactions to it as well. I know live journal comments aren't necessarily the place to go for intellectual content, but the gut reactions some people had to it were very interesting.

I interpreted the misogyny as deliberate and symbolic, not as a self promotion, personally, and I found it more disturbing than alluring. I think you're meant to feel violated on behalf of the models. Perhaps they look a bit more bored than scared, but then too, that may be purposeful as well; a reference to the way we, as a society, have basically accepted what's happened to us and our freedoms.

Of course, I know the danger of overinterpretation. It may be that this photographer gets off on dominance and thought it'd be "cool" to use airport security and dogs as a vehicle, in which case, that's pretty crass and dismissive of a very real issue. So, I'm not about to start lauding him as a genius, necessarily. The above is just what *I* thought, which says more about the generality of art than anything else. It *almost* doesn't even matter what the artist thought they were making. -k]

Boing Boing: War-on-Terror-themed photo spread in Vogue Italia

RE: Stratfor: Al'Q wins in London even though the attack was foiled.
Topic: War on Terrorism 6:39 pm EDT, Aug 30, 2006

Decius wrote:

k wrote:
I also get that telling people "Don't be afraid." isn't a tack the government can take easily; it's up to individuals to realize that their own fear is the actual problem.

I don't agree.

In World War II we faced threats to our way of life that far surpassed what we see today, and the attitude of politicians at the time was defiant and strong. This sort of leadership contributed to a society that was not afraid and was ready to do what they could to contribute.

[ I ought to have been more precise. I meant to say that it's not as simple as just saying "Don't be afraid." It sounds weak and pathetic, whereas what we have sounds strong but really isn't. As I said, it's opportunistic. Nothing more or less. The people's fear is a good way to acquire power and I think that's what it all boils down to, eventually. True courage would've been to say, "This was a vicious attack, but the American people won't cave into terror... we'll guard our freedoms and our lives." Of course, words like that were said, I suppose, but the actions I've seen don't bear that out.

At the same time, I don't think it makes sense to compare our current situation to WWII, even superficially. Was that a greater threat? I don't know, perhaps so, but look at what we've already lost and you decide how much greater. As you bemoan, we've lost a substantial bit of liberty and sacrificed an awful lot of treasure and goodwill. That's not easily comparable to the threats posed by the Axis which were far more directly comprehensible.

It's like the difference between a gun and cancer. Both are fatal, and it's hard for me to call one categorically "more of a threat." Continuing the analogy, the benefit, I guess, is that you can treat cancer, possibly, which you can't do with a bullet to the head.

You're absolutely right when you say that our current approach -- crash loudly, carrying a big stick, flailing it about while beating your chest -- is a pointless waste of time, money and lives. It's not WWII. There's no well defined enemy. Winning isn't achieved by killing X number of men on a battlefield or destoying an industrial base or incinerating civilians with nukes or sustained carpet bombing. Winning is achieved by undermining the credibility of international terrorist mentality and by not being the evil empire we're purported to be. I'm not saying you don't have to send in the troops sometimes to make it possible for new modes of thinking and acting to take root, but I haven't seen it happen in Iraq, and that's beside the point anyway (my problem with Iraq isn't so much that it's not working as that there was no honesty in the process. As you say, anyone who had a realistic vision of the thing was sacked because it didn't fit the political desires of those in charge... i ... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]

RE: Stratfor: Al'Q wins in London even though the attack was foiled.

Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, Killed Dead
Topic: War on Terrorism 1:02 pm EDT, Jun  8, 2006

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Coalition forces killed al-Qaida terrorist leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and one of his key lieutenants, spiritual advisor Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman, yesterday, June 7, at 6:15 p.m. in an air strike against an identified, isolated safe house.

“Tips and intelligence from Iraqi senior leaders from his network led forces to al-Zarqawi and some of his associates who were conducting a meeting approximately eight kilometers north of Baqubah when the air strike was launched.

This is good news.

[ Agreed, we didn't like that guy. Good timing for the pres too, as it happens, but that's no reason to rain on parades. -k]

Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, Killed Dead

Civil Liberties and National Security
Topic: War on Terrorism 11:42 am EDT, May 18, 2006

Friedman, as he does frequently, cuts right to heart of the matter here, I think.

A few notes :

But can one live with the threat from al Qaeda more readily than that from government power? That is the crucial question that must be answered. ... In the long run, is increased government power more or less dangerous than al Qaeda?

Part of what makes this such a difficult question to answer is that the results of unchecked (or poorly checked, which ends up being the same thing on a slightly longer time scale) government power are relatively well understood. We don't know exactly how things would pan out, but we have a pretty good idea of the kinds of things that would happen. Some of those ideas have been overblown by movies and the like, but I still feel like people have a decent grasp of what an exremely powerful government can do. On the other hand, we don't have a good idea of precisely how dangerous Al Qaeda is in the long run, or exactly how much effort on our part is required to reduce the threat to a reasonable level.

(this leaves out the question of what a "reasonable level" of threat really even is, which is largely what Friedman calls us to discuss. My point it that even if that consensus is had, I don't think anyone has a good feel for how to achieve that level.)

Of course, those who favor increased government power to conduct security operations believe the threat from Al Queda to be the most extreme. They have visions of nuclear annihilation and rampant islam. Many of them probably have visions of joyous liberals dancing with the terrorists, given what can be read on any given day around the internets.

I concede that the other side may sometimes minimize the danger somewhat, but it's tough to guage in a climate where *any* disagreement with a particular course of action by the administration is met with cries ranging from "obstructionist" to "traitor". I honestly and objectively don't think the left minimizes the threat as much as the right overhypes it.

The left *is*, however, extremely scared of an environment in which the government has broad powers of surveillance and the power to act on what they find. They, shit, I'll admit it, *we* fear political reprisals when the point *should* be catching terrorists. As it happens, we're starting to see some evidience that this happens. The extremists in Right Blogistan, of course, not only admit this, but glory in it. Moderate Republicans (a dying breed) and *actual* conservatives (likewise) are almost as uncomfortable with it as I am.

On both sides of the issue, it seems to us, there has developed a
fundamental dishonesty. Civil libertarians demand that due process
be respected in all instances, but without admitting openly the
catastrophic risks they are willing to incur. Patrick Henry's
famous statement, "Give me liberty or give me death," is a
fundamental pr... [ Read More (0.4k in body) ]

Civil Liberties and National Security

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