Friday, November 30, 2001

LEAVING THE MATERIAL WORLD: One of the perils of working late nights / early mornings -- is that you're the first to hear the news that everyone else won't get until hours later.

I would have liked to have had three more hours of not knowing.

One of my greatest regrets is that I was born just a little too late to have been a Beatles fan -- my coming-of-age music was Emerson, Lake & Palmer. So, while most will be remembering his music today, I'll just mention that I'm especially grateful to George Harrison for personally financing Monty Python's Life of Brian and Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits -- a couple of all-time faves which I haven't re-watched nearly often enough lately.

What a shame that this is what finally pushes Afghanistan "below the fold," even if only for a day or two.

"IT" IS COMING! "Good Morning America" anchor Diane Sawyer apparently thinks she has the scoop on Ginger, the "personal mobility vehicle" that will revolutionize ...well, personal mobility.

Apparently, Diane isn't aware that Mr. Garrison of "South Park" has already
nailed the story.

Thursday, November 29, 2001

WINDOWS XP MADNESS RAVAGES BRAZIL!
(Babel-Translated from a web developer's Blog at http://amnesia.tux.nu/):

I committed a madness today! =)!

I made one upgrade in mine maquinozza, I retired my Ruindows 2000, and installed Ruindows XP! wuahahawuahaha!

I do not know where I was with the head to make this...

I find that now that I go to have that to make one upgrade in my brain not to commit more atrocities as this! hehe...

but paradinha until it functioned bacana... I installed the XP of the zero did not stop so far...

I had that to reeinstalar all tralhas, easy creator compact disc 4 did not twirl...goes to have that to buy piraton of version 5... 3dmax4 gave pirada in the XP and I so far did not obtain to make it to function direitinho...

what I was chateado same was that the XP still does not have to driver it my to scanner bagacerozzo a thousand nine hundred and small ball... fuck! = (!

I go to finish selling it and buying something more current... the XP is this tŠ bacan„o... everything blue. twirling more fast than old the 2000 and still it did not stop (still). hehe...

soon plus it starts to give those coarse errors and bizonhos... poor it is a same disaster!

it does not obtain to buy a Mac and he is if deluding with sisteminha new there of the put Micro$oft visualzinho "aqua ".

oooooo illness! =)

Isn't it nice to know that, all over the world, people are basically the same -- just trying to survive the Microsoft hegemony like you and me?

Usage Note from Dictionary.com: "Hegemony" may be stressed on either the first or second syllable, though the pronunciation with stress on the second syllable may be winning out. Seventy-two percent of the Usage Panel prefers it.

SECOND-GUESSING OSAMA - PART DEUX: Echoing the sentiments expressed in this space last week -- in a linked essay that will disappear or be replaced one week from today, so click fast! -- Terry Golway of the New York Observer observes:

Rhetorically, we have condemned those who carried out the atrocities of Sept. 11 and those who may be planning more of the same as heinous mass murderers, no different than the thugs who populate our maximum-security prisons. But if we consign the terrorists to military trials and military justice, we may be giving them undeserved dignity, a status in which they will take no small measure of perverted delight.

My point exactly. Thanks to the Bush/Ashroft military tribunal decree, Osama's best available exit strategy is to walk out of his cave tomorrow morning, wave the white flag, and turn himself in for trial and execution by our brand-new Soviet-style star chamber. Short of starting up his very own Blog and earning an Instapundit "Seal of Approval" sidebar link, what better way for Osama to spread his message widely to as many potential future binLadenites as possible (--that the United States embraces corrupt, evil, dangerous values--) than with his closing argument in the most-watched kangaroo courtroom drama in the history of the world?

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

CLONE, CLONE OF MY OWN ... If The Onion is the National Lampoon for the New Millennium, UThant.com is its Spy Magazine. Here's the paragraph that Instapundit couldn't bring himself to quote verbatim:
On Monday, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer addressed the [cloning] issue by declaring that "scientists should not have the hubris to try to usurp the rightful role of G-d." Fleisher added that, "On an unrelated note, we have rained more fiery death from the sky on Middle Easterners who have incurred our wrath and must suffer our awesome vengeance."

By the way, UThant -- Mind Over What Matters knows darn well that Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster. We were also the first blog to make an eerily prescient reference to Weird Al Yankovic's non-hit single "I Think I'm a Clone Now." See two items below. We're keeping score now, buddy!

POST TOASTIES: I made some casual disparaging remarks about the New York Post in this space recently -- an easy, safe target, I thought -- but this afternoon, a colleague happened to leave a copy of today's Post laying around, and I must confess to being taken aback. What a difference a makeover makes!

Be it traditional print or online media, a publication's style and substance are intricately dependent and feed back upon one another. A publisher cannot give less consideration to either one without compromising the other. In the case of the old New York Post, its historically yucky appearance did not merely mirror its yucky yellow journalistic standards -- I would go so far as to say that it reinforced them, encouraging its editors, reporters and columnists to hold their standards to a permanently low ebb. Surely, few could be expected to hold themselves to high standards, after seeing their work horribly reproduced, day after day, in an ugly typeface, in smeary, blurry ink, on the cheapest grade of newsprint available.

(Full disclosure: In real life, I'm a self-employed graphic designer. About ten years ago, I was employed to produce some display graphics for the Post on one single occasion, and for some unknown reason they never used my services again. Even more distantly in the past, I worked for sportswriter Phil Mushnick's sister Ann Sue, as a business forms analyst at a very badly-managed insurance company, where we both got laid off shortly before the whole operation went under. Just a couple of odd connections -- for what they're worth.)

But -- by golly, this is not the old New York Post I wouldn't have been caught dead reading last month. From a technical perspective, The Post's implementation of full process color printing -- both on the cover and, in limited use, inside! -- is downright impressive. High-resolution photo images ... clean, tight registration, on bright white stock ... very nice! And from a design standpoint ... well, it's not going to be mistaken for the cutting edge, but it looks ... good. Amazingly good. In fact, it's now marginally better-looking than its longstanding rival New York tabloid, the Daily News, which has been making do with low-grade color printing for a number of years. (A turn of events which hasn't escaped the News's jealous attentions.)

I hardly expect this handsome redesign to coincide with Murdoch's Mouthpiece becoming any less sensationally right-leaning. But there's a way to do right-leaning without betraying intellectual honesty -- and wouldn't that be a bold next step for journalism in this burg! (That they've had the smarts to hire Josh Marshall from time to time bodes well indeed.)

Now, if only they could get some decent comics ...

HOLDING TWO CONTRADICTORY THOUGHTS SIMULTANEOUSLY:


Calvin and Hobbes never jumped the shark...

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

I THINK I'M A CLONE NOW: If the pro-cloning camp is going to take a serious stand against the criminalization of science, the first thing it's got to do is to re-frame the debate through semantics.

The word "clone" itself evokes cinematic images of, alternately, Dr. Frankenstein's operating theater -- the sickly, sterile factory-laboratories of Spielberg's A.I. -- and of course, legions of lookalike suicidal super-soliders of George Lucas's Attack of the Clones ... the sunken eyes of soulless automatons stacked like cordwood in refrigerated storage ... Killer Clones from Outer Space ... Dawn of the Clones ... It's hopeless. The PR baggage of the word alone will doom clone research in its infancy.

Just as the anti-abortion movement has bolstered its support in the guise of the more palatable "pro-life" movement ...

Just as the opponents of a fiscally responsible Estate Tax -- applicable only to the richest 2% of American taxpayers -- have successful morphed themselves into bold defenders against the dreaded Death Tax (evoking a sense that the tax was as terrible, swift and certain as death itself!) ...

Likewise, suppporters of legitimate, sensible cloning research must immediately seek to remove any reference to the word "clone" from the debate, and replace it with a suitable, user-friendly alternative. May I be the first to suggest these:

Pro-LifeExtension: This one has the one-two punch of first corrupting the anti-choice lobby's favored "Pro-Life" label, and then forcing actual pro-lifers to reconsider the tenuous moral link between cloning and abortion rights. After all, how could anyone logically position themselves as being both pro-life and also against the extension of life, as held out by the promise of organ cloning? (Granted, many right-wingers manage to rationalize being both pro-life and pro-death penalty -- but the purpose of these semantic exercises is not necessarily to change anyone's mind, but to make them work harder at rationalizing mutually exclusive positions. Let their brows furrow a little deeper while they try to hold two more contradictory thoughts simultaneously!)

Bio-SupplySider: Now we're really getting somewhere! By corrupting the shorthand for supply-side economics -- another conservative favorite -- we're also suggesting that cloning technologies will eventually "trickle down" from the wealthy elite to the struggling middle class. Sure, I won't be able to afford a cloned kidney anytime this decade -- but with any luck, my "birth kidneys" will hold out for at least another 20 years -- and by that time, when organ-cloning techniques are actually proven and certifed safe by the FDA, it'll be cheap enough that I can afford a set of new, genetically custom-matched kidneys right about when I'll actually need them.

ReproCidivists: All right, I'm reaching here -- but the word sounds a little like declaring yourself to be so much in favor of reproduction per se that you'd gladly do it again and again and again, by any and every means possible. Opponents would be cast as being against God's commandment to "Go Forth and Multiply." (And, burdened with a label like "AntiReProCidivists," who can even figure out what they're for or against?)

But we need to move fast. If the Pro-Clonies can do it, it won't be long before the Anti-Clonies get into the act. Watch for them to start peppering their moral diatribes with loaded words like "Pro-soul" and "Anti-soul."

Monday, November 26, 2001

TOM TOMORROW / TED RALL REVISITED:


For my recent critical outburst, Bill Sherman takes me to task thusly:

Gotta admit, Jay, Iím puzzled over the high dudgeon you expressed with Ted Rallís cartoon: it seems like a less deft version of something Tom Tomorrow did a few weeks back. The root themes of both cartoons Ė the basic idea that this conflict will not resolve things as simply as our politicos wish us to believe Ė seems pretty obvious and hard to argue.

Perhaps decades of writing for an underground newspaper have made me jaded, but Rallís cartoons, in general, seem to fit quite easily within the parameters of material printed by the left-wing press. This stuff still seems pretty mild compared to the graphics that were being plastered on undergrounds during the height of the Viet Nam war (thereís a Greg Irons cartoon that visualized the hero of Dalton Trumboís Johnny Got His Gun as Time magazineís Man of the Year that still makes me cringe). But maybe that level of profound outrage was something cartoonists had to work up to over several years of unresolved conflict.

Rallís cartoon was ham-fisted, but it reflects ideas that commentators have been warning the Bush Administration about since the conflict started Ė the danger of leaving a country worse off than it was before we got there is a real one (you could argue that whatís Bush Senior did with his desert adventure). And while the administration seems to be making efforts to avoid this trap, Iím not necessarily gonna expect an ideologically framed political cartoonist to acknowledge that fact.

Writing the above got me pondering the matter of political cartoons, in general: basically wondering whether the humanistic liberally-slanted cartoons I remember from my youth (artists like Mauldin, say, or Walt Kelly) were a blip in an art form that more typically looks at its subjects with a harder, more jaundiced eye. Donít know enough about the history of the form to say for sure: those few samples of his pics that Iíve seen reprinted indicate that an early op/ed giant like Thomas Nast could get pretty nasty, though.

Mind Over What Matters replies: Ted Rall's general "nastiness" can be a sublime pleasure. Even when his work makes me cringe, I'm well aware that's the effect he's going for -- and he usually does so in the service of an important, unpopular point. Where I take issue with both Rall and Garry Trudeau more recently is not with (what some would call) their blistering anti-American cynicism, but rather, with their wholesale abandonment of trademark sarcastic wit and style, in favor of hitting me over the head with the large polo mallet. Lord knows, the Left needs articulate spokesmen and women -- now more than ever! -- but both of these men are coasting.

(Extra-Credit Essay Question for MOWM Readers: What event marked the exact moment when Doonesbury jumped the shark?)

Sunday, November 25, 2001

PDQ NOT AWOL: Professor Peter Schickele is apparently giving his New York City audience a miss for the first time in thirty years -- but the Professor is not retiring the PDQ Bach franchise by any means. According to Ticketmaster, there are concerts scheduled for Tucson and Thousand Oaks, in February, Reno NV in April, and Orlando FL in May. Go figure.

Friday, November 23, 2001

THAT'S ALL'S I CAN STAND, AND I CAN'T STANDS NO MORE! Much as I'm grateful to live in a free country where anyone can express any opinion without fear of government reprisal -- and as much as I respect his unique talents as a political cartoonist -- even I am getting a little fed up with Ted Rall now.

(Housecleaning Update: As for last week's Doonesbury flap -- for all the controversey it has generated -- the worst thing I can say about the 11/18 Sunday strip was that Garry Trudeau delivered an atypically unsubtle and graceless broadside which was, nevertheless, fundamentally true. Who seriously doesn't believe that the Bushies are using their short-term popularity to swiftly ram through as much of their unpopular right-wing agenda as possible?)

UPDATE: Thanks again for the link, InstaPundit! The great Getting Mentioned campaign continues!

REALITY CHECK: Instapundit's reader Chris Fountain reports on his observation of life in New York City:

I myself took the subway down to Wall Street last week and noticed that when a suited businessman asked for directions, three different individuals offered advice. Before September 11th, he'd have been met, in my experience, with blank stares.

Beg to differ, Chris. Maybe that would have been the case if you went back 25 years, when all of lower Manhattan was effectively a ghost town after 7:00 pm, and Charles Bronson's "Death Wish" was the hot new meme for liberals who'd been mugged once or twice.

But more recently the Wall Street area -- particularly the South Street Seaport museum and mall -- has been heavily developed as a popular tourist attraction and open-air performance space, while the entirety of the financial district has become increasingly residential in character.

With so many out-of-towners rubbing elbows with members of the community out walking their dogs and shopping the 24-hour gourmet specialty stores, strangers asking directions had become commonplace -- and giving them, a common courtesy -- long before 9/11.

Which is not to say that nothing has changed. To the extent that there was any lingering racial-ethnic distrust or discomfort in the community, that's gone now. Completely gone. Nothing like uniting against a common foreign enemy to bring us all closer together...

FREE MONEY! Is this legit? In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Michael Kubin claims to have left a manila envelope containing a few dollars in small bills under the mailbox on the northeast corner of 46th and Madison. Can someone in that neighborhood please check it out? (Thanks to Mike Flynn for the tip, which I gladly pass along to anyone else in greater need.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

WALTER SHAPIRO IS READING MY MIND...
We may be placing our bets on different sides of the table, but isn't Shapiro making exactly the same point I was making in this space six days ago?
Bin Laden is probably no more likely to be taken alive than was Adolf Hitler. But what would we do if bin Laden emerged from his cave waving a white flag or was handed over alive by the Afghans? As Jim Steinberg, the director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, puts it, "The worst thing that we could do is to have him killed if we could have taken him alive." Bush's rhetoric about bringing bin Laden "to justice" would seemingly mandate putting him on trial. But the president's executive order authorizing military tribunals also raises the option that the government would try him in secret in Afghanistan and then, presumably, execute him. It is hard to imagine an outcome more likely to transform bin Laden into a martyr and make a mockery of our cherished beliefs in justice.

Which is exactly why I'm still betting on this pony.

PUTTING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE:
The official headquarters of Mind Over What Matters is located here:



While I wouldn't go so far as to call myself a "survivor" -- that term should be reserved for those who escaped from the Trade Center complex itself, and the adjacent buildings -- it's certainly fair to say that I was a witness. There were, in fact, moments when I feared for my life. I probably had a closer call than I'd care to admit. And for several weeks afterward -- to the extent that I was interested in writing at all -- I could only spout the most obvious, tiresome observations like "Purpose eludes me. Eloquence is banal."

Okay. I'm officially Past All That. One month ago today, I started Blogging in earnest, in an attempt to find my voice again -- to literally wrap my Mind over What Matters. This has been great fun, and great therapy -- I've done more writing in the past four weeks than in the entire previous year, and it's starting to feel good again. Maybe now I'll even find the will to finish that aging spec screenplay...

I've been a little busier than usual this week, and I don't imagine I'll do much posting over the holiday weekend -- but there will be more to come. Much more.

My sincerest thanks to everyone who's stopped by and made this all worthwhile.

Monday, November 19, 2001

SORRY. No new posts on Saturday or Sunday. Weekends are ME-time.

Friday, November 16, 2001

ADVANTAGE: MIND OVER WHAT MATTERS! Instapundit has finally gotten around to debunking the Oliver North / Osama connection today. Mind posted the entire phony e-mail and rooted out the truth back on November 5th! Why aren't we getting 20,000 hits a day?

Thursday, November 15, 2001

UPDATE: Earlier this week, I remarked: "We [the human species] have no innate sense of what it would mean to experience a single, continuous flight lasting many hundreds of years -- which is what it would take for any one passenger to be statistically certain of experiencing a plane crash first-hand."

I probably knew the correctly calculated figure at some point in my life -- in fact, I was pretty sure that the actual statistic would put the length of that impossible flight at several thousand years. But at the exact moment I was writing those words, I was too lazy to Google up the research, so I hedged my bet on the conservative side.

Now it turns out that I was waaaaaay too conservative. Trusting that he didn't also make up a number out of whole cloth, Mark Steyn reports that: "...if you fly every single day of your life, you would have to live 26,000 years to face the statistical likelihood of dying in a plane crash.

(Not to miss the point, but Steyn then adds: "But thatís missing the point. If you fly every single day of your life, by the end of the first week it already feels like 26,000 years.")

BOSTON TEA PARTY II: Libertarian Samizdata reports that Massachusetts is actually on the verge of abolishing its State Income Tax.

We're just curious: Is Massachusetts so vastly unlike New Jersey that its bureaucrats won't swiftly make up the revenue shortfall by imposing higher property taxes?

BIZARRE COMPROMISE: How to reconcile the impasse vetween the Senate bill (Federalize airport security) and the House version (keep it private)?

This afternoon, NPR reports that a bizarre compromise is in the works: The exact same private security providers now in business will be "supervised" by Federal overseers ... for one year. Then, the entire security apparatus will become fully federalized for the next two years. At that time, all private security personnel will become employees of the Department of Transportation. After the end of this three-year period, the program will be reevaluated.

Remember -- you read it here first! (If you had the presence of mind to visit Mind over What Matters first, anyway.)

SECOND-GUESSING OSAMA: With the prestige and reputation of Mind Over What Matters on the line, I'm predicting that the World's Most Wanted Criminal will shortly turn himself in.

While the media has done its utmost to portray Osama as a desperate and willing martyr, he's clearly demonstrated a desire to survive as long as possible -- if only that his agenda may also survive. And now, misadvised by a frustrated and panic-stricken attorney general, George W. Bush has just handed him the means to ensure exactly that.

While Osama might take some satisfaction in knowing that, in death, his agenda will outlive him, he must be able to control the circumstances, timing and means of his demise if he is to have any hope that his followers will carry on. It must be an inspirational -- some might even say romantic -- death. He must go out in a blaze of glory.

But that scenario is increasingly likely to be denied him. As his empire crumbles -- and with a $5 million bounty on his head -- Osama must be wondering how much longer he can command absolutely loyalty. Surely there must be at least a whiff of dissension in the ranks by now.

What if, taken by surprise, he were to be summarily executed by his own followers, his head presented on a platter by rank-and-file Taliban "moderates," as a "peace offering" to the civilized world? What then would become of his precious, discredited agenda?

If he's cornered and facing imminent capture, will Osama "do the right thing" and put a pistol to his head? Doubt it. Suicide may seem romantic to some depressed, teenage girls, but that's not his target audience.

Now, with George W. Bush's extra-legal court for terrorist-aliens in place, Osama has been handed an alternate scenario -- perhaps even (from his warped perspective) the best possible exit strategy: He can have the most watched trial in the history of the world -- conducted by an indefensible United States Military kangaroo court which may (in the words of an alarmed William Safire!) "conceal evidence by citing national security, make up its own rules, find a defendant guilty even if a third of the officers disagree, and execute the alien with no review by any civilian court."

What better way to pound home the message that the United States embraces corrupt, evil, dangerous values than to allow himself to be executed by order of the USA's brand-new Soviet-style star chamber?

This is going to come back to haunt us. Big time.

CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER: Investigators swiftly concluded that Flight 587 was not brought down by a bomb. But the nature of the catastrophic mechanical failure appears to be unprecedented in modern aviation, in that the tail fin was "cleanly" separated from the rest of the plane in-flight. Question: Are we at least looking at the possibility of sabotage by the maintenance ground crew? If not, why not?

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

A PLETHORA OF MYRIADS: My old buddy Bill Sherman says:
"...[T]he American Heritage Dictionary uses "myriad" as both adjective and noun (usage two: noun, A vast number. From the Greek murios to mean countless). So it's grammatically correct, even if it does sound clunky...

*Ulp*. And to think I've been correcting my betters for all these myriads of years. Hopefully, I'll keep an open mind about the organic nature of language from now on. From Dictionary.com, here's more:
Throughout most of its history ... myriad was used as a noun, as in a myriad of men. In the 19th century it began to be used in poetry as an adjective, as in myriad men. Both usages in English are acceptable, as in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's ďMyriad myriads of lives.Ē This poetic, adjectival use became so well entrenched generally that many people came to consider it as the only correct use. ...

Live and learn.

PET PEEVE: As Kabul falls, Charles Krauthammer explains our next big mission in Afghanistan:
The government we are trying to hatch has to satisfy the requirements of six neighboring countries, four major tribes and a myriad of ethnic prejudices and half-buried grievances.

That said, the next big mission of Mind Over What Matters is to hold up to ridicule every major American newspaper which allows the word "myriad" to be used as a noun rather than an adjective.

(It's very simple, fellas -- just remember how clumsy it would have sounded, had Larry Niven's classic science fiction book been called All The Myriads of Ways.)



CARTOONIST TOM TOMMORROW, in an eerily cynical moment of clarity, questions conventional wisdom:

http://www.salon.com/comics/tomo/2001/11/12/tomo/index.html

Or, for those with broadband connections who would rather watch an unrelated Tom Tomorrow animated cartoon:

http://nbci.mondominishows.com/tmw_previous.html

ONCE AGAIN - WITH FEELING!

Federalize airport security. Immediately. Not that it would have helped Flight 587 one way or another -- but the fact that we legitimately feared, for an entire news cycle, that it was brought down by a terrorist bomb is proof enough that we can't afford Tom DeLay's political posturing on this issue.

In an eerily prescient moment of clarity, let's reconsider what Mind Over What Matters had to say only eight days earlier (with bold italic underscores added):
The oft-stated reason for federalizing airport security is simple and fundamentally true: Government must intervene wherever ordinary market forces work against the public interest. This is precisely the dynamic at work here. Left to their own devices, our private-sector airlines -- most of which are now battling for their very survival -- will continue to pay minimum-wage or low-bid rates for untrained, unchecked, unmotivated rent-a-cops. If Congress simply passes unfunded mandates to dictate improved quality control for security checks, the airlines will cut corners elsewhere. (Fewer safety inspections, anyone?)

Monday, November 12, 2001

OKAY. Twelve hours later, and cooler heads are prevailing. Flight 587 appears to have suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure. No evidence of terrorist involvement. Leroy Sievers, executive producer of Nightline, sends out a daily promotional e-mail for the show (sorry, no link -- it's just an e-mail list -- but you can sign up here) and had this to say today:
What is interesting is the relief that people feel every time a new report comes out that tends towards a mechanical problem, rather than terrorism. Two months ago, I don't think that people would have felt relief that there was a catastrophic problem on a plane. I guess that's sort of like the difference between "natural causes" and "murder." Our reaction to that kind of mechanical problem would have been horror before September 11th, now we seem relieved. Mechanical failure is something we can understand.

Indeed, this morning, I felt visceral anger at the thought that our nation's ineffectually feeble attempt to beef up airline security had enabled some extremist nutcase to plant a bomb on the plane. This evening, I feel -- yes -- relief that Al-Qaeda apparently hasn't the resources to launch a serious second strike at this time.

Sure, it's a troubling coincidence that this plane should crash so soon after 9/11. But the only reason to make the leap and assume that another terrorist act was committed today -- in the complete absence of evidence, and in direct contradiction of all that has been said at every level of government and by countless witnesses -- is that it feels better to have someone to blame. Someone to punish.

Reality check: We exist in a violent, chaotic, unfair Universe, in which no one is imbued with a right to exist in perpetuity.

And here's what has to be understood about the nature of coincidences: The human mind never evolved to fully comprehend the very large numbers within which the Universe routinely generates coincidences. Our survival as a species was never dependent on that kind of comprehension (until, perhaps, very recently).

In that context, some of us may understand intellectually, in the abstract, that the failure rate of commercial aircraft is tiny compared to the number of people-miles flown per year. But we have no innate sense of what it would mean to experience a single, continuous flight lasting many hundreds of years -- which is what it would take for any one passenger to be statistically certain of experiencing a plane crash first-hand.

What we do surely understand is small numbers. We understand the number 2 very, very well, because we've had so much experience dealing with it. Some studies even show that counting and small-number basic math may be hard-wired from birth! And so, when a plane crashes two (2) months after an act of terrorism, the human brain is naturally inclined to process the number 2 and think of it as evidence of a meaningful pattern -- one that can be comprehended instinctively -- even as it takes place within the universe of billions and trillions of events, among which the relationships are too vastly intertwined ever to comprehend.

Not only do we exist in a violent, chaotic, unfair Universe -- one that is also chockablok full of events that the human mind instinctively interprets as suspiciously coincidental -- the reality is that coincidences are statistically likely to happen, both often and regularly. What would be truly suspicious would be if seemingly inexplicable coincidences -- such today's crash happening so soon after the 9/11 attacks -- failed to occur on a regular, statistically predictable basis.

For more on the subject, I heartily recommend the book Innumeracy : Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Allen Paulos. And if enough of you buy it through this link, eventually my household will earn enough to replace my recently-busted shoelaces.

(All that said, our elected representatives still apparently lack the will to impose a fix on airline security, and it's just a matter of time before some extremist nutcase exploits the holes in the system and blows a few holes of his own. When it happens, we should demand the resignation of every member of Congress who has frittered away these past two months in the hopes of scoring partisan political points.)

("Don't make me angry.
You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.")

OR ... MAYBE I'M FULL OF IT...

Slightly later reports are beginning to suggest that it could have been engine failure after all. Another witness has reported seeing flames shooting out of engine during the takeoff of Flight 587, and a quick visual inspection of the fallen engine indicates that it may well have exploded without the aid of a bomb.

And now comes word that the pilot had radioed to another nearby aircraft that he was having mechanical difficulties shortly before the crash.

Nevertheless, the FBI has itself rushed to judgment and stated that they believe there was an explosion inside the passenger compartment. On what grounds, I have no idea. We'll see, soon enough...

FOOLED ME ONCE, SHAME ON YOU,
FOOLED ME TWICE, SHAME ON ME!


I'm not usually one to rush to judgment -- but one can't avoid jumping to the logical conclusion that United Airlines Flight 587 was brought down by a bomb. Obviously, more hard information will come out soon enough, but eyewitnesses from the ground reportedly saw an explosion in the air and one wing separate from the plane before the crash. That sure doesn't sound like mere engine failure.

The especially odd twist -- accounting for some early confusion as to whether this was an inbound or outbound flight -- is that the plane was apparently attempting a U-turn just before the explosion. Did yet another suicidal passenger-terrorist announce his mad scheme just before tripping the switch?

In any case, it doesn't matter. Unlike 9/11, we shouldn't have been taken by surprise. We knew better -- we knew!! -- that our airline security was compromised -- we'd seen the awful consequences of treating airline security as a national joke -- and we failed to act swiftly to fix the problems. What we were trying to prove? That we could second-guess the terrorists? Did we make some cost-benefit calculation and figure that our resources were best spent elsewhere -- that the second strike couldn't possibly come by air?

What gross, irresponsible stupidity!

This one, sad to say, is our fault!

Thursday, November 08, 2001

LET'S ROLL!

With those words, George W. Bush concluded his address to the nation tonight, adopting the rallying cry of Todd Beamer, one of the heroes of Flight 93.

Whether it was his handlers and speechwriters who thought of it, or possibly even Bush's own instinct, it was a brilliant, Reaganesque moment of Great Communicating. A crowd-pleasing memorable moment. The man sure can read a teleprompter, I'll give him that.

But didn't that Gipperesque turn also make you cringe just a little bit? I mean -- honestly -- can anyone imagine for a moment that Bush himself, had he been aboard that doomed plane, would have been the one to lead the charge against the hijackers as bravely and selflessly as Todd Beamer?

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

CONGRATULATIONS, NEW YORK!

You've just elected a mayor whose temperament for holding public office will swiftly prove to be inversely proportional to his ego.

I'll have more to say about Mayor-Elect Bloomberg soon enough.

Monday, November 05, 2001

FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES...

Glenn (Instapundit) Reynolds finally sees the light, and shouts to the rooftops: FEDERALIZE AIRPORT SECURITY: But only if the security people can't unionize and can be fired immediately if they screw up. Not willing to go that far? Then you're not serious about security -- you just want more federal employees.

Meanwhile, Josh (Talking Points) Marshall reports on the swift release (since rescinded) of Subash Gurung, who tried to take a stun gun, mace and a slew of knives onto a flight leaving Chicago over the weekend. But Josh skips over the aftermath of the original story: United Airlines immediately fired at least seven people, including security screeners and a supervisor, after the weapons' discovery.

Having myself worked for both New York City and State agencies in the distant past, I've witnessed first-hand how difficult it is to fire the truly incompetent from a unionized civil service job, especially -- as is statistically likely, given the demographics of the civil service -- whenever the truly incompetent also happen to be nonwhite. (Oh, the stories I could tell!)

Agreed -- absolutely! -- that a Federal Airport Security Cops Corps MUST have the flexibility to discipline and summarily fire. And if the compromise required to create such a body is that it must not be unionized, so be it.

On the other hand, United Airlines' disciplinary action seems unduly harsh, since their screeners did, after all, catch two of Gurung's knives at a security checkpoint and discovered the rest of his armaments in a routine search of his carry-on luggage. In other words, the multiple-tiered screening system worked! I need to see more details [UPDATE: CNN has the details here], but it sounds as if some of the fired screeners have been made into public scapegoats on the premise that they failed to catch all of Gurung's weapons at the first checkpoint -- even though they may well have been following their established (if obviously inadequate) procedures to the letter. Surely anyone fired under such circumstances deserves some form of grievance hearing -- if not through a union, than by some mechanism less brutally expensive than litigation!

The oft-stated reason for federalizing airport security is simple and fundamentally true: Government must intervene wherever ordinary market forces work against the public interest. This is precisely the dynamic at work here. Left to their own devices, our private-sector airlines -- most of which are now battling for their very survival -- will continue to pay minimum-wage or low-bid rates for untrained, unchecked, unmotivated rent-a-cops. If Congress simply passes unfunded mandates to dictate improved quality control, the airlines will cut corners elsewhere. (Fewer safety inspections, anyone?)

To the Tom DeLays of the world, who would obstruct the swift establishment of a Federal Airport Cops Corps solely on grounds that Enlarging the Federal Payroll is Always a Bad Idea, I would ask this: What, exactly, is wrong in principle with an elite force of nonunionized federal employees answerable to a central command structure under a single, rigid set of performance standards -- with swift and severe consequences for failure to perform, but with some manner of recourse or appeal in case of unwarranted disciplinary action?

There is already a precedent for hiring federal employees under such terms. And if he's going to be intellectually consistent, DeLay ought to be at the forefront of obstructing all Defense funding because we haven't privatized the U.S. Army!

A "COLONEL" OF TRUTH

Like most Internet-based urban legends, this one sounded convincing -- and there is a kernel of truth at the core of this story. But first, here's the original text, as it came in this morning's e-mail:

[From the Oliver North Senate Hearings, fifteen years ago.]

There was Ollie - before God and country - being grilled by a senator who asked him, "Did you not recently spend close to $60,000 for a home security system?"

Oliver replied, "Yes I did, Sir."

The senator continued, trying (successfully) to get a laugh out of the audience, "Isn't this just a little excessive?"

"No sir," continued Oliver.

"No. And why not?"

"Because the life of my family and I were threatened."

"Threatened? By who."

"By a terrorist, sir." [peals of laughter from the floor of the Chamber.]

"Terrorist? What terrorist could possibly scare you that much?"

"His name is Osama bin Laden."

At this point the senator tried to repeat the name, but couldn't pronounce it. A couple of people laughed at the attempt. Then the senator continued, "Why are you so afraid of this man?"

"Because sir, he is the most evil person alive that I know of."

"And what do you recommend we do about him?"

"If it were up to me I would recommend a team of assassins be formed to eliminate him and his men from the face of the earth."

The senator disagreed with this approach.

This story not only sounded good, it even came in from a trusted source -- a friend who swears he got it directly from someone in the CIA, honest to god. But something about the chronology stunk. In 1986, when North was putting up that security fence, Osama bin Laden was still just a rich Saudi expatriot punk, who was providing only logistical and "humanitarian aid" to the Afghan resistance from the Pakistani border. Al Qaeda was not yet even in a gleam in his eye, and bin Laden represented about as much of a terrorist threat to Oliver North as did my Aunt Gilda and her local chapter of Hadassah.

Sure enough -- a quick check of the record, and it turns out that the terrorist who struck such fear into Oliver North's heart was none other than Abu Nidal, the mastermind behind, among other crimes, the Munich massacre of Israelís Olympic athletes. Here is a Google cache copy of Time Magazine's narrative record of the incident. An excerpt follows:

A committee counsel came to ask North about the nearly $14,000 security system he had installed at his suburban Virginia house, a setup that was paid for by Major General Richard Secord. North delivered a magnificent aria in which he described how the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal had targeted him for assassination. He told how Nidal's group had brutally murdered Natasha Simpson, 11, daughter of an American journalist, in the Christmas 1985 massacre at the Rome airport. "I have an eleven-year-old daughter," said North, melodramatically. He offered a challenge. "I'll be glad to meet Abu Nidal on equal terms anywhere in the world, O.K.? But I am not willing to have my wife and my four children meet Abu Nidal or his organization on his terms."

After that performance, the committee for the moment dared not ask about the snow tires that North was said to have purchased using some of the money from the Iranian arms sales.

Note that, while the author of the e-mail hoax was spinning his yarn, he also overstated the value of the security system fourfold. Here is further documentation of the North hearings by the Federation of American Scientists. If I can find an actual record of the transcript online, I'll post a link later.


Sunday, November 04, 2001

HIS WATCH COSTS MORE THAN MY CAR, THAT'S WHAT HIS NAME IS

Mugger, aka Russ Smith, the free-paper despot of the New York Press and bon-vivant gourmand blowhard, makes this observation and gets in one more completely irrelevant dig against the Clinton administration on the way:

One of the difficulties we face is that both the media and government are in over their heads on the anthrax/smallpox question. Itís akin to Bill Clintonís Justice Dept. persecution of Microsoft in the late 90s, when the government pretended to understand an industry it knew nothing about and, employing the politics of class warfare, demonized Bill Gates, an extraordinary entrepreneur. As a result of that prosecution, the current recession began.

Agreed -- they're all in it over their heads. Wiser pundits than I have observed that Tommy Thompson -- hired to help sell Bush's domestic health care agenda -- has already made so many absurd and uncomforting public utterances that he should be promoted to Ambassador to Sri Lanka immediately. But --

What was that about Clinton's overreaching Justice Department bringing down the economy of the entire nation? Oh. I see. If only Microsoft had been allowed to break the law with impunity -- then all those money-losing companies, built on wing-and-a-prayer business models, like contentville.com, egghead.com, eyada.com, kozmo.com, pets.com, thestandard.com, suck.com, webvan.com, theglobe.com, balducci.com, fandom.com, urbanfetch.com, etoys.com, govworks.com, planetrx.com, furniture.com, angryman.com -- and maybe even Midway Air -- would have achieved profitability and their employees would be thinking about how to spend their fat Christmas bonuses right about now. Damn that Janet Reno!!!

Saturday, November 03, 2001

HASN'T HE EVER SEEN 'COLUMBO'?

Guess it didn't occur to Osama that his videotape mght give away his position. In an item that I haven't yet seen reported anywhere other than --*ulp*-- that journalistic embarassment, the New York Post -- it seems we're narrowing down the search for bin Laden on the basis of forensic evidence:

Military sources said that intelligence agencies began to focus on the Paktia cave complexes in the early phases of Operation Enduring Freedom after receiving reports from Russia and Pakistan that bin Laden reinforced underground tunnel complexes and used them to conduct operations against the Soviet army in the 1980s. ... Suspicions that bin Laden and his henchmen moved back to the region after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon grew after the release of bin Laden's videotaped anti-Western diatribe on Oct. 7. Government geologists identified the limestone rocks behind bin Laden and reported they showed distinctive formations unique to the smaller mountains in the Paktia region, sources said.

Too bad you never spent an idle weekend watching Columbo reruns on A&E, Osama -- you'd know that the criminal is always too clever by half.

Friday, November 02, 2001

A QUESTION OF TACTICS vs. STRATEGY

Martin Pratt surfs in from London and makes some cogent points about the British perspective in my Guestbook. An excerpt:
"...the fact that we were not directly hit on Sept 11 may in itself allow us a certain detatchment...like a friend counselling restraint to a man who has just fallen victim to a dreadful crime. The intervention of Bill Clinton in Northern Ireland was welcome because he was not emotionally involved, and he could see the best way to peace, uncomfortable (and unwelcome) as that was to the British Govt and public at the time. And guess what, it seems to have worked.

TACIT ADMISSION

Notice what we're not hearing anymore? We're not hearing the Taliban protesting that the rationale for this war is based on false or unproven charges against their guest, Mr. bin Laden. If our evidence was the least bit shaky, you'd think they'd be more strenuously making the case that we're going after the wrong guy... y'know, like, we should be searching for the real killers.

BELLICOSE AMERICAN WOMEN

Glenn (Instapundit) Reynolds is still trying to fathom the depths of female bellicosity in the conduct of this war:
"I don't recall seeing this degree of anger from women during the Gulf War, or Vietnam," says Glenn. "And I haven't heard of it being so pronounced in World War Two. I think it's the damned burkas. And the beatings and stonings. And the ban on medical care. And on education. Whatever it is, the Taliban are toast. Did I mention the beatings and stonings?"

While I'm sure we're all in favor of a post-Taliban regime bringing more than marginal improvements to the lives of Afghan women, let's keep things in perspective. Afghanistan is 12,000 miles away and for most of us, sadly, the plight of their women is an abstraction.

To account for the level of anger among American women, look closer to home. As surely as if they'd sent their own trained militia over here to do it, the Taliban just killed our kids, Glenn. The kids of American women. In massive numbers. For no reason.

In World War II especially, and to some extent in those other recent conflicts as well, surely there was more of an understanding among American women that their 18- and 19-year old kids -- overwhelmingly boys, and overwhelmingly volunteers -- were risking and sacrificing their lives for the greater good of the world.

Whereas, in the current conflict, their kids -- 20- and 30- and 40-year-old kids -- men and women alike, in roughly equal number -- have already been arbitrarily slaughtered by nihilistic bullies who just wanted to take out as many victims as possible en route to their own demise. (The only significant difference between Mohammed Atta and Dylan Klebold is one of scale -- of their bankroll, and of their imagination.)

Angry? You betcha, women are angry. The anger you're sensing is their frustration that they can't personally take bin Laden and his Taliban backers apart, one joint, one limb at a time, over a period of several days, in retribution for bankrolling and masterminding the wholesale murder of their innocent, beautiful boys and girls.

(You remember that old World War II recruiting poster, "Gee, I wish I were a man -- I'd join the Navy!" If America's soccer moms could enlist tomorrow, you gotta know they'd join in record numbers!)

By the way, Glenn -- your Blog is the Gold Standard!

Thursday, November 01, 2001

TRAFFIC REPORT

The great "Getting Mentioned" campaign is squarely under way! Huge overstuffed shipping crates full of thanks to Mickey Kaus for the prominent link in today's Kausfiles. (Scroll down four items to see what prompted him.)

If you're new to Mind Over What Matters -- not to worry, you haven't missed anything. This enterprise is only a couple of weeks old. But what a terrific start! I watched the counter roll past 1000 with the excitement of a giddy 8-year-old egging on Mom and Dad to drive around in a big circle in the Krogers parking lot while the odometer in the old Ford station wagon flipped into seven-digit territory for the first time.

Bookmark us and come back often. We'll try to keep you entertained, informed, and amused -- but above all, we'll hold your feet to the fire and make you think! (Maybe we'll even rethink a few things ourselves!)