Thank God, Most Terrorists Suck at What They Do

There is something almost pitiable about an unexploded car bomb.  It’s obviously far preferrable to having the damn thing actually go off (especially these two, which given the location near Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus would have caused a lot of casualities and horrific carnage), but there’s nevertheless a highly pathetic quality to a large device constructed by wild-eyed, frighteningly earnest wannabes, carefully planted in a strategically appreciable location, rendered an inert and leaky jalopy by sheer incompetence.  I know this is a deadly serious matter, but it still recalls a botched senior prank.  You just know these guys were calling their fellow jihadists the night before and saying “This is gonna be so awesome!”  Woops.

The plot appears to be inspired by the tactics al-qaeda has developed on the battlestreets of Iraq, using multiple car bombs (or “vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices,” a phrase I don’t see catching on) in high-traffic areas to cause a lot of damage on the cheap.  The execution of the plot, however, was characterized by a “Western official” as “less directed from al-qaeda and more a matter of a home-grown group.”  Given the tenor of the rest of this man’s comments, “home-grown group” appears to be counterterrorism code for “cretins.”  A separate official has stated that the construction “does not look very professional.”  Ouch.  These guys make bombs about as well as Lindsay Lohan writes coherent paragraphs.

I don’t know whether to be comforted by this or not, but sometimes it seems like our greatest ally in the war on terrorism is dumb terrorists.  In 2000, before they actually succeeded in hitting the USS Cole over in Yemen, al qaeda bombers tried to hit the USS Sullivans with a bomb-laden boat, but they biffed it, overloading the boat with explosives and causing it to sink.  Germany had a close call last July, when two Lebanese students possibly trying out for a spot with “the base” planted a pair of home-made bombs on a train that fizzled.  And of course, my personal favorite, Ramzi Yousef almost blowing himself up in his kitchen in 1993. 

The most compelling argument for vigilance in the matter of Islamic fascism, aside from the simple consequences of a successful attack, is the idea that “they only have to be right once,” that these nihilistic thugs are throwing nailbomb after nailbomb at us, and we must do everything in our power to block them all.  All of these failed attacks remind us of that very fact – for every transatlantic liquid bomb plot that makes big news, there are dozens of less spectacular tries that don’t succeed.  And so many times, they fail not because of the work of law enforcement or counterterrorism operations, but because the guys trying to blow us up pretty much suck at it.

With enemies like these, who needs warrantless wiretapping?

 **UPDATE**  A couple guys ram their flaming SUV into Glasgow airport, get stopped by security barriers, fail to get into the part of the airport where the civilian targets are, and then in a truly comic moment, jump out of the car on fire and get arrested.  Nobody killed (thankfully), no one really hurt except for the master criminals behind the wheel.  I think this eyewitness quote about sums it up:  “The car didn’t actually explode.  There were a few pops and bangs which presumably was the petrol.”  I predict that further investigation will reveal that these men took operational inspiration from watching The Dukes of Hazzard on TV.

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Leave the Poor Guy Alone, Already

Not sure how this broke onto MSNBC, but there’s a big expedition set to commence in the Michigan woods in July aiming to capture conclusive proof of the existence of Bigfoot.  There’s going to be a bunch of people poking around in Marquette County, led by a guy named, seriously, Matthew Moneymaker.  Moneymaker runs an organization called the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, or BFRO (I like to think they refer to it verbally as “the bifro”); the BFRO is an organization apparently staffed by people with an awful lot of free time who embark on trips all throughout the United States and Canada looking for a Sasquatch.  From the looks of their website, they’ve actually got a pretty extensive database and classification system and at least make an effort to subject their best stuff to some sort of scientific inquiry.  That said, based on expedition notes posted on their site, they’re long on unsubstantiated “sightings” but short on actual “evidence.”  See if you can spot a bigfoot in any of these pictures (the one done in colored pencil doesn’t count).

I’m starting to feel pretty bad for any bigfoots that are loping around out there.  You would not believe how many amateur research organizations there are, lustily disgorging hundreds of people armed with digital cameras and very active imaginations into the woods to snap a picture of one of these things.  It must be getting to the point where the poor beasts can’t stop to take a crap behind a tree before they’re rudely interrupted by the sound of snapping twigs and popping flashbulbs and have to haul ass out of there to avoid another intrepid adventurer trying to make National Geographic Channel money.  These guys are like woodland paparazzi, full of piss and vinegar and trail mix.

Here’s my question:  are bigfoots bothering anybody?  Are they causing any issues, are they TP’ing anyone’s house in the dead of night and running off into the trees, hooting and jabbering, waking everybody up?  If they are, I haven’t heard of it.  They’re just keeping to themselves, working hard and paying their taxes like everybody else.  We’ve been trying to get an actual picture of one for about a hundred years now, and we’ve come up with precisely nothing.  They win.  So let’s leave them the hell alone, and move onto something else

Happy iPhone Day, Sheep!

Crowd Shot, Apple Store

iPhone customers lining up outside the Apple Store in New York

Enjoy your overpriced poseur-phone, everyone. Here’s a tip: your calls will sound clearer if you take your lips off Steve Jobs’ ass before you start talking.

[Oh by the way, all you hip, socially-conscious Apple-worshippers: for the $500 cost of the low-end version of the iPhone, the Near East Foundation can repair 1 of the 8 destroyed school rooms at El-Tagwa Community School in Sudan, adding luxuries like a window and a door to keep out the heavy rains and the dust storms. But hey, $500 ALSO lets you watch YouTube on the bus!]

Buy a Blackjack instead.

Comparison Shopping

From economist.com:

Here’s a nifty little graph for your viewing pleasure.  Who would have thought the powder’s so expensive in New Zealand?  I thought everybody smoked pipe-weed over there.

Cocaine Prices

“But You Didn’t Hear This From Me”

Interesting article from the Washington Post hit the Web today about Vice President Dick Cheney’s behind-the-scenes role in re-shaping and defining the rules for interrogation in the War on Terror.  (Or, as John Edwards calls it, “the war on terror.”  On a related note, I like to call John Edwards “pretty.”)  It’s a big, long thing on MSNBC.com (8 pages!  Take that, Andy Borowitz!) and it contains pretty much what you’d expect if you’ve been following the Abu Graib scandal, the extreme rendition scandal, the waterboarding scandal, the epic Constitutional saga that is Guantanamo Bay, or have seen the movie “Hostel.”  In a nutshell, Big Time and his men saw a need for what he calls “robust interrogation” of terror suspects after the September 11th attacks.  “Robust interrogation,” unfortunately, involved revving up a 4-wheeler and tearing across the virgin forest that is the Geneva Convention.  As a way of getting around this, uh, technicality I guess they saw it as, Cheney’s lawyers found a way to greatly expand executive authority and allow the President to make all sorts of formerly illegal things legal without, you know, asking Congress or the Supreme Court.  The Veep’s machinations were eventually revealed to a kind-of disturbed public, then rolled back by the legislative and judicial branches, the latter being most deleterious to Cheney’s strategy in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision.  Despite the best efforts of those well-meaning, wide-eyed kids, Cheney and Co. managed to basically cast aside these reforms; the reader is left with the distinct impression that the Vice President is a Sith lord.

You can think what you will about the content of this article.  Reactions will be predictable – we’ll have sundry variations on the “I am shocked, SHOCKED” routine, we’ll have sanctimonious head-shaking and finger-wagging on the Left, and we’ll have the standard icy rationalization among those on the Right who love virtually every bad thing that the military or CIA does because they still haven’t given up their boyhood dream of being a real-life spy.  The kind with the laser-equipped Cartier and nifty gadgets like that.

I’d like to hit something else regarding this article.  This thing is rife with “anonymous sources.”  They’re everywhere, like potholes on the streets of Cleveland.  I realize that anonymous sources are nothing new, but for such an inflammatory article to rely on them so heavily for any real substance and heft is a little bit troubling to me.  Troubling, and annoying.  Here is a list of cited sources within the article (this is not comprehensive – I’d like to comb over the entire thing a dozen times to make sure I didn’t miss anything, but I have a full-time job):

1.  “A source with direct knowledge”

2.  “A former White House official with firsthand knowledge”

3.  “Four officials with direct knowledge, none of whom agreed to be quoted by name about confidential legal deliberations”

4.  “A senior Justice Department Official who closely followed the debates”

5.  “A high-ranking former official”

6.  “A former Pentagon official with direct knowledge”

7.  “An official with firsthand knowledge” and “a former official with firsthand knowledge”

8.  “Close observers”

9.  “Participants in the debate”

All told, I found 15 unnamed sources in a 4,400-word document.  That doesn’t even count all the times the authors ended a sentence with some version of “officials said.”  Sources who were quoted by name included James Baker, Alberto Mora, Timothy Flanigan, and Michael Gerson, none of whom could contribute any real substance pertaining to the timeline of events described in the article beyond stuff that isn’t already in the public arena.  This, to me, is weak journalism.  Every time a serious allegation is advanced, a pivotal conversation recounted, it is done by a ghost.  Someone who is not named, whose identity cannot be known by the average reader, and whose motivation and reputation cannot be judged or considered.  Even for those who really want to believe the content of this article, or indeed do believe it, such a journalistic failing damages the article’s credibility. 

I know you can’t damn the sources for wanting to keep their names out of it.  After all, the minute their names hit the Internet, Cheney would probably kill them with Force lightning, or at the very least do that thing that Dark Helmet does to dudes’ balls when they screw up.  That doesn’t mean, however, that the authors have to use what they say.  Juicy or not, a guy hiding behind anonymity dilutes the impact of his information by doing so.  And by doing it over 15 times in a single article about one topic, the authors of that article obscure the weight of their content behind a gauzy film that turns the article into just another piece of half-assed reporting on a pile that’s already far too high. 

Every word of this article may very well be true; not being any kind of supporter of the VP, I wouldn’t be surprised.  Cumulatively, though, all that nameless sourcing becomes symbolic of the Bush Administration and the press that has covered it:  Nobody takes responsibility for a damn thing, nobody risks their neck for the greater good.  Thanks, authorities.

Just sayin’

Doonesbury Evolution

If you think the Book of Genesis actually happened, you might want to click here instead.

The First Post Should be the Rosetta Stone

By way of introduction to the blogosphere, I’m going to say this:

Hey, everybody – next time you’re in your cars, take a good long look at the steering wheel.  On the left-hand side of the wheel should be a little stick.  Fiddle with it for a second.  You’ll probably find that you can push it up or down.  Now, while you’re having fun fiddling with the stick, look up at the dashboard.  I bet dollars to doughnuts that you will see two different arrows flashing.  If you push the stick down, the one pointing left flashes.  If you push the stick up, the one pointing right flashes.  Am I right?  I’m right, aren’t I?  Well, that magical little stick sprouting from your steering wheel is what’s referred to by Detroit as your “turn signal.”  When you are on the road and are about to turn down another street, or you’re on the highway and about to change lanes or merge on/off, you just hit that little stick.  When you do that, it activates a blinking light on the front and rear light matrix of your car, helpfully letting other drivers know that you intend to change your driving direction and allowing them to adjust their driving accordingly.  Now the car companies just rolled this new-fangled feature out for wide-scale distribution in 1938 so I realize this is new technology and probably pretty tough to get used to.  But I really think that if everybody gets used to using them, we’ll find ourselves just thatmuch closer to living in a safe, courteous Utopia.  So remember:  little stick, left side of steering wheel, goes up and down, nice thing to have.  Make a note of it.