A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Saturday, April 05, 2003
OVERHEARD: I'm at a session of an academic conference on Democracy on the Digital Age. Some interesting points, some of the usual academic stuffiness. I just feel like reporting a nice quip by Prof. Jack Balkin of Balkinization.

Prof. Elkin-Koren explains a computer "Whack-a-Pol" game that tries to teach young voters the association between lobby groups, politicians, and political parties:
Elkin-Koren: "So if you're a Democrat and you hit Republicans you get points. Whereas if you're a Democrat and you hit Democrats--"

Balkin: "Then you're a Democrat!"

BASRA BAATH LEADERS READY TO GIVE UP: According to a report by the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat (twice translated, since I got it from Le Monde), the leaders of the Baath Party in Basra are hoping to negotiate a surrender with the British forces surrounding their city. The newspaper reports that these leaders have sent a message to Shi'ite leader Mohamed Al-Bosslimi their worry about the reprisals that they may suffer at the hands of the civilian population if Baghdad falls:
"They are scared but they say that they will surrender when Baghdad falls," explained Al-Bosslimi, who said that he has met with a dozen Baath Party leaders in the past two days. Al-Bosslimi also claimed that these leaders would also surrender if British forces entered Basra. "The problem is that the Party members want to be protected from the wrath of the civilian population after giving up their weapons," he added.
So that may explain why it's taking a decent amount of time to capture Basra--along with the British forces' wise go-slow approach.
Friday, April 04, 2003

Uh, thanks guys, but maybe next time you could drop the authoritarian secretiveness act before you let your epidemic spread across the world?

Thank goodness this one's treatable (if not curable), but still, I'm thinking that there ought to be some sort of sanctions or punishment for this kind of irresponsibility.

On a personal note, my parents, who live in Toronto, called last night to tell me that they were pretty nervous about being smack dab in the middle of SARS land. I'm a thousand or so miles away in Connecticut, but I'm feeling a little worried about friends and family myself--146 cases in Ontario, 7 dead in Toronto.

Manu, if you have anything further that you can report--I expect you might, as a resident of a Toronto immunology lab--that would be great...but stay safe, dude...

UPDATE: Just found out from a travel advisory sent out by the university administration that the World Health Organization has placed Toronto on its list of "affected areas". The WHO hasn't yet suggested that people postpone non-essential trips to T.O., as they have for Hong Kong and Guangdong Province, China (although Yale did). So I guess things could be worse.
Thursday, April 03, 2003
Roses are red, violets are French:

Looks like Rumsfeld is, umm, well-versed in matters non-military.

And in related news, the Pentagon has recently begun to operate this site.
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
Still busy with the rodents...

Came back on Monday night from the Canadian Society of Immunology meeting in lovely Lake Louise, Alberta -- only to encounter Checkpoint Charlie at my hospital on Tuesday morning. Symptom form, face mask, the whole bit. Today -- we had to have our temperature read at the front door. Two people have received isolation orders in Toronto .

Also, it looks as if Eric may have the opening he needs...
Tuesday, April 01, 2003
The Wall Street Journal Blatently Fabricates Smear Against Liberal Media Figure
Surprise, surprise, right wing shills on The WSJ ed-board make shit up.

I'm not even sure why this still shocks me, now that a U.S. appeals court has ruled that media sources (cough, cough, Fox) have a right to intentionally lie and distort the news (and to fire reporters who refuse to do so) that is protected by the First Amendment.
Monday, March 31, 2003
WHAT GENEVA CONVENTION? This interpretation of the U.S. Rules of Engagement, as told to Time should be very unsettling to those who (want to) view the war in a humanitarian light:
Lieut. Colonel Wes Gillman, commander of Task Force 130 of the 3rd Infantry Division, told his men, "If you see an Iraqi in civilian clothes coming toward you—even with a stick—shoot it."
It, huh?

And it's damned clear he isn't referring to the stick.

(via Counterspin)
SARS UPDATE: Damn, it seems to be spreading faster.

On the other hand, it does seem to be somewhat treatable, or at least not terrifically lethal, which is consoling..
COWBOY YANKS, FRIENDLY FIRE, SOUND FAMILIAR ANYONE? Well yes, these complaints of some very pissed-off British recon officers who were just victims of a careless and tragic American airmanship error will seem very familiar if you're Canadian. Or if you're British and you have a decent memory of the first Gulf War.

And the crazy thing--in my untrained opinion--is that they've altered the Rules of Engagement so as to make it more likely that these "Blue on Blues" will happen:
From now on, they are free to fire at anyone wearing a U.S. uniform who engages in threatening behavior, unless that person is wearing the mottled tan chemical warfare pants currently worn by all 3rd Infantry forces. The U.S.-style Iraqi uniforms apparently do not include the chem-warfare pants.
Can anyone who knows explain to me why doing so isn't pretty silly in an "asymmetric warfare" environment in which you so massively outgun your opponent that friendly fire and accidents account for most of your casualties?

Trading off an increased risk of ambush for an increased risk of friendly fire can't be a good deal here, can it? Or is it because the brass think the U.S. public is more willing to stomach friendly fire casualties than enemy inflicted ones?
Sunday, March 30, 2003
(APPOSITE) SNARK UNDER FIRE: Via the judicious Jeff Cooper, via the articulate Electrolite, via the original techno-gansta William Gibson, we get the following battlefield reaction from Sky News:
"Umm Qasr is a town similar to Southampton," UK Defence Minister Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons yesterday. "He’s either never been to Southampton, or he’s never been to Umm Qasr," said one British soldier, informed of this while on patrol in Umm Qasr. Another added: "There's no beer, no prostitutes, and people are shooting at us. It's more like Portsmouth."
I vote that if the UN doesn't get to administer Iraq, we let the British do it instead of the U.S. They may have already had their turn as imperialist bastards, but they have a much better sense of humour. If we can't have a truly democratic or free Iraq, we might as well have a dryly ironic Iraq.
STRATEGERY: Somebody on the web recently quipped that if bullshit could talk, it would quote Nietzsche.

I'd like to add that if bullshit could get the security clearance, it would have a full-time job as a high-level Pentagon theorist.

To wit, I finally decided to find out the official definition of the term "effects-based operations" that I'd read so much about in various proclamations about the coming "transformations" and "revolutions" of the U.S. military. Here's what I learned from the U.S. Joint Forces Command Glossary:
Effects Based Operations (EBO) - A process for obtaining a desired strategic outcome or "effect" on the enemy, through the synergistic, multiplicative, and cumulative application of the full range of military and nonmilitary capabilities at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels.

Effects Based Warfare - The application of armed conflict to achieve desired strategic outcomes through the effects of military force.
I bet after reading this, retired military commanders must smack themselves on the head with the revelation, "dammit, fighting war would have been so much easier if our operations actually had the purpose of achieving effects instead of just blowing stuff up randomly!"

Or not.

Now my training doesn't supply me with any formal knowledge of military affairs, but it does expose me to a lot of BS. And a brief perusal suggests to me that the USJFC glossary, while somewhat useful for decoding current Pentagon-speak, could give any po-mo cultural studies journal a run for its money when it comes to cow patty density.