Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The sillier-every-day "controversy" over the Wilson/Plame accusations leaves me mostly indifferent...except for the part that CIA Director George Tenet plays in it. According to Andrew Sullivan, the whole affair was singlehandedly revived by Tenet after two months in which no one particularly cared about it:

Then over the weekend, news broke that George Tenet was ticked off about the affair and an "administration official" (CIA?) told the Washington Post that two government sources had actually cold-called six hacks and "outed" Wilson's wife around the same time as Novak's conversation.

This got me mad. I have been irritated with Tenet for a long time--since September 11, 2001, to be exact. We now know that the 9/11 operation was not run by Mohamed Atta, as we believed until recently, but by veteran al-Qaeda operatives Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaq Al-Hazmi, who ended up on Flight 77:

[Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed portrays those two hijackers as central to the plot, and even more important than Mohammed Atta, initially identified by Americans as the likely hijacking ringleader. Mohammed said he communicated with al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar while they were in the United States by using Internet chat software, the reports states.

Mohammed said al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were among the four original operatives bin Laden assigned to him for the plot, a significant revelation because those were the only two hijackers whom U.S. authorities were frantically seeking for terrorist ties in the final days before Sept. 11.

The reason for the frantic searching? For that we have to go back to January 5, 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the two terrorists, attended an Al-Qaeda meeting where both the upcoming bombing of the USS Cole and the 9/11 operation were discussed. Their presence at the site of the meeting was recorded on surveillance video by Malaysian security services and the information forwarded to the CIA. However, for some reason which has never been explained, the CIA did not give their names to the INS until August 21, 2001, and to the FBI two days after that. Of course by that time, the two were both in the USA getting ready to kill 3,000 Americans, which they successfully managed three weeks later.

What I want to hear from Tenet is an explanation for why the CIA sat on this information for 19 months. That's what I want to hear from him, not this politicized nonsense. In my opinion, Tenet is lucky he isn't in jail for criminal negligence.

Monday, September 29, 2003

RIP Elia Kazan, one of the great film directors of all time. After Casablanca, On the Waterfront is the film I can quote the most dialogue from verbatim. I remember when Kazan got his honorary Oscar in 1999, I afterwards loved the Hollywood people who stood up and applauded him, like Kurt Russell and Kathy Bates. The people who pointedly refused to applaud--Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, Goldie Hawn, Nick Nolte--have had my scorn ever since.

Sunday, September 28, 2003


I need to say something about the passing of Edward Said, whose Orientalism was one of the two or three most influential books of the last third of the twentieth century. For readers who want to know the basics on this sad, hateful man, I can point to devastating essays by Keith Windschuttle and Adil Farooq.

While on a trip to Lebanon, Edward Said hurls rocks across the border at the IDF, 2000

Though most published obituaries have glossed over Said's problems with the truth, the one in the London Telegraph gets directly to the point:

Said was born in Mandate Palestine, and for many years it was claimed that in 1947 his family was forced to abandon a home in Jerusalem by the war which led to the foundation of Israel. This "lifelong exile" determined both Said's political commitments and his academic achievements.

The truth was rather different. In 1999, research by an Israeli academic, Justus Reid Weiner, determined that the account which Said had given of his own victimhood was selective and highly misleading. His family had in fact - as Said later acknowledged - left Jerusalem when he was two, and he was never a refugee.

The childhood house he claimed had been taken from his father by the Israelis, and occupied by Martin Buber, actually belonged to his uncle, who was Buber's landlord until he evicted his Jewish tenant, rather than the other way round. When The Daily Telegraph published Weiner's research, Said threatened legal action, but after being presented with a detailed response, quietly allowed the case to drop. He later claimed he had never given a false impression of his childhood years.

The dissimulation here is not minor, considering that Said based his entire intellectual persona on being a dispossessed, aggrieved Palestinian. The persona gave a special resonance to Orientalism as lefty academics, seemingly universally, added it to required student reading lists and accepted its central conviction that Western imperialism was the evil of evils. The Said thesis took over entire departments across multiple Humanities disciplines--History, Literature, Art--with remarkable but understandable speed. Said touches on every contemporary academic fetish: deconstruction, "queer theory," standard Marxian boilerplate. And academia loved him for it.

For all of Said's erudition, Orientalism and its successors present a starkly simple worldview right out of Orwell's Animal Farm: West bad, Non-West good. Any ambiguities that might accrue in the actual study of the history--for example, the political and spiritual transformation of the British Empire from gross abettors of the slave trade to the single force that abolished international slavery--must be ignored. West=bad, Non-West=good. It is no wonder that Said hated Orwell so much.

But Said hated a lot of people, and his later works--check out Reflections on Exile and Other Essays(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2000)--are little more than compilations of attacks on the people Said hated most: Orwell, V.S. Naipaul, Bernard Lewis, Christopher Hitchens, and so on. For Said, even poor Jane Austen is an evil colonialist.

Said, I think, recognized in his own work towards the end the same hollow essence that his critics picked up on immediately, which is why he was so vicious to them in the last days of his life. In particular, the "peculiar condescension towards Arabs and Muslims" that Adil Farooq noted in Said became more pronounced after the events of 9/11/01. Said, ever unwilling to see anything but childlike helplessness in non-Western peoples, became utterly mealy-mouthed when talking about Islamist terror. For Said, Arabs and Muslims are forever infantilized, and cannot be held responsible for their actions, any more than a five-year-old throwing rocks at cars can be tried as an adult. That, ultimately, is the defining image of Said, the one that appears above: The absurd tableau of a full-grown adult, a respected university professor, throwing rocks like a five-year-old, adopting the absurd simplicity of a child whose primary exegetic response to the complexity of the world is the temper tantrum . RNIP.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Ah, the iron rule of Murphy's Law: When PECO finally fixed the outside wires after Hurricane Isabel and power came back on at the store on Monday, I had no idea that

1) Bob and Stuart had rearranged the breakers over the weekend to make the best use of the power we did have. This meant that, unbeknownst to me, the second floor power didn't turn on when the rest of the building was back to normal.

2) Bob had kept a bunch of burgers in the freezer--which of course is located on the second floor.

You can kind of guess what happened. Because everything started out frozen, and because I didn't have reason to go upstairs all week, I didn't notice that anything was wrong until *today*. Fun, fun.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

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I can't help it. I love this site.

There is nothing funnier than absolute sincerity in the service of the absurd.

Having just had yet another evil birthday, I can at least console myself with the thought that I don't look like this at David's age:

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

A little-noticed tidbit from a minor newspaper on everyone's favorite new presidential candidate:

"What do you think of General Wesley Clark and would you support him as a presidential candidate," was the question put to [Retired General H. Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Clark's former boss] by moderator Dick Henning, assuming that all military men stood in support of each other. General Shelton took a drink of water and Henning said, "I noticed you took a drink on that one!"

"That question makes me wish it were vodka," said Shelton. "I've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote."

The reference here is to Clark's behavior during the Kosovo conflict, where it is believed on several occasions he bypassed the chain of command and went over Shelton's (and Defense Secretary William Cohen's) head and called his old Arkansas and Oxford buddy Bill Clinton directly for advice. Significantly, neither Shelton nor Cohen attended Clark's (early, and presumably forced) retirement ceremony, a striking insult for a four-star general.

These Shelton quotes won't get a lot of play in the media, but they are important.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

There have been several wonderful pictures in the news this year, but this one of the smiling baby in the womb 26 weeks after conception is my favorite:

Monday, September 22, 2003

The beginning of a difficult week. Bob and family are taking an incredibly well-deserved vacation at Disney world, so I am at the store by myself the whole time. The work itself doesn't bother me, but I am also working ebay bigtime at the moment, so it's two thankless, nonpaying jobs at once.

And I had this horrible toothache last week, and had to ride it out, since I am without dental benefits at the moment. After I lived on Ibuprofen for a few days, the pain went away and the followup swelling appeared, and instead of feeling bad I only looked like John Kruk with a full chaw of tobacco for a couple of days.

But I look and feel human again, for me that is. I feel better than I have in a long time, lighter and more balanced. Working regularly, even for free, does that.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

More Carnivale love for the second episode I watched tonight:

* There is so much going on. The ensemble cast is so large and there are so many little portents being shown to us that it's hard to tell what is actually part of the plot and what can be written off as Lynchesque bizarre-imagery-for-bizarre-imagery's sake. And that only adds to my fascination.

* The verisimilitude. The period details are perfect, down to the the dialogue, where people use words like "rake" and "skedaddle" that people actually used then.

* This week we got to see a great deal more of Clancy Brown's terrifying Justin character. I love the character for multiple reasons, not least the intense portrayal by the underrated Clancy Brown. Justin is so much more nuanced and interesting than the standard "evil preacher" that one encounters in the culture these days. He also has one of the most visually interesting superpowers ever, and the scene where he takes the guy into the Chinese brothel is intense and unforgettable.

There are several other wonderful scenes, but you get the idea.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Some of my favorite quotes:

"Whenever I watch T.V. and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can't help but cry. I mean I'd love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff."
-Mariah Carey

"I haven't committed a crime. What I did was fail to comply with the law."
-David Dinkins, New York City Mayor, answering accusations that he failed to pay his taxes.

"Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life."
-Brooke Sheilds during an interview to become spokesperson for a federal antismoking campaign.

"China is a big country inhabited by many Chinese."
-Former French President Charles De Gaulle

"Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country."
-Former Mayor Marion Barry, Washington,DC

Thursday, September 18, 2003

It's an odd experience, running in a hurricane. The wind gusts were only 50-60 mph, but you still felt them powerfully against you like an extra measure of gravity while the rain savaged you and the trees roiled in the air.

Now that was fun.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Another glorious cloudless day, but the wind was finally starting to kick up by the end of the day.

I'm thinking about collectibles. I am way, way near the bottom of the materialism scale, but spending much of my day putting stuff on ebay gets me started on the subject of things I've owned in the past that got separated from me. Like I said, I don't care about material things at all, but nevertheless it still pains me to think about:

The earliest Silver Age Marvel comics. I am old enough to have bought them off the newsstand when I was a kid, and stupid enough to have given them away after I was done reading them, dammit. I am talking Daredevil # 1, Avengers # 1, and Spider-Man # 3, for Pete's sake. This stuff goes for thousands today.

My collection of eleven Steve Ditko original splash pages. This one still burns me. I lovingly collected them for ten years, and then at one point I desperately needed a car, and I had to give them up. *sobs* I sold them in 1993 to a New York City cop who would only deal in cash and required that I meet him face to face. So I had to drive to an IHOP in Port Jervis, New York, where he handed me the $4000 cash (a very reasonable price at the time--and no, I didn't ask questions), and I gave him the pages. Those damn things were the jewels of my collection, and I still miss them.

Somewhere in the return from Italy I was separated from my Sandman hardcovers with sketches by, among others, Neil Gaiman and the late Kelley Jones in them. I don't like to think about them even a little.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

A beautiful sunny day before the hurricane hits. I am at the store throwing things on ebay as kind of an experiment to see if I can make enough to eventually support myself, which my partners would prefer I do. I wouldn't mind working for myself, so we will see. It's all about generating cash, as pretty much all human activity is with the standard exception of running a game store.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Just a brief word about HBO's new series Carnivale, the one that critics have encapsulated as "Grapes of Wrath meets David Lynch." It is all moody and eerie and hypnotic and it hooked me immediately.

A nice day with my sister with the usual cathartic conversations that defy summarization. She was tired and silly and fun, and at one point she asked me what gender the word merde took in French because she wanted to translate the term "shithead" properly. Was it tête du merde or tête de merde? That was the kind of day it was.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

In one tiny sense Once Upon a Time in Mexico restores my faith in humanity: In the sense that the selling of the film wasn't deceptive. In every tangible way, it is the Johnny Depp movie that the studio relentlessly marketed on television the last month. JD, as Pork Guy, gets every single good line and has the only two compelling action sequences in the entire movie. The nominal stars of the film, Banderas and Hayek, barely register (Hayek literally so since she's in it for no more than ten minutes--and since it is all in dull flashbacks that advance the story not at all, the audience is actually relieved that she is around so little).

But even so OUATIM is dull and uninvolving. The problems start with the title, which demands comparison with Sergio Leone's great Western Once Upon a Time in America, with its shimmering iconic images one after the other. OUATIM, especially for something filmed in Mexico, feels strikingly small and flat when it should be epic. I am sick of people telling me that digital cinematography is every bit as good as celluloid; it isn't. (And what's with the green explosions?). OUATIM looks tired and literally faded on its opening day.

The plot is incomprehensible, and the stunts and action sequences are all watered-down John Woo (or, even worse, latter period James Bond) and are singularly uninvolving except for the aforementioned two with Depp, both of them being gun battles after he suffers a certain disability.

The rest of the cast is disappointing. I think Mickey Rourke was cast so that, just for once, Danny Trejo wouldn't be the ugliest guy in a movie.

Now I have much less to say about the superb Matchstick Men. because it shouldn't be spoiled even a little. It is a wonderful script wonderfully acted and wonderfully directed. I have never been that much of a Nicolas Cage fan, but he is great, as are Lohman and Rockwell. Ridley Scott is a genius. See it.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Stolen from kdeweb's blog. The analysis is here. I have, of course, added my commentary in [bold]:

The name of Edwin makes you dynamic [LOL!], restless [true], independent [usually], ready to accept challenges [Sometimes major ones], and outspoken [I wish]. You enjoy change [?], travel [very true], and new experiences [eh...]. Reacting against injustice, you go out of your way to assist in creating fairness [We do what we can]. You are very creative [si] and promotional [???], and work intensely to carry out your plans[Errrr...uh....]. Though you have limitless enthusiasm for new ventures, you lose interest quickly once things become routine, as you dislike being forced to attend to detail and do monotonous work [You know me, Bert! You know me!]. Your lack of patience and consistency in your affairs and your tendency to act impulsively can lead to actions you later regret taking [see Life, Story of My], or to accidents [I deny everything], particularly to the head [??? unless they are referring to hair loss]. You find that you often do the hard, pioneering work in an undertaking, only to see others reap the benefits [More ways than one, pal]. While this name makes you very honest and sincere in your personal relationships, your tendency to retaliate with caustic remarks over even slight offenses could spoil many friendships [Moi????? Surely you jest. Be quiet, I said].

Busy day today. The store computer has been giving me all kinds of problems lately; yesterday I only got one lousy item up on ebay, as the screen keeps freezing and forcing me to reboot. I need at least seven windows open at once (two ebay windows, the USPS to determine postage for overseas orders, an exit viewer for the digital camera, Adobe Active Share for the scanner, a Word file with all my various templates, an Excel file where I keep records--that's seven right there, not counting keeping one sanity-saving window open for Caritas and other sites I surf).

Apparently we need better video memory on this machine--though my crappy Pentium 1 home PC has no problem with any number of windows I give it, and on my (sniff) old laptop I would have twenty or more windows open at once without a problem. At any rate, we should get the card installed after the weekend. Grrr.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

For the record, I really, really miss my sister Suzanne.

I am someone who obsesses daily on September 11th, so today I am being quiet about it.

In the meantime, something stolen from ABM:


?? Which Of The Greek Gods Are You ??
brought to you by Quizilla

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

A is for Aosta. This was the Italian town I thought of today. It's a lovely place in the mountains, and French-speaking of all things, and on the way there you look up and the mountains have these delicate spidery waterfalls 700 feet above you. Sigh.

B is for Bellucci because, well, it's expected of me.

C is for Cilantro, the world's most overused spice.

D is for Delaware, where I buy things because they have no sales tax. A lesson for us all.

E is for Evanescence. One of the funniest running stories of the year is watching this band desperately running away from their original status as a "Christian" act. It's funny because every single interview they ever gave up to that point contradicts them, so now they go around saying "F*ck sh*t p*ss” every interview so people get the message.

F is for Friday, when I will probably take advantage of my unemployed bum status and see all three of the movies that I want to see that are opening Friday, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Matchstick Men, and Cabin Fever.

G is for Neil Gaiman, whom I can never resist quoting, even grotesquely out of context: "Touched by her fingers, the two surviving chocolate people copulate desperately, losing themselves in a melting frenzy of lust, spending the last of their borrowed lives in a spasm of raspberry cream and fear."

H is for Howard "there is no difference between Israel and the Palestinians" Dean. That position lasted exactly one day before Joe Lieberman shamed him into a flip-flop.

I is for Inevitable Distractions.

J is for Joseph, my smarter and handsomer brother. I miss him.

K is for Kansas City, whom I am quietly rooting for this year in the AFC because of Dick Vermeil.

L is for Lira, the now-discarded former currency of Italy. I remember one time I was at the Duesseldorf airport's train station, trying to get to the Essen Toy Fair, and I had stupidly forgotten to change money before going. I went up to the ticket booth and told the ticket agent, "Ich muss nach Essen gehen, aber...." He eyed me suspiciously as I went on: "...Ich habe kein Deutschmark." "Was Geld haben Sie?" he asked. I cleared my throat and told him: "Ich habe Lire..." (His eyes narrowed) "....und Dollars." At the mention of dollars, the guy actually smiled. I don't miss the lira.

M is for Mostar, Bosnia, where they just rebuilt the old bridge that gives the town its name. Unfortunately, if the international (still mostly American) troops leave, I wouldn't give odds on the bridge being around long....

N is for Naomi, for obvious reasons, even though I still haven't been able to bring myself to see Le Divorce.

O is for Octopus, one of which I ate tonight.

P is for Philadelphia School District, which Abe (one of our customers at the store) invites me to work for every week. "Are they really that desperate, Abe?" "Well, yes."

Q is for Quentin Tarantino. Is it too much to ask that we don't see his ugly mug in Kill Bill?

R is for Andy Reid. Being badly outcoached by Jon Gruden two games in a row is not a good thing. His job is not in jeopardy, but maybe it should be.

S is for September 11th, which is tomorrow, and I guess it's not cool to observe it anymore, because, you know, the cool people have moved on. There was actually a story in the New York Times last week to this effect. Oh well. Like my fellow uncool person Christopher Hitchens, "I think about it every day, without fail."

T is for Taiwan, which is about to rename itself, oddly enough, Taiwan, to the consternation of the mainland Chinese, who demand that Taiwan not be called Taiwan. Simple, no?

U is for UN. No matter how much you might dislike the UN, hold on. this story will make you hate it more.

V is for Violence, which occasionally solves things.

W is for Oscar Wilde, probably the single most abused author after his death.

X is for Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Google hits for "Guantanamo" and "Auschwitz" together are now up to 2250, which, God forgive me, I find hilarious.

Y is for Yeats. "While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core."

Z is for Zeno of Cittium. "The world is ordered by reason and providence, inasmuch as reason pervades every part of it, just as does the soul in us." Obviously he never visited the city of Philadelphia.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

One of the things I like about being an American is that insane proposals like this are not even publicly discussed here because politicians know that people would not stand for them. Reading this BBC story, I notice that even the objections raised to the idea of a compulsory national DNA database are muted and vague. Americans would be screaming. For me, such an atrocity would clearly be the first step on the road to the world of Harlan Ellison's "Repent, Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman" with its cardioplates and universal timecards.

Nearly all American voters, of whatever political persuasion, have an ingrained suspicion of governmental control of their lives in a way that Europeans do not. These transatlantic differences have grown more and more pronounced in recent years, and I think will continue to do so.

You could make various sociological arguments for these differences, but I never discount the strong cultural traditions created by the founding documents of American life, which specifically locate sovereignty in the people. And not the government.

de·ba·cle    ( P )  

  1. A sudden, disastrous collapse, downfall, or defeat; a rout.

  2. A total, often ludicrous failure.

  3. The breaking up of ice in a river.

  4. A violent flood.

[French débâcle, from débâcler, to unbar, from Old French desbacler : des-, de- + bacler, to bar
(from Vulgar Latin *bacculre, from Latin baculum, rod. See bak- in Indo-European Roots).]

How bad was last night's game? At the start of the fourth quarter, I switched on the Sandra Bullock movie on HBO.

That's how bad it was.

Monday, September 08, 2003

No update today, as I am expecting to be throwing things at the television tonight, one way or the other.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

A few things on my mind lately...

1. The White Wolf lawsuit against the producers of the upcoming film Underworld is interesting but seems to have only a tiny amount of merit. Granted, I have not read the full script of the film, but I thought the film's idea of vampire society--Underworld reimagines Vampires as a secretive clan of modern, aristocratic sophisticates, says one advance review--is right out of WW's World of Darkness, though probably not exactly enough to be actionable. I went back and read the Nancy Collins story "A Love of Monsters" which is the basis of the suit. The story is angsty and tragic and completely unlike the noisy urban actioner that is Underworld, and the dissimilarities will probably be enough to get the whole thing tossed out.

2. Related to the Saudi apartheid photo linked at kdeweb’s blog:

One of the best, most hopeful things to happen in the Middle East recently took place about a week ago at the funeral of the Iraqi Shiite Ayatollah who was killed in the mosque bombing.

Needless to say, it was not reported in much of the press, who spent the entire day combing the crowd to find people who would say bad things about America, in English. The media who actually spoke Arabic heard the crowd of 500,000 (!) saying something very interesting. They were chanting "La ilaha illallah--Wahhabi adwu allah"--"There is only one God--Wahhabis are God's enemies." Wahhabism is the strict form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, whom many Iraqis blame for the blast. Al Qaeda has denied responsibility for the attack, but I think they are lying.

At any rate, resistance to Saudi and Wahhabi influence is the best thing that could happen to the Middle East, and the Islamic world in general.

3. And I love that 69% of the public believes that Iraq had something to do with 9/11, even after two years of relentless media pooh-poohing. And me? At this moment I'm actually in the 31% that doesn't believe it, though I would like it to be true. I am pretty convinced that Saddam was in on the anthrax attacks, though.

4. And the briefest possible personal update: My life sucks a lot lately. Just don't ask me how my job search is going and we will be fine.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

But of course....

What revolution are You?
Made by altern_active

Friday, September 05, 2003

Dissecting the Today show interview this morning with Don Foster about the anthrax attacks of two years ago. Comments in bold are mine.

MATT LAUER, co-host:

It's been almost two years now since anthrax was sent through the mail in this country, killing five people and spreading fears of biological terrorism. Still no one has been arrested for the crime. In the October issue of Vanity Fair magazine, Don Foster, an English literature professor at Vassar College, looks at the investigation and comes up with some interesting conclusions of his own.

Don Foster, good morning. Nice to have you here.

Mr. DON FOSTER (Author of Vanity Fair Article on 2001 Anthrax Attacks): Good morning, Matt. Good to be here.

LAUER: Let's get to the basics right now. How does an English literature professor from Vassar end up working with the FBI on some fairly high-profile cases like the Unabomber, JonBenet Ramsey, the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing? How did that happen?

Pretty good question, actually. Okay, right off the bat, I would say that the, ahem, success of these investigations forms a commentary on Mr. Foster's work, does it not? The only one actually solved was the Kaczynski case, and only because his brother turned him in.

Mr. FOSTER: Well, for generations, literary scholars have had to decide who wrote what because so many literary texts were first published without author's names. And over the years, scholars have developed techniques for looking at spelling and source material and...

LAUER: Word choices, vocabulary, return addresses on envelopes, all that sort of thing?

Mr. FOSTER: Exactly, and come up with authors for a text.

Yadda yadda text, yadda yadda analysis, yadda yadda criticism. The new science of Forensic Deconstruction. Shoot me now.

LAUER: So October 2001, your phone rings, it's the FBI. They start to talk to you about being a part of the anthrax investigation. When you saw the letters that they presented you, you immediately discounted foreign terrorism, why? [my emphasis]

I would be more impressed if this were true. However, on November 18, 2001 he suggested that the writer was "a native Arabic or Persian" speaker. And then on February 6, 2002 he recognized “the Urdu language in the stilted syntax.” By August, he had completely gotten with the program and was announcing to anyone who would listen that the anthrax killer was a lone nut who was probably Stephen Hatfill.

Mr. FOSTER: Well, one wants to decide first what can be learned from the information we've got here, and this writer says, "Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great." That sounds like it might be an Islamic terrorist. The first incident was down in Palm Beach, Florida, where Bob Stevens died where many of the terrorists had been located. The next letters turned up being mailed from New Jersey where other 9/11 terrorists were located. So this looks like maybe it could be associated with terrorists...

Well, to tell the truth, the circumstantial evidence for the 9/11 terrorists being involved in at least the Florida attack is far more compelling than anything Foster presents against Hatfill. Such as...

  • Gloria Irish, whose husband worked at AMI with anthrax victim #1 Bob Stevens, was the landlady of 9/11 pilots Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, among other hijackers. Trying to think of the statistical probabilities of that happening by coincidence makes my brain hurt.

  • On June 22 or 23, 2001, 9/11 pilot Ziad Jarrah accompanied fellow Flight 93 hijacker Ahmed Al-Haznawi to the emergency room of Holy Cross Hospital at 4725 N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Al-Haznawi had to be treated for a black lesion on his leg. Dr. Christos Tsonas cleaned the wound and prescribed the antibiotic Keflex. Al-Haznawi told Tsonas a dark lesion he had on his leg had developed after bumping into a suitcase two months earlier. It later occurred to Tsonas that the lesion was consistent with cutaneous anthrax and he reported this information to the FBI in October 2001. The New York Times story that broke these details also mentioned that Holy Cross is “relatively near” the American Media building, where the first anthrax cases would be discovered.

  • One day in mid-August 2001, Atta and Al-Shehhi went to Huber Drugs in Delray Beach, FL, where owner Greg Chatterton later identified them as frequent customers. Atta sought treatment for “palms that appeared to be reddened from a chemical burn or raw from construction work.” Chatterton asked if he had been working with solvents or dipping his hands into chemicals such as ammonia or chlorine, which Atta denied. Atta was given a tube of Acid Mantle, a cream which restores acidity to skin that’s been exposed to too much base, such as ammonia. Al-Shehhi complained of chest congestion and a cough and was given Robitussin and urged to seek medical treatment at Urgi-Med, a nearby walk-in clinic. Within a day or two, Al-Shehhi returned with a prescription for an antibiotic.

LAUER: Maybe, but...

Mr. FOSTER: ...but there are some warning signs.

LAUER: Yeah, what were the warning signs?

Mr. FOSTER: Well, for example, the--the writer didn't mail these letter on 9/11, but puts "9/11" at the top. It's someone who wants the authorities to think that these letters have something to do with 9/11. The letters were very carefully sealed as if to prevent the anthrax from getting out of the envelope along the way.

LAUER: Yeah, I think outside there's Scotch tape on the back, right?

Mr. FOSTER: And then inside is a warning--yes, and inside is a warning, you know, "Get medical treatment." So this looks like someone who didn't really want to kill someone but wanted to send some kind of a message or a warning.

And this proves what? Al-Qaeda doesn’t send messages?

LAUER: All right, so when you looked at the letter that was sent to Tom Brokaw here at NBC, and we'll put a graphic up of--of what we have of that, what stood out immediately in your mind?

Mr. FOSTER: Well, the--there's--when you have just such a short letter like this, there's not going to be too many indicators of who might have written it, so you want to look at what clues you do have. And there were few in the Brokaw letter. We got a few more on the Daschle letter.

”Just don’t bring up the Florida anthrax letter again, whatever you do, Matt. Cause it doesn’t support my theory.”

LAUER: Let's take a look at what we have on the Daschle letter and what--and what stood out in your mind from this?

Mr. FOSTER: Well, for example, the envelope. It was mailed, supposedly, from students at Greendale School. That tells you a couple of things. One is that it's someone who may know that school kids in America do, in fact, send letters to their senators.

LAUER: And they're not suspicious because, oh, it's just another group of school kid letters.

Mr. FOSTER: Yes, exactly. It's not something that an al-Qaeda terrorist from Afghanistan or whatever is likely to do. And then there's the--the name itself, Greendale School. This could be someone who attended a Greendale School or who had read about one or lived near a Greendale School in the past. There's a question of where the addresses came from. Where did this offender get the addresses for Senator Leahy and Daschle?

This whole line of reasoning is simply bizarre. The 9/11 terrorists lived here for years, going to school, buying and renting cars, leasing apartments, attending flight school, etc. Give them some credit. They knew exactly what they had to do at every turn—why not here? Suddenly they don’t know how to look up an address?

LAUER: You start to gather all this information in your own investigation, and it leads you to what I guess would best be described as your own person of interest in this investigation, and that person of interest is Steven Hatfill, who's a name we've heard--his name is one we've heard with the investigation for the last year or so. Give me his 10-second resume. Who's Steve Hatfill?

Given Foster’s involvement in the Atlanta case, I am tempted to bring up the name “Richard Jewell” here.

Mr. FOSTER: Well, he's--he got his start in biological issues as a medical student in Africa, in Rhodesia, in 1970s. During that time, he professed doing combat duty with Selous Scouts who were later identified as having been responsible for the worst anthrax outbreak in--in--in human history with 11,000 cases in just two years.

There is absolutely no evidence tying Hatfill to the Zimbabwe anthrax, and an attempt to get this admitted in court would be regarded by any American judge as stand-up comedy.

LAUER: While he doesn't confess to working with anthrax directly, he's worked with anthrax stimulants?

Mr. FOSTER: Anthrax stimulants are--are bacteria that are used by military researchers that have the properties of anthrax. And Hatfill has professed a good deal of experience with those.

LAUER: And--and he's been labeled a person of interest by those investigating the anthrax attacks. You do not say he is the suspect in the case, but is it fair of me to say you connect enough dots along the way that you intentionally lead the reader in his direction?

Mr. FOSTER: Well, I don't do anthrax spores, I just follow the paper trail. And in this case, the--the paper trail made Steven Hatfill a--certainly a person of interest to me.

Plus you have to completely ignore the Florida anthrax, by the way.

LAUER: So what's the most compelling piece of evidence against him, in your opinion?

Mr. FOSTER: Well, the--I think what's been happening now is that forensic evidence and the linguistic and documentary evidence are kind of focusing on the same person. The task force guys and woman are--are very hard-working, dedicated agents, and they feel they're one spore away from an arrest. If we don't find that one spore, then we want to look closer at the documentary trial, which I think also leads to Hatfill as person of remarkable interest.

Tapdancing. All the evidence summarized here, plus $1.75, will buy you a gallon of gasoline. Either produce some real evidence or STFU. This really, really bothers me.

LAUER: Of remarkable interest. OK, you've upped the ante there. We asked his lawyers for a comment, they've declined. Are you concerned? I mean, he's already filed suit against the government. Are you concerned that you might be targeted with a lawsuit by Steven Hatfill?

Mr. FOSTER: Well, of course, everyone should be concerned. What we want to be sure of that we don't make assumptions that Steven Hatfill or any other American scientist was involved in this terrible attack, but consider the evidence fairly and objectively and not jump to conclusions.

LOL, just what has this interview been about then?

LAUER: I want to also mention in addition to looking at the letters that actually contained anthrax, you--you looked very carefully at the hoax letters as well.

The key point here is that the hoax letters, unlike the actual anthrax letters, have not been released to the public. Matt is patting Foster on the butt, reminding any doubters in the audience that Foster knows more than you, so shut up, dammit.

Mr. FOSTER: Yes. When--when you get something like this, you want to find out where else have we had someone threatening to do something like this. And as it turns out, even through we're in the 21st century, the FBI does not yet have an archive of threat letters. And...

Hmmm….Sounds a little like CYA here, but that might be me.

LAUER: So, in other words, they--they have all the real anthrax letters in one pile, and they--and they put the others in kind of a--an area where they don't pay much attention to them?

Matt struggles with the concept.

Mr. FOSTER: Well, they're--we get so many of these, and they're scattered about the country. The FBI is now taking steps to create a national archive of threat letters so that when you get an incident that's threatening a--a leader, threatening an anthrax attack, whatever, you can look and find other documents that would be similar. What I had to do was to actually go to news archives and find evidence of similar incidents in the past.

Yes, I would say there’s CYA going on here. “I didn’t have all the evidence, so there and junk.”

LAUER: And did you trace any of those hoax letters and connect them possibly to Steven Hatfill as well?

Mr. FOSTER: Well, what needs to be done still is to gather all of these documents. There are--there are many that are related to abortion clinic attacks, there are others that are just pranks by teen-agers, but there are some incidence of a particular interest which choose particular targets, including NBC, that use similar language to the anthrax letters.

LAUER: And just in 10 seconds left, would you be surprised if in the next year or so Steven Hatfill's arrested by the FBI?

Mr. FOSTER: Well, I--I--I think the FBI will get its man, whoever that might be. The FBI does a very good job, and they do want to solve this case.

Translation: “Th-th-the lawyers told me that if I answer any question like this in the positive, I would definitely have my ass sued. Would you like to see me reenact the Bill Bojangles Robinson scene from The Good Ship Lollypop?”

LAUER: Well put. All right, Don Foster, thanks very much. I appreciate it.

Mr. FOSTER: You're welcome.

One final comment. The conduct of the media, and much more importantly the visible conduct of the FBI in this case, has been disgraceful. My opinion.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

List time. I wanted to note my seven favorite "parable" stories. Parables--modern parables, to distinguish them from Biblical ones--are stories that feature one central image that obviously represents a larger condition, but one which is not directly identifiable. Stories of this type where the metaphor is obvious are better classed as allegories. But parables are more ambiguous, more mysterious, and I love them in spite of their lack of drama or character interaction, since that is not what these stories are about. To get the idea of what I mean, I would recommend the collection Imperial Messages: One Hundred Modern Parables, edited by Howard Schwartz

7. Jorge Luis Borges, "The Library of Babel." (1941) An indefinitely large collection of books of uniform format. Finding the one book that would explain all of the rest would make one an omnipotent god. On the other hand, for every one copy of the god book, there would be millions of near-perfect facsimiles, with only one or two words changed, but the whole meaning of the work reversed.

6. Eugene Ionesco, “The Rhinoceros.” (1959) Berenger - an average citizen in a nameless French city - is not interested in the fact that rhinoceroses are on the loose. But everyone is slowly turning into rhinoceroses….

5. Franz Kafka, "The Hunger Artist." (1911) People come from miles around to watch the Hunger Artist starve himself to death. But why does he fast? "Because I couldn't find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else."

4. J.G. Ballard, "The Drowned Giant." (1965) The corpse of a giant humanoid washes up on a beach in England, and everyone reacts to it. An unforgettable, haunting story that I read in the first Nebula Award Stories volume in 1966.

3. Donald Barthelme, "The Balloon." (1966) An enormous balloon suddenly appears above New York City, and everyone defines themselves in relation to it.

2. Jorge Luis Borges, "The Lottery in Babylon." (1941) A city in which everything is decided by lotteries. And then they decide to spice things up by adding punishments as well as rewards. Just a blindingly brilliant story. "Like all men in Babylon, I have been a proconsul; like all, a slave. I have also known omnipotence, opprobrium, imprisonment..." An indescribably delightful story.

1. Franz Kafka, "The Metamorphosis." (1913) A young man suddenly wakes up transformed into a large beetle. One of my favorite stories ever.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

I was about to post something else here, but I just read Eurydice's post on the Cross and Stake informing that ex cathedra has passed away. I wasn't close to her, but she was one of my favorite people on the BC&S, and she was always very kind to me. I will remember her with affection, and keep her and her family in my prayers. I was so sad to hear this.

Monday, September 01, 2003

I love to read about how cultures intermix and influence each other, because that phenomenon goes to the heart of what it is to be human: To observe, to admire, to adapt, to assimilate; The sort of Hegelian ability to learn from others (antithesis) and meld those influences with your own norms (thesis) into a new and broader outlook (synthesis).

It is not a contradiction at all for a self-identified conservative to say this. On the contrary, I have always believed that the most important free market is that of ideas, and that the freest cultures are the strongest. Cultural norms enforced by government force tend to breed corruption, and, even worse, totalitarian excess. It is simply impossible to keep cultures pristine. To be human is to be influenced.

I thought about that while reading one of the most interesting articles I've seen in a long time, which advances the theory that traditional black gospel music was strongly influenced by Scottish church music. The novel idea itself is fascinating enough, but the really interesting thing to me is the angry reactions from the supporters of the status quo. They sound as absurd as--to use the most extreme example I can think of--members of official German cultural organizations in the 1930s, insisting that no Jews had ever contributed anything of value to German cultural life.

Besides being foolish and dehumanizing, the insistence that cultures are totally autonomous and owe nothing to other cultures is very difficult to sustain. The great majority of humanity exists in a (if sometimes remotely) shared experience. We find 3000-year-old Celts in Switzerland with Chinese coins in their pockets. People talk, people influence each other. It's what we do.

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