Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Kind of disjointed at the moment, but I will recount some stories from my trip last week....

There is a particular radio dead spot throughout much of West-Central Pennsylvania (roughly between the four tunnels that traverse the mountains) that always make me eager to hear anything afterwards, even that most terrifying of all media, Canadian radio. I don't think there is any experience on Earth quite as odd as listening to people on CKLW talk about water treatment in the Windsor area seemingly for hours on end. Now I understand that, among other things, this is simply the culture shock that we Americans have when we encounter the auditory fugue state that is government-owned radio, but damn.

My favorite acquisition story took place in Rockford, Illinois, at a well known store filled with tens of thousands of books, LP records, and comics, where the woman who owned the place sat at her desk in front of a large bookcase filled with, seemingly, every price guide for anything ever published, anywhere. I absently picked up a Dave Stevens Rocketeer hardcover and she immediately told me what it would have been worth had it been unsigned, which it definitely wasn't, and therefore would cost proportionately more, don't you see? And I am wondering why I bothered with this one when I saw that they had a small used game section, and inwardly smiled at the thought that there is no price guide for used games. There was Avalon Hill's Dune boardgame, and vintage Games Workshop stuff, and so on...

Sunday, April 25, 2004


I was on the road for a week on a buying trip in the Midwest and New England. It was pretty grueling but rewarding, but I'm back now. I'll write more tonight.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

So Friday I went to the world premiere of Lightning Bug, the first film by longtime Buffy and Angel special-effects makeup guy Robert Hall. I went with board friends Teri77, Peter Wiggin, and XO, and we ate at the White Dog before the show (which took place as part of the Philadelphia Film Festival).

I couldn't help liking the film a lot. It was largely predictable, but most coming-of-age films are, so it was forgivable predictability. If it was "about" anything, it was about the saving power of horror movies, which I can get on board with very easily. Beyond that, I thought it was sweet and affectionate with a couple of big laughs, and Hall and nearly the whole cast got up and answered questions afterwards. A nice, good night.

Saturday night I went to one of those cooking nights that certain friends of mine have from time to time, where all of us make one dish. I made Dirty Rice, reflecting my love of Cajun food and my love of bizarre culinary improvisation (I used ground-up Herr's homestyle cooked-in-lard potato chips as an ingredient). It was the first time I'd cooked anything in a good year, so I was happy, and everyone lived, so that made it even better.

Sunday I went to my sister's house for her usual lovely Easter dinner, and I realized it had been way too long. And my nephew Peter brought a new boxer puppy that I am still trying to wash off the slobber on my face from.

And that was that.


Monday, April 12, 2004

Apologies to everyone I've been neglecting while living even more like a caveman than usual while trying to finish my latest column, which is below. Tomorrow I will write all about what I did over the holiday weekend.


In reading accounts of the 1943 North African campaign (Rick Atkinson’s An Army at Dawn is the latest) I am always struck by how passive the local population was toward the large numbers of infidels passing through their lands. Granted, these were large numbers of heavily armed infidels, but the modern reader can’t help but contrast the Arabs of 1943 with today’s radicalized, perpetually aggrieved Muslim populations. Sixty years ago, the Muslim Arabs of North Africa seemed to have no political concerns at all; for them, the appearance of thousands of foreigners shooting up their countries was simply a phenomenon, a manifestation of the will of God like earthquakes or bad weather.

Sixty years later, the Islamic world is a completely different place, full of anger against the West. How it became that way--I think decades of Cold War anti-Americanism have at least as much to do with it as the existence of the state of Israel or the rise of Islamic fundamentalism--is not what I want to talk about here. I only mention it as a preface to some thoughts I had about solutions to asymmetric warfare.

“Asymmetric warfare” is a recent neologism from 1995. “It occurs,” goes the standard definition, “when a weaker combatant uses nontraditional weapons and strategy in order to obtain a fighting advantage over a stronger opponent.” Asymmetric warfare is horribly difficult to fight against, particularly in its Islamic extremist version, with its continual threat of suicide attacks.

Suicide attacks have always fascinated and terrified a certain part of the Western mindset. I’m reminded of the scene in The Godfather Part 2 where a Cuban revolutionary jumps into a car containing an official of the Batista regime and detonates a bomb, killing them both. Afterwards, the audience is expected to nod sagely when Michael Corleone solemnly observes that people who are willing to kill themselves for a cause cannot be beaten. But, we ask today, is this really true? The question seems more and more important every day.

Based on recent experience, there seem to be two general ways to fight asymmetrical warfare. Since September 11th, we’ve seen the Western powers, more or less in cooperation, fighting Islamic extremism in one particular way. It involves trying to anticipate and foil operations as they occur; selective assassinations; targeting the largest and most obvious terrorist targets for conventional military action; or, most ambitiously, attempting to change the political culture of the entire Middle East in Afghanistan and Iraq. All of it is difficult and controversial and enormously expensive.

And then there is the other proposed way to fight asymmetric warfare, namely, the purposeful destruction of the populations in which irregular fighters conceal themselves: For lack of a better term, genocide.

Since the recent massacres in Fallujah in Iraq and the subsequent heavy fighting there, we have heard things like the following, from anonymous Internet posts and on-the-record declarations from radio talk-show hosts:

Ignore collateral damage, flatten some cities and towns and PROVE we are the power in Iraq and that NOT taking our side is dangerous.

WHY are we taking prisoners? We should be killing them all!

Why we didn’t just destroy Fallujah, a Sunni stronghold, killing everything and everyone, and let God sort them out?

I don't wanna say we should kill 'em all [Muslims], but unless there's reform [within Islam], there aren't a lot of other solutions that work in the ground struggle for survival.

While I think that a lot of it is simply people blowing off steam during a difficult military situation, I can’t help but notice more and more of this. Certainly the jihadist monsters who are fighting us deserve to be annihilated in the most brutal manner, but calling for genocide is something very different. It’s a journey into a dimension populated largely by, among notable others, our current opponents.

Make no mistake, the West now faces an opponent whose intent is the literal destruction of its enemies; not just cultural artifacts like the dynamited Buddha statues in Afghanistan, but entire peoples are to be destroyed. From an article by ideologist Saif al-Din al-Ansari in the official Al-Qaeda periodical:

Just as the law of extermination was applied to the infidel forces among the nations in previous days and no one could escape it, so it will be applied to the infidel forces in our day and no one will escape it. Namely, similar to the fate of the Thamoud and 'Ad peoples [two pagan Arab peoples which, according to Islamic tradition, were exterminated due to their rejection of the words of the Prophet], so the American state, the Jewish state, and all other infidel countries will certainly be destroyed. Allah is capable of exterminating his enemies with no need for intermediaries or the help of anyone. His might is infinite...therefore, when He [Allah] designates the task of extermination of infidels to his believers, He does so as a hidden expression of His power...the infidels’ extermination is part of Islamic law, which is operative until the Day of Judgment. Its principal element will be fulfilled only at the hands of the believers, meaning through jihad, which is also to be operative until the Day of Judgment. [Al-Ansar, vol. 16, Aug. 24, 2002]

Other Al-Qaeda ideologists imply that their movement cannot be stopped except by the large-scale depopulation of the Muslim world; since the West cannot stomach such a thing, the victory of their movement is inevitable.

Reading this sort of stuff from jihadists is much easier than reading it from Americans, because we expect it from jihadists. Suicide attacks tend to correlate with mass-murdering regimes, so it makes logical sense. Intentionally wiping out women and children is something we expect from them, not from ourselves.

All of this is important not because of international law, but precisely because international law is a bit of a joke. The appalling indifference to the Rwanda genocide in 1994, and the spectacularly bungled Milosevic prosecution in the Hague gives us scant hope that the “international community” can do anything about genocide.

One of the consequences of this is that genocide is now, in nearly all wars, the default consequence of total victory. If war is a continuation of politics by other means, then genocide has become a continuation of war by other means. Genocide is now simply an extreme political calculation.

I would point out that 60 years ago, when the Muslims of North Africa seemed to have no greater interest in the Americans and Germans in their midst beyond looting their dead bodies, the publishing houses of America featured titles like Germany Must Perish and Germany Will Try It Again. Syndicated columnists wondered why only twelve death sentences were handed out at Nuremberg and not twelve million. More than a few Americans wanted to see the depopulation of the irredeemably dangerous nations of Germany and Japan.

The point I am making is that a lot can change in a few years. We shouldn’t have to become monsters to defeat monsters.

Friday, April 09, 2004

This email from Iraq has been posted on Free Republic and other places:

The message from LT. CO. Paul Kennedy:

Dear Ladies, the last two days have been the hardest two days this battalion has faced in over 30 years. Within the blink of an eye the situation went form relatively calm to a raging storm. You've known that since arriving there has been violence; attacks have been sporadic and mostly limited to roadside bombs. Your husbands have become experts at recognizing those threats and neutralizing them before we are injured. Up to this point the war has been the purview of corporals and sergeants, and the squad they lead.

Yesterday the enemy upped the ante.

Early in the morning we exchanged gunfire with a group of insurgents without significant loss. As morning progressed, the enemy fed more men into the fight and we responded with stronger force. Unfortunately, this led to injuries as our Marines and sailors started clearing the city block by block. The enemy did not run; they fought us like soldiers. And we destroyed the enemy like only Marines can. By the end of the evening the local hospital was so full of their dead and wounded that they ran out of space to put them. Your husbands were awesome all night they stayed at the job of securing the streets and nobody challenged them as the hours wore on. They did not surrender an inch nor did flinch from the next potential threat. Previous to yesterday the terrorist thought that we were soft enough to challenge. As of tonight the message is loud and clear that the Marines will not be beaten.

Today the enemy started all over again, although with far fewer numbers, only now the rest of the battalion joined the fight. Without elaborating to much, weapons company and Golf crushed their attackers with the vengeance of the righteous. They filled up the hospitals again and we suffered only a few injuries. Echo company dominated the previous day's battlefield. Fox company patrolled with confidence and authority; nobody challenged them. Even Headquarters Company manned their stations and counted far fewer people openly watching us with disdain. If the enemy is foolish enough to try to take your men again they will not survive contact. We are here to win.

The news looks grim from back in the States. We did take losses that, in our hearts, we will always live with. The men we lost were taken within the very opening minutes of the violence. They could not have foreseen the treachery of the enemy and they did not suffer. We can never replace these Marines and Sailors but they will fight on with us in spirit. We are not feeling sorry for ourselves nor do we fear what tomorrow will bring. The battalion has lived up to its reputation as Magnificent Bastards.

Yesterday made everyone here stronger and wiser; it will be a cold day in Hell before we are taken for granted again.

Paul Kennedy and Jim Booker

God Bless America.

Marines pray over the body of a fallen comrade

Wednesday, April 07, 2004


Dear gamehobbycenter,

Yeah, I'd like to ask you a question: why didn't you do a search BEFORE you put up your auction to see if any other copies were being auctioned? You're going to screw both of us by watering down the bid pool. There hadn't been an Age Of Steam auction in months. But you couldn't wait a week? Bad business sense. Go back to school and learn something about the marketplace and economics.

To view the item, go to: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/ebayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=3185557517

Thank you,

Dear a2-gamer,

We put this item up as soon as we heard about Warfrog doing a second edition, simply to get rid of it. We are a store, so we have already made money on this item by selling it at $36.

In other words, pound sand.

Very graciously yours,
Abington Game and Hobby Center

Sunday, April 04, 2004

I am very, very tired after an exhausting weekend. Friday I was at an auction until nearly midnight, and then Saturday I helped some friends in New Jersey move and didn't get home until 1:30; I got up the next morning (losing an hour of sleep to Daylight Savings Time) for a 9 AM auction. But it was worth it, or something. My mind is not functioning all that well, so all I am capable of right now is to note my favorite item acquired over the weekend: An autographed photo from 1984 of Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro together, bought for $2.50. These sell for about $15 on ebay, but I may not sell it, as it is just amusing for some reason.

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