Monday, April 24, 2006


There's a gripping story in the Guardian about a former jihadist of Yemeni/British nationality who tells the story of his long career as a fighter in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Somalia, and Iraq. There are several interesting things in the piece (which is of course written with deep sympathy toward him, as befits the Guardian), but the following passage jumped out at me. It describes his arrest in Britain after he returned from fighting as an insurgent in Iraq:

Let me translate from the Guardianese: After the British let him out, he returned to Iraq and helped kill 10 Americans.

This is exactly why we need Guantanamo. People like Khalid are enemy combatants. Period. They need to be confined for the duration.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Some comments on the latest Osama tape, in italics:

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Latest ATO column:

Counter-Intuitive: Urban Mythology in Game Design

I remember over a decade ago when Command Magazine did an Iraq-war game where the Americans were so superior on paper to the Iraqis that, to make it interesting, the designer included “bonus” counters for the Iraqis including a WW2 German Panzer division, a mad-scientist death ray, and Godzilla. Most gamers of my acquaintance got a kick out of the brief departure from reality, while a few purists were not amused, but were, to say the least, quite happy that it didn’t start a trend.

What interests me more is not so much when simulation departs from reality, but rather when belief departs from reality.

I’ve always been fascinated by war rumors because they reveal a lot about wartime psychology and perceptions. Typically, the most outlandish and absurd rumors take place among populations sensing imminent defeat. The best example I can think of is the quasi-religious belief in secret super-weapons among loyal Nazis at the end of World War Two, weapons that would magically turn the tide of the war. (This was in contrast to Allied rumors about harmless “foo fighters” that flitted around the sky and didn’t really do anything). Among less technologically advanced societies, the phenomenon isn’t quasi-religious, it’s wholly religious. Shortly before American forces retook Fallujah in 2004, supporters of the insurgency circulated many stories of divine intervention that had protected the city up to that point. Most notorious were the “Fallujah spiders,” as reported by an Iraqi sheikh in an interview with Syrian television:

The first miracle that occurred in Falluja took the form of spiders that appeared in the city, each spider larger than this chair, or about the size of this chair. This spider also had thin black hair. If this hair touches the human body, within a short period of time the body becomes black or blue, and then there is an explosion in the blood cells in the human body - and the person dies.

The spiders, the sheikh assured us, could run 40 km/hr. Other stories reported “phantom white-robed knights on white horses sent by Allah” that killed U.S. Marines in battle. So many Marines died that huge transport planes scooped up the bodies and dumped the bodies in mass graves in the deep desert.

It makes sense that people facing overwhelming odds look forward to the fantastic, because reason and logic are not on their side. (I would also note in passing that these ludicrous stories from Iraq are generally ignored by most Western media, which on the other hand are eager to report American atrocity stories from the exact same sources.) This is one of a piece with the stories of pretechnological warriors becoming convinced that a certain magical shirt/charm/potion/incantation (the Maji-Maji of Tanganyika drank “magic water” with millet seeds and castor oil) made them impervious to the white man’s bullets—always with unsurprising results. A Maji-Maji game, featuring an Imperial German regiment against guys drinking magic water, would not be especially interesting.

I thought of all this during recent Iranian announcements of their amazing new weapons, just as international pressure mounted against the Iranian government.

"Today we have successfully tested a new-generation missile capable of hitting different targets at the same time," the commander of the Revolutionary Guards air force, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, told state television. The locally developed missile, tested on the first day of week-long military exercises in the Gulf, can also "hide from radars and evade anti-missile missiles," he said, without disclosing the range. "The missile’s design and production was done by the scientists in the Iranian defense ministry. It has unique capabilities which are unmatched in the world’s advanced armies, since it was built based on our defense needs," Salami said. "It uses multiple warhead technology, which (means) after the detachment of its warhead it becomes divergent, enabling it to hit different targets at the same time accurately, therefore fooling the enemy’s anti-missile systems."

The biggest red flag here is not of the missile’s capabilities, which are unlike those of any other current-production missile in the world—a stealth MIRV basically—but the claim that it is “locally developed.” International defense experts believe that the missile is almost certainly the Russian Iskander-E, which has absolutely no MIRV capability. The contention that the Iranian defense industry came up with this magical missile on its own puts it in the realm of the urban legend/Fallujah spider/Godzilla category. Fantasies have a logic of their own, and the likely truth—“We paid the Russians zillions of petrodollars and they sold us their best missile just to cheese off the Americans”—doesn’t sound as noble as the religious fantasy requires.

Similarly, the Iranians insist that their new 200 mph “Hoot” torpedo is indigenous, though it seems to have the exact design specifications of the Russian supercavitating “Shkval” torpedo, except for the Iranian claim that the Hoot “evades sonar technology under the water,” a feat impossible for the noisy Shkval. This, again, puts it in the Fallujah spider class of weapons.

All of which, I think, would make modern-game design more problematic these days. I would think that a game designer risks falling into Godzilla-land if he takes the wrong information seriously. On the other hand, the Russo-Iranian weapons are very real, and have to be taken seriously.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

I don't normally write about the lurid murders that take up so much of cable news television (what Laura Ingraham calls "tragedy TV)" but I was curious about the story of Kevin Ray Underwood because he kept a blog for nearly four years, fairly faithfully: his most recent post was one day after he murdered the litle girl. More than insights into the mind of a killer, I wanted to see what sort of values and beliefs shaped his viewpoint.

Reading his blog, you get the idea of the wonderful person he is.

That's from the very first entry. His favorite movie is the nihilistic Fight Club.

He hates Christianity.

Oklahoma is part of the bible belt, with a heavy religious influence. There's probably 15 churches in this town. I can look out my window and see three. How ****ing pathetic is that?

He's offended by derogatory references to Islam, though.

The Reverend Jerry Falwell has made another one of his incredibly insensitive and hateful "christian" remarks.

"I think Mohammed was a terrorist." He says, speaking of the Prophet Mohammed, Islam's founder and sacred figure.

I hate this guy. (November 2002)

He approvingly links a Fareed Zakaria column titled "Time to Take on America's Haters," which attacked American "fundamentalists" and placed them on an equal moral plane with the Islamists. Without thinking I almost used the phrase "Islamist headchoppers," but that would be a very unfortunate reference in this case.

He hates George Bush.

Yay! Let's elect Bush for another term! He hasn't completely destroyed the country yet. (May 6, 2004)

I finally got to see Fahrenheit 9/11 today. It was an hour drive to get to the theater where it was showing, but I went anyway. And I'm glad I did. It was a great movie. Really great. If it wasn't so far away, I'd go see it again. I'm no good at writing movie reviews, and even if I was, I wouldn't know where to start with a movie like this. I'll agree with what I've read in other reviews, one minute you'll be crying, the next you'll be laughing. It was a very funny movie, but half the funniness is a bad funniness, you're laughing because you can't believe Bush just said something that horrible and incriminating. (June 30, 2004)

And Republicans in general. (Kevin was an avid Indymedia reader).

I did not like Reagan, he scared the s*** out of me. Nuclear war, complete disregard for the environment and chloroflorocarbons, his greasy hair, his politics, star wars, and his view of women as third class citizens. I can't believe there won't be any mail service today. What the f***? Reagan was no Kennedy. Or Clinton, for that matter. Whoo, Clinton! Shout out, brotha. We miss you. (June 30, 2004)

He had full self-awareness, though. He knew who he was. No insanity defense for this guy.

The first blog makes me want to kill people. Speaking of killing people, I went back on my Lexapro today. Not because the doctor told me too or anything, but when he took me off of it, I still had five refills left, so I got one today. I've been off of it since May, and I was doing pretty good, until about the last month or so. I'm still not having much of a social phobia problem, but I'm getting depressed again. Yesterday I was really depressed the entire day. I was so depressed yesterday, it was one off those times where I'm so depressed that my chest hurts. I wonder if that happens to anybody else? When I get really depressed that happens to me. Like usual, the main thing I've been getting depressed about lately is my lack of a sex life.

I mean it, I really need a girlfriend. It's not just depressing anymore, it's actually starting to have a negative effect on my mental state I think. For example, my fantasies are just getting weirder and weirder. Dangerously weird. If people knew the kinds of things I think about anymore, I'd probably be locked away. No probably about it, I know I would be.

He was an angry little s***.

"Mommy, mommy! What are those doggies doing?"
"Ummm, they're playing leapfrog, Timmy."


...By the way, Timmy's mom is a lying bitch. (September 2002)

Speaking of people who need to die, tonight was a very annoying night at work. (September 2002)

But when he talks about his own self-image, here's where he is most transparent. Where he talks about being crushed by an internet girlfriend's rejection, on October 9, 2005:

Like I said, I'm too nice. I should be mad at her. I should be like "Bitch, you better pay me back!" Instead, I feel bad about her paying me back. I'm pathetic. I let people walk all over me in social situations. I inconvenience myself just so other people can get what they want....

Even if I didn't discover that he was a child murderer later on, it's very clear that this is not a nice guy. He's burning with anger under the surface. What stops him from violently attacking people who piss him off is personal cowardice--the fear of social and legal consequences. Not any nobility, not any Christian sense of turning the other cheek.

I'm not mad at Melissa though. Dissappointed, but not mad. I could never be mad at her.

He's furious. He's as angry as Ted Bundy was at the brunette with long straight hair, whoever she was, who rejected him. But Kevin, because he's a "nice guy," he won't lay a hand on Melissa.

But I'd bet anything that poor Jamie Rose--the little girl he killed--had some physical characteristic that reminded this loser of Melissa.

EDITED TO ADD: Nita Nupress pointed me toward the Shadow Wraiths blog, which goes into detail on the "Aphrodite" theory of serial murder and points out the remarkable physical resemblance between the murdered girl and another of Underwood's unrequited crushes.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Interesting little item at Michelle Malkin about a Dateline NBC attempt to recruit Muslims to bait NASCAR crowds.

I have been talking with a producer of the NBC Dateline show and he is in the process of filming a piece on anti-Muslim and anti-Arab discrimination in the USA. They are looking for some Muslim male candidates for their show who would be willing to go to non-Muslim gatherings and see if they attract any
discriminatory comments or actions while being filmed.

They recently taped two turbaned Sikh men attending a football game in Arizona to see how people would treat them. They set them up with hidden microphones and cameras, etc.

They want to do the same thing 2 or 3 other times (in various parts of the USA) with one or two Muslim men in each setting. They are looking for men who actually "look Muslim". They want a guy with no foreign accent whatsoever, a good thick beard, an outgoing personality, and someone willing to wear a kufi/skullcap during the filming.

They also want someone who is fairly well accomplished and has contributed to American society at large in some meaningful way.

That said, I'm urgently looking for someone who can be filmed this April 1st weekend at a Nascar event (and other smaller events) in Virginia. NBC is willing to fly in someone and cover their weekend expenses. The filming would take place all day on Saturday and Sunday.

I'd like to believe that Edward R. Murrow had enough integrity to be turning in his grave at this moment. This sort of thing represents the total Michael Moore-ization, or Morgan Spurlock-ization of the network news. This isn't news--because for political activists the news is never enough--these are political stunts, provocations designed to create a sort of guerilla theater.

Monday, April 03, 2006


What comes to my mind when I look at the Eric Pianka kerfuffle, and his avowed hope to exterminate 90% of humanity by airborne Ebola virus:

Professor Pianka began his speech by explaining that the general public is not yet ready to hear what he was about to tell us....One of Pianka's earliest points was a condemnation of anthropocentrism, or the idea that humankind occupies a privileged position in the Universe. He told a story about how a neighbor asked him what good the lizards are that he studies. He answered, “What good are you?”

Pianka hammered his point home by exclaiming, “We're no better than bacteria!”

Pianka then began laying out his concerns about how human overpopulation is ruining the Earth. He presented a doomsday scenario in which he claimed that the sharp increase in human population since the beginning of the industrial age is devastating the planet. He warned that quick steps must be taken to restore the planet before it's too late.

Professor Pianka said the Earth as we know it will not survive without drastic measures. Then, and without presenting any data to justify this number, he asserted that the only feasible solution to saving the Earth is to reduce the population to 10 percent of the present number.

He then showed solutions for reducing the world's population in the form of a slide depicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. War and famine would not do, he explained. Instead, disease offered the most efficient and fastest way to kill the billions that must soon die if the population crisis is to be solved.

Pianka then displayed a slide showing rows of human skulls, one of which had red lights flashing from its eye sockets.

AIDS is not an efficient killer, he explained, because it is too slow. His favorite candidate for eliminating 90 percent of the world's population is airborne Ebola ( Ebola Reston ), because it is both highly lethal and it kills in days, instead of years. However, Professor Pianka did not mention that Ebola victims die a slow and torturous death as the virus initiates a cascade of biological calamities inside the victim that eventually liquefy the internal organs.

After praising the Ebola virus for its efficiency at killing, Pianka paused, leaned over the lectern, looked at us and carefully said, “We've got airborne 90 percent mortality in humans. Killing humans. Think about that.”

With his slide of human skulls towering on the screen behind him, Professor Pianka was deadly serious. The audience that had been applauding some of his statements now sat silent.

After a dramatic pause, Pianka returned to politics and environmentalism. But he revisited his call for mass death when he reflected on the oil situation.

“And the fossil fuels are running out,” he said, “so I think we may have to cut back to two billion, which would be about one-third as many people.” So the oil crisis alone may require eliminating two-third's of the world's population.

How soon must the mass dying begin if Earth is to be saved? Apparently fairly soon, for Pianka suggested he might be around when the killer disease goes to work. He was born in 1939, and his lengthy obituary appears on his web site.

When Pianka finished his remarks, the audience applauded. It wasn't merely a smattering of polite clapping that audiences diplomatically reserve for poor or boring speakers. It was a loud, vigorous and enthusiastic applause.

I keep going back to Hollywood and its current stock villains of today: Corporate fat cats, the Russian mafia, the Christian right, Serbians, etc., etc. It is beyond belief that they couldn't find any inspiration in someone who sounds exactly like a James Bond villain. But, because he's an (heavy sigh) environmentalist, he can't possibly be considered villainous. And--outside of books like Michael Crichton's State of Fear, they never will be.

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