Archive for January 3rd, 2004

More Flights Canceled


WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 British Airways canceled another flight to the United
States on Friday as the Bush administration faced questions from American
allies about the reliability of the intelligence information that has
led to the recent rash of flight cancellations.

The British airline grounded a flight from London to Washington – the
third cancellation over all in 24 hours – and canceled a flight scheduled
for Saturday from London to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Seven international flights have now been canceled since last Saturday
after the Bush administration began an aggressive approach to defending
American airspace when the nation was put on orange or "high" alert
on Dec. 21. Administration officials said no arrests had been made in
connection with any of the more than a dozen international flights subjected
to rigorous scrutiny. And officials have acknowledged that even now,
they are uncertain whether they have succeeded in foiling a terrorist

"I don’t think we know yet, and we may never know," a senior
administration official said.

from the New York Times

An Example of Asymetrical Warfare


Or Why We Can’t Win the War If We Let the Other
Guys Make the Rules

Somewhere in a cave in Afghanistan or a high rise in Riyadh
or a houseboat bobbing lazily on a canal in Amsterdam, Faruk and Faisal
are plotting against America.  They are sitting at a computer, because
these days whether one is in a cave or a penthouse or a boat, the internet
is just an antenna away. They are also smoking that good gray hashish, because
their religion forbids alcohol and Afghanistan’s finest export is still
bubbling through the distribution network, in fact funding ongoing operations.

"We’ve got to do something really dastardly to the infidel invaders
this time," muses Faruk as he takes a deep draw on the Hookah. "Something
that will cost them dearly, and expose them as the quivering cowards
they really are."

"I have thought of just the thing," slyly intones Faisal. "It came to
me in a dream last night. All the information we need is right here on
this web site!"

"Let me see," crowed Faruk, craning his recently shaven neck at the
computer screen, expecting to see some National Security site that Faisal,
who was something of a geek, had hacked into. "Wait a second.  That’s
just the Orbitz travel site! Planning on taking a trip?"

"You must think me an idiot! Flying’s too dangerous these days. No,
look here.  These are all of the flight numbers of the flights
from London and Paris to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. So I copy and
paste them into a list.  Then I make up a simple code. 223 kumquats.
2445 kilos of dates. 661 camel blankets. Now I wrap it up in a semi-sensical
email and all we have to do is make sure it gets to the right recipients."

"And how do you intend to do that?"

"Easy! The infidels are tapping so many phones and emails they barely
have time to do anything else.  Why do you think they are finally
trying to do something about Spam? We just create a one-time email account
on a Tanzanian server and send this message to a few people we suspect
are being watched.  Like Amira, whose husband blew himself up in
Baghdad last month, or the Hamarubi Brothers who run that Hawala in Hawaii,
or Sheik Zabouti, who we KNOW is talking to the Chemical Brothers. Then
we just sit back and watch the fun!"

Total cost of this terrorist operation – $2.95 in connection time.

Meanwhile, in a windowless room in a basement in Virginia, or a wardroom
in an antenna bedecked destroyer, or a top secret room in an anonymous
front company in an out-of-the-way strip mall, a clean cut analyst with
an Ivy League degree and a million dollars of electronic circuitry beneath
his fingertips shouts out. "Bingo! Chief, I think I found something!"

"What’s up, Webster?" The crew-cut chief dork ambles over for a look.

"This email, Chief, forwarded to us by the Chemical Brothers in Islamabad,
is supposed to be about an order for an upcoming wedding, but it doesn’t
hold water. There’s no way a wedding party could eat TWO AND A HALF TONS
OF DATES without some serious diarrheic consequences!. So I ran the numbers
through our top secret "Cross-Check" program, and guess what! They all
correspond to flight numbers of flights from Europe to Los Angeles on
Christmas Eve!"

"Great Cesar’s Ghost! This is what we’ve been looking for! Quick, get
Director Ridge on the phone.  Tell him we are declaring a Code X-Ray!
Get me the CEO’s of the airlines involved. Cancel those flights! Get
armed guards on all of the OTHER flights from those cities! Raise the
threat level! Scramble the jets! Ready the No Fly Zones! This is
the break we’ve been waiting for. Those bastards won’t catch us off guard


"You’ll be getting a promotion for this one, Webster!  Good

Total cost for our response: $287 million plus indirect costs of lost
revenue and public paranoia.

Conclusion: Relying on technology is fine, especially when you have the best in the
world. However, when it results in such ridiculously disproportionate
expenditures, it gives your enemies an opening in your lines of defense
big enough to drive a cement mixer filled with C-4 through. Lets rethink
this one.

World Series of Airports; O’Hare vs. Hartsfield


ATLANTA – A rivalry over which airport is the world’s busiest has
pitted Chicago against Atlanta, with each city saying its hub holds the

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport had the most takeoffs
and landings in 2003 – 928,735 according to the National Air Traffic
Controllers Association,
or 931,000 according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

But Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is projected to have
the most passengers. It had 58,875,694 passengers through September.

FAA spokesman William Shumann said takeoffs and landings and passengers
are both valid measures for determining which airport is the world’s busiest.
That makes the title elusive, he said.

"We don’t have a World Series of airports," Hartsfield-Jackson
spokesman Robert Kennedy said Friday.

from AP

Clinton and Carter to Be Kerry’s Mideast Peace Envoys


The Dowbrigade harangues Sen. John Kerry today in NH (Gabriel Feldman photo)

Despite the heightened Orange Alert, Logan Airport was surprisingly
quiet at 9:00 am this morning, bereft of obvious security measures,
as the Dowbrigade waited to pick up his younger son, arriving on
Delta from Atlanta.

Since his flight had left at 6:30 and
his mother lives some distance from the airport, he had embarked in
a taxi at 3:30 and hadn’t slept
the night before.  As
such he was even less loquacious than usual when he ambled up, greeting
us with a "hi" and answering questions with "yeah" or "nope" whenever
possible. Gabe spends syllables as though they were his last silver dollars.

As soon as he threw his bag in back and we pulled away from the curb,
we exposed our plan. "Hey, Gabe, how would you like to take a little
detour on the way back to the house? We could go check out a couple
of the
presidential candidates."


Now, Gabe is not inclined to do things unless he feels like it, in
which case he is capable of doing just about anything, as his recent
enlistment in the USMC unbeknownst to family and friends is mute testimony.
So, "Okay" meant he really wanted to go, although he had no idea where
we were going or when we would get back. The plan was to catch Gen. Wesley
Clark giving a policy speech in Concord, New Hampshire at 10,
then head
a Chili
Chow Down with John Kerry in a VFW Post in Milford, NH at noon.  We
headed for the Interstate.

On the drive up to the Granite State the conversation ranged from New
Years Eve:

"What did you end up doing on New Year’s Eve?"

"Went out" (no details were forthcoming)

to modern music (his):

"Guess what this song’s called?"

"You mean these are actual songs, with titles? But there’s no words
or tunes!"

"They have a beat.  Can’t you hear that repeated beat?" (son

"I thought the CD player was busted. That’s what my diskman sounds like
when it can’t read the disk."

"That’s the idea, Dad"

to, inevitably, politics:

"So tell me again why you don’t like President Bush"

(This son is a Bush supporter, partly, as far as the Dowbrigade can
discern, for the abundant dismay and discomfort it causes his father,
and partly
as he sees this president’s adventurism as the most likely to lead to
his being
unleash the
world’s deadliest
weaponry in the cause of truth, justice and the American way.)

"Because he’s an idiot"

"Some of our greatest presidents have been idiots"

It’s hard to argue with logic like that. It had started to snow hard,
and driving required concentration. We listened to the "music".

It seems they had relocated Concord, the site of the Clark speech, since
the last time we had passed this way.  It was now NORTH of the infamous
New Hampshire Tolls.  By the time we reached the toll plaza it was
almost 11, and so cutting his losses, the Dowbrigade pulled a neat if
technically illegal U turn right in front of the toll-takers, and headed
back south, to the noon Kerry Chili cook-off in Milford, near Nashua,
and close to the Massachusetts border.

We found the Milford, NH VFW Post just at noon.  We pulled into
the absolutely packed parking lot just as the Senator was alighting
from his big blue bus and entering the hall. We dropped Gabe at the gate
found parking in a nearby gas station.

Inside the hall, the joint has hopping. It was definitely a SRO crowd:
all of the tables were filled and people were crowding all around the
edges of the room. There were at least 150 "real" people in attendance,
in addition to the 50 or so press and Kerry staff.

But the most immediate impression was the vibe in the room. There was
a real buzz here, unlike the ersatz, hard edged testosterone and caffine-laced
urgency of the Dean machine and the boozy earnestness of Joe Lieberman,
who for some reason always seems to be campaigning in bars.

This Kerry event felt like a party.  Everyone was smiling and happy,
talking in animated tones and looking around the room like guests at
a wedding waiting for the bride to appear. There was gaiety and song
the air,
as a heavy-duty
system pumped out reggae and up-tempo world-beat music. Perhaps it was
the holiday season, perhaps it was the fact that Kerry was the first
the candidates we had seen who actually dared or cared enough to feed
the people. Somewhat simplistic, perhaps, and seemingly cynical, but
people like to be fed, and the symbolism of a political communion was
not lost on the crowd.

It was a happy and hungry crowd, hungry for good food and an entertaining
show. There was a feeling of community and fellowship in the air, and
an energy and enthusiasm which seemed most unusual for a political meeting,
but in a good way. There was good cheer in the air. Unfortunately, at
this point the candidate began to speak.

After a short introduction by ex-NH Gov Jean Shaheen, Kerry launched
into the familiar litany of Democratic dogma; education, the environment,
tax cuts for the rich, inclusion, multi-lateralism and a woman’s right
to choose. At first, he was a little stiff and his timing was off, as
he almost seemed to ramble from topic to topic.  He was having trouble
reading the crowd; he would rush ahead when the audience wanted to applaud,
and then pause painfully in pools of silence, as if waiting for a cue
that never came.

But gradually, as he talked and listened, for he did listen, his words
and his emotions seemed to come into synch.  Suddenly, he was like
a different speaker.  Although he had surely recited these same
words dozens or hundreds of times before, he made them seem as though
he had just
thought of them, especially for us, and that his whole heart was behind
every word.

And the crowd was reacting. Every person in that room had, at least
for a moment, the absolute conviction that John Kerry was speaking directly
and exclusively to them. They were moving, physically and emotionally,
and leaning and applauding
at appropriate
Even Gabe applauded when Kerry lambasted President Bush for having the
lamest foreign policy in American history.  We were watching a master politician
at work.

As he got into his rap, and the air in the room got closer, Kerry removed
his pressed blue blazer to reveal a wrinkled blue Brooks Brothers Oxford-collared
shirt that looked like it had been slept in, but clean, pure Prep. The
most amazing thing was that it was completely sweat-free. Not a patch,
not a shadow, not a dried-out high-tide line in sight.  Although
he was wheeling and ranging, gesticulating and emoting, in a warm and
humid room filled to the rafters with heated-up people and steaming bowls
of chili, the candidate was calm, cool and collected.  Enthusiastic
and alive, yes, but absolutely relaxed and comfortable in front of the
man has
obviously had his sweat gland surgically removed.

In a quiet moment the Dowbrigade got to shake the Senator’s hand, and
ask him a couple of personal questions.  When Kerry asked the Dowbrigade
what he did, we replied, "I’m a blogger. Do you know what a Blog is?"

"Of course," he replied, "its a weblog. What’s yours called?"

We told him.

Later, the Dowbrigade mentioned that the Untied States has the highest
incarceration rate of any country in the world, and asked Kerry if there
were anything the President could do about that. It was a trojan horse
of a question, as we were interested in whether he would venture into
two separate political minefields intricately involved in the incarceration
question: drugs and race.

Kerry leapt in without hesitation, stating that the President had EVERTYTHING
to do with solving that problem, which he attributed to discriminatory
drug laws (as close as he got to the second of my inferred issues) mandatory
sentencing and lack of legitimate opportunity. He proceeded to accurately
encapsulate why we can never win the "war on drugs" as delineated by
the current administration, and advocated a program of early childhood
education, counseling and intervention, and treatment on demand to reduce
the need for more prisons.

As he worked the crowd it became obvious that Kerry had a charisma and
a personal connection with his audience that doesn’t come across on television.  How
could it – it is based on touch and smell and demeanor and reaction and
a glance,
a moment of
contact, a fleeting half smile the camera can never capture. He made
simple people understand complex problems. Around the crowd heads
were nodding, and not from sleepiness. He made simplistic jingoism sound
reasonable to reasonably complex people, as when he said he was the only
who in the arena of world affairs could stand toe to toe with George
Bush and say to him, "Bring it on" (See how cheesy it sounds when written
down? Not when Kerry said it).

He commented wryly on his recent drop in the major polls, comparing
this stretch of the campaign to the terrible cold winter of 1775, when
the Continental Army of George Washington practically froze to death
in Valley Forge. He mentioned, in what sounded like a bombshell, at least
to the
that he had spoken to former Presidents Carter and Clinton, and that
both had declared themselves ready and willing to act as Special Envoys
to the Middle East in an eventual Kerry administration. He took questions
from the audience.

Finally Jean Shaheen tore him away.  He seemed genuinely sorry
to have to go.  As we left the hall Gabe asked for our assessment.

"Much more impressive than the other guys I’ve seen so far.  He
really seemed to believe what he was saying."

"Don’t forget he’s still a politician just like the other guys." Who
says the young ar gullible?

Driving back to Boston we passed through a strange and semi-mythical
stretch of the Interstate Highway System. Although we’ve driven through
it on several occasions, at key junctures in our life, we could never
find it on purpose, and believe it may only occasionally appear here
from another dimension.

At certain times it seems, like this afternoon at approximately 3:30
pm, one can spend several miles traveling simultaneously South on Route
3, and North on Route 95. The signs are quite clear. You are flying down
Rt. 3 at 70 mph, and you are flying UP I-95 at the same speed, AT THE

The first time we experienced this seeming physical impossibility was
during our sophomore year of college, and oddly enough while under the
influence of a mind-altering substance.  Believe it or not, at one
time doing things like dropping all our incredibly intense academic endeavors
as well as massive doses of LSD and heading up to New Hampshire to visit
a Christmas Tree farm during Reading Period in January seemed like a
GREAT idea.

Encountering the phantom stretch of road during our return, we became
convinced we had strayed into a non-Einsteinean bubble in the space time
continuum.  A place where one could be doing the limit in two
opposite directions at the same time. The funny thing is, before you
know it, that strange stretch of road leads straight home.

John Kerry is an old-line, traditional politician of the Kennedy-Patrician
school, but he’s a good example of the genre, and would at least stand
a chance against President Bush.  On the other hand, were he somehow
to win the election, nothing would really change. Forced to make a choice
between him and an authentically innovative campaign led by a candidate
who doesn’t really even understand the implications of his own success,
the Dowbrigade is at a loss as to what to do. Count us, still, among
the undecided.