February 07, 2003


When will Southern Dems finally decide whether it's good that the Union won the Civil War? First, we've got some yahoo in Georgia running his entire campaign on the Confederate flag, and now Senator and presidential hopeful John Edwards is hosting a meeting at a house with a strong Confederate history. Where's the outrage from our friend Josh Marshall? Where's the cry "To arms! A Confederate among us!"
Posted by B. Preston at 01:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


So we're now up to "High" status on the color-coded national terrorism alert thingy. What in the world are we supposed to do with this information? Supposing Baltimore didn't currently lay under 7 inches of new snow and I had had to go to work today, would the heightened alert have changed my plans? Nope. Suppose I had planned to take the day off, head to Washington to the National Gallery or the Lincoln Memorial or something, would the heightened alert have caused me to change those plans? In the absence of anything more specific than changing yellow to orange, I would have gone on as planned. So the alert system, because it is so general, really doesn't make us change our behavior one way or the other. What's it for then?

Well, I think it has two purposes. First, it's there to let us know that the government is trying to get a better handle on the terror threat than it had prior to 9-11. It's telling us that it knows there's a threat based on some new information, and that it's relaying that threat to us. It's one part open government, and one part butt-covering bureaucracy.

But there's likely another purpose to the alert system that has nothing to do with citizen safety. By changing the status from yellow to orange, our anti-terror forces are sending a message to the terrorists themselves, and that message is simple: We're listening. We know that you're out there, and we have your comm lines tapped. We may not know exactly where you are, or maybe we do but we're waiting for you to make the wrong move. We may not know what your specific plans are, or maybe we do and we're gathering up our own forces at this very moment to pounce on you. We may not know anything more than that you're chattering more than usual, or maybe we know quite a bit but we're holding our fire until we can learn something else about you, your organization and your leadership. Whatever we may or may not know about you, you're not working in the secrecy that you crave but we're not tipping our hand. We know more than you think we know. We're listening.

UPDATE: My theory fits very nicely with this story. We are listening, and what we're hearing is very interesting.

UPDATE: Evidently, what we heard is also very disturbing.
Posted by B. Preston at 12:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack


So...a quasi-atheistic socialist regime could never possibly find any reason to ally itself with a fanatical death cult bent on bringing about...whatever it is they're trying to bring about? Then explain this:

He was supposed to have been a professional. He should have known better, but in the end he could not resist. Using a satellite phone, the senior al-Qa'ida operative excitedly called two associates and congratulated them on their cold-blooded assassination of an American diplomat.

The call cost the man his liberty. It may yet cost him his life but, more importantly, it could have provided America with the "smoking gun" evidence it has long sought and which apparently links the Iraqi regime to an active al-Qa'ida cell committing terror killings and planning others across Europe and the Middle East. One thing is certain: it has left Iraq needing to do a lot of explaining.


Though he would not have known it at the time, the deputy's congratulatory telephone call to two men accused of murdering the US diplomat Laurence Foley last October – killed in the garden of his Amman home by a volley of eight shots – was an error of incalculable proportions. The call was intercepted by Western intelligence services, possibly America's National Security Agency (NSA) or Britain's electronic eavesdropping service at GCHQ, Cheltenham, and allowed coalition operatives to trace the man from Syria, then to Turkey.

When he arrived in Turkey, those intelligence operatives took the decision to pounce. The al-Qa'ida deputy was seized and taken to one of the interrogation centres covertly operated in the region by the US Central Intelligence Agency. In many cases, America prefers certain prisoners to be questioned by the intelligence services of countries where the rules governing the use of torture or psychological pressure are less strict. In this instance, it appears America led the interrogation, using, in the words of one official, "unspecified psychological pressure" to obtain information.

US officials quoted by The New York Times say the deputy revealed that Zarqawi was operating a cell out of Iraq, that he had been given medical assistance there and that he was planning and conducting attacks across Europe and the Middle East with up to 24 al-Qa'ida fighters. Mr Foley, 62, head of America's Agency for International Development mission, was the first of the cell's targets.

Far too many in the anti-war camp overestimate Saddam's rationality. They often say that he won't use any biochem weapons against us because it would be suicide, but that assumes that he thinks the way we do. Sure, on one level it's completely insane for him to ally with al Qaeda, defy the US and the UN, and make his state a pariah. But it was also insane for him to try to assassinate former President Bush--yet we know that he tried that. Similarly, it's insane for Saddam to keep trying to build his weapons, and more insane to think he could get away with using them, but for a dozen years he has single-mindedly pursued those weapons thought it has cost Iraq billions of dollars in oil contracts and will likely cost him his life shortly. If Saddam has proven one thing over the past few years, it's that he's not a purely rational actor, at least from our point of view. The path of least resistance for him, from a rational point of view, would be to disarm on his own soil to get the UN sanctions against him lifted, open up the oil wells, and if he really wanted to keep the terror gig going, fund its activities on soil outside Iraq for some future use. But we know he hasn't chosen that path.

So while it's utterly mad for him to ally with al Qaeda, he seems to have done it anyway. Call him crazy.

UPDATE: For anyone who sees a dark Bushite conspiracy at work as to the timing of this story hitting the streets, National Review Online had this story in mid-December. And David Rose hinted such a link existed--in fact, he hinted that 100 such links exist, also back in December.
Posted by B. Preston at 12:01 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 06, 2003


First floated (I think) in the blogosphere, the idea that once the UN proves itself an inadequate peacekeeper, the democracies of the world will have to form a new club seems to be picking up steam. From Canada, comes this piece, which is mostly praise for Sec of State Powell's testimony before the UNSC this week. But buried in it is the COD meme:

If the Security Council doesn't give approval, or if it denies support for the U.S. effort, it basically means the UN is finished as a significant political body that mediates war and peace.

If America, Britain, Australia and a passel of hitherto lukewarm allies go it alone against Saddam without UN approval, it opens the way for an alliance led by English-speaking countries to set rules for rogue regimes.

That idea is right, as I've said myself that should the UN fail this single test it votes itself into irrelevance and becomes nothing more than an international charity with an extremely high overhead cost. But the Council of Democracies--this is a profoundly good idea, but it doesn't have to be limited to English-speaking countries. There are a few--too few, sadly--nations that could take part because they do hold to some extent to the ideals of liberty and equality and justice that the English-speaking world lives by and spreads. We can pretty much leave the bulk of Europe out of the equation, but Japan surely represents a healthy if economically stagnant democracy. Once the present semi-fanatical regime in India gives way to something a little less nationalistic, it too may find reason to join a Council of Democracies, and its presence may be useful to such a group. Membership in a Council could help Russia stay the course and entice several other infant democracies to keep growing. The Czech Republic, Poland and the other former communist bloc states, now thriving democracies with real committments to freedom, would be natural fits. And there may be a few others out there in a decade or two that can show stability, a serious committment to blind justice and free and open access to all their citizens and therefore deserve inclusion.

But before we start tallying up who would be in the club, it's probably worth figuring out if the club itself is necessary. After all, with the possible exception of the UK, American military might is more than able to handle any single enemy by itself, and with a modest build-up can probably take on a multitude of threats at the same time. Other militaries would be a drag on us, if you think about it. But a Council of Democracies, properly constructed, would probably be useful in the way that NATO was useful in fending off the Soviet threat. Because of NATO, the USSR knew that should it send its mechanized forces past the Iron Curtain states, it would face not just the weakened European states it happened to invade, and not on individual terms, but all of the European states combined, acting as one, with America leading the way from the safety of the other side of the Atlantic. NATO made conventional war unwinnable for the USSR, mutually assured destruction made nuclear war unthinkable, and so acted to freeze the world into a state of cold war for a few decades. A Council of Democracies could do similar things to relations with China, for starters. Suppose Taiwan's nascent democracy stays strong, and it joins the COD. Or more likely, suppose China decides that it will use its proxies in North Korea to intimidate Japan. The Council, unconstrained by the likes of Libya, could act in concert to counter the threat and avert all-out war. Or prosecute and win all-out war against any opponent. The point is, the idea has its charms.

But it also has its weaknesses. What would it do with a member state that suffers a coup and turns into a dictatorship, such as what appears to be taking place in Venezuela? How would it handle a dispute between two member states that escalates to war? How could it avoid the charge that it's inherently racist, as most member states would likely be majority white, English-speaking nations? Besides, we could find ourselves dealing with another France, a double-crossing, uncooperative "ally" that uses its position in the Council to inflate its own influence at our expense. Canada is a likely bet to take on that role--must be the French influence.

The UN really is a relic. It is based entirely on the aftermath of World War II, and places far too much stock in the opinions of tyrants. Whether it ultimately enforces its own resolutions against Iraq is in some ways a moot point now. The very fact that it has taken a decade, and continues to drag its feet, in taking on its most flagrant violator testifies to its uselessness in more ambiguous cases. The UN should die, and we should think about forming a purely democratic body to replace it.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:41 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack


Gotta love a little bias shift in this Reuters story about a Powell speech before the Council on Foreign Relations. The substance of the speech is that invading Iraq and removing Saddam could pose short-term snags for the US, but shows a good possibility of fixing some the MidEast's deeper problems in the long term. It's a view I happen to share, but that's not why I wrote this post. The tone of Reuters' writing is amusing:

The Bush administration has usually confined its argument for attacking Iraq to the alleged threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the possibility that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government could pass them on to extremists hostile to the United States.

They've stepped away from using "terrorists," which they always put in quotes, and have adopted "extremists" instead. There is a significant semantic difference between the terms--a terrorist by definition attacks targets outside the accepted rules of warfare, such as civilians, medical workers assisting those injured in attacks, and the like. Extremists, on the other hand, might be legitimate fighters fighting by legitimate means. They could be the Barry Goldwaters of the Islamic world from Reuters' point of view.

I just found the change in terms interesting. It might reflect a change in Reuters' thinking since Powell's powerful testimony yesterday. A sea change on the Iraq question may really be coming, if even Reuters finds itself forced to adjust its language. After all, if Mary McGrory can change her Bush-hating mind, I suppose anyone can.

UPDATE: And speaking of Reuters, note the glee with which they report on this British anti-war play. No terms in quotes here, just happy jolly flying the bird at America.

(thank to Hanks for the tip)
Posted by B. Preston at 04:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


A North Korean link to Palestinian terrorism? Even Arafat apparently wants no part of this.
Posted by B. Preston at 08:49 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack


It turns out that Rick Husband, commander of STS-107, was a great guy. Steve Green, in case you've never heard of him, is a pretty well-known Christian singer.

Dear friends,

I had the privilege of attending a Steve Green concert on the night of
Feb.1, just 12 hours after the loss of Columbia and her crew of seven.
What a surprise to learn that Steve Green (a Christian artist) was a
close friend of Rick Husband's, the astronaut who was selected to be
captain for this mission. Their friendship began a number of years ago
when Rick and his wife stood in line to meet Steve after a concert in
Houston. As Rick told Steve how much he enjoyed his music, Rick's wife
whispered to Steve that Rick was an astronaut. Steve said he (Steve)
made a big deal about that and soon the people were lined up to ask
Rick for an autograph instead of Steve! Thus, their friendship began.

Steve was in attendance for Rick's first shuttle launch several years
ago and was also in attendance for this launch. He sang both times at
pre-launch receptions. He said the reception for the Columbia launch
was very Christ-honoring, and that there were many unbelievers in
attendance. Steve described Rick as a quiet, unassuming man who was,
however, very vocal about his faith. He said Rick did not miss an
opportunity to give glory to God and mentioned that when Mission
Control said it was a beautiful day for a launch, Rick responded with,
"The Lord has given us a perfect day!" A suit technician shared the
following story with Steve. He said that after the astronauts suit up
they walk down a hallway and then open a door to "face the press!"
Rick stopped the crew before they opened the door and said he wanted to
pray for them. Later the technicians talked about this and one said
that in all his years he had never heard of a captain praying for and
with his crew.

The spouses of the crew each get to pick a song for them to wake up to
one of the mornings they're in space. Rick's wife selected "God of
Wonders" by Steve Green. Steve played a tape for us of Rick
communicating with Mission Control after the song was played. The
conversation went something like this: Mission Control - "Good
morning. That song was for Rick. It was 'God of Wonders' by Steve
Green." Rick - "Good morning. Thank you. We can really appreciate
the lyrics of that song up here. We look out the window and see that
God truly is a God of wonders!" (Unfortunately, we probably won't hear
that one on the news.) Steve also shared part of an e-mail he received
from Rick, transmitted from outer space! Did you know that was
possible? I didn't! Anyway, Rick wrote about how overwhelming it was
to see God's vast creation from space. He said he had never cried
while exercising before, but peddling on the bike and looking out the
window at God's incredible creation brought tears to his eyes.

Steve also shared that he had been in Texas for a concert about a week
before coming here. While there, Steve and his "crew" spent the day
with Rick's wife, Evelyn, and their two children and also Mike
Anderson's family. Mike was also aboard Columbia. During the concert
that evening, Steve had the two women stand and he asked the audience
to pray with him for these women while their husbands were in space.
It was encouraging to hear Steve say that there were at least three
astronauts (including Rick and Mike) aboard the Columbia who were
believers in Jesus.

It was a moving concert and a welcome surprise to learn all these
things. What a blessing to know that at least three of these
astronauts loved Jesus! Steve did not name the third person or mention
if there was a family left behind. But two of the families, at least,
will be relying on God to carry them through this and will have
opportunity to share God's love with families/friends of the other
astronauts. Steve mentioned that before President Bush talked to the
families, they had formed a circle and were praying.

Steve was even able to share with us pictures of Rick at different
stages of his life, his career and family. He and Rick's wife had put
this together to be set to one of Steve's songs. They had done it
awhile back for some special event. Steve had it with him and shared
it with us. He also gave us all a challenge from Rick's life. He said
that astronauts lead extremely busy lives, and he (Steve) had been
impressed with Rick's commitment to discipling his two children. Steve
asked us to think about if our lives were to end tomorrow and there
would be no more opportunity for us to disciple our kids. Would we be
happy with what we had done, or would we have regrets?

I'm guessing, from the pictures Steve showed, that Rick's son was
around 5 years old and his daughter 10. I may be off, but that gives
you an idea. They certainly are not close to adulthood. Rick made 34
devotionals, by video, before he left on the Columbia. There were 17
for his daughter and 17 for his son, one for each day he was to be
gone. So each day his daughter and son had their own "devotion with
Dad" by video. What treasures they will be to his children! Thank
you, God, for leading Rick to do that!

Well, I think I've given you every bit of information Steve gave us.
It was certainly an encouragement and comfort to hear these things. I
wanted to pass it on to bless others and to help you know how to pray
for these families in the days ahead. God IS at work in His world! To
Him belongs all glory!

There are more Christians like Rick in NASA than you'd expect. Thanks to Mark for sending this story.
Posted by B. Preston at 12:55 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack


Sometimes, especially lately, my motivation to write has worked in inverse relationship to the possibility that I'll be able to persuade anyone that I'm right about anything. After catching a few minutes of Colin Powell's thorough presentation to the UNSC today, and then hearing bits of reaction from around the country tonight, I'm all but convinced that it's just impossible to convince people of things when they're really not interested in the facts. I watched all of 5 minutes of Powell's speech, and found what I saw confirmed what I've long believed, but then caught a snippet of Donahue (don't ask me why I'd waste my time with him, but I did for a little while), and then caught some Democrat congressman from Oregon on O'Reilly, and saw some of the sloppiset argumentation and weakest critical thinking. Donahue's eyes would pop out at the mere hint that war might be necessary. He had this woman on from some Institute for Obscuring Truth and Coddling Dictators or whatever outfit, and she kept insisting that between Colin Powell and Saddam Hussein, she just didn't know whom to believe. US Secretary of State, representing the world's healthiest democracy, or the mad murderous ruler of beleaguered backwater. Tough call. So she wants more committees to convene, let all the nations of the world verify Powell's photos and videos and telephone intercepts independently, before we can even seriously consider taking on Saddam. On her timetable, we'd still be weighing the merits of dumping a few bags of tea into Boston Harbor.

But I just can't make myself gin up the needed passion to fight these people anymore. Their arguments are pathetic and self-refuting. It's sad that a man smart enough to get himself elected to Congress can't see the difference between a nuclear-armed state and a state with nuclear ambitions, and that that critical difference just might lead to dissimilar strategies when approaching them. Truth is, I do think he was smart enough, but that he just doesn't have the intellecctual honesty to fess up that he's just plain old anti-war in all circumstances, and that at the end of the day he likely thinks George W. Bush is as big a problem as Saddam Hussein. I wish I were just being paranoid, but when Democrats.com approvingly quotes Saddam's response to Powell's UN speech, the game is over. America's hard left is only American by accident of birth. Its ideology is from some other place and some other time. Say, Moscow, 1917.

For the here and now, I'm just tired of having to refute every lie that's thrown my way (how many different ways can I prove Republicanism doesn't equal racism, and how much time am I willing to spend doing it when I know that the lies won't stop because the liars love them too much? How many different ways can I prove that should war come it isn't about empire or oil or any of that nonsense--it's about removing a clear and present danger to the United States.). For serious people, the question of whether war is necessary or not is the question of the moment, and while reasonable minds can still disagree I think the anti-war side is finding itself grasping a thinning reed. At the end of it, if the anti-war crowd gets its way it will end up killing the UN, one of its favorite mechanisms for pushing socialistic schemes and restraining American influence on the world. So for them, it's a loss either way--go to war, and they're refuted in the short term. Don't go to war, and the whole concept of international law goes down the toilet. For the pro-war side, irrefutable vindication may never come. Sure, we'll clobber Iraq's ragged army and replace Saddam, thereby ending the threat he poses, but then Saddam and his terrorist allies will never obliterate an American city, and the anti-war crowd will always be able to insist that he never would have. So we'll be left to keep on having the same arguments about the same things like some perpetual national version of Crossfire, just yelling back and forth and never seeing eye to eye.

Red and blue America. Red has the upper hand right now, which is a good thing, but I fear that much of blue America will always find red America only slightly less scary than dictators with big bombs. And a smaller part of blue America will always find red America the scariest place on earth.
Posted by B. Preston at 12:46 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 04, 2003


On a shelf in my office at work, I have a little blue cardboard rectangle, roughly 11” by 17” or so. On it are a photo collage, and a triangular patch. The rectangle with photos and the patch are an award, of the type large organizations often hand out after the completion of a major project. You know the kind of award I’m referring to—it doesn’t so much recognize any individual achievement as it signifies that some grand project has ended successfully, and that the organization wants to pause for a moment to thank its workers in a small way before assigning roles in the next grand project. The patch says “STS-109” and lists the names of a group of astronauts who helped add capability to the Hubble Space Telescope in March 2002. Having ridden aboard Columbia during that mission, that patch is one of two objects I own that have been to space and back. The other is a little 2-inch square of insulation that once protected Hubble from the harsh effects of outer space. I’d never gotten around to framing the rectangle with its attached flight patch, but I think I will now. This past weekend it took on new weight, in the worst possible way. STS-109 was Columbia’s last complete mission.

As the investigation into what caused Columbia and her crew’s untimely demise over Texas continues, I won’t be commenting on it. I’m not part of NASA’s manned spaceflight program in any direct way, but the project I work for does depend on that part of NASA for its launch and continued success. Succinctly put, without space shuttles Hubble would have probably never have been launched, would certainly have never had its eyes fixed, and would never have been able to keep up with the latest technology the way it has during more than a decade in space. So I have a vested interest in seeing that manned space flight continue at least until November 2004, when Hubble is set for its final servicing mission. Further, NASA will have enough trouble with gaggles of reporters lurking around Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers, and HQ in Washington—no one needs my half-informed commentary on the investigation.

Since the crash on Saturday, many have begun to question again why we go to space, or why we stay so close to earth once we’re in space. To the first doubt, I say that we go to space because it’s there. We’re explorers and discoverers, hard wired to find out what’s over the next hill, what’s behind the next click on the web, and what’s beyond the distant shore. The solar system is the next area of human exploration, and merely sending robotic probes won’t suffice in the long term. Pathfinder gave us a wonderful glimpse of the Martian surface, and Hubble shows us the deep universe we’ll never likely reach, but neither project puts us out there. We have to go there ourselves, to feel what it’s like to kick up dust on Mars, to feel what it’s like to break ice on Europa, to see what it’s like to look back at a little yellow dot once we’ve slung past Pluto and out into the Kuiper Belt. We have to do these things ourselves, because that’s the way we’re made.

To the second doubt, why do we stay so close to home once we’re in space, answers are harder to come by. First, I think we stunted our quest for space when Apollo ended. That project, it seems clear now, should only have ended with a semi-permanent human presence on the moon. But Apollo’s political message had been sent—America stood where no civilization had, and had beaten her ruthless competition to the moon. When Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, he won the first round of the war that Ronald Reagan would win outright a couple of decades later. The space shuttle has been a great interim step in our drive to step out into space on a routine basis, to find out what we’re capable of once we’re there, and to test our bodies and minds to prolonged exposure to space. We know now, thanks to Apollo-Soyuz, Skylab, Mir, the ISS and Hubble, that in spite of the bulky suits and the thick gloves we have to wear that we can work in space. We can perform incredibly delicate maneuvers, we can manipulate precision tools, and we can do it while one foot is bolted to an arm extending us 360 miles up over the surface of the earth, which we pass beneath us at 17,500 miles per hour. That’s nothing to take for granted—it could have turned out that vertigo or some other physical phenomenon prevented us from being able to do these things. As we look further out, the hazards to humans and our space craft multiply. The radiation of deep space kills after lengthy exposure, and to date we have no way to minimize its effects without building space craft so large that we can’t launch them. Conversely, the engines necessary to get us out beyond the moon to Mars quickly enough to minimize the length of the trip, and therefore radiation exposure, haven’t been built yet. Traveling at the speeds necessary to get us to Mars and back without devoting decades of the crew’s lives increases the possibility that even a micrometeorite could wipe out our space craft, and that the slightest spacecraft hiccup could kill the crew inside. Our present propulsion technology simply isn’t up to the job. NASA has for years had several possible designs on the board, but hasn’t had the funding to make them a reality. We are currently exploring space with the equivalent of the horse-drawn buggies that moved our ancestors across the Oregon Trail. We need to invent the space version of the transcontinental railroad to get us further out, where we need to be.

Columbia’s loss should in no way turn us away from exploring space. Though their deaths are tragic, the astronauts knew the risks they took when they volunteered for the job. If they had it to do again, they would likely get right back on that rocket and head to space again. Given the chance, I would go on the next shuttle up. For NASA, the reality is that from the Apollo disaster to Challenger roughly 17 years passed, and from Challenger to Columbia we’ve seen another 17 years pass. That’s hardly a terrible record given the inherent risks of achieving escape velocity while sitting atop a giant bomb. To say that the fact that two shuttles have crashed means the craft is inherently unsafe is a bit like saying that they crashed because both their names started with the letter ‘c.’ It’s a non sequitur—the shuttle program is the second longest running space flight program in history, behind only Soyuz, the Russian launch system that hasn’t changed since the 1960’s. Yet NASA’s critics insist that it’s the agency that’s stuck with outdated technology.

Exploring new territory is risky, whether that new territory involves testing a new cancer drug, crossing the untamed oceans or plunging ourselves out into the cosmos. But the exploration is worth the risk. Columbia’s namesake risked all, knowing less of his destination than we know of ours. We owe it to the fallen astronauts, to ourselves and our children to follow his example, and keep reaching for the stars.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


...may have helped train al Qaeda terrorists.
Posted by B. Preston at 09:55 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack