Tuesday, April 24, 2007

There were no WMDs. But we knew exactly where they were. And it's Blix's fault for not finding them.

With all the twists and turns, flip-floppery, and circular reasoning used by Iraq war apologists I'm sometimes amazed they don't get seasick. Consider this item from a webchat with Richard Perle last week:

Alexandria, Va.: You claim Hans Blix believed Iraq was hiding WMD, but certainly by March 7, 2003 -- the date of his report to the U.N., and twelve days prior to the bombing of Baghdad -- he was stating that no evidence of WMD could be found and had expressed his skepticism to Condi Rice that any would be found. Isn't it irrelevant what Blix might have thought before he began inspections?

Richard Perle: It is true that Blix was unable to find evidence. There was never any real prospect that he could. But he did not believe that he was getting full cooperation from Saddam.

Finding WMD in Iraq could only have been accomplished by offering safety to people involved in the prior programs and removing them and their extended families from Iraq where they were in mortal danger. Blix, for reasons I will never understand, did not insist on the authority to offer sanctuary so he was reduced to touring the old sites associated with earlier WMD activity. In any case, we now know that the stockpiles that were thought to exist did not.

The capacity for self-deception exhibited here is truly mind-boggling. Despite acknowledging (in an offhand way) that there were no WMD he still tries to lay the blame for not finding them at the feet of Hans Blix. He does this using an argument of the form, "The only way to find WMDs was to do X. Blix did not do X. Therefore it is his fault no WMDs were found."

Well, no. Since there were no WMD's, there is NOTHING Blix could have done to find them short of manufacturing them himself. And let us not forget that what the administration said at the time was that they had "slam-dunk" proof that the WMD's were there, including information about exactly where they were located.

It is this claim that put the lie to the warmonger's arguments even at the time, because if they really knew where the WMD's were it would have been a simple matter to communicate that information to the inspectors on the ground and have them go there. If the inspectors were "reduced to touring the old sites" it is beause the administration was withholding information, not the Iraqis.

You can't have it both ways. If you claimed to know where the weapons were you can't saddle Blilx with the blame for not looking in the right places. And if you admit that you didn't know where they were, well, then you have a lot of explaining to do.

Why is no one in the press calling the administration on this?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Requiem for a peaceful world

I vividly remember the first time I ever saw the Virginia Tech campus. It was April of 1982, I was about to graduate high school, and my family and I were making the college rounds. Two days later a storm would dump a foot of snow on Boston as we visited MIT (interesting how the weather comes around), but that day was clear and warm -- a perfect Spring day in the Appalachians. I remember walking out onto the little dais that overlooks the drill field in front of Burrus Hall, the main administration building, and being awed by the spectacular panaoramic beauty of the place. The nearest municipality that even pretended to be a city back in those days was Roanoke, and that was an hour away. The nearest "real" city was Richmod, another four or five hours away. It was a quiet place, far from the pressure and madness of the world. The biggest problem we had was negotiating the muddy unpaved footpaths carved across the drill field when it rained.

I could have gone to MIT or Stanford, but I chose Virginia Tech because it made me feel at peace. And so the irony of today's events strikes me in the deepest parts of my soul. When life in Los Angeles gets too crazy I have always been able to comfort myself with the thought that there are places like Blacksburg where I could retreat if things get too nutty to bear. And even though I don't think I'd ever actually move back there, just knowing that I could has made LA easier to put up with.

That comfort is gone forever.

I know a little bit of what the people who actually lived through it feel like. In 1991, having lived in LA for three years, I came home to my little house in Glendale to find that the bulb had burned out in the light that we kept on a timer. As I entered the house I could just make out some motion in the darkness out of the corner of my eye. I shouted, as much in fear as in anger, and I saw the muzzle flash as the burglar took a pot-shot at me with his '38 on the way out the window. My first though was, "That can't have been a real gun. It looked and sounded too much like the movies." It wasn't until the police came and dug the bullet out of the wall that I realized that I was lucky to be alive, let alone uninjured. It was many years before I got my next good night's sleep. I still get the odd stranger-in-the-house nightmare.

In other news, 129 civilians died today in Iraq. No one noticed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The time-travel plot thickens

The other day I read this story about a card-carrying physicist named John Cramer who has come up with an idea that sounds suspiciously like my patent on faster-than-light communications. For the record, I'm pretty sure that it won't work (for reasons described here). But this is still interesting. If Cramer is wrong then I feel vindicated -- a long time ago I submitted the "Quantum mysteries disentangled" paper to the American Journal of Physics. It was rejected on the grounds that, essentialy, "Everyone already knows this." Well, apparently everyone doesn't.

On the other hand, if Cramer is right and I'm wrong then I'm about to win a Nobel Prize in Physics, which would be cool too.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

If she floats she must be a witch

In a nushell: on March 11 a school received a bomb threat and through their phone logs traced the call back to a 15-year-old boy,who was arrested and incarcerated for twelve days despite the fact that the boy's voice sounded nothing like the voice on the tape.

Of course the authorities had forgotten about the early onset of daylight savings time, and the boy had actually called the school an hour before the bomb threat.

Aside from the scary fact that it took twelve days for the authorities to sort this out, the account contains this precious little burn-the-witch moment:

"After he protested his innocence, ... the principal said: 'Well, why should we believe you? You're a [terrorist]. [Terrorist]s lie all the time.' "

All this would be more amusing if we hadn't been doing more or less the same thing on an epic scale for over five years now.