NPF: SMOOTHNESS

Posted in No Politics Friday on April 30th, 2010 by Ed

So, I need to hear some tales of woe. More accurately I need to collect some good anecdotes for purposes that will become clear at a later date. Use that there comment button to give me your worst pickup lines or best stories of phenomenally awkward attempts at hitting on someone in a social situation. It can be something that was tried on you, something you witnessed, or something you've done (or perhaps something "this friend of yours" did. Yes, that should stick.)

The best story I can recall at the moment involves me and another member of the original Ginandtacos.com trio, Erik M., having some drinks at the Hideout in Chicago. A woman in her mid-twenties, not terribly attractive or unattractive, decided that Erik was the ideal candidate for a rapid handshake-to-intercourse transition. So she attached herself to our table and after discovering that he is pursuing a Ph.D. in biochemistry, she pretended to be a huge fan of biochemistry. For like 10 minutes. It was like watching an adorable puppy being run over by a car. That bad. I mean, a reasonably astute adult can fake his or her way through a number of conversations, pretending to share a generic interest with someone for the sake of being sociable. Properly motivated, I could reasonably bullshit my way through ten minutes of talk about Radiohead, for example. I detest Radiohead, but I have enough pieces of information in storage that I could say something coherent. Blah blah Kid A, blah blah OK Computer, blah blah etc etc.

People do this all the time. That said, one cannot fake being a biochemist. Especially someone of (what appeared to be) substandard intelligence and above-average levels of insanity. Needless to say, Erik derived no insights into the nature of his chosen field from this conversation. After bluntly telling her to leave us alone several times, she spent the remainder of what quickly became a depressing evening bouncing around the bar reeking of desperation.

As best I can tell, I have never been hit on (undergraduates soliciting unearned grade increases aside). As such I must rely on the tales of others with more first-hand experience. I'm sure it blows to be female and receive this kind of unwanted "attention" regularly. At the same time, my inner anthropologist would enjoy being blown away by how delusional, inept, and unintentionally hilarious people (especially dudes) can be in these situations.

Don't let me down.

HOW TO SPOT AN ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT

Posted in Rants on April 29th, 2010 by Ed

April 23, 2010

TO: All Arizona law enforcement officers
FROM: The Office of Governor Jan Brewer

Men and Women of Arizona law enforcement,

As you are no doubt aware, our state legislature recently passed, and I signed, SB1070, giving law enforcement the power to request that any individual suspected of being in the United States illegally produce proof of citizenship or legal residence on demand. Failure to have such proof on one's person is now a misdemeanor. The purpose of this memorandum is to clarify the legislation and provide guidance on how one identifies an illegal immigrant among a group of legal residents and citizens.

Since the law uses the well-defined, parsimonious phrase "reasonable suspicion" like ten times, it is obvious that much is being left to your judgment and discretion. Fortunately the Illegal is easily distinguished from other immigrants or citizens. If not, we'd have to either wildly guess or stop every Latino person who looks at an officer cock-eyed. Thank God that won't be necessary.

First, before we discuss the distinguishing characteristics of Illegals please note these two reference photos of a Latino citizen and legal resident:

Examine these reference photos closely and note the subtle differences with the subsequent examples. Generally, the Illegal is identifiable by one or more of several characteristics that may not be apparent to the untrained eye. These include but are not limited to:

  • 1. A cartilaginous dorsal fin located roughly at the median between the shoulder blades.
  • 2. Multicolored metallic pinwheels protruding laterally from the ears.
  • 3. An elephant trunk with one or more parallel ivory tusks.
  • 4. Yellow to yellow-orange flames ejected from the oral cavity.
  • 5. A ringed, furry tail.
  • 6. Red eyes and cranial horns not unlike those found on the Jews who killed our Lord.
  • Please reference the following photos to positively identify these or any other suspicious indicators:

    We continue to investigate as-yet unsubstantiated claims of shapeshifters ("changelings") among immigrants. Be vigilant and report any contacts immediately. Please direct any queries to State Senator, legislation sponsor, and close associate of prominent white supremacists Russell Pearce.

    Thank you for your cooperation and diligence in enforcing this crucial, way Constitutional, and totally not-racist law.

    Gov. Jan Brewer

    TRUST

    Posted in Rants on April 28th, 2010 by Ed

    "Just as Americans in general do not have the habits of deference, so the conservative in America does not have them either. Ultimately he does not defer even to the country’s institutions. If one of these institutions, such as the Supreme Court, makes decisions he detests, he will defame that institution. He is as ready as is the common man to bypass the institutions he ought to defend."

    Recently in my public opinion course we've talked about the substantial research detailing the precipitous decline in levels of trust in the government in the United States. Data from the Pew Center and the National Election Studies illustrate this point quite clearly:

    When I see this data many potential explanations come to mind – researchers usually identify the end of post-War prosperity around 1970, the Vietnam War, and Watergate as primary culprits – but I always think of the quote at the beginning of the post. It is from British conservative Henry Fairlie. He wrote it in 1980 at the Republican National Convention in Detroit as he watched the dumbing-down of the American right culminate with the nomination of a B-movie actor turned Goldwater acolyte turned soft-seller of neoconservatism.

    I've made the following point many times previously, but the American right used to have an image problem. They still do, of course, but it is a very different one today. Prior to Reagan, the stereotype of American conservatism was a handful of wealthy white men in tuxedos sitting around a country club drinking expensive cognac. It was snooty. It was elitist. It had unshakable faith in the fundamental goodness of our nation and its institutions. Fairlie was prescient in noting how rapidly this would change with the ascension of the Hero of the Common Man – "common", in reference to voters, inevitably meaning "stupid." The party of East Coast industrialists became the party of yokels, rubes, creationists, xenophobes, and assorted other knuckle-headed bottom dwellers in this vast country. They still have an image problem, but now it is that the word "conservative" conjures images of Glenn Beck and some Teabagger screaming idiocies through clenched teeth while holding a misspelled sign.

    It certainly can't be the fault of the right alone that trust has fallen so dramatically over the last three decades, but Fairlie identified the reasons why they shoulder a good deal of the blame. I'm not British enough to use a word like "deference" to describe their problem. It is more accurate to say that they lack any respect at all for our institutions and have gone far out of their way to convince Americans that if the government is not doing exactly what you want at all times, then the system has failed and it becomes a legitimate target for torrents of seething rage.

    If the government spends money on something that does not directly benefit you, then taxes are evil. If your candidate loses an election, elections are ACORN-choreographed frauds. If Congress passes a law you do not like, then Congress is an illegitimate institution and your Governor should start talking about secession. If someone interprets the Constitution differently than you do, then the Constitution is being shredded by traitors and socialists. If a person who does not look like you becomes president, then he must be a foreign usurper. And of course one's faith in all of these same institutions is restored and manifests itself with great enthusiasm as soon as things are back to the way you want them.

    Our country is worse off, in short, because of the right's "southern strategy" of appealing to the lowest, basest instincts of the masses, vilifying the very institutions they hope to control. It is not a coincidence that we hear the word "secession" every time they are out of power, because any institution that displeases them is slandered as illegitimate. I do not expect that we can recover the level of "Gee Ain't America Great!" sentiment that existed in the 1950s, but it would be nice if American conservatism would stop working quite so diligently to convince the public that it is not only acceptable but also one's duty to profane our system of government every time it acts contrary to the wishes of the average rural Texan.

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    HERESTHETICS

    Posted in Rants on April 27th, 2010 by Ed

    Many years ago a famous political scientist named William Riker (who I bet never tired of Star Trek related jokes) coined the term "heresthetics" to describe the process of "structuring the world so you can win." The best example in recent years is the successful efforts to brand third trimester abortions "partial birth" abortions by the National Right to Life Committee in the mid-nineties. Nobody is going to support something called a partial birth abortion. So the efforts by the NRLC and Chuck Canady to saturate the media and political spheres with the term – one that was simply made up by an NRLC lawyer – structured the debate so that they could easily win it, hence the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. They succeeded in defining the debate, and consequently the issue was debated when, where, and how the NRLC wanted. Well played.

    To see an even clearer example we need look no farther than today's headlines. Frank Luntz's talking points have so totally defined the debate over financial reform that there is no plausible way to reach any outcome that is less than a smashing victory for our Too Big to Fail banking institutions.

    Everyone – and I mean everyone, from Krugman to to Ambinder to Obama to the average liberal on the street – is conducting this debate according to the terms set by the Senate GOP and their masters. Just look at the primary point of contention with the proposed reform bill, the $50 billion "cleanup" fund for the next time our lending institutions walk up to the button labeled "DO NOT PRESS" and press the living hell out of it. Republicans have followed Luntz's advice to call this a "bailout" in what Krugman has not-so-implausibly called "possibly the most dishonest argument" in the history of politics. Democrats have responded by pointing out that the $50 billion is posted by the banks themselves, a security deposit against their own potentially damaging behavior in the future.

    They are correct, of course, but also missing the point entirely. As we are completely distracted by this debate – the primary point of contention between Senate Democrats and Republicans – we are conveniently ignoring the question of real importance: What in the hell good is $50 billion going to do when this system collapses again, which the absence of meaningful derivative reform in the legislation essentially guarantees will happen? The financial industry does not want anyone to discuss this, so they have structured the debate in a way that distracts us with an irrelevant symbolic issue. And it worked.

    Estimates of the total cost of the interventions into the financial industry range from hundreds of billions to $12 trillion dollars. The much-debated Cleanup Fund is like change in the couch cushions compared to numbers like that. But here we are nonetheless, debating what Wall Street would prefer we debate rather than creating a system that might, you know, stop this from happening. Mike summarizes the reform proposals quite well: "The realization, and I’ve reflected on this a lot, is that we are rebuilding the 2007 financial sector with some additional legal powers for regulators to exercise in the middle-of-the-next financial crisis." On some levels I think he means this as a good thing. I see it as both terribly depressing and indicative of how completely our economic betters won this debate before it even started.

    This is a reform bill without any meaningful reforms, and history has shown that window dressing is considerably worse than doing nothing at all. It creates a thin veneer of "reform" and "regulation" over the financial system when in reality it does little beyond making us slightly better prepared for the inevitable repeat of this entire process. And when that happens, Wall Street and its allies will have the "We failed because of excessive regulation!" argument ready to serve. They haven't merely structured the world so that they can win the current debate; they're also laying the groundwork for winning the next one as well. A neutered reform-in-name-only bill will leave them well situated to do exactly that.

    BANKRUPTCY, INTELLECTUAL AND OTHERWISE

    Posted in Rants on April 26th, 2010 by Ed

    Much has been said about the brutally slow exsanguination of Detroit over the last thirty years and even more about how much its death spiral has intensified in the last five. From gloating anti-labor hacks to gloating anti-auto industry hacks to "urban explorers" treating the city like a fire-gutted shopping mall (albeit one with 950,000 remaining residents) to Williamsburg hipster types getting off on the squalor of it all, few have passed up the opportunity to kick the former Motor City while it's down. Calling it "down" might be unfair, however, as it implies that the current state of affairs is a nadir from which the city will gradually recover. In reality, given the fact that redevelopment policy now consists of bulldozing city blocks and letting the prairie move in it's entirely possible, bordering on likely, that there is and will be no recovery.

    As is typical in post-Reagan America, we (and the media) tend to tell this story one of two ways. Some talk about it like the weather; it's just this thing that happens, entirely beyond our control, and at best we can deal with its effects after the fact. Others see it as another example of greedy, selfish (unions/CEOs/shiftless brown people/etc) getting what they deserve. There appears to be unanimous consent on one point, though: there's nothing that can be done about it. Detroit is screwed.

    And that is why we see desperate city officials promoting schemes that would have been considered ridiculous if not outright insane in better times. Foremost among them is developer John Hantz's plan to level 70,000 acres of the city to create a farm. Among the crops he has proposed growing is Christmas trees. When the best policy our political system can concoct is to bulldoze half of what was among the three or four wealthiest cities on the planet 50 years ago and plant a Christmas tree farm, it's a pretty good indication that Detroit's municipal government isn't the only thing that is bankrupt these days.

    Don't fall for the arguments about "green space" or the irresistible allure to progressives of words like "local", "organic", or anything about the environment. If this farm produces any crop other than Federal agricultural subsidies or tax write-off losses for Hantz's other businesses it will be a certified miracle. It stands a far greater chance of becoming a factory-farmed soybean field than a place for Detroiters to get local goodies, assuming they don't have a taste for locally-grown biomass intended for heavily subsidized ethanol production.

    That such a harebrained idea could even be considered illustrates two of the most disturbing trends in our public discourse: the complete rejection of the possibility of collective solutions and the selfish desire to deal with social problems by simply getting rid of them. On the first point, the idea of reversing Detroit's decline is patronized as if it is a small child's plan to build a rocket ship out of his tricycle. How could "we" do anything? The government sucks, corporations suck, the people of Detroit suck, and so on until it becomes clear that even a well-intentioned effort to address the problem would fail on account of how awful, greedy, and deserving of failure are the actors in this situation. Can't help people who won't help themselves! Second, we just want things to go away so we don't have to be saddened by them. Half of this country would probably prefer to fix Detroit by dropping a tactical nuke over the Renaissance Center. Just make all the bad ugly things go away. We don't care about the consequences because anything is preferable to the consequences of inaction, namely the derelict hulk of a city serving as a visual reminder of the failures of the post-industrial economy. And as we hate funerals because they remind us of our own mortality, we hate and fear Detroit because it reminds us of what will become of our own cities in the near future.

    Then again, maybe if we all insist on a "made in Detroit" label on our Christmas trees the beleaguered city will rise from the ashes like a Phoenix. Given how badly Detroit could use a re-branding and a name change, it's too bad that one is already taken.

    NPF: PROJECT SWAG

    Posted in No Politics Friday on April 23rd, 2010 by Ed

    This site is ad-free and always will be. That said, I've decided to offer some swag to help cover costs. If you'd like to buy something to help support the site, great. If not, that's great too. Please note that it will take another week or two for the finished products to arrive, so don't fret if and when they don't arrive in your mailbox immediately.

    Tack on $5 for shipping to other countries. Sorry, but that shit's expensive now.

    These are perfect for your laptop, bumper, guitar case, locker, bike helmet, front door (keep the Jehovah's Witnesses away), bong, or forehead. In the absence of clothing, one or more stickers can be placed hastily over your genitals.

    3" x 5" stickers on heavy white vinyl – $3.50 (shipping included, unless it's outside of the U.S.)





    SCENES FROM A DELTA AIRLINES FLIGHT

    Posted in Rants on April 22nd, 2010 by Ed

    I'm at a conference for the rest of the week, and loyal readers know what that means: angry airport posts a-comin'. Fortunately I don't have to try very hard to find reasons to loathe the experience these days. The following two anecdotes are true in every detail regarding a Delta flight departing Atlanta for Chicago-O'Hare at "5:15."


    ACT I

    4:45 – Ed boards the 717 and stops at the end of the jetway when he notices a 10" strip of foil tape, or possibly duct tape, where the cabin door meets the exterior skin of the airplane. Actual quote to flight attendant: "There's fucking duct tape on the plane." I try not to think about what the areas passengers can't see look like.

    5:31 – "Hey folks, this is your captain speaking, looks like we've finally got everyone on board and we'll be pushing back from the gate in a few minutes."

    5:37 – "Folks, we're going to be in the gate for just a few more minutes. This plane has just come out of maintenance and it looks like they forgot to refill us with water for the lavatories. Wouldn't want to fly without that, ha ha!"

    5:45 – "Folks, uh, it appears that our wingtip lights aren't functioning properly. We're not expecting any inclement weather, but we need those lights in case of any potential low-visibility situation, so, uh, hold tight for just a few more minutes…"

    5:51 – taxi from gate. This short elapsed time period leads me to believe that nothing needed to be "fixed" with the lights but in fact the crew didn't know how to turn them on.

    5:58 – "Flight attendants, prepare for takeoff."

    5:59 – Ear-splitting metal-on-metal sound; "Uh, we're gonna have to go back to the gate, folks. We're, uh, having some problems with one of the engines."

    6:45 – "Well folks, we should be on our way in just a second. Turns out that when the folks in maintenance serviced that engine, they drained the oil and forgot to replace it. Ha ha!"

    It is difficult to explain the extent to which I wanted to get off the plane at this point. Even if this was the truth – the horrifyingly incompetent truth – why would the captain admit it? How about "We've checked out that engine as a precaution and it looks like everything's fine!" He wins points for honesty but sometimes we must be economical with the truth.


    ACT II

    6:45 – "Well folks, we should be on our way in just a second. Turns out that when the folks in maintenance serviced that engine, they drained the oil and forgot to replace it. Ha ha!"

    Passenger seated next to Ed: "FUCKIN' UNION MECHANICS. PROBABLY IN A HURRY TO GO ON ONE OF THEIR DOZEN BREAKS EVERY DAY."

    Ed: "The reason they do maintenance in Georgia is because it isn't unionized. They used to do it in St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. They moved it to Birmingham and Atlanta so they could pay untrained people $12/hr to do the same work. I mean, the planes have five times as much downtime now and they don't do the work correctly, but it's cheap."

    Passenger seated next to Ed: "FUCKING UNIONS."

    Ed, after a considerable pause: "Heading to a big Tea Party convention in Chicago?"

    Passenger seated next to Ed: "WHAT? NO."

    Ed: "So, something else in Chicago for people who are impervious to facts?"

    On the plus side, he didn't try to talk to me after that and I read my Baffler in peace.

    RESPONSIBILITY

    Posted in Rants on April 21st, 2010 by Ed

    Florida, in a fit of apparent jealous rage over the recent attention lavished upon the educational system in Texas, has tried to one-up their brazenly ignorant friend to the west. Because we are so fond of making "tough choices" in this society (especially in the South) the Sunshine State decided that it was about time to try to knock those fat-cat bankers and real estate speculators a peg.

    Oh, sorry. I misread something. Replace "bankers and real estate speculators" with "public school teachers." Enough of their high-on-the-hog living, it's time to take away tenure (making them at-will employees, sort of like gas station cashiers but with your kids for 7 hours per day) and make their pay merit based. Bad standardized test scores = lower salary. Brilliant. I'm sure it will save trillions.

    Fortunately Charlie Crist vetoed this train wreck of a bill, but regardless I think it is worth talking about why teachers have tenure and why tying salaries to student performance is ludicrous.

    First, regarding compensation, let's be honest: nobody gets into teaching to get rich. Very few of us are make big bucks by private sector standards even at the post-secondary level. So the salaries aren't too big of a deal even though Florida's are already $5000 below the national average. Florida teachers are doing better than a lot of people these days. That said, people teach for the same reason one becomes a civil servant – job security.

    We already have a teacher shortage in this country, and people simply aren't going to do this job without the possibility of tenure. The reasons are not complex. The job kinda sucks. It's rewarding at times but often it's just hard and time consuming. Granted, it's not "hard" compared to jobs that subject one to hazardous conditions or manual labor, but it's not easy. It takes over our lives. When we're not in front of a classroom we're at home grading and formulating lesson plans. In my case, it requires most of my time to handle three classes, and K-12 teachers teach a hell of a lot more than I do. And they are also burdened with surrogate parenting some or all of their students, depending on the location of the school. So teachers accept the 12 hour days and the salaries that range from good to "meh" to pretty bad in exchange for some job security. I can't imagine who's going to line up for 12 hour days, "meh" salaries, and at-will employment. If that's going to be your job description, why would anyone choose to deal with 150 asshole kids every day to get it?

    Don't misunderstand me, I don't believe that there would suddenly be no teachers without tenure. The job would be considerably less appealing, though, and only the current Recession-era lack of alternatives would keep talented people from pursuing other opportunities.

    Then there's the merit pay issue. Holy crap is this a stupid idea.

    It's an appealing concept on the surface – no performance, no pay – usually generating the most enthusiasm among people whose salaries are in no way dependent on their performance (like state legislators, for example). Imagine, however, that at age 10 my parents sent me to a world-famous coach to train me as a tennis player. I have absolutely no talent whatsoever for tennis. A really good coach could maximize whatever meager skills I have, but I would still suck at the end. And I would suck even more if during non-practice hours my parents fed me nothing but Twinkies, beat me, and deprived me of sleep. That would substantially limit what the coach could get out of me, no?

    No one wants to admit this within or outside of the profession, but there really are substantial limits to what we can do for students. There are a lot of students who can be "reached" and a good teacher can and should reach them, improving their performance and making them love learning. But let's be honest – not all of the baby turtles are going to make it back to the ocean. This is particularly true given that the influence teachers have over students is limited. With sufficiently terrible parenting, some students aren't going to learn no matter what. We get students for an hour or two per day. If they go home to eight hours of video games/TV, homes that have no reading material in them, parents who haven't (and possibly can't) read a book in their lives, and parent-child learning that consists mostly of how to lie to a parole officer, commit credit card fraud, or tend to a meth lab, what does society expect us to do? If a kid is deluged with young Earth creationism, Glenn Beck, and the collected works of the Michigan Militia, what I ask him to read isn't going to matter.

    I think most semi-conscious people realize both of these things but punishing public servants is a hobby for a growing segment of this country. Our attitudes toward one another are so bitter and so mean-spirited that public support for an idea like eliminating tenure boils down to "I don't have job security, so fuck you. You shouldn't have any either." It is entirely independent, in other words, of the rational consideration of why tenure exists and what role it plays in the profession. And while it is both tempting and convenient to blame our continuing slide into mass stupidity on teachers, the reality is that you are teaching your kids more than any state employee ever can. If your kid is one of the many who qualify as totally ignorant and disinterested in becoming less ignorant, look in the mirror. In a society that exalts anti-intellectualism and every variety of denialism and hostility toward science, teachers are trying to bail the water out of a sinking ship; at best we can manage to keep it afloat, and it's not realistic to expect us to make it go full speed ahead.

    SOCIABILITY

    Posted in Quick Hits on April 20th, 2010 by Ed

    An astute commenter pointed out that the Sociable links (Facebook, Digg, etc) that appear at the end of every post had disappeared. Apparently I forgot to reinstall them when I migrated to Dreamhost. They are back, so please share this stuff with, you know, everyone.

    TIME CAPSULE

    Posted in Rants on April 20th, 2010 by Ed

    I don't often do the Glenn Reynolds-style "Here's something someone else wrote – read the whole thing heh" posts but I've had the urge to reproduce a particular story in full. It will be difficult to explain the period between 9/12/2001 and the 2004 Election to future generations. It's sort of like the Red Scare or any other political-moral panic; you had to live through it to understand the extent to which the mass public bought into things that look patently stupid, even quaint, in hindsight.

    The following is a Wall Street Journal editorial (from the board, not a single author) from 10/15/2001, right on the heels of one of the most fascinating news stories of our lifetime: the anthrax letter attacks on major media outlets and the offices of Pat Leahy and Tom Daschle. The fascinating thing, in my opinion, is the extent to which the incident dominated the news cycle for about 3 months and then completely disappeared. When it was finally resolved many years after the fact, not one media outlet or political figure offered a mea culpa for what they said and did during the initial hysteria. Consider the following (with a couple of my bolds; original here):

    The usual government and media suspects are advising Americans not to "panic" amid the latest anthrax mailings, and of course that's right. The risks to any single person are small enough that it makes little sense to stockpile Cipro or buy a gas mask. But we hope all the cautionary words don't deflect attention from the genuinely scary prospect here: State sponsorship.

    U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft says it is "premature" to declare any link among the three anthrax mailings to three different American states, or any one of them to the September 11 attacks. And, yes, it is possible that three copycats decided, independently, that now was the time to airmail the anthrax they had somehow stockpiled for just such a terror occasion.

    But it's not very likely. The more rational hypothesis is that these were organized acts of terror, and that the anthrax wasn't produced in random basements.

    Several circumstantial links to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network are already known. Some of the World Trade Center hijackers, including suspected ringleader Mohamed Atta, visited an airfield near the site of the Boca Raton, Florida, anthrax mailings.

    The anthrax package sent to a Microsoft office in Reno, Nevada, was mailed from Malaysia, another al Qaeda haunt. One of the September 11 hijackers, Khaled Almihdhar, visited Malaysia earlier this year, appearing in a surveillance tape with another suspected associate of bin Laden. The terrorist's followers also met in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, in January 2000 as part of the plot to bomb the USS Cole in Yemen later the same year.

    As for the package sent to NBC in New York, it was postmarked on September 18 from Trenton, New Jersey. That state, especially Jersey City, was the home of the first attempt to destroy the World Trade Center in 1993, a plot also linked to bin Laden associates.

    More generally, as Dick Cheney said last Friday on PBS's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," "We know that [bin Laden] has over the years tried to acquire weapons of mass destruction, both biological and chemical weapons." Mr. Cheney added that the U.S. has obtained "copies of the manuals" that al Qaeda "actually used to train people" in how "to deploy and use these kinds of substances."

    Which brings us to who might have supplied bin Laden's gang. The likeliest answer is some government. Growing your own anthrax isn't difficult but turning it into a useful weapon is. Terrorist bands have in the past tried to use anthrax as a weapon, notably in Japan, but failed. Liquid anthrax is useless for terror and keeping airborne anthrax spores in the proper form to kill isn't easy.

    The U.S. cases have apparently all involved a powdered form of the disease. And this weekend's left-wing British Guardian newspaper cites intelligence sources as saying that, "Making powder needs repeated washings in huge centrifuges, followed by intensive drying, which requires sealed environments. The technology would cost millions." Bin Laden couldn't be doing all this in Afghan caves.

    The leading supplier suspect has to be Iraq. Saddam Hussein used weapons-grade anthrax against his own Kurdish population with lousy results, before turning to more efficiently lethal chemical weapons. U.S. intelligence sources believe Saddam has stockpiled thousands of pounds of biological agents, including anthrax. U.S. officials let Saddam know during the Gulf War that if he used such agents against U.S. forces he would get a destructive response.

    But that doesn't mean he, or his agents, might not want to unleash the weapon from a deniable distance, or via third parties. His anti-American animus hasn't lessened since his Gulf defeat. And Czech government sources have reported that Atta, the hijacking mastermind, met at least once with Iraqi diplomat Ahmad Samir Al-Ani in Prague.

    We rehearse all this because the best defense against anthrax attacks isn't passing out Cipro to every American. It is to go on relentless offense against the terrorist sources. In this sense the anthrax scare has boomeranged on the terrorists. American public support for the bombing in Afghanistan has actually risen since the first anthrax reports.

    Ending this war won't end terror, of course. Saddam or no, others will want to use anthrax or the like, and even after this week we still believe the greatest threat is nuclear terrorism. Americans are simply going to have to live from now on with a certain level of risk. The good news is that most Americans have been doing precisely that, with 110,000 showing up at Michigan Stadium as usual this autumn weekend.

    New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani put it well the other day when he said that Americans should begin to behave the way the British did during the London blitz: Cope with the danger when it appears but otherwise go cheerfully about your lives. Meanwhile, the government has to do everything possible to destroy the anthrax threat at its state-sponsored source.

    And that, son, was what 2001 and 2002 were like. This passed for an argument – and a good one, one that originated from and was persuasive at the highest levels of the media and government. Of course the editorial board was right about the "state sponsorship" part. The perpetrator was an old white American guy – not a Muslim terrorist, not an ex-KGB mercenary, not the Animal Liberation Front – working for the Department of Defense at Fort Detrick, where he had unrestricted access to the good shit. That the eventual outcome of this situation could have received so little attention in the media (and that the public could be so disinterested in demanding an explanation) is nothing short of amazing.

    You'd think they would feel guilty enough to offer a "Whoops! Ha ha, we really screwed the family dog on that whole anthrax incident we used to amplify the Iraq War drumbeat. Turns out it was an American! Isn't that weird?" story. Instead they assumed we forgot about it and proceeded to do likewise.

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