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Category: Miscellany

Alex Frantz at Public Nuisance

Published / by N.Z. Bear

Alex Frantz at Public Nuisance writes in with additional detail on the WWII precedent for a creative task force, indicating that in WWII, exactly such a team was assembled to brainstorm possible methods for preventing suicide attacks by Japanese kamakazi pilots.

The team was headed by (you guessed it): Robert A. Heinlein.

Now, it’s unclear to me (and Alex, apparently), whether this is the same group I mention at the Naval Yards or not — to me, it sounds different. Anyone with additional info, please let me know, and check out Alex’s site for a bit more detail…

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Sean Roche sends this commentary

Published / by N.Z. Bear

Sean Roche sends this commentary on the dream team concept:

Why do you need to “staff a government dream team” to tap into the creative intelligence of the country. The Office of Homeland Security should put up a web site with an e-mail link: Send us your terrorist plots. Give a $1000 bounty to anyone who submits a new one, $250 to anyone who suggests a new twist on an old one.

If we weren’t worried about giving the bad guys the wrong idea, it would be a great ‘blog. Call it “The Red Team” after the intelligence groups supposed to imagine scenarios for the blue team to counter. Solicit ideas from anyone.

A big ‘yup’ there. I agree with Sean that a blog — while it would make a mighty interesting read — isn’t such a great idea, but I’m not sure I see any downside from a submit-only website. (And let us not forget the less geeky among us — a nice old analog phone number would be helpful as well). I do think, though, that this idea is complimentary to the dream team concept, not a replacement — I think creative types in collaboration can end up with a “greater whole than the sum of its parts”, in some cases.

A common theme seems to be emerging here — why isn’t the government of the most creative, cantankerous, and skilled nation on the planet actually leveraging the skills and talents of its people? (For another spin on this theme, Instapundit points us to David Rothkopf’s piece in Foreign Policy, which makes the case for leveraging the talents of America’s business community to fight terrorism).

You can also check out Sean’s blog here.

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Update – I made a

Published / by N.Z. Bear

Update – I made a snarky comment about Tom Clancy in my original list for the creative dream team, which I’ve now removed. It was off the cuff and has been bugging me as being unwarranted. To be clear for the record: I haven’t closely examined Mr. Clancy’s politics lately, so I won’t endorse or reject them. I have enjoyed many (but not all) of his novels; thought Hunt for Red October was an excellent film (but was disappointed with the Harrison Ford versions), and hear that Sum of All Fears with Affleck is supposed to be good. So if Mr. Clancy does happen to stumble upon my humble page: my apologies.

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Today on WebLog SmackDown ™:

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Today on WebLog SmackDown ™: InstaPower vs. KausPower!

Well, I was blessed with a Instapundit link last week, and this morning I awake to find Kausfiles has sent a reefer my way (the, uh, Internet kind, I mean).

Does mild-mannered law professor Glenn Reynolds have the mojo to go up against Redmond’s new media giant? Or has the absorption into the collective hive mind of Slate drained Kausfiles of its cache?

I shall monitor the traffic stats with great anticipation — watch this space for updates!

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Do you know who Stitch

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Do you know who Stitch is? If you don’t, check him out. I know, schilling for Disney is like haulin’ ice to Newcastle… or, well, something like that… but this upcoming flick looks like it has the chance to redeem Disney’s recently-dismal animated track record. (Screw Yoda, this is the little guy I’ve been waiting for this season). I highly recommend watching the trailers (the “Inter-Stitch-als”) when you’re in need of a good chuckle. The film opens June 21.

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Little Green Footballs passes

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Little Green Footballs passes on a link to a letter-to-the-editor to the Berkeley Daily Planet, in which reader Rachel Schorr details the reasons why Berkeley should divest from Saudi Arabia.

I’m not convinced divestiture from Saudi Arabia is the right course here. (Actually, I’d prefer that Arabia divest itself of the House of Saud.) But I’m all in favor of any reminders that keep us from forgetting exactly who these people are.

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Instapundit reader Harry Helms pointed

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Instapundit reader Harry Helms pointed out a few days back that the failure of imagination which is central to the government’s inability to prevent September 11th means we should look to creative types such as writers to “help visualize new terrorist scenarios and plots”.

Yup. Harry doesn’t call them out by name, but I think my particular favorite genre has quite a bit to offer in this regard — science fiction writers. Some of the best SF comes from the classic formulation of taking a possible (but not yet actual) premise and exploring it to its logical conclusion — precisely the kind of thinking I would assume is useful in terrorist planning scenarios.

My hands-down favorite example in this area is Solution Unsatisfactory, a short story by SF master Robert A. Heinlein (which can be found in his collection Expanded Universe, out of print but possible to find used). The central idea in Heinlein’s tale is the development of atomic weapons — in this case, radioactive “dust” bombs that, when spread over a city, render it completely uninhabitable.

The story was published in 1940, five years before Hiroshima, and legend has it that it earned him a visit from the U.S. feds to find out where, exactly, Mr. Heinlein had gotten his information.

For about fifty years, Heinlein looked really smart, but not quite totally prescient, given that his dust weapons didn’t exactly match the actual atomic bombs that were created. But now it seems Heinlein wasn’t predicting the future six years in advance — he was predicting it sixty years in advance — as we now are living in a world where “dirty bombs” which spread radioactive waste are, quite possibly, the most likely nuclear weapons that may (fate forbid) see use against civilian populations.

There are numerous other examples of well-reasoned, intelligent and (incidentally) extremely readable explorations of “what-if” scenarios out there. Kim Stanley Robinson wrote perhaps the definitive work on human colonization of a new world with his Mars Trilogy — which actually addresses yet another Instapundit topic du jour, what the environmental issues will be when humans begin colonizing Mars. Robinson’s novel (which I’ll admit up front is one of my absolute favorite works of fiction, period) addresses not only the nuts-and-bolts technical issues of rendering a planet habitable for fragile humans, but also creates a complete political and social world, wrestling with the rather staggering question of “If you could create an entirely new society and government on a new planet — what should it look like?”

Other samples: it’s reasonably well known that author Arthur C. Clarke developed the concept of satellite communications in 1945, but less well-known that Robert A. Heinlein came up with the idea for the waterbed. William Gibson is widely credited with the idea of cyberspace, but frankly, Vernor Vinge described the coming ‘Net better with A Fire Upon the Deep, and earlier with True Names.

And there is even some precedent for the formal inclusion of creative types — in this case, science fiction writers — being called upon in time of war. During WWII, Issac Asimov, L. Sprague De Camp, and yes, Heinlein, were recruited to work at the Materials Laboratory of the Naval Air Material Center at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. (I’ve tried to find some more detailed history on the web of this effort, but the best I can do is this acceptance speech by De Camp, which mentions the project about halfway down).

So why not again, and why not now? Limiting the pool to science fiction writers would be foolish — I’m just focusing on what I know here — but they certainly aren’t a bad place to start. Tom Ridge doesn’t seem to be doing terribly much else — why not put him to work getting a crowd of creative types together for a serious what-iffing session? Put the right twenty people in a conference room for a day, supply sufficient quantities of caffeine and alcohol, and I guarantee you’ll walk out of there with ideas that haven’t yet occurred to the CIA or FBI.

Nominations, anyone? Here’s a quick list to start with:

Tom Clancy (has a proven track record of coming up with nasty scenarios — see above)
John Barnes (frighteningly good at coming up with nasty worst-case scenarios, see Mother of Storms).
Kim Stanley Robinson (natch)
Christopher Hitchens (guaranteed to have an opinion on anything)
Iain M. Banks (he’s a Brit, but they’re on the right side)

Got your own nominations? Send them to me, and I’ll start a running list….

Update: By the way, I hope nobody will bother suggesting Oliver Stone, because he’s a complete nutcase.
Update May 31, 2007: Howdy Instapundit readers (again, five years later!). If you are looking for more on the “dream team” we came up with back in 2002, check out this update.

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Laurence Simon at File13 tells

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Laurence Simon at File13 tells us that we should be watching East Timor closely:

“There’s a lot to learn from this series of events, because nation-building by the ham-fisted anti-Semitic UN is going to happen in West Bank and Gaza, too, whether the people deserve it or not.”

He’s almost certainly right, although I’ll quibble — back to my precise language rant again — that many of the Palestinian people do deserve a normal life (although there are at least a few — i.e., those who kill children to make political statements — who deserve no life at all).

(Laurence also throws in a really bad Happy Meal joke, but he got the lede right, so we’ll let that slide for today.)

The other reason we (and here I’m talking about Americans in particular) should be paying attention to East Timor is that we bear more than a little responsibility for getting them into this mess in the first place. As a newly declassified State Department telegram shows, the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975 — in which at least 50,000 civilians were killed by the Indonesian government’s own count — was executed with prior knowledge of then President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and utilized U.S.-supplied arms. This is one of the prime reasons why journalist Christopher Hitchens (whose article on the subject in my main source) and many others believe there is a case to be made for criminal prosecution of Kissinger — both for international war crimes, and for simple violation of U.S. law.

More on my thoughts on Kissinger later — because that’s a topic in itself…

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A reader pointed out to

Published / by N.Z. Bear

A reader pointed out to me that the Boston Globe has also picked up on the story of Vatican legal scholar Rev. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, who believes church leaders “are neither morally nor judicially responsible for the acts committed by one of their clergy.”. They add this tidbit to the Times’ story, where Ghirlanda indicates that he doesn’t think accused priests should be subjected to any kind of psychological examination:

“To our thinking, it’s not admissible that the incriminated cleric be forced to undergo a psychological investigation to determine if his personality is inclined to commit the crimes in question” (as quoted in the Globe).

Given that Ghirlanda does agree that priests who are likely to abuse again should not be placed in parishes (“If the bishop fears the priest could again commit a crime, then he must not entrust to the priest a parish, but must act in a different way.” — the one note of sense in this) we are left to speculate exactly how this determination should be made. Since (according to the Times, at least), Ghirlanda has already said he doesn’t think Church leaders should turn over allegations of abuse to civil authorities, I guess we’re back to putting our faith in the good judgment of the Princes of the Church.

Correction: In my previous note on this subject, I implied that Rev. Ghirlanda wrote the words “Roman Catholic bishops should not turn over allegations or records of sexual abuse by priests to the civil authorities” in his article. Although the Times indicates that this was the substance of his argument, the quote was from the Times’ phrasing, not Ghirlanda’s. Apologies for the confusion.

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The what-did-Bush-know-when pile-on has now

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The what-did-Bush-know-when pile-on has now officially reached hysterical levels, as History News Network’s P.M. Carpenter’s call to the administration’s opponents to “Grab a Louisville Slugger” shows (found via Atrios).

I’m not thrilled at all with the spin emmanating from 1600 Pennsylvania on this issue, as I think my current page header makes clear. But I believe it’s damned important to keep in mind that these are not normal times, and as much fun as it may be to beat up on idiots (especially idiots holding public office with whom you hold substantive disagreements), we’d better remember what our priority should be right about now: to win this war.

Carpenter gleefully paints the what-if scenario of where we’d be had Clinton or Gore been in office last September: “Presidential initiatives would be halted cold in their tracks–and permanently. For the remainder of his term, a Clinton or Gore would experience imposed paralyzation, plagued eight days a week by ever-mounting Republican investigations.” And concludes: “Turnabout is but fair.”

Perhaps. Probably, in fact. But frankly I don’t give two shakes about what’s “fair” at the moment — what I care about is ensuring that our government does the absolute best job possible of ensuring the safety of this country. And while I can’t know for sure whether Carpenter really does hope that Bush gets his “turnabout” and ends up with an administration in “imposed paralyzation”, I would hope it’s obvious to anyone that this would be an extraordinarily bad thing right about now.

Does this mean Bush and the administration should get a free pass? Absolutely not. What it means is that any intelligent criticism of the administration must be focused not on simply discrediting Bush or making his appointees look incompetent. It has to be focused on actual constructive criticism of the current course of the government, and on bringing every available intelligent mind to focus on the issue of how we can make it function better. Because we’re not talking about whether the estate tax gets revised or not this year. We’re talking about how we’re going to defend our families and fellow citizens against a still-at-large group of homicidal maniacs who would like very much to kill us.

Should Tenet or Rice or Mueller get fired for their respective failures to prevent 9/11? Maybe. I don’t have enough information yet to form a judgment. But the criteria I’ll apply in making that judgment will not be whether they “deserve” it, or whether a Clinton appointee in their place would be fired — it will be whether removing them from office will improve, or harm, this country’s ability to defend itself.

I think many, if not most, of the voices being raised in alarm and dismay about the administration’s handling of the pre-9/11 warnings — and their current lack of candor — genuinely do have the old and honorable aim of improving our society and government through open discussion and criticism. But some, including Carpenter, seem to be failing to grasp the danger involved in politically castrating the President of the United States when, ever so incidentally, we happen to be at war.

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The N.Y. Times (registration required)

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The N.Y. Times (registration required) has a preview today of a Vatican legal scholar’s upcoming article in which he argues that “Roman Catholic bishops should not turn over allegations or records of sexual abuse by priests to the civil authorities”.

The obvious tagline here was “they still don’t get it”, but that’s gotten to be a truism. The learned fellow also apparently offers this helpful insight: “From a canonical point of view, the bishop or religious superior is neither morally nor legally responsible for a criminal act committed by one of his clerics.”

It’s hard to know even where to start, and I don’t have the energy this early in the morning pre-coffee. Take it away, Mr. Sullivan…

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Meryl was kind enough to

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Meryl was kind enough to send some linkage my way today, so a big ‘hey there’ to any of her regulars stopping by. And just to be clear: no, you won’t find any actual blackmail photos of her on the site. Sorry!

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