Baghdad: The Urban Sanctuary in Desert Storm?

Thursday, February 27th, 2003

According to Baghdad: The Urban Sanctuary in Desert Storm?, published by the Federation of American Scientists, Baghdad was not carpet-bombed in the Gulf War. In fact, it was hardly bombed at all:

  • In 43 days of war, a mere 330 weapons (244 laser-guided bombs and 86 Tomahawk cruise missiles) were delivered on Baghdad targets (a mere three percent of the total of all smart weapons expended) (see tables 1 and 2).3
  • Ordnance impacting in Baghdad totaled 287 tons (not even one tenth of one percent of the total in the air war).4 Contrast this with Linebacker II, during which aircraft dropped 15,000 tons on Hanoi in 11 days, 50 times the bomb tonnage on Baghdad.
  • There were 18 days and nights when there were no Baghdad strikes at all. In eight additional days and nights, five or fewer weapons fell. There were only 14 nights when more than two individual targets were attacked within the city.
  • Three of Baghdad’s 42 targets — Iraqi air force headquarters, Muthenna airfield, and Ba’ath party headquarters — absorbed 20 percent of the effort.5
  • The most intense “leadership” attack in Baghdad occurred on the last day of the war, when 21 bombs were delivered against the empty Ba’ath party headquarters.
  • Only once, on 7 February, was a suspected presidential target hit with more than two bombs during an attack.

Saddam Hussein: Crimes and Human Rights Abuses

Thursday, February 27th, 2003

According to Saddam Hussein: Crimes and Human Rights Abuses, a report on the human cost of Saddam’s policies by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Hussein’s regime has used the following means of torture:

Eye gouging: Amnesty International reported the case of a Kurdish businessman in Baghdad who was executed 1997. When his family retrieved his body, the eyes had been gouged out and the empty eyesockets stuffed with paper.

Piercing of hands with electric drill: A common method of torture for political detainees. Amnesty International reported one victim who then had acid poured into his open wounds.

Suspension from the ceiling: Victims are blindfolded, stripped and suspended for hours by their wrists, often with their hands tied behind their backs. This causes dislocation of shoulders and tearing of muscles and ligaments.

Electric shock: A common torture method. Shocks are applied to various parts of the body, including the genitals,ears, tongue and fingers.

Sexual abuse: Victims, particularly women, have been raped and sexually abused, including reports of broken bottles being forced into the victim’s anus.

“Falaqa”: Victims are forced to lie face down and are then beaten on the soles of their feet with a cable, often losing consciousness.

Other physical torture: Extinguishing cigarettes on various parts of the body, extraction of fingernails and toenails and beatings with canes, whips, hose pipes and metal rods are common.

Mock executions: Victims are told that they are to be executed by firing squad and a mock execution is staged. Victims are hooded and brought before a firing squad, who then fire blank rounds.

Acid baths: David Scheffer, US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, reported that photographic evidence showed that Iraq had used acid baths during the invasion of Kuwait. Victims were hung by their wrists and gradually lowered into the acid.

Stress Test Recovery Predicts Heart Attack Death

Thursday, February 27th, 2003

According to Stress Test Recovery Predicts Heart Attack Death:

Lauer and his team found that the traditional stress test could predict some deaths. Patients with premature heartbeats during exercise were 80 percent more likely to be dead within five years than people with a normal rhythm.

But they found that the heart’s behavior during the recovery period was even more revealing.

The death rate when an irregular beat surfaced immediately after exercise was 240 percent higher than normal, with an 11 percent chance of death over the next five years compared to 5 percent for people without the rhythm abnormality.
[...]
Three and a half years ago, Lauer and his colleagues discovered that patients whose hearts failed to slow down quickly during the first minute after exercise were four times more likely to die over the next six years that people whose hearts had a normal recovery time.

The Twin Towers Project: A Cautionary Tale

Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

The Twin Towers Project: A Cautionary Tale makes a point I hadn’t heard before:

It’s cruelly ironic that the terrorists who attacked New York on September 11 targeted the World Trade Center as a symbol of American capitalism. For, from the moment it opened its doors in the early 1970s, the center, owned and operated by the publicly funded Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was really a grandiose monument to the ills of state capitalism, where government substitutes its bureaucratic and politically motivated thinking for the wisdom of the free market’s invisible hand. Indeed, the WTC offers a case study in why government should not be in the business of developing and managing commercial property.

Our Islamic Fifth Column

Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

In Our Islamic Fifth Column, Farrukh Dhondy, an Indian-Briton, describes his early experiences with Islam:

I was born a Zoroastrian, in India, a descendant of refugees from the Muslim conquest of Iran by Arab armies in the seventh century. The India of my childhood was full of superstition, of faith in myriad manifestations of the unseen, but even then one knew that Islam and its followers were distinctive. From the Shia mosque in Poona, where I grew up, there emerged every Moharrum night, the end of Ramzaan, a procession of chanting Muslims in black shirts, cutting themselves with chains and little daggers strung together, in frenzied and bloody penance through the night — a demonstration of a belief beyond the threshold of pain. They believed that theirs was the only creed, that their book was dictated by God, that Hindus were idolators and the worshipers of trees and monkeys, that Zoroastrians were fire-worshiping infidels, and that Christians were an ancient military enemy. Their faith seemed to me even at the time to exclude what it had not invented.

Creepy. His take on radical Muslims living in Britain?

If you prostrate yourself to an all-powerful and unfathomable being five times a day, if you are constantly told that you live in the world of Satan, if those around you are ignorant of and impervious to literature, art, historical debate, and all that nurtures the values of Western civilization, your mind becomes susceptible to fanaticism. Your mind rots.

Worse, it can become the instrument of others who send you out on suicidal missions.

The Dystopian Imagination

Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

The Dystopian Imagination, by Theodore Dalrymple, covers a literary genre near and dear to any libertarian sci-fi fan’s heart:

It is hardly surprising that a century of utopian dreams and coercive social engineering to achieve them should have been a century rich in imaginative dystopias. Indeed, from The Time Machine to Blade Runner, the dystopia became a distinct literary and cinematic genre, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984 became so much a part of Western man’s mental furniture that even unliterary people invoke them to criticize the present.

The Monument They Deserve

Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

The Monument They Deserve describes one potential 9/11 monument I could endorse:

Stoddart envisions two bronze figures, personifying the muses of memory and history, atop two massive stone plinths that evoke the vanished Twin Towers. Each of the thrice-life-size figures — little sisters (as Stoddart calls them) of the nation’s and the city’s greatest and most iconic sculpture, the Statue of Liberty — holds out one of Liberty’s attributes: Memory holds up her torch, and History holds out her tablet to catch the light the torch sheds. Between the bases of the two figures, directly below the torch, lies a heavily draped bronze catafalque, the only grave many of the dead will have.

In case you don’t use terms like plinth and catafalque everyday, here are some definitions from Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: plinth
Pronunciation: ‘plin(t)th
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin plinthus, from Greek plinthos
Date: 1601
1 a : the lowest member of a base : SUBBASE b : a block upon which the moldings of an architrave or trim are stopped at the bottom
2 : a usually square block serving as a base; broadly : any of various bases or lower parts
3 : a course of stones forming a continuous foundation or base course

Main Entry: cat?a?falque
Pronunciation: ‘ka-t&-”fo(l)k, -”falk
Function: noun
Etymology: Italian catafalco, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin catafalicum scaffold, from cata- + Latin fala siege tower
Date: 1641
1 : an ornamental structure sometimes used in funerals for the lying in state of the body
2 : a pall-covered coffin-shaped structure used at requiem masses celebrated after burial

How to Fix Gotham’s Taxi Mess

Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

How to Fix Gotham’s Taxi Mess, by Steven Malanga, explains some of New York’s taxi history:

In the mid-1920s, New York licensed as many as 21,000 cabdrivers, and those who did the actual driving held the permits. But during the Depression, many drivers simply let their licenses lapse, so that by 1937 only about 12,000 were active. That year, under pressure from drivers, the city passed a law limiting medallions, a limit that eventually settled at 11,787. But the law went one crucial step further: it granted current medallion holders their licenses permanently, and it permitted them to sell the medallions. Later, the city allowed individuals to accumulate more than one medallion and to lease them to others.

The city, in other words, created a protected oligopoly in the right to provide cab service to an ever growing city. Just like the favored nobles and merchants to whom European monarchs of old gave a monopoly on precious commodities like salt, the fixed number of medallion holders, without ever lifting a finger, were certain to coin money out of the public’s need for the service they controlled, a service whose supply became increasingly less likely to meet demand fully as the city’s economy expanded.

Singapore Diarist: Lion in a Jungle

Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

Singapore Diarist: Lion in a Jungle, by Howard Husock, makes the point that Singapore is surrounded by Muslim-dominated nations (Malaysia and Indonesia), has its own Muslim minority, and presents quite a target for anti-Western, anti-capitalist terrorists. It also makes some lighter points:

If Singapore is multiethnic, it is decidedly not “multicultural.” When the island became an independent nation in 1965, the ruling People’s Action Party made English the national language, even though few Singaporeans spoke English at home. Today, when I ask an American expatriate to describe the difference between Singapore and his former home of Los Angeles, his deadpan reply speaks volumes: “More people speak English here.”

Tort Turns Toxic

Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

Tort Turns Toxic, by Steven Malanga, summarizes what has happened to our legal system, and why we’re so “sue happy” these days:

The tort mess began with a radical change in our civil justice system, presented as compassionate by its advocates. From colonial times, civil justice lawsuits required allegations of real negligence or broken contracts. But beginning in the 1950s, activist lawyers and judges succeeded in replacing the old tort system with a new one, based on the idea that people who had suffered harm while using a product or service should receive compensation regardless of whether negligence had anything to do with their misfortune. Over time, negligence all but disappeared as a legal concept, replaced by “strict liability,” which meant that anyone remotely linked to a product or service that caused harm might have to pay the injured parties, even if he’d done nothing wrong. Under strict liability, doctors and hospitals guilty of no demonstrable negligence, for example, now found themselves facing — and losing — birth-defect lawsuits. The courts simply assumed that insurers would pack the costs of such judgments into the premiums doctors paid, and that the doctors in turn would pass those costs on to the rest of us in the form of higher medical fees. Misfortune would be compensated, and the cost would be spread across society.

Sounds reasonable, but what kind of incentive system does this set up?

One reason the trial lawyers have so much to spend on politics is the contingency-fee system. Under this system, lawyers get paid only for cases they win — typically 15 to 40 percent of each judgment. But as awards have grown humongous, fees increasingly bear little relation to any actual work the lawyers have done. In a Texas case that produced a $122 million payment to the families of victims of a fatal bus accident, for example, lawyers merely participated in settlement negotiations and never set foot in court — but scooped up $40 million in fees, or about $25,000 an hour, estimates Cardozo law professor Brickman. But even such mammoth sums seem tiny when compared with the fees from tobacco litigation. To date, lawyers have won nearly $13 billion for themselves, with some estimates of their hourly rates running as high as $100,000.

MIT’s 6.370 Contest

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

MIT always runs cool contests for its project classes, and this year’s 6.370 competition bears an uncanny resemblance to something I wanted to do almost eight years ago, when Java was new (and real-time strategy games were fairly new too, I guess):

As in last year’s contest, your task will be to develop Java programs that will play a realtime strategy game using virtual droids. Each droid’s hardware will be modelled as a set of abilities which your software will control through a fixed interface. Software will run in timesliced Java virtual machines written in Java, what we will call Droid Virtual Machines (DVMs). Using these abilities, droid software will be able to explore the closed universe and interact with other objects and droids.

This contest is based on realtime (RTS) strategy games. If you are unfamiliar with RTS terminology, please consult our primer. There are some differences to note from traditional RTS:

  • Resources are not gathered and expended from a single, omnipresent “account” for each player. A droid may only gather and spend resources for itself.
  • There is not a single omniscient player controlling the army. Each droid has a limited sensor and radio range and must communicate with other friendly droids to accomplish goals. As such, there is a very foggy fog-of-war in effect.
  • There are no buildings per se. One type of droid is stationary, guards territory, and serves some other functions traditionally associated with buildings. However, they can also run code like other droids.
  • There is no human intervention in the action of your droid army. Once a game begins, your software controls the droids until the game ends or is aborted.

What Do You Think?

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

I love The Onion. From the most recent What Do You Think?:

Decried as gas-guzzling road hazards, SUVs are also under fire for supporting terrorism by increasing U.S. dependence on Mideast oil. What do you think?

“But what if I need my SUV for sporting or utilitating?”
— Carl Davis, Roofer

“Yes, the average U.S. automobile has doubled in weight since 1990, but so has the average U.S. citizen.”
— Amy Benton, Teacher

The End of Herstory

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

The End of Herstory, by Kay S. Hymowitz, makes the case that, in some ways, we’re all feminists now, and that hard-line Feminism has become obsolete:

Up until a year ago, Amanda Laforge could have served as a poster girl for Ms. After graduating from Boston University, she went to American University law school. When she married, she kept her maiden name and her job with the Maryland secretary of state. When she got pregnant, she continued commuting 45 minutes to her new job at the state attorney general’s office. When the baby came, she planned to take three months’ maternity leave, and then return to the office for a continued climb up the career ladder.

It didn’t turn out that way. Instead of becoming super career mom, she quit her job. Yet she shows no symptoms of Oppressed Housewife Syndrome.

Notes on Camp

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

I never attended summer camp, but from reading Notes on Camp, by Kay S. Hymowitz, I think I can conclude that things have changed:

One steamy night last July, while sitting at my desk in Brooklyn, I got a phone call from the head counselor of my daughter’s camp in the Adirondacks. “Anna’s fine,” he assured me immediately, “but there’s been an incident.” During an overnight canoe trip, he continued, a 15-year-old girl from her cabin had downed a vial of the antidepressant Wellbutrin, left the lean-to where eight other campers were in their sleeping bags, and drowned in the shallow water of the lake. The counselor put my distraught child on the phone, and she chokingly told of a night far worse even than what he had described. Four other girls had also popped some pills: two of them had spent the night hallucinating; the two who were still lucid screamed threats when several girls in the next lean-to, including Anna, wanted to call a counselor for help. Three girls woke at dawn and stumbled upon the corpse facedown on the muddy beach. To cap the experience, the girls spent the next morning making a statement to a state trooper.

London Muslims ‘Celebrate’ 9/11

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

London Muslims “Celebrate” 9/11 describes a pretty disturbing celebration:

An obscene spectacle took place in North London on September 11, 2002. A thousand Muslims gathered at the Finsbury Park mosque to “celebrate” the bombing of the World Trade Center. The Metropolitan Police deployed a force 500-strong to protect the meeting, called “A Towering Day in History,” from disruption. A dozen or so menacing-looking men with kaffiyehs over their faces stood on the mosque’s steps to prevent unfriendly journalists from entering.

The “celebration” began promptly at 1 pm, so that participants could applaud the action of the WTC bombers at exactly 1:46 London time — the exact time, a year earlier, when the first plane hit its target in New York. Chairing the meeting was Abu Hamza, an Egyptian-born engineer turned Muslim mullah, who presides over the notorious Finsbury Park mosque, where several of the detainees in Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, captured fighting for the Taliban and al-Qaida, received their theological training. Hamza also reportedly recruited to the jihad Richard Reid, the would-be shoe-bomber who failed to blow up an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami on December 22, 2001. The good imam is implicated as well in the training and instigation of Zacarias Moussaoui, under arrest on suspicion of conspiring with the 19 murderers of September 11.

I particularly enjoyed (if that’s the right word) the description of their sinister leader, Hamza:

Hamza is in every way a sinister character. He is blind in one eye, and his left hand has been blown off and replaced by a metal claw. He claims in interviews that he lost his hand and eye when fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, and he uses these injuries as his warrior credentials. The claim is a lie. A British documentary producer, Alu Jamal, interviewed him on camera in Pakistan for a BBC film a year after the Russians left Afghanistan. The footage shows Hamza with his eye and hand intact. His injuries probably result from mishandling explosives.