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Exploding Gatorade?

Saturday, August 12, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

Noooo! Not a bike!

Is it just me or do you find this latest Al Qaeda . . . excuse me, suspected Al Qaeda . . . plot, kind of reassuring?

I mean, it's been five years. And for five years we've all speculated about natural gas tankers in Boston and anthrax in Las Vegas and dirty bombs in D.C. and weaponized smallpox everywhere. And what they've got is, "Duh . . . let's blow up some more airplanes, Osama."

Let's say they had succeeded. Let's say they got all nine or ten planes. Call it another 3,000 people. Pretty fucking awful. But at another level, that's it? That's what they've got? They kill 3,000 people every five years? For that we should cower in a corner? Jesus, in five years' time we lose 200,000 people in traffic accidents. And yet we get right back out there on the highway and not only do we drive, a lot of the time we damn well enjoy it.

We have 600 or so bicycle fatalities a year. In five years the number of people who die from riding bicycles equals the number of people who died on 9-11. Now Al Qaeda has tried and failed to pull off a terrorist attack that, if successful, would have made them every bit as dangerous as the nation's Schwinns.

Don't get me wrong. We still need to hunt these sons of bitches down and place a genuine, Made in the USA bullet in each of their brains. But after five years they're still on the whole airliner thing? Exploding Gatorade? That's what they've got?

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Toadying the Chefs.

by Michael Reynolds

Pheasant at Alinea.

Forget politics for a minute, let's talk food. My top ten restaurants, most in Chicago or Paris where I've spent more time doing serious eating.
  • 10. Moscow Marriott Room Service. A scoop of beluga the size of your fist for the cost of a room service cheeseburger.
  • 9. That Place Whose Name I Can't Remember. Free-range foie gras raised on the premises. It's in France, on the Luxembourg border. Go there and look around. Look for happy geese.
  • 8. Arun's. Forget anything you think you know about Thai food. This is where Charlie Trotter takes out-of-town guests.
  • 7. Spiaggia. Beautiful room, beautiful view, imaginative tasting menus, amazing cheese tray.
  • 6. Ducasse at Plaza Athenee. So smooth, so refined, so low-bullshit.
  • 5. The Inn at Little Washington. Psychic service. Think it, and it appears.
  • 4. Tru. The crystal staircase of caviar. Witty and cool.
  • 3. Michel Rostang. Truffle sandwiches. Sweet Jesus.
  • 2. Charlie Trotter. My personal God. The guy who opened my eyes.
  • 1. Alinea. Grant Achatz is the future of haute cuisine. Your life will never be the same.
Yep, I'm on a diet. Slightly obsessed with all I can't have.

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The End Of The Rumsfeld Doctrine

by Michael Reynolds

If there's a silver lining in this Israeli mess in Southern Lebanon it's that this will be another knife in the heart of the Rumsfeld war doctrine and the neo-con fantasy of no fuss, no muss warfare.

Israel fought a Rumsfeld war. They set aside their heavy tank forces and sent in the air force. Ground forces were limited to special forces and seizures of a few key points. Air force targeting relied on intelligence. The result? Israel's worst defeat on the battlefield.

The Rumsfeld approach to war is an engineer's approach to a human problem. The idea is to rely on air power which is fed targets by intelligence and by small ground force probes. The approach is casualty-averse and hopes to minimize what we charmingly refer to as collateral damage. It worked pretty well in Afghanistan. But the bad guys adapted as bad guys will. That's why the greater wisdom was in the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force. Rumsfeld assumes a world where the problem is essentially mechanical: use this screwdriver and that wrench, apply this precise amount of force, waste no effort, maximize efficiency. The Powell Doctrine assumed that sometimees things go wrong, and when they do you need more not less, general not specific. Rumsfeld hoped to wield a scalpel. Powell preferred the sledgehammer.

Time to dust off the sledgehammer, as the Israelis to their belated credit, have now figured out. Mr. Rumsfeld of course never did accept reality. He clings to his mechanistic, simplistic, engineer's view of the world even now. And now in Iraq it's too late for the sledgehammer.

The unstated aim of the Rumsfeld approach is to make war more do-able. To de-evil war by using surgical precision to kill only bad guys and hurt no one else. Like so many bright ideas it sounds great in the Power Point presentation. By making war quick and bloodless, precise and finely-tuned, we could have a lot more, smaller, easily-managed wars and use this efficiency as a force multiplier.

Unfortunately, war is never going to be an engineering problem. The enemy will never be a machine, he will always be smarter and more adaptive than we'd like. Intelligence will never be as good as we need it to be. Could there be a more favorable intelligence environment than Israel had in southern Lebanon? And yet their targeting and their estimates of Hezbollah strength were useless.

The Rumsfeld doctrine is dead. Rummy may not know it, but his generals surely do. The next time the Pentagon has to go to war the generals will remember Iraq and recall southern Lebanon, too, and they will stand up like men and demand the troops they really need. And then, because they will have learned from the disaster of the Rumsfeld years, they'll demand three times as many as that. The next open war we fight will be under the Powell Doctrine.

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0 For 3

Friday, August 11, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

It is hard to see how the UN resolution passed this evening represents anything but an Israeli defeat.

The Israelis went after Hezbollah and now if -- a big if -- Israel actually allows implementation of this cease fire, Hezbollah will have been left standing. Hezbollah will claim victory. The same way I'd claim victory if I climbed into the ring with Mohammed Ali in his prime and left the ring standing up.

This is not to say that Hezbollah hasn't been hurt. But in the Muslim world defeat is victory, destruction is glory, failure is holy. It is Israel that will be conducting the post-mortems and naming the scapegoats.

I don't know if Condoleeza Rice lost her nerve and Mr. Bush his confidence in Ehud Olmert, or if they are acting like the friend who pulls you out of a losing bar fight. It doesn't matter much, this will be seen throughout the middle east as a defeat for Israel and by extension, us. In the end we turned for help to the French and to the United Nations and even had to endure a chiding lecture from Kofi Anaan.

Israel went into this war with no clear strategic plan. They cut off entry points for rearmament. And they punished the pitifully weak Lebanese government for failing to control Hezbollah. And then they fought a Rumsfeld war of probing movements and air power. Now it seems they are bringing in the tanks. The Israelis at least learn quickly. We still haven't learned the folly of just-enough-to-lose warfare.

Does anyone believe that the Lebanese forces tasked to step between the Israelis and Hezbollah will keep the peace? If they ever even arrive in that position?

This makes the third time Iran has beaten us. First came the hostage taking under Jimmy Carter, followed by the murder by Hezbollah of 241 Marines in Beirut and Ronald Reagan's cut-and-run. Their second victory is one still in the making: Iraq. This looks like the third.

We need to stop losing to these people. We need to think about that in two years, when we vote. We don't need someone charming, we don't need someone attractive. We need someone who is going to start winning.

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Not Horrified.

by Michael Reynolds

As a moderate I am supposed to be horrified that Joe Lieberman lost his primary race to Markos Moulitsas . . . er, I mean Ned Lamont.

I'm not horrified.

Joe Lieberman is an arrogant, smug, sanctimonious, self-serving politician with delusions of prophethood. In the 2000 presidential race he chose to keep his Senate race going despite the fact that had he been elected Vice President it would likely have meant the loss of the Senate to the GOP. He covered his ass then, even at risk to his own party. And he did it again in this re-election race by refusing to accept the outcome of his own party's primary. Given the four point margin it's entirely possible that Lieberman would have won the primary had he vowed to stick by the results. But he didn't. He couldn't, because Joe Lieberman is all about Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman's beating isn't emblematic of anything. The RSCC is telling its own GOP candidates to put distance between themselves and Mr. Bush. In other words, Republicans are telling their own candidates to avoid sounding like Joe Lieberman. Are we supposed to be surprised that Lieberman lost a Democratic primary in a blue state after associating himself more closely with the President than members of the President's own party dare to?

I have not yet accepted Markos Moulitsas as my personal savior, but neither have I concluded that he and the "netroots" are necessarily the death of the Democratic Party. Among the DailyKos fan-faves is James Webb, running against the execrable Senator George Allen of Virginia. Webb is a Marine. He's a decorated combat vet. He's Ronald Reagan's former Secretary of the Navy. I would argue that the Kos embrace of a not-even-remotely pacifist ex-Republican Marine testifies less to fanaticism and more to old-fashioned power politics. I'm not seeing a lot of other Kos-led Ned Lamont insurgencies. I'm not seeing quite the rabid fanaticism the Center and Right purport to see here. Not from Moulitsas himself, certainly, whatever his loonier commentors may say.

Charles Krauthammer takes the Republican talking point: Lamont = McGovern and flies it right off the edge.

With the defeat of Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary in Connecticut, antiwar forces are poised for a takeover of the Democratic Party. Tuesday's exhilarating victory, and the elan and electoral legitimacy gained, may carry the newly energized Democratic left to considerable success in November.

But for the Democratic Party it will be an expensive and short-lived indulgence. The Iraq war will end, as will the Bush presidency. But the larger conflict that defines our times -- war on Islamic radicalism, more politely known as the war on terrorism -- will continue, as the just-foiled London airliner plot unmistakably reminds us. And the reflexive antiwar sentiments underlying Ned Lamont's victory in Connecticut will prove disastrous for the Democrats in the long run -- the long run beginning as early as November '08

Yeah, maybe. But I'm not seeing that just yet. First, the war is at a 60% negative in the polls. Hard to see how that will turn around by 2008. So I'm not seeing the part where a rational opposition to the Iraq war is going to spell disaster. Not now. Two years ago, sure. Not now. And not two years from now.

Second, nice try Krauthammer, but the Iraq war and the war against radical Islam are not the same war. The Afghanistan war is the war against radical Islam. You remember the Afghanistan war, right? The one that every national Democrat supported and continues to support? The war the Bush administration neglected so that it could go haring off after Saddam?

In point of fact the Iraq war, and more pointedly the criminally incompetent mishandling of the Iraq war, further the cause of radical Islam. The Iraq war has become the war of support for Shia extremism. The Iraq war is now the war to empower Iran.

The Democrats need to make that point: Afghanistan? Yes. Killing Al Qaeda? Yes. Supporting a war to empower Iran? No.

If the Democrats grab that line, hold onto it, beat it into people's heads, they'll do fine not just in 2006 but in 2008 and beyond.

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Too Simple?

Thursday, August 10, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

We know the story of United 93. Passengers alerted only moments earlier to the 9-11 attacks successfully thwarted -- at the cost of their own lives -- an effort to run the plane into a major Washington landmark.

We don't know as well the story of American Airlines flight 63. That was the Paris flight boarded by shoe bomber Richard Reid. He, too, was thwarted by flight attendants and passengers who reacted with amazing speed and stopped Reid lighting a fuse and downing the jet.

So, two points:

First, I fail to see why we don't have a pair of air marshalls on every long-haul flight. Yes, I know it would be costly. Let's say we charge each of the 300 to 400 passengers an extra ten bucks. That's three to four thousand dollars. If that doesn't cover the cost of two air marshalls then federal service pays a lot better than we've been led to believe.

I understand the reluctance of the airlines to raise prices but you know what? If you can afford $500 for a ticket but balk at $510, you need to stay home.

Second, rather than wasting time explaining the workings of seat belts to people who've fastened seat belts five times a day for twenty years' worth of highway commutes, why not have the flight attendants announce something like the following:

"Passengers should be aware of the ongoing threat of terrorism against airlines. If you notice any suspicious behavior by any passenger immediately alert a flight attendant by pressing the red button we call the 911 button which is located above your seat. If you need a flight attendant for our usual excellent service push the flight attendant button. If you have any reason to suspect a threat, press the 911 button."

When there's a terrorist incident we launch F-16's. Air marshalls are cheaper. And alert passengers are free.

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Sideways Who?

by Michael Reynolds

Well. What the hell am I doing here?

First of all, many of you know that "M. Takhallus" is a pseudonym. Some of you will have Googled the word "takhallus" and figured out that it means "pen name" in Arabic. Or possibly Urdu. Maybe, Persian? Really, who cares? And many of you, since I invited you here, know my actual name and previous site. That's okay: I will not have to kill you.

As I explained . . . over there . . . I became uncomfortable carrying on a PG-13 conversation when my name, and my wife's name, and my past work, were attracting kids to the site. It's perfectly okay for adults to have grown-up conversations, but when you discover the kids listening in you need to think about closing the door. So: door closed. On this site I won't use my name or my wife's or talk in specific terms about work I've done. It's hardly fool-proof, but I did at least close the door.

It would be a courtesy to me if people with blogs who want to link to this site (very much appreciated) would refer to me as M. Takhallus, and this blog as Sideways Mencken, (a name I owe to Callimachus at Done With Mirrors) although I would draw the line at suggesting you mislead your readers in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable.

I really appreciated the very kind comments many of you made during funeral services for my last blog. People say all sorts of nice things about you when you die. So each of you is hereby released from the burden of all that bullshit and you should feel free to denounce me, attack me, ridicule me, and even point out my spelling errors. I wouldn't want you guys around if you weren't at least occasionally contentious.

Incidentally, those of you who guessed I wouldn't be able to keep my mouth shut for long can now collect on those bets.

I have always wanted my blog to be a sort of extended outdoor cafe where we all sit around a table, drinking espressos if the sun's up, something stronger if it's dark, and talk. Sometimes the discussion is serious. Sometimes we tell stupid jokes. Sometimes we just check out the passing talent. From time to time tempers flare. And then we order another round and laugh. At the end of the day I stagger back to my vast, spare, beautifully-decorated, perfectly clean (hmmm, somehow the kids and the animals don't appear in this fantasy) New York or Paris or London loft knowing more than I knew when I woke up that morning.

I should say up front that this will be a group blog. God the Father (GTF) has agreed to blog here from time to time, and my off-his-meds friend Hyde will also contribute. (That's right, I'm casting myself as the saintly Dr. Jekyll. Shut up.) And I want to give credit to the webmaster who replaced the off-the-rack blogger template with this one he found, set up my site meter and my Google ads and will soon have my blogroll, my profile, my Technorati and my Digg connections hooked up: my nine year old son.

Thanks for dropping by. Check back.

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