As noted below, the first plot to blow up airliners with liquid explosives was foiled in 1994. That particular scheme used a cheap Casio watch as a timer, a detail that might have remained a footnote if not for the, um, thoroughness of American counterterror officials. Fast forward 10 years, and now more than a dozen Guantanamo detainees have been held in part because they were caught wearing what the government has called "the infamous Casio watch." We recently printed some excerpts from their military tribunal hearings, in which the incredulous detainees tried to understand the logic of wristwatch profiling:
Detainee 651, Usama Hassan Ahmend Abu Babir: I have a Casio watch due to the fact that they are inexpensive and they last a long time. I like my watch because it is durable. It had a calculator and was waterproof, and before prayers we have to wash up all the way to my elbows.
Detainee 298, Salih Uyar: If it is a crime to carry this watch, your own military personnel also carry this watch. Does this mean they're just terrorists as well?
Detainee 228, Abdullah Kamel Abudallah Kamel: When they told me that Casios were used by Al Qaeda and the watch was for explosives, I was shocked . If I had known that, I would have thrown it away. I'm not stupid. We have four chaplains [at Guantanamo]; all of them wear this watch.
Detainee 154, Mazin Salih Musaid al Awfi: Millions and millions of people have these types of Casio watches. If that is a crime, why doesn't the United States arrest and sentence all the shops and people who own them? This is not a logical or reasonable piece of evidence.
Today's plot reportedly involved MP3 players as timers. Air passengers in Britain have already been told not to bring their iPods on board. Earbud wearers, you've been warned.
Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committe yesterday, Donald Rumsfeld managed to keep a straight face when he tried to correct Senator Hillary Clinton's assertion that he'd been feeding Congress "a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios" about the war in Iraq. Responded Rummy: "I have never painted a rosy picture. I've been very measured in my words. And you'd have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I've been excessively optimistic." No mention if anyone in the room did a spit-take. NPR's Mixed Signals blog has since contacted Clinton's office, which had something less than a dickens of a time coming up with a detailed list of Rummy's "measured" statements on Iraq over the last few years. A few samples:
The Gulf War in the 1990s lasted five days on the ground. I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that. November 2002
We know where [the WMD] are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat. March 2003
The residents of Baghdad may not have power 24 hours a day, but they no longer wake up each morning in fear wondering whether this will be the day that a death squad would come to cut out their tongues, chop off their ears or take their children away for "questioning," never to be seen again. July 2003
The increased demand on the force we are experiencing today is likely a "spike," driven by the deployment of nearly 115,000 troops in Iraq. We hope and anticipate that that spike will be temporary. We do not expect to have 115,000 troops permanently deployed in any one campaign. February 2004
The level of support from the international community is growing. June 2005
Q: One clarification on "the long war." Is Iraq going to be a long war? Secretary Rumsfeld: No, I don't believe it is. February 2006
Sen. Robert Byrd: Mr. Secretary, how can Congress be assured that the funds in this bill won't be used to put our troops right in the middle of a full-blown Iraqi civil war? Secretary Rumsfeld: Senator, I can say that certainly it is not the intention of the military commanders to allow that to happen. Theand to repeat, theat least thus far, the situation has been such that the Iraqi security forces could for the most part deal with the problems that exist. March 2006
Apparently the exploding cigars were just the beginning. The U.S. has tried to kill Fidel Castro 638 times, or so says one of his former security guys. Many of the planswhich might have been taken from the reject pile of Wile E. Coyotenever got off the drawing board, like this classic:
Knowing his fascination for scuba-diving off the coast of Cuba, the CIA at one time invested in a large volume of Caribbean molluscs. The idea was to find a shell big enough to contain a lethal quantity of explosives, which would then be painted in colours lurid and bright enough to attract Castro's attention when he was underwater.
Now that its bivalve budget has been slashed, I assume the CIA has moved on from trying to off Fidel. But as it goes after our current crop of international enemies, you have to wonder what kind of half-baked, brilliant-in-their-stupidity kind of ideas it's been tossing around. Why do I have a hunch that someone in Langley is desperately trying to find out Osama bin Laden's favorite candy bar?
In its July issue, Esquire gets its boxers in a twist over what editor David Granger calls "the looming crisis in manhood" [sorry, article not online]. No, not the growing ranks of men who wear black shoes with tan suits and don't recognize Tom Hanks as the "official man of American men", but the so-called "boy crisis" (short version: after centuries of getting high test scores, boys are coming in second to uppity girls). In rehashing the stats that supposedly confirm the emergency, the glossy notes that for every 58 women in college and grad school, there are only 42 men. Which prompts this somber conclusion: "That means one in four female students can't find a male peer to date." Esquire's worried about a collegiate sex ratio skewed in favor of straight guys? Things really must be serious...
Over on the always interesting if often arcane Language Log, linguist Geoff Nunberg reveals another weapon in conservatives' linguistic arsenal: the object+present participle compound. Those are syntactic constructions like "tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking", which make for handily efficient epithets. He writes: "In fact you could trace the whole history of the right's campaigns against liberals via those compounds -- from tree-hugging and NPR-listening back through the Nixon era's pot-smoking, bra-burning, draft-dodging, and America-hating, until you finally excavate the crude origins of the trope in nigger-loving, the ur-denunciation of white liberal sentimentality."
The subtitle of Nunberg's great new book, Talking Right, lists some of the right's favorites, including the current codeword for treachery, "New York Times-reading." Somehow he left out "Mother Jones-reading," which a Google search finds to be a nice standby for would-be Frank Luntzes seeking to expand their repertoire. A few examples:
"hardcore, Lenin-goateed, Mother Jones-reading left-wingers" .... "pasty-faced tofu-munching, Mother Jones-reading, socialist-vegan-liberal " .... "the Volvo driving, Mother Jones reading, sprouts eating crowd " .... "Until later you Volvo driving, latte drinking, Mother Jones reading, leg warmer wearing, liberal." .... "clove-smoking, Birkenstock-wearing, Mother Jones reading, granola crunchers" .... "the Nader-voting, Strawpleberry Mocha Frappucino-sipping, Mother Jones-reading, hipster-dirtbagger Francophile Lefty progressives"
That leg warmer one hurts. And for the record, that would be a decaf, fat-free, fair-trade Strawpleberry Mocha Frappucino.