Navy Seals

The Navy, under the aegis of the Marine Mammal Program has had to acknowledge a squad of anti-terror sea lions, trained to patrol the Persian Gulf for terrorist divers, based in Bahrain harbor. Their barking was so loud there was no way the Navy could hide the existence of the mammals, which are not native to the Persian Gulf. I’m not making this up.

Sea lions and their handlersOK. Usually this is a very serious site, but every now and then I find something a little … odd. This is one of those things.
Turns out the Navy, under the aegis of the Marine Mammal Program has had to acknowledge a squad of anti-terror sea lions, trained to patrol the Persian Gulf for terrorist divers, based in Bahrain harbor. Their barking was so loud there was no way the Navy could hide the existence of the mammals, which are not native to the Persian Gulf. I’m not making this up.
The Navy has long feared enemy divers who could blow up ships by attaching mines to them. Sea lions, dolphins and even a Beluga whale are trained to patrol the waters around the ships, locate enemy divers, snap a clamp onto one of their limbs and leave.
ABCnews.com continues: “The clamp is connected to a rope and signal buoy that humans with guns would then reel up, presumably pulling up a human on the other end.” [“Humans with guns”? Who writes this stuff? — Ed.] “In theory, the animals would not be hurt. Their contact with a potential terrorist — who would presumably be surprised — would last only an instant as they briefly made contact.”
“When you study the animals and you come to realize what they can do in their own environment, the aquatic environment, it’s no surprise that we have not been able to build a machine that can do what they do,” said Navy veterinarian Eric Jensen.
Sea lions are preferred because, unlike dolphins, they can continue their pursuit of an enemy diver onto dry land. What? How hard is it to outrun a waddling circus act on flippers?
In a time of continuous bad news, this story — while weird — made my night.
UPDATE: Yes, yes, I know sea lions are not seals, already. But c’mon, that headline was too good to pass up.

More “arrogance” — and we need it

OK. I know I’m straying from the central mission of Back-to-Iraq.com, but I feel I have to write about this. Columbia was a genuine tragedy that shouldn’t be exploited for political gain, either by the left of the right. I got an email bulletin from the Institute for Public Accuracy hours after the shuttle broke up over Texas and in it, rather than present experts on what might have happened, the offered experts used Columbia to advance their anti-technological agenda and find some fault with the direction of the space program.

OK. I know I’m straying from the central mission of Back-to-Iraq.com, but I feel I have to write about this. Columbia was a genuine tragedy that shouldn’t be exploited for political gain, either by the left or the right. I’ve not managed to track down a transcript of the CBC exchange in which American “arrogance” is blamed for Columbia’s explosive end, but I did get an email bulletin from the Institute for Public Accuracy hours after the shuttle broke up over Texas. In it, rather than offer themselves as experts on what might have happened, the offered experts used Columbia to advance their anti-technological agenda and find some fault with the direction of the space program. Here are the sources offered. (I’ve removed the contact information so that they don’t get slammed by angry B2I readers.)

LLOYD J. DUMAS: Dumas is the author of “Lethal Arrogance: Human Fallibility and Dangerous Technologies” and is a professor of political economy at the University of Texas at Dallas. He said today: “The tragic breakup of the space shuttle Columbia as it re-entered the atmosphere this morning once more underlines the vulnerability of highly complex technologies. It is too early to know what caused the shuttle to disintegrate — human error, technical failure, or something else. But the lesson is clear: when fallible human beings interact with powerful technologies, failures are inevitable. This time, the failure took the lives of seven astronauts. The next catastrophic human-technical failure could take the lives of thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people, if the technology involved is a nuclear power plant, a highly toxic chemicals facility, or a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon of mass destruction. For the same reasons, the space-based weapons the government is so determined to deploy will be no less vulnerable to malfunction, with potentially disastrous consequences. The Columbia tragedy is the latest in a series of warnings we have been given that we must now find ways to eliminate the most dangerous of our technologies if we are to permanently avoid catastrophe.”
KARL GROSSMAN: Grossman is the author of “The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat To Our Planet” and is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury. He said today: “The Columbia tragedy comes as NASA has been moving on a vastly expanded program for the use of nuclear power in space. Dubbed Project Prometheus, it is to broaden NASA’s $1 billion Nuclear Systems Initiative begun last year and include development of a nuclear-propelled rocket. Consider the consequences if a rocket powered by a nuclear reactor came down in pieces over Texas or elsewhere on earth. Indeed, in May and June, NASA intends to launch from Florida two rockets, both carrying rovers to land on Mars that are equipped with plutonium-powered heaters…. NASA’s Environmental Impact Statement says for each shot ‘the overall chance of any accident that releases radioactive materials to the environment is about 1 in 230.’ These are high odds for catastrophe…. The Columbia disaster must show us the awful folly of this atomic space path.”
BRUCE GAGNON: Director of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, Gagnon said today: “The Pentagon’s role in the space program has been expanding, especially since the recent budget cuts. Recent statements by former Secretary of the Navy, and now new NASA director, Sean O’Keefe have indicated that all future NASA missions will be ‘dual-use’ — in other words, the Pentagon will continue to take over the space program. ‘Star Wars’ accelerates the weaponization of space — the so-called ‘missile defense’ programs are actually offensive systems although the Pentagon likes to pretend that they are mainly for defensive purposes. As the Columbia tragedy shows, all these technologies are error-prone.”

As each blurb reveals, these guys the see the space program as either highly arrogant in its attempts to learn more about the universe (Dumas), anti-nuke (Grossman) and as some backdoor for the military (Gagnon.) I’m hearing in these voices the chorus, which comes every time something goes wrong, that sings, “Don’t do it, don’t venture forth, it’s too scary and dangerous. Spend the money here on earth.”
Well, you know what? Exploration is famously dangerous. Space is a hostile environment and people can die there pretty damn easily. Yes, NASA uses highly complicated technologies that can fail — spectactularly. But these are not reasons to stop going up there. Planes fall out of the sky all the time, but you don’t hear nervous Nellies saying we should stop flying because it’s a dangerous business. In 113 missions, NASA has had two major accidents — that have had the misfortune of being televised, explosive and spectacular. Before the shuttle program got off the ground, a fire on the pad during a check on the Apollo 1 spacecraft claimed the lives of Virgil I. Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee in 1967. Apollo 13 was almost a disaster when an oxygen tank ruptured, but the three astronauts were able to return to earth safely. In all, since 1958, NASA has lost 17 astronauts.
These tragic accident should remind us that the ultimate sacrifice of those 17 men and women were made willingly and for the betterment of not just Americans, but for all of humanity. Not only do we get real benefits from the space program (computers small enough to fit in your breast pocket, for instance) but their courage — and their sacrifice — inspire us to lift up our eyes from the daily grind in front of us and look beyond the horizon to wonder, “What’s out there?” And that inspiration is worth more than all the money in the world, for these men and women challenge us to stretch, to reach and to grasp at the stars in an arrogant, mad, brave — and quintessentially, wonderfully, human — gesture.
Godspeed, Columbia.

Space shuttle columbia breaks up on re-entry

All indications are that the space shuttle Columbia, NASA’s oldest shuttle, has broken up on rentry with no survivors. Sickeningly, CBC Newsworld, a Canadian news magazine, interviewed writer Robert Sawyer and allegedly asked him if “American arrogance” was the cause of this tragedy.

vert.breakup.photosseq.jpgAll indications are that the space shuttle Columbia, NASA’s oldest shuttle, has broken up on rentry with no survivors. Sickeningly, CBC Newsworld, a Canadian news magazine, interviewed writer Robert Sawyer and allegedly asked him if “American arrogance” was the cause of this tragedy. ModerateLeft has a response to the charges of “arrogance.”

Well, if this is arrogance — exploring space for science, pushing the envelope of the human experience, doing what our species has always done — then I support it. If it is arrogant to want to learn, we are arrogant. If it is arrogant to want to explore, we are arrogant. If it is arrogant to risk our lives for the possibility of a better future for all mankind, we are arrogant.
Mankind is arrogant. We believe foolish things — that we may one day cure cancer, that we may one day develop new forms of energy, that we may one day walk on Mars. We believe these foolish things, and we dedicate ourselves to achieving them. How ridiculous. How arrogant.
And people die for these things. And people are injured for life. The astronauts of Apollo 1, and the Challenger, and now, sadly, the Columbia have died for the arrogant belief that we can be more than we are, that we can walk on the moon, that we can touch the stars.
This arrogance is not American in nature. It is human. It is human arrogance that led us from the veldt of Africa to the ice-bound wastelands of Europe, across the Bering Strait into the Americas, across oceans to Australia and Oceana. It is human arrogance that leads thousands of people to live in the frigid environment of Antarctica, that leads explorers to dive miles under the oceans in bathyscapes.
This arrogance is our species’ birthright. It is what defines us. If we were not arrogant, we never would have flown. We never would have domesicated the horse. We would have died in the caves, unwilling to strive to be more than we are.
So call us arrogant for building the space shuttle. Call the men and woman who gave their lives today arrogant for believing they could fly to space and return to tell about it. But don’t call us wrong. For this arrogance defines humanity. And I would rather our species be arrogant than afraid.

Back-to-Iraq’s thoughts and sympathies go out to the families and friends of the crew. This is just such a tragedy.

Anti-war protestors descend on Washington

I just heard on NPR that the organizers of the protests against Mr. Bush’s war in Washington and around the country expect 100 buses from New York alone. Guilty confession: My immediate thought was, “Yeah, that’ll convince the Bush administration to free up more federal aid to rebuild New York.”
Actually, more power to the protesters. I didn’t go down to the protest, because I’m not much for joining big groups and I think this White House is particularly tone-deaf to criticism from people that would never vote for Bush, ever. But I hold out the faint hope that maybe 100,000 people marching on the White House might do something positive. It will be interesting to see the estimate of the number of protesters from the cops, organizers, media, et al.
For those who can’t make it to D.C., an anti-war solidarity rally has been reported to be set for 1 p.m. today at Union Square. For more news, check out www.dc.indymedia.com.

Dude, you’re, like, totally busted

010303_hmpg_ehukai.jpg

Jesus H. Christ on a surfboard. I don’t even know what to think of this. Apparently a 15-year old dude from Torrence, Calif., was arrested Dec. 29 at LAX after trying to board a Singapore Air flight to Indonesia. Why was he arrested? He had a doctored passport with the name “Cat Stevens” on it. Under questioning, the teen admitted he wanted to join al Qa’ida because he heard the terror network was paying airfare to Indonesia and lodging. His motive for joining? He was “sick of surfing Rat beach closeouts”, a reference to his local surf spots less than stellar wave quality.
Dude, you’re, like, totally stupid.
I’ve never heard of someone — before now, anyway — who wanted to join al Qa’ida so he could surf. And if he already had a ticket, then how was al Qa’ida going to reimburse him? What forms did Osama bin Ladin’s expense department need to compensate Dude for his outlay? I mean, shit. This is just stupid.

Two wars for the price of one!

I’m back and ready to rumble! Iraq is in a holding pattern, but North Korea is hotting up! That country has expelled UN weapons inspectors, removed monitoring equipment and started up reactors that can make weapons grade plutonium in six months or so. The Stalinist playground has also moved light machine guns into the (formerly) DMZ between North and South. President Bush’s response, in marked contrast to his bellicosity regarding Iraq — which doesn’t as yet have nukes, doesn’t seem much of a threat to its neighbors and doesn’t seem to be cozying up to Al Qa’ida — is to threaten North Korea with economic collapse if it doesn’t abandon its nuclear aims.
One question: Is he fucking serious?

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A 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery soldier from Fort Stewart, Ga. looks out over Udari Range in Northwestern Kuwait, during a live fire exercise. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class David K. Dismukes, CFLCC Public Affairs)

Hello all — I’m back from the hinterlands of Arkansas, and boy am I glad to be back in New York. I took a break from the site for the last week, since much of the news out of Iraq seems to be of the “hurry up and wait” variety. (In a minor update, the United Nations says Iraq has given it the names of more than 500 scientists involved in its arms program.)
However, what’s more interesting is how the crisis with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (that’s North Korea for the Bushies reading this) is starting to intersect with the Iraqi crisis. Now, I know this site is called “Back to Iraq,” but the ways in which the Bush administration is dealing with North Korea is revealing vis a vis Saddam’s abattoir.
First off, North Korea has expelled UN weapons inspectors, removed monitoring equipment and started up reactors that can make weapons grade plutonium in six months or so. The Stalinist playground has also moved light machine guns into the (formerly) DMZ between North and South. President Bush’s response, in marked contrast to his bellicosity regarding Iraq — which doesn’t as yet have nukes, doesn’t seem much of a threat to its neighbors and doesn’t seem to be cozying up to Al Qa’ida — is to threaten North Korea with economic collapse if it doesn’t abandon its nuclear aims.
One question: Is he fucking serious?
Threatening the north with economic collapse is like waving a gun at a dead man. People are eating grass, for God’s sake. (George Paine over at warblogging.com has a good entry on this.
With his “with us or against us” rhetoric, Bush has drawn a line in the sand in which all terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of axis of evil charter members are “evil.” But with one member, we go to war, although the evidence that Iraq poses an existential threat to the United States is sorely lacking. With another member, which can threaten the cities of major allies and would be the most likely to sell anthrax and loose nukes to Al Qa’ida, we threaten it with growing economic and political isolation, called “tailored containment.”
“It is called ‘tailored containment’ because this is an entirely different situation than Iraq or Iran,” a senior administration official said. “It is a lot about political stress and putting economic stress. It also requires maximum multinational cooperation.”
That sounds an awful lot like sanctions to me, which I thought the Bush people had dismissed in Iraq as unworkable. And why is this an “entirely different situation than Iraq or Iran”? Is it because if we go to war with North Korea, the North Koreans might shoot back? All in all, it sounds like the Bush policy with North Korea is to piss them off as much as possible.
At any rate, Bush’s policy of preemptive self-defense has just come back and bit him in the ass. This action by the North Koreans is directly related to his good guys-bad guys rhetoric, because they are threatened and they’re looking to beef up their deterrent before the United States can act militarily. The United States is not the only country that can act before someone threatens its existence, and Dear Leader has just acted. Perhaps everyone is gearing up to finish that business from the 1950s once and for all.
I’ll be honest, North Korea isn’t something I’ve paid a lot of attention to, seeing as my focus has been on Iraq. It turns out I have something in common with the Bush White House after all…

Malibu Osama’s Dream House!

American pop culture deconstructs the war on terror. And Barbie gets some playmates!

Oh, boy! Still don’t know what to get your favorite independent journalist for the holidays? How about this set of 12-in. action figures featuring Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush and other characters from the war on terror.
I don’t know about you, but I have one word to say about this: “Gimme!” Some may consider these the height of bad taste, and on some level they would be right. But who the hell cares? If anyone wants to send me a War on Terror action figure from these guys, feel free to have it shipped to

Christopher Allbritton
810 7th Ave., 6th Floor
New York, NY 10019

I love kitsch.
But seriously, these dolls have touched a lot of nerves, for obvious reasons. The letters to the company it has posted are a venomous lot, with this example:

From: musa ahmed
Subject: Herobuilders.com
To: sales@herobuilders.com
WE THE BROTHERS SAY, MAY THE CURSE OF ALLAH BE UPON YOU, AND MAY EVERY MUSLIM ATTACK YOU FOR THE WAY YOU HAVE PORTRAYED OUR MUSLIM BROTHER WHOM WE LOVE VERY MUCH FOR THE SAKE OF ALLAH...MUSLIMS ARE PURE, YOU ARE THE HOMOSEXUALS AND WIFE SWAPPING PIG LOVING SCUM.......WHY DONT YOU PUT A DRESS ON YOUR GAY BUSH.AND FORTHERMORE A MUSLIM DOCTOR SAID THERE IS A CURE FOR ALL OF YOU GAY AMERICANS. THE CURE IS , SUPER GLUE EVERY HOLE ON YOUR BODY, THAT WAY YOU WILL STOP BEING SODOMITES. BUT MAY THE AIDS VIRUS WIPE YOU ALL OUT....

Countered by this lovely letter:

This came from Nexus_of _Darkness
Don't Matter wrote:
You are one sad group of people! I am a cnadian and damn glad that I am not one of you racist americans!!! I know that Osama and Saddam were terrorists but that does not give anyone the right to make action figures from them in the style that you did! I am heavily reccomending that you clean up your act or I will report you to the human rights act!!! I hope that you burn in hell racist [explicit]!!!

I don’t see how making a doll out of someone is a human rights violation. I can see how Muslims would be upset, since there is a prohibition on depicting the human form, I thought, but the letter from the “cnadian” seems a typical example of kneejerk anti-Americanism.
Look, this is what America pop culture does. It takes horrible or offensive events or people and repackages them into easily consumable material objects. That’s how American culture deals with things. And this is at the heart of the world war in which we now find ourselves: a clash of cultures in which one considers many things sacred and beyond criticism and another which considers nothing sacred and everything deconstructable. (I think that’s a word.)