"[This book] embodies the Buddhist wisdom about change, life, and the
world more than anything written after the events of that day."
Robert Stone

May 2007 Archives

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May 30, 2007


Since my last posting, ten days ago, the ripple effects of the September 11 attacks have been readily apparent across the culture and around the globe.

The New York Times reported that the world’s master builders have grown no less bold in the intervening six years. There are currently two skyscrapers under construction and one on the drawing boards that, when finished, will eclipse the height of the World Trade Center: one in architecturally steroidal Dubai (at 2,650 feet), another in South Korea (twin-spired, 2,013 feet), and, of course, Manhattan’s Freedom Tower.


Also last week Don DeLillo’s new novel, The Falling Man -- which confronts 9/11 through the lives of a handful of survivors, a lone terrorist, and the metaphor of a safety-harness-toting falling-man-in-a-business-suit performance-artist/jumper – was published to generally favorable reviews, most notably Frank Rich’s front-page rave in The New York Times Book Review. (Watching the World Change, in fact, cites DeLillo’s trenchant Harper’s essay from December 2001 in which he called al-Qaeda’s assault an attack on "modernity," on “the white-hot future” and on “the thrust of our technology…our perceived godlessness…the blunt force of our foreign policy…the power of American culture to penetrate every wall, home, life, and mind.”)

And last week President Bush continued to blur the motives of the Iraq debacle with the initial motives that drove a coalition of nations to confront al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. “The enemy in Vietnam,” he said, “had neither the intent nor the capability to strike our homeland. The enemy in Iraq does. Nine-eleven taught us that to protect the American people we must fight the terrorists where they live so that we don’t have to fight them where we live.”

Maureen Dowd, as she’s been wont to do, pointed out the fallacy in this logic. “The president,” she wrote in the Times, “is on a continuous loop of sophistry: We have to push on in Iraq because Al Qaeda is there, even though Al Qaeda is there because we pushed into Iraq. Our troops have to keep dying there because our troops have been dying there. We have to stay so the enemy doesn’t know we’re leaving.”

I’m reminded of the pronouncement of my colleague Christopher Hitchens (author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, the #1 book on this week’s New York Times Bestseller List), who supported the invasion of the Baathist state partly on the grounds of the West’s moral obligation to stand up to despotism. Two years into the war, in a spirited conversation with Christopher, I argued that the war was exponentially minting terrorists, not unlike the bucket-carrying broomsticks in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice fable. His response: Iraq would serve as an al-Qaeda magnet, and all the better. “It’s like the Roach Motel advertisement,” he insisted. “They’ll check in, but they won’t check out.”

Today, that inn, alas, seems more akin to the Bates Motel in Psycho.

Skyscrapers. DeLillo. Bush's closed-loop logic. In terms of 9/11's impact this month, however, first and foremost was the New York City Medical Examiner's controversial yet correct decision to list Felicia Dunn-Jones -- an attorney working near the towers, who died six months after 9/11, due to complications arising from her exposure to hazardous dust -- as the 2,750th Manhattan victim of the attacks.

Instead of arguing whether or not she should have been added to the list, as some have done, we should instead use the designation as a solemn opportunity to pause and remember the 2,749 others as well. To that end, I encourage a visit to Legacy.com.


On May 14, New York magazine ran a brilliantly reported story on an online scandal that has roiled New York’s young socialite circle. The piece, by a budding young talent named Isaiah Wilner, offers this keen observation about how pictures and the Web have heightened the already sociopathic self-obsession that characterizes some members of the young aristoclass:

“The charity circuit, once a bastion of breeding and privilege, has transformed itself, in the days since 9/11, into a kind of reality show. Running from September through May (and ending with the Met’s Costume Institute Benefit Gala, which takes place this week, on May 7), the parties raise funds but also provide an extended publicity campaign for young women who seek to become famous. They compete in a gossip free-for-all played out in tabloids and on the Internet. In this mediated world, public image cuts dangerously close to private reality, and it is considered an honor to have one’s photograph rudely dissected on a Website.

“The business of rising from social girl to professional celebrity was put into overdrive five years ago by Paris Hilton. Rising alongside digital cameras and photo blogs, she constructed a life based on hype and a pretty face. What a strange fascination this young girl has with getting her picture taken, thought David Patrick Columbia, editor of the New York Social Diary Website, as he watched her gyrate for Southampton cameramen. Now he reflects, “It turned out to be a major career! She’s a multi-million-dollar personality, and it’s all because of having her picture taken—nothing else. She is the equation.”


Now come pictures taken last Sunday, and posted on the Web site X17, of Lindsay Lohan passed out and vomiting. (Talk about a paparazzi pile-on: the poor lass was arrested only hours before, for driving under the influence and substance possession.) Next, hot on her stilletto heels, are British tabloid reports, in tomorrow’s edition of Metro.co.uk, of Britney Spears caught vomiting as well. Perhaps the Brits have confused Linds and Brits? Blimey. Next thing you know, they’ll be shipping Paris off to the hoosgow.

Well, not so fast. The next thing you know is precisely this: The U.K. Sun is now reporting that sometime Lohan Man, Calum Best (son of soccer legend George Best), has been allegedly photographed allegedly doing cocaine with two alleged hookers in an alleged hotel room. DA PICTURES DON’T LIE.

OR DO THEY? Perhaps we’ve now gone beyond what even Evelyn Waugh would’ve considered the Outer Locust Limits. Is it possible, just possible, that the incessant lenses of the paparazzi and the ubiquity of cell-phone cameras, coupled with the ease of posting photos on blogs, have somehow driven these spoiled brats -- and all of America -- utterly off the freaking deep end?



Last week, New York Post media columnist Keith Kelly shrewdly spotted In Touch magazine’s sleight of hand when the publication chose to airbrush its cover photo of Angelina Jolie, removing the unsightly veins in her right hand and forearm. Next up, they’ll erase the tattoos, the luscious lips, and the hypnotic, compassionate gaze of the committed humanitarian -- the very attributes that make us go all gooey for her.

And Men’s Fitness magazine, newly relieved of its top editor, beheaded tennis champ Andy Roddick, or so it seemed, placing his noggin on the buff torso of someone Roddick himself couldn’t even recognize.


“Little did I know I have 22-inch guns and a disappearing birthmark on my right arm,” Roddick remarked on his blog, so Kelly noted, citing TMZ.com. “I saw the cover….and did a total double-take….Whoever did this has mad skills.”

And so go the photo woes. Disfiguring and defacing celebrities has hit epidermic proportions. Congress should pass a law: Henceforth, Photoshop can only be used on politicians. Priority #1: Since Congress hasn’t been able to rid us of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (despite devoting days of televised hot air to the task), let magazine and newspaper editors airbrush him into oblivion.


THIS JUST IN....(June 1) Now, so Radar Online reports, Jennifer Aniston has been digitally dithered by The Star. The question: Why would an art director waste his or her time doing this? Or, more germane, why would a blogger waste his time writing about an art director wasting his time doing this? The answer: I'm reminded of the rude joke about self-pleasuring felines, which I won't relate here, but which has the punchline: "Because they can.")

May 20, 2007


I'm on the road. Will write soon...

May 12, 2007


Originally, the working title of Watching the World Change was “A Week in the Life of the Photograph.” My intention was to use September 11, 2001, and the six days that followed, as a way of demonstrating the crucial role that imagery plays in our daily lives and in our understanding of the world at large. My overriding thesis, which I’d hatched in the early 1990s, was that you can take the D.N.A. of any slice of time – a week, a month, a year – and glean its essence through the photographs it generates.

This past week -- a rather random seven-day period, news-wise -- seemed particularly photo-sensitive. Since last Monday morning, I’ve been struck by the number of news stories that had photos at their fulcrum, whether in the form of still pictures, online videoclips, or film and television footage.


On Arabic television this week, leaders of the hard-line Hamas party were chastised for their role in supporting and airing a children’s program that showcased a human-sized rodent named Farfur, a Palestinian Mickey Mouse, who lovingly urged school kids to rise up against Israelis and other Islamic oppressors. On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that “the character squeaked on a recent episode, ‘You and I are laying the foundation for a world led by Islamists… We will return the Islamic community to its former greatness and liberate Jerusalem, God willing, and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers.’” On Friday, according to The New York Times, “Farfur, a buffoonish figure, was seen cheating on exams. Asked why, he answered, ‘Because the Jews destroyed my home and I left my books and notes under the rubble.’ Another child told him this was no excuse for cheating, and after he failed the test, Farfur said, ‘I’m calling on all children to read more and more to prepare for exams because the Jews don’t want us to learn.’”

Across the Internet this week, viewers searched for clandestine shots, described in the British tabloid The News of the World, showing Lindsay Lohan and friends snorting cocaine in the bathroom of Teddy’s, an L.A. nightspot. Meanwhile, users continued to download a sequence showing actor David Hasselhoff in a prone-on-the-floor mini-stupor – on a tape actually shot by his 16-year-old daughter, who reportedly has been known to record her father during drunken binges as a form of home-movie therapy, in order to show him the morning-after error of his ways.

(The footage reminded me of comments last month by Allan Mayer, a expert in celebrity-crisis spin-meistering, who offered these pearls to Sharon Waxman of The New York Times after the Web site TMZ.com posted actor Alec Baldwin’s telephone tirade, left on the voicemail of his 11-year-old daughter. Quoth Mayer: “You’re seeing all these things ripped out of context…. There is no illusion when you’re watching a video that you’re seeing the whole truth. [But] as anyone who’s followed court cases, or been in the news business knows, looking at different outtakes you get different realities.”)

The documentary Looking For An Icon began its theatrical run this week. The film examined the long-term impact of four seminal images of photojournalism, including the haunting 1989 picture, taken by Newsweek’s Charlie Cole, of a lone protestor confronting a column of Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square. (Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin and a videographer, whose name I don't know, also shot the same situtation.)


On American TV screens this week PBS’s Frontline re-ran its riveting documentary The Tank Man, which concentrated on the video and still versions of that same moment in Tiananmen Square. Frontline reiterated the already well-known story of how the photograph has been obsessively censored on Web sites in China, as administrators for search-engine firms, such as Google, have kowtowed to Chinese authorities. Currently, according to the show’s writer-producer Anthony Thomas, “China already has 111 million Intenet users, monitored by at least 30,000 Internet police.”

What was most penetrating, however, was the episode’s reportage of how major companies like Cisco and Yahoo had supposedly offered China their search and surveillance technologies, quite possibly allowing the government to trace, detain, and imprison Web-browsing offenders. American law, Thomas contends, “forbids the sale of any crime control or detection instruments or equipment to China. But Cisco says this means ‘equipment such as shotguns, police helmets and handcuffs. Networking products are not covered by this legislation.’ But under pressure from [activists like] Harry Wu and Congress, the administration and the State Department are now reexamining the rules under which technology companies should operate in China.”

The photo-as-historic-document played its own role this week. On Tuesday, to illustrate the legacy of school desegregation in the South 50 years after the famous Arkansas high school showdown, The New York Times, on its front page, printed Will Counts’s famous 1957 image that had become the visual emblem of the divisive issue: black student Elizabeth Eckford, books in hand, being taunted by mobs as she walked toward Little Rock’s Central High School.


In a similar light, the current issue of GEO magazine, out of Germany, republished little-known photographs from the Spanish Civil War bombing of Guernica, which occurred 70 years ago, on April 26, 1937. The pictures underscored what a friend had mentioned to me late last month, when I told him that I was about to give a talk at Amherst College that dealt, in part, with the use of photographs in memorials and museums to accurately convey historic events. “Perhaps Picasso’s Guernica,” he said, “is a more faithful representation of the horrors of that attack, and of war itself, than any collection of images by photojournalists who might have been shooting that event.”

In the business world this week, online photography continued to hold hidden treasures. News Corp., owner of the hugely popular community-portal MySpace, announced that it was considering spending as much as $300 million to acquire Photobucket, a picture-sharing Web site like Flickr, Fotolog, and Shutterfly, that lets participants file and display their personal snapshots and, if they like, upload them onto Web pages on sites like MySpace. The current issue of Photo District News, out this week, reported that the mega-photo-agency Getty Images had recently purchased Scoopt, a niche Scotland-based photo agency (created the week after the London transit bombings) that had made a name for itself by supplying traditional and online media outlets with pictures snapped by amateurs, whose work was often taken with picture phones or non-professional digital cameras. (See page 217 of Watching the World Change, which discusses the genesis of Scoopt in the context of citizen journalism.)

In astronomy circles, experts were buzzing about the discovery of a stellar eruption by a University of Texas researcher, Robert Quimby, who, in a paper about to be released by the Astrophysical Journal, reported using a robotic telescope at the McDonald Observatory to witness and record the explosion of SN 2006gy, the largest supernova burst ever documented – a star, some 240 million light-years from Earth, purported to be 150 times as massive as our own Sun.

Cinematic spheres experienced their own sort of explosion as the industry’s chief censoring-oversight body announced that henceforth any film featuring a sequence showing someone smoking a cigarette would risk receiving higher ratings. (The New York Post responded with the headline: “Butt Out!”)

During one 24 hour period this week, four events brought out hundreds of shutterbugs, professional and amateur alike: the public ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II on the White House lawn (during which scores of onlookers brandished digital cameras, and for which Her Majesty was caught on camera glaring at President Bush after a gaffe in which he implied she had attended America’s celebrations in 1776); the white-tie state dinner, later that night, in the queen’s honor; Time magazine’s annual “Time 100” fete, at Manhattan’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, celebrating the 100 Most Influential People in the World (Rosie O’Donnell? Colts coach Tony Dungy?? Yankee pitcher Chien-Ming Wang???!); and the annual Costume Institute Gala at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (at which stars, models, designers, fashion-industry insiders, and assorted glitterati, donned the crème de la crème of couture to attend what New Yorkers sometimes refer to as “The Party of the Year.”) Eric Wilson, in the Times, remarked on designer Donatella Versace, whom he said, “looked as if a disco ball had been assembled beneath her cleavage.”

Why, if this week is any measure, do pictures seem to be setting so much of the news agenda?

Pre-9/11, it seems to me, the primacy of the image was assured by two technologies that emerged in the 1990s: the advent of digital photography and the rise of digital newsgathering, which, over the course of the previous decade, had set the stage for the world’s transition to round-the-clock, perpetually updated TV news coverage. And yet since 9/11, two other technological advances have emerged that have further enhanced the power of the image.

First, there has been a proliferation of handheld devices that accommodate photos and videos. (On September 11, camera-equipped picture phones did not yet exist.) Second, new software tools have made it easier to post digital videoclips on the Internet, bringing about a glut of Websites like YouTube and TMZ, along with video-laden blogs, spawning, in turn, both a cultural addiction to news-and-scandal-as-entertainment (video-news voyeurism, you might call it) and an instantaneous public accountability for one’s every camera-snapped infraction or late-night indiscretion (with the Internet’s peepholes acting as a mass kangaroo court, justice meted out by the masses, video-vigilante-style.)

Welcome to the All-Seeing, All-Tattling, Net-niscient World.

[For a related discussion, read last month's post, "Mob Rule By Videoclip."]

May 6, 2007


In his review of former CIA director George Tenet's new book, At the Center of the Storm, in today's Washington Post, the paper's assistant managing editor, Bob Woodward, plucks out this potent passage, and adds a particularly stinging critique of the author's actions:

"In his remarkable, important and often unintentionally damning memoir, George Tenet, the former CIA chief, describes a meeting with Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, two months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In much more vivid and emotional detail than previously reported, Tenet writes that he had received intelligence that day, July 10, 2001, about the threat from al-Qaeda that 'literally made my hair stand on end.'

"According to At the Center of the Storm, Tenet picked up the phone, insisted on meeting with Rice about the threat from al-Qaeda, and raced to the White House with his counter-terrorism deputy, Cofer Black, and a briefer known only as 'Rich B.'

" 'There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months,' Rich B. told Rice, and the attack would be 'spectacular.' Black added, 'This country needs to go on a war footing now.' He said that President Bush should give the CIA new covert action authorities to go after Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization. After the meeting, Tenet's briefer and deputy 'congratulated each other,' Tenet writes. 'At last, they felt, we had gotten the full attention of the administration.'


"Tenet," Woodward goes on to write, "should have been the instant messenger to the Oval Office in the summer of 2001. His lapse and apparent decision not to carry the request for action to the president himself doesn't mean that the 9/11 attacks might have been averted. But the failure does reveal Tenet's limitations. He was the president's intelligence officer, the top man responsible not only for providing information, but also for devising possible solutions to threats."

It is fascinating how often it is Woodward himself who is the journalist at the center of the storm. His reporting forced one president from office (Richard Nixon, in the Watergate scandal) and incensed another (Ronald Reagan, in his about-to-be-released diaries, published in this month's Vanity Fair, who noted: "September 28, 1987: Staff meeting started with Bob Woodward's claim in his book & his interview last night on 60 min. that he'd interviewed [CIA director] Bill Casey just before Casey's death. He's a liar & he lied about what Casey is supposed to have thought of me.")

Woodward was later lambasted by the left for serving as Bush II's Boswell in the first two books of his "Bush At War" trilogy, only to take out the long knives in his final installment, State of Denial. Indeed, not only was Woodward among the first journalists to whom the Bush gang leaked information about C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame, he was among the loudest in downplaying the ramifications of the case. And, finally, it was Woodward, according to Tenet, whose reporting of Tenet's alleged "slam dunk" quote in the Oval Office, prompted Tenet to write his book in the first place--so as to set the record straight.

So, now, the Post has assigned Woodward review Tenet's book. That, I believe, is a conflict of interest and entirely unfair. It's a bit like having John Dean--the Nixon official-turned-author/commentator, who was famously grilled by Congress for his role in the Watergate scandal--review the memoir of Mark Felt, the man whom Vanity Fair revealed (with yours truly serving as editor of the story) as Woodward's confidential Watergate source, Deep Throat. In fact, The New York Times Book Review did exactly that, when Felt's autobiography, written with John O'Connor, came out last year. Dean, predictably, slammed the book.

Felt, in the end, has had his comeuppance. He and his family revealed his true identity on his own terms, and he has been able to live out these last few years of his life with a measure of pride and peace of mind. And to top it off, Tom Hanks has bought the film rights to his story. He'll reportedly play Felt on the big screen.

Who, one wonders, will play Woodward this time?

May 1, 2007


Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a classmate of mine at Highland Park (Illinois) High. She forwarded a link to what she considered a "disturbing...compelling" one-hour documentary that her brother had forwarded to her about the secret story behind 9/11. The tape explored the possible coverup by the U.S. government of its foreknowledge of, and involvement in, the attacks of September 11--a thesis I consider anathema.

In a similar vein, someone who attended my collegiate alma mater, Amherst, recently sent this e-mail, after reading about Watching the World Change in the school's alumni magazine:

"I wonder if you've ever ventured into the even more challenging territory of reframing 9-11 as a horrendous and cynical native US-based national crime of unprecedented proportions, rather than the hole-riddled official cover story of international terrorism. More and more people are finally ready to see past their deeply programmed denial, and say the truth that the emperor has no clothes. Right there in plain sight, even in your photos.

"Planes indeed crashed into buildings. But they could not have caused building 'collapse.' The cores of the buildings were too strong, and the flames were never hot enough. The buildings fell too fast and too symmetrically, and they turned to fine powder instead of rubble. Those three towers (WTC1, WTC2, and WTC7 [Salomon Bldg]) could only have gone down by deliberate, carefully planned, and expertly engineered, controlled explosive demolition. Anyone with engineering and physics background can tell you that.

"I'd be happy to go over the ample evidence. But others have already done this very well.

"OK, now check out THESE images: Hot off the Internet...is some 9-11 news video footage from BBC saying that the Salomon Bldg (WTC7) had just collapsed. But it was about half an hour before the collapse! Oops. Busted. Check out the shot of the BBC reporter talking about WTC7 collapse, with WTC7 still standing and showing over her shoulder! Please explain 'That.'

"There is much damning evidence that 9-11 was a spectacular staged special effects extravaganza, shock and awe, no doubt designed by US insiders to traumatize US citizens and pave the way for wars, tyranny, domestic spying (hello spooks!), and curtailment and loss of constitutional rights and freedoms. They even carted off the debris from the crime scene, quickly, before any evidence could be gathered and studied, in classic mafia-inspired style. It worked.

"But the mental fog from psyops traumatic hypnosis is wafting away, and more people are waking up to the truth, which I think is far more frightening and dangerous than spooky Al Quaeda. I hope you are among the awakened, even though you may not dare to speak up about it just yet, even to a fellow Amherst alum.

"Your work over the last few years has helped support and propagate the official coverup story. If 9-11 was a crime, you are an accomplice. But I do hope you were an unwitting one, that it was unintentional, and that you got your cues from the context of the infectious mass delusion and the seductive cover story, and not from an elaborate playbook that you helped write. I hope you were duped, and not a duper. Super duped, not a super duper. (Couldn't resist writing that.)

"Otherwise, I'm not sure how you could live with yourself, then or now. Unless you were convinced by shadowy spooks that such a crime and coverup was necessary and justified to prevent a far worse disaster. In which case please tell me; I would 'really' like to know about it."

In response to such e-mails, I repeat what I stated on this blog back in March. Such conspiracy theorists are looking at the trees--even the chinks in the leaves of the trees--and missing the forest.

In my opinion the people spending time concentrating on side-shows -- the fate of Building 7 (7 WTC, which collapsed after 5 pm on September 11); the size of the Pentagon plane’s impact hole and would-be phantom passengers of that plane; the theories of secret demo teams pre-rigging the towers with dynamite in the days before 9/11; and various mis-statements or misperceptions or unsubstantiated accounts by eyewitnesses, journalists and public officials in the hectic hours after the attacks -- are missing what I see as the four main themes of the Bigger Picture.

1. Al Qaeda took the towers down. They attacked the towers once before, in 1993, and had vowed to do it again. They pre-videotaped the hijackers who intended to do this. They left a paper and video path across the northeast corridor as they planned the mission. They trumpeted it and heralded the martyrs on their Websites. Metallurgists, architects, structural engineers, demolition experts, and an impressive study by a team from Popular Mechanics have stated that this is precisely what buildings would do -- implode -- if hit with such force and with this amount of fuel. If one were to have rigged such structures with dynamite, as has been theorized, then the buildings, as all dynamited buildings, would have been rigged to fall from the bottom first, not from the top. And it would have taken days to do the rigging, with many, many witnesses crying foul in the aftermath of having survived the 1993 attacks. What's more, there is nothing to support the theory that no buildings like this have ever fallen. First, no one has ever smashed jumbo jets into 110-story buildings; so there are no literal precedents upon which so-called experts can make such statements. Second, previously ‘impervious’ buildings actually do fall in wartime. We have only to look at images from WWII. The Titanic, remember, was thought to be indestructible. But its builders had not bargained for an iceberg of that size or an impact of that force.

2. The Bush administration was too inept to have somehow been in league with or complicit with the terrorists. They were intellectually and systemically incapable of coordinating this -- and keeping it leak-free. Instead, as we've known for ages, the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing in an intelligence bureaucracy rife with turf wars and in an administration weakened by the stress fractures of internal power struggles. The Pentagon did not bomb the Pentagon.

3. Many misguided and unconscionably distracted officials (such as Condoleezza Rice, who repeatedly ignored or mis-prioritized the warnings of her counterterror chief, Richard Clarke) downplayed or misread a threat that was staring them in the face. And because of the weak-kneed 9/11 Commission recommendations, put out by a Republican-controlled Congress and watered down in the spirit of bi-partisanship, no one on the Bush team has ever been reprimanded for his or her roles in these truly tragic lapses. In fact, most of them have been promoted or given presidential medals of honor! This has been a consistent behavior pattern of this so-called C.E.O. president.

4. Often, people who spend a good portion of their days or nights theorizing on the Internet have too much idle time on their hands. They can sometimes fall into the trap of pondering murky videoclips and digital photographs, coming up with grand theories to explain away complex physical events, even if they're basing their theories on technical flaws or on glitches in the images themselves. They are dancing on the head of pins. This sort of 'stove-pipe' intelligence and this accumulation of 'soda-straw' snapshots of misperceived data, events and motives constitute precisely the same sort of juiced-up bogus-case justification that led us into war in Iraq. In this instance, we are doing it on our laptops and desktops.

While it certainly makes good sense to be skeptical of this administration in light of its six-year record of obfuscation, and while healthy debate in a democracy requires that we ask hard questions, it is foolhardy to be delusional and to lose site of the fact that al Qaeda is still on the mend, regrouping, and primed to attack us. As sensible as these convenient little myths may sound, they are distractions, and dangerous ones at that.