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

January 2010 Archives

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January 25, 2010


Since the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden has become his mediated persona. No longer able to appear in public, uncomfortable with video footage (which is typically filled with visual details that might divulge his whereabouts), he has now resorted to existing as a disembodied voice on occasionally dispensed audiotape. He is bin Laden as Golem, as spectral presence, as Voice From on High (or Low).

Now comes a new recording, confirmed by intelligence analysts, warning of an imminent attack. Bin Laden's wording, as explained in this wire-service story by Agence France Press, echoes the religious phrases he has used in previous threatening messages that presaged attacks.

Osama bin Laden, a man long thought to have spent his days in a cave, continues to have a sophisticated grasp of new media - and of 21st century scare tactics.

January 23, 2010


It was inevitable. The Taliban, according to a piece in the Times this week, has been countering America’s “hearts-and-minds” campaign in Afghanistan and the Pakistan tribal areas by softening its hardline stance and reaching out in a comparatively more humane fashion. Call it a kindler, gentler Taliban. (This comes the same week that a senior Hamas official was said to have been seriously considering the recognition of the state of Israel and the abandonment of its charter, calling for Israel’s destruction. The report, from the Jerusalem Post, seems to have been, as Mark Twain might have called it, greatly exaggerated.)

What, exactly, would a kinder, gentler Taliban be? Allowing still photography but not videography? Lopping off only one hand for armed robbery, instead of two? Lopping off only the top half of the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas?


CUPERTINO, CALIFORNIA – On the eve of Apple’s January 27 press conference – at which the company will roll out its long-awaited e-reading device – a reliable Silicon Valley source has leaked a pilfered list of ad campaigns that Apple executives have soundly rejected over the past year. The document, excerpted below, details names and slogans that never quite made the grade.

Apple Tablet. (Take Two…and Call Tech-Support in the Morning.)

Apple Tableau. (The Apple Tablet, Turned Horizontally.)

Apple Shaft. (You Read It, We Profit.)

Apple Monolith. (Thus Sprach Steve.)

Apple Trapezoid. (Makes All the Others Look Square.)

Apple Slab. (Reading -- As American as Apple Pie.)

Apple Slate. (Fred Flintstone’s Boss Swears By It.)

Apple Sliver. (Your Slice of Wisdom.)

Apple Headstone. (Read In Peace.)

Apple Plaque. (Read, Brush, Rinse.)

Apple Pane. (We Don’t Do Windows.)

Apple Hype. (Transfixing Tech and Media Writers Since 1976.)

January 1, 2010


The 9/11 Commission produced a watered-down, bi-partisan series of recommendations for restructuring America’s divisive, ineffectual national security apparatus that for years had been a jumble of disconnected departments often working at cross purposes. One of the committee's chief accomplishments was the appointment in 2004 of a counterterror czar (to serve as a sort of uber-intelligence-director) and the creation of Washington’s National Counterterrorism Center, conceived as a clearinghouse for intelligence-gathering, coordination, and interdiction.

How, then, did the Christmas-Day Undie-Bomber - Nigerian-raised, Yemeni-trained Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab - slip through the cracks?


It was distressing, to say the least, to read yesterday's comments from Thomas Kean, co-chair of the original 9/11 Commission, as he criticized the jury-rigged system that he had helped to create. “It’s totally frustrating,” Kean told the Times.> “It’s almost like the words being used [now] to describe what went wrong are exactly the same [as were used in 2001].”

What I found most unconscionable, as did Kean, was the fact that months ago the well-respected Nigerian financier-father of the bomber had warned American diplomats that his extremist son had gone off the rails and had become a serious threat to U.S. national security. Said Kean: “Think of what it took for the father, one of the most respected bankers in Nigeria, to walk into the American Embassy and turn in his own son. The father’s a hero. His visit by itself should have been enough to set off all kinds of alarms.”

The answer is not new commissions and showcase firings. The answer is to give meaningful incentives to bureaucrats (and to their bosses and their overseers in the executive and legislative branches) to increase the probability that they actually communicate with one another. It's sad to say, but even in a time of war, petty bureaucrats only seem to operate in their own self-interest.