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From “The Intelligence Factory: How America makes its enemies disappear,” in the November 2009 Harper’s Magazine
When I first read the U.S. government’s complaint against Aafia Siddiqui, who is awaiting trial in a Brooklyn detention center on charges of attempting to murder a group of U.S. Army officers and FBI agents in Afghanistan, the case it described was so impossibly convoluted—and yet so absurdly incriminating—that I simply assumed she was innocent. According to the complaint, on the evening of July 17, 2008, several local policemen discovered Siddiqui and a young boy loitering about a public square in Ghazni. She was carrying instructions for creating “weapons involving biological material,” descriptions of U.S. “military assets,” and numerous unnamed “chemical substances in gel and liquid form that were sealed in bottles and glass jars.” Siddiqui, an MIT-trained neuroscientist who lived in the United States for eleven years, had vanished from her hometown in Pakistan in 2003, along with all three of her children, two of whom were U.S. citizens. The complaint does not address where she was those five years or why she suddenly decided to emerge into a public square outside Pakistan and far from the United States, nor does it address why she would do so in the company of her American son. Various reports had her married to a high-level Al Qaeda operative, running diamonds out of Liberia for Osama bin Laden, and abetting the entry of terrorists into the United States. But those reports were countered by rumors that Siddiqui actually had spent the previous five years in the maw of the U.S. intelligence system—that she was a ghost prisoner, kidnapped by Pakistani spies, held in secret detention at a U.S. military prison, interrogated until she could provide no further intelligence, then spat back into the world in the manner most likely to render her story implausible. These dueling narratives of terrorist intrigue and imperial overreach were only further confounded when Siddiqui finally appeared before a judge in a Manhattan courtroom on August 5. Now, two weeks after her capture, she was bandaged and doubled over in a wheelchair, barely able to speak, because—somehow—she had been shot in the stomach by one of the very soldiers she stands accused of attempting to murder.
Ken Silverstein: The quagmire deepens;
Peter Rothberg: Escalation equals insecurity;
Robert Haddick: Obama tries to escape from Afghanistan, but won’t; large Afghanistan roundup from the Small Wars Journal
It was no secret why Western Union sided with Republicans. By the 1870s, the Party of Lincoln (Abe himself being a former railroad lawyer) had given away massive quantities of land for the construction of railroads and telegraphs: almost 130 million acres (about seven percent of the continental United States) was granted to eighty enterprises. Although the telegraph had been pioneered by Samuel Morse in the 1840s, the innovation didn’t really take off, economically speaking, until it partnered with the railroads, at which point it became the Victorian era’s version of our information superhighway. –“How Robber Barons hijacked the ‘Victorian Internet,’” Matthew Lasar, Ars Technica
Companies sorted by how much they gave to the Republicans or Democrats (Costco loves Democrats more than Starbucks; Office Depot is more solidly Republican than Staples; Cracker Barrel is Republican) (via);
Americans throwing out even more food;
Chinese news video animates the Tiger Woods crash, and imagines the domestic dispute that caused it, with Sims-quality 3D graphics
Mr. Ginsberg said that most states have adopted a standard definition of bike’s brakes that is technology independent, a “make it stop in distance” standard. “No where does it say what the brake should look like; it only says what it should do,” he said. In most states — though not New York — the rule is that a bike moving at 15 miles per hour must be able to stop in 15 feet, something that is “easily done” on a fixed gear by riders of all levels, Mr. Ginsberg added. (New York State law still contains the older “make it skid” language: “Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement.”) –“Troubles in Philly, Lessons for New York?” by J. David Goodman, the New York Times
Ironically, it was the unhappy experience of providing the voice-over for a Purina dog food commercial in 1981 that turned Waits so fervently against doing any more adverts. It was a mistake he vowed never to repeat. “I was getting married,” he explains apologetically. “I thought I had to be start being practical, you know? This was easy money, it was maybe 30 minutes in the studio – they show it in Canada. A lot of people, even Woody Allen, do commercials that they show in Japan. So that’s what I thought. But afterwards I was filled with so much shame because I’d let myself down. I’d betrayed myself. That’s when I became so zealous about not doing commercials.” This commendably purist stance is increasingly rare in the current economic climate, as many major musicians now make more money from promotional tie-in deals than CD sales. Even Bob Dylan, an early hero to Waits, has leased several songs to TV commercials. “Yeah,” Waits frowns, “but somehow with Bob Dylan I think he’s just trying to make sure that, whatever you think he is, he’s determined not to be that… even to a fault. –“Tom Waits: a man of many words,” Stephern Dalton, The National
The street Tom Waits grew up on (as illustrated by Tom Gauld, who also created
the noisy alphabet)
(related: Rosecrans Baldwin goes on a font ramble);
mp3: 40 minutes of Fugazi yelling at people from stage (regarding scalping, crowd-surfing, and bonobos);
video: 25 years of Oprah yelling celebrity names;
Boston teens rate pop songs by implied emotional health;
Metropolis suggests sixteen Japanese songs (but… but… where is Supercar?)
Average number of sitcom laughs an American hears during a prime-time season:
Nielsen Media Research (N.Y.C.)/Jim Drake, Night Court (Tarzana, Calif.)/Harper's research
Czech and German deer still do not cross the Iron Curtain.
British economists correlated the happiness of a country’s population with its genetic resemblance to Danes.
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”