“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”—Stephen Colbert
as the morning of October 17, 2003. The only saving grace being that this morning—which began with a crushing hangover and the vague realization I had a meeting to attend in 15 minutes so I probably shouldn’t still be in bed—wasn’t quite as bad as that morning. No morning could be as bad as that morning.
October 17, 2003, was the worst morning of all time. The night before, Aaron Boone hit a walk-off home run to win Game 7 of the American League Championship Series for the Yankees. The night itself hadn’t been particularly great. Right after the Boone homer, one of our friends got in a brawl with Yankees fans outside the Riviera, where we’d watched the game. Car horns were honking and people cheering, and as I walked numbly towards the East Village, I started crying. Full-on open weeping. We stayed up until 3:30 in the morning playing Coldplay’s “Everything’s Not Lost” over and over again on the jukebox at Tile Bar.
The next morning I had to get to my job in midtown, which meant taking the 6 to Grand Central. I wasn’t at all prepared to deal with the reality of the Sox loss, so I trained my eyes to avoid all newsstands. But a block from my office, the front page of the Post or the News, in a vending box, caught my eye. It showed a photo of Aaron Boone, arms raised running towards first base. The headline: DESTINY. Perhaps even more than the home run itself, it was the worst thing I had ever seen.
At the office, everyone treated me as though a loved one of mine had just died: quiet murmors of condolence—or outright avoidance. Somehow made it to my office and shut the door. Checked email. More notes of condolence. Lots of kind words.
And then, from Andy Bernstein—my good friend, Pharmer’s Almanac co-author, and now the visionary behind Head Count—came this email:
From: Andy Bernstein Subject: Just wanted you to know… Date: October 17, 2003 11:02:02 AM EDT To: Lockhart Steele
… that while I’m not a huge baseball fan, I really got sucked into this series because I got off on the idea of the city of Boston and all of New England being frustrated and cursed by New York City.
I started thinking about all the New Englanders who can’t drive, have funny accents, and have this New York inferiority complex.
At that point I started pulling for the Yankees HARD.
And now that the entire city of Boston is on a suicide watch, and you undoubtedly are having a very rough day, I figured I’d rub some salt in your wounds, NEW YORK STYLE!
Today, there is only this: this morning is not as bad as that morning.
I still haven’t fully recovered from Wainwright’s hooking fastball, Glavine’s final day meltdown, and now I’m faced with the possibility of my favorite player since Piazza leaving town.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t care so much, I understand how people simply realize these teams are essentially major privately owned anti-trust protected entities run by, by and large, assholes. The players, as Sonny in A Bronx Tale succinctly put it…
If your dad needs money, go ask Mickey Mantle. See what happens. Mickey Mantle don’t care about you. Why care about him? Nobody cares.
You either relate to this or you think people like us are complete lunatics. We probably are but I don’t think I know how not to be.
“The very idea that one can effectively battle Wall Street’s corruption and control by working for the Democratic Party is absurd on its face: Wall Street’s favorite candidate in 2008 was Barack Obama, whose administration — led by a Wall Street White House Chief of Staff and Wall-Street-subservient Treasury Secretary and filled to the brim with Goldman Sachs officials — is now working hard to protect bankers from meaningful accountability (and though he’s behind Wall Street’s own Mitt Romney in the Wall Street cash sweepstakes this year, Obama is still doing well); one of Wall Street’s most faithful servants is Chuck Schumer, the money man of the Democratic Party; and the second-ranking Senate Democrat acknowledged — when Democrats controlled the Congress — that the owners of Congress are bankers. There are individuals who impressively rail against the crony capitalism and corporatism that sustains Wall Street’s power, but they’re no match for the party apparatus that remains fully owned and controlled by it.”—Glenn Greewald
Well, there’s the thing about New York. New York is such a monolith that it’s pointless to have an opinion about it. It’s like bitching about the weather. It certainly won’t accomplish anything and it certainly won’t make you feel better about what you didn’t like. New York has a couple of characteristics that are undeniable and one of those is that it’s a magnet for assholes who couldn’t get any attention at home and decided that the problem wasn’t that they weren’t interesting but that there were all these squares around them in Dubuque or whatever and they need to go to some big cosmopolitan city like New York where people will appreciate them. So if you can imagine that scenario playing out within every city in North America and every one of those assholes with an opinion slightly outreaching his ability getting on a fucking Greyhound. You end up with a pretty good description of what’s annoying about New York is that it’s full of people whose self-image just ever-so-slightly outstrips their ability.
I studied painting under in college under Ed Paschke, who is dead now, he was a brilliant, brilliant educator. He was one of the only people in college who actually taught me anything. I mean, I learned a lot while I was in college, don’t get me wrong, but not a lot of it was academic and not much of it was taught to me, it was primarily stuff I learned on my own. But he was one of the few people that actually taught me anything. But at one point, and he was the first person to make me aware of this, of being in New York. He described it as the “catch-all of runners up.” And I think that’s probably what annoys me about New York when I’m annoyed by it. Whatever they’re doing at the moment, that’s not really them, in their minds. Like, I’m working in this bookstore but I’m not a bookstore clerk, I’m a writer. Or like, I’m working in the restaurant but I’m not a waiter, I’m an actor. There are all these people who are not the thing that they are doing at the moment and therefore feel demeaned by every second of their existence. And the chip on New York’s shoulder is the thing that keeps everything on the ground there. It’s the massive weight that causes all of the gravity that happens in New York.
Having said that. I’m going to do that English thing. Oh, he’s such a cunt. [Fake British accent] I mean that in the nicest way. [Laughter] I mean this in the nicest way really but he is just such a cunt, you know. Really I just want to murder him, I mean I love him, but I just want to murder him.
“Seeing my sister navigate Twitter, I realized why it was so confusing to so many. For someone like me with a programming background who grew up using computers, adding an @ symbol to someone’s name is easy. For someone who did not, like 9o percent of America, it just doesn’t make sense. Our brain is not forced to do this in real life, why should it in digital life?”—Nick Bilton
So that video you put up of the BBC with the guy saying the market was going to crash... I've got three questions: 1. do you think he is right that it is all about to crash? 2. Was he suggesting we invest in US Treasury Bonds? and 3. If the answer to the first two questions is yes, how does one go about buying US Treasury Bonds?
1. I don’t know, I am not a financial analyst. I do think everyone should take a bit more care and responsibility when it comes to investing, especially when it is your life savings. People take their 401k and retirement too lightly.
2. Don’t think he had any advice other than, stuff your money under your bed, or learn how to benefit from trading in a recession/depression like he does.
3. Ask a CFA, I haven’t a clue. I’d imagine you could at any bank.
“By focusing on problem selection, rather than rushing out an innovation no one wants like so many trigger-happy entrepreneurs, Parker put himself in position for the string of blockbusters that his critics blithely attribute to sequential luck. Napster was the transition between CDs and MP3s after the Internet made it possible to strip content from its container. Facebook was a vehicle to create a reliable identity in an anonymous online world. Spotify is an attempt to fix the very music industry that Napster helped break a decade before.”—Steven Bertoni
“Has anybody been watching the debates lately? You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change. It’s true. You’ve got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don’t have healthcare and booing a service member in Iraq because they’re gay. That’s not reflective of who we are,”—
“We have a lot of kids graduating college, can’t find jobs, that’s what happened in Cairo, that’s what happened in Madrid. You don’t want those kinds of riots here. The damage to a generation that can’t find jobs will go on for many, many years.”—Mike Bloomberg
“I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial… People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty.”—Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg (via absurdlakefront)
Relatives of James Craig Anderson, who died shortly after receiving his injuries on June 26, sent a letter with their request to the prosecutor in the case, Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith.
"We ask that you not seek the death penalty for anyone involved in James’ murder," the letter states; the letter is signed by Barbara Anderson Young, James Craig Anderson’s sister who is in charge of, and speaks for, his estate.
"Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James’ life as well," the letter states. But the family goes on to explain that there is another reason for their opposition, one that is tied to Mississippi’s racial past."We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites," the letter states. "Executing James’ killers will not help to balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment."The family has been mostly private in its grief, but the letter sent to the DA’s office alludes to what the family is going through."Those responsible for James’ death not only ended the life of a talented and wonderful man. They also caused our family unspeakable pain and grief. But our loss will not be lessened by the state taking the life of another," it says.
We write to you as former wardens and corrections officials who have had direct involvement in executions. Like few others in this country, we understand that you have a job to do in carrying out the lawful orders of the judiciary. We also understand, from our own personal experiences, the awful lifelong repercussions that come from participating in the execution of prisoners. While most of the prisoners whose executions we participated in accepted responsibility for the crimes for which they were punished, some of us have also executed prisoners who maintained their innocence until the end. It is those cases that are most haunting to an executioner.
We write to you today with the overwhelming concern that an innocent person could be executed in Georgia tonight. We know the legal process has exhausted itself in the case of Troy Anthony Davis, and yet, doubt about his guilt remains. This very fact will have an irreversible and damaging impact on your staff. Many people of significant standing share these concerns, including, notably, William Sessions, Director of the FBI under President Ronald Reagan.
Living with the nightmares is something that we know from experience. No one has the right to ask a public servant to take on a lifelong sentence of nagging doubt, and for some of us, shame and guilt. Should our justice system be causing so much harm to so many people when there is an alternative?
We urge you to ask the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider their decision. Should that fail, we urge you to unburden yourselves and your staff from the pain of participating in such a questionable execution to the extent possible by allowing any personnel so inclined to opt-out of activities related to the execution of Troy Anthony Davis. Further, we urge you to provide appropriate counseling to personnel who do choose to perform their job functions related to the execution. If we may be of assistance to you moving forward, please do not hesitate to call upon any of us.
Respectfully and collegially,
Allen Ault – Retired Warden, Georgia Diagnostic & Classifications Prison Terry Collins – Retired Director, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Ron McAndrew – Retired Warden, Florida State Prison Dennis O’Neill - Retired Warden, Florida State Prison Reginald Wilkinson – Retired Director, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Jeanne Woodford – Retired Warden, San Quentin State Prison
“Rather than ripping news outlets for “slanting” the news—as Groseclose and the other bias-hunters do—I prefer to blame news consumers for journalism’s deficiencies: Readers and viewers aren’t as critical about their favorite news outlets as they should be, except to complain that the New York Times isn’t as liberal as it should be or that Fox has failed to terminate the career of Barney Frank. My cure for this kind of credulousness is simple: Have readers and viewers expand the range of news sources they consume, embracing the whole SQ spectrum from liberal to centrist to conservative to “off the wing.”—Jack Shafer
All of the attention given this year to Libyan munitions that were either new to the battlefield or grounds for larger security concerns should not divert attention from a durable fact of modern war. That fact is this: ordinary killing tools, often weapons of relatively simple, dated or even crude construction, retain a dominant place in ground war.
Many of you are familiar with the coverage of MAT-120 cluster munitions and their origins, MANPADS and their quantities, or the appearance in Misurata of Type 84 rocket-delivered anti-vehicular landmines. Covering new weapons, seemingly sinister weapons, banned weapons and weapons that could cause outsized harm is essential. But always remember: Whether it is a roadside bomb, a hand-me-down assault rifle or a rusted mortar tube mounted on a bent baseplate — these are the weapons that turn up again and again, and fill the hospitals and cemeteries with greater regularity than anything else. Examining these weapons in their myriad forms can be a consuming pursuit. That said, those who find themselves in a war’s path would be well-served to know the common arms and munitions that imperil their lives.
Take a look at the photograph above. There’s a story behind it worth sharing.
In early July, a team of Reuters journalists was making its way toward Qawalish, Libya as a battle for that town erupted between the loyalists who held it and the anti-Qaddafi rebels who were pressing forward from two sides. The Reuters group consisted of Abdel-Aziz Boumzar (a video cameraman from Algeria), Peter Graff (a correspondent posted to London), Anis Milli (a photographer), Fathi (a driver from Tunisia) and Tony Tompkins (an unarmed security adviser from the U.K.). The five men pulled up short of the town to get their bearings and to work. Then something happened that they had not experienced while working in previous Libyan fights. Peter Graff:
We were covering a group of rebels from Zintan who used the hill north of the road and east of the culvert as a firing position to lob mortars at Gaddafi forces at the boy scout building on the western outskirts of Qawalish. We were pinned down on the hill from about 10 to 11 am or so. Several other groups of rebels were firing from nearby hillsides and the [pro-Qadaffi] army was shelling inaccurately the whole area. Periodically we heard Grads whiz over our head. Then we heard this strange fizzing sound and saw what appeared to be explosions in the air of munitions before they hit the ground. So we hurried down the hill and hid in the culvert. There were rebel ambulances parked near the culvert in the valley on the south side of the road, and the medics came into the culvert to shelter with us. So, eventually, did a bunch of fighters. At about 1 we heard that Qawalish had fallen. We came out and hitched a ride in a pickup truck into the town.
So what had happened? As the rounds exploded in the air, the five men wondered if they were under a cluster-munitions attack. This was a good question. We crossed paths with them that day and heard their account. The next day, when the situation was calmer and the news demands less pressing, we returned to the same ground to scour the olive groves and the fields and see if we might find signs of what type of munitions had been fired.
The area was large — several hundred square meters of rolling ground. But I was interested in a question that had been in mind since before we worked through the evidence in Misurata of the MAT-120 attacks: Were the Qaddafi forces using air-burst mortar or artillery rounds? By Peter’s telling the volume of fire that the Reuters team saw and heard should have been sufficient for the evidence to be available, if we worked methodically and invested the time.
I saw only a handful of what appeared to be those blasts above the ground, before we quickly high-tailed it into the culvert. Maybe 5, maybe 10, couldn’t say. Once under the road, we could hear but we could not see, but presumably it continued.
So we fanned out — Bryan Denton, Andre Liohn and I — and began to collect bits of shrapnel and other debris. The ground was dry and dusty. It hid much of what we sought. The pickings were slim. We examined the trees for spent stabilizing ribbons, a tell-tale sign of the cluster attacks earlier in the year in Misurata. We found none. Nothing in the remnants of ordnance we did find seemed necessarily to indicate a cluster attack. After about a half-hour, Andre made the key find — the ruptured metal scrap shown in the image at the top of this post, and below.
The find appeared to be exactly what we sought, and to answer the question in mind. This was a mortar fuze, and not of the so-called “point-detonating” sort, which causes a round to explode upon striking solid ground. It looked to be the shattered remains of a fuze that causes rounds to explode in the air. Seeking another opinion, I sent copies of the frames to a friend in the former Explosives Ordnance Disposal community, and asked for his read. Part of his reply is below.
Looks like a “Mech Time” (Mechanically Timed) fuze. The firing crew uses a wrench to manually turn the top part of the fuze to a certain time interval. It looks like there are vertical lines (covered in mud) at the point where the upper and lower parts of the fuze meet. There are probably numbers under that mud which would show you what it was set to.
This is old technology, but it still works. MT has largely been replaced by the electronic “Proximity” fuzes, aka “Variable Time” or “PROX/VT.”
Later I sent a set of follow-up questions looking for a more specific identification, including the likely size of the mortar rounds. But a precise match wasn’t possible with just this scrap. What the discovery of this fuze remnant meant, though, was that what we had suspected was the case. The Qaddafi military was capable of firing high-explosive rounds that could be timed to explode in the air, above a target. This could make a crew much more dangerous to people or light-skinned vehicles in the open.
How do they work? To fire these rounds effectively, a mortar crew would have to estimate the time of flight from the tube to the target, and then use a wrench to set the fuze so it would explode just before landing. In this task they would be aided by firing tables that they might refer to get the first rounds right, or nearly so. This is tricky work, requiring a degree of skill. But an experienced crew with the right training and the right equipment could do it without a great deal of difficulty, assuming it had an observer in place would could see the rounds and their effects, and relay any changes to the timing back to the crew. And in any event, if the fuzes were set with too long a delay, a secondary detonation system would have them explode the more familiar way — upon impact with the ground. Back to the source who helped with the I.D.:
MechTime fuzes usually have a simple Point Detonating “back-up” feature so that they will still detonate on target if for some reason the internally moving gears and springs fail to operate properly for timed detonation.
On this day, the rebels from Zintan and the Reuters crew had been lucky. The mortar crew trying to kill them seemed to have the timing just about right, but not the range. The journalists and those who helped them, and several dozen rebels, managed to back out of range or to get into a culvert and underneath the road before the rounds were adjusted onto target. No one, as far as Peter could tell, was wounded in this particular series of air-burst shots.
This little piece of scrap serves to remind us that while the new, banned and high-tech munitions attract much of the talk, wars are still waged with much older weapons and much older munitions. An awareness of these munitions in their many shapes and sizes is both necessary to document a war comprehensively and helpful for surviving it.
NOTE: The airplane, a Boeing 777 owned by United, that was to carry me toward Afghanistan failed at the job twice. Friday night we took off and made it perhaps two or three hours toward Dubai when the senior pilot announced that there were mechanical problems related to a smoke-detection system. She turned the aircraft around, dumped fuel and brought us back to Dulles. Several hours later, after a supposed repair, the plane tried again. This time the plane and its sleepy cargo of passengers in steerage made it midway over the Atlantic when alarms started to sound. The plane ended up diverting to Heathrow, and leaving us all here. Re-bookings were not immediately available. So this unexpected delay has allowed a chance to write this post, and perhaps others, before trying again soon.
I still owe a promised piece for At War on Libyan small arms (Think, Libyan Gun Locker, to match something like this), and if time allows I should try to get more up about Joao Silva and former Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer, of whom I wrote something here. A video from Libya is also in works by an NYT production team (hello, Ben) and hopefully will be live next week. Last, for now, I have in mind correcting the public record by walking the cat backwards on how SA-24 heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles have been repeatedly reported in Libya, without evidence. A single rushed identification led to that error. So far, none of those responsible have publicly corrected the mistake, and set the record right.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS
Top and center: Close-ups of the remains of Mechanically Timed mortar fuze. In the western mountainous area of Libya. Summer 2011. Bottom: Joao Silva (foreground, in dark shirt) and the President and Mr. Meyer, at the opening prayer for the ceremony at which Mr. Obama awarded Mr. Meyer the Medal of Honor. The White House. September 15, 2011. By the author.
“Reuters last week quietly ended a 156-year tradition which, more than any other, defined its character. The walls did not come tumbling down. And while for some the change might have come sooner, and for others not at all, I think it could not have come at a better time.”—
John C. Abell, Wired.com’s New York Bureau Chief and founding editor of Reuters.com
John posted these words on Sept 23rd, 2007, when Reuters first started publishing commentary written by editorial staff