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Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Why We Blog

At about 11:30pm, Sydney time, on September 11, I was sitting at the computer. Playing Tetris, I think. I was watching Star Trek (Return of the Archons) out of the corner of my eye, when there came a crawl across the screen

...terrorist attacks in the United States...

Yeah, right, I thought. Someone's probably blown up the garden department at K-Mart. I'll just switch on over to CNN and---Holy. Howling. Hell. Both planes had hit but neither tower had collapsed. They did while I was watching.

I stayed up until 4 my time, and finally fell asleep, awakening every 15 minutes to the sound of screams and explosions in my head.

The next weeks were maddening. I stayed glued to the tube and worked from home. I obsessively read every on-line newspaper I could, trying to gain some perspective on things.

I even subscribed to Usenet newsgroups dealing with the attack, which shows you how desperate I was.

But the perspective I gained was not the one I had hoped for. Mainly, I gained perspective on how low the standards were for public punditry---for people who got paid to express their opinions.

Exhibit A would have to be Barbara Kingsolver, checking in from an alternate universe where American Muslims were slaughtered in the streets wholesale, war in Afghanistan was all about "glory", and we all live under the iron heel of W's cowboy boot. For an encore, a few weeks later, she raped the shade of FDR, turning his "Four Freedoms" speech into an anti-war cry. In that speech, FDR painted the coming war as a just struggle to free captive peoples. Kingsolver was all for that, but she apparently believed it could be done by victory gardens and hand-knit socks and "caring", and wouldn't have to involve those nasty men with guns. Roosevelt warned against appeasing the aggressors to buy a temporary "dictators' peace"; to Kingsolver, a "dictators' peace" was any we might win.

Exhibit B is every military expert (or, as Mark Steyn referred to them, "anonymous MoD [Ministry of Defence] pillocks") to appear on the BBC, although in fairness I think these were freelance pillocks. Their little visits followed a pretty predictable pattern:

Newsreader:The Americans, of course, will want to take military action against Bin Laden in Afghanistan...?
Pillock:Of course, of course. Absurd. Never work. Entirely inappropriate. Humint. Kim. Patience. That's what you want.
Newsreader:They will probably begin with bombing...
Pillock:Absolutely. Utter rubbish. Nothing to bomb. Make the rubble bounce. Never work.
Newsreader:Will they send in ground troops, do you think...?
Pillock:Never. Won't take casualties. Need 100,000 ground troops. No fewer. Won't happen. Complete fantasy.
Newsreader:The Afghans are legendary fighters, aren't they?
Pillock:Absolutely! Defeated Soviets! Defeated British! Graveyard of Empires! Appalling terrain! Brutal Afghan winter! Cave complexes! Love death! Fight to the last man! Need 500,000 ground troops! Quagmire!
Newsreader:We've just had a bulletin! Mazar-i-Sharif has fallen!
Pillock:Means nothing. Falls at the drop of a hat. Changed hands 37 times during Soviet invasion. Paris of central Asia.
Newsreader:This just in! John Simpson has liberated Kabul! The Taliban have been routed from all the cities, aid is pouring in, women are casting off their burkas and enrolling in universities, and men are shaving their beards and dancing in the streets. A possibly-democratic proto-government has been installed. The king has returned.
Pillock:Never last. Taliban will wait it out. Infinitely patient. Hide in the hills. Live on rat. Quite tasty, rat. A bit like human flesh. Brutal Afghan winter, have I mentioned that?

Exhibits C through ZZZZZZZ are all the "humanitarian" "aid" "workers" ("Silent Genocide!" "Stop the bombing and start the bribing!"); chickenshit European "leaders" ("Simplisme!" "Garcon de la vache!"); pathetic self-aggrandizing academics ("The Racist War on the Helpless Afghan People has led to the deaths of 50 million innocents, according to the unimpeachable Taliban News Service."); and talentless hack cartoonists ("Real Journalists never keep our research! Do your own!").

I concluded that one did not have to be smarter than a bag of hammers to be a Respected Pundit. Hell, you don't have to be smarter than the bag, which makes me eminently qualified for the job.

So here I am.