Saturday, July 10, 2004
As we now know, Wassef Ali Hassoun, the American Marine who was allegedly kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents, turned up in Lebanon where he contacted the American embassy. He then turned himself over to the U.S. embassy on Thursday, was flown to Germany, and is now back under military control. But the circumstances of his absence are still shrouded in mystery.
Yesterday’s New York Post suggests that his kidnapping was a hoax. “Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun is believed to have made phone calls during the period he went missing in Iraq — raising serious doubts among investigators about whether he was kidnapped by terrorists, military officials said yesterday.”
The Post reports that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating whether the videotape of Hassoun may have been a hoax designed to cover his flight from Iraq.
According to an article today at CNN.com, his physician says he’s in good shape. “‘I found him in excellent physical condition, and I did not see any bruises or any injuries on his person,’ said Hassoun's attending physician, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Peter Marco.”
Wassef Ali Hassoun was defended by his brother, according to an an Associated press article from yesterday:
Mohamed Hassoun told reporters outside his Utah home that the best description he can give of his brother is that he is a U.S. Marine -- implying the corporal would never lie about a disappearance. He said he's angry about the rumors, adding that this isn't the time to question his family's loyalty.
Let’s examine the facts more closely:
(1) He voluntarily deserted, with the assistance of local Iraqis. It was originally thought that his Iraqi friends betrayed him, but perhaps that wasn’t the case at all.
(2) He has no bruises or injuries, which is inconsistent with him being held prisoner against his will.
(3) He wound up in Lebanon. This is just as the original desertion story suggested, he was trying to return to Lebanon. How did he get there? If he was kidnapped and let go, wouldn’t the kidnappers have just released him in Iraq? Were his kidnappers actually helping him get to Lebanon? How easy is it for an American, albeit an American who speaks Arabic, to get from Iraq to Lebanon, presumably passing through Syria, without some sort of help?
(4) His brother defended him, but that’s what family is for. Some of history’s worst villains were good people according to their immediate family. This should be discounted.
(5) Why did Wassef Ali Hassoun contact the American Embassy and allow himself to be picked up by the U.S. military and flown to Germany, if his goal was to desert and return to Lebanon? Maybe because his family in Lebanon didn’t want him there? The Associated Press article cited above also reported that, “in Lebanon, a gunfight broke out after a street vendor taunted a member of Hassoun's clan -- saying his family members are American agents. Two people were killed.” Maybe it was too dangerous for him in Lebanon because of his notoriety, and he had no choice but to leave Lebanon and turn himself in to U.S. authorities?
I boldly predict that Wassef Ali Hassoun will not be charged with desertion, because the military doesn’t want to antagonize Islamic Americans, which means that political correctness will win over justice. Or perhaps he made some kind of deal in advance, where he agreed to tell military investigators what he knows in return for not being court-martialed.
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
The purpose of this post is not to rant with righteous indignation about Mary-Kate Olsen’s cocaine use. It’s hard to get that outraged over a story about yet another celebrity or spoiled rich brat hitting the drugs. The reaction is more like “what else is new?”
But I am outraged by the reaction of her fans, as typified by the many comments to my last post about Mary-Kate. Their blind loyalty to these spoiled rich brats exemplifies a lot of what’s wrong with our society.
Several comments mentioned her being a “role model” for young girls. A role model is someone who’s behavior you would want to mimic. Even had Mary-Kate not been anorexic and a cocaine addict, I don’t see much worthy in her behavior that’s worth emulating. Why not pick for a role model someone who graduated valedictorian from their high school? Or someone who has overcome great obstacles to succeed? What have the Olsen twins ever done that’s so special?
They were just lucky enough to be cast in their role in that god-awful TV show Full House. They may not have been born with that proverbial silver spoon in their mouth, but it was handed to them nine months later. After that they’ve been on easy street, and their success has little to do with their own personal attributes and much to do with how adults have marketed them. (I am very big on the importance of marketing, and previously wrote about how the United States is moving from an information economy to a marketing economy.)
Several people who posted comments are in denial about Mary-Kate’s cocaine addiction. I don’t see what’s to doubt about the story. The Enquirer has a picture of her walking into the Cirque Lodge, a facility that treats drug and alcohol addiction, not eating disorders. The Enquirer does not print articles about three legged space aliens, those who think that are confusing it with other papers. Last month at Slate, Jack Shafer wrote about how the Enquirer has established a reputation for reporting accurate facts.
The comments that annoy me the most of all are those that say that Mary-Kate just has an illness like cancer or heart disease and it’s not her fault. And to that I absolutely disagree. Whether or not I care about whether she’s a party girl who hits the drugs, and an anorexic nutcase to boot, is one thing. But to hold her blameless for it is nonsense. No one is pointing a gun at her and forcing her to snort the coke. It’s what she’s chosen to do. Other’s faced with the temptations of drugs have managed to avoid getting addicted to them.
When regular people get caught doing drugs, what often happens is that they lose their jobs and face financial ruin as a result. The employment applications that ask you if you do drugs, and require you to take a drug test, are not performing a public health service, they’re looking for a reason to reject people that are seen as having a behavioral problem and who are violating the law.
I have absolutely no sympathy for Mary-Kate. People wrote about how hard it is to be famous. As if they really know what that’s like. Why do they think it’s more difficult than being a regular high school student? They’re now 18 and worth $40 million; if they want to retire from show biz they have the freedom and financial assets to do it. But I’m sure they won’t because it seems to me that most celebrities only pretend to dislike being famous; in reality they don’t want it any other way. They love the attention and they love being rich.
Unlike regular people in regular jobs, rich celebrities can check out of the expensive rehab clinic (usually located in the southwest for some reason) and go right back to making movies. If either Olsen twin is ever in a movie that doesn’t appear totally crappy (pretty unlikely to happen), I’ll go see it despite Mary-Kate’s delinquent behavior. But I won’t ever consider either of them to be any kind of role model for our nation’s youth.
Monday, July 05, 2004
The cornerstone of the Freedom Tower was laid yesterday. The Freedom Tower is the replacement for the old World Trade Center towers that were destroyed by Islamic terrorists. It was a symbolic gesture to officially begin construction on July 4th, although I don’t think that any real construction is going to begin for another month or two.
For the first time yesterday I actually looked at the plans for the Freedom Tower, and I was horribly surprised to discover that the plans call for erecting electricity producing wind turbines at the top of the tower.
The story about the Freedom Tower being the world’s tallest building is actually a big lie. There will be 70 stories reaching a height of about 1100 feet (according to the CNN article), which is tall, but certainly not the world’s tallest building. The old Empire State Building, completed in 1931, has 102 stories and is 1250 feet tall. So it’s pretty pathetic that the so called new “world’s tallest building” isn’t really as tall as a building that dates back 73 years. Furthermore, the Empire State Building was completed in just two years, while the new Freedom Tower will take five years to complete. Assuming it’s completed on time.
One should also point out that the Empire State Building, despite being old, is constructed damn well. In 1945 a B-25 bomber crashed into the Building and nothing happened to it, unlike the World Trade Center towers that collapsed when planes hit them.
So instead of the world’s tallest building, we actually have a building that doesn’t even come close, but that’s topped off with a “lacy system of steel cables” that will house the wind turbines. The LMDC Freedom Tower site says that “[w]ind-harvesting turbines are being proposed to provide 20% of the building's energy in the form of clean, renewable energy.” The steel cables will rise to 1500 feet, and then reaching another 276 feet above the steel cables, a spire will reach a height of 1,776 feet.
If putting wind turbines at the top of buildings made any kind of sense, we’d already be doing it. From what I know about wind turbines, electricity from wind turbines costs several times more money than electricity from other sources. And that’s for wind turbines built at a sensible altitude. I have no idea how much extra money it costs to place the wind turbines 1100 to 1500 feet above a crowded city, but I’m sure it’s a lot of money.
Some commentators have mentioned that the turbines symbolize us sticking it to the Arabs (who control a lot of the world’s oil reserves). Commentators who said that have no idea where electricity in the United States comes from. Only a tiny amount of domestic electricity comes from oil. Coal, nuclear, hydro, and natural gas are how we get our electricity, and none of it comes from the Middle East. Although our current policy of building natural gas fired power plants is quite stupid given that we are rapidly using up our domestic natural gas reserves. A much more sensible way to make a statement about our energy future would be to build a new air pollution-free nuclear power plant that could produce electricity for an entire city, rather than some wind turbines that only produce enough electricity to power a fifth of a single office building.
And what about the practical problems of having these wind turbines in a densely populated city? Wind turbines are noisy. How noisy? I’m not sure, but pro-wind websites claim that at 650 feet away form a wind farm, it’s only as noisy as a kitchen refrigerator. My kitchen refrigerator is loud enough to be annoying. People working at the top stories of the Freedom Tower, as well as at the top stories of nearby building, will be closer than 650 feet to the turbines, and thus they will surely be able to hear the annoying whirring sounds of the turbines.
Wind turbines kill a lot of birds. Now, if a bunch of birds have to die in the name of powering our office buildings, maybe it’s not that big of a deal. But the problem here is that the birds will be getting killed over a crowded city. Will mangled bird carcasses constantly be raining down on the streets around the Freedom Tower?
The wind turbines at the top of the Freedom Tower are not a practical way to conserve energy—they will cost a lot more money to build and maintain than the cost of the electricity they will save. They have nothing to do with remembering the events of 9/11. They create environmental problems due to the noise and dead birds. Construction hasn’t started yet, so it’s not too late for us to lose the stupid wind turbines.
Sunday, July 04, 2004
Now the official description of the exhibit is glowing with artistic words, but in reality it's nothing about a bunch of photos of dead bodies and parts of dead bodies.
After seeing this, I couldn't help but think of the hypocrisy here. Images of beheaded Americans are censored from mainstream media publications because they are too grisly for the people to see. But the same people can walk into the Corcoran Museum, which is right across the street from the White House, and see dead body parts blown up big, but it's considered "art" because the photographer uses black and white film and--well who knows why her lousy photos are hanging in an art museum while more worthy photographers are getting zero recognition.
American's are only allowed to see dead body parts if they are divorced from any meaningful context. But seeing the remains of what terrorists have done to our servicemen (such as Wassef Ali Hassoun who was beheaded yesterday) would make Americans mad at our enemies, and god forbid that happens.
Last week, Andrew Sullivan blogged about representation for DC, and he briefly mentioned Marion Barry but I don’t understand what the point was. Then James from why.i.hate.dc mentions the post and he gets mad that Sullivan brought up Marion Barry. James is a strong supporter of statehood for DC.
I’ve previously written about statehood for Washington, DC, and if you read that post, you’ll see that Marion Barry is part of the reason why I oppose statehood for DC.
Simply stated again, Marion Barry is the type of politician that DC voters elect, so statehood for DC means two Marion Barry clones in the Senate and one in the House.
I have a much better idea for fixing the problem of lack of representation for DC. Give DC back to Maryland. But fixing the lack of representation isn’t what pro-DC statehood people really want. They want three more left wing Democrats in Congress.
If we want to add a new state to the Union, it would make much more sense to split California into North California and South California. If we managed to split California evenly, each of the two new states would have more than 31 times the population of DC. And the two new states would be tied for third largest behind Texas and New York. (US Census 2003 annual population estimates)