He’s dead, Jim.

So I know that everyone is expecting me to write a long post about bin Laden’s death, and I was planning it, but then I saw this LOLbama (thanks to David Nachum) and it just said it better than anything else could:

Sorry it took so long to get you a copy of my birth certificate. I was too busy killing Osama bin Laden.

Serious kudos (and areté, and timé, though those are not in my power to grant; but they have been earned, indeed) to everyone who was involved in this, from the initial intelligence gathering and assessment all the way out to the strike team that actually did the deed. It really couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy. A few interesting points to mention:

  • Looks like a notably flawless execution. Zero US casualties, and on the other side bin Laden plus three other henchmen dead, two women wounded. For an operation like this, that’s absolutely amazing.
  • Pretty importantly, we recovered the body and buried it at sea. This is actually very important, and tells me that Obama really gets how to play this game; in the Islamic world, funerals are often the initiating points for mass movements, and tombs of martyrs become pilgrimage sites. I had been hoping they would at least do unmarked-grave-in-the-desert; the sea is even better. Top marks for strategy.
  • Obama’s remarks indicated thanks to the Pakistani government and so on, but were notably vague about whether they were notified before or after the operation. Not that I really give much of a damn, but it’s an interesting bellwether of our relationship with Pakistan.

On a slightly more general note, I think there’s a lot of interesting stuff which could be written about America’s changing attitudes towards assassination over the past few decades, going from loud protestations of “oh, we would never do that” to the President coming out to give a press conference about it. But that’s an article for another day.

In other Middle East news, Syria has been continuing to heat up, with protests continuing unabated despite a serious attempt to shut them down (very violently) by the government. al-Assad has signaled that he’s willing to play this one Hama-style, with a siege in progress at Dara’a that could easily turn into a massacre of the entire city. But I heard an interesting report this morning that Hezbollah has decided that the risk is too high, and is voting with their feet — they’ve started to move their heavy weapons stores out of Syria and into Lebanon. This could be a very tempting target, so if you hear that Israel decides to bomb the crap out of some targets in Lebanon in the next few weeks, don’t be surprised.

Published in: on May 2, 2011 at 10:46  Comments (3)  
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Fifteen years.

Today marks fifteen years since the murder of Itzhak Rabin.

I feel that I should say something, but it’s hard to make the words come. Twice in twenty years of a “peace process,” there may have been a real chance at peace; twice, the chance was taken away, once by the angel of death, once by Apollo’s arrows. How did peace become so fragile and evanescent a thing, that such a small action could end even its hope?

I heard about his death on the way home from doing research in the CU library in Boulder, going past NIST. First they said he was shot, and my heart caught. A few sentences later they confirmed he was dead. Then there was that terrifying minute of wondering who had killed him, which side he had come from and what the consequences might be. A mixture of relief and anger when they said it was an Israeli, a right-wing extremist. Relief, because had it been a Palestinian, there would have been nothing that could have stopped a war and a terrifying bloodshed; anger, that one of our own would do this, would try to destroy our last hope for peace. It took days for the consequences to sink in; so many people thought that perhaps now, in honor of his death the peace process would have to go through. I remember hearing an angry settler on the news, cursing Igal Amir for killing him and “giving the peace process, which should have died on its own, the authority of the Angel of Death,” and hoping — but not quite believing — that he was right.

And of course, he wasn’t. Shimon Peres was no Rabin. He couldn’t make his own government move forward in a straight line, much less negotiate a peace. Then Bibi, with his slick lies and nasty populism. By the time Barak was in office and could try for peace, the opportunity had passed; Arafat wasn’t really interested, and the Camp David negotiations went down in flames. It wasn’t until 2005 that there would be a chance again, and then we lost that, too.

Why are the best of us always taken first?

Bill Clinton has a eulogy and remembrance of him in today’s Times. He and Rabin were friends, and there is perhaps no-one better to speak on his behalf today.

שלום, חבר.

Published in: on November 4, 2010 at 10:46  Comments Off on Fifteen years.  
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De mortuis nil nisi veritas

A few weeks ago, a fellow by the name of Jack Kershaw died in Nashville. The Dickson Herald, one of the nearby papers, has this obituary of him, hailing him as a renaissance man, an “artist, sculptor, homebuilder, farmer, lawyer, lecturer, Southern historian and Vanderbilt graduate.” It talks especially about his poetry and the lit mag he helped found, describing it as “one of the most influential publications in the history of American letters.”

What’s strange about this obituary is that, apart from a glancing half-sentence mention, it doesn’t say anything about what Kershaw was most famous for: being the attorney for James Earl Ray, the man who killed Martin Luther King. It gives similarly short mention to his great work of sculpture, a 27′ equestrian statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a general most famous for his war crimes during the Civil War; he was particularly noted for the systematic slaughter of any black soldiers who surrendered to his troops, and was later the first Grand Wizard of the KKK. I should note that Kershaw was not alone in considering Forrest a hero, a fact which in itself is rather alarming; but reading this man’s history, and the things he fought for, makes putting up a statue of this guy is something akin to putting up a statue to an Einsatzgruppeführer.

The New York Times has its own obituary of Kershaw. This one gives  a little more context into the fellow who just died, including his most famous quote — “Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery.”

Lovely fellow. Couldn’t be happier to see him in a box.

Published in: on September 24, 2010 at 11:43  Comments Off on De mortuis nil nisi veritas  
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RIP Edward Lorenz

Edward Lorenz, meteorologist and founder of chaos theory, passed away today at the age of 90. He discovered the chaotic properties of nonlinear systems as a result of an unexpected result while running numerical weather simulations in 1961, and changed the way we think about complex systems.

For those of you with a mathematical background, I recommend taking a look at his 1963 paper “Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow,” in which he proves one of the most basic results of chaotic dynamics (that nonperiodic flows are unstable against small perturbations), applies it to a simple problem in fluid dynamics, demonstrates vividly and in pictures the way that the system becomes unpredictable, and reflects on its significance for weather prediction. It seems a fitting way to mark his passing, and the paper is great; very straightforward1 and well-written, and full of the best pictures that 1963-era computing could produce.

1 By comparison to most technical papers in mathematics, that is, and especially to most papers on differential equations. I realize that this is not the best definition of “straightforward.”

Published in: on April 17, 2008 at 12:25  Comments (12)  
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More al-Zarqawi stories

The Washington Post on the Iraqi reaction, interviews in a Shiite neighborhood.

Al-Jazeera reporting the event and interviewing his family.

Ha’aretz reports on the Hamas response and his likely successor.

Debka talks more about succession.

Note the conflicting reports: Ha’aretz suggests Abd al-Rahman al-Iraqi and notes he was there when al-Zarqawi died, but Debka says al Qaeda has already named Abdallah bin Rashid al-Baghdadi. Meanwhile the most senior al-Qaeda figure in Iraqi is Wariya Arbili, and al-Qaeda also named Abdulhadi al-Iraqi as head of worldwide ops. Most of these people are largely unknown; note how many Iraqis are on this list, though, suggesting just how central Iraq has become to al-Qaeda in the post-Saddam era.

It’s possible that all of these reports are true: if so, there’s the opening for a really “interesting” succession battle. But that fight may be brief if one of the groups acts fast.

On a separate note, the Swiss government confirmed the breakup of a plot to shoot down an El Al airliner. This, the London cell, and the Toronto operation… there have been a lot of major terror operations broken up in the recent past.

Also the director of the Shin Bet (Israel’s rough equivalent of the FBI) warned the parliament that al Qaeda is setting up operations in Jerusalem and Nablus, which is probably a sign that things are about to heat up a lot.

Don’t forget the recent riots in Egypt, and the fact that Mubarak and Olmert recently had a summit which went fairly well; the conditions are ripe for a possible uprising in Egypt. If Mubarak can’t put it down, this likely means an Islamist regime there, which could lead to a domino effect heading east quickly – through Saudi, Kuwait and Jordan, and charging straight into Iraq, with Iran sitting on the opposite border.

Trouble ahead, but thwartable trouble. The best way to avoid it may be if Mubarak can be as ruthlessly efficient as Hafez al-Assad was at putting down popular insurrection.

(Yes, I just suggested thwarting a nascent popular uprising against a dictatorship as being a good thing. There are worse things than dictatorships, and these guys would be just the people to demonstrate that.)

Published in: on June 8, 2006 at 12:55  Comments Off on More al-Zarqawi stories  
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I really do try not to rejoice at other people’s deaths, but sometimes it’s tricky.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of al Qaeda in Iraq, killed by US airstrike.

One of the more bloody-minded and vicious thugs of our recent past, the mastermind and chief encourager of hundreds of suicide bombings, aimed not only at Americans but at Iraqis, so that there would never be a sense of peace. He has the blood of thousands of civilians on his hands, and was actively continuing and accelerating his program of murder. He preached a variety of hard-line Islamism that made even the Taliban seem fairly moderate. In fact, he was far enough “out there” that his successors are likely to be more moderate – and less effective. Not something that happens so often in the Middle East.

Good job and congrats to all those involved on a difficult – and important – operation. This move likely just saved the lives of a few thousand civilians, and increased the chances of bringing this damned war to an end soon.

Published in: on June 8, 2006 at 10:40  Comments (20)  
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R.I.P., Yassir Arafat

The funeral arrangements having been made, Yassir Arafat died early this morning.

In memoriam

Published in: on November 10, 2004 at 21:54  Comments (3)  
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