This is a LONG entry.

A few days ago airlines CEOs were informed that al-Qaida had smuggled shoulder mounted missiles into the country. The full story is at Salon (premium), but here are some excerpts (although I do recommend reading the whole thing; this is just first-page stuff):

Just days ago, national security executives met secretly with airline CEOs to warn them that al-Qaida may be planning to fire shoulder-launched missiles [that are small, relatively easy to obtain and surgically accurate] at commercial jets in the U.S. There's virtually no defense...

Todd Curtis, the creator of and a former Air Force officer and Boeing safety analyst, adds this caution: If a "dedicated person wanted to shoot down a plane, there's nothing to stop them."

Shoulder-fired missiles have already been used to shoot down commercial aircraft outside the U.S., and the respected Jane's Intelligence Review reported last year that they are now in the hands of up to 27 terrorist groups. Reports from the CIA, State Department and other government agencies show that shoulder-fired missiles have already hit at least 42 civil aircraft [and] have killed well over 900 air travelers.

Dozens of countries have produced hundreds of thousands of these missiles, and many of them have found their way to the black market.

The US donated nearly a thousand Stinger missiles to al-Qaeda when they were “on our side” in the 80's when they were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan (although the Pentagon says that they captured nearly 6000 from Taliban armories, so who knows how many they have). Many of these were not fired and are still in circulation. They're not hard to get though, both on the Soviet market and even more locally — as many IAM members from the US know, it's not particularly hard to get such weaponry from militia sources in the US. In any case, only a tiny percent of cargo is inspected (or ever could be), and catching 35-pound missiles is a lot harder than catching large drug shipments… and we all know how many drugs get into the US yearly.

Let's assume for a moment that somehow we can stop every missile from entering the country. I've been reading a lot about potato and pumpkin guns lately — they're shooting twenty pound pumpkins a half mile or more at very high speeds. If instead of firing pumpkins they were firing properly shaped 20 pound metal bullets, you'd have a weapon that's powerful enough to knock small planes out of the sky, be truck mounted, and be building using hardware store tech.

The fact is, if people want to disrupt the world they can. There are so many easy targets, and it's simply impossible to protect them all. When you go about your daily tasks over the next few days, imagine yourself as a psycho with a missile*. What are all the targets you could take out? How many power stations, comm hubs, and so on could you destroy? Now ask yourself a scarier question: can you think of any way to protect against such attacks? The answer is no.

Things like instituting a “no fly list” for political dissidents such as known pacifists like John Dear (the 43 year old Jesuit priest and member of the Catholic peace group Pax Christi) and political opponents of Bush such as the Green Party's Nancy Oden and Doug Stuber isn't going to stop attacks. Attacking Iraq — one of the most moderate Islamic nations — isn't going to help anyone when you have other rogue nations armed with plutonium bombs.

Anatol Lieven, senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC, has been quoted as saying the current US goal is “unilateral world domination through absolute military superiority.” While that may be true, what they continue to miss is that there is nothing that can stop attacks on the US from being successful. You can not fight a suicidal terrorist group through traditional military means. In fact, you can't fight them with any military means. Any attack on them simply makes them stronger. So the solution is either no solution or a diplomatic solution. We all know that.

* And missiles are just one possibility. I've seen semi-trailer mounted laser systems that could be built in the $50k price range using no-questions-asked parts that could take out a jetliner. I've seen van sized EMP devices that could take out NYSE. It's not hard to build massively disruptive weapons using easy to obtain parts on a budget.

Yahoo is running an AP story on a National Geographic poll asking people between 18 and 24 about their geographic knowledge. Only 13 percent of Americans could find Iraq, Iran, and Israel, and with only 17 percent being able to find Afghanistan. In all honesty that didn't surprise me much, but what did surprise me is that only 58% of Amercans between the age of 18 and 24 even knew that the Taliban and al-Qaeda were based in Afghanistan (the lowest result of all countries surveyed)!! What rock would you have to be living under to not know that?

Anyway, I downloaded the entire test, so I'll share a few results from it that I thought were worth mentioning. First, before people think this is American bashing, Canada and Mexico scored pretty damn low too (Canada had about 20% of people “failing” the test — far worse than European nations — with the US at 39% failing and Mexico with 43% failing). Also note that when I'm saying “Americans” or “French Citizens” or whatever that I'm generally referring to the 18 to 24 age group. If you want more info on the legitimacy and specifics of the survey, you can download a giant PDF from the National Geographic site (it's an interesting read):

  • 30% of Americans believe that the US population is between 1 and 2 billion. Only 25% correctly chose “between 150 and 350 million” (the options were 10-50 million, 150-350 million, 500-750 million, 1-2 billion, and don't know). All countries except America and Mexico were largely able to identify their population size accurately. In addition, young adults in other countries were on average twice as likely to correctly identify the US population.
  • While only 13% of Americans know where Iraq is, 34% know where the Island that “Survivor” is filmed on is located.
  • 30% of Americans and Brits do not know what “East” and “West” mean in terms of a map. In 1988 this number was a shocking 48%. Only Germans (37%) and Mexicans (71%) scored worse.
  • 63% of Americans can not find Britain on a map.
  • 7% of Swedes can't find America on a map (how is this even possible?), although they ranked the highest in general, along with Germany and Italy on country identificiation.
  • 17% of Canadians can't find the Pacific Ocean on a map (29% of Americans can't find it either).
  • 49% of Americans can't find New York State on a map, and only 30% could find New Jersey. Only California and Texas could be found by a large majority of Americans. The average American could identify less than half the states.
  • Internet users (across the board) scored about 65% better than those who are not web capable. 11% of Americans use the Internet for news, compared with a world average of 25%.
  • Males scored 13% better across the board, except in France.
  • 11% of Americans can not find America on a world map! (20% can't find Mexico, and 16% can't find Canada).
  • 66% of Americans didn't know what the European Union was (compared with an international average of about 12% not knowing).
  • 81% of Americans, 83% of Canadians, and 96% of Mexicans were unable to identify four countries with nuclear weapons. 95% of Americans were unaware that France is a nuclear nation. 17% of Americans believe that the US does not have nuclear weaponry, and 25% of Brits believe the same — and 62% of Brits don't even know that they have nuclear weaponry. 38% of Americans are unaware that Russia has nuclear weapons, 66% don't know that China is armed, and so on. Scary numbers.
  • 93% of Swedes use the internet, 81% of Canadians, 70% of Germans, 64% of Mexicans, 60% of Americans, and then France coming in last with 58%. (Yes, Mexico is more “wired” than the US — it surprised me too).
  • Pretty much nobody could find Bulgaria on a map except Swedes and Germans.
  • Italy is the easiest country to find in the world (even more so than America!).
  • 28% of Brits (the worst rank in the world) couldn't find Canada. Of course, 43% of Canadians can't find Great Britain either!

Whoa! Apparently we're all a bunch of dumbasses. That's a lot of numbers… I should probably stop now. Read the survey for yourself for more I guess.

Finally, I have three quick nerdnews links:

  • Hot laptop burns penis – I thought this was appropriate given that we've been debating McDonalds lawsuits in the Whatever forum.
  • New Transmeta Chip – Their new Astro chip is outperforming the P4 1.8GHz, which is pretty impressive given that it's half the cost, consumes a fraction of the power, and runs at something like 50 degress (that is, it won't burn your penis!).
  • Did quark matter strike Earth? – I shouldn't have to tell you why this is neato!

PS. $4 a gallon for gas in California!? Ack!

It's a cold day today; I just had to brush snow off the satellite link to be able to upload this entry. Dunno what my plans are yet… I'm going to write a quick bot to consolidate and download all the forum keytword ratings to start working on some search routines, and if my brain feels up to it I'll plug the spellcheck into forum postings (I probably won't put it into the IM engine).

Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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