The New Republic publishes a must-read account of the battle of Tora Bora where Osama bin Laden reportedly narrowly escaped.
What really happened at Tora Bora? Not long after the battle ended, the answer to that question would become extremely clouded. Americans perceived the Afghan war as a stunning victory, and the failure at Tora Bora seemed like an unfortunate footnote to an otherwise upbeat story. By 2004, with George W. Bush locked in a tough reelection battle, some U.S. officials were even asserting, inaccurately, that bin Laden himself may not have been present at the battle.
The real history of Tora Bora is far more disturbing. Having reconstructed the battle–based on interviews with the top American ground commander, three Afghan commanders, and three CIA officials; accounts by Al Qaeda eyewitnesses that were subsequently published on jihadist websites; recollections of captured survivors who were later questioned by interrogators or reporters; an official history of the Afghan war by the U.S. Special Operations Command; an investigation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and visits to the battle sites themselves–I am convinced that Tora Bora constitutes one of the greatest military blunders in recent U.S. history.
“If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?” – Maureen Dowd
Olivia Judson adds a new post on different types of memory in honor of the end of the year.
Another year; another 584 million miles traveled on our endless journey ’round the sun; another set of joys and regrets, disasters and triumphs. And sitting here, reflecting on the year, I am also moved to reflect on the nature of memory — and on memory in nature. For the conscious, brain-based memories that we humans set so much store by are not the only memories out there.
We tend to think of memory as unique to animals. But it isn’t. Plants also have a form of memory. Yes: they, too, are shaped by what happens to them, and alter their responses to future events based on their experiences in the past.[...]Tobacco plants attacked for the first time take longer to mount their defense than tobacco plants that have previously experienced an attack. This isn’t because the previously attacked plants keep on producing a higher level of nicotine — they don’t. Nicotine is expensive for a plant to make (it takes a lot of energy and requires large amounts of nitrogen, which the plant might prefer to use for other purposes), so they only do it when necessary. No: the previously attacked plants respond to new leaf damage more quickly. And plants that have been attacked twice are faster to respond than plants that have only been damaged once. Somehow, they remember.
Science and religion approach humanity’s puzzles differently. Take the classic chicken or the egg dilemma. Science answers the egg; religion presupposes chicken.
Put simply, the reason is down to the fact that genetic material does not change during an animal’s life.Therefore the first bird that evolved into what we would call a chicken, probably in prehistoric times, must have first existed as an embryo inside an egg.
Russell was an intellectual giant whose arguments still hold as much force today as they did 50 years ago.
Christopher Hitchens speaks to a group of nonreligious military personal in the latest Vanity Fair. Evangelical Christianity disturbingly is becoming systematic in the military, led of course by the chaplains.
More alarming still is a book called Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel, by an air-force lieutenant colonel named William McCoy, publicity for which describes the separation of church and state as a “twisted idea.” Nor is this the book’s only publicity: it comes—with its direct call for a religion-based military—with an endorsement from General David Petraeus.
Bill O’Reilly is now the reasonable one on Fox News.
Those who (like me) oppose ObamaCare, need to understand (also like me, unfortunately) what it’s like to be serially rejected by insurance companies even though you’re perfectly healthy. It’s an enraging, anxiety-inducing, indelible experience, one that both softens the intellectual ground for increased government intervention and produces active resentment toward anyone who argues that the U.S. has “the best health care in the world.”[...]
Advocates of the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act say they have gathered more than enough signatures to qualify the initiative for California’s November 2010 ballot.
As I’ve argued before, the penny needs to go. The New Republic makes the case that President Obama should follow through with his campaign promise to consider abolishing the penny.
[T]he other (arguably stronger) case for abolishing the penny–saving time lost to fumbling cashiers–remains as solid as ever. Considering that pennies add 2 to 2.5 seconds to each cash transaction, economist Robert Whaples has calculated this country’s penny-induced productivity loss at $300 million annually. Former Bush economic adviser Gregory Mankiw puts the figure at $1 billion, while anti-penny activist Jeff Gore argues that it’s actually in the neighborhood of $10 billion.