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Beware the Mars Hoax

“There’s a rumor going around. You might have heard it at a 4th of July BBQ or family get-together. More likely you’ve read it on the Internet. It goes like this:

‘The Red Planet is about to be spectacular.’

‘Earth is catching up with Mars [for] the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history.’

‘On August 27th … Mars will look as large as the full moon.’

And finally, ‘NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN.’

Those are snippets from a widely-circulated email. Only the first sentence is true. The Red Planet is about to be spectacular. The rest is a hoax.

Here are the facts: Earth and Mars are converging for a close encounter this year on October 30th at 0319 Universal Time. Distance: 69 million kilometers. To the unaided eye, Mars will look like a bright red star, a pinprick of light, certainly not as wide as the full Moon.

Disappointed? Don’t be. If Mars did come close enough to rival the Moon, its gravity would alter Earth’s orbit and raise terrible tides.

Sixty-nine million km is good. At that distance, Mars shines brighter than anything else in the sky except the Sun, the Moon and Venus. The visual magnitude of Mars on Oct. 30, 2005, will be -2.3. Even inattentive sky watchers will notice it, rising at sundown and soaring overhead at midnight.” (NASA)

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On London

Certainly, you can read to your heart’s content and far beyond about the London attacks. I feel no need to even offer you any blinks, except these BBC-solicited eyewitnesses’ photos. My thoughts are with the victims, their families and the people of London. I have just a few things to say.

First, the obsessional focus on whether this is “al Qaeda” or not is meaningless. Listen to the pundits coming out of the woodwork from the proliferating number of think tanks devoting themselves to terrorism and counter-terrorism pontificating on how it “certainly shows the hallmarks…” Has no one realized yet what has been apparent for a long time? In an important sense, there is no such thing as al Qaeda. It is a ‘franchise’ term to be used by any group of extremists adopting aims similar to those bin Laden and his followers held or hold. Moreover, whether the al Qaeda moniker is explicitly used or not by those taking responsibility for a given terrorist attack, the government, the pundits and the press reflexively use the term. ‘al Qaeda’ is a generic term. as much as ‘terrorist’, during the Bush War on Terror®, or as much as ‘communist’ was during the Cold War. Anyone perpetrating an “al Qaeda-like attack” is al Qaeda, and all attacks perpetrated come more and more to be characterized as “al Qaeda-like”. (Four years ago, the ‘hallmark’ of an ‘al Qaeda’ attack involved martyrdom from members of a reawakened sleeper cell striking largely for the symbolism of taking down icons of American capitalism and imperialism; now the ‘hallmark’ of an ‘al Qaeda attack’ apparently has none of those attributes…)

So perpetuating the ‘al Qaeda’ connection in these attacks becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This brings me to my second point. It is absurd to even debate whether it has been the WoT® and the invasion and occupation of Iraq that is dramatically promoting recruitment to the extremists’ cause Increasing our resolve to either fight ‘terrrrrism’ or protect against it more vigorously begets more attacks, and there is little we can do about it. Security is essentially unattainable, since prevention has to succeed 100% of the time to succeed, whereas it has to fail only once for the attackers to succeed.

As a corollary, all the handwringing about how our intelligence resources failed to have any advanced warning of the attacks is nothing but pitiful. Given that there is no centralized command structure and very little in the way of coordination needed to pull off a devastating attack on a Western city, there is not going to be any communication to intercept, no meetings to infiltrate etc.

As another corollary of the above, increasing security expenditures is little more than closing the barndoor after the animals have flown the coop. It does serve one purpose — to give a shot in the arm to a flagging economy. Did you notice the surge in stock values in the security and counter-terrorism sector of the economy in the aftermath of the attacks yesterday? Over and above how ludicrous the paint-by-numbers approach of the Homeland Security hacks is, the value of increasing the security alert status one notch to orange specifically for the mass transit system is nil. Anyone who thinks the people who pull off these attacks are so simple-minded that they or others like them will pursue a copy-cat strategy is a fool.

Neither do we, however, have to simply learn to live in a world of heightened threat we can do nothing about, as some experts suggest. What we can do is get the fools prosecuting an asinine War on Terror® out of power and begin promoting intelligent foreign policy that reverses the enmity the US (and its British toadies) currently invokes on a daily basis.

Back to covert intelligence for a moment, as a further corollary, pay no attention to all the post-9/11 debate about reforming the US intelligence establishment. Let me remind you that the failures in threat assessment were not — and continue not to be — in the spheres of data-gathering or analysis but of consumption.The Bush cabal heard what it wanted to hear and saw what it wanted to see to link Saddam to the supposed terrorist threat to the US economy and ‘way of life’ and justify the Iraqi invasion. The intelligence community is the Bush administration’s scapegoat for its own ineptitude lies.

Finally, if you listen to the unbearable, hypocritical rhetoric coming out of the mouths of Bush and Blair at the G8 summit, can you fail to notice that it is the pot calling the kettle black when they decry those who live by violence, sow terror and murder innocent civilians?