Sunday, November 4, 2001
M o n d a y ,  N o v e m b e r  5,  2 0 0 1
Tuesday, November 6, 2001

U.S. Drops Massive Bombs on Taliban

Excerpts from an article detailing the state of the war and last weekend's use of the largest conventional bomb in the U.S. inventory, BLU-82 "daisy cutters", 15,000-pound bombs which devastate a somewhat circular area about five football fields in diameter:

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... The 12-foot-long BLU-82 — whose nickname comes from the distinctive daisy-like pattern of destruction it leaves behind — is so enormous that the only way it can be delivered is to drop it by parachute out the back of a modified MC-130 cargo plane, according to its Pentagon specifications sheet.

The bomb — 80 percent of which is explosive material — sprays a mist of chemicals over a large target area and then ignites it in a devastating explosion.

It is so powerful that U.S. forces used it to create instant helicopter landing pads after it was introduced in 1970 during the Vietnam War, and it can clear large minefields by detonating every mine with its massive concussive blast.

... two of the bombs were used on Taliban troops in the north, where the United States is inserting members of the special forces to coordinate with opposition commanders.

The main coordination with opposition forces is in the north, around the strategic city of Mazar-e-Sharif, but opposition commanders also want to march on Kabul.

Several thousand anti-Taliban soldiers and hundreds of military vehicles have converged near the town of Jabal Saraj, about 40 miles north of Kabul, the capital.

Parade of troops in a Northern Alliance
training camp north of Kabul, 11/05/01

The Northern Alliance staged its largest-ever military exercise Monday at Jabal Saraj, firing dozens of rounds from tanks and armored vehicles into a hill.

Former President Burhanuddin Rabbani reviewed several thousand troops, whom he told: “Your jihad is right. ... You can save the world from terrorism.”

U.S. forces continued what were described as relentless strikes Monday in and around Kabul. Witnesses said U.S. missiles, possibly fired by attack helicopters, hit a hotel used by Taliban forces, killing some Taliban fighters.

Residents said that from the sound of the engines, they believed helicopter gunships carried out the attack on the Baghi Bala Hotel, a Taliban base west of downtown, and the main road leading to it.

If true, it would mark another first — the use of helicopters in airstrikes over Afghanistan.

... In other airstrikes Monday, B-52s bombed Taliban positions outside a town near the northern border with Tajikistan and along the front north of Kabul, The Associated Press reported. ...

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  • MSNBC [link inactive]

Quick Tests to Detect Anthrax Early?

Excerpts from article detailing new tests under study with the possibility for quick and affordable detection of anthrax:

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Scientists have developed a DNA test that may identify anthrax spores in a letter, building or person in just 30 minutes — and this week will begin studying whether a "smart bomb'' type of medical test can diagnose inhaled anthrax well before symptoms appear.

The first test, developed by the Mayo Clinic, is intended to prove that anthrax and not some other bacteria is present in the environment — not to diagnose a sick person.

But researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center are hopeful the second test, called LeuTech, might help people survive inhaled anthrax by identifying such patients before they become seriously ill. To prove that, researchers on Tuesday will begin enrolling 500 people recently exposed to anthrax in the study.

Both tests are highly experimental. Roche Diagnostics, which manufactures Mayo's DNA test, said it plans to begin shipping test kits to certain laboratories later this week, although the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved the tests' use. ...

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Genes, Brains, Intelligence, Personalities

Excerpt from article detailing the amazing amount of inheritability of aspects of being (such as intelligence, personality, and others) based predominantly on genes:

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UCLA brain mapping researchers have created the first images to show how an individual’s genes influence their brain structure and intelligence.

The findings, published in the Nov. 5 issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, offer exciting new insight about how parents pass on personality traits and cognitive abilities, and how brain diseases run in families.

The team found that the amount of gray matter in the frontal parts of the brain is determined by the genetic make-up of an individual’s parents, and strongly correlates with that individual’s cognitive ability, as measured by intelligence test scores.

More importantly, these are the first images to uncover how normal genetic differences influence brain structure and intelligence.

Brain regions controlling language and reading skills were virtually identical in identical twins, who share exactly the same genes, while siblings showed only 60 percent of the normal brain differences.

... “We were stunned to see that the amount of gray matter in frontal brain regions was strongly inherited, and also predicted an individual’s IQ score,” said Paul Thompson, the study’s chief investigator ... “The brain’s language areas were also extremely similar in family members."

... The scientists employed magnetic resonance imaging technology to scan a group of 20 identical twins, whose genes are identical, and 20 same-sex fraternal twins, who share half their genes.

Using a high-speed supercomputer, they created color-coded images showing which parts of the brain are determined by our genetic make-up, and which are more adaptable to environmental factors, such as learning and stress.

... Recent research has shown that many cognitive skills are surprisingly heritable, with strong genetic influences on verbal and spatial abilities, reaction times, and even some personality qualities, including emotional reactions to stress.

These genetic relationships persist even after statistical adjustments are made for shared family environments, which tend to make members of the same family more similar. ...

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Search for Bin Laden Hideouts

Graphic detailing potential hideouts for bin Laden:


  • The Times [link inactive]

This War Is About Islam

Complete article on the causality of the war the civilized world is fighting against islamic extremist terrorism:

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Tuesday 6 November 2001

"This isn't about Islam." The world's leaders have been repeating this mantra for weeks, partly in the virtuous hope of deterring reprisal attacks on innocent Muslims living in the West, partly because if the United States is to maintain its coalition against terror it can't afford to suggest that Islam and terrorism are in any way related.

The trouble with this necessary disclaimer is that it isn't true. If this isn't about Islam, why the worldwide Muslim demonstrations in support of Osama bin Laden and alQaeda? Why did those 10,000 men armed with swords and axes mass on the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier, answering some mullah's call to jihad? Why are the war's first British casualties three Muslim men who died fighting on the Taliban side?

Why the routine anti-Semitism of the much-repeated Islamic slander that "the Jews'' arranged the hits on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, with the oddly self-deprecating explanation offered by the Taliban leadership, among others, that Muslims could not have the technological know-how or organisational sophistication to pull off such a feat?

Why does Imran Khan, the former Pakistani cricket star turned politician, demand to be shown the evidence of al Qaeda's guilt while apparently turning a deaf ear to the self-incriminating statements of al Qaeda's own spokesmen (there will be a rain of aircraft from the skies; Muslims in the West are warned not to live or work in tall buildings)?

Why all the talk about American military infidels desecrating the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia if some sort of definition of what is sacred is not at the heart of the present discontents?

Of course this is "about Islam". The question is, what exactly does that mean? After all, most religious belief isn't very theological. Most Muslims are not profound Koranic analysts.

For a vast number of "believing" Muslim men, "Islam" stands, in a jumbled, half-examined way, not only for the fear of God - the fear more than the love, one suspects - but also for a cluster of customs, opinions and prejudices that include

  • their dietary practices;
  • the sequestration or near-sequestration of "their" women;
  • the sermons delivered by their mullahs of choice;
  • a loathing of modern society in general, riddled as it is with music, godlessness and sex; and
  • a more particularised loathing (and fear) of the prospect that their own immediate surroundings could be taken over - "Westoxicated" - by the liberal Western-style way of life.

Highly motivated organisations of Muslim men (oh, for the voices of Muslim women to be heard!) have been engaged over the past 30 years or so in growing radical political movements out of this mulch of "belief".

These Islamists - we must get used to this word "Islamists", meaning those who are engaged upon such political projects, and learn to distinguish it from the more general and politically neutral "Muslim" - include the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the blood-soaked combatants of the Islamic Salvation Front and Armed Islamic Group in Algeria, the Shiite revolutionaries of Iran, and the Taliban.

Poverty is their great helper, and the fruit of their efforts is paranoia. This paranoid Islam, which blames outsiders, "infidels", for all the ills of Muslim societies, and whose proposed remedy is the closing of those societies to the rival project of modernity, is the fastest growing version of Islam in the world.

This is not wholly to go along with Samuel Huntington's thesis about the clash of civilisations, for the simple reason that the Islamists' project is turned not only against the West and "the Jews", but also against their fellow Islamists.

Whatever the public rhetoric, there's little love lost between the Taliban and Iranian regimes. Dissensions between Muslim nations run at least as deep, if not deeper, than those nations' resentment of the West.

Nevertheless, it would be absurd to deny that this self-exculpatory, paranoiac Islam is an ideology with widespread appeal.

Twenty years ago, when I was writing a novel about power struggles in a fictionalised Pakistan, it was already de rigueur in the Muslim world to blame all its troubles on the West and, in particular, the United States.

Then, as now, some of these criticisms were well founded; no room here to rehearse the geopolitics of the Cold War and America's frequently damaging foreign policy "tilts", to use the Kissinger term, toward (or away from) this or that temporarily useful (or disapproved of) nation-state, or America's role in the installation and deposition of sundry unsavory leaders and regimes.

But I wanted then to ask a question that is no less important now: Suppose we say that the ills of our societies are not primarily America's fault, that we are to blame for our own failings? How would we understand them then? Might we not, by accepting our own responsibility for our problems, begin to learn to solve them for ourselves?

Many Muslims, as well as secularist analysts with roots in the Muslim world, are beginning to ask such questions now. In recent weeks Muslim voices everywhere have been raised against the obscurantist hijacking of their religion. Yesterday's hotheads (among them Yusuf Islam, aka Cat Stevens) are improbably repackaging themselves as today's pussycats.

An Iraqi writer quotes an earlier Iraqi satirist: "The disease that is in us, is from us." A British Muslim writes: "Islam has become its own enemy." A Lebanese friend, returning from Beirut, tells me that in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, public criticism of Islamism has become much more outspoken. Many commentators have spoken of the need for a Reformation in the Muslim world.

I'm reminded of the way non-communist socialists used to distance themselves from the tyrannical socialism of the Soviets; nevertheless, the first stirrings of this counter-project are of great significance. If Islam is to be reconciled with modernity, these voices must be encouraged until they swell into a roar. Many of them speak of another Islam, their personal, private faith.

The restoration of religion to the sphere of the personal, its depoliticisation, is the nettle that all Muslim societies must grasp in order to become modern. The only aspect of modernity interesting to the terrorists is technology, which they see as a weapon that can be turned on its makers.

If terrorism is to be defeated, the world of Islam must take on board the secularist-humanist principles on which the modern is based, and without which Muslim countries' freedom will remain a distant dream.

British novelist and essayist Salman Rushdie lives in New York. The late Iranian leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa against Rushdie in 1989 over his book The Satanic Verses. The fatwa was lifted four years ago. Rushdie's column appears monthly on this page.

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