Josh Marshall

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Nice column by Michelangelo Signorile in the New York Press. Signorile picks up on an element of the John Walker story that briefly saw the light of day in a back-and-forth between columnists in the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner but (as far as I've seen at least) hasn't gotten much other play.

Walker's parents' divorce was closely tied (chronologically at least) with his conversion to Islam. And apparently the divorce itself was triggered by his father's coming out as a homosexual or bisexual man.

The conventional take on Walker has been the 'only in Marin' line.

Yes there are a couple permutations. There's the really shabby, slumming version of the story: lax values, permissive parenting, mom's a Buddhist ... of course, he joined the Taliban.

Sophisticates have a more nuanced rendition ... same cake, really, just with a Straussian frosting. The center will not hold, relativism breeds ennui breeds fanaticism. You know the story.

In any case, this seems like a window into Walker's soul that cuts a good deal more deeply than the cookie-cutter versions getting the play on Op-Ed pages. And as to why it's garnered so little notice? I suspect that's because for both parties to the controversy this is just an angle that's a little too dicey, too uncomfortable to handle.

Here's a good, even-handed rejoinder to a lot of the partisan Clinton Defense legacy-bashing. The Bush folks may get credit for good strategy in Afghanistan. (I'll certainly give it to them.) But they're winning it with Bill Clinton's military.

Here's yet another fascinating and captivating article about the company of Special Forces soldiers who were working with Hamid Karzai in the crucial middle and final phases of the war in central Afghanistan. This the company that lost two men late in the fighting due to a friendly fire incident. The company captain, Jason Amerine, who was wounded in the friendly fire incident, described much of the tale for the Washington Post from a hospital bed in Germany. Read the story. I'm sure at some point a movie will be made about this one team's exploits.

I was just reading one of the articles I found linked in the post below from Rick Klau's weblog - on the topic of micropayments as a feasible method for supporting online content.

The author of the piece says that for micropayments to work they'll need to become invisible, not something you're constantly clicking on to okay a payment. Sorta like the way the phone bill works or your electricity. It just pops up increment by increment as you go. The author - Jakob Nielsen - also gives a big thumbs down to subscriptions and advertisements. He says they'll never work, except in a few cases where special circumstances apply.

As the editor, chief writer, and CEO of Talking Points Memo, this whole issue is of more than academic concern to me. And I'd like to see a way for small sites to support themselves. Somehow, though, this vision of how the web will function just seems off to me. (TPM accepts contributions to help defray the expense of running the site. And by all means make a contribution! But if TPM were run on a balance sheet it would have stopped publishing long, long ago.)

Way back when in the early 1990s, unless you were a college student, you had to buy connectivity by the hour. Maybe a hundred hours a month for some reasonable fee. Or if you had a service like AOL you literally paid by the hour. Eventually, competition and experience changed the business model and pretty much all ISPs went over to some sort of flat rate.

Certainly, there were many reasons that went into the change. But for my part at least having a meter running on your web usage took much of the pleasure out of the experience. I found a similar frustration with online services like AOL or CompuServe where there were different fees for looking at different material or using different services. One other problem with paying a small fee for every individual thing you look at is that, for me at least, the vast majority of things I click on to look at I don't stay to read. I give a quick glance and I'm off.

For my money, far better to just pay a flat fee. The issue is not the aggregate expense. It's having concern over price and expense creeping into the process of hopping around the 'net and finding new info here and there.

It's true that phone service operates by a sort of micropayments system, but only for long-distance. And I suspect that's a legacy of the now bygone era when calling long distance was a sort of extravagance. Or at least not something done without a second thought as it is today. For local service, we pretty much all opt for the flat rate, in part I suspect to avoid the annoyance of having the meter running or just needing to think about it at all.

In any case, this invisible micropayment vision of the web's future is not one that seems inviting to me in the least. For all the difficulties people have encountered, I suspect ads are still the future of selling content online. The recent proliferation of pop-ads - especially from prestige sites like the New York Times - could not be more annoying. And I hope and suspect there will be some backlash.

But the more I think about it, the economics of selling web content, for better and worse, seems quite like that of other media.

Thank God I didn't throw away those micro-initiative policy memos! That's what Dick Morris must be telling himself.

Morris' latest column criticizing Bill Clinton for being soft on terror looks pretty much like a catalog of Morris' own poll-tested micro-initiative ideas that the president refused to sign off on.

"The weekly strategy meetings at the White House throughout 1995 and 1996 featured an escalating drumbeat of advice to President Clinton to take decisive steps to crack down on terrorism. The polls gave these ideas a green light ..."

"detailed proposals were laid before the president ... " i.e., by me, Dick Morris

"At a Feb. 13, 1996 White House meeting, the president received and read a memo noting that "by taking aggressive action against Iran, we will rally public opinion for a fight against terror ..." i.e., received from me, Dick Morris

And what were these cracker-jack anti-terror initiatives? Revoking Osama bin Laden's invitation for a sleepover in the Lincoln bedroom?

Not exactly. More like a bogus anti-terrorism tie-in to the motor-voter law, which actually sounds a lot more like a crack-down on illegal immigrants micro-initiative that Morris has retrospectively dressed up as an anti-terror initiative. That and a shifty retelling of the debate over sanctions against Iran which would penalize European businesses.

Dems of good faith have to concede that there were some anti-terror screw-ups under Bill Clinton. But trust me, this ain't one of 'em.

Today Richard Perle takes his attack-Iraq-now road show to the New York Times Op-Ed page. And, regrettably, Gail Collins has let him get away with the disingenuous misidentification of himself which he's been peddling for several months on various television broadcasts.

In the Times OpEd, Perle tags himself as "a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, [and a former] assistant secretary of defense" when in fact, as TPM readers know, he's also the current Chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board.

Not only is the DPB an official Pentagon advisory board, which gets Perle an office in the Pentagon's E-Ring. But he's used the Board to lobby within the administration to move against Iraq immediately and embrace the almost comically feckless Iraqi National Congress of Ahmed Chalabi.

The logic employed in the piece is precisely the sort of weekend-warrior dilettantism you'd expect. But one would like to expect more from the Times.

I'm not sure what the new bin Laden tape tells us about the fate of OBL. But I think it gives us some pretty definitive info on the fate of Suleiman Abu Ghaith. And the word is, he's toast. Either that, or maybe he's already entered into negotiations with Ari Fleischer.

As TPM readers well know, Suleiman Abu Ghaith is the Press Secretary and Spokesman for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. There are several key signs that he's no longer providing his services to OBL and may perhaps even have been killed in the Tora Bora bombing.

First, on the most recent tape bin Laden pretty clearly seems to have been reduced to writing his own material, which has reduced his effectiveness both in sowing terror and communicating his message.

Second, OBL appears with bad lighting, making him look pale, washed-out, and frankly rather languid. A good flak never lets this happen.

Third, bad or non-existent make-up.

Fourth, no subordinates on hand to make OBL look like a bigger deal.

Fifth, exotic rocky crag now replaced by unappealing brown sheet background.

I would have preferred to have been proven wrong on this one. But I'm feeling pretty vindicated in my December 13th prediction that the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament would end up being a much bigger deal than the "bin Laden tape, the supposed severing of ties between Israel and Arafat, or US pulling out of the ABM treaty." This stand-off in South Asia could really scarcely be more serious. More on this in an opinion column to run tomorrow.

The Richard Reid story seems to be coming into focus. Conversion to Islam, fell in with the wrong crew at the local mosque, fab vacation getaway to Pakistan, all ending up with the martyrdom operation gone awry.

What really strikes me though is some of the talk coming out of the Brixton Mosque in South London.

When looking at cultures other than our own, certain traits and tendencies can appear alien even though they should actually be quite familiar.

Let me give an example.

In college I once went to a seminar on violence and misogyny in rap music (how I found my way there I honestly don't remember). There were a bunch of Afro-Am studies scholars and literary critics there on the panel (Arnold Rampersad is the only one I remember clearly) and one white dude who I think was like the rock critic from the Village Voice or something. There was a great deal of erudite chatter about how rap was the authentic voice of the inner-city and so on and so forth.

But the rock critic was the only one on the panel who said something which struck me as really insightful. Perhaps this wasn't something about African-American culture, maybe it was just something about adolescent men. Isn't Heavy Metal music and the hard-up losers who listen to it pretty much the same thing?

Anyway, I had a similar feeling when listening to the comments of Abdul Haqq Baker, the Chairman of the Brixton Mosque, where Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui worshipped before hooking up with Al Qaeda.

About Moussaoui, Baker told the London Times:

We saw quite a stark change in him. He became infuriatingly arrogant. He would try and speak to other unsuspecting youths about his view. We would try and stop him.

He kept asking us: ‘Do you know where there is jihad which I can fight?’ He would wear military gear and a rucksack showing he wasn’t sleeping in a fixed place.

Baker told the BBC that Reid "came into contact with 'more extreme elements' in London's Muslim community, started wearing military gear and talking about fighting a jihad or holy war."

The military fatigues is what really strikes me. And the talk of arrogance and belligerence comes up again and again in descriptions of these guys. To be honest, take out the words Muslim and Jihad and they sound like a lot of the guys I grew up with in Southern California in the eighties.