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Notebook (October 29, 2001)

IDIOCY WATCH, CONT'D: "There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. The magical appearance of the terrorists' luggage, passports, and flight manual looks rather too good to be true.... Even the anthrax scare looks suspiciously convenient. Just as the hawks in Washington were losing the public argument about extending the war to other countries, journalists start receiving envelopes full of bacteria, which might as well have been labelled `a gift from Iraq.' This could indeed be the work of terrorists, who may have their own reasons for widening the conflict, but there are plenty of other ruthless operators who would benefit from a shift in public opinion."
George Monbiot, The Guardian, October 16 

"Any writer my age grew up with the statement by Ernest Hemingway that war is the best material and wondered if that was true, and whether we would ever get it. In Bouley's kitchen, I had my first taste of war. The feeling of doing important work, side by side, and trying to suppress your ego. The fluidity—that everyone was being called and that if you showed the right energy and purpose you could excel, and your job might change, you would get more responsibility in an instant. The chaos—two refrigerated trucks pulled up and we were suddenly, senselessly loading boxes of cheap tomato sauce from one to the other. The shortages—for hours there were not enough lids for the trays, and I had to go next door, or harass the dishwashers. The waste. Everything about normal life was turned on its head. Of course, I am talking about life behind the lines. Still, it was monstrously exciting."
Philip Weiss, New York Observer, October 15

"The World Trade Center disaster is a globalized version of the Columbine High School disaster. When you bully people long enough they are going to strike back."
Sam Smith of the Progressive Review, in a speech to the September 29 Green Party conference

"Don't make the mistake of interpreting the events of Sept. 11 purely in terms of terrorism and murder.... The terrorists are a virulent subset of a much larger group of anticapitalists, one that includes many politicians, bureaucrats, writers, media types, academics, entertainers, trade unionists and, at times, church leaders. The barbarians at the gates are more numerous than you thought."
Steve Hanke, Forbes, October 29 issue

"The bombing of Afghanistan is the legal and moral equivalent of what was done to the Americans on Sept. 11."
Law professor Michael Mandel, Toronto Globe and Mail, October 9

"In a situation like this, of course you identify with everyone who's suffering. [But we must also think about] the terrorists who are creating such horrible future lives for themselves because of the negativity of this karma.... It's all of our jobs to keep our minds as expansive as possible. If you can see the terrorists as a relative who's dangerously sick and we have to give them medicine, and the medicine is love and compassion. There's nothing better."
Richard Gere, interviewed by ABCNEWS Radio, October 10

"The real irony of the situation is that Osama bin Laden is essentially demanding that we live by our own original principles."
Syndicated columnist Joseph Sobran, October 12

"Only 13 days [after the World Trade Center attacks] on Public Broadcasting Stations, a seven-part, eight-hour event of grave importance was also witnessed by millions of Americans.... Both events have much in common.... And while the public now understands from President Bush that `We're at War' with religious fanatics around the world, they don't have a clue that America is being attacked from within through its public schools by a militant religious movement called Darwinists.... [L]et this blatant video series speak for it. And let its support documents tell you of mind control beyond anything yet seen in public education. `Evolution' is PBS's assault that's coming to your children's classroom—not soon but now."
Ken Cumming, Institution for Creation Research (

"Bin Laden is particularly dangerous because he is a roving bandit. His whereabouts are mysterious and subject to change. Give someone like him a government, and two things would happen. His regime would be forced to become at least somewhat accountable to his supporters. He would have to deliver the goods, or an opposition would brew against him."
Sociology Professor Michael Hechter, the Los Angeles Times, October 16

"But there have been cracks in the patriotic veneer, ugly moments in which vicious partisanship has supplanted patriotism. And every one of them has come from the right."
Paul Begala, The American Prospect, November 5 issue

Idiocy Watch thanks Kevin Anderson, Pat Cleary, Andrew Creighton, Michael Ikeda, Adam Minter, and many other contributors. Additional Idiocies may be found at The New Republic Online (; readers are invited to submit their own nominees to

HARD TARGET: The September 11 attacks have led the Bush administration to change its position on plenty of foreign policy issues—Russia's war in Chechnya, Pakistan's dictatorship, Uzbekistan's dictatorship, Sudan's dictatorship—that have only a tangential moral relationship to our war on terrorism. But it so happens there's another foreign policy issue with a much stronger moral connection to our war on terrorism: Israel's policy of assassinating terrorists, which the State Department has consistently denounced. You might think recent events would have prompted Foggy Bottom to reevaluate—after all, the United States has been fairly up-front about its efforts to specifically target Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. Last week we reportedly missed Mullah Omar, the Taliban's supreme ruler, by mere minutes. But this shift in U.S. policy apparently hasn't changed our views on Israeli policy—all of which has forced Foggy Bottom into some rather embarrassing linguistic corners. Earlier this week State Department Spokesman Philip Reeker declared that, with regard to Israel, the United States has "the same position that we have said over and over again. And that is that we oppose a policy of targeted killings." When asked by a reporter to explain this position in light of America's specific targeting of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, Reeker replied: "I can't really draw a parallel between the two. Our position on the Israeli policy of targeted killings is well known." Note the slight change in wording in Reeker's second reply: The Israeli policy of targeted killings. Thus he did usefully clarify the administration's view: Apparently a policy of targeting terrorist leaders is wrong only when conducted by Israel.

TIME TO FIND SOME NEW EXPERTS: "The Next Threat? Experts agree we don't need to worry about an anthrax attack yet. But we should be prepared."
Time headline, October 1

This article originally ran in the October 29, 2001 issue of the magazine.