Go to previous post:
The admirable Jeralyn Merritt,

Go to Electrolite's front page.

Go to next post:
That liberal media.

Our Admirable Sponsors

June 9, 2003

Cato guy, reprobate, and frequently funny libertarian Gene Healy is fantasted by this, from the teaser page for next week’s National Review:
As the hunt goes on, there are some simple truths that many seem to be forgetting: 1) At one time, Saddam had enough chemical weapons and toxins to annihilate the eastern United States…
Observes Healy:
Umm, yeah. I guess that’s true, given the right method of delivery. Like say, if everyone in the Eastern United States conveniently agreed to sit in front of their houses and apartment buildings and wait patiently for Mukhabarat agents to come by and spritz them individually with VX, then sure, he could “annihilate the eastern United States.” By the same logic, Hussein might have been able to kill everyone in Washington D.C. with a single Ford Explorer, if we’d only be kind enough to lie down next to each other strung out along I-95 and let him run us over.

Jesus, is it so important to justify the war that you have to print stuff this patently stupid?

[10:20 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Cato guy, reprobate, and frequently funny libertarian:

Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2003, 02:05 AM:

Apparently well-conceived, non-patently-stupid Stanford Business School models demonstrate that a kilo of anthrax spores, released from the height of a tall building, could cause 60,000 deaths in a US metropolitan area -- and that's if no one had to wait in line for Cipro.

The more likely scenarios -- neighborhood Cipro distribution centers -- weigh in at ~120,000 dead. I don't think it will do to laugh off the "lesser" WMD threats.

I found a few other links about the study. The principal author is an operations research specialist, Lawrence Wein, here's some background.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2003, 09:22 AM:

The article doesn't say, but the bit about 'Soviet anthrax program' and the million-plus cases makes me think they're assuming perfectly contagious weaponized anthrax and a perfect spore distribution.

That makes me pretty dubious about their infection model, since I don't know of any evidence that the Soviet program, never mind some program for which no evidence can be found in Iraq, actually achieved that degree of weaponization, and I don't believe in large urban centres with perfectly still air.

You can't separate weapons from delivery systems; delivering chemical or biological weapons effectively is extremely difficult even when you can maintain a steady barrage.

The points about queuing structures and response speed are well taken, but the scenario itself is dubious, dubious enough to fit into Mr. Healy's general complaint about scenario standards.

Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2003, 12:49 PM:

Graydon,

Wein et al assume "weaponized" anthrax akin to that responsible for the accidental Sverdlovsk outbreak -- not the super-duper stuff in the Senate/NBC/etc envelopes, I think. It also assumes a light wind, 5 m/s=~11mph. Not sure what you mean by "perfect" distribution; the study assumes there would be a Gaussian plume across the metro area, with people inside the plume more at risk than those at the edges or beyond the plume. The study does ignore factors like protection from buildings or atmospheric complexities. A terrorist might compensate for such uncertainties by carrying 2kg in his/her knapsack instead of 1.

The delivery system is +/- irrelevant: point release. All the Wein scenario might require is a couple of Fedex pouches and an observation deck or rooftop somewhere.

Anthrax isn't contagious, so Wein et al don't assume that. But it is very, very quick to proceed from infection to death, if left untreated. That's why it's potentially such a devastating weapon: by analogy, the house burns down before the fire truck gets there, especially if the whole city is on fire.

Wein et al argue for mass anthrax vaccinations and/or prepositioning Cipro and training volunteers, not for invading Iraq. But they do imply this threat is greater than you or Gene Healy seem willing to believe.

The Wein et al PNAS article is here, but costs $5. I've printed it to get some of the information in this comment.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2003, 03:57 PM:

That kind of distribution from an urban point release is dubious; either it will fall out of the air faster or travel much further, depending on particle size. (Think of trying to distribute very fine dust evenly over a large area in a breeze. Not straightforward.)

What I meant by 'perfectly contagious' is that everyone who breathes in a spore will get sick, which apparently the detailed paper is not assuming.

What I take from the article is not a threat assessment, btw, but a statement about the preparation to meet a postulated threat; I think the authors are correct in their statements about that.

The primary thing preventing such a weapon from being used is that the expected response is nuclear overkill.

Thomas Nephew ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2003, 05:02 PM:

That kind of distribution from an urban point release is dubious; either it will fall out of the air faster or travel much further, depending on particle size. (Think of trying to distribute very fine dust evenly over a large area in a breeze. Not straightforward.)

Yes, the authors assume the plume extends about 180km downwind, with a 95% probability of infection inside of a 50 by 1km ellipse, with probabilities declining to 65% in a ~90 by ~2km "tail region". UV kills off the spores that travel further.

Infection probabilities are assumed age and spore count dependent. The authors calculate the spore counts from 1kg anthrax (=10^15 spores)are sufficient to infect 1.5million of the postulated 11.5 million metro population downwind.

Wein et al do seem to assume the attacker would wait for the wind to be in the right direction, and the point release to be positioned for maximum effect in the metropolitan region.

A figure shows that as spore counts climb from 10,000 to 30,000, 15 year olds are assumed to have a ~30-70% chance of infection, while 55 year olds have a ~70-95% chance, etc. I.e., older people show a much steeper rise in infection as spore counts climb.

Most of the paper is about how different public health scenarios work better or worse given these assumptions. The authors assert all their estimates are conservative because of assuming perfect medical decision making re whose lives can and can't be saved.

But the most important thing is what public health plan is followed. If Cipro isn't given to everyone -- not just symptomatics -- in an affected region right away, the base model estimates that the death toll climbs to 660,000.

None of this seems far-fetched or unsubstantiated to me. Coming up with a kg of anthrax spores is no snap, of course, but once you do, you could probably be quite an effective mass murderer.

The primary thing preventing such a weapon from being used is that the expected response is nuclear overkill.

How would you know who released it?

daveanjo ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2003, 07:34 PM:

annihilate the eastern United States

I'm sorry, 60,000 or 600,000 or even six million would not annihilate the eastern united states, unless you wanna redefine "annihilate." or "eastern"

call me petty, but it wasn't my hyperbole.

yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2003, 09:21 PM:

Lots of links on why finding WMDs in Iraq is not and never was the sole justification for the war, and why it's important to figure out where they are now anyway. (If you don't like Instapundit - he's mainly the conduit for the links, you don't have to read what he thinks.)

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2003, 11:10 PM:

Personally, I'm rather touched to see all these conservatives -- many of them long-time supporters of Saddam's regime -- finally coming around to the old liberal cause of getting rid of him just because he's a bad guy. Do you think maybe they'll get around to giving us national health care if we just let them bomb some people first?

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2003, 12:46 AM:

Cipro isn't the only, or the best, antibiotic for use against anthrax. It is, however, currently one of the few which has anthrax in its labeling.

This is because, up until recently, anthrax was so rare that no one really cared.

The best anti-anthrax med is good old penicillin.

Please recall that in addition to breeding Cipro-resistant bugs by using Cipro, Cipro itself has some nasty side effects.

Paul ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2003, 08:29 AM:

why finding WMDs in Iraq is not and never was the sole justification for the war

Perhaps not. But the "imminent threat" of Saddam Hussein's alleged WMDs was the most frequently voiced, indeed even the primary, reason given for the necessity of immediate belligerent action. The Bush League even stated that they knew where some of the WMDs were. Now the world is seeing just how hollow that "imminent threat" was.

terry.karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2003, 08:37 AM:


Yehudit argues that WMD shouldn't be such a big deal. As I am not allowed to see the link mentioned (we have bandwidth restrictions) I can't speak to the specific arguments referenced.

What I can do is speak to the case made for the war before the people and the congress. That was that Hussein posed a clear and present danger to the U.S., and the world because he still had WMD.

He was such a threat that inspections weren't an option (even if backed with a threat of force). No, he had hundreds of tons, and thousands of gallons of the stuff, and we KNEW it.

We showed photos which were supposed to be of sites we knew, labs we had located. We heard of people who told us of the projects they worked on, the places they had buried things, the research they took part in.

These were shown to the the Congress, they were told to the people and the People believed, and tthe Congress listened. For those reasons we went to war.

The other things are nice. They make it easier for me to justify not tossing ten years in the Army away because I had doubts. I justified not declaring myself a CO because of those other things. I had lawful orders to obey because of the plea made to the People on WMD.

And now? They don't seem to exist. All that detail we had, well it will take time to find them. The moment's notice that Blair talked about? From here it's a myth. To launch the shells requires chemical agents at the Ammunition Supply Points. That stuff doesn't just dissapear, and while we found shells that could have delivered Chem-agents, we didn't find the agents, even though we got there in record time.

From where I sit, and with what I know, the WMD was one of two things, a lie, or a president duped by his staff.

Take your pick as to which is worse.

T. Karney

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2003, 11:07 AM:

Terry:

From where I sit, and with what I know, the WMD was one of two things, a lie, or a president duped by his staff. Take your pick as to which is worse.

There's nothing in the rules that says it can't be both.

Please accept my apologies for the deranged lunatic ravings of the man who stole the 2000 election, which have lead to you being in a dangerous land doing a thankless task. America is better than that.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2003, 04:11 PM:

Terry, let me second Kevin's sentiments, and add that I'm sorry this loser is your CinC, and that I'm grateful for the service you've given, even if the cause was totally bogus. The next one might not be, and we might not be able to tell in advance...a problem made worse by the fact that we now know that Bush Administration pronouncements are worth the toilet paper they're printed on.

terry.karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2003, 11:53 PM:

All right, I wasn't clear enough. Either Bush knowingly lied to us, or he was duped.

As for the thanks, well thanks. (I never know what to make of such thanks, they are always heartfelt and always seem sort of flabby. I suppose it isn't something I feel I need to be overtly thanked for. Now, if you could lobby for non-pro-ration of things like Jump-pay and Foreignl Language pay, for which the reservist has to do exactly what the active duty does, and gets but a pittance in return, that would be thanks).

Terry

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2003, 07:09 AM:

From Kevin J. Maroney,

"Please accept my apologies for the deranged lunatic ravings of the man who stole the 2000 election, which have lead to you being in a dangerous land doing a thankless task. America is better than that. "

Kevin, I have to disagree. America is not better than that, for the simple reason that America is a place where that sort of thing happens. With the support of a majority of the people, and s happilky (90%) collaborative press (despite press protection laws built into the foundation of our legal system).

In the future, it may not be. I certainly hope so. But right now, it is.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2003, 08:16 AM:

Barry, I think you and Kevin are just using the word 'America' differently. You're talking about the actual country, which is a place where any citizen can be locked up for no reason at all, denied access to an attorney, etc, where non-citizens have no protections at all, and where race and religion are considered sufficient grounds for unreasonable searches and seizures.

Kevin, I think, is referring to the concept of America, as defined in the Constitution as amended, and two centuries of law. This America exists in our hearts and minds, and is under attack by the Bush administration and their Quislings; their goal is the complete destruction of this America, and its replacement with a totalitarian state that bears only a superficial relationship to the America that we true patriots (as opposed to the Dubyan traitors) love, and have always loved.

Which America is real? As a Wiccan, I'd have to say that they are real in different ways. It's our responsibility to bring our America into manifestation. One way to work toward that is to keep saying things like "America is better than that," and mean "these bastards who are currently running our country don't represent us, we're sorry we failed to stop them, and we pledge to try harder."

Kevin, I know I can't speak for you. I'm just speculating that that's what you meant. It's what I would mean if I said that.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2003, 12:57 PM:

Xopher: Pretty much spot-on, except that the real America is, on the average, better than what it is right now.

Jim Lund ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2003, 07:26 PM:

The post about the 'Stanford Business School model'
is a red herring, as Iraq never was able to produce
dry, powdered anthrax. In the early '90s, Iraq had poor quality, short shelf-life liquid anthrax stocks, which are much less dangerous and less effective a weapon.

yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 02:57 AM:

"the "imminent threat" of Saddam Hussein's alleged WMDs was the most frequently voiced, indeed even the primary, reason given for the necessity of immediate belligerent action."

We didn't take immediate action - first we dicked around at the UN for a year, remember? We were the only nation ever to try to get UN approval for a war. Unlike every other nation, which does as it pleases. Of course, since we didn't get it (thanks to France, which wanted to cover up its arms and oil dealings) and went ahead anyway, we are now "rampaging hegemonic colonialist bullies."

I am inundated by unfiled bookmarks and can't find this one link, but it may be in the batch on the Insta page - a long list of quotes by international leaders from the last 10 years affirming that indeed Saddam had WMDs. The entire international community knows he had them. None of them are denying he had them.

So of course we brought up that reason among others, especially at the UN. Our tactic was to ask the UN to enforce its own resolutions. This tactic failed because the UN is easily cowed and confused by the individual agendas of its member states.

My guess is that the year it took us to get the war going was the year Saddam had to effectively hide his stuff. He knew what was coming, he played the inspectors as long as he could get away with, and now we don't know where he or his WMDs are. Why are we surprised? We didn't go in too quick, we went in too slow.

No, we didn't go in to bully smaller nations. We went in to send a message to states which harbor terrorists (Iran, Syria) or try to bully others (North Korea). I was taught in self-defense class that if surrounded by a gang, a somewhat risky but often successful tactic is to not wait for them to strike first, but to take the battle to the strongest one, and the others would fold.

Since the end of the war: NKorea is much more willing to talk and China is much more willing to pressure them. Syria is more amenable to stop sponsoring Hezbollah. Iran's theocracy is being newly challenged. The Iraqis have said they do not want to play the victim card or become the new Palestinians, and are distancing themselves from pan-Arabism. We have been getting key Al-Qeda guys all along and continue to do so.

Looks like they are folding to me. And these regimes are the bullies, not us.

yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2003, 03:27 AM:

Here you go. Quotes on Saddam's WMDs from everyone from Madeline Albright to Tom Daschle to Jacque Chirac. I wish this wasn't in Right Wing News, and I wish they had links from the quotes to original sources. Maybe they are all fake, but I doubt it.