Contents | December 2002
The Atlantic Monthly | December 2002
When the UN weapons inspectors left Iraq, in 1998, they were unable to account for 300 tons of chemicals used exclusively in the production of the nerve agent VX (ten milligrams of which can cause death upon contact with the skin). Also missing was enough material to create 25,000 liters of anthrax spores. Tony Blair's recently issued "Iraq Dossier"—based on British intelligence assessments, and made public in order to bolster support for military action against Iraq—asserts that the weapons-production infrastructure remains intact. Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons within forty-five minutes of Saddam's (or, apparently, his son's) order to do so.
Selections from recent reports, studies, and other documents
Deployment in Forty-five Minutes
While UNSCOM found a number of technical manuals (so called "cook books") for the production of chemical agents and critical precursors, Iraq's claim to have unilaterally destroyed the bulk of the documentation cannot be confirmed and is almost certainly untrue. Recent intelligence indicates that Iraq is still discussing methods of concealing such documentation in order to ensure that it is not discovered by any future UN inspections ... The authority to use chemical and biological weapons ultimately resides with Saddam but intelligence indicates that he may have also delegated this authority to his son Qusai.
—"Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction" (www.number-10.gov.uk/files/pdf/iraq dossier.pdf)
A War That Never Ends
One of the more heated topics in the "blogosphere"—the netherworld of online punditry that exists somewhere above the Drudge Report and somewhere below journalism—has been whether The New York Times's coverage of the Iraq debate has been biased. The discussion went white-hot when the Times published a strange "editor's note" in which it conceded (sort of, weeks after the fact) that it had inaccurately characterized the stance Henry Kissinger took in an op-ed article as being one of opposition to war. Now begins Round 3,617 in the larger media-bias debate, prompted by a study of the Times and of network news by the Center for Media and Public Affairs. In front-page news stories about Iraq (the study contends) sources cited by Times reporters were critical of Bush's policies 71 percent of the time. Among the networks, ABC's sources evaluated Bush Administration policy negatively 80 percent of the time, NBC's 76 percent of the time, and CBS's 56 percent of the time. Of course, such findings will settle nothing. Hawks (especially those on the Bernard Goldberg-Ann Coulter right) will cite the statistics as evidence of the media's liberal bias. Doves (especially those on the Susan Sontag-Noam Chomsky left) will cite them as evidence that the media were unable to find reasonable people willing to support the Administration.
—"Media Knock Iraq Attack Plans," Center for Media and Public Affairs (www.cmpa.com/pressrel/Iraq2002PR.htm)
Torture and Forgiveness
Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, has embarked on a violent campaign to evict white farmers from their land. As the political situation has deteriorated, torture of Mugabe's perceived political enemies—often in police stations or military facilities—has become commonplace, rising from twenty episodes a day before elections last March to fifty episodes a day by the end of that month. "I think it's no joke to say that in Zimbabwe ... probably 20 percent of the entire population has had intimate experience with torture," says the clinical director of an organization that studies human-rights violations. One sobering lesson from Zimbabwe involves the destructive power of clemency:
The prevalence of torture in Zimbabwe is directly linked to a culture of impunity. That is, after every spasm of war or social upheaval since the 1970s war for independence, a law has been passed forgiving all those who committed human rights violations and other excesses ... "It's the way in which we Zimbabweans have elected to solve our political disputes. We don't have dialogue, we have violence. And when we have violence, we basically use torture. And when we're done with torture and with violence, then we forgive everybody."
—"Zimbabwe and the Politics of Torture," United States Institute of Peace (www.usip.org/pubs/specialreports/sr92.pdf)
Each fall for the past five years Beloit College, in Beloit, Wisconsin, has compiled its "Mindset List," which is designed to explain to aging faculty the cultural perspectives that inform the views of entering freshmen. For this year's freshmen, most of whom were born in 1984,
Cars have always had ... CD players and air bags.
"Big Brother" is merely a television show.
Barbie has always had a job.
A "Hair Band" is some sort of fashion accessory.
George Foreman has always been a barbecue grill salesman.
There has always been an heir to the heir to the British throne.
Connie Chung [and] Geraldo Rivera [have never been] serious journalists.
Fox has always been a television network choice.
A "hotline" is a consumer service rather than a phone used to avoid accidental nuclear war.
—"Mindset List," Beloit College (www.beloit.edu/~pubaff/releases/mindset_2006.html)
Get Thin Quick
From the archives:
The Fat Tax
A modest proposal. By Jonathan Rauch
A new study finds that sales pitches for weight-loss products are becoming ever more deceptive. In 2001, according to the Federal Trade Commission, nearly 40 percent of such ads in the study sample made at least one claim that "almost certainly is false" and 55 percent made at least one claim "that is very likely to be false or, at the very least, lacks adequate substantiation." Fully 42 percent of weight-loss ads surveyed employed before-and-after pictures, many of which showed weight-loss ranges that "in all likelihood" were "not achievable for the products being promoted." An example of a claim that the FTC deems "questionable":
"You'll actually burn 12-16 times more fat each day than running 110 miles/week, 200 situps and pushups a day or 12 hours of nonstop Marine Corps calisthenics."
—"Weight-Loss Advertising: An Analysis of Current Trends," Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov/bcp/ reports/weightloss.pdf)
Same Old Double Standard
An analysis based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health reveals that whereas the quality of a mother's relationship with her teenage daughter can measurably influence the daughter's age at first sexual intercourse, the quality of a mother's relationship with her teenage son will not affect his behavior at all. Similarly, whereas daughters whose mothers completed college tend to have a later age of first intercourse than other girls, mothers' education has no bearing on sons' sexual activity. (The strongest predictive factor for boys to emerge from this study is race: black males tend to have intercourse earlier than white or Hispanic males do.) Also, mothers interviewed were consistently opposed to either sons' or daughters' having sex, but they were more likely to recommend specific birth-control methods to sons than to daughters.
—"Mothers' Influence on the Timing of First Sex Among 14- and 15-Year-Olds," Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 31, No. 3, September 2002
What Money Can't Buy
Reformers always worry about the amount of money in politics; economists sometimes wonder why there isn't more. A recent analysis by three MIT social scientists argues that corporate campaign contributions are simply not a good investment. Once a politician is in office, party affiliation and the abiding preferences of the politician's voting district are much stronger predictors of how the politician will vote than are the particular concerns of the special interests that gave the politician money. Contributing money to swing an election doesn't do a lot of good either. In a race for the House of Representatives, an additional $100,000 typically achieves at most a one percent change in the vote.
—"Why Is There So Little Money in U.S. Politics?," by Stephen Ansolabehere, John de Figueiredo, and James M. Snyder Jr. (econ-www.mit.edu/faculty/
Run Like Hell
Speculation persists about Iraq's nuclear capability, but Americans should perhaps worry more about a nuclear threat closer to home. According to a report by the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog organization, most of the sixty-five U.S. commercial nuclear-power plants (containing 103 reactors) have inadequate security. Although some plants hired additional guards after 9/11, others have simply boosted overtime, leading to overwork —for some guards, six straight days of twelve-hour shifts. Training is inadequate. One worker told the authors, "If an attack took place, most of the guards would run like hell."
Nuclear industry executives have repeatedly claimed that guards are given 270 hours of training before being posted; that they receive 90 hours per year to requalify with their weapons; and that they receive 30 hours per year in antiterrorist tactical exercises... None of these claims appear to be true. When asked to explain industry's claims that guards receive 270 hours of training before beginning their job, one guard joked, "Maybe if you add the training hours of all the guards together."
—"Nuclear Power Plant Security: Voices From Inside the Fences,"
Project on Government Oversight
The First Twelve Days
Everyone knows that the United States is among the world's worst polluters, but a new report from the National Environmental Trust offers a striking comparison: Vermont, the least significant polluter among the fifty states, by itself emits more greenhouse gases than thirty-three developing countries combined. Another recent NET report assesses California's air quality in the five most populous regions:
Both newborns and adults in these five California air basins exceed EPA's recommended one-in-one million lifetime [cancer] risk with less than a year of exposure to California air—newborns by as much as a factor of 30, adults by as much as a factor of 15... A child born in the South Coast air basin has to live there only 12 days before he or she accumulates a lifetime's acceptable cancer risk. Children in the other four California air basins exceed the one-in-one million risk in 19 to 23 days.
—"First in Emissions, Behind in Solutions," "Toxic Beginnings: Cancer Risks to Children from California's Air Pollution," National Environmental Trust (environet.policy.net)
Copyright © 2002 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; December 2002; Primary Sources; Volume 290, No. 5; 42-44.