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Atlantic Monthly

Unencrypted?

Data remain safe, most of the time.  The attacker needs access to the computer minutes after the user has walked away, and if he arrives later the data stay locked.  If the user guards the computer jealously, by clutching it close to the chest, or, as Atlantic employees with company-issued laptops are required to do, entrusting it during nights and weekends to a Gurkha security team, then even the geeks of Princeton can’t get in.

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Atlantic Monthly

Elsie’s Revenge

Workers at the Westland-Hallmark beef factory poked very sick cows, prodding them into the abattoirs with with the prongs of forklifts.  What makes a cow non-ambulatory?  Mad cow disease, for one thing.  The dreaded kuru relative attacks the central nervous system and leads to immobility and a terrible demise.

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Atlantic Monthly

Kenya’s Ethnic Spin-Cycle

Today Jendayi Frazer, the top US diplomat for African affairs, rendered a grim assessment of the post-election bloodbath in Kenya, saying it amounted to “ethnic cleansing,” but not “genocide.”  This distinction is so fine as to be described as “Talmudic,” except that it contains no ancient Hebraic wisdom or indeed any other system of thought.

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Atlantic Monthly

I Say Qaddafi, You Say Qadhdhafiy

The Atlantic (online)

The first rule of foreign policy, says the adage, is never to invade a country where they use q’s without u’s. Besides saving the Republic from overseas boondoggles, I like to think this chestnut exists to rescue American copy editors from endless niggling over Arabic names. If war is, as Paul Rodriguez quipped, God’s way of teaching Americans about geography, it is also a way of teaching his humble servants at the Atlantic copy desk how to cram foreign words and phrases into an alphabet that manifestly doesn’t suit them.

Since terrorism and Iraq began to dominate our coverage, The Atlantic has crammed many Arabic names and phrases into our text, and some have not gone gently. The simplest cases demand fussiness and attention: We spell Iraq’s second-largest city Basra. But why not Basrah, as writers in English called it for hundreds of years before? And why no dot under the s, as scholars seem now to prefer?

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Atlantic Monthly

Among the Kurds

The Atlantic (online)

When I visited the PKK training camps in northern Iraq last year, about half the terrorists I met were women, and most of the rest looked barely old enough to shave. This week, according to reports, after years of threatening to bomb the camps, the Turkish military started pounding the PKK’s camps near the Turkish border hard. The PKK have used those facilities to train for their guerrilla struggle in Turkey. The earnest ideologues I met in the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, having long practiced for war, are now probably living through it, and facing the gravest dangers of their young lives.

The average age when I visited last year hovered somewhere between college sophomore or young grad student. Indeed the PKK members called their training facilities “the world’s greatest university,” offering an intense outdoor education, where everyone triple-majored in political philosophy, guerrilla tactics, and history. They bunked in communal dorms and tents, and they spent their days and nights in classes (principally on the works of their imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan) and bull sessions peppered with buzzwords like “praxis,” “radical feminism,” and “cultural hegemony” that reflected the movement’s origins in European academic leftism. They trained every day in warfare, maintained their ramshackle campus, and prepared mentally and physically for the day when they would leave their studies in the remote heights of the Qandil Mountains and go kill Turkish soldiers.

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Atlantic Monthly

Riders on the Storm

The Atlantic, October 2007

Most of the hurricanes that strike the United States are born off the coast of West Africa, and nursed on tropical waters. As air warmed over the Atlantic surges up to meet the cool atmosphere, its heat turns into kinetic energy, creating a violent twist of wind and rain. The bigger the temperature difference between the hot sea and the cold upper air, the more furious the storm can grow.

Climate scientists, aided by ever-more-powerful computer models, are investigating whether it’s possible to choke these storms slowly, during their long drift west. They want to attack big hurricanes from above or below, sapping the storms’ strength by either heating up their chilly tops or chilling their hot underbellies. According to some models, well-timed interventions could diminish a hurricane by 40 percent—enough to turn a possible Category 5 storm into a mere Category 2 or 3, which would break windows and wreck trailer parks but leave most buildings intact.

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Atlantic Monthly

Classify This

The Atlantic, September 2007. Includes this graphic by Ryan Morris.

The Bush administration conducts much of its work in the shadows. “Black site” detentions, extraordinary renditions, and domestic eavesdropping all happen in secret, and only by the grace of leaks and slipups do we know they happen at all.

Most secrets stay secret. But for the last quarter century, at least we’ve known how many secrets were being kept, because of the Information Security Oversight Office, or ISOO, an internal government watchdog that keeps tabs on secrecy standards and the number of documents classified each year. Its data show that the shadows have been getting darker and bigger lately, and are now at least the size of those at the height of the Cold War.

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Atlantic Monthly

Breaking Away

The Atlantic, May 2007. With a map by Ryan Morris.

With time, Arab Iraq is looking less and less like a country, and Kurdish Iraq is looking more and more like one. Since 2003, Kurdish negotiators have quietly compelled Baghdad to acknowledge the Kurdish parliament, ministries, and 100,000-strong peshmerga army—in effect, to let the Kurds be Kurds first and Iraqis second, if at all.