Monday, July 31, 2006

The Struggle Against Terrorism

Watching the Israeli occupation of Lebanon has driven home to me that "The War on Terror" is not a war, and for our own sake and for the sake of the rest of the world we need to stop pretending it is.

A war is an all-out effort to physically destroy an enemy's infrastructure, personnel, and anything else the enemy needs to wage a military campaign. It's possible to sort out what that is if one nation's government is fighting another nation's. Each side has armies, bases, lines of communication, etc. But terrorists—by definition—don't owe their ultimate allegiance to any given national government but rather to an ideology or a cause. They don't so much have infrastructure as borrow it from whever they are.

Accordingly, fighting terrorism, especially global terrorism, can't be strictly or even primarily a military undertaking. Instead, it should combine police work, intelligence-gathering, diplomacy, and occasional uses of military force, most of them surgical uses. You can't fight terrorism like you fight enemy nations. Not if you care about civilian life. And not if want to win.

The pragmatic reason for not pretending that the struggle against terrorism is actually a war is that conducting a full-scale military operation against a terrorist target inevitably involves attacking the nation or nations from which a given terrorist group operates. Practically speaking, it may well possible to conduct surgical attacks on individual targets without generating more backlash than it's worth. But that's tricky, and the larger-scale stuff is even trickier.

It's incredibly hard and costly to invade and pacify another nation. Accordingly, a country should do so only when the risks of not doing so are overwhelming. Given the massive anti-American feeling in much of the world, especially the Muslim world, it's a rare country indeed that poses such a threat to us that it's worth invading and occupying despite the inevitable backlash there and worldwide.

And even those rare cases of massive and imminent threat will require so much effort, so much money, so many lives that we have to be absolutely committed to them to ensure that we succeed. (Failure in these cases is generally worse than inaction.) Afghanistan was probably one of those nations, but because of Iraq we simply haven't followed through there. Now we're at risk of losing Afghanistan and coming out worse than we started--with fewer healthy and living soldiers, with less money, and with at least as many enemies actively seeking our destruction.

The ethical reason against treating the anti-terrorism struggle as a war is that we kill a lot of innocent people when we attack states that harbor terrorists either voluntarily or involuntarily.

Now, al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups will insist that they are at war with the American government and that, since the American people elect and fund that government, they are necessarily also at war with all Americans. This is their rationale for attacking civilian targets. Even if one accepted that hardline claim, it’s clear that while America is committed to al-Qaeda’s destruction, America is not at war with, say, the Syrian government, much less the Syrian people. So we can't tell ourselves that any civilians killed during an attack on an al-Qaeda cell operating out of, say, the suburbs of Damascus were in fact legitimate targets. They were innocents killed by our actions, actions whose general risks were foreseeable even if their particular consequences were in doubt.

And therein lies the ethical problem. There will always be civilian casualties during major military strikes. Especially in the "war" on global Islamist terror, which is being fought by rich countries using overwhelming force, often delivered from 15,000 feet.

You can justify civilian death if it's an unintended consequence of attacking military targets in a nation with which you're at war. But I'm not sure if you can justify it if it's a consequence, even an unintended one, of attacking terrorist targets in a nation that you're not at war with.

Consider the case of Israel in Lebanon. Israel isn't at war with Lebanon. It's at war with Hezbollah, a group that certainly has a lot of support in Lebanon but that isn't controlled by (or in control of) the Lebanese government. There are a lot of Lebanesem, particularly among the country's Christians and non-Shia Muslims, who oppose Hezbollah.

So if I were an Israeli leader, yeah, I'd be infuriated by the Hezbollah attacks from southern Lebanon. But they're Hezbollah attacks, not Lebanese attacks. Is it justifiable for the Israelis to attack Hezbollah in ways (air strikes, missile strikes, heavy shelling) that they know will kill hundreds or thousands of Lebanese civilians, especially if they’re doing so in response to Hezbollah attacks that have killed and will likely continue to kill far fewer Israelis? I'm starting to think it isn't.

The Israeli attack on Lebanon is problematic for a couple other reasons, reasons that are far from unique to this conflict. First, it's killing the weakest and most vulnerable Lebanese civilians. The Israelis did drop leaflets warning the Lebanese to flee the area, which was commendable (and would have been more commendable if they hadn't bombed some of the people fleeing). But there are a lot of poor people in southern Lebanon, people who have no car and no money for gas if they had cars or even an open gas station in town. These are, of course, along with the sick and the elderly, the ones who get bombed.

Second, the destruction causes long-term suffering. I don't know what percentage of people in southern Lebanon can afford insurance, but I bet it's not really high. So even if people were lucky enough to get out, they might still lose everything. And even if they got out and even if their property escapes the bombing, they still might not be able make a living when this is all over. In order to pin down and weaken Hezbollah, the Israelis are targeting infrastructure. So the Lebanese might return to find that the only bridge into town is destroyed or that there's no electricity. That kind of destruction is bad enough in New Orleans. For a poorer region that has only just recently started to put itself together after Lebanon’s long years of civil war, the Israeli incursion way well prove psychologically and economically crippling.

Does Israel's—any nation's--right of self-defense against terrorism give it license to act as if another nation had declared war on it? Again, I'm starting to think not. There are gray areas, of course--much more limited, proportional strikes on specific terrorist targets in other nations might be justifiable. A larger-scale invasion, though, begins to look just as bad as the terrorism that provoked it.

Moreover, the pragmatic and ethical reasons I've identified here reinforce one another. From what various domestic and foreign media have reported, when Hezbollah first started stepping up its attacks on Israel, a lot of people in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East were at least as angry with Hezbollah for baiting Israel as they were with Israel for taking the bait.

But the more overwhelming--and, therefore, the more indiscriminate--the Israeli response has become, the more Lebanese and other Middle Easterners are blaming Israel for everything. That might not be entirely fair, but it's almost inevitable. And not only because Israel is already so unpopular in the region. It's also the case--and you can see this in Europe and even in the US--that watching multi-million-dollar planes and tanks wipe out poor neighborhoods makes people see the conflict as an example of a rich nation not caring what happens poor people, most of whom never attacked them.

In the days and years after this conflict ends (supposing that it does), there will be important and tragic math to sort out: how many dead Lebanese civilians did it take to produce an Islamist suicide bomber, and how many Israelis (or Americans or Iraqis or Kenyans) did that suicide bomber kill? Even if it was right, was it worth it?

Americans will have to ask ourselves practical and moral questions like that if we continue to treat the struggle against terrorism as a war. Do we have the right to send our billion-dollar stealth bombers to attack mud huts in (our ally) Pakistan? And, even if we do, will doing so actually help us?

Fighting terrorism can't and won't be easy or pretty. It will be especially hard to find ways to do so in countries that are hostile to the US without being at war with the US. But, based on our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, we don't have the resources to fight wars in all those places, especially since every new "war on terror" seems to create and train at least as many terrorists as it eliminates.

Moreover, the struggle against terrorism is ultimately a moral struggle as much as a military, police, or political struggle. We have to show people that the terrorists stand for indiscriminate slaughter and tyrannical politics. And it'll be a lot easier to do that if we go out of our way to find solutions that don't involve house-to-house searches and cluster-bombing the village square.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Israel vs. Hezbollah

I really shouldn't blog about this. Other bloggers that are better read have warned me that the very topic leads to flame wars in the comment section and that none of us, at this point, have a real solution to the crisis in any event. Heck, if any of us did, or if any foreign policy wonk or politician did, in fact, have a fair answer to the issue of Israel and the Middle East (the kind of answer that would allow both sides to have enough to be satisfied in the practical sense and to have, more importantly, won enough in the symbolic sense that they can continue to claim to have balls) then the answer would have been put out there by now.

So... without advocating much of anything and certainly without claiming I can bring peace to a region that has refused peace for more than a century, here are my observations:

1) Both Hezbollah and Hamas know that they can attack Israel while not officially representing the governments (the Palestinian Authority or the government of Lebanon) who "control," the regions of the world they operate from. That makes them free to attack Israeli innocents while using the official governments of the countries they operate from and, worse, the innocent people of those countries, as shields.

2) Israel does have the right to defend itself against attacks from both Hezbollah and Hamas.

3) Israel is morally required to go to extraordinary lengths to protect innocents who live around Hamas or Hezbollah but who are not a party to either group. A bit of editorial interjection: I think Israel actually has been trying on this front, but not hard enough and not effectively enough.

4) Iran, moreso than Syria at this point, views Hezbollah as a proxy army. Iran really is using Hezbollah to distract attention from its own nuclear ambitions and to expand its own influence over the region. Remember, the Arab League nations are against Hezbollah at this time. That's because the Arab League nations rather fear Iran, and for good reason. The Arab countries in the Middle East are no monolith. They once opposed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait because they wondered which of them would be next, and now they oppose Iran's attempt to use Hezbollah as a pawn in a game that they suspect will end with Iran becoming the Soviet Union of the Middle East.

5) Ideally, a US-led, internationally recruited, peacekeeping force would pour into southern Lebanon right now with enough power and persuasion that it could force a ceasefire by its mere presence. But, no force in the world could do that unless both sides knew that US troops were the most prominent, and the US can't muster such a force because it decided that within five years, it could occupy Afghanistan and Iraq at the same time. Basically, the US military is both the most obvious route to peace and, sadly, the most over-extended force in the world.

6) Even if we had the troops to send to southern Lebanon to force a ceasfire... people like me would be worried that our soldiers would be put at unfair risk. In oh so many ways, this is not our war. It has to do, after all, with issues barely addressed by our constitution. While Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel fight over a future that all parties claim has been fortold in their religions, the US is a country that was founded on the idea that while all individuals should be (largely) free to pursue their own religious destinies, that the affairs of a government are separate from all that, and must be kept separate. Without casting judgment about what's right (okay, hint: I lean towards the secular) it's fair enough to say that a secular democracy like the US just exists on a foundation that's distinct from what motivates and validates all three parties in what we can now safely call "The Israeli War of 2006." As a US citizen, raised to believe in secular democracy, I have no real advice for parties who have gone into a war based on assumptions that I don't accept.

7) It isn't World War III. Some fear mongers, like Newt Gingrich, would have you believe that this is the start of the third world war that has been avoided for more than a century now. They want you to believe that because, by believing the entire globe is at war, you'll gladly trade little-used but still-highly-valued personal freedoms in exchange for the government's promise of security.

But this is NOT a world war. Right now, it's a regional conflict that a reasonable, uninvolved, person could watch and then rightly decide to condemn all sides.

It might be more than regional, though. Newt has that right. Heck, he gambled by naming it World War III and he has his reasons for accepting the gamble: First, if Iran uses this as a distraction that allows it to go nuclear, things could escalate. Second, if Hamas and Hezbollah supporters in Iraq aide attacks on Israel, then Israel might be forced to retaliate against Iraq (a country that's currently our obligation and that we have a moral obligation to defend) and so things might escalate. Third... Israel's actions in self defense might well not be measured enough that they sufficiently protect civilians in Lebanon and, over time, that could infuriate the Arab League to the point where the war grows larger.

This is not, as I type these somewhat trivial words, a World War Moment. It could become one, by at least the three paths I came up with, but it is not one now.

Some on the American right, like Gingrich, would like us to move into a global war posture right now. That means, quite simply, a point of view that sees the whole world as an enemy and that has individuals who will sacrifice their own comforts in order to prevail in a war.

It really could come to that.

But we're nowhere near close enough to that point that any of us should start thhinking along those lines.

I must be honest... though I deplore the Israeli killing of innocents in southern Lebanon, I also can't stand the view that Israel is so vitally important that we in the US should fully support the country's rather extreme and certainly not discriminate enough retaliation.

Walking home today, I saw a face off in Union Square. One young group of idealists demanded, quite loudly, that the US cut off aid to Israel because its government has committed attrocities against Arabs and Palestinians. Another group, as loudly, chanted "stop throwing rocks!" and tried to remind passersby that Israel, like any country, has the right to defend its own innocent civilians against the constant attacks mounted by its nongovernmental enemies abroad.

Both sides had good points. Liberals who side with Hezbollah and Hamas are siding with groups of people who would, had they their druthers, eliminate "liberal" society from the Earth and replace it with their own theocracy.

Liberals who blindly side with Israel would advocate a world where a once-oppressed people can become oppressors and where the victims of heinous crimes of nationality and race will become the nefarious demons who haunt their own nightmares.

Israel's attack on southern Lebanon makes me cry for the innocents who live there. Hezbollah's attacks (and Hamas' attacks) on Israel make me weep for the Israeli innocents.

I'm only writing this to point out how wrong you can be by taking either side. I believe that innocents must be protected. That Israel should exist in a lasting manner. That the Arabs and Palestinians who lived in Israel before the U.N. decided it was the right plot for a Jewish state should be either repatriated or paid reparations. That's all I know to believe at this point.

All this "World War III" talk strikes me as ridiculous. I see this as a regional conflict that might not be resolved soon but that will be either contained or curtailed.

Still... it COULD become World War III. It isn't likely, but it could happen. And that's too big a risk to take.

It must be either contained of curtailed, then. Only the US has the military power and economic sway to accomplish either. At this point, says uninformed I, all US diplomacy that's related to Israel, Lebanon or the Palestinian territories needs to follow this dictum: "It must be contained or curtailed, preferably curtailed." We should force that result. We really should.

Had we not wasted our own military in Iraq (having not anticipated the flair-up around Israel) we could enforce "Contain or curtail"n rather easily. But... we've weakened ourselves.

We should enforce "contain or curtail" anyway. It might not be World War III, but the idea has been floated. I say we nip it in the bud.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Fun With Stock Ownership

A Joe Lieberman mailer suggests that Ned Lamont, Lieberman's anti-war primary opponent, is a hypocrite because he has invested in the defense industry. Apparently, Lamont owns some Halliburton shares.

I've been looking through Lieberman's financial disclosure form for 2005. It's a mostly boring document that shows that the Senator owns way too many overlapping mutual funds and that he should fire his financial advisor. It also shows a bit of Lieberman's own hypocrisy. Back in 2002, Lieberman chaired the Government Affairs Committee in the Senate. In this release, he trumpets his committee's finding that Merrill Lynch had colluded with Enron in order to defraud the public.

Well, despite finding that Merrill had gotten itself involved with a major corporate scandal, Lieberman has handed over most of his financial planning business to... Merrill Lynch. He and his wife have managed accounts at Merrill and also a Merrill sponsored college savings plan. They own a slew of Merrill Lynch mutual funds.

Politicians should be careful when accusing their opponents of hypocrisy based on investments. If there's something wrong with owning Halliburton stock and opposing the war then there's certainly something wrong with handing over your own business to a company that your own Senate committee helped to expose as one that defrauded the investing public.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

It's NOT bigotry?

Over at Slate, Richard Ford has posted an article headlined, "Hate and Marriage," where he argues that folks don't oppose the rights of same sex couples to marry because they're bigots but, rather, because they're trying to preserve traditional gender roles and the idea of a same sex couple makes them feel insecure.

But, Ford has it wrong, even if his psych analysis is right. It's still bigotry.

Keep in mind the white supremecists who claim that their movement isn't about hating non-whites, it's about "preserving the white race." Still bigotry.

A decade or two from now we're going to look back at this debate and shudder, the same way we look back at America before the civil rights movement.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

So Why Did Democrats Vote for the War, Anyway?

Lieberman's troubles and the growin influence of progressive bloggers has the establishment Democrats, especially the "Third Way" types of the DLC in a tizzy. Over at Hullabaloo, Digby lays out the argument in a good, long post.

Digby also points out that back in 2002, there was no good reason to vote for using force against Iraq. The Bushies used pyrotechnics to confuse the issue, but reasonable smart Senators should have been able to see through it. Al-Qaeda attacked us. We attacked... Iraq. It's that simply wrong.

So, why did Democrats vote for something so clearly wrong? It wasn't because they were confused, or because they feared a nuclear attack by Iraq (or some agent of Iraq). It's because they feared that invading Iraq would be easy and that if the whole operation had turned out to be the cakewalk that Bush had promised, they didn't want to be the ineffective minority who voted against it in the first place.

Had we stomped Iraq and then seen a democracy quickly flourish as our troops were showered with candy and flowers, the war would have been popular. Now, anyone could have seen that not happening. It's why Colin Powell didn't get Bush's father to march to Baghdad a decade earlier. But... there were those in government who voted for the war out of fear. They didn't want to look like they were too chicken to support a cakewalk.

Well... it wasn't a cakewalk. Time for all Democrats who voted for that resolution to apologize.

Friday, July 07, 2006

But I GET to be Senator! I'm the Senator!

I'm becoming obsessed with the Connecticut primary between Senator Joe Lieberman and challenger Ned Lamont. Normally, I wouldn't care much about a primary that I can't vote in but this one has turned out to be truly unique as Lieberman, an 18 year senate veteran has now publicly declared that if he loses the primary that he'll seek to run in the general election as an indepedent.

The election is about policy and Connecticut's Democrats have to choose between an incumbent who has backed President Bush not only on the war in Iraq but on his judicial appointments and on the bankruptcy bill and a challenger who promises more active dissent, especially on the Iraq matter.

From an outsider's perspective, the whole episode is a revealing display of what an educated and normally good-hearted man will do in order to maintain the power that he's won for himself. By promising to run as an independent, Lieberman is promising that he'll split the vote in the general election and that he's willing to risk splitting it to such an extent that Connecticut, a pretty blue state, might wind up sending a Republican to the Senate.

Lieberman has also seemed annoyed that he even has to endure a primary. I spoke with a press person at his campaign today and I asked why Lieberman seemed so angry during the debate with Lamont and the only answer I received was that he was "smiling the whole time." As if an obviously angry person who interrupted his opponent at every opportunity can't glue a smile onto his face. Also, he wasn't smiling the whole time.

Also, during the debate, Lieberman borrowed techniques from Ronald Reagan, including the famous phrase "There you go again," which he used a few times. Also, after the debate, Lieberman fled the building and left a press person behind while Lamont confidently faced the press himself. Two interpretations there: One is that Lamont had to stay and face the press because he's a political nobody but the second is that Lieberman just didn't want to find himself facing a primary opponent at all and that he finds this whole siituation insulting. I'm leaning towards the latter.

Because Lamont is a multimillionaire, Lieberman has frequently insinuated that his opponent is either out of touch or that he's got something to hide. During the debate, Lieberman asked Lamont to publicly release his IRS filings. Well, I look forward to seeing and analyzing Lamont's tax returns. But, given my job, I see information about really rich people all of the time and while I have seen my shares of cheaters and shortcutters, I've also seen that it's possible to amass a whole lot of money by the letter of the law. As for Lieberman's first point, that Lamont is out of touch: Lamont might be worth up to $300 million. That's a lot. But Lieberman might be worth up to $2 million (excluding real estate). That's also a lot. Remember, most people aren't worth $100,000 if real estate isn't factored in. When you factor in real estate, you're talking about a home worth, maybe, a quarter million and that's during a real estate bubble. Lamont is way richer than Lieberman, sure. But Lieberman is way richer than you. If Lamont's out of touch, so is Lieberman.

What really irks me about this whole race is the idea that because Lieberman is a sitting senator that he's somehow above facing a tough primary challenger. He isn't. No sitting, elected government offical is. None should be. These people should always be answering for themselves. They should be in constant fear of losing their jobs. It's actually sad that it takes something like this for one of them to suddenly turn nervous.

Lieberman only cares about keeping his office on the Hill. He'll do anything for that, including leaving the party. Oh, he'll say stuff like he's a "petitioning Democrat" but that's bogus. The Democrat wins the party primary. I don't mind a guy running as an indepedent. Hell, I have big problems with the two party system. But an indepedent should actually be one and embrace the identity. An indepedent is not a person who will use the party system for nearly two decades and then drop it to stay in power while still claiming to be a part of it because they don't really have the guts to go it alone.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Purge Binge

Update: Lieberman is now gathering signatures so that he can run as an independent if he fails to win the party's nomination. He says, "I have loyalties that are greater than those to my party." Well, okay then... I don't take tremendous issue with that. I too have loyalties that are greater than my loyalties to any political party. But, this is something Connecticut Democrats might want to consider when they go voting on August 8th.

Original post on Purging:

As Joe Lieberman falters in his Connecticut primary race against challenger Ned Lamont, the Senator's supporters have been loudly claiming that Lieberman and, by extension, all "moderate" Democrats are being "purged" from the party by a militant left-wing minority. A good example of the argument can be found here.

This constant drumming of the phrase "purge," is obviously meant to carry an evil connotation as if what's going on in Connecticut right now isn't an election so much as a Stalinist attrocity.

But, of course, this is silly. It is an election. Lieberman's in trouble because he's advocated positions (yes, on the war with Iraq but also on judicial nominations, the bankruptcy bill and social security) that have angered his constituents. Now, if you love Lieberman, you say that this is all an example of him being a principled and brave moderate. If you don't like him you say it's an example of him being out of touch with your concerns and so you vote for somebody else.

When you lose an election, you're not purged. You've just lost an election.

Nobody thinks that the voters always get it right. I think people made a mistake by voting for George Bush, especially the second time around. His supporters would look at my voting record and just shake their heads and look on me with pity. On all sides, I think that most of us suspect that the smartest and most capable leaders around aren't even electable. We have winners and losers and sometimes we get great leaders and sometimes we don't. But we have elections and that means that nobody ever gets purged.

If some Democratic party apparatus decided, without consulting the voters, to kick Lieberman out of the party -- that would be a purge. If somebody passed a law making it illegal for him to run for public office, that would be a purge. But if he just loses the election, that's nothing. You can say he should win, you can argue that point all you want and you can try to convince Connecticut Democrats to back him but if he loses, let's not pretend it's some sort of tragedy for the party. It's just an election that he might not win. Hey... it happens.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Getting Tough on Crime

I'm sick unto death of the vigorous attacks on crime that go after unimportant crimes or after non-crimes like using a vibrator in South Carolina. Like a lot of people, I'm appalled that in many states it's possible to get busted for possesing 1.1 ounces of pot twenty years after your two teenage busts for the same and get stuck in jail for, say, 25 years. In California, the mandatory minimums are coming under intensive pressure for reasons like that. I'm glad.

But there's one crime I'd like to get a little tougher on. Brace yourself, it's controversial. I think we should get tough on slavery.

A formerly married Egyptian couple in Irvine, California just plead guilty to bringing a ten-year-old Egyptian girl into the US and forcing her to spend 20 unpaid months working for them. (For full story, see here here and here.) The couple told the girl she'd be arrested or deported if she left the house. The girl was freed only due to an anonymous tip. She now has a green card and a foster family.

The pair have since plead guilty to four federal counts. The sentence they're facing, says the BBC, is three years. Three freakin' years!

In Feb. 2005, a DOJ press release said that the two could face up to 50 years each if convincted on all four counts.

Now, there may be mitigating circumstances that would explain why prosecutors would plea bargain down from 50 years to 3 years in a case in which the defendants admit to enslaving a ten-year-old girl. But I can't imagine what. Last I checked, "states rights" was removed from the law books as a defense in 1865.

Does anybody have any idea what's happening here? I don't mean that rhetorically--I mean it literally. There must be something I'm missing, and if somebody knows what it is, please tell me. If anybody knows Asst. US attorney Robert J. Keenan of the DOJ's LA branch, he'd be the guy to ask.

Three years?

Twelve Days

Mike and I would like to apologize for bringing about the end of the world.

According to human calendars, the world ended July 4 at 10:24 a.m. PST. But, thanks to some improbable and timely intervention, the world hasn't ended and won't do so any time in the immediate future. (Or will it?)

The beginning of the end started when, in the spirit of scientific discovery, Mike and I undertook a simple experiment designed to discover exactly how long we could go without blogging before the world came to an end.

Now, this was a bold experiment on a number of fronts. First, we knew that if the world were to come to an end, we would die along with everyone else, and even we are not without tremors of fear in the face of that unknown country. Second, we knew that with the world ended there would be no one to publish the results of our study in any peer-reviewed scientific journal, meaning that we would never get due acknowledgement for our insights. Third, the death of all humankind also meant that, even if correct, our conclusions would never achieve the status of scientific theory inasmuch as claims must be both testable and repeatable to become theory; the death of every human being would of course make repetition of our results impossible. (This is particularly true since our own deaths would make the re-commencement of blogging impossible in the first place, making repetition doubly impossible.)

Nonetheless, it was a burning question that we couldn't shy away from and in good conscience continue to call ourselves either scientists or bloggers. And so, immediately after my post of 10:24 a.m. PST on June 22, we stopped blogging.

It turns out that the world can endure without our blogging for precisely twelve days. On July 4, 2006 at 10:24 a.m. PST, the world came to an end. I don't have a lot of details, but trust me when I say that you don't want to know any of them.

Now, some of you may be thinking that it's still only July 2. Some of you may be asking how we know that the world came to an end two days from now. It's a fair point.

It turns out that many thousands of Earth years in the future, a race of aliens from a planet or galaxy whose nature Mike and I could never quite fathom (and whose name we can't pronounce much less render alphabetically), stumbled upon the slowly decaying remains of human civilization, including a few satellites still improbably clinging to low earth orbit.

Intrigued (or angry? again, I'm unsure), they traced the cause of destruction back to earth. For inscrutable motives, the aliens actually traveled back in time to about eight hours ago, where they "sat" down and explained to Mike and I what had happened. Although their grasp of English was poor and our grasp of their (telepathic?) language was even worse, they eventually communicated to us the melancholy fate that befell the human race two days hence. Having convinced us of the accuracy of their knowledge, they returned to their own time.

Mike and I have spent the last seven hours debating how to balance our sacred responsibilities as both scientists and unpaid pundits against our ethical obligations to the survival of humanity. In the end, both better informed and somewhat chastened at the having indirectly killed more than 6 billion people, we have decided to resume blogging. This will, of course, ensure that nobody in the scientific community will ever take the results of our experiment seriously, but then they wouldn't and couldn't have even had we pressed the experiment to its conclusion. Still, we are confident beyond doubt that the answer is twelve days.

Anyhow, we're back in business and, again, we apologize for wiping out the human race. Won't happen again. (At all.)

Two important postscripts:

1) This is for everyone: if you watch Independence Day in the next couple of days, remember that not all aliens are out to kill us on the Fourth.

2) This is for Eugene Thomas, 27, of Macon, Georgia: In terms of what will strike you as an excellent idea tomorrow night after you drink thirteen PBRs at the family barbecue, no. Just don't. The fireworks aren't meant for that, and those parts don't grow back.