Shoes over California?

As Diego Gambetta points out, stories of foiled terror plots are often difficult to take seriously because the means involved do not always seem to add up to a plausible threat. Taking down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch? Technically improbable mass poisoning schemes? On the other hand, it also does not seem so likely that a small group of men with box cutting knives could have managed what they did, and they did. But the story offered yesterday by US president George Bush, who "said that in early 2002 the United States and its allies disrupted a plot to use bombs hidden in shoes to breach the cockpit door of an airplane and fly it into the tallest building in Los Angeles," seems odd at best. The bomb-in-a-shoe threat was tried once and failed for reasons that were fairly predictable -- it might be more persuasive than radio receivers in a rock (24 hour rock radio!). But even accepting the whole shoe proposition, as a matter of planning bombs would make a poor hijacking instrument. The perpetrators would be just as likely to destroy the plane as to take control of it. Then there is the matter that if there was a threat in Los Angeles, somebody appears to have neglected to tell the city government about it. In a restrained comment, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa "told the Associated Press news agency he had not been forewarned about the president's revelations," and said, "I'm amazed that the president would make this [announcement] on national TV and not inform us of these details through the appropriate channels," he said. John McKay points out the striking resemblance between the plot Mr Bush described and another one which failed in 1995.

Formally, there is another matter: Mr Bush made his remarks in the context of a widening controversy over his illegal program to practice surveillance over people's private communications. But there is no indication that this secret program provided useful intelligence regarding this or any other plot. As Mr Bush himself noted, "It took the combined efforts of several countries to break up this plot." Which suggests that compulsive secrecy and deliberate self-isolation continue to be poor strategies.

Update: The more I think about it, the less clear it is to me whether the quotation from the LA mayor refers to the threat itself, or to the president's decision to make information about it public.



For all those not yet convinced that "Serbian music is great!" Thanks to Illyrian Gazette for linking

All over the world of entertainment

Comeback efforts that nobody wanted are not limited to the remix/reissue of the ouevre of Leo Sayer, but also include the return of the very diplomatic Vibbi, about whom if there is anything to be said he will &(*%$#@^ well say it himself. Before the plague of reappearance strikes people you want to see again in the wrong way, you may want to consider signing the petition by the "Odbor za očuvanje dostojanstva profesora Baltazara."

Image courtesy of Društvo hrvatskih filmskih redatelja.


The secret

There are two reasons that there was no posting over the weekend. One was that the Blogger service was misbehaving, so it was not possible to post anything. Whatever the problem was, it seems to be working fine now. The other was that I was doing some experimenting with bread making. Commercial yeast is a fine and useful thing, but I have found that using just that with bread sometimes gives it an overpowering flavor, and the crust and texture are not as good as the stuff you get from the really good bakeries. What the good bakeries do, of course, is get their yeast from the air, which is easy for them because they have big warm rooms with lots of dough rising. But that is what gives the bread its nice complex flavor, which should not be the least bit chemical. It would probably be possible to cut out using commercial yeast altogether if, say, we had a steambath in our apartment and I had unlimited amounts of time to devote to baking. But I've combined a few recipes to come up with a technique that uses a little instead of a lot of commercial yeast, only takes more time in the sense that you have to remember to spend two minutes setting it up the night before, and produces a loaf of bread that rivals just about anything you can buy. Here is how it looks after a couple of tries:
Put about half a cup of warmish water and half a teaspoon of yeast in a bowl, stir it until the yeast dissolves, then mix in just over a cup of flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, poke little holes in the plastic wrap, and leave it overnight. In the morning the mixture will have grown, and will be soft and insubstantial, like an initial thought.

Add about 3 cups of flour, a cup and a half of water, another teaspoon of yeast, and two teaspoons of salt, and mix the whole glop together gently with a spoon. When it assumes some sort of form, put the contents of the bowl on a board and knead it. The kneading will be difficult because the dough is wet and sticky, but try to avoid the temptation to add more flour than you need to keep the dough off your hands. The high proportion of water to flour is what will make the crust good later. Then pour some olive oil in a big bowl, flup the dough around in it a little, and cover it again with the plastic wrap with holes in it. Let it rise until you are astounded at how much it has risen (at least 2 hours, maybe 3). Then shape it into your favorite shape loaf and put the loaf on a thin board that has been covered with a generous amount of corn flour (to keep the loaf from sticking to the board). Let it rise again for at least a half hour, longer if you can, and in the meantime put a "pizza stone" in the oven and let it heat up to 500 of those illogical Farenheit degrees. Sprinkle the top of the loaf with whatever you like to see on the tops of loaves, if you are into that sort of thing. Ploop the loaf from the board onto the stone and bake it for about 30 minutes. Take it out, let it cool, and amaze everybody.
There are people who say that the crust can be even better if you let the loaf rise in the refrigerator for 10 to 12 hours, but these must be people who never leave home, or who have all kinds of unexplainable space in their refrigerators.

So this is freedom

By the time prosecutors brought charges against the Karić brothers (for tax evasion, as it turns out), all four of them had left the country. The general assumption is that they are in Russia. The lawyer representing Bogoljub Karić, Zdenko Tomanović, says that his client will not return to the country to face the charges because, as B92 reports, he would prefer "to defend himself in freedom." He gave no suggestion as to how his client would defend himself as a fugitive, or why absentia is a synonym for freedom. His statement has interesting implications for another defendant Mr Tomanović is representing, who would also like to visit Russia.

On hinting at sadness, and being worldly and wounded

Christopher Solomon paid a visit to Sarajevo. He squinted in distant wonder at people's war stories. He remembered the names of some old ski champions. He chatted with some journalists. He did a little shopping and snacking. He went skiing. He found turbo-folk catchy. He wanted us to know that he can adjectify the name of Samuel Beckett. He wrote a feature for the New York Times about it.

All in a day's work.

Update: Mat wasn't impressed by the piece. But (I think) Quod was.