Bloggers are aghast that national-security types can't tell the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, but the claim that humanity really will divide into Elois and Morlocks in a few millenniums has them laughing. Also, Scarlett Johansson's Tom Waits covers will be either interesting failures or better than they should be.
Don't know Shiite: Jeff Stein, an editor at Congressional Quarterly, wrote a laugh-or-cry column in the New York Times (TimesSelect subscription required) demonstrating just how little U.S. counterterrorism officials know about the enemy they're fighting. He has spent the last few months asking a simple question—"What's the difference between Sunnis and Shiites?"—and some of the answers he's received have been anything but.
"I can think of some arguments against this sort of gotchya work — and I would like to know how many people in government answered the question correctly that didn't end up in his piece," says conservative Jonah Goldberg at the National Review's The Corner. As for those who failed the quiz: "These people could have answered Stein's question easily if they'd read any one of literally thousands of op-eds or popular magazine articles on the Middle East in the last five years."
Liberal AJ in DC at AMERICAblog is shocked and awed by Stein's findings: "I'm not saying it's crucial to know the details of the long-ago who's-the-rightful-successor-to-Mohammed schism in the Muslim religion, but good Lord, you have to at least know what the implications are today! … I would love to see this issue played out in the final debates across the country. I'm not talking about gotcha questions or pop quiz stuff, I'm saying that candidates and/or moderators should ask those who want to have a say in national security -- and especially those who already do -- to explain their thoughts about some of these issues."
Isaacf writes: "Ultimately [intelligence officials] will fail to discern the terrorists' strategic aims, their endgame. Do the terrorists seek the establishment of a global caliphate? The culmination of history with the appearing of the Twelfth Imam? No plan at all but to take over existing government or sow anarchy? (Here, the Sunni/Shiite distinction matters!)"
Righty Dean Barnett, blogging at Hugh Hewitt's Townhall page, sees the op-ed as vindication of his earlier argument that we should not take seriously any information from our intelligence community: "George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfelds and Dick Cheney are routinely excoriated for not taking every pronouncement from our intelligence community as if it were wisdom handed down directly from Mt. Sinai. I go in the other direction – if the people making the decisions of life and death actually care what these clueless intelligence analysts are saying, shame on them."
Read more about the Stein piece.
Good news and bad news, humanity: London School of Economics evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry has suggested that after the year 3000, mankind will have "peaked" and thenceforth be divided into two subspecies: brilliant, attractive people and weak-chinned, degenerate goblins. You can thank technology and more discriminating mating patterns for this schism, which seems to strike everyone but Curry as a sci-fi idea H.G. Wells might have gelled to once.
Shakespeare's Sister has a dilemma: "I feel so torn. As an intelligent person, I'm rooting for the upper class. As a squat, goblin-like creature, I'm rooting for the underclass. What's a girl to do?"
Liberal Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise thinks Curry is light on evidence but heavy on the gloom and doom: "The stories leave a number of questions unresolved. For example haven't seen dramatic genetic changes in the human species over the last thousand years. People have gotten taller and sturdier over the years, thanks to better nutrition. Still, there's no evidence that humans today are dramatically genetically and morphologically different from people 1000 years ago. Furthermore, even if Curry could show that there have been substantial genetic changes, he would still have to establish that these differences were the result of differential reproductive success. So, why does Curry think that the next thousand years will produce a willowy super-race and a permanent goblin underclass?"
At Gruntled Center, political moderate William Weston puts forth the materialist conception of evolution: "Many observers of the rich have noticed that they use their money to select attractive mates. I have noticed that the smart tend to use their smarts to select smart mates. (Yes, there are ugly rich people and pretty smart ones; we are talking big trends here.) So, if Curry is even a little right, perhaps the Eloi of the future will be themselves divided into the smart and the handsome. And that might be a fair fight."
Read more about Curry's prophecy.
Deep throats: According to Fox News, Scarlett Johansson has inked a record contract to do an album of Tom Waits covers. Scarlett is said to be able to carry a tune, but bloggers wonder if she's just "movie-star harmonious."
West Coast gossip and news blog The LAist can't decide between "genius" and "despicable": "Taking on Waits might be brilliant because his lyrics are funny and deep and at times heartbreaking. His gravely, ragged, freaky voice, however, is an acquired taste, like Keith Richards' or Bob Dylan's. People either love it or hate it. A halfway decent female singer with a body like Johansson's could turn Waits' genius words into the thing platinum records were made of. Particularly if there's a DVD in the package, or two."
Daniel 'Mobius' Sieradski at Jewschool gallantly refrained from commenting on the nice Jewish hottie with the husky voice—until the music made him do it: "I genuinely look forward to hearing Ms. Johansson's debut effort. Though I somehow get the feeling she won't be touching 'I'm Your Late Night Evening Prostitute' with a 10-foot pole."
Read more about Johansson's CD.