February 15, 2006 | 11:36 PM ET

In my book, An Army of Davids, I talk about how private citizens are going after terrorist Web sites.  But here's another story about someone who seems to be doing more for homeland security than a lot of folks who are drawing big salaries:

Federal agents contend that a Pennsylvania man tried to work with al Qaeda in a plot to blow up the Alaska pipeline, another pipeline in Pennsylvania and a refinery in New Jersey, according to a published report.  Michael Curtis Reynolds, 47, has not officially been charged with terrorism, but a prosecutor at a hearing said that Reynolds tried to "provide material aid to al Qaeda" and that the case "involves a federal offense of terrorism," The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in its Sunday editions.

CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston reports that a tip from Shannen Rossmiller - a judge from Conrad, Montana who in 2004 helped snare a Washington state national guardsman who was considering defecting to al Qaeda – was what pointed the FBI to Reynolds. "Rossmiller was scanning terrorist websites when she noticed a post from Reynolds seeking $40,000 dollars to by fuel trucks to blow up refineries in New Jersey and Wyoming and a section of the Alaska oil pipeline," said Pinkston. Posing as an al Qaeda banker, Rossmiller promised the money, set up a date and time for the rendeszvous near Pocatello, Idaho, and notified the FBI.  They set up a sting.  At Reynolds's Pennsylvania home, federal authorities seized his computer and files that, according to a court document, spelled out his bomb plans.

No, he's no relation.  But as another private citizen points out, this is valuable stuff.  This guy may be besmirching the Reynolds name, but I'd be proud to claim some connection to Judge Rossmiller, in light of her work here.

February 14, 2006 | 11:57 PM ET

Blog-reporting from Iraq

Blogger Michael Totten just visited Iraq, and he's started posting his reports.  Here's the first installment, and here's an excerpt:

Driving to the center of any city from an airport rarely leaves a good first impression. The only exceptions I can think of are the trips into Tunis and Istanbul. But my fifteen minute ride to the Erbil International Hotel (aka, "The Sheraton," even though it isn't really a Sheraton) was particularly unpleasant. The city didn't look like anywhere I wanted to be. Few things in this world are uglier than totalitarian cities. And while Erbil isn't totalitarian anymore, Saddam Hussein left his stinking thumbprints all over the place. Erbil desperately needs an aesthetic makeover.
...
Yes, it's Iraq. But the war is in a different part of the country. There are no Kurdish insurgents. The Peshmerga guard Kurdistan's de-facto border with ruthless effectiveness. Those who attempt to cross away from the checkpoints and the roads are ambushed by border patrols. Anyone who doesn't speak Kurdish as their native language stands out among the general population. Iraqi Kurds, out of desperate necessity, have forged one of the most watchful and vigilant anti-terrorist communities in the world. Terrorists from elsewhere just can't operate in that kind of environment. Al Qaeda members who do manage to infiltrate are hunted down like rats. This conservative Muslim society did a better job protecting me from Islamist killers than the U.S. military could do in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

I did what I wanted and needed to do. I threw myself into their society, without a gun and without any bodyguards, and I trusted that they would catch me. And catch me they did. I trusted the Kurds with my life.

That trust turns out not to have been misplaced.  Totten is posting more reports, along with digital photos that he took himself, to his blog, MichaelTotten.com.

In An Army of Davids I write about the growth of amateur journalism, and the way in which the Internet, blogging technology, and digital cameras allow just about anyone to publish to a worldwide audience.

Totten, with his reporting from Beirut, Egypt, and now Iraq, is another example of this trend.  I'm enjoying his reports, and I imagine that you will, too.

February 6, 2006 | 10:30 PM ET

The cartoon wars

The protests by Muslim extremists seem to be backfiring.  Some people are suggesting wearing the Danish flag in support of free speech.  Others are just exasperated.  As Virginia Postrel writes:

My response to this nonsense is to wonder why Muslims don't grow up.  If your co-religionists are going to take political stands, and blow up innocent people in the name of Islam, political cartoonists are going to occasionally take satirical swipes at your religion.  Those swipes may not be nuanced, but they're what you can expect when you live in a free society, where you, too, can hold views others find offensive.  If you don't like it, move to Saudi Arabia.  Or just try to peacefully convert people to Islam.  As Fred Barnes points out, the current cover of Rolling Stone is offensive to (hypersensitive, paranoid, publicity-seeking) Christians, but they aren't threatening anyone with physical violence.

A lot of people seem to feel that way -- including Iraqi blogger Zeyad, who writes:

I only saw these images of Muslim protestors in London today. For the life of me, I cannot understand how the British police let those demonstrators get away with it. The protestors are blasting free speech in Europe, yet they are using that same free speech to call for murder and bloodshed.  I would strongly support deporting those people back to the miserable societies they originally came from.

It seems that Australia was ahead of the curve last summer:

Muslims who want to live under the Islamic Sharia law were told Wednesday to get out of Australia as the government targeted radicals in a bid to head off potential terror attacks.

A day after a group of mainstream Muslim leaders pledged loyalty to Australia at a special meeting with Prime Minister John Howard, he and his ministers made it clear that extremists would face a crackdown.  Treasurer Peter Costello, seen as heir apparent to Howard, hinted that some radical clerics could be asked to leave the country if they did not accept that Australia was a secular state and its laws were made by parliament.

"If those are not your values, if you want a country which has Sharia law or a theocratic state, then Australia is not for you," he said on national television.

"I'd be saying to clerics who are teaching that there are two laws governing people in Australia, one the Australian law and another the Islamic law, that that is false."

"If you can't agree with parliamentary law, independent courts, democracy, and would prefer Sharia law and have the opportunity to go to another country which practises it, perhaps, then, that's a better option," Costello said.
...
Education Minister Brendan Nelson later told reporters that Muslims who did not want to accept local values should "clear off".

"Basically, people who don't want to be Australians, and they don't want to live by Australian values and understand them, well then they can basically clear off," he said.

As I've written here before, I believe in open immigration -- for people who are willing to become good citizens of their new countries.  Those who want to take advantage of what freedom offers, but deny it to others, should stay home.  I predict that if this sort of extremist behavior continues, we're going to hear a lot more suggestions that immigrants who don't accept the rules of free societies should return home.

Meanwhile, Iraq's Ayatollah Sistani is more sensible:

In Iraq, the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, decried the drawings but did not call for protests.

"We strongly denounce and condemn this horrific action," he said in a statement posted on his Web site and dated Tuesday.

Al-Sistani, who wields enormous influence over Iraq's majority Shiites, made no call for protests and suggested that militant Muslims were partly to blame for distorting Islam's image.

He referred to "misguided and oppressive" segments of the Muslim community and said their actions "projected a distorted and dark image of the faith of justice, love and brotherhood."

"Enemies have exploited this ... to spread their poison and revive their old hatreds with new methods and mechanisms," he said.

Yes, they have.  The Counterterrorism Blog is offering the big picture, which pretty much matches Sistani's.  The good news is that fewer people are intimidated than those "enemies" expected.

February 6, 2006 | 1:00 PM ET

Avant-garde artists submerge crucifixes in urine and art critics cheer.  Some cartoons depicting Mohammed in a negative light run in a Danish newspaper and the Muslim world goes wild.  In Britain, Muslims protested with signs reading, "Behead Those Who Insult Islam," but aren't arrested under Britain's hate-speech laws, leading to charges of a double standard.  As British newspaper The Telegraph editorializes:

When these Islamist protesters dress up as suicide bombers and revel in the "magnificent" attacks of 9/11, they are not engaging in a harmless daydream: they are encouraging murder. And, to be fair, the police did eventually arrest two people for breaching the peace - not Islamist protesters, you understand, but two counter-demonstrators who were apparently provoking trouble by carrying images of Mohammed.
...
We live in a country where you can be arrested for reciting the names of dead soldiers at the Cenotaph, heckling at a Labour Party conference or making slighting remarks about Osama bin Laden. We live in a country where a pensioner can be charged with "racially aggravated criminal damage" for scrawling "free speech for England" on a condemned wall.

Asked why it had not arrested any of the demonstrators, the Met refused to answer - or, to be precise, it said "the decision to arrest at a public order event must be viewed in the context of the overall policing plan and the environment the officers are operating in". Might there be a connection between this cowardice and the contempt some Muslims feel for us? Is it not at least possible that the self-loathing they encounter, from the moment they go to school, turns some boys from Tipton and Wanstead and Beeston against their country?

After all, the question of whether it is possible to be a good British Muslim is not a new one. Hundreds of millions of Muslims lived peacefully under the British Crown, in India, Sudan, Malaya and elsewhere. They saw no conflict between their faith and their civic loyalty, fighting for Britain even when we went to war against the Ottoman Caliph. The difference is that, in those days, we had confidence in ourselves, and conveyed this confidence to others.

I've been reading Claire Berlinski's new book, Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Too, which suggests that the problem is European attitudes — including the lack of confidence cited by The Telegraph — more than it is Muslim intransigence.  Plenty of Muslims, after all, are embarrassed by the behavior of the fundamentalists wackos, but the authorities seem so solicitous of those who threaten violence that moderate Muslim responses are left sounding hollow, somehow.  When you appease misbehavior, you get more of it.

"The best lack all conviction; the worst are full of passionate intensity."  That's Europe at the moment, alas.  Perhaps things will turn around.

February 2, 2006 | 6:06 PM ET

The most important book of the yearThe most important book of 2006? It's An Army of Davids: How Technology and Markets Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths.

Nelson Current
Well, it's the most important book of the year to me, anyway, because it's mine, and it comes out in a month. Pre-order it now and you'll make my publisher -- and me -- very happy!

But don't listen to me. Here's what some other people who've read the book say:

"Reynolds shows that technology can empower individuals to determine their own futures and to defeat those who would enslave us . . . a book of profound importance—and also a darn good read."—MICHAEL BARONE, senior writer at U.S. News & World Report and author of Hard America, Soft America

"Glenn Reynolds has written an essential book for understanding how technology and markets are creating a bottom-up shift in power to ordinary people that is changing business, government, and our world. Packed with fresh ideas and adorned with graceful prose, An Army of Davids is a masterpiece."—JOE TRIPPI, author of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

"Reynolds shows how average Americans can use new technologies to overcome the twin demons of corporate greed and incompetent government." —ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, author of Pigs at the Trough and Fanatics and Fools

"A smart, fun tour of a major social and economic trend. From home-brewed beer to blogging, Glenn Reynolds is an engaging, uniquely qualified guide to the do-it-yourself movements transforming business, politics, and media." —VIRGINIA POSTREL, Forbes columnist, author of The Future and its Enemies

"Reynolds' beguiling new book tells the insightful story of how an 'army of Davids' is inheriting the Earth, leaving a trail of obsolete business models not to mention cultural, economic, and political institutions in its wake." —RAY KURZWEIL, scientist, inventor, and author of several books including The Singularity is Near

"'Must read,' 'gotta have,' 'culture changing,' –I am suspicious of blurbs with such overused plugs.

But Glenn Reynolds' An Army of Davids is in fact a must read new book, that you gotta have if you are going to even glimpse the culture changing forces that are unleashed and at work across the globe.

And did I mention that it is the best title in a decade?" —HUGH HEWITT, syndicated talk show host and author of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World.

An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and other Goliaths (ISBN: 1-59555-054-2, $24.99 U.S., Nelson Current) will publish March 7, 2006.

But you can pre-order it now!  Did I mention that?

February 2, 2006 | 2:09 AM ET

Getting by with less foreign oil

Bush's State of the Union speech was okay, I guess, by the not-very-demanding standards of those things (and of Bush's public speaking).  But he did talk about alternative energy, and I think that's pretty interesting.

On the subject of  hybrid cars, well, I was ahead of the curve.  Despite claims that hybrids are hype, the folks at Popular Mechanics (for whom I sometimes write) took a close look, and compared two hybrids —the Honda Civic and the Toyota Highlander SUV— to their gas-powered counterparts.  Surprisingly, they found more bang-for-the-buck in the Highlander.  They observed:

Our front-drive Highlander Hybrid Limited was more fun to drive, handled better and had appreciably better fuel economy than the gas version.  Anyone who thinks hybrids are all hype should drive this SUV.  It has enough oomph to chirp the front tires and hustle this hybrid to 60 mph almost a second more quickly than its gas-only counterpart.  Unlike Honda's, Toyota's hybrid system adds considerable weight to the package: 360 pounds. But you never know the weight is there.  In fact, our Highlander Hybrid posted better handling numbers than the regular one.  That big electric motor acts like an instant-on turbo when you want to pass.  Best of all, the Highlander averaged almost 29 mpg--better than many midsize sedans--and it used about half as much fuel in our city loop as its gas-powered sister.  In our book, spending the extra $4500 is worth it.

I own one of those myself, and I agree.  It's a 7-passenger SUV that gets noticeably better mileage than the Passat wagon I owned before.  What's not to like?

They also had some interesting thoughts about hybrid trucks and SUVs vs. hybrid econoboxes:

Hybrids are not the stuff of magic.  Nor are they mere snake oil.  What both the boosters and bashers need to realize is that hybrid technology is not meant as a revolutionary advance.  It is simply a refinement of the same internal-combustion-powered drivetrain we've had in our cars and trucks for more than a century.  But we believe it is an important refinement--especially for larger, more fuel-hungry vehicles.

While some drivers gripe that their Priuses should get even better mileage, the broadest criticism has focused on newer models with more horsepower and less fuel efficiency. "I think it's just hype that GM calls a pickup truck that gets only 17 or 18 mpg a hybrid when you can't run the vehicle on electric alone," the Sierra Club's Becker says. Such critics have a point, though it's worth noting that GM sells more than 500,000 big pickups every year.  Even small mileage gains in a fleet that large mean a significant reduction in the nation's oil consumption.
...
Ironically, our tests revealed that the strongest benefits of hybrid technology may be found in just such bigger, heavier vehicles. After all, it's hard to squeeze much of a fuel-economy gain out of an already fuel-efficient compact car like the Honda Civic. But give a 4000-pound SUV like the Highlander a healthy electric boost every time it accelerates and the fuel savings can be dramatic. Just look at the data: Buy the Highlander and you get SUV room and performance with a midsize sedan's fuel economy. That's good news--for individual wallets as well as the world's energy outlook.

Ultimately, today's hybrid systems will be replaced by an entirely fossil-fuel-free powerplant. But for now--and by "now" we mean the next decade at least--we think hybrids make sense.

So do I, and I've put my money where my mouth is.  But I agree that hybrids are a transitional form, and it makes sense to be working on what comes next.

On the other hand, there's more oil out there than we generally appreciate:

Eight U.S. companies have filed applications with the federal government to lease land in Colorado for oil-shale development, a sign that oil producers again are ready to gamble some 23 years after the last boom went bust.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the arm of the Interior Department that manages federal lands, has received 10 drilling applications, including three from Shell and one each from Exxon Mobil and Chevron. The companies want to develop technologies to extract oil from shale on 160-acre federal tracts in Rio Blanco County in northwestern Colorado.

The government said it will tread carefully, since it doesn't want to repeat the oil shale boom-and-bust cycles of the 1970s and 1980s that almost devastated the Western Slope's economy.

But with crude oil above $66 a barrel at the close of trading Tuesday, oil shale is a promising alternative to crude.  The Green River shale deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are estimated to contain 1.5 trillion to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil, and while not all of it can be recovered, half that amount is nearly triple the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.

Bring it on!

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