EgyptAir Hijacking and Our Weird Formulation on Terrorism


A man believed to be the hijacker of the EgyptAir Airbus A-32

Pictured: Not a terrorist. Image from AFP-Getty via BBC


Thankfully, the EgyptAir hijacking turned out to just be a guy with a fake suicide vest who may or may not have been distraught about a woman. This was handled with what I can only believe to be typical Cypriot humor.

Earlier, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades had responded to a reporter’s question about whether the hijacker was motivated by romance, by laughing and saying: “Always there is a woman involved.”

That aside, and the “troubling questions” about security we’re told the incident begs, there has been a strange formulation floating around all day. I first saw it in a Times “Morning Briefing”, but you’ve undoubtedly seen something similar. “A hijacker told the pilot he had explosives and threatened to detonate them, officials said, but he may have been motivated by personal factors, not terrorism.”

That’s an odd way to put it, and revealing. Yes, there were no political motivations, which of course means it isn’t terrorism. If he blew himself up, of course, it wouldn’t have mattered to anyone involved. Being killed is being killed. It’s the same kind of excuse we have in this country for being solemn for a few minutes after a mass shooting, telling each other that to talk about guns is to “politicize” it, and then going on our way- unless the shooter screams “Allah!” while pulling the trigger.

The San Bernardino shooters had no real connection to ISIS, no more than I do. They just were inspired by them, but there are a million factors that go into why someone decides to kill. They do it for any reasons, whether they are a recruit from Belgium or Adam Lanza or just someone who wants to pick a wolf costume and chooses ISIS, because it just happens to fit perfectly.

That’s why it is strange to say “motivated by personal factors”, and not terrorism. People join terrorist groups for personal factors, because they are angry or lost or feel small, and can be pushed over the edge from despair into inhuman violence by skilled recruiters and peer pressure. Some, yes, are just sociopaths or criminals, and a handful are true believers- but even among them, it is “personal factors”.

We treat terrorism as a free-floating evil, capitalizing the theological construct and applying it to humans, which weirdly robs people of their agency. We don’t see terrorism as an earthly phenomenon with earthly reasons, born from the same violent impluses that have led men to be wolf to men since they first realized that pain wasn’t something that was just felt- it could be inflicted.

Until we decide that we have to treat this as an actual human event, and not a mythological evil, there is no way to minimize its destructive power, or to lead people away. Saying “it’s not terrorism; it must just be a combination of sickness and desperation” is a perfect exercise in missing the point entiely.

Dear #neverhillary Bernie people…

Today, thanks to the timely death of Antonin Scalia, the most brazen assault on public sector unions of our time was killed. Friederichs vs. California Teachers Association couldn’t survive a 4-4 court, which means the lower court ruling was upheld. If Antonin Scalia was still around, it would have won 5-4, and the ability of unions to fund themselves would have been gutted. The public sector- the last great hope of the middle class, which is why it is under constant assault- would have collapsed into a race-to-the-bottom spiral.

This isn’t the last attempt at this. Public sector unions show that unions can still work, which is why they have to be destroyed. A conservative justice will tilt the balance again. It’s why the resistance to Merrick Garland has been so implacable. Conservatives are hoping that they can hold out til next year, when a GOP President will nominate a justice to finally kill off unions (among other things).

But please, remind me why there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Hillary and Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.

The Wisconsinization of Illinois


“Nice work, Walker!” Image from ChicagoNow

I’ve always loved Wisconsin. It’s fun to make fun of, but I have never once not had a great time in the state, whether camping up north or near Kettle Morain, hanging out by the lake in Milwaukee, relaxing in Door County with my lovely bride, reveling in the weirdness of Madison, or spending time at scenic Lake Ripley, my favorite spot, Wisconsin is always warm and hospitable. It’s got a great drinking culture, which doesn’t so much revolve around experimental cocktails as much as “the more the merrier”, and a great attitude toward eating. If there is one thing over which Scott Walker and I can bond, it’s ham, and the desire to eat more of it, at all hours. Ham for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can’t go wrong.

But ham is probably the only area in which Walker and I would agree on anything (although we could both confirm that empirical reality that he won’t be President, though I imagine we have different feelings about that). One other thing to love about Wisconsin was its progressive tradition, which came about naturally, from workers and farmers, as a reaction to the power of capital and its corrupting nature. That’s also why the backlash in Wisconsin was always so fierce, whether that was the union hating Herb Kohler Sr or the drunken lout McCarthy. Now, that backlash has reached its apex, as Walker and his pet legislature have turned this great state into their personal Koch-funded experiment, destroying voting rights, the social safety net, corporate accountability, and the environment. In short, trying to wreck everything that is great about Wisconsin.

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