Home' Technology Review : March April 2007 Contents 74 FICTION
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW /
There was a long pause, and then the man contin-
ued, "What the hell do I mean? I ll tell you what the
hell I mean." And he did so, in excr uciating detail. I
half listened as I checked o my list: muscle twitch-
ing---negative; bizarre behavior---negative. Out of the
corner of my eye I watched G, C, and B working the
other tables, approaching anyone drinking co ee from
one of our vendors.
We compared notes on the drive back to the motel.
Beyond a doubt, Tr ue Confessions was a keeper. The
early reports on its har mlessness seemed justi ed. Nev-
ertheless, C s idea of delivering test doses via adulterated
co ee was a brilliant precaution, because no children
became involved. We re patriots, not monsters.
M s part in the operation had concluded that mor ning,
and when we arrived at the motel room, she was in
the bathroom removing tattoos. We quickly changed
our clothes and cleaned the room for nal departure,
meanwhile logging our test results. M came out of the
bathroom a new brunette with scrubbed pink arms,
and B and G went in to remove their disguises. M
walked around the room gathering up her things and
asking how it all went. C looked up from his handset
long enough to say, "It s true! No o ense is too large
or too small for a detailed accounting."
M nodded thoughtfully, then turned to me and
said, "And this is a good thing, why?"
I just grinned, and she let it drop, said she had to
go get her kid, and left.
G, meanwhile, was in the bathroom brewing up a
celebratory pot of co ee. His idea of a joke.
Six years ago, in March 2002, I happened to attend
a barbecue in the backyard of some good friends. As
the esh sizzled on the grill, we attempted small talk
to pass the time, as we usually did. But in those early
months, feelings were still too raw for small talk.
Fortunately, there was beer.
Someone had read an article---"The Battle of the
Organizational Charts"---comparing the relative e -
cacies of a classical top-down hierarchy like General
Motors and a distributed network like al-Qaeda.
Apparently, the term "al-Qaeda" means "the data-
base" in Arabic and was coined in the 1980s, when we
were elding freedom ghters in our Afghan proxy
war against the Soviets. Not an operational organiza-
tion itself, al-Qaeda is a sort of "Ford Foundation for
jihadist startups," as a pundit put it, that provides sup-
port in the form of nancing, expertise, and coördina-
tion. In an "ah-ha moment," one of us, with a mouth
full of pulled pork, bragged that our old college crowd
could form such an organization. Even better---because
we weren t limited to box-cutter technology, we could
It was a beer-soaked boast, soon forgotten. But not a
week later, the president of the United States held a
news conference at the White House. When reporters
asked him about Osama bin Laden, who had recently
escaped capture by our troops in Afghanistan, he said,
"I truly am not that concer ned about him."
In all honesty, this presidential statement oored
me. Not concerned about bin Laden? How could our
president not be concerned about him? Was there
anything our government could have found to say to
the American people that day more knuckleheaded
A few of my friends gathered again, this time stone
sober. We played one of bin Laden s videotaped ser-
mons to the West. This lunatic with a Kalashnikov,
wagging his nger at our whole culture, had some-
how slipped through our military s grasp at Tora Bora.
We should have had him---but we didn t. And then---
according to the president---he and his whole murder-
ous crew dropped o our radar altogether?
That didn t sit well with my friends and me, but we
weren t sure what to make of it. The news-conference
dismissal might have been nothing more than our
president s sometimes di cult way with words. Or
his inability to admit to failure. But we didn t think
so. Most likely it was the president s way of admit-
ting that the hunt for bin Laden had gotten lost in the
shu e on the road to war in Iraq. It made us wonder
if there wasn t a place for private citizens in the war
on terror. Perhaps we could lend a hand.
An a nity group can form around any mutual interest:
tasting Beaujolais wines, singing in a choir, attending
a communal sauna. We called our group the Ameri-
can Curling Club. We are a small group of men and
women who roomed and/or socialized together in col-
lege back in the day. We came from middle-class families
and attended a prestigious, but not Ivy League, school.
There wasn t a legacy among us. We pretty much put
ourselves through school with student loans, scholarships
and grants, parental handouts, and part-time jobs.
After graduation, we went our separate ways but
kept in touch. We attended each other s weddings,
and we are watching each other s kids grow up. We
have built comfortable lives. We have climbed to
upper-management positions in our chosen elds.
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