The target.


Well, it’s not like I didn’t suspect this would happen: I spend too much time working on a long, blustery post about the purported terror plot against the Mackinac bridge, and today it’s pretty much blown out of the water — the purported terror plot, that is, not the bridge. Which was my point. It’s not the Amish Popcorn Factory, but sorry, it wasn’t very convincing from the get-go.

This story, from yesterday’s DetNews, lays out the gist: Three Texas men with Arab names (U.S. citizens of Palestinian descent) were apprehended with a) 1,000 prepaid disposable cell phones, and; 2) pictures and video of the Mackinac Bridge. For this they were charged with “providing material support for terrorist acts and terrorism surveillance of a vulnerable target,” and held on $750,000 bond.

Their families said the men were buying the phones up here because they’re scarce in Texas, and they intended to bring them back down south and sell them at a profit. The police were tipped by a Wal-Mart employee after they scored 80 phones in one store. This all happened in the Thumb area, Tuscola County. Terry Nichols country. I guess they know their mad bombers there.

The police and prosecutor pointed out that cell phones can be used as remote detonators for explosives. Then you have your Arab names and your bridge photos. The conclusion was obvious.

For perhaps the first time in my life, I found the defendants’ explanation entirely plausible. I really do. Maybe it’s because I recently snapped several photos of the Mackinac Bridge myself. (See self-incriminating evidence, above.) More to the point, though, the Amish Popcorn factor is rearing its inconvenient head. That is, the Mackinac Bridge? WTF?

A few points to ponder:

** Palestinian terror is a fact, but one thing we know about it is, it’s usually directed against Jews. The northern lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan may be America’s most Jew-free region. I know the Jews had a diaspora, but I don’t think any made it this far. Not even Jane and Michael Stern — the area has some of the most disappointing native cuisine in this or any land.

** While the Mackinac Bridge is a great big feat of American engineering and infrastructure, the fact is, it links two areas of enormous, um, non-consequence to the world at large. At least not flashy, media-ready consequence. Timber moves through here, and raw materials for steel plants and stuff like that, but the closest Wall Street gets to this area are the lovely vacation homes on the lovely lakes. The most severely affected would be the local residents of the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula, deer hunters and other tourists.

** Also, 1,000 phones? Would that be for, what? One thousand IEDs placed along the bridge? Installation could be problematic; even in coveralls and hardhats, I’d think three swarthy Arabs would be spotted by the real work crews. When would they be detonated? Perhaps during the Bridge Walk, the annual Labor Day end-of-summer celebration, in which 50,000 locals and others take one lane of the bridge and hoof it across.

In the second-day story, this was the part that pierced me: “They were in Wisconsin and they drove to the U.P. and then down here,” (their lawyer) said. “The Mackinac Bridge was an amusement to them. On the camera there’s 50 pictures, 20 of the bridge. The rest are a deer, ducks, flowers and trees.”

Deer, ducks, flowers and trees. Three Texas guys enjoying a little break from the heat up north like millions of other tourists, snappin’ pictures. They weren’t model citizens — one was a registered sex offender — but I think it’s safe to say they weren’t al-Qaeda, either.

So you figure, they’re free now, right? I mean, once the prosecutor realized his paranoia, he let them go, correct?

Um, no. Their attorney is pushing for release today, but so far the prosecutor hasn’t said sorry-’bout-that or my-bad or anything. I’ll be looking forward to the day’s events. Maybe they can charge them with something. I suspect they will.

UPDATE: Re: Our conversation in the comments about Michigan cuisine:

It was a severe understatement to call Michigan a culinary wasteland the further north you traveled. Once on a fishing trip with Clete, Warlock had been served a bright yellow chicken gravy on a slab of gray roast beef. With the advent of the microwave ovens he suspected that many of the mom and pop operations rarely cooked, only reheated. He revered the words of an old Jewish literature professor who said the downfall of a nation could be detected in the misuse of language by its public officials, and the disintegration of its eating habits.

— from “Warlock,” Jim Harrison.

Posted at 9:06 am in Current events |

28 responses to “The target.”

  1. Emma said on August 15, 2006 at 9:15 am

    Disappointing cuisine?! You’re obviously forgetting the UP’s most famous dish — the pastie, woman! The pastie!!

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  2. nancy said on August 15, 2006 at 9:17 am

    Or Ken-L-Ration-in-a-pouch, as I like to think of it.

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  3. Bob said on August 15, 2006 at 9:45 am

    Some folks from the UP opened a restaurant in my home town with the intent of introducing local folks to their cuisine. They lasted about a month, and closed before I even got a chance to check it out.

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  4. Connie said on August 15, 2006 at 9:52 am

    I see Emma beat me to it. In your opinion, is the pastie the disappointing native cuisine? If so you haven’t had one made by mother in law or sister in law. Then there’s that all important pastie question: ketchup or gravy?

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  5. Joe Kobiela said on August 15, 2006 at 9:56 am

    Not to be paranoid but nobody thought they would fly jets into buildings. Is it plausible to drop Big Mac, probably not but why take the chance? It just might send a message to someone some where that the USA is on the look out and change their minds about doing something like this. If they did succeed and blow it up, Shipping on the great lakes would come to a halt. The shipping lanes would be blocked, and what about the cars on the bridge at the time it blows up?

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  6. Sue said on August 15, 2006 at 10:35 am

    Having been born and bred in the UP(with the skitter bite scars to prove it), I belong to a family that chooses it’s supper (UP-er word for “dinner”) pasties with more care than some people use when deciding on a fine wine for a meal.
    Wait til my parents come to San Diego to visit and they’re told they can’t have frozen ones in their carry-on. It won’t be pretty if they think they’ll have to live on S. Calif cuisine for two weeks.
    My husband (L.A) of 16 years, continues to be amazed.
    These are my people.

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  7. Dorothy said on August 15, 2006 at 10:39 am

    You guys are driving me crazy. What the heck is a pastie???!!

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  8. nancy said on August 15, 2006 at 10:49 am

    I have never had a good pasty. I mean, in my life. Ever.

    Jim Harrison has a great passage in one of his novels about the crappy restaurants up north, something about being served a piece of gray meat with a “frightening yellow gravy” poured straight out of a jar.

    Dorothy, a pasty is sort of a hand-held pot pie. Originated with the Cornish miners in the western U.P. It was their lunch — easy to eat with dirty hands and no utensils. And while I don’t deny the idea is good and I’m sure there are good ones somewhere, I haven’t been that fortunate.

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  9. brian stouder said on August 15, 2006 at 10:50 am

    Yes – what are they? The last pasties I ever saw came in matched pairs, but that’s another story

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  10. Dorothy said on August 15, 2006 at 10:53 am

    I just looked at Just reading the ingredients of the 10 different recipes they list for pasties leaves me a little dry-mouthed. Meat, potatoes, onions, turnips and/or rutabegas seems to be about all. Inside pastry. I was thinking they compare to pot pies, just as you stated, Nancy.

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  11. Connie said on August 15, 2006 at 10:54 am

    My mother in law has a freezer full of pasties, her church ladies group has been making them for years as their fund raiser. On pastie day they serve hot lunch to a standing room only crowd of employees from the GM parts hq just down the street, the rest they sell frozen. Classic pasty includes chopped beef, potato, rutabaga and onion wrapped in a piecrusty thing. I like them, my husband loves them and loves having some in our freezer for the occasional lunch treat as well.

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  12. Connie said on August 15, 2006 at 10:55 am

    Dorothy, that dry mouth is dealth with by the ketchup or gravy you put on your pastie.

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  13. Danny said on August 15, 2006 at 11:06 am

    How odd. Nancy, I am noticing a bifurcated demographic here. You have the people who would naturally stumble upon your blog from FW or the D and then you have the California contingent: Mary, Maureen, myself and now, Sue, too (and Mo, Sue and I seem to reside in San Diego).

    Oh, well. All easily explainable. If there is one thing the midwest and So Cal have in common, it is that we are both drawn to in depth discussions of baked goods and terror!

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  14. Emma said on August 15, 2006 at 11:53 am

    Munising Bakery, Munising. Good pasties. (Long live the rutabaga!)

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  15. Bob said on August 15, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    Hmmm. Might not be so bad. Those ingredients are all things I like.

    My paternal grandmother used to mash up a turnip with the potatoes, and I always liked that. Dad, on the other hand, loathed turnips although he never admitted it around us kids. Grammy confided to me once, that even as a little kid, Dad refused them. She said turnips were the only thing she ever fixed that he wouldn’t eat.

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  16. Dorothy said on August 15, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    I don’t believe I have ever tasted a turnip in my life.

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  17. mary said on August 15, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    They’re good in beef stew, Dorothy, or mashed with butter and black pepper.

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  18. alex said on August 15, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    Turnips are exquisite with corned beef and horseradish sauce. That’s how I serve them and most people assume they’re potatoes — which I also serve in about equal numbers in the broth — except that they have a slightly different texture and a little bit of bite.

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  19. Jeff said on August 15, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    Mmmmm. Pasties and turnips . . . good times, good times.

    Not to block one libel with another, but reading that part of the “suspicious-ness” had to do with a) a large number of phones, with b) a bunch of the battery pacs pulled out and chargers tossed away, i’m thinkin’ meth lab. Central Ohio is gearing up to compete with those wimps in further western states in blowing up our trailers, isolated rundown farmhouses, and Ford Torino trunks with badly done chemistry experiments, and along with the proverbial pseudoephrine piles are battery pieces. Some part of the process (no, i don’t want to know) extracts stuff from some kinds of rechargable batteries.

    The cops know this, of course, but have no real reason to say much while they try to get a charge together that will stick — i’m sure i could have pulled a good joke out of charges and the phone batteries, but i’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

    Now i’m gonna have to roll out some dough and make potpies when it was just gonna be a simple cookout night . . .

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  20. Karen said on August 15, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    I am delurking to talk about pasties – yum! My father’s family is from Cornwall via Michigan, so they were a staple in my house, growing up in… Arizona and New Mexico. Safe to say, we were the only people eating those things (we would explain – it’s sort of like an English burrito). Our recipe is simple but wonderful, good with ketchup or vinegar, but best with green chile sauce!

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  21. jcburns said on August 15, 2006 at 7:04 pm

    We got some good pasties in Naubinway. And yes, the Michigan side of the household has told me in the past that the humble rutabaga is what makes it authentic. Turnips need not apply.

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  22. alex said on August 15, 2006 at 9:19 pm

    Karen, I’m a green chile convert. Wish I knew where the devil I could find those things in the Fort. Or knew what genus they were so’s I could grow ’em.

    I spent part of a summer in Santa Fe some years back and got hooked. Even McDonald’s serves those things on the burgers there. So I bought a buttload from some Jackalope-themed farmer’s market — that’s another New Mexico thing, a mythical jackrabbit/antelope creature — and brought them back frozen hard wrapped in newspaper in a styrofoam cooler. That was the summer when Texas didn’t have a day under a hundred Fahrenheit. I had an overnight layover in Dallas and thought for sure they’d be toast. Or, rather, mush. When I got home to Chicago, where I was living at the time, they were just as frozen as when I’d packed them.

    I’ve not made decent chili since. I’m jonesing at the thought. I grow serranos, which are kinda close but not really the same thing. I read somewhere that Anaheims were the same thing, but that’s baloney — Anaheims are tiny. New Mexico green chiles are big and meaty. Is it possible to grow them suckers anywhere besides the desert? Or buy them?

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  23. Garry said on August 16, 2006 at 1:11 am

    The Big Mac was designed by Othmar Amman, a Swiss born engineer. He also designed the George Washington Bridge between NYC & New Jersey. Maybe these idiots thought he was also Jewish [I don’t know what his religion was], so they had a totally idiotic plan to destroy it in the future. It’s just that they got busted way too early.
    I don’t know what they were doing, but I sure as hell don’t believe the resale story. It’s way too easy to buy this kind of phone, they’re available everywhere [Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens etc] & often on sale. Most come with several dollars of minutes included upon activation.
    Are they actually trying to convince us that their co-religionists & other expats from their homelands are too stupid to find these phones for sale?

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  24. nancy said on August 16, 2006 at 1:22 am

    The WSJ had a story about this today. It’s for subscribers only, but here are the key grafs:

    Cellphones can be used for nefarious purposes, such as detonating explosives and enabling communications that are difficult for law enforcement to track. But there is also a thriving black market in the “prepaid” phones the suspects were buying, making their claims to authorities plausible. Wireless carriers are struggling to combat a growing number of opportunistic middlemen who purchase handsets in large numbers at discounted rates and resell them for a significant profit, often overseas in countries like Mexico and China.

    …Middlemen are taking advantage by purchasing the phones from one carrier at a discount, and repurposing them to be used elsewhere. The problem is becoming more acute as the prepaid phones business grows as a percentage of the wireless carriers’ overall business. Last year, the wireless industry saw $7.4 billion in prepaid phone sales, up 44% from 2004, and there were 26 million prepaid users, according to the market research firm Gartner. Some carriers, like Sprint, are increasingly relying on prepaid phone usage as they struggle to add traditional “post-pay” subscribers.

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  25. chcheese said on August 16, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    As nice as it sounds that the bridge was designed by Ammann (M&M and N&N) – an ETH grad,

    says David B. Steinman

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  26. mouse's moom said on August 17, 2006 at 12:58 pm

    I’m a little late here and might get flagged as spam anyway, but my daughter and I were on the bridge during the whole terrorist thing. We didn’t hear about it until two days later.

    I grew up in the UP and still have a cabin there (which is why we were on the bridge the other night). We didn’t eat pasties in my house (mom is a native Detroiter and *hates* the term Yooper, btw ;-)) I do like pasties occasionally and rutabaga is a traditional ingredient.

    Anne (Sam & jcb’s friend, trying a different pseudonym that has been known to get through the spam filter on your server :-).

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  27. mouse's moom said on August 17, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    I’m a little late here and might get flagged as spam anyway, but my daughter and I were on the bridge during the whole terrorist thing. We didn’t hear about it until two days later.

    I grew up in the UP and still have a cabin there (which is why we were on the bridge the other night). I can remember the car ferries and was on the bridge the first night it opened.

    We didn’t eat pasties in my house (mom is a native Detroiter and *hates* the term Yooper, btw ;-)) I do like pasties occasionally now and rutabaga is a traditional ingredient.

    Anne (Sam & jcb’s friend, trying a different pseudonym that has been known to get through the spam filter on your server :-).

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  28. John said on August 18, 2006 at 10:46 am

    I’ve been doing some looking into the Tracfone thing because some middle eastern guys here were snatching them up in Wells County, and they were also picked up for questioning in Hartford City.
    I have already discounted the story that they are in short supply in Texas, which the police in Michigan accepted a little too easily. I called ten Walmarts at random in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio areas. They are in stock everywhere there.
    I am also sort of discounting the terror theory because one of my strongest recollections of 9-11 in New Jersey was that within seconds of the second plane hitting cell phones became glorified paperweights. In a crisis they’d be useless to terrorists, and if you tried tu use thousands of them for detonators in a combined or coordinated attack they most likely would not all work. Plus registering and activating a Tracfone takes like 20 minutes per phone, requires a valid e-mail address, and requires typing in a long list of codes.
    What I did find is plenty of hacker sites that detail how to “unlock” the phone from the installed tracfone software. I think they’re for resale overseas where they are cheaper than legitimate phones.

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